The Weekly Gut Check No. 197 - Dangerous Picks That Can Damage Your Draft Part III (Wide Receivers)
By Matt Waldman
July 22nd, 2010

The Weekly Gut Check examines the players, strategies and guidelines fantasy football owners use to make personnel decisions.

Dangerous Picks That Can Damage Your Draft - Part III - Wide Receivers

In a recent mock draft, our participating Footballguys co-owner David Dodds named my team as one of the units he liked. He tabbed my approach, the "Anti-Dodds Strategy."

The "Anti-Dodds."

The Gut Check feels like a fantasy criminal mastermind when he hears that moniker foisted upon him.

Mysterious...

Powerful...

Evil...

A Lex Luthor who wins!

I dig it.

I need a little inspiration for this column because I'm about to write about why I'm down on two of my favorite players to watch on Sundays. Do I hate the two receivers' fantasy prospects this year? Not at all, but I do think they might be two of fantasy football's sacred cows at wide receiver. So I'm trying to get a little evil here to help me prepare the slaughter.

The Anti-Dodds. Just imagine...

[Opening Scene] - A wide shot of a cul-de-sac on a suburban street. The camera narrows is focus as it follows a trail of SUVs and sedans to the driveway of a house.

As we reach the final car parked in the garage, the camera pans to a door that leads us down a flight of stairs to a furnished basement. Seated on a massive sectional and a few chairs are 12 guys in various NFL jerseys yelling, laughing and drinking.

The shot narrows to the back of one fantasy owner hunched over his laptop. This is our story's hero - we can tell because he's at Footballguys.com. Peering over his shoulder, we see a tight shot on the computer screen that reveals he's contemplating his sixth-round pick and that candidate is Philadelphia QB Kevin Kolb.

As he's about to pull the trigger, the battle for the heart and mind of our hero begins...

[Special Effects: Materializing on the right shoulder of our hero is the head of David Dodds, wearing a red cap with a Black-Eyed Joe insignia.]

Dodds: What are you waiting for? Kolb fits well into your scheme and the next two picks, according to my Archangels Wood, Tremblay and Henry, aren't nearly as good value as the Philly quarterback.

[More Special Effects: Materializing on the left shoulder of our hero is the head of Yours Truly, sporting a red cap with a Black-Eyed Joe insignia but worn backwards...the sign of "the Anti-Dodds."]

Waldman: Dude, are you really going to listen to him? Brett Favre isn't good value? Jay Cutler? @$%^, Matt Stafford should be better than Kolb. Take another back.

Dodds: Listen to me Waldman, with my advice he's going to own this draft. In fact, 48 of my top 50 picks are still on the board!

Waldman: Maybe in an all-tight end, starting lineup...

Dodds: ...I've got three tight ends that in one week could outscore your five losers at running back for the entire season. Do you even watch football?

Waldman: Look who's talking, David Garrard...

Dodds: Jahvid Best...or should I say, "Travis Best?" You can't even get the names right! I'm surprised we still sell that RSP of yours.

Waldman: I've got your Travis Best... [Special Effects: Yours Truly, realizing that I'm evil in this story and can do anything I want without moral restrictions, transform my cap, the sign of the Anti-Dodds into a meat grinder with a giant crank. As the crank turns, it generates a powerful gravitational suction, pulling Dodds' head from our hero's right shoulder into the mouth of the device, never to be seen again...] What do you got for me now, sucka!?!

[Waldman turns to our hero] What are you looking at, bozo? I told you to ditch Kolb!

That just happened.

If that's too deranged, I could go National Geographic on you.

As a kid growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, a city where Lake Erie was so polluted the first wild fish I ever saw was a rotten carcass floating at the surface (the river caught on fire not long before), I wanted to be a marine biologist that studied sharks.

Although that dream never materialized, I guess I do study shark behavior after all. Dodds is a pretty big shark. So are the others guys I compete with regularly in this oversized aquarium at Footballguys.com. When you're swimming in this environment, you need to protect yourself. The Anti-Dodds sounds like the name of an anti-shark repellant.

Can you envision it plugged on late-night TV or Blog-Talk Radio?

[Voiceover by Cecil Lammey] Are you tired of your fantasy drafts getting victimized by sharks? Try the Anti-Dodds Fantasy Shark Repellant and when they ZIG to an also-ran, you'll ZAG to a championship!

[Voiceover by Sigmund Bloom (speaking twice as fast as he normally does - which if you can imagine, I needed a Marantz recorder to slow it down to half speed just to transcribe what he said.)] The Anti-Dodds Fantasy Shark Repellant does not make claims to guarantee the restoration of hair, greater vitality, increased endurance, or higher miles per gallon. Please do not take with other medicines without consulting your local pharmacist. Complications may occur, including night terrors, bladder infections, drafting suspended players, making trades for Cleveland Browns reserves, adopting Marv Albert's hotel wardrobe, or the uncontrollable urge to write fan mail to Commissioner Goodell on a roll of Charmin. Complications are career-fatal when mixed with Purple Drank.

No, I didn't have Purple Drank this morning (or what my old NA buddy at the BK used to take to rearrange his face).

As our illustrious David Dodds writes about the 10 Players to Build Your Draft Around, I'll once again resume my role as the anti-Dodds to list wide receivers that are dangerous additions to your squad at their current value.

Many of these players I've mentioned in this series could look good, but could cost you an extra player of similar value.

I'm pretty certain that the two players I'm profiling today will prompt some responses as if I am Lex Luthor taking aim at Superman. But as you saw above, does it look like I care?

Larry Fitzgerald (2.02)

I have the lowest ranking of Fitzgerald among my fellow scribes at this point. The basic issue is two-fold:

  1. No Kurt Warner.
  2. No Anquan Boldin.

As good as Fitzgerald is, he does not play a position where he can become a virtual island unto himself. Wide receivers depend on quarterbacks for their production. It doesn't have to be partnership on an equal level for a wide receiver or quarterback to be good fantasy starters. But most elite receivers need at least an above average quarterback. There's no way around it.

If there were, Randy Moss would have found a way in Oakland. Although I think there is a valid argument that Fitzgerald is a better player in tight coverage than Moss, I think Moss has been the most feared receiver in the NFL since Jerry Rice. Fitzgerald has similar hand-eye coordination and more strength, but Moss is still probably faster than Fitzgerald despite the fact that he's 33-years old.

And when did Moss have the worst production of his career? Between the ages of 28-30, often considered a male's athletic prime.

Year
Tm
G
TRG
Rec
Yards
T/R
TDs
FPs
Rk
VBD
1998
Min
16
69
1313
19.0
17
234
1
110
1999
Min
16
80
1413
17.7
11
212
2
92
2000
Min
16
77
1437
18.7
15
234
1
124
2001
Min
16
82
1233
15.0
10
189
5
59
2002
Min
16
186
106
1347
12.7
7
187
5
67
2003
Min
16
170
111
1632
14.7
17
267
1
163
2004
Min
13
83
49
767
15.7
13
155
19
27
2005
Oak
16
124
60
1005
16.8
8
149
15
32
2006
Oak
13
97
42
553
13.2
3
73
59
0
2007
NE
16
159
98
1493
15.2
23
287
1
170
2008
NE
16
126
69
1008
14.6
11
167
10
50
2009
NE
16
138
83
1264
15.2
13
204
2
92

Why do the highlighted years in the table above differ from the rest? For all but three seasons Moss has been a top-five fantasy receiver with a healthy, top-flight quarterback tossing him the football. In 2004, Moss missed three games and was an injured decoy for a few more. In 2008 he was catching passes from Matt Cassel, a quarterback with no game experience since high school.

In 2005-2006, Moss played with Kerry Collins and the Raiders QB lacks the skill of throwing the deep ball. I have talked about this several times in the past 3-5 years in regards to Collins. Throwing the deep ball is more about anticipating the proper time to release the football than arm strength and a pretty spiral. Pro quarterbacks all have the requisite arm strength throw the ball 35-40 yards and this is really all that is necessary to succeed at the position.

Collins has plenty of arm strength, but having the savvy of when to release the ball isn't a positive of his game. Collins has always held onto the football too long. In Oakland he frequently waited to release the football after he saw Moss open rather than anticipating that Moss had the skill to quickly get even and pull away from his opponent with the ball in the air. The resulting passes forced Moss to wait on the football as two or sometimes three defenders arrived on the scene to knock the ball away and often punish the wide receiver in the process.

Granted, Moss quit on his team in season two of his tenure in Oakland (2006), but not in 2005. He ranked 15th among receivers during his first season and that's the good, but not great production that I believe we'll see from Fitzgerald with Leinart.

Although Fitzgerald has the skills to get deep, he's not the regular deep threat on par with Moss or other players with more speed. Still, throwing the ball in double coverage or throwing a receiver open in tight coverage takes a similar level of anticipation. Former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner had good anticipation, but he didn't make the most of Fitzgerald's talent until he developed enough faith in the receiver to throw the ball into tight coverage and allow his teammate to create space with the football in the air.

Matt Leinart will have to prove he has this kind of faith in Fitzgerald to "throw him open" the way Warner did in Arizona or Drew Brees does in New Orleans. The former Heisman winner has good anticipation on short and intermediate passes, but his arm is weaker than Warner, Collins or Cassel's, and he will need to exhibit the kind of anticipation that he never had to show at USC. He also lacks the maneuverability in the pocket of a player like Brees, who uses his mobility to quickly change direction, reset and still deliver a deep pass on-time.

I think it's risky to count on Fitzgerald's TD production to remain consistent with his years with Warner. Moss, who is among the best at redzone passes or deep passes in tight coverage, saw his touchdown production drop from an average of 13 per season from 1998-2004, to 6 per season with Kerry Collins in 2005-2006. Even if you want to discount Moss' 2006, he only had 8 scores in 2005 - when he was trying.

Fitzgerald has averaged nearly 10 scores during his six-year career. With Warner as his quarterback for the last three seasons, that average is closer to 12. I do expect Leinart to improve upon his 2006 stats where he played 12 games, threw 11 interceptions to 12 scores and ranked 24th among fantasy quarterbacks. In 2006, Fitzgerald had 69 receptions, 949 yards and six scores - solid starter production, but not elite fantasy play.

Then there's the fact that Anquan Boldin is no longer opposite Fitzgerald. Steve Breaston is a promising, young receiver with a 1000-yard season under his belt, but he was operating from the slot with Boldin and Fitzgerald providing excellent matchup opportunities for him. I think Breaston will be a good player, but I don't see him as an 1100-yard complement - especially when the Cardinals are planning to employ a more ground-oriented attack. He won't put enough pressure on opposing defenses to help Fitzgerald as much as Boldin.

Some will argue that Calvin Johnson has produced with poor quarterback play and without a worthwhile secondary receiver, but he has speed rivaling Moss combined with the strength and body control of Fitzgerald. Steve Smith is another player capable of beating double-teams, but his production has varied depending on how well Jake Delhomme played in a given year and Muhsin Muhammad was no slouch.

Johnson, Moss, Smith, and Fitzgerald all hold one thing in common: they can beat double coverage with amazing plays. Fitzgerald might be the best at it. But without Boldin, it's reasonable to presume that Fitzgerald will see more bracket coverage in 2010. One of the arguments I hear frequently is, "Fitzgerald makes catches in double coverage on a routine basis."

How often is routine?

I think it's a good question to consider with players like Fitzgerald. If you can find stats on difficult catches, I'd love to see them. Until someone does, I take the stance that people get so caught up in Fitzgerald's highlights that they overestimate the impact he'll have versus double coverage.

It's a perception often fueled by media coverage. When a television program profiles a receiver's play, what is the first thing they show? If you're honest with yourself, it's a special play that makes the receiver unique, something exciting, or something unusual. Often the same 4-5 plays. I love Fitzgerald's skills and I think has more plays in double coverage in his portfolio than most.

In fact, he might even have as many as one for every game he's played. However, with Boldin he wasn't double covered on every play. In fact, I doubt he was double covered on half of the pass plays with Boldin in the fold. I would guess that on those plays Fitzgerald was double covered, he made 1-2 receptions per game.

That's 16-32 catches from his total that has hovered between 96-100 for the past three seasons. That's 176-352 yards worth of catches with an 11-ypc (2009) and 224-448 yards with a 14-ypc average (2007-2008). If you agree that his rate of double coverage catches is 1-2 per game (which I think is a generous estimation), then remember that they came at a rate of every 3-6 total receptions throughout the season.

Even at a highly improbable 1-in-3 ratio of double-coverage catches to single coverage catches, think about how often Fitzgerald has been targeted? His three-year totals have ranged from a low of 151 (in 2009) to a high of 167 (in 2008). The top-three target totals a receiver has seen from 2002-2010 was Marvin Harrison's 205 in 2002, Torry Holt's 183 in 2003, and Brandon Marshall's 181 in 2008.

Compared to Fitzgerald's recent totals that's 1-3 more throws per game with a higher percentage likely to be directed into double coverage where I doubt his percentage of success is higher than an all-star hitter in MLB. In fact, I believe in 2010 Fitzgerald is less likely to see as many targets with Boldin gone and more double coverage.

If I could take Fitzgerald as a solid WR2 or strong WR3 in summer drafts, I'd be happy. But we all know his current value is as an elite No. 1. Unless you believe Matt Leinart has improved enough to keep Fitzgerald in that tier without Boldin, then he's worth it. I don't, and it makes Fitzgerald a dangerous pick at his current value.

DeSean Jackson (2.12)

Jackson is currently the ninth receiver off the board in mock drafts at FantasyFootballCalculator.com. That's above Greg Jennings, Marques Colston, Sidney Rice, Anquan Boldin and Chad Ochocinco. While I agree Jackson has more big-play potential - and speed - than any of those players, this is s similar situation as Larry Fitzgerald. Jackson gets a new starting quarterback, an unproven starter that has put up good fantasy stats in two games.

With Donovan McNabb, one of the better deep throwers in the game, Jackson averaged a stunning 18.5 yards per reception. It's a pretty incredible yield per catch with as many as he had (62) in 2009. Jackson also sported a great yards per catch average (6.5), because he's such a dynamic open field runner.

I still like Jackson to maintain strong YAC numbers in 2010, but I don't believe Kolb will be as savvy at the line of scrimmage or in the pocket as the veteran McNabb, and this will result in decreased big-play opportunities.

Jackson and 18 catches resulting in gains of at least 20 yards last year, which was sixth in the NFL, tied in a logjam with Randy Moss, Marques Colston and Antonio Gates. The players above them were Andre Johnson, Santonio Holmes, Miles Austin, Reggie Wayne and Sidney Rice. All these players had excellent veteran quarterbacks throwing them the football. Jackson is the one player on this list that will have his Pro Bowl-caliber starter replaced with a far less proven player.

For the sake of considering the opposing view, let's say Jackson has the same targets and receptions, but his average per catch drops to 14. His total yardage decreases from 1156 to 868. That's nearly 30 fantasy points and enough to drop Jackson from his No. 4 ranking among receivers to No. 15. If his average just drops two yards per catch, we're looking at a 15-point drop in fantasy totals and he would have been just behind Brandon Marshall as the No. 10 fantasy receiver. This would be in line with his current ADP.

What concerns me is that in the past five seasons, there are only 1-2 receivers each year that are among the top 10 in yardage and have a yards per catch average over 16 yards. Only in 2008 did we see three receivers in the top 10 and had a YPC greater than 16 ypc Not one of them repeated that average the following year or even returned to that level within the next 2-3 seasons.

I don't think it's safe to assume DeSean Jackson, as electric as he is, will maintain an 18.5 ypc Even a 16 ypc seems a little high. This means Jackson better be getting a lot of Wildcat looks or rushing opportunities to make up for what he's likely to lose with a decrease in yards per catch. Rushing yards for a receiver is something I'm reticent to count on in order to expect top-10 fantasy totals.

Despite this logic, the difference between the No. 9 and No. 15 WR in 2009 was only 15 fantasy points. Although one point per game more can matter, it's not enough to justify stating Jackson is a dangerous pick on this difference alone. But if you take into account that these projected differences are with Kolb playing consistently well, then No. 15 is closer to his upside than No. 9.

In contrast, I think Colston, Rice, Jennings, and Ochocinco are players that are getting conservative projections who might have more upside. Admittedly it's a subtle difference, but potentially a significant one. At worst you just got something worth considering when it comes to a bright young star.

Considering that Santana Moss was six touchdowns away from a top-15 season and now he's playing with McNabb and an upgraded offensive line, I think Moss could easily be DeSean Jackson at a better draft value. He had 14 plays of 20 yards or more last year with Jason Campbell at QB. He also had 382 yards after the catch to Jackson's 406. Moss is the 28th receiver coming off boards in FantasyFootballCalculator.com mock drafts with Jackson's old quarterback. I'd think I'd rather take one of the surer bets ranked near Jackson and Moss later.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to waldman@footballguys.com.

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