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The Gut Check No.454: Now And Later

Matt Waldman's examines a trio of backfields that have already revealed the present and the future in a clear light. 

Note to readers: This post, although it may not appear that way in the first section, also has dynasty implications. Promise. Look for "DYNASTY FOLKS" in bold as the flare shot from the designated meeting point...

Early season trades are dangerous (Hindsight: "Matt, I am your mother").

Many of you are diving into early-season negotiations to "fix" what ails your roster after two weeks. It may work. However, it's an act of urgency that often crosses the line to impulsivity and impatience. Yours truly learned many years ago — back when Raiders rookie runner Chris Warren III was literally still in diapers — that if you don't know who the sucker at the trade table is during the first month of the season, it's best not to sit down.

If you're interested in this origin story of how the Gut Check is a son of — sorry, Joe — read on (if not, you can skip this silly sob story):

Yours truly was desperate for a big-time running back after two weeks of starters under-performing. A friend and competitor had Warren III's daddy, a 6'2", 228 lb. monster of a runner who earned 4,980 rushing yards from 1992-95 before succumbing to an 855-yard season in 1996 due to injuries that cost him two and a half games.

Yours truly, 0-2, worried about his team's performance, and hoping for a rebound year from Pops Warren, offered a package deal for the Seahawk. One of those players in the package was a rookie running back from the University of Washington that the Gut Check coveted in his early years of studying college talent as a hobby: Corey Dillon.

A ferocious after-contact runner with game-breaking speed, the only action Dillon saw during the first two weeks of 1997 was kick returns. So yours truly gave Dillon away in the deal and made Warren the centerpiece of his backfield.

It almost worked out but not because of Warren. The Seahawks runner split time in the Seattle backfield and only earned a total of 26 carries during the next 3 weeks and only 26 more for the next 2, scoring twice in that 5-week span. Yours truly had a squad under .500 with mediocre running back production until about Week 6 when his other rookie find — Carolina UDFA Fred Lane — came to life in Week 6 and later went on a tear from Weeks 13-15.

When the Gut Check's squad limped into the playoffs, Lane helped him upset the best team in the league and reach the league semifinals. All the Gut Check needed to advance to the league championship was for Lane, who faced the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, to earn 120 yards and a touchdown.

Lane earned those 120 yards and late in the game earned five straight shots at the end zone. On his first red-zone carry, pushed the Panthers from the Cowboys' 10 to the 1 and then failed to cash in on four straight carries from the 1.

Lane finished the Week 14 game and yours truly's season with 34 touches for 138 yards.

Meanwhile, Dillon became the Bengals' starter in Week 9 and earned 933 of his 1,129 yards during that final stretch. Yours truly earned 70 yards and a touchdown from Warren in Week 14; Dillon earned 246 yards and 4 touchdowns for the squad that eventually won our fantasy championship.

In hindsight, a team with Dillon and Lane would have won this league. Trading for an aging running back coming off a disappointing campaign and playing in a new offense wasn't a good idea, either. Losing patience was the root of the problem.

In Week 14 of 1997, yours truly learned that hindsight was his momma.

It's best to wait at least until Weeks 5-7 to negotiate fantasy trades — preferably Weeks 6-8 because you see how opponents are trying to stop hot performers and how well it's working — but many lack the patience or the confidence to wait even 4-6 weeks with a struggling team before making that big move.

Instead of trying to fix everything with a major trade, begin with incremental work with the waiver wire, shore up minor weaknesses and identify players who have the talent and potential situation to be worth your time now and later. Running back is a good position where this idea comes into play because there is a talent glut at the position in the NFL.

Most fantasy leagues have created rules where you only need moderately successful running back performances to build a serious contender. If you're struggling at running back and you're fielding deals that want you to give up your top receivers for a package of diluted talent in return, it's better to stick with your strengths and identify runners who could be available for a lesser price at the bottom of your competition's roster or on the waiver wire.

This week, the Gut Check has some backfields that you should be targeting in a variety of ways now and later — this includes DYNASTY FOLKS (worked like a charm, didn't it?) who have tired of the offers that scream, "I'll trade you a high-performing backup, a troubled drug addict, a raw athlete, and two picks for your two young, consistent, an high-performing professionals."

Atlanta Now (Tevin Coleman) and later (ito Smith)

We'll see what Jene Bramel has to say in his Mid-Week Second Opinion piece but as of Monday, he believes Devonta Freeman will miss closer to four weeks than just the one against Carolina on Sunday. Bone bruises are no joke.

The wise bet, for now, is Tevin Coleman. After covering the Falcons for Footballguys on a weekly basis for several years, there's ample evidence that Coleman has developed into a good starter. He had starter talent when he arrived in Atlanta but despite running an outside zone scheme at Indiana, Coleman lacked the craft needed to run the scheme and earn consistent, carry-to-carry production.

He's gained that understanding over the years and while the Falcons chose Freeman over Coleman because he's the more versatile player with the superior change of direction and short-yardage skill, Coleman will perform at a high level for the right scheme when he leaves Atlanta in 2019.

Here's a run Coleman made on Sunday that wouldn't have made as recently as 2-3 years ago.

This run required patience and footwork that he did not possess. He also added a sweet little shoulder dip to the bounce inside the defensive back at the edge. In the past, Coleman either doesn't bounce out and back in as precisely as this run or he plows directly into the middle of the line and can't extricate himself for the bounce.

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