The Gut Check No.280 - Week 5: Throw-Ins

Waldman plays a little 20/20 Hindsight, examines whose earning everything they get the hard way, and which players he'd target as "throwin-ins" with upside when making package deals.  

20/20 Hindsight (Could've, Would've, Should've)

Who Could've Known Antonio Gates Would Rebound in 2014? Some of you may argue that it's a last hurrah before Ladarius Green earns the job full-time. Some of the plays Green is making in coverage points to a bright fantasy future. However, I don't see Green having the wattage of the elite fantasy tight ends. Gates is still drawing quality defenders in coverage and making tough plays where Green is not. When Gates earns a mismatch - for example, Sean Lee this weekend - he's making the defense pay dearly. 

Lesson Learned - Preseason Reports Matter: It was easy to be skeptical of preseason reports from beat writers who said that Gates looked quicker and felt better than he has in years. We hear this a lot from star players raging against the dying of the light. We also heard from Jene Bramel two years ago that Gates will have a higher risk recurrent injury to his foot. 

How does one distinguish the truth from the hype? If you read news blurbs on players - and every website has them - place more weight on the news report than the editorial opinion following it. There will be times where the opinion offers good insight, but I've grown to trust the observations of the people watching practice every day.

Sometimes it requires critical reading. Here's a good example below that we can examine in hindsight from Rotoworld's August 5 take on Gates:

Antonio Gates has appeared "quicker" this spring and summer than in any of the past three seasons.

The Union-Tribune concedes that Gates put together a Hall of Fame career in "marshmallow packaging," a reference to his doughy physique. Now that Gates' production has fallen off dramatically as he enters his age-33 season, he's cut out gluten and reshaped his body. Of course, Gates has made similar claims of a rejuvenation lately, only to fall victim to foot issues and an inability to separate or do anything after the catch. We're not buying a return to TE1 form, especially given the states of the Chargers' offensive line. 

Before I critique Rotoworld's report, I want to make it clear that most of us didn't anticipate Gates would start this strong. I had Gates as my No.9 fantasy tight end in my preseason rankings, and I believe that was higher than average. 

I also want to note that what Rotoworld wrote in its opinion section isn't much different than what I see from other sites that do this work. This just happens to be a convenient example. What's striking about the news report is the Rotoworld staff writer's choice to place "quicker" in quotes. 

Right away this tells you that the writer of the editorial commentary viewed this report with a high degree of skepticism. If a regained quickness was a part of a report the writer read, why not just restate this observation without editorializing in the section that is supposed to be a facts-based observation? This is the first sign that what's to follow will be biased against whatever has been reported on Gates.

The section in blue font reveals more of this. The verb "concedes" is a ploy by the writer of this editorial to influence the reader to believe that the beat writers covering Gates generally fawn over the star tight end and cannot see the situation as clearly. The second sentence is a fact and nothing to dispute. However, the third sentence is trying to link the foot issues with Gates' physical conditioning and that he has made similar claims about his health in the past.

In case you forgot, Gates was an absolute Stay-Puff Marshmallow Stud, pre-injury so how on earth can anyone with good sense say Gates got hurt because he was in bad shape? His feet weren't out of condition. He suffered a difficult injury that took years for him to return to form due to the scar tissue that caused a lot of pain. 

The fact that Gates is now two years healthy and decided to up the ante on his conditioning, an observation reporters - not Gates - made about the marked difference to Gates' body, is information that should have more bearing than editorializing.

The point is to read critically: If you're seeing an editorial viewpoint that clashes with the news report, read the full news report and determine which statements are observations based on facts and which are perceptions based on opinion. The fact about Gates is that he got in better shape, he was healthy for the first time in at least three years, and he was making plays in training camp. The facts about Gates from the past were that he was a doughy athlete dealing with an intense foot injury and not playing to his past production. 

The opinion was that Gates was too old to stay healthy and quick despite that fact beat reporters were relaying this information. The opinion may prove right by year's end, but right now I bet many of you are happy Gates lasted long enough in your drafts to take a flier on facts. 

Who Would've Known We'd Be Talking About Bilal Powell As A Borderline RB1/RB2? Last year, I would have but admittedly this year, I believed the Jets were full steam ahead on Chris Ivory and Mike Goodson. I'm sure the Jets organization would say the same thing if they were being candid about it. This is no slight to what Powell is doing.

Honestly, I missed on my RSP assessment of Powell a rookie. I thought he was more explosive than he has shown thus far in his career, which is why I placed him within the same range as Demarco Murray. Despite not having that pro-quality long speed, what I have seen this year now that the Jets are actually giving him feature back carries (by default of injury and suspension) is everything else that I liked about him: patience, skill after contact, shiftiness to avoid direct hits, and quick decision-making. 

Lesson Learned - Reasons to Remain Patient: For the past three years I've said that Powell isn't earning enough carries to show what he can do because just as he got into a rhythm the Jets inserted another back during the offensive series. There were few carries where I saw real issues.Two years ago he fumbled at the goal line early in the season and it was the reason most writers and analysts in fantasy football used as ammo to say "forget about him, he's not good enough." 

If you want the simplistic answers you've stopped reading my work years ago. Still, I'd like to call for writers and analysts to raise the bar on their simplistic answers by at least saying, "we haven't seen enough to make a call" or "he's not earning enough time to make a call," rather than "he's not good enough," when that's simply not true based on the lack of evidence. I think I watch enough football to know when there's sufficient evidence in most cases. 

Who Could've Known Nate Washington Would Be A Top-20 Receiver Heading Into October? Not I. I'd dare say most of us thought otherwise and I'll be the first to admit that I fell victim the editorializing rather than reading the facts. If you recall, there were rumors according to ESPN's Paul Kuharsky that Washington got on the bad side of the coaches because they didn't like his effort during the final weeks of the season. Rumors! 

Fact No.1: Titans GM Ruston Webster and head coach Mike Munchak told the media last spring that they weren't trading or ditching Washington by any stretch of the imagination. Accompanying Skeptical Thought No.1: This was that dreaded vote of confidence on a player despite the fact that they just drafted Justin Hunter, a deep threat with potential along the spectrum of Randy Moss and Chris Henry.

Fact No.2: Munchak told the media that Washington has the best camp since he joined the Titans. Accompanying Skeptical Thought No.2: Kenny Britt was finally healthy and in shape. Kendall Wright wasn't doing anything to lose his spot. Soon enough, Justin Hunter will begin looking good enough to usurp Washington's spot in the starting lineup. 

Fact No.3: Washington is listed as the Titans starter the entire month of August with no change. Accompanying Skeptical Thought No.3: Between Britt, Wright, Delanie Walker, and Chris Johnson, how is Washington going to see enough targets to be a fantasy factor? 

Lesson Learned - Add Up The Facts and Act on Them: Fact No.4: Washington has been a top-50 fantasy receiver every season during his four-year career in Tennessee. Although he's only been a startable receiver all season only once (WR16 in 2011), it only makes sense to draft players listed as starters - especially when they have a close to non-existent ADP and two of the three receivers competing for serious time on the depth chart have been flakes on and/or off the field. Jeremy Kerley . . . great call Waldman, what was I thinking? I bet Keith Overton drafted Washington in at least three leagues this year. 

Minors and Throw-ins: Lesser Bets with a potentially large payoff

As I watched this week's games, I couldn't help but notice the number of lesser-known players I wanted to add to rosters because their development curve was progressing at a rate that they if it continues, they may provide starter production down the stretch just when fantasy owners need them most. Many of you have at least one team that has gotten off to a slow start and your roster is built on one or two star players that you can't really afford to trade away while you're waiting for under performing or injured contributors to return to form. 

Trade away one of those anchor players for parts and that sum of players you acquired could equal or slightly exceed the best days of that study. However, more than likely you're staring at a mediocre team that is losing more often than not by a smaller margin. What you really need to find is a few players who can get hot while maintaining those anchor players.

Do this and your 1-3 or 0-4 start turns around, you squeak into the playoffs - if win-loss record is the only factor, but you're suddenly a points-scoring machine with two stud guys who can help you dominate any week. While not all of you will strike gold, I can tell you that I've done this enough to know it's worth trying. 

Quarterbacks

Brian HoyerIf you recall, I made the bold prediction last month that the Browns would go 10-6. A lot of this had to do with its schedule and my belief that Cleveland could split or sweep at least two of its three divisional opponents. Hoyer is another one of those players I believed would grow into an option a team would acquire like Matt Schaub, Matt Cassell, or Matt Hasselbeck. Apparently, this only works if you're a NFL quarterback with my first name. 

Fortunately, a Brandon Weeden injury gave Hoyer his chance and the former Patriots reserve has thus far put a few teams who balked at acquiring him via trade to shame. The former Michigan State starter has been a quick decision maker who isn't afraid to make aggressive throws in the vertical game. I thought Hoyer's supporting cast in East Lansing hurt his draft stock more than anything he didn't do as a collegian.

If you need a cheap hedge at quarterback, Hoyer might be your guy. Only six quarterbacks have performed better the past two weeks and look at his weapons: Jordan Cameron has developed into a go-to guy regardless of quarterback; Josh Gordon is one of the best natural talents at his position in the NFL; and Davone Bess has always been one of the best third-down receivers in the league. Throw in Chris Ogbonnaya and Bobby Rainey, who can at least catch the football and do something in space, and you've go something. 

Play up the fact that "this is the Browns and Norv Turner," you know this is good start is going to collapse any week. Mention to your trading partner that you need a bye-week quarterback and you figured he'd gladly cut bait on a guy throwing the ball to Greg Little as part of a package deal for what you're giving in return. 

After watching Little return kicks, I'm beginning to think Little had more promise as a running back. But that's another story for another time. 

Terrelle Pryor:The trick here is to convince those who picked Pryor up to trade him at a profit not to get greedy. How you do this is your call, but I'd remind them in a nice way that getting something for player who will forever sit on their bench is better than nothing at all. This is likely the case if Pyror is no longer a free agent in your league. 

Matt Flynn made it abundantly clear last week that he's not starting quarterback material. His one great game with the Packers was on a loaded team. His few promising outings at LSU were also with a loaded team. I'm only acquiring Flynn if he gets traded to the NFC's Pro Bowl Roster and I wake up tomorrow to learn that the people responsible for the past three seasons of Dexter were just playing a prank and the final three seasons start tomorrow.

Pryor continues to impress me with his fast development and if you're seeking a player with the upside to provide you Tebow (Den `11) production, but with a much better shot at 200-250 yards of passing, look no further.  

Russell WilsonI doubt anyone will sell him low but if you get encounter a thoroughly frustrated owner willing to part with Wilson as a throw-in and you don't have a top-five fantasy quarterback, consider it. The Panthers, 49ers, and Texans have all demonstrated that they're quality defenses. Wilson decimated the Jaguars and I think the rest of Seattle's schedule will prove much easier for this passing game to get on track. 

If you have to pay top-10 QB value to get him I'd look elsewhere, but it can't hurt to test the waters for a steal. Wilson is ripe for that line of questioning after quality play, but poor production. 

Running Backs

Andre EllingtonI'm beginning to think I underestimated Ellington at Clemson. While I haven't seen enough of him at Arizona to be sold hook, line, and sinker that he's lead-back material long-term, his balance and decision-making as a ball carrier are working out enough that I wouldn't hesitate to take a chance on him in re-draft leagues. Although some will say it's not difficult for Ellington to be out-playing Rashard Mendenhall, let's give the one-spin wonder from Pittsburgh a little more respect than I just did: he's a powerful back still doing solid work behind a below-average offensive line.

Still, Ellington is demonstrate yards after contact power, more fluid movement and decision-making in space and at the edges of the defense, and he's cutting into Mendenhall's time with greater frequency each week. I was offered Ellington and Danny Woodhead as part of a package deal last week. I turned it down but if the league weren't a contract-keeper format where Cecil Shorts has a lot more long-term value, then I had enough depth to pull the trigger. I suggest in a league without these complications you take a chance on Ellington. 

Rashad JenningsRemember all that talk about Latavius Murray? Yeah, me too. Remember when Jack Del Rio said Jennings had the best hands on the Jaguars - when Jacksonville was pretty good? Yeah, me too.

Dennis Allen praised Jennings for his hard running this weekend when Darren McFadden blew a tire in the first half of the Washington game. Remember when McFadden was ever healthy for an entire year in the NFL? Yeah, me neither. 

Jennings is big, quick, reliable, and decisive. He also looked a lot like Michael Bush in that Raiders uniform didn't, he? You too? Remember when Bush posted RB1/RB2 production in McFadden's stead? Go get Jennings.

Ronnie HillmanI continue to like what I see from Hillman and all it takes is a Knowshon Moreno injury (I know, when has that ever happened?) for Hillman to see an even larger split in carries. Unless of course, the Broncos give C.J. Anderson the rock in this Rochambeau. Even so, Anderson hasn't proven he can protect Manning due to a preseason injury that didn't give the Broncos enough time to evaluate his pass protection skills when it was safe to do so. Considering that Montee Ball hasn't held onto the ball well or made consistently strong decisions as a rookie, Hillman is that player to target as a throw-in.

Roy HeluThe Washington running back is running with burst and power. I like what I see if Alfred Morris gets hurt. He may not be worth a cheap waiver-wire pickup, but if you have room to take a flier on him as a throw-in via trade I'd consider it.

Bryce BrownI doubt anyone with Brown is giving up on him because the know the same thing as you - McCoy is on track for 312 carries. That's 40 more carries than he's ever seen in an NFL season. While I think McCoy can handle it, this offense is so run-friendly that Brown is the fantasy "understudly" of 2013 runners. If you can snare him as part of a package deal on the cheap, do it. It never hurts to inquire.

Wide Receiver

Robert WoodsI've been sold on Woods since I first saw him at USC. However, his learning curve with E.J. Manuel has been swift. Last week, he was one Calvin Johnson-ruling away from two touchdowns against the Ravens. There was also the connection the the deep dig route where Manuel climbed the pocket and a second tough catch by the rookie on the same drive. 

Woods' touchdown was a beautiful route where he forced Corey Graham towards the corner before breaking to the post. In fact, Manuel overthrew a second psot in the fourth quarter where the rookie was wide-open. If you've watched the Bills this season, you might notice that Steve Johnson isn't seeing nearly the same deep routes as he did in the previous coaching regime.

Woods isn't taking those away from Johnson - the Doug Marrone offense relies more on short passing - but he is earning at least as much if not more consideration in the vertical game. By season's end, I wouldn't be surprised if Woods is a high-end flex or WR3, which means a lot of weeks of WR2 production to earn that rating.  

Keenan AllenAnother rookie . . . in fact, one of three rookies I'm mentioning from a strong class. If not for a nagging knee injury that hindered Allen last year, this spring, and much of the summer, Allen might have made a bigger splash. Big, strong, quick, and sure-handed, Allen at his best is capable of developing into a fantasy WR1. 

Allen's five catches for 80 yards against Dallas was nice display of what he can do. He worked free on a short square-in to begin the game and later in the quarter, made a strong back-shoulder catch. He continued with a solid gain on a slant and a deep out at the sideline that he had to dive at the boundary to catch. 

What I found as important for Allen's future opportunities was his run blocking. He was consistent, physical, and earned good position. Eddie Royal has been relatively quiet the past two weeks and I wouldn't be surprised if the Chargers' schedule doesn't make it easier for Allen to sustain production for as long as Malcom Floyd misses time. While Floyd is an underrated receiver, give a talent like Allen a hefty dose of confidence and it might be difficult for the Chargers to get him back on the bench. 

Jerome SimpsonIt's just one game, but the timing that Matt Cassel and Simpson had was evident from the first series. Cassel is a rhythm quarterback and it appears he and Simpson had enough reps this summer to get in sync. While Cordarrelle Patterson remains the more enticing talent, he's nowhere near ready as a route runner.  Consider that Simpson has big-play ability, he's healthy, and Cassel has rapport with the receiver, don't be a fantasy snob if you're record indicates your a fantasy pauper.

Markus WheatonMethinks Todd Haley might have to bend a bit to keep his job and that means allowing Ben Roethlisberger to do that crazy stuff he does to make big plays. Considering that Mike Tomlin was apart of that hiring process of Haley, I have to believe he'll have to show some flexibility as well. A player who Ben Roethlisberger stated three weeks ago was ready to help the team is the rookie Wheaton. 

The first-year receiver made some nice plays this weekend against the Vikings and it was the second week in a row where he saw an increase of opportunities in the starting lineup. The Steelers have a pretty difficult schedule, but Wheaton one-on-one with a third cornerback is a mismatch because the former Oregon State star was the best receiver in this class against press coverage and he has speed to burn. 

While Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders haven't been as bad on the field as some may complain about their production - especially Sanders - Wheaton might earn more time at Sanders' expense.

earning it the Hard way

These players were facing hard labor and tough luck to get their production last week compared to the rest of the league and if Job were an NFL player, he might have an easier time the rest of the way.  

Geno SmithAfter two good weeks, Smith faltered against the Titans. One of the biggest reasons that I saw for his collapse was Tennessee's game plan. Smith has thrived when he's had time to make intermediate and deep throws. Part of this success has even come against the blitz when the Jets' offensive line has identified the blitz and made adjustments to handle it at the snap. 

Tennessee scouted this success and made two adjustments that disrupted the Jets quarterback all day and that was delaying its blitzes and blitzing linebackers and/or safeties from deeper alignments. Smith and the Jets read the Titans defense, didn't see any indications of blitz, and then proceeded to drop, block, and wait for receivers to work open in the middle of the field. However, once Smith finished his drops there was a defender coming through and disrupting the intent of the play. 

The Titans also disrupted multiple screen plays with delayed blitzes. However the defender charging from the second level was actually spying the running back and he's wait for the line to show screen and then penetrate a crease to cover the gap and force Smith to eat the ball. 

Outlook: I'm confident that Smith and the Jets will adjust to this type of pressure. It might take a couple of weeks, but without Santonio Holmes and a schedule of strong defenses ahead, I'm just hoping Smith stays healthy for the future. The West Virginia Hokie is a dynasty player I'm buying if the opportunity presents itself. 

Doug MartinWhen the Buccaneers opted to replace Josh Freeman with Napoleon Dynamite, the Arizona Cardinals loaded the box and made life difficult for the Tampa Bay runner. I haven't seen an NFL running back ever look this good with a 1.7 yards per carry average.

Arizona's defensive philosophy looked like they were thinking "let's just blitz enough guys to stuff the running lanes and if it's a pass, the Jon Heder look-a-like will fold faster than a lawn chair." 

That was about right when it came to the first-time NFL starter. Glennon demonstrated his big arm, but like Nuke Laloosh in Bull Durham it appears that the rookie needs a football version of Crash Davis or a pair of back women's unmentionables to help him focus. 

Martin had a number of quality gains in this contest, but an equal number of impressive runs where he had to fight for minimal losses. He made defenders miss, broke tackles, displayed great determination, and fine agility. I also saw a look on Martin's face where I think I had a 50/50 shot of guessing the correct source of his frustration: Greg Schiano or that new signal caller who played the girl skater in Blades of Glory. 

Outlook: Not so good with Carolina (twice) Seattle, and Buffalo on the horizon. But with Philadelphia and Atlanta after the Week 5 bye, there is some hope. Hope enough to trade him in re-drafts in some leagues. I know Brett Favre has to be sporting a beer gut and an ankle in need of WD40, but I think Martin owners would take it.  

Pierre GarconRobert Griffin's return to earth from DEFCON 1 run/pass weapon of 2012 to second-year pocket quarterback has exposed the offensive line as slightly below average for a pocket game and tightened the passing lanes where Pierre Garcon ran wild. The past few weeks have been nothing like this for Garcon. 

He's had to climb the ladder to make receptions over the middle, take multiple hits or make multiple defenders miss to earn extra yardage, and he's the only consistent receiver on the team right now. Not only is he consistent, he's got Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant as the bread in this top-10 fantasy receiver sandwich after four weeks. 

Outlook: The Washington schedule is favorable for Garcon to remain a top-20 receiver and the team's defense is bad enough to make those looks in garbage time good enough to promote Griffin's go-to guy as lead sanitation officer. I'd continue to ride Garcon as no worse than top-15 material.