Gut Check No.357: Waring Them Down

Seeking that closer to shut down your league and take the title? Spencer Ware has the skills--and with increasing likelihood--the opportunity to become your Lynchian-Barbarian finishing move.

Dominic Rhodes. Mike Anderson. Pierre Thomas. Jerome Harrison. Kevin Smith. Michael Bush. Rashad Jennings. Bobby Rainey. C.J. Anderson. None of these guys won the August beauty pageant known as the summer fantasy draft. 

But dominating your draft in August only matters if those players perform dominantly in November and December. Otherwise, Stacy Hedger's plan looks equally smart between the time she devised it and those waning seconds before she put this trumpet to her lips. 

For 80 to 87.5 percent of you, this is what your dominant August fantasy draft sounds like. Way to go, stud. Can I have your autograph? 

One of the greatest misnomers about season-long fantasy football is the idea that the draft is the primary area where people win their league. Just because most people would argue that the draft is the most important part of successful fantasy ownership doesn't make them right, it only means that most people have a poor perception of what makes skilled season-long fantasy owners successful. 

If anything, the biggest reason fantasy owners give up on their teams too soon is the misguided perception that if their drafted team plays like Ohmy-Ears-Gillespie after 4-6 weeks that they better scurry off stage, change their contact info (and probably their name) for the rest of the year, and act like this wasn't them until next August. It takes skill and resilience to take Team Stacy in Week 5 and, with the execution of bold, effective moves with the waiver wire, trade negotiations, and lineup management, transform your team into a contender by Week 10.

The reason the "draft is king" is a misnomer has to do with the number of players selected in drafts versus the number players most fantasy owners have the opportunity and means to select after the draft. Most teams draft enough talent to post reasonable weekly scores that put them within range of winning against 40-60 percent of the league in any given match-up. The difference, and lower margin for error, comes with making roster changes and lineup decisions of import.

A fantasy owner adds or subtracts far fewer players from his team during the season than he does during the draft, but when those transactions are successful those players often transform a team from an average unit (regardless of head-to-head record) into a strong performer capable of dominating December. "Winning at the right time," is a statement that most fantasy owners use to imply that luck was a huge factor. While any omission of luck in fantasy sports is flat-out tragic hubris, there is a skill to making quality transactions that matter at the right time. 

There are a number of candidates for this year's stretch-run dominator. None of them are wide receivers emerging from obscurity. The closest is Stefon Diggs, but he's been a known quantity long enough that he doesn't qualify. 

Zach Miller's  past three weeks make him a top-three fantasy tight end, but Martellus Bennett is still around and much of the production could be dictated by a banged up receiving corps that should get healthy at the wrong time for Miller's "addition" to your team to be "winning at the right time." I own Miller a few leagues, but he's a contingency plan and not a hard and fast bet that he'll lead my roster on a stretch run. 

Quarterback doesn't have any great candidates. Jameis Winston, Jay Cutler, Marcus Mariota, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Kirk Cousins have posted top-10 production during the past three weeks. The difference between them is 11 fantasy points--not enough to see a difference-maker unless your draft included Andrew Luck, Ryan Mallett and Josh McCown.

The position with the best shot of giving you this stretch-run boost is running back. There are six candidates: Jeremy Langford, Thomas Rawls, Charles Sims, C.J. Anderson, Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware.

Langford's speed and receiving skills have translated to strong RB1 production since Matt Forte got hurt Week 8. But Forte will return this year and Ka'Deem Carey has been arguably more efficient than Langford between the tackles with a more limited sample size. Langford's long-term future value far exceeds his short-term future value if Forte returns as scheduled.

Rawls could give the Seahawks more reason to let Marshawn Lynch rest up or investigate surgical options for his wears and tears. I'm not as sold on Rawls as some. The Bears, Bengals and 49ers are the teams he feasted on and the Steelers, Vikings, and Ravens will offer a stiffer test if Lynch doesn't play. Methinks if Lynch was close enough to playing this week, Rawls' shot at earning the starting gig from this point forward is not as likely as some wish it to be. He's worth owning, but keep in mind that he's still a handcuff. 

Sims was always a versatile player with lead back potential. He appears more decisive after his first year of transitioning to the NFL. The combination of the Buccaneers' offensive line and Jameis Winston's play makes Sims a player I'd add to my roster if he's available and I have the room for a reserve/committee back with starter upside. 

Anderson fits the Kubiak ground game as intended and if Brock Osweiler can continue to execute this offense well enough for the Broncos to win, Peyton Manning might not return to the field as the starter. Anderson and the Broncos also get the Chargers and Raiders in Weeks 13 and 14.  But like Sims, Anderson is working as the lesser part of a committee with a strong performer ahead of him. Don't expect the Broncos to demote Ronnie Hillman after reaching the century mark in 3 of the past 7 games. 

I've written plenty about West. A number of weeks ago, I recommended adding Ryan Mathews at a cheaper cost, sticking with Andre Ellington, LeGarrette Blount, David Johnson, and Thomas Rawls. And yes, Christine Michael (that was my Stacy Hedger moment this season). Since Week 6, West has out-performed all of these backs despite a less than impressive per-carry output.

The volume of touches has been his ally: 98 since Week 6--only Adrian Peterson, Jonathan Stewart, Todd Gurley, Lamar Miller, Chris Ivory, DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, Frank Gore, Doug Martin, and Chris Johnson have earned more. West's total matches Devonta Freeman's production during the same span. Get top-12 volume in touches and even average or below average efficiency can get a player top-12 production.

But West is not as talented as Spencer Ware. He's quicker and faster than Ware, which is often the mistake that scouts and coaches make when comparing players. Ware has enough speed and quickness to be a good NFL starter. What he didn't have was enough history with the Chiefs to earn a spot ahead of West on a modicum of preseason touches.

Watch the film, and Ware understands how to maximize his physical gifts better than West. He's also more powerful, a better pass protector, and a better receiver. The Seattle Seahawks loved Spencer Ware's long-term potential.

When they signed him as a rookie, they used him during the first two regular season games ahead of the likes of Robert Turbin and Christine Michael. But Ware got hurt. Then he incurred two DUI arrests in consecutive years. His immaturity off the field earned him a ticket out of town.

If a 21-year-old Ware had made better off-field decisions, Thomas Rawls might never have made it to Seattle. Instead Ware had to work his way onto the Chiefs roster from the practice squad where he vaulted past Knile Davis is short order to earn the backup role. This was enough for me to begin adding Ware in multiple dynasty leagues and some re-draft formats where the waiver wire was thinning, my budget was waning, and I wanted to stock 1-3 backs with potential to surprise.

West's hamstring injury is a minor issue at this point, but Ware's production against the Chargers defense was too good to ignore. The player I always comped for Ware was Marion Barber. Where West looks like Julius Jones, Ware runs like the Barbarian. I'm expecting Ware to outplay West during the next two weeks against the Bills and Raiders, that by the time the next Chargers game comes around, Ware will earn the majority of the carries. 

Ware, who turned 24 on Monday, has been a Gut Check/RSP favorite for some time. The link takes you to pre-draft analysis, provides college video, and is updated with Sunday's highlights against San Diego. 

What you'll see is a runner with excellent feet to make the first man miss at the line of scrimmage, but till maintain a wide base to bounce off contact, run through wraps, and finish with low pads to turn gains of 2-3 yards into gains to 4-5. Ware possesses that blend of patience and decisiveness to wait for holes to develop when necessary, but still have the sense not to wait too long and hit creases with authority when his power can be a factor.

As former LSU Tackle Josh Dworaczyk said, "If I had to take a hit from anybody, it wouldn't be Spencer Ware. He's a guy who's going to put everything into it and fight for that extra yard."

Ware, a former quarterback, out-played Stevan Ridley at LSU. Les Miles just liked having a rotation based on the talent he received in Baton Rouge during this stretch of years. A Ridley-Ware split made sense, but Ware knew Jeremy Hill was on his way and decided leaving early for the NFL made more sense.

It almost went off the rails, but Ware has exhibited behavior that demonstrates greater maturity. The team has stated that his preparation since he's been a Chief has been notably immaculate. They value his intelligence and versatility. And you can see how excited the line is about having a power back who runs in the same style as Barber and Marshawn Lynch

Considering that the Chiefs' schedule after this great lineup of Bills, Raiders, and Chargers ends with the Ravens and Browns, I'd seriously consider Ware as a great candidate to take this job and make your fantasy stretch run worthwhile. With Jamaal Charles enduring his second ACL rehab and closing in on the final stages of his career, Ware has a golden opportunity to turn this situation into a starting job long-term. 

That's looking a little too far ahead, but the talent, opportunity, and style of play fits well with this Andy Reid offense. Think of Ware as a better version of Correll Buckhalter without the injury history. 





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