2016 Under/Over Predictions

Updated: July 4th 2016

The NFL season begins in just a few short months (and not soon enough for some of us). We have a fairly good grasp of what NFL teams will look like this fall with free agency and the NFL draft behind us.  There will be subtractions as teams cut down their rosters and additions as injuries take hold but the core players for teams are in place.  All of this data gives us an idea of how teams will fare in 2016 by examining the performance of teams last season and looking at the changes made by each team in the offseason.

Our first step in predicting how teams will fare in 2016 is looking at how they performed last season. I modeled win totals from 2015 based on a few key offensive and defensive metrics using data from the last two NFL seasons.  The model eliminates the effects of fumble recoveries, performance in close games, and other factors which, while playing a major role in determining teams’ win total, are somewhat random in nature and hard to predict.  The article focuses on teams with the largest differences between 2015 win totals and predicted wins from the model.

Overachievers

Minnesota Vikings –  2015 Win Total: 11,  2015 Model Prediction:  7,  Vegas 2016 Under/Over: 9.5

The Vikings increased their win total by four games in 2015 largely based on their top 5 scoring defense and relying heavily on Adrian Peterson to carry the offense. The offense ran the ball over 51% of the time, 2nd only to Buffalo, which limited the impact of a bottom third passer.  Minnesota took advantage of a mediocre division with a bad Chicago team plus Green Bay and Detroit performing significantly below expectations.   The team also benefitted from Cordarrelle Patterson who was a large part in producing the number one kickoff return average in the league.

I am comfortable taking the under for 2016. The rest of the division likely improves significantly in 2016.  We can also expect the defense to allow more points next year as the points allowed masked an average defense which ranked only 21st in rushing yards per attempt and 15th in opposing passer rating in 2015.  There are quality young players at all levels of the defense but not enough to carry an offense that will once again be heavily run based next season.

New Orleans Saints –  2015 Win Total: 7,  2015 Model Prediction:  4,  Vegas 2016 Under/Over: 7

The tale of the 2015 Saints begins and ends with their defense. It was not just bad, but historically awful in every context.  The New Orleans defense somehow managed to finish last in the NFL in points per game, opposing passer rating, and yards per carry. The Saints defense set NFL records with a 116.2 passer rating and 45 touchdowns passes allowed.  The offense did their part, finishing as a top ten scoring team once again.

New Orleans is a hard team to predict in 2016 but I will take the over here. New defensive coordinator Dennis Allen likely sees an improved defense next season if only by accident and even a below average defense is probably enough for the Saints to get to the .500 mark.  We have not seen any decline in the play of Drew Brees over the past few years and there is little to suggest he will decline this year.  The offense likely remains a top ten unit dominated by the pass.  The Saints should also be aided by a reduction in penalties and a division that has not improved significantly in the offseason.

Underachievers

San Diego Chargers –  2015 Win Total: 4,  2015 Model Prediction:  7,  Vegas 2016 Under/Over: 7

The San Diego Chargers are a much better team than what their 2015 record indicated.   Injuries decimated the offense, particularly an offensive line that ended 2015 as Pro Football Focus’ worst graded unit.  The poor line play translated to the worst rushing average (3.5 YPC) in the league with not a single San Diego running back managing even four yards per carry on the season.  The injury bug also hit the top of the running back and wide receiver groups with Melvin Gordon, Branden Oliver, Keenan Allen, and Stevie Johnson all missing significant time.  The defensive line also struggled ending as the second worst (4.8 YPC) unit against the run.

The Chargers are a good bet to make the over next season. The hopefully healthy offensive line and positional players should improve the run and passing game in 2016 for what could be one of the better offensive units in the league.  The defense is not good enough to win games on their own, but there are quality players to build around including Jason Verrett, Melvin Ingram, and top draft pick Joey Bosa.  The rest of the division is strong but there is not a dominant overall team in the group.  San Diego was also unlucky in close games last season going 3-8 in contests decided by 7 points or less.

Seattle Seahawks –  2015 Win Total: 10,  2015 Model Prediction:  14,  Vegas 2016 Under/Over: 10.5

Seattle simply dominated on both sides of the ball in 2015. The Seahawks boasted the top rated passer in the NFL in Russell Wilson while also getting a lot of production from Thomas Rawls and the third ranked rushing offense averaging a robust 4.5 yards per carry. The tremendous production came despite PFF’s 30th ranked offensive line which had issues all season long.  The defense continued as one of the best units in the league against both the pass and run finishing the year 3rd in opponents’ passer rating and as the number one rushing defense.  Tyler Lockett also gives the Seahawks a dangerous weapon in the return game.

Eleven wins is a large number to predict for any team in the parity driven NFL, but feel confident taking the over with Seattle in 2016. Seattle amassed ten wins last season in spite of a 2-5 record in games decided by seven points or less.  The Seahawks have one of the most complete teams in the league.  Wilson’s scrambling ability at the quarterback position minimizes one of the teams’ few weaknesses in their offensive line.  We can expect the pass game to regress a little in 2016 after a likely unrepeatable finish to last season, but expect another strong season from Seattle.

Bonus Predictions

Denver Broncos –  2015 Win Total: 12,  2015 Model Prediction:  9,  Vegas 2016 Under/Over: 9

The Super Bowl champs lost significant performers, including Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan, from a dominant defense in the offseason and Mark Sanchez is the most experienced QB on the roster. I am still taking the over here.  Denver kept the core of the defense together and whoever is starting at QB will likely be better than Peyton Manning was last season (I do not believe I just wrote that).  The prediction quickly changes to the under if Von Miller’s contract issues persist into the season and Talib misses time due to his “incident”.

Tennessee Titans – 2015 Win Total: 3,  2015 Model Prediction:  6,  Vegas 2016 Under/Over: 5.5

Jacksonville Jaguars – 2015 Win Total: 5,  2015 Model Prediction:  7,  Vegas 2016 Under/Over: 7.5

There are a lot of similarities for two young teams at the bottom of the AFC South.  Both teams were bottom half in offensive passer rating and near the bottom in rushing.  Both teams were strong defensively against the run but struggled against the pass.  Both teams added a lot of key defensive pieces through the draft and free agency plus bolstered the running back core. It is close, but I do not think either have done enough to get the three additional wins needed in 2016 to take the over.  Both teams have improved but likely not as much as their division rivals.  Indianapolis gets a major boost with the return of a healthy Andrew Luck.  Houston should improve across the board with big commitments at quarterback, running back and wide receiver on a team with one of the better defenses.


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

Open the Wallet – Players to Buy

Updated: June 22nd 2016

In dynasty and RSO leagues, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of staying active year round in trade talks.  Player values fluctuate more than ever during this time of year.  If you’re willing to stomach some risk, there’s an opportunity for profit.  When discussing trades, I often hear that owners are afraid making a move and having it backfire in the long term.  My strategy is a bit different as I’m unafraid to make an aggressive move if I believe I’m getting more value at the time of the trade.  If you accept that you will lose in some trades but believe you will win out more than 50% of the time, be as aggressive as possible.  Right or wrong, I do not just consider deals made to be potential wins or losses.  I also think this way about trade talks that were close, but never materialized for whatever reason.  For example, trades I’ve declined have potential to be wins or losses as well though my roster has remained intact.

In this off-season edition of Open the Wallet, I’ll explain which players I’m actively looking to buy before the 2016 season.

Mark Ingram RB NO – I’ll admit, I wasn’t a fan of him early in his NFL career, but his production the last few years cannot be ignored. In fact, Ingram has averaged 4.5 yards per carry over the past 3 seasons, while increasing his utilization in the passing game each year.  In 2015, Ingram caught 50 passes in only 12 games.  With an ADP of 44th overall in Dynasty League Football June startup drafts, Ingram is a value with a few years left in the tank.

 

Ryan Mathews RB PHI / Wendell Smallwood RB PHI – Give me running backs in a Doug Pederson offense.  We saw last year that non-elite talents like Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware could be effective in Pederson’s conservative scheme. In Philadelphia, Pederson should continue running a conservative offense, especially while grooming Carson Wentz. The Eagles off-season moves also indicate that they’ll be heavily focused on running the football. They didn’t add any notable WRs in the draft or free agency, leaving the receiver corps very thin.  Philadelphia also invested heavily on the offensive line and at tight end this off-season. Mathews was very efficient in 2015, especially early in the season. He should be a borderline RB1 for as long as he can stay healthy. That said, Mathews isn’t the only running back on the team with fantasy value. Wendell Smallwood quietly was a do-it-all workhorse at West Virginia. I’d expect for him to open the season as Ryan Mathews backup with the potential to become the feature back if/when Mathews misses time for an injury.

 

Danny Woodhead RB SD – Woodhead finished 5th in PPR scoring among RBs last year. As we all know, Melvin Gordon struggled last season but still managed to eat 217 touches. With Gordon returning from microfracture surgery, Woodhead may have an even larger role this season.  He still has enough in the tank to be a valuable contributor for title contending teams, especially in PPR or .5 PPR formats.

 

Keenan Allen WR SDAccording to DLF ADP, Keenan Allen is currently being selected just ahead of a group of exciting but unproven wide receivers that includes Laquon Treadwell, Kevin White, Donte Moncrief, and DeVante Parker. Allen’s currently going 15th overall, 11th among WRs. He was on pace to put up career numbers in 2015 before lacerating his kidney. Expected to be at full strength for Week 1, Allen is an excellent trade target if you own one of these young and unproven WRs listed above or own an aging wide receiver like Dez Bryant, AJ Green, or Demaryius Thomas and want to cash in while they still have top 20 value. You likely wouldn’t need to toss in more than a second round rookie pick with Treadwell, White, Moncrief, Parker, or Thomas to acquire Allen.

 

Eric Decker WR Jets – Quietly Eric Decker had a monster year in 2015.  Many expected that his productive days would end when he left the Peyton Manning led Denver Broncos, but that hasn’t been the case.  In fact, he’s been very productive with bottom-tier talents Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith.  While Fitzpatrick’s numbers were solid last year, he was largely aided by his star wide receivers and the Chan Gailey scheme.  Pro Football Focus ranked him as just the 25th best QB in 2015.

 

Tom Brady QB NE – As Matthew Berry coined in 2015, the “Gronk You Tour” may continue into 2016.  He’s the perfect number two QB for a contending team as he’ll likely provide elite production for a majority of the season.  Let’s not forget that Brady was the 2nd best fantasy QB in 2015.  His four-game suspension presents a great buying opportunity as he’s currently 122nd in DLF ADP, 11th among QBs.

 

Carson Palmer QB ARI – Similar to Brady, Palmer was very good in 2015 – ranking 5th among QBs. I’m hoping the memory of his last game, the 4 interception disaster vs. Carolina in the playoffs, remains in the front of his owners’ minds. Optimistic that he has 1-2 good seasons left, I’d be willing to part with a late round rookie pick to acquire Palmer.  That’s likely all it would take as he’s currently being drafted 153rd in DLF ADP, 13th among QBs.

Which of these players are you also targeting in trades? Let me know @DaveSanders_RSO on Twitter!

2.01 Is The New Black

Updated: June 22nd 2016

The RealitySportsOnline (RSO) platform offers a unique way of participating in fantasy football like no other dynasty system. By having contracts, salaries and a salary cap, owners in RSO have to not only be proactive with who they think will be next year’s breakout sleeper but also assign dollar figures to their commitment. Even if they are correct in picking out players and securing them on below market value contracts they still only hold their rights for a maximum of six years (two of which would be on a franchise tag designation for top dollar). It’s not like other dynasty leagues where a player that you take in your start-up draft is your player until he becomes undesirable and is either traded or released.

Knowing that an owner has an incoming rookie for a finite number of years also puts more emphasis on a rookie to perform from year one. Having a player red shirt their first season in the NFL essentially cuts their availability to a starting roster by a third or quarter (depending on your league format) where a wait and see approach can be implemented in other dynasty formats for many rookies. Just ask those who drafted Breshad Perriman and Kevin White in the first round whether they would have rather taken a gamble on a lower ranked receiver such as Stephon Diggs or Tyler Lockett. Would the Melvin Gordon owner, who likely spent a top 3 pick rather have taken one of the Johnson backs later? Of course time will tell if and how successful any of these players will be but so far the first years of their contracts are wasted dollars.

How To Value Each Round

So how does one determine value in rookie picks? More importantly how do we determine the tradability of one pick for a collection of picks and vice versa. For this we first have to look at how real NFL teams look at their collections of picks. In the early 90’s the Dallas Cowboys were winning Super Bowls thanks to a regression model that their then co-owner Mike McCoy created for Jimmy Johnson to quickly evaluate trades. When teams came calling during the draft they added all the values of the picks and if it fell in their favor then they likely accepted the trade. From the chart below you can see the updated model for a 32 team 7 round draft. If you were to extrapolate this data onto a graph it would follow an exponential curve that drops quickly and then levels out near the bottom.

NFL Trade Value Chart

This is the base for which I started looking at how the same principles could be used for a fantasy draft. To make this chart relevant for RSO though we needed to scale the number of teams and rounds down to a normal fantasy league size. For the purpose of this article let’s assume a 10 team league that has 5 rounds. Each pick holds a value between ranges of 3,000 and 1. Factoring the rookie pay scale from last year as provided on the site here we can create a chart of each value for picks 1 through 50. This is done by adding a multiplier to the linear difference between the Pick Value (blue column) and the Cap Figure (green column). The new value with the salary included is then represented in the Added Value column (red column).

Draft Pick Value Chart Round 1 - 3

Draft Pick Value Chart Round 1 - 3

This information is more easily represented via the chart below.

Rookie Pick Graph

The first thing that should jump out is the value of the early second round picks versus the last first round picks. The numbers would suggest that the 2.01 is more valuable than the 1.04 and the 1.10 is valued at a mid-second? Right about now I can feel a collection of you clicking the exit or back button on your browser thinking that I’m crazy. Stay with me here. If you just look back to even last year’s mock drafts it was clear that there was a two headed race at the top between Amari Cooper and Todd Gurley. After them guys such as Melvin Gordon, Kevin White and Nelson Agholor were being thrown around as 3rd and 4th best options. Down at 10th and 11th we have DeVante Parker and DGB. Would anybody say that the first three names are significantly more valuable than these two after the first year? What if I was to tell you that you could have the second group of names for 75% LESS over the length of their contracts!

Depending on your own league the number of teams and rounds will change the value of these picks but for the most part the 2.01 ranged in value from the third most valuable pick to the seventh. So is the 11th player off the board really 2.4 times less productive than the 10th player? Likely the answer is no. Clearly the cap figure for the first pick in the second round is much smaller than that of any pick in the first. So why is this trend something that most people don’t know about or follow? The answer could simply be the same reason why real NFL GMs hold onto and new teams are willing to give former first rounders a second chance, the pedigree that a player drafted in the first round holds.

How To Stay Atop The Mountain

So if you are sitting at the back quarter of your draft, congrats, as you likely won your league or were a week or two away from winning it all. This likely means that you have a pretty solid core of players that will be back next year for another title run. But no team escapes the offseason totally intact so you likely have one or two holes that you would need to fill. As an example let’s say that you would be looking to replace or upgrade your TE for next season.

Finding value in under appreciated talent is a smart way to use back end draft picks

Based on the information about back end drafting I just showcased why not bundle your first and second round pick for a higher second and a veteran player such as a Greg Olsen? If he’s on a reasonably priced contract would he not be better than rolling the dice on a Gary Barnidge or Delaine Walker who you would likely be bidding for in your free agent auction? You’re also saving yourself cap space from your rookie pool that could be used to win a different prized free agent.

Another strategy that can be used if you have multiple first round picks is trading for future picks if you are not sold on selecting incoming rookies. Much like your investment portfolio, it’s good to put your money into different areas to ensure that you yield the best return. Having two or three firsts in a single draft puts a lot of your stock into the success of one class. This also forces you to choose only one of your rookies to tag down the road should any emerge as great dynasty assets. By staggering your picks over years and rounds it allows for you to have a little of each class (or save up for one super class) while not losing a large core of your players at the end of any one season.

Cost efficient rookies turn championship teams into dynasties

The benefits of having a successful offseason are what makes for a successful regular season. Nothing is more rewarding than having a player you got for cheap or the rookie you drafted in the 3rd round be the final piece to a championship season. For me, this past season was a prime example of this philosophy. Having veteran players such as Doug Baldwin and Marvin Jones signed for $3M deals along with Tyler Lockett, who I drafted in the 3rd round, was key to my unexpected championship run. Of course not all of the free agents that are brought in will work out; I’m looking at you C.J. Spiller! The hope is that while others in your league are getting caught up in rookie fever, you are able to save more of your cap room for veterans that you can secure for the same or less value that will for sure be on the field in the coming season.

FA Auction: Lessons Learned

Updated: June 18th 2016

Last time in this space, I took a look at the most frequently cut players from each offensive skill position.  My hope was that an analysis of where we went wrong last year could help steer us in this season’s free agent auction.  After all, nothing could sink a promising franchise faster than dead cap space.

For each position I picked a few players who I think that you should avoid spending big money on in your 2016 free agent auction.  Every player can be valuable with the right contract, this is not to say the below players should not be owned, I am arguing you should avoid splashing the cash on them.  First, let’s start with the obvious caveat: every league is different (size, scoring, roster size, etc.), so your mileage may vary, one league’s trash could be another’s treasure.

QUARTERBACKS:

  1. Tyrod Taylor
  2. Brock Osweiler

The biggest take away after looking at last year’s most frequently released QBs was that you should not overpay for a small sample size.  I am not advocating skipping these two altogether, but I think prudence is the key.  Taylor went 8-6 and only threw 6 INTs (3 of which in one game) but he also had five games with less than 15 completions and five games with less than 200 yards passing.  The x-factor for Taylor, of course, is his rushing ability but that is the part that worries me: it will either lead to injury, it could be game planned away by the defense or be removed from his own game plan as preservation (see: Robert Griffin III).  I’m staying away from Taylor this year, I would rather be the guy who missed on him rather than have to eat his salary later.

For Osweiler, the sample size is much smaller and his rate stats were lower than Taylor’s (completion percentage, rating, yards per attempt, etc).  So, why do I think you should avoid Taylor more so than Osweiler?  Osweiler’s value is not so heavily influenced by his rushing ability, or lack thereof.  Osweiler is a “prototypical” quarterback and has 7″ and about 20lb on Taylor.  Still, though, I am concerned what a change of scenery will mean for Brock and can’t help but see him as the next Matt Flynn.  I wouldn’t avoid him at all costs but I would only offer him a one- or at a maximum, a two-year deal.

RUNNING BACKS:

  1. Chris Ivory
  2. Matt Forte
  3. Demarco Murray

The theme with last year’s most frequently cut RBs was that you should avoid the hype of the veteran who was changing teams.  Despite some niggling injuries last year, both Ivory and Forte had decent seasons in 2015.  Ivory broke 1,000 yards for the first time in his career (1,070) and had more receptions (30) than he had the rest of his career combined (23).  Forte missed three games but was on pace for another 1,000 yard rushing season if he played the full campaign; he also pitched in with 44 receptions which was down on a per-game basis from 2014 but is still more than most RBs see in a full season.  Ivory has left the Jets for Jacksonville and Forte has taken his place.  Unless I can get them for just $2 or $3 million, I am probably skipping both Ivory and Forte.

Murray is interesting after what could not have been a more disappointing season in Philly last year.  He joins the Titans and could be at a point where his stock is so low you could actually get him for a song.  The ultimate post-hype sleeper.  He’s burned me once though, so I’m going to sit this year out.  I might let another owner take him, and if the contract is small enough, try to swing a trade once training camp starts and we see how the Titans backfield will work out.  Or maybe that’s the Cowboys fan in me talking.

WIDE RECEIVERS:

  1. Jordy Nelson – Jeff Janis
  2. Michael Crabtree – Seth Roberts
  3. Brandin Cooks – Willie Snead

The lesson to be learned last year was to not spend too much money on the up-and-coming WRs who may unseat an established veteran.  So, for this position, I thought it would be useful to look at both the old and the new at the same time because I would actually avoid picking both sides of these pairs.

Jeff Janis had a memorable playoff game for the Packers against the Cardinals (7-145-2) but is it enough to make everybody forget about Jordy Nelson who missed the season due to injury?  Probably not, but I have just enough doubt to avoid Nelson this year.  Nelson is now 31 and has had two serious injuries – an ACL and a hamstring – which forced him to miss significant time.  Dynasty players know Janis well but I don’t think his brief flash is enough to warrant anything more than a minimum contract – many of us have been fooled by his potential already.

Amari Cooper is obviously the top Raiders WR to own, but who should you target second?  After all, Derek Carr does like to air the ball out.  I’m not biting on Crabtree’s 85-922-9 and instead think that Seth Roberts will emerge.  Roberts was an unheralded rookie out of West Alabama whose line was 32-480-5.  Like Janis, his sample size is too small to spend on, but his presence means I will not sign Crabtree this offseason.

Chances are that Willie Snead was snagged off waivers by somebody last year rather than being signed to a long term deal.  I cannot imagine there were too many owners who were holding Snead futures so he’s likely up for free agency.  I’d bite in a PPR league but there weren’t enough TDs there for standard scoring, in my opinion.  Snead’s emergence dented Brandin Cooks’ potential.  Cooks didn’t score his first TD or surpass 100 yards until Week 5; ultimately he had six sub-50 yard games versus just four over-100 yard games.  His strong suit was supposed to be the volume of receptions but even that was lacking – just 84.  The saving grace for Cooks fantasy-wise was his 9 TDs but I would take the under for 2016.  Snead and Cooks are too similar in their playing style and so cannibalize each other’s opportunities to succeed.

TIGHT ENDS:

  1. David Johnson
  2. Alex Smith
  3. Coby Fleener
  4. Ladarius Green

In my last piece, I noted that David Johnson and Alex Smith were two of the most frequently cut tight ends.  Originally I attributed it to their deep, deep sleeper status but after further thought I think it was definitely because they share a name with another position player.  Whether it was an honest mistake or an unscrupulous nomination, I think some owners ended up with the wrong guy and immediately cut bait landing them on the list.  Don’t make that mistake again this year, folks.

Last year, we should have all held off on anointing Josh Hill the Jimmy Graham heir apparent, and I think this year you should similarly avoid Fleener.  Green is likewise joining a new team, the Steelers, and while he has shown flashes, he’s never been the go-to tight end for an extended period of time.  Ultimately, I think both are so close to replacement level that I wouldn’t bother.


Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

Value Town: TEs

Updated: June 10th 2016

Most people like a deal. Receiving good value for that new phone, TV, car, or any other item allows us to put our hard earned resources into other things we value.  Obtaining good values on players in Reality Sports Online (RSO) leagues is a must when putting together a winning team.  The Value Town series examines the good and bad buys from the 2015 season in RSO leagues plus the overall state of positional groups in an attempt to get owners ready for the upcoming 2016 season.

This article examines the tight end position group from 2015. You can find more information on methodology, assumptions, and definition of terms in the first article of the series here.

State of the Tight End Position

The tight end position remains simultaneously one of the most consistent and fluid positions. The elite of the position has not changed as Rob Gronkowski finished as the overall TE1 once again, the fifth straight season in which either Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham has finished as the top tight end.  Greg Olsen continues providing solid value finishing as a mid range TE1 for the fourth consecutive season.  Several young talented young players joined the TE1 ranks including Jordan Reed, Tyler Eifert, and Zach Ertz.  Reed led all tight ends in fantasy points per game while Eifert dominated the red zone topping the position with 13 touchdowns in only 13 games.  The “old” players proved the NFL is not just a young man’s game as six players in their 30s finished in the top 12.

Tight End Values

The Good

Gary Barnidge –  Average Salary: $0.5M, Approximate Value: $23M

Barnidge wins the “Best Value” award for any player in 2015 with a top four finish at the position from a guy who was likely claimed off waivers in your league. His 79 reception/1,043 yard/9 touchdown performance was one of the few bright spots on a Cleveland team that went through multiple quarterbacks and struggled on offense all year.  The 30 year old also takes my “Where did that come from?” award with a season that accumulated more receptions, yards, and touchdowns than his previous eight seasons combined in the league.  Barnidge was rewarded for his impressive year with a three year, $12 million contract in the offseason.  He provides one of the few veteran presences on a team who just drafted four receivers.

Jordan Reed –  Average Salary: $1.2M, Approximate Value: $31M

We were finally able to see what a (mostly) healthy Reed could do in 2015 as he broke out with an impressive 87 reception/952 yard/11 touchdown season in fourteen games. The often injured star has played only 34 games in his three year career suffering through a variety of injuries including multiple concussions.  His hands, athleticism, and fluidity as a receiver make him a matchup nightmare when on the field though, resulting in an incredible 0.76 reception to target ratio throughout his career.  The Washington tight end was also rewarded with a contract extension in the offseason and should remain as the focal point of the emerging offense.

Ben Watson –  Average Salary: $0.6M, Approximate Value: $11M

Another veteran who made his presence felt is the well traveled Ben Watson. The thirteen year veteran took full advantage of the high powered New Orleans offense on the way to his best statistical season in the NFL.  His season was highlighted by a 9 reception, 147 yard performance against the Giants.  The 35 year old takes his talents to a crowded Baltimore depth chart in 2016.

The Bad

Jimmy Graham –  Average Salary: $13.8M, Approximate Value: $5M

The Saints traded Jimmy Graham to Seattle prior to the 2015 season in one of the biggest moves of the year.   Events did not quite go as expected by many with Graham producing as only a low level starting option for fantasy teams while he was in the lineup.  The Seahawks certainly utilized their new tight end, probably more than many realized.  His 74 targets in only 11 games was second on the team for the entire 2015 season and easily eclipsed Seattle’s tight end targets from all of 2014.  The one area in which Graham truly disappointed fantasy owners was in the touchdown department of which he managed only two on the season.

Graham suffered a patellar tear in week 12 ending his season. His prospects for the 2016 season are somewhat in doubt.  Seattle is hopeful he will be ready for week 1 this season but he could easily be placed on the PUP list for the first six weeks of the year.  We simply do not have many examples of players with this type of injury and fewer yet who have made a full recovery (You can read more about his road to recovery here).

Jordan Cameron –  Average Salary: $3.3M, Approximate Value: Not Worth a Roster Spot

Many people were excited at the prospects of Cameron moving to Miami last season. The former Brown was expected to be an integral part of the offense going forward.  Cameron proved to be a disappointment. He was targeted more than seven times per game over the first five weeks but only managed an abysmal 5.5 yards per target over that span.  The Dolphins eventually decreased Cameron’s role and he did not eclipse 35 yards or 5 targets in any game for the rest of the season.

Looking Forward

Greg Olsen continues as a rock at tight end and Gronkowski is simply one of the best to have ever played at the position (although with his own substantial injury history). However, there are more questions than answers going forward which is not unusual for the tight end position.  Will the likes of Barnidge, Walker, and Watson build upon career years in their 30s?  Will young and talented, but often injured, stars such as Reed and Eifert stay healthy for an entire season (I write this as Eifert recently had ankle surgery)?

The position remains as fluid as ever. I could make legitimate arguments for why a large number of tight ends including Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Ladarius Green, Eric Ebron, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins could join the starting fantasy tight end ranks in 2016.  Fortunately, the tight end position is a good place to take multiple cheap gambles in RSO leagues.  Only five tight ends averaged over $5 million in RSO auctions for the 2015 season with the 6th through 20th ranked salaries averaging about $2.5 million.   This allows for a lot of value upside at the position and not much downside with the cheap salaries.


Bio: Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

Top 5 Remaining Offseason ?s

Updated: June 7th 2016

In the Zone

As the offseason has progressed, there have been some storylines that have continued to linger and others that have been new developments. There are fantasy implications all abound for all of these questions. Here are my top five remaining questions (in no particular order) that will alter the mindset of how players in these situations are viewed. I’m not including Tom Brady’s four-game suspension because the Patriots will be able to game plan for it if it sticks.

1) Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Contract Situation

The New York Jets, according to Spotrac, have only $3.1 million of remaining cap space for its Top 51 players. That provides an interesting conundrum on bringing back Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is coming off a career season with 3,905 yards passing and 31 touchdowns against 15 interceptions.

These numbers far exceed prior contributions from the signal-caller, yet Fitzpatrick only completed 59.6% of his passes last season and had one 300 yard game while the team narrowly missed the playoffs. Fitzpatrick seems to be wanting $12 million a year, possibly on a one year deal, which doesn’t appease the Jets who want to spread out the salary over time for cap purposes.

While the Jets were clearly a better team last year with Fitzpatrick at the helm, how much of that is attributable to a solid ground game and more importantly, renaissance man Brandon Marshall? I’d say a lot. Even with bolstering its offensive line with the trade for left tackle Ryan Clady and the big free agent signing of versatile running back Matt Forte, giving the quarterback the most amount of talent he’s ever had around him by far.

Geno Smith hasn’t effectively been a game manager, but hasn’t really been given the opportunity since the unfortunate broken jaw incident that led to Fitzpatrick starting the season and catching fire. Smith is the starter in OTA’s in Fitzpatrick’s absence and is a free agent in 2017. It would behoove the Jets to see what they have in Smith this year, especially if Fitzpatrick continues to hold out for what he believes he deserves.

What does all this mean for fantasy football? Not much, really. Marshall and fellow wide receiver Eric Decker have performed well no matter who their quarterback is, even if they are showing solidarity for Fitzpatrick. I watched Fitzpatrick frequently miss connections with Decker plenty last season and Decker does have a 200 yard game on his resume with Smith as quarterback. Forte also performed well in Chicago, even at a greater clip without Jay Cutler.

That’s your main concern, unless you are a Jets fan. Let’s face it- you aren’t throwing eight figures at Fitz in your auction or are considering him as a QB2 for any of your leagues.

Conclusion: Proceed as you were. Nothing to see here, people.

2) Sammy Watkins’ Injured Foot

It certainly came out of left field last month when it was announced that third-year wide receiver Sammy Watkins had foot surgery in April. This is the same surgery that impacted Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, and Julian Edelman. The big question that fantasy owners are dying to know is whether Watkins will be back in time for the regular season.

From a Reality Sports Online perspective, and I’ve said this on the record on Twitter, this Watkins news makes his price that much more reasonable and I’d be in buy mode while he’s cheaper. There are a few buckets of owners of Watkins in leagues. First, you have those who have Watkins on a rookie deal, likely around $6.0 million a year currently. That is a steal for a potential top 10 fantasy wideout for the next two years. Those who entered leagues later may have a heftier price tag on Watkins, but if it is anything under $20 million a season, that could be value.

As for me, I traded my final contract year of Randall Cobb (1 year remaining, $17.4 million) for Watkins (2016: $6.4 million, 2017: $7.0 million) and Matthew Stafford (1 year remaining $14.0 million). Basically, while I like Cobb’s potential efficiency to increase this year with the return of Jordy Nelson, I think Watkins ceiling is massive and a cheap price. Stafford is likely a cheap trade or cap casualty as I have Russell Wilson as my starter on a cheaper deal, but that to me was a small price to pay to get a potential superstar (which no doubt Cobb has been as well at times).

The news on Watkins having a screw inserted and prior history with Bryant rushing back and a subsequent Edelman surgery are troubling, but the Bills know what they have in Watkins and won’t make him take unnecessary training camp reps to risk not being ready for the regular season. Even if he starts slowly the first two weeks, his back half of 2015 was dominant on a team that only threw the ball more than 30 times in half of the final eight games.

How dominant you ask-try 41 catches for 732 yards and 6 touchdowns in the final eight games, including four 100 yard games. In fact, in that stretch, when Watkins was targeted 10 or more times, his worst game was 5 catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. Further, that’s on a run-oriented team and the team didn’t bring much in the help department for quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the passing game.

Lastly, in the event I haven’t convinced you on Watkins yet, he’s got a potential fantasy playoff slate against Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Miami, all at home in Weeks 14-16 and the Raiders and Jags immediately prior.

Conclusion: Not concerned currently, but pay attention to the news. If you have Watkins, you’re probably holding him and expecting big things. If you have someone who is losing faith on him in your league, pounce on that, especially if the price is right.

3) The Josh Gordon Saga-Will It Continue?

By now you know the narrative about Josh Gordon. Incredibly talented, but can’t stay out of trouble. Those of you who still own him at an average of 1.7 remaining years and $9.3 million remaining contract are sincerely hoping Gordon can put his past (and Johnny Manziel) behind him to tear it up on the gridiron again.

That picture remains unclear, but there is some optimism that when August rolls around, Gordon can be clean and reinstated. The question then is what do the Browns do with him? He certainly would like nice in an all Baylor connection with Robert Griffin III and rookie #1 pick Corey Coleman (who I really like as a Top 3 rookie draft get), but at the same time Browns coach Hue Jackson is emphasizing character and the team is stockpiling Moneyball draft picks for the future.

Conclusion: Wait and see. If you have Gordon at an annual average of 1.7 years remaining and a little over $9.0 million left on his contract, just hope he hits the field, because if he does, he’ll produce anywhere. He still has top five wide receiver potential at close to bye week replacement pricing.

4) Is This the Year to Go Cheap at Quarterback?

Given the popularity of streaming quarterbacks in weekly redraft leagues and similar low dollar values in some daily games, a popular strategy that is now emerging in Reality Sports Online leagues is to spend as little as possible on your starting quarterback. The theory, as adopted by Reality Sports Online’s own Stephen Wendell with a quarterback like Derek Carr is simple: there are only 10-12 starting quarterbacks in each league, so don’t overpay for one while your budget can be used on positions that may require more cap space.

If any a year to adopt this strategy, 2016 seems like a prime one with quarterbacks like Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston in their second year of rookie deals which typically found them as late first or early second round picks in 2015. The same holds true for Carr and fellow third year quarterback Blake Bortles. Both third year signal-callers have plenty of weapons. Heck, even Andy Dalton was playing like a top five quarterback until he got injured last season.

With quarterbacks like Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, and Eli Manning always a possibility to produce, unless quarterback is a position that derives more value in your leagues, it might be smart to not go crazy trying to sign the Aaron Rodgers types for $25 million when one of these quarterbacks can be had for $5 million or less.

Conclusion: 2016 seems like the first RSO league year where the cheap quarterback may really derive an advantage. I’m a firm believer in prime signal callers in the fantasy playoffs, someone you are sure will produce solid numbers even on a bad day. But if you can load up at receiver and get the right running backs under contract, this strategy is an interesting one.

5) Arian Foster: Whose Fantasy Season is he Going to Screw Up?

It is somewhat insane that Arian Foster remains unsigned, but it seems like he wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s close to having a clean bill of health and there are definitely a few potentially needy teams still lurking. Foster likely is looking at a $3-4 million deal with some incentives that could be achieved if he’s healthy and performs well.

To me, the big question isn’t where Foster signs, but which current fantasy starter he’s going to destroy value for?

First off, if you are still holding Foster thinking he may be the same running back he was on Houston when healthy, please temper your expectations. He’s a very accomplished runner with excellent pass catching ability and a nose for the end zone. That’s where he holds the biggest value to teams. I don’t think teams are looking at him to be their bell-cow at this point in virtually any scenario.

I’d expect him to sign with the Miami Dolphins and if he does, Jay Ajayi owners will not be happy. Washington remains a good possibility and they’ve built up a pretty nice offense at this point. Put Foster in a committee and give him pass catching and goal-line responsibilities and he’ll have almost as much fantasy value on efficiency and fresh legs than he did as the featured back on the Texans. I personally don’t buy the New England hype-Dion Lewis is younger, coming off an easier injury to recover from, and under a fairly good contract.

Conclusion: If you haven’t cut Foster yet, hang on and see where this next month takes him. I wouldn’t overpay for him as a handcuff, but I’ve come around on him if he’s in a good situation and used well (10-12 touches a game), he could have Danny Woodhead like PPR fantasy value. If you are holding Ajayi or were hoping that Matt Jones was about to break out this year, get nervous, but wait to see what happens.


Matt Goodwin is entering his third season as a writer for Reality Sports Online and is in year four of his main league. He also contributes for numberFire. He is an avid sports fan from Cleveland, Ohio who would count a championship for a Cleveland major sports team a close second behind getting married to his wife Renee and the births of his children, Jory (6 year old son) and Lainie (18 month old daughter). Matt loves mid 90’s hip-hop, playing pick-up hoops, traveling, Ohio State football and Arizona basketball, watching Glengarry Glen Ross for the millionth time and being outside the few months it doesn’t rain in Seattle where he lives. He can be found on Twitter @mattgoody2 and hopes you continue to read his In the Zone articles.