Mid Preseason Report

Updated: August 30th 2017

There have been 33 preseason games played which have given us a nice preview of what the 2017 season could be. Several players have already flashed potential while others are starting to make owners very nervous. Here is a list of players that have caught my eye (for good or bad) and what I think it means for their regular season.

↑ 2nd Round Rookie Risers

Alvin Kamara and Jamaal Williams have been impressive while running with their first team offenses in their first two games. Both have shown they can burst through the middle as well as make plays in the passing game. Hopefully, their usage hasn’t been a mirage due to other players (Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram for New Orleans and Ty Montgomery for Green Bay) not being in the lineup. Regardless, both are in high scoring offenses that should benefit their specific skill set, Kamara through the passing game and Williams with frequent goal line carries. Depending on where they were selected in your rookie draft it might be worth it to inquire what their costs would be now. After the usual crew (Fournette, Cook, McCaffrey, Mixon) these two RBs might have the highest floor for 2017.

↑ McCaffrey the Real 1.01?

It was an interesting quandary as to who should be chosen with the first pick in rookie drafts. Early in the offseason, it was Dalvin Cook but a poor combine dropped him from the pole position. Leonard Fournette was then the next man up and he along with Corey Davis have been the most consistent 1.01 in drafts May through July.  But now that the pads are on and the tackles are real it might have been a steal to get Christian McCaffrey at 1.03 or 1.04. He looks like he will fit perfectly with the Panthers play style and we haven’t even seen how defenses will react to read plays with Cam Newton under center. I expect Jonathan Stewart to have a role but this could be an even better complementary backfield than Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill was in Cincinnati. With his skills in the passing game, McCaffrey looks like an easy candidate for 60-70 targets and should be pushing 1,000 total yards. In PPR leagues that’s more than what I would want out of my 1.01 selection.

↓ LeGarrette Blount

LeGarrette Blount is the most Patriots system player. No other player could go from 18 touchdowns with one team to a potential cut candidate with a different team. With reports suggesting that Blount is slightly overweight and has shown that he might not be a good fit for Doug Pederson’s stretch and shotgun run game it really wouldn’t be a surprise to see him not on the roster week 1. Even if he does stay with the Eagles it will be difficult to expect a consistent weekly total. His value will solely be on whether or not he scores a touchdown in a given week. Unless you play in standard leagues Blount is a player that will likely have Matt Asiata-like value.

↑ Corey Clement

With the news of Blount and maybe even Wendell Smallwood not being roster locks for the Eagles, it makes sense to try and find who the next man up will be. Darren Sproles will always be the satellite back and will be more featured on passing plays. That leaves Corey Clement, the UDFA rookie out of Wisconsin as an interesting option for deeper leagues. He looked good running against a strong Bills defense (4.2 yards/carry and a TD) last week. While he’s unlikely to be used day 1 this may be a Rob Kelley like situation where by midseason he’s pushing for the most touches of the more traditional RBs. He is worth monitoring for now and if either Blount or Smallwood don’t make the roster he might be worth adding.

 

↓ All Indianapolis Colts

I’m tired of this “will he, won’t he” game that the Colts have been playing with Andrew Luck and his shoulder injury. At some point, his lack of presence in practice and in preseason games suggests that he is not healthy and will be missing some games. How many is anybody’s guess at this point but it’s hard to trust any Colts players with the possibility of Scott Tolzien running the offense. T.Y. Hilton is the only player that should hold some consistency week-to-week but even he takes a mild hit. If you haven’t already sold Dante Moncrief I’m not sure what you’re waiting for. His touchdown dependency is a scary thing to bet on and without Luck in 8 games the last two seasons the offense has only averaged 17.5 points a game (Tolzien’s only game they scored 7 points!). Even with a rumor that Brock Osweiler may be on the Colts radar for a trade that shouldn’t get people excited about what the Colts will have going on this season.

↑ Zay Jones

Sometimes a player’s situation just trumps all the previous biases you have against him and you go from avoiding to actively seeking to acquire. Jordan Howard was that player for me last year and Zay Jones looks like he will be my 2017 choice. Sammy Watkins is gone, so is Anquan Boldin, and Jordan Matthews is JAG (Just A Guy) material. A player who is no stranger to being the first option in his offense, he had 158!! receptions last season at East Carolina, Jones is the definition of a possession receiver who just also happens to have 4.45 speed. While I’m less optimistic about long term value because of the history of the Bills and their run first offensive scheme, Jones should be one of the most targeted rookies in 2017.

The Watch List: Big Ten Preview

Updated: August 30th 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players, storylines and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  Check back throughout the Summer for previews on each conference and my preseason Heisman predictions.  During the regular season, The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Players to Watch

  • Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State:  By now you’ve heard all about Barkley but I hope I can add to the narrative with a deeper dive into stats, measureables and film observations.  Let’s start with his stats.  In 2015, as a true freshman, Barkley rushed 182 times for 1,076 yards and 7 TDs; he added 20 receptions for 161 yards and a score.  In 2016, Barkley improved those numbers to 272 carries, 1,496 yards, a whopping 18 TDs, 28 receptions, 402 receiving yards and 4 receiving TDs.  Over his two seasons, Barkley has ten 100+ rushing yard games and five of at least 194 yards.  Before you dismiss these big games as box score stuffing outings versus FCS cupcakes, you should note that eight of the 100+ games came against Power 5 teams.  All five of the 194+ games came against Power 5 teams (Rutgers, Ohio State, Maryland, Purdue and USC).  That’s impressive, and in fact, Barkley has not played a single FCS team (I wish all FBS teams would take this approach).  So not only is Barkley productive but he’s productive against “real” teams.  For his career, Barkley has a 5.7 yards per rush average – good but not great.  After looking at his situational stats on CFBStats.com, I believe Barkley is about as clutch as a running back can be.  Most offenses turn to their passing game when losing, but in 2016 the Nittany Lions turned to Barkley who had 11 of his 18 TDs when losing (plus 2 of his 4 receiving TDs).  He’s also 16/32 on 3rd & Short in his career.  Compare that to recent 1.01 picks, Fournette was 16/31 and Elliott was a crazy 31/53 (bold prediction: Barkley will catch him).  Attentive readers may have noticed that Barkley had just 182 carries in 2015 (90 less than in 2016).  It wasn’t due to him sharing the load, it was because of injury.  Barkley injured his right ankle against San Diego State and missed the next two games.  He then injured the same ankle again in the 2016 regular season finale against Michigan State but he did not end up missing the Big Ten Championship (rushed for 19-83 against Wisconsin).  As far as measureables go, Barkley has a pretty good comp: Ezekiel Elliott.  Elliott is an inch taller but Barkley is a few pounds heavier.  Oh, I forgot to mention that Barkley is a tenth of a second faster though, at least.  During Spring practices in 2015, Barkley ran a 4.38 and in 2016 he ran a 4.33.  Since 2010, the only running back to run faster than 4.40 at 5’11” or taller and at over 220lbs was Knile Davis.  Barkley is a rare combination of size and speed that we have not seen recently.  Of course that does not mean he will automatically be a success (sorry Knile) but when you watch film of Barkley it is obvious that he will succeed at the next level.  I watched his film from Rutgers and Wisconsin.  No surprise here, Barkley looks like an NFL back.  He runs with balance, shows a quick jump cut, has above average vision, is not afraid of contact and is competent at the goal line.  As far as pass protection, it was a mixed bag but I would say he’s average at worst.  He had a number of positive blocks but allowed a crunching hit from TJ Watt that ended in a lost fumble.  Barkley would get his revenge against Watt though later in the game.  With Penn State losing in the 4th quarter, Barkley ran a wheel route from the 18 yard line, beat Watt by two steps and caught the ball beautifully over his shoulder while getting two or three feet in.  I had seen enough highlights of Barkley catching passes at or near the line of scrimmage so it was nice to see that he could be a threat further down field.  That touchdown catch ended up being the winning score, but it wasn’t the last time Barkley impressed me in the game.  With 52 seconds left, the Badgers were out of timeouts and the game was all but over.  Barkley took the 3rd down hand off, ran right for a few yards and slid like a quarterback to stay in bounds and keep the clock running.  It was a heady play that you don’t see that often in college.  I purposefully watched Barkley’s game against Wisconsin since it was after his second ankle injury – I wanted to see him managing an injury.  He was definitely a step slower than the film against Rutgers but he was still fast enough and explosive enough to make defenders miss.  Speaking of his speed, I noted that he seems to get faster the longer he is running so it will be interesting to see his 40 yard dash splits.  I’ll bet he starts slow but finishes the last quarter faster than anybody else.  Come April, Barkley will likely be a Top 10 pick in the NFL draft.  As for RSO drafts, I think he’ll be the consensus 1.01 much like Elliott was two years earlier.
  • Troy Fumagalli, TE, Wisconsin:  The nine-fingered Fumagalli has a long injury history but I’m still bullish on his prospects.  The missing finger was amputated after he was born due to a disorder and is not an “injury” but I think it’s an interesting story given that he has had two other hand injuries during his Wisconsin career.  It seems that Fumagalli can do more with seven or eight fingers than the rest of us with ten.  In addition to a broken thumb in 2015, Fumagalli suffered an ankle injury which combined to limit his production to 28 receptions, 313 yards and just a single touchdown.    In 2016, he nearly missed the first game of the season after a severe cut on his hand that required surgery; he also suffered a leg injury against Georgia Southern that forced him to exit early but he did not miss further time.  He ended 2016 with a line of 47-580-2.  I watched Fumagalli against Michigan because I thought their defense, chock-full of NFL talent, would be a good barometer for his blocking ability.  In the two seasons worth of film I have watched now, I can’t recall a better blocking TE.  At worst, I would grade him as an A, if not an A+.  He won’t be confused with a track star (DraftScout.com has him estimated at 4.84) but he’s not a “move tight end” so that shouldn’t hurt his draft stock.  He’s an old school tight end for sure.  If Fumagalli can stay healthy in 2017, a big if given the last two seasons, he should be one of the top two or three TEs drafted in the NFL but will be less desirable to fantasy owners.
  • Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State:  Weber will be a redshirt sophomore with more injuries than seasons played.  He tore his meniscus in 2015 and is battling a hamstring injury now.  I watched film of Weber against Rutgers and was impressed.  He looks like an NFL running back and could be the next great Buckeye back after Zeke Elliott and Carlos Hyde.  In that game against Rutgers, two runs stood out.  The first was a 50 yard gain where he burst through a wide open hole at the line, half-hurdled a defender and angled towards the sideline to try and get the most yards before the safety got to him; near the end of the run he had the presence of mind to change his ball carrying hand.  The second example showed his pure speed: two quick cuts and gone.  Weber carried 182 times in 2016 and gained 1,096 yards with 9 TDs.  He also contributed with 23 receptions (just 91 yards though).  I question it’s accuracy, but apparently Weber ran a 4.35 40 yard dash.  With that speed and his size, we’re looking at a very nice comparison to Lamar Miller.  There’s no certainty that Weber will come out after his sophomore season but if he does, based on what I see now, he should find himself with a 3rd-4th round NFL draft grade; if he comes out and officially runs a 4.35, we could be looking at somebody who would rise to the 2nd round.
  • Honorable Mentions:
    • Akrum Wadley, RB, Iowa:  Before starting my Big Ten preview research, I had not heard of Wadley to be honest.  I first came across his name while reviewing WalterFootball.com’s prospect rankings and decided to delve a little deeper.  Wadley is 5’11” and 190lbs which is worrisome.  If you look at combine history, since 2010, just a single running back has been 5’11” or taller and weighed less than 195lbs (Taiwan Jones).  Wadley’s stats from 2016 are impressive though: 1,081 yards, 6.4 yards per carry, 36 receptions, 315 receiving yards and 13 total TDs.  Wadley had considered going pro after 2016 but wisely chose to come back to the Hawkeyes.  I’ll keep an eye on him in 2017 to see if he repeats his two-way success.
    • JT Barrett, QB, Ohio State:  Interestingly, Barrett comps very closely, size-wise, to the three quarterbacks taken in the first twelve picks of the 2017 NFL draft.  He’s 6’2″ and 220lb, the same height and just a few pounds lighter than Trubisky, Mahomes and Watson.  Barrett should time faster than those three though.  Out of high school he was clocked at 4.79; a Sports Illustrated article about his backstory stated that he ran a 4.50; DraftScout.com has him estimated at 4.52.  If Barrett breaks the 4.50 barrier, he’ll be in the Tyrod Taylor realm (4.47).  Barrett has had a peculiar career arc to say the least.  He was the starter in 2014 as a true freshman before getting hurt and letting Cardale Jones steal the spotlight on the Buckeyes road to the National Championship.  Jones beat him out to start 2015, but Barrett eventually took the job back.  With Jones gone to the NFL, Barrett was free to start again in 2016, as he will in 2017.  While Barrett has had his share of adversity off the field battling for the job, once on the field he’s led a dominant team.  In his 36 career games, Barrett threw just 20% of his attempts while losing; just 9% of his passing TDs came while losing.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing but I think it will be cannon fodder for NFL scouts looking to knock him back.  He is the product of a great team and a productive system, with a major injury in his past, but he does have some potential if he continues to progress as a passer.  Barrett’s career completion percentage is 63%, he has 100 total career TDs and he has an impressive 3:1 TD:INT ratio.  Enjoy Barrett while you can this season because you likely won’t see too much more of him in the NFL.
    • Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State:  Gesicki is a big target, QB Trace McSorley’s biggest, at 6’6″ and 255lbs.  He is the Nittany Lions’ top returning receiver by receptions, yards and touchdowns and set team records in 2016 for TEs in both yards and receptions.  I watched film of Gesicki against Indiana and liked what I saw in the limited exposure.  He is versatile and lines up all over the field: on the line, split out, in the backfield.  He was a plus blocker.  He’s also pretty quick.  On a 3rd & 20 deep in their own territory, Gesicki caught a 45 yarder where he outran the defender and the ball, he adjusted back to the ball well and caught it with his hands.  I don’t think Gesicki will be a sexy name for fantasy owners but his well rounded game should help him see the NFL field early.
    • Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana:  The Big Ten is surprisingly light on top end wide receiver talent.  I chose Cobbs to highlight because of his elite size: 6’4″ and 220lbs.  There are plenty of negatives surrounding Cobbs though.  After a great sophomore season (60 receptions, 1,035 yards, 4 TDs), Cobbs was suspended for the first game of 2016.  Then, in game two, Cobbs suffered a season-ending ankle injury.   In July 2017, Cobbs was arrested after failing to follow police orders at a concert; he declined to take a breathalyzer.  Because of the off-field and injury concerns I decided not to delve too deeply into Cobbs but we should all keep an eye on him since others have been drafted highly with worse rap sheets.
    • Sam Hubbard & Tyquan Lewis, DEs, Ohio State:  This one-two punch will be demoralizing opposing offensive lines all season long.  Hubbard has 74 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in his career; Lewis has 92, 27.5 and 16.5.  Neither guy was a highly sought after recruit, both were just three star recruits, so they have worked for their success  Phil Steele has Lewis projected as his #1 draft eligible DE while Hubbard is #3.  If both come out, we could see both taken in the first round of the NFL draft and both taken in IDP drafts.
    • Marcus Allen, S, Penn State:  I wanted to like Allen more than I did when I watched film of his from a monster game against Minnesota from 2016 (22 total tackles).  Allen looks smaller than his 6’2″ 205lb frame and I did not note any highlight plays.  He’s often around the ball but that might be more a factor of where he lines up, close to the line of scrimmage, than his ball skills or instincts.  Right now, Allen is purely a run supporting free safety; he has zero interceptions in his 36 career games.  Allen had an impressive 110 tackles last year but needs to improve in coverage to get a true NFL look.  If he adds 10-15 pounds he could instead project as a linebacker-safety tweener similar to Jaylon Smith or Telvin Smith.  Best case, he improves or bulks up and finds a clear role on an NFL defense.  Worst case, he’ll be like TJ Green who was drafted by the Colts in the 2nd round out of Clemson in 2016 with a similar size and stat profile.  Not sure who TJ Green is?  Exactly.
    • Billy Price, G/C, Ohio State:  Price won’t be the highest player selected on this list in the 2018 draft but I’d bet that he is the first to contribute in a meaningful way in the NFL.  Price has good size for a guard or center at 6’4″ and 312lbs and could probably fill in at RT in a pinch.  He has 41 career starts combined at LG and RG.  In 2016 he was a Second Team All-American, improving on his Second Team Big Ten campaign of 2015.  For 2017 he’ll move inside to C, taking over the spot vacated by All-American Pat Elflein who was drafted by the Vikings.

Storylines to Watch

  • Versatile Big Ten OL Will Dominate Day Two of the NFL Draft:  It was interesting to find so many versatile Big Ten lineman at or near the top of the various rankings resources I consult.  At this point, I don’t think any of these guys will come out with first round grades but some could creep up as often happens with offensive lineman, quarterbacks and pass rushers as we get closer to April.  The aforementioned Billy Price should pace this group.  He’ll be joined by Michigan’s C Mason Cole.  Cole played at LT in 2014 and 2015 but moved to C for 2016 (a move you don’t often see).  Michigan State’s C/G Brian Allen is undersized at 6’2″ and 304lbs so he’ll project as a center at the next level.  Allen’s brother Jack is already plying his trade as a backup center with the Saints.  Wisconsin has a pair of junior guards in Beau Benzschawel and Michael Dieter who have starts at LG, C, RG and RT between them.  One, if not both, of them will emerge and hopefully follow in the footsteps of departed All-American Ryan Ramczyk, who snuck into the first round at pick 32.
  • Rowing the Boat in the Land of 10,000 Lakes:  PJ Fleck has moved on from Western Michigan to Minnesota where he will continue to “Row the Boat.”  Interestingly, he had to agree to donate $10,000 a year to WMU to continue to use the catchphrase which the school smartly licensed during his tenure.  Fleck has a ho-hum 30-22 career record but was a stellar 13-1 last season.  The Broncos perfect season ended in a close 24-16 Cotton Bowl loss to Wisconsin.  The good news for the Gophers is that Fleck’s squad beat two other Big Ten teams last year (Northwestern, Illinois) so he should be comfortable with the level of competition; both wins were on the road.  The non-conference schedule is easy (Buffalo, Oregon State, Middle Tennessee) so Fleck’s measuring stick will be conference wins.  Minnesota has not had six conference wins since 1973, so if he can get the Gophers to that mark (five in 2016) they’ll erect a monument in time for the 2018 season.
  • Indiana Will Win 8 Games:  This might not be the boldest of my predictions this preseason but it would be surprising for a lot of fans to look and see Indiana competing in the Big Ten East.  The Hoosiers, like the Gophers mentioned above, have not had too much success over the recent decades.  The last time Indiana won eight games was 1993 and it’s only happened three times since 1980.  Former defensive coordinator Tom Allen takes over as head coach.  Indiana had its best defense in years in 2016 (for example, they were 45th in the FBS by yards per game in 2016 versus 121st in 2015) so that continuity will be good for the team.  Speaking of continuity, BTN put out a stat that caught my eye: Indiana returns 93% of their defensive production from last year.  They don’t specify what exactly “production” means but I presume it’s at least counting tackles if not sacks and interceptions.  That huge percentage puts them first in the FBS; second best in the conference is Northwestern at 77%.  The biggest name on the defense is senior linebacker Tegray Scales, who had 126 tackles and 7 sacks last season.  The non-conference schedule is soft (Virginia, FIU, Georgia Southern) and two of their three conference crossover games are winnable (Illinois and Purdue; the third is Wisconsin).  I think the ingredients are there for the Hoosiers to win eight close, low scoring, games.

Games to Watch

  • August 31, Ohio State at Indiana:  I love seeing a conference game this early in the season.  If Indiana is to hit the heights I have predicted above, they will need to grab one big upset win against the likes of Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan or Wisconsin.  The Buckeyes are the best team of that bunch but if there’s ever a time for Indiana to steal a win against Ohio State it would be now.  I’m not predicting an upset here but I expect a closer game than the Vegas line will be and would not be surprised if Ohio State gets caught looking ahead to Oklahoma.
  • September 30, Iowa at Michigan State:  MSU is in full-on reboot mode.  They were a disappointing 3-9 last year and lost a lot of players.  Per Phil Steele’s experience research, Sparty is 117th in the FBS in terms of returning lettermen.  Maybe a fresh start is a good thing, but more likely it spells another long season for Mark D’Antonio.  This contest against Iowa will be a good early season test.  It’s the first conference game for Michigan State and they will be hosting an Iowa team coming off a tough game against Penn State.
  • September 30, Northwestern at Wisconsin:  Northwestern has the best chance of the rest of the West to topple the Badgers.  They are an experienced team that returns a solid nucleus on offense, including a 1,500+ yard rusher in Justin Jackson and a 3,000+ yard passer in Clayton Thorson.  I give Northwestern a shot over Nebraska based strictly on the experience – the Cornhuskers lose their top passer, rusher and receiver on offense as well as their top three tacklers.  Every conference game is technically a “must-win” if you want to win the division but the Wildcats don’t have a prayer if they don’t win this one on the road.
  • November 25, Ohio State at Michigan:  The Game has not been much of a rivalry lately despite its historic connotations.  Ohio State has won 14 of the last 16 games between the two giants since 2000.  Last year’s game was a classic which went to overtime; the Buckeyes were aided by a questionable 4th & 1 call that could have sealed the win for Michigan.  Admittedly I am a Michigan fan and will be rooting for the Wolverines in this one but I don’t think they stand a chance.  There’s a reason I haven’t mentioned Michigan much in this preview: they were decimated by the NFL draft.  Quarterback Wilton Speight returns but he’ll be surrounded by underclassmen on both sides of the ball.  By my count they lost at least ten key contributors from the last two 10-3 seasons.  If Michigan can pull off the upset it will be one that both fan bases will remember for years to come.  Ultimately, I don’t think it will happen and this game will simply be another stepping stone for Ohio State on their way to the CFP.

Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s

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.

2017 RSO Rookie Mock Draft v3.0

Updated: August 23rd 2017

This August update was the hardest mock I have done so far for RSO (including my first 2018 mock which is yet to be published).  It’s easy to fall into the trap of weighting preseason action too heavily so I tried to fight that urge as much as .  I’m sure you will disagree with a number of these picks and I’d like to hear about it @robertfcowper on Twitter.  Please note, I am writing this before the third week of preseason games which is typically when we see the most “realistic” preseason football and you’ll likely be reading it during or after those games.

1.01 – LEONARD FOURNETTE, RB, JAGUARS
1.02 – COREY DAVIS, WR, TITANS
1.03 – CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY, RB, PANTHERS

I’ve had Fournette and Davis as my 1.01 and 1.02, in that order, from the beginning and don’t plan to change them now. Fournette’s value may be negatively impacted by QB Blake Bortles if he continues to struggle like he has so far in the preseason and Davis’s injury hurts his immediate value slightly. Neither falls behind McCaffrey for me, but McCaffrey’s solid preseason work pushes him into a close third in my first tier. If you need a RB over WR, I wouldn’t fault you for getting caught up in the CMC hype at 1.02.

1.04 – DALVIN COOK, RB, VIKINGS
1.05 – JOE MIXON, RB, BENGALS

In addition to moving McCaffrey out of this tier, I decided to flip-flop Cook and Mixon. Mixon may end up with the more productive career over time but on RSO we are drafting for more immediate production as rookie contracts are only three or four years long. Cook has an easier route to RB1 touches with Latavius Murray in front of him rather than Mixon who has Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard to battle.

1.06 – ZAY JONES, WR, BILLS

I was high on Zay previously having him at 1.10 but since July his stock has risen due to personnel moves in Buffalo. Sammy Watkins was traded, Jordan Matthews was acquired and Anquan Boldin signed and promptly retired. Ultimately that’s a net positive for Jones. The Bills won’t be great, but neither was East Carolina.

1.07 – OJ HOWARD, TE, BUCS

Howard stays the course here at 1.07. I haven’t seen or heard anything that encourages me to move him up or down yet.  Don’t forget to grab Cameron Brate too because like most rookie TEs he will need time to develop.

1.08 – KAREEM HUNT, RB, CHIEFS
1.09 – D’ONTA FOREMAN, RB, TEXANS

Foreman has had better success so far during the preseason but I think Hunt has a higher ceiling for the near future. Even if Hunt can’t beat out Spencer Ware for the starting role, he will have value in the passing game. Foreman could see short yardage work so a line of 350 yards but 6-7 TDs wouldn’t be surprising. I originally put players like David Njoku and John Ross ahead these two because of their upside but I’m leaning more towards the sure thing as we get closer to the season.

1.10 – MIKE WILLIAMS, WR, CHARGERS

In true dynasty formats, Williams should not fall this far. However, in our RSO format, there’s a good chance you lose out on 20-30% of Williams’ rookie contract due to his current injuries. His ceiling is higher than that of Jones, Howard, Hunt and Foreman but his floor is lower.

2.01 – ALVIN KAMARA, RB, SAINTS

I’ve hated on Kamara a lot. It’s time to move him up my list though. So far this preseason he has just nine carries but they have been very productive. He has a 50 yard TD carry and 96 total yards; even if you remove the long carry, Kamara still averages 5.75 yards per carry on his other carries. He’ll also be a factor in the passing game, which like with Hunt, will allow him to offer some value as a rookie even with limited carries.

2.02 – DAVID NJOKU, TE, BROWNS

The bloom might be off the rose for Njoku. A report from a few weeks ago showed coach Hue Jackson’s frustration at Njoku’s hands. Plus he suffered an ankle injury in Monday’s game against the Giants (too soon as of this writing to know if it’s serious). He’s still an athletic freak with high upside so he’s worth a speculative pick at the top of the second.

2.03 – JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER, WR, STEELERS
2.04 – SAMAJE PERINE, RB, REDSKINS

JJSS has just one catch and one carry so far but battled a minor injury to start camp. Perine has 14 carries so far (plus one 29 yard catch). I have not heard any glowing camp reports about either guy so they are basically holding steady despite being on crowded depth charts.

2.05 – MITCHELL TRUBISKY, QB, BEARS
2.06 – PATRICK MAHOMES, QB, CHIEFS
2.07 – DESHAUN WATSON, QB, TEXANS

I’m hedging my bet by putting all three of these quarterbacks together at this point but I truly believe the value in RSO drafts is too good to pass up. To lock up these rising stars for three or four years on a cheap contract is just a huge advantage. Sure, the guy you take has to “hit” but that’s the case with all of these rookies. I am a huge Mahomes fan and am encouraged by his 73% completion percentage and 3 TDs so far but it’s hard to ignore how good Trubisky has looked too and he has a better chance of starting Week 1. Watson will likely win the starting job but I have not been a fan of his so I’d rather take Mahomes and wait.

2.08 – JOHN ROSS, WR, BENGALS
2.09 – EVAN ENGRAM, TE, GIANTS
2.10 – CURTIS SAMUEL, RB, PANTHERS

These three have fallen significantly in my eyes. Ross, no surprise, has been injured. 2.08 might be harsh for Ross but I won’t own any shares of him this season if I have to take him in the first. I’m still worried about Engram’s lack of size and whether he can earn enough snaps at WR behind OBJ, Marshall and Shepard (although recent injuries to those three could linger and open the door). Samuel is supposed to be a “jack of all trades” type but until I see him in action and that the Panther’s offense can support him and CMC, he’ll be a “master of none” for me.

3.01 – TAYWAN TAYLOR, WR, TITANS
3.02 – KENNY GOLLADAY, WR, LIONS
3.03 – COOPER KUPP, WR, RAMS
3.04 – CHRIS GODWIN, WR, BUCS
3.05 – DEDE WESTBROOK, WR, JAGUARS

This group of receivers was tough to sort and I made a number of changes before settling on this. Westbrook and Golladay join the mock based off the success they have had in limited action thus far this preaseason. Westbrook had a single catch for a 42 yard touchdown in his first game and followed that with 6-131. Golladay started strong with a 3-53-2 game against the Colts and fell to just one reception for six yards against the Jets. Westbrook has off-field concerns and is likely a terrible human being but if he can ignite a stagnant Jaguars offense he’ll get some looks. Golladay’s hype train is speeding out of the station with plenty of hangers-on but I’m not ready to push him that high in my rankings after four NFL receptions. The other three receivers were in my original mock: Taylor and Godwin down a few picks and Kupp moved up. I still believe in Taylor who has taken advantage of Corey Davis missing time in camp and in the preseason and has 7 for 97 yards; pushing the QBs higher means Taylor falls to the third through no fault of his own. Kupp has a 8-105-1 line through two games. Sammy Watkins coming to town kills any hope of Kupp being the lead target for Jared Goff but he should beat out Robert Woods, et al by midseason. I’m disappointed so far by Godwin who has caught just three of his six targets. I am still hopeful that all of the attention devoted to Mike Evans, DJax and OJ Howard mean Godwin will have sneaky production.

3.06 – MARLON MACK, RB, COLTS
3.07 – WAYNE GALLMAN, RB, GIANTS

Signing Christine Michael this offseason threw some cold water on my Mack ranking.  Why sign a journeyman like Michael to a crowded backfield after drafting Mack?  Michael ended up getting hurt and is out for the season, but Mack was banged up too and missed the start of the preseason. Frank Gore and Robert Turbin can carry the load to start the season so the Colts might take it slow with Mack. Encouragingly, he did have seven touches for 49 yards in his first game action. I’ve had a man crush on Gallman since I started researching the 2016 Clemson Tigers and I haven’t given it up yet, although I continue to drop Gallman down my mock draft (2.09 to 3.05 to 3.07). I don’t believe in Paul Perkins and I’m not sure the Giants do either since they have more draft capital invested in Gallman than Perkins.

3.08 – JAKE BUTT, TE, BRONCOS
3.09 – DESHONE KIZER, QB, BROWNS

The true value of these two players will come down to when they get on the field. I rank them here with the expectation that they will start a majority of the season for their teams. Butt would have been a first round NFL talent if he wasn’t injured – he’s good value here. This late in your rookie draft, Kizer represents good value too even if he’s just QB28 at the end of the season. I’d rather lock these guys up on cheap long-term contracts now before their value crests in my auction draft (if it’s announced that they will be starting Week 1) or in free agency (if they get on the field a little later).

3.10 – TARIK COHEN, RB, BEARS

Cohen has impressed in this first two weeks of the preseason. His size is worrisome (he’s just 5’6″ and 180lbs) but it hasn’t hindered him yet. Cohen leads rookie RBs in yards (181) and leads the Bears backs in attempts (18). His size will keep him from being a workhorse in the NFL but he will have a role. It’s interesting to note that the Bears invested a higher draft pick in Cohen (4th round) than Jordan Howard (5th), even after Howard’s great rookie season.


Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s

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.

2018 RSO Rookie Mock Draft v1.0

Updated: September 6th 2017

Here it is, version 1.0 of my RSO rookie mock draft for 2018.  Remember, it’s early.  Very early.  Players will be overperform, underperform, go on hot streaks, go through slumps, get hurt, get suspended, get arrested or maybe not even declare early.  What I’m trying to say is use this as a tool to start your rookie research but don’t bank on it come May.  When creating this mock draft, I used two base assumptions: 1) a standard 1 QB roster setup and 2) any junior good enough to be considered will declare early.  For more information on most of these players, check out my Watch List previews which feature deeper dives on stats and film study.  Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @robertfcowper. Note: I wrote this article in August before the season began so any big games or injuries from the beginning of the season are not taken into account.  Updated versions will be posted throughout the season.

1.01, Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
1.02, Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

Preseason hype has these two locked into the first two slots. I would expect them to jockey with each other throughout the season as they have good and bad games. I believe Barkley will end up the consensus 1.01 due to his larger workload and his pass catching ability.

1.03, Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

If it weren’t for Chubb’s serious knee injury last year he would have been in the 1.01 mix. I might be higher on him than some but I feel putting him at 1.03 already takes the injuries into consideration, no need to knock him down further.  Not a bad consolation prize if you miss out on Barkley or Guice.

1.04, Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
1.05, Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

Having Ridley as the WR1 is not the norm per my research. Ridley was more highly sought as a high school recruit than Kirk and hasn’t done anything to dissuade my opinion yet. Kirk is electric and might have a higher ceiling (I compared him to Odell Beckham Jr. in my SEC preview), but a lower floor, so it comes down to your risk tolerance.

1.06, Bo Scarborough, RB, Alabama
1.07, Royce Freeman, RB Oregon

Like Chubb, Scarborough’s injury history drops him down my mock draft. He also had an academic related suspension to start his freshman season. If he can stay healthy, you would be getting a massive value here.  Freeman screams NFL running back to me when I look at his stats and his highlights. He may end up being a day three real life pick but I have a feeling he will be fantasy relevant very early in his career.

1.07, Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
1.08, James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
1.10, Deon Cain, WR, Clemson

Sutton and Washington are a clear tier break at the position for me after Ridley and Kirk. They both have negatives that concern me. Sutton racked up his 2016 stats against very weak defenses; Washington looks smaller to me than his 6’0″ and 205lb listing suggests. There are some bright spots though. Sutton has NFL size and the ability to make spectacular high-point or toe-tap catches; Washington has breakaway speed that I likened to Desean Jackson.  Cain really impressed me when I researched him. He contributed as an underclassmen on very successful Clemson teams that were full of NFL talent. Now that he’s the BMOC Cain should impress everybody else.  I have Sutton ranked highest of the three because he has the best chance to move up my rankings.

2.01, Sam Darnold, QB, USC

I really wanted to put Darnold at 1.10 but I didn’t have the guts to do it yet. For our purposes here, I am using a standard 1 QB format so Darnold isn’t quite that valuable. In a superflex? He’ll move up to the 1.06 range. I continue to believe that the value of second round quarterbacks in the RSO format is too good to pass up (pun intended).

2.02, Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis
2.03, Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame
2.04, Dante Pettis, WR, Washington

Despite the pedigree of St. Brown and Pettis, I put Miller ahead of them. Maybe it’s a foolish decision, but even though they have had good production, I have questions about the size of St. Brown and Pettis.  St. Brown is long and lean; of the seven WR who measured 6’4″ and 205lb or less at the combine since 2010, all were busts.  The list of successful NFL wide receivers who weigh less than 190lbs, like Pettis, is short. Miller isn’t really any bigger but he just popped when I watched him – maybe because he was playing against lesser defenders. He did have one insane OBJ-esque touchdown catch that itself made me want to bump him even higher.  All three of these guys could gain ground in my mock drafts if they gain some weight.

2.05, L.J. Scott, RB, Michigan State
2.06, Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
2.07, Ronald Jones, RB, USC

I’m lower on Jones than some of the devy sites I read. I just was not a fan after doing some early research. He’s too tall for his weight and he only has one career 20+ carry game. Scott does not have the weight concern – he’s a bruiser at 230lbs – but it was disappointing that his TD production slipped in 2016, albeit on a bad Spartans team. I’m expecting the team, and his stats, to improve in 2017. Michel has shared the Georgia backfield with more highly touted backs in Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb. He likely won’t rise to their fantasy draft pick heights, but he should be a decent NFL pick. I put Michel above Jones because of the dominant way Michel closed out 2015 after Chubb got hurt.

2.08, Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
2.09, Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

The two Joshes will battle for the QB2 spot behind Sam Darnold. I have Rosen ahead right now because I think he’s more NFL ready but I expect Allen to put up huge numbers against the MWC’s weaker opposition. Even more so than with Darnold at 2.01, the value here for either quarterback is too good to pass up.

2.10, Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma
3.01, Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State

I’m confident that these two tall Big 12 pass catchers will be solid pros but they aren’t very sexy hence the later picks. Andrews is 6’5″ and 250lbs and has 14 career receiving TDs on 50 receptions.  He is more of a “move tight end” and often lines up off the line of scrimmage in the Sooners’ spread offense; he isn’t the best TE in the class but will probably be drafted highest for fantasy purposes.  Lazard, a senior, is the same height as Andrews but weighs in at about 225lbs. He has been the best player on a struggling Iowa State team since he was a true freshman.

3.02, Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington
3.03, Damien Harris, RB, Alabama
3.04, Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State

These three Power Five running backs find themselves in the third round instead of the second because each has some negatives. I changed the order a number of times but settled on Gaskins first. Neither Harris nor Ballage have been “the guy” for their offenses and both have some minor injury concerns. Meanwhile, Gaskin has almost as many career carries as the other two combined but I think he will measure in smaller than advertised.

3.05, Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
3.05, Troy Fumagalli, TE, Wisconsin

It’s unlikely that we see Top 12 prospects in 2018 like we did in 2017 but I’ll bet we get 3 or 4 of them taken in standard RSO drafts with owners who missed out on the 2017 class and hoping for a repeat in 2018.   Hurst was near the top in receptions and touchdowns by TEs last year with a true freshman quarterback so he will see improved production.  I watched his film against South Florida from last year and I’d say he’s a B to a B+ blocker, with good hands (evidenced by a nice one-handed touchdown catch) and good speed.  If it weren’t for Fumagalli’s injury history (it’s extensive) he’d be higher on this list.  He’s a better blocker than Hurst, probably the best blocking TE I have seen when watching film the last two seasons, and should see the NFL field quickly.

3.07, Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State
3.08, Corey Willis, WR, Central Michigan
3.09, Jordan Chunn, RB, Troy

I’m calling my shots with these three small-school players. If they don’t put up stellar numbers they won’t make it this high in your fantasy drafts but I think each has a chance to rocket up expert rankings to find their way on your radar. Gallup is a high volume JUCO transfer who caught 14 TDs in his first NCAA season. Willis is a speedster with good hands who broke out for 72 receptions as a junior and caught my eye while writing my MAC preview. Chunn is the Sun Belt’s best hope at a fantasy relevant rookie in my opinion. In 2016, he rebounded from a 2015 medical redshirt to gain 1,288 yards and 16 TDs; he’s big at 6’1″ 230lbs and caught 30 balls last year.

3.10, Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida

I probably should have Callaway ranked higher but I was torn on whether to include him at all.  I’d rather move him up later if he shows me more than go against my gut now.  I put him here to acknowledge that he’s probably a Top 30 devy talent but I think he’s being rated too highly.

Honorable Mention, Adam Breneman, TE, UMass

Breneman is a small-school favorite of mine who had a 70-808-8 line last year.  I originally had him in the mix at 3.05 and 3.06 with Fumagalli and Hurst but ultimately I couldn’t justify having three TEs at that spot.  At this point in the process, I believe that Fumagalli and Hurst are more  NFL-ready so I gave them the nod over Breneman.

Early RSO Contracts: WRs

Updated: August 22nd 2017

Knowing the types of contracts given out by other fantasy teams can give the alert reader a big advantage when your own RSO free agency auction arrives.  Your league settings and available players will have a big impact on the size of contracts given out at various positions, but looking at the relative contracts within position groups provides some useful information.

Our last volume in the series ends with the wide receiver position.  This group is the deepest in fantasy football, reflecting the emphasis in the NFL on the passing game.  Targets have recently trended away from the primary receiving option for each team and spread out to multiple receivers.  This has resulted in many secondary targets on NFL teams having bigger and more reliable roles creating more fantasy value across the position.  I view some of the best values found throughout early auctions and players you should probably avoid based on market cost.

Top Avoids

Wide receiver production relies heavily on the abilities of the quarterbacks throwing the ball.  It stands to reason that RSO owners should make their large wide receivers investments in those receivers with good quarterback play.  Houston quarterbacks Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson, while likely upgrades over Brock Osweiler, do not exactly qualify.  The Texans are merely hoping for competent quarterback play at this point.  This makes DeAndre Hopkins (WR8) a dangerous investment at his cost.  Hopkins does not possess great size, speed, or athleticism and struggles at times creating separation.  He relies more on body control and great hands to make contested catches.  Hopkins’ RSO cost is largely a relic of his absurd 192 target season.  This is a scenario unlikely to ever happen again.

Jarvis Landry is a very good football player.  Let us get that out of the way.  He is very elusive with the ball in his hands picking up a lot of yards after the catch.  However, Landry’s fantasy value depends on a high target load more than most receivers due to his extremely low average depth of target.  Any slight decrease in volume with new quarterback Jay Cutler could substantially impact Landry’s worth.  There is also a lot of uncertainty in Miami regarding Landry’s future role.  The Dolphins have shown minimal interest in extending his contract and Landry statistical production likely drops significantly if he moves on from Miami as very few teams in the NFL feature the slot wide receiver like Miami has over Landry’s career.  The main problem is that RSO owners are treating Landry (WR14) as a definitive WR1 for the Dolphins and any future team he might move to.  We no longer can take that for granted at this point.  Landry compares favorably to a player like Golden Tate, who had similar production last season and someone you can buy for about half the cost of Landry.

Some things never change as the football season approaches.  Another season, another “This is the year Donte Moncrief breaks out” cry inevitably comes from the fantasy community.  There is no good way to sugarcoat it.  Moncrief (WR24) has been one of the least efficient WR2s in the league over his career on a occasionally prolific Colts offense.  The yardage numbers are ugly no matter whether you look at a per season basis, per game, per target, with or without Luck.  There might not be a single player in fantasy football who receives more hype based on so little production.  Moncrief was one of my favorite rookies typically going in the late 2nd / early 3rd rounds of rookie drafts.  Unfortunately his athleticism has not translated to the NFL game at this point.  Moncrief’s future in Indianapolis is uncertain at best.  The Colts reportedly made a strong push for Alshon Jeffrey this offseason trying to replace Moncrief and the Indy WR2 only has a year left on his contract.  Moncrief is also dealing with another shoulder injury this preseason.  There are far too many cheaper players available with more upside and safer floors to put your RSO cap dollars in Moncrief at his current price.  I am OK giving Moncrief a very cheap long-term speculative contract based on his age and athletic profile but that appears unlikely in the current market.

Best Values

As stated earlier, the wide receiver position boasts value deep into the board.  I would have no issue filling my receiver core in deeper league strictly with players who are priced as WR4s saving big money for other positions.   I do not have the space to detail every good value, but I will highlight a few of the best ones below.

There might not be another wide receiver more underrated in the fantasy community this decade than Jordy Nelson (WR11) as one of the premier big play threats in the league.  He finished as a WR1 every full season played since 2011 in standard leagues and has consistently produced big touchdown numbers.  Nelson finished as the overall WR2 in 2014 and the WR1 in 2016 after returning from an ACL tear prior to the 2015 season.  Nelson clearly did not have the same explosiveness last year that we are used to but should look even better another season removed from his injury (which is downright scary for opposing defenses).  Nelson is surely near the end of his career at the age of 32.  Do not let that worry you.  The Packers top wide receiver could produce enough for most of his contract value in a single season with Aaron Rodgers at the helm of the Green Bay passing attack.

If you are searching for a WR2 at WR3 prices, look no further than Emmanuel Sanders (WR34).  The Denver wide-out ended as the WR20 or better and accumulated at least 137 targets each of the last two seasons.   The key for Sanders is target concentration.  There might not be another team who focuses so much of its receiving work on two players with fellow standout Demaryius Thomas gulfing down the other main share.  The next highest target player in 2016 after Sanders’ 139 targets was running back Devontae Booker with only 46.  There are simply no other significant receiving options in Denver.  The quarterback situation likely limits the upside of Sanders but that situation is also unlikely to get worse than what Sanders dealt with over the last two years.  The Bronco wide receiver is one of the safer bets to beat their auction cost.

The Baltimore Ravens surprisingly led the NFL in pass attempts each of the last two seasons.  This has not been a particular effective NFL strategy with quarterback Joe Flacco.  His yards per attempt, passer rating, and QBR all plummeted below his career averages over that time span.  While not necessarily good for Flacco and Baltimore, this emphasis on the passing game is good news for Ravens wide receivers in the fantasy realm, particularly Mike Wallace (WR43) and new arrival Jeremy Maclin (WR42).  The Ravens lost around 390 targets from last year’s team highlighted by newly retired Steve Smith (103 targets) and injured Dennis Pitta (119 targets).  The Baltimore tight end group has been decimated by injuries and suspension this offseason leaving bottom of the barrel athlete Nick Boyle and 36 year old Ben Watson atop the depth chart.  This will not be a heavily targeted group.  Former first-round pick Breshad Perriman is, once again, dealing with injuries also.  Combine all of this information together and you get a picture where both Wallace and Maclin are in line for a lot of work this season.  Both should easily out-produce their RSO market contract costs and at least one of them likely crushes their value.  This should be one of the top wide receiver combos to target for RSO owners going with a cheaper approach at wide receiver.

 

Average RSO Wide Receiver Contracts

 


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.

Early RSO Contracts: TEs

Updated: August 16th 2017

Knowing the types of contracts given out by other fantasy teams can give the alert reader a big advantage when your own RSO free agency auction arrives.  Your league settings and available players will have a big impact on the size of contracts given out at various positions, but looking at the relative contracts within position groups provides some useful information. We move to the tight end position, probably the shallowest group in fantasy football.  There are few teams in the NFL who feature the tight end position in the passing game and many of the top options at the position have struggled staying on the field.  Let us take a deeper look at the position to sort out where we can find value.

When they are Healthy…

Two players stand out from the rest in the tight end fantasy landscape when on the field, Rob Gronkowski and Jordan Reed.   The problem for each player over their career is staying on the field.  Reed has never played a full season and Gronkowski has not played a full season in 6 years.

“Gronk” dominates in a way that is almost indescribable when on the field and he is used in ways unlike other players at the position.  He is a true downfield threat and incredibly difficult to tackle one-on-one by defensive backs.  The New England powerhouse leads active tight ends in yards per reception at 15.0 (the next highest is Travis Kelce at 12.8) and receiving yards per game at 69.3 (the next highest is Travis Kelce at 58.4) while also accumulating 68 touchdowns.  Antonio Gates, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Brandon Marshall are the only active players with more touchdowns and each has played 10+ seasons in the league.  Remarkably, Gronkowski accumulated his touchdown total in only 88 career games or 5.5 full seasons.

Not to be outdone, Jordan Reed firmly placed his name in contention for best at the position with his performance over the last two seasons.  The Washington tight end produces in a different manner than Gronkowski as a classic move tight end relying on beautiful separation skills and tremendous ball skills in the short game.  He owns a high 76% catch rate over his career.  Reed finished as the overall TE1 in fantasy points per game for PPR leagues each of the last two seasons despite being used as a decoy in multiple games last year after separating his shoulder (which he amazingly played with in multiple games).  Taking out those shoulder injury games last year, Reed’s 16-game average in 23 games played over the last two seasons looks like this:

102 receptions / 136 targets / 1101 yards / 11 touchdowns       Those are WR1 numbers in PPR leagues.

While not on the level of Gronkowski and Reed for fantasy purposes, Tyler Eifert is another player worth mentioning in the oft-injured group.  The Cincinnati tight end offers tremendous weekly upside as one of the premier red zone threats in the entire league.  The former first round pick scored 18 touchdowns over the last two seasons in only 21 games.

Even when taking into account the additional injury risk associated with each of these players, they are all well worth their current costs.  Each of these players displayed the ability in past seasons to make up the current average cost in only half a year’s worth of play and each will be a huge value-win if they play close to a full season.

Best of the Rest

Travis Kelce finished as the overall TE1 last season.  His reception and yardage total have increased each season in the league and he is the de facto top receiver in Kansas City with a bunch of unknowns at wide receiver.  The limitations of Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense limit his upside, particularly in the touchdown department, but he is a safe high-end starter for your RSO team.

Greg Olsen remains as one of the only reliable targets in Carolina.  There is a lot of unknown as to what the Panthers’ offense will look like after drafting two offensive weapons in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Curtis Samuel.  Similarly to Kelce, Olsen is limited by his quarterback play which caps his upside to a certain degree.

One of the more surprising stories from 2016 was the quick return of Jimmy Graham from a patellar tear, historically one of the worst injuries for NFL players.  Graham faded in the second half of the season and will never see the target load that he saw in New Orleans, but is still a dynamic receiving threat for the Seahawks.  Look for a nice season as he moves farther from his injury and is more incorporated into the Seattle offense.

Expect some Regression

Kyle Rudolf is not what one would call a dynamic receiving weapon.  He is a slow (4.88 forty time) un-athletic tight end who averages just under 10 yards per reception and only 6.3 yards per target for his career.  Rudolf demolished his career highs in yardage (840, previous high: 495) and receptions (83, previous high:  53) thanks to a massive increase in targets (132, previous high:  93) which lead to his overall TE2 finish in PPR leagues.  This big usage increase was largely the result of an awful offensive line which could not pass protect or run block. With limited weapons at both receiver and running back, quarterback Sam Bradford was forced to dink and dunk at Rudolf throughout the year.  The Vikings addressed both deficient areas in the offseason adding offensive linemen Riley Reiff and Mike Renners, running back Latavius Murray, and wide receiver Michael Floyd in free agency.  Minnesota also drafted 2nd round running back Dalvin Cook.  With last year’s first round wide receiver Laquon Treadwell likely seeing more action, look for a significant step back from Rudolf.

The Tennessee massively upgraded the receiving core drafting Corey Davis with the 5th overall pick and taking Taiwan Taylor in the 3rd round, while also adding Eric Decker in free agency thanks to the New York Jets overhaul.  These moves are great for Marcus Mariota and the Titans offense but not so good for Delanie Walker’s fantasy prospects in a run-first scheme.

Streamers and Matchup Plays

There are some names RSO owners should keep in mind for those who like to stream the tight end position in shallow leagues or employ a cheap multi-tight end matchup based system from week to week.  Few players disappointed as much as Coby Fleener last season given his sky-high expectations last season.  He still finished as the TE15 last season.  With Brandin Cooks gone, Fleener could see 100 targets in the high-volume Saints passing attack.  He is a bargain at his TE22 cost as one of the only players in this range with legitimate TE1 upside.  Charles Clay (TE29) performed as a mid range TE2 each of the last two seasons and finished last season on a strong note as the overall TE3 in the last month.  Clay does not possess much upside but he is a useful player on a team without much in receiving weapons.  When you are looking at weekly plays an RSO owner wants touchdown upside and nobody on the low-cost list has as much as Jesse James (TE27).  He is a massive target and could see lots of red-zone looks on a Pittsburg offense which could be among the league’s best.

 

Average RSO Tight End Contracts


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.