Rounding Out the Lineup: Week 7

Updated: October 19th 2017

Most of us in competitive RSO league are not great at every position.  The nature of salary cap leagues forces many teams into gambles which might not have paid off.   Below you will find a few trade targets for competitive teams along with their current points per game ranking in PPR leagues who might shore up those RB2/WR2 and deeper flex spot gaps which did not pan out so far.  There are a variety of floor plays and ceiling gambles at various price points.  I would not consider these players “league winners” but all have the chance of helping your team going forward.

Running Backs

Doug Martin RB16 – Some questioned Doug Martin’s role once inserted into the lineup.  Martin has out-attempted Jacquizz Rodgers 13-3 and 14-3 in the two games since his return from suspension scoring once per game in the process.  This is clearly Martin’s backfield in the run game.  Charles Sims remains a fixture on passing downs with 5 and 4 receptions in the two games since Martin’s return compared to 1 in each game for Martin.  Sims’ role severely caps Martin’s work in the receiving game which will make for some limited fantasy outputs when Martin does not score.

On the plus side, there should be somewhat consistent scoring opportunities in Tampa Bay from Football Outsider’s 8th ranked passing unit.  Martin makes for a nice RB2 on those teams in need of running back help. His limited work so far might present an opportunity to pick up Martin.  He is also an attractive option on teams with limited RSO salary cap space to maneuver with as his suspension to start the year likely lowered his salary in many leagues.

Duke Johnson RB17 – The environment in Cleveland is not pretty.  The team is 0-6 with one of the worst offenses and defenses in the league and an uncertain, at best, quarterback outlook.   This is generally not the type of situation I am looking for when investing in running backs.

Duke Johnson has a few items working in his favor, however, when examining his rest-of-season outlook.  Cleveland already lost the top two wide receivers heading into the season to injury.  Johnson remains as the de facto WR1 currently leading the Browns in receiving targets, receptions, and yards.  He has at least three receptions in all but one game this season and accumulated at least 53 receptions each of his first two seasons.  Johnson fills the needs of RSO teams looking for solid floor plays out of the flex spot or RB injury/bye weeks.  He also provides some upside as a handcuff to fellow Browns’ running back Isaiah Crowell or if CLE decides to give Johnson more work do to Crowell’s ineffectiveness.

Jay Ajayi RB35 – No other running back on this list supplies more variance on a given week than Miami running back Jay Ajayi.  The “boom” portion comes largely from his enormous weekly rushing potential.  Ajayi produced an amazing three 200+ yard rushing performances in 2016.  He already has three games of 25 or more rushing attempts in 2017 and averages over 20 attempts per game.  The “bust” potential stems primarily from Ajayi’s lack of receiving game effectiveness.  The Dolphin running back averages only 1.7 receptions and 8.7 receiving yards per game over the last two years highlighted by a comically bad 3.3 yards per reception this season in which Ajayi has not managed a single game with at least 10 receiving yards.

If you are a gambling person, Ajayi imparts perhaps the highest ceiling option on this list of players.  He is the only player in the NFL with 100 or more rushing attempts and zero touchdowns.  Jay Cutler has been ugly so far but the Miami passing game could improve considering how late Cutler joined the Dolphins.  Positive touchdown regression could very well be on the horizon for Ajayi.  The defense also played well enough to keep Miami in games despite the offensive woes.  Consider him a high variance RB2 going forward.  Ajayi likely went for a costly salary if he was in your RSO free agent auction this year so fitting him under your cap could be an issue but teams might be more open to a trade because of that high salary.

Wide Receivers

Pierre Garcon WR24 – I believe if you told most people you could get the 6th ranked wide receiver in targets plus the 8th in receptions and yardage for minimal cost, they would jump at the chance.  Such is the case with San Francisco wide receiver Pierre Garcon.  Garcon’s zero touchdowns lower his fantasy output so far which could give you the ability to pounce.  The volatile quarterback situation with rookie C.J. Beathard taking over for Brian Hoyer certainly carries some risk but Garcon is the only established NFL receiver on the roster.  Garcon is a very tempting target for your flex spot who likely comes at a sharp discount especially with a rookie quarterback taking the helm.

Danny Amendola WR28 – Amendola filled the small slot receiver role in the New England offense beautifully so far looking extremely quick, getting open at will, and catching everything.  Amendola’s per game targets are right in line with the leading non-Gronk Patriot receivers with at least 3 receptions, 5 targets and 40 yards in each game this season.  Injuries are always a concern for smaller players with heavy workloads over the middle of the field, especially for a player who missed games in all but two seasons in the NFL.  Amendola likely was picked up on waivers in your league which should make for a very cheap way to get your hands on a piece of the high-powered New England offense.  He is a nice floor play for those in need of reliable points out of their flex spot.

Sterling Shepard WR37 – The Giants pulled players from the practice squad and off the street to fill starting receiver slots last week after New York lost Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Dwayne Harris, and Shepard to injury.  Shepard should return shortly but the others are lost for the year leaving Shepard with a golden opportunity for a big work load.  There is some danger going forward with regards to workload.  Head coach Ben McAdoo gave up play-calling duties last week resulting in the Giants completely flipping the script on the pass-heavy offense, going with 32 carries to only 19 passes.  With that said, Shepard is the only wide receiver on the roster with significant past production and figures to dominate targets along with rookie tight end Evan Engram.  I would feel very confident with Shepard in my flex when he returns and WR2 production is entirely possible.


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.

The Unexpected: Week 5

Updated: October 5th 2017

There are always surprises at the start of the NFL season, some of which may be sustainable through the year while others likely are not.  Determining if your player’s good start is something which will continue may be the difference in figuring out if your team is a true contender or possibly making a poor trade.  With four weeks of the NFL season already in the books, we can start to look at trends and get some idea of different players’ usage going forward.

Quarterbacks

Alex Smith QB2 – Smith rocketed out of the gates with a 4-touchdown thrashing of New England in week 1.  The Kansas City starter made few mistakes since.  Smith leads the NFL in passer rating and completion percentage while pacing the Chiefs to the only undefeated record remaining.  He has been nothing short of great so far throwing for 8 touchdowns with 0 interceptions.

Moving forward – While I foresee continued solid play from Smith, do not expect this production to remain.  The usage is very much in line with recent history, currently tied for 18th in attempts, but his rates are not.  His current 76% completion rate leads the all-time NFL season mark (Sam Bradford 2016) by more than 4 points.  The 8.8 yards per attempt is 1.4 more than any Smith season in Kansas City.  Look for solid QB2 numbers going forward and a quality weekly streaming option.

Jared Goff QB10 – What a difference environment can make.  The second year starter went from a historically bad rookie season to the current leading passer in yards per attempt and third ranked quarterback in passer rating. The additions of left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan transformed one of the worst lines in football last year benefitting both the run and pass game.  The Rams also brought in a host of new receiving options for Goff including Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods in free agency plus Cooper Kupp in the draft.  Most importantly Los Angeles brought in 30 year old head coach Sean McVay to completely revamp the offensive scheme.  Goff’s throws became far more manageable this season including increased check downs to Todd Gurley out of the backfield and more open throws throughout the field.

Moving forward – The schedule could become much more difficult over the rest of season with few matchups for which I would be thrilled about for Goff and the Rams.  Goff only ranks 22nd in passing attempts over the season and provides nothing as a rusher to fall back on.  I would not count on Goff as my starter in RSO leagues.  I am more likely to try and capitalize on the hot start with a trade or continue stashing Goff if I drafted him as a cheap backup/streaming option.

Running Backs

Kareem Hunt RB2 – No rookie started out hotter than Kansas City running back Kareem Hunt.  Hunt leads the NFL in rushing yards by nearly 40% over the next player (Todd Gurley) thanks to an enormous 7.4 yards per attempt to start the season.  The rookie also displayed significant receiving ability catching 13 balls for a robust 12.1 yards per reception.

Moving forward – Hunt should remain a locked in RB1 throughout the year.  Kansas City should be competitive throughout the season, he shows off impressive lower body strength to power through tacklers, and enough burst to turn open lanes and bad tackling angles into big plays.  He is also heavily involved in the passing game.  The KC offensive line has consistently opened up huge holes for Hunt this season as well.  He is a set and forget player at this point.

Chris Thompson RB6 – Perhaps no player has done more with less than Washington running back Chris Thompson.  Thompson owns a hefty 7.1 rushing yards per attempt over 20 carries in addition to a huge 16.8 yards per reception for 14 catches which combine to a massive 11 yards per touch.  The Washington passing down back also contributed four touchdowns so far.

Moving forward – Thompson is a really good player but anywhere near this level of production is unsustainable.  He averages less than 9 touches per game and that is unlikely to improve much with a load of offensive weapons to choose from in Washington and a quarterback who generally spreads the ball around.  Thompson is nothing more than a flex play in deeper leagues.  Sell if you can get anything of significance for him.

Wide Receivers

Stephon Diggs WR1 / Adam Thielen WR13 – The Minnesota receivers find themselves ranked well above preseason expectations so far.  Each is top-3 in receiving yardage and Diggs has scored four times already.  Case Keenum has been surprisingly solid in Sam Bradford’s absence and the two Vikings own a very large target share of the offense.  Both accumulated 32 targets, double the next most targeted player on the team.  Tight end Kyle Rudolph has reverted to the low volume, low yardage receiver we saw most of his career without Bradford and with an improved offensive line.

Moving forward – There are a lot of questions going forward for two high volume players.  It is fair to wonder how the loss of rookie sensation Dalvin Cook will affect these receivers and the offense as a whole.  Will the Latavius Murray/Jerrick McKinnon combo provide enough in the run game to open up deeper route combinations?  Will Rudolph gain a larger target share with the return of Bradford?  What does Michael Floyd, who reportedly had a superb training camp and likely replaces inconsequential former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell, bring to the table? The questions have me downgrading both slightly going forward.  Diggs remains a must-start player for me but I am looking at Thielen as more of a flex play going forward.

Chris Hogan WR10 – The former Bill performed well so far in his time in New England providing a nice downfield threat with reliable hands.  Hogan has been on the plus side of the touchdown equation scoring four times this season in the high powered New England offense and is tied for second in targets on the team.  He remains a reliable target for Tom Brady on a team with many injuries at wide receiver.

Moving forward – Hogan will have a big role in the offense but will be a volatile weekly play with likely touchdown regression coming.  With plenty of quality receiving options available for the Patriots including Gronkowski, Cooks, Amendola, and White; consider Hogan more of a borderline WR2/WR3 going forward.

Tight Ends

Charles Clay TE4 – Clay was one of my featured streaming options going into the season.  Buffalo ended up trading away the talented Sammy Watkins to the Rams and trading for Jordan Matthews before the season started.  With speedster Marquise Goodwin moving on Clay became Tyrod Taylor’s only significant returning target left outside of running back Lesean McCoy.  Matthews immediately suffered a chest injury further delaying his familiarity with Taylor which focused more of the offense through Clay early in the season.

Moving forward – Matthews suffered another injury last week, this time resulting in thumb surgery which could keep him out for a month.  The low volume Buffalo passing attack is not a fantasy player’s dream, but Clay owns a large 25% market share so far and Matthew’s time off should ensure a continued big role.  Consider Clay a weekly starter with the number of significant injuries at the position.

Evan Engram TE7 – One of the golden rules in fantasy football is not relying on rookie tight ends.  They rarely have big passing roles the first season taking time to learn all the nuances of the position.  Engram is proving the exception to the rule.  I wrote an entire article this offseason detailing the virtues of Engram but even I was not counting on immediate starting fantasy value.  The rookie is currently tied for second in targets, tied for fourth in receptions, and ranks sixth in yardage among all tight ends.

Moving forward – The Giants have virtually no run game to speak of, thanks in large part to a struggling offensive line, which likely means a continued short pass-happy offense from coach Ben McAdoo for the rest of season.  The athletic tight end has at least four receptions each game so far and his targets have trended upward throughout the season.  Engram should be a locked-in weekly starter given his consistent heavy usage and lack of quality options at the position.


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.

The End of Eli?

Updated: September 21st 2017

Struggles of the New York Giants offense during the first two weeks of the NFL season led many to question whether Eli Manning’s play diminished to the point that his career is nearing the end.  The question becomes is this season that much different for Manning?  Are there other factors in the play here which contribute to the Giants’ poor play so far?  I take a deeper look into the question comparing this season with the rest of Eli’s career.

Eli’s Career

Eli Manning accumulated many accolades over the course of his 14 seasons.  Eli amassed 48,677 yards (8th all-time) and 321 touchdowns (7th all-time) so far in his career.  Manning’s yardage and touchdown numbers are greater than that of many quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame.  Those numbers are due, in part, to his remarkable run of availability.  Manning has been a model of good health over his career never missing a game to injury playing every game for the New York Giants.  The Giants have managed 6 playoff appearances during Manning’s time as quarterback and he owns an 8-4 playoff record during that time.  The New York quarterback also won two Super Bowl trophies over the years including two Super Bowl MVPs, beating Tom Brady and the New England Patriots for each win.

Not all has been great in the Manning realm throughout his career though.  Eli has been one of the most consistently inconsistent quarterbacks in the league.  He has the skills to produce great seasons like the Super Bowl winning 2011 year in which Manning threw for nearly 5,000 yards while at the same time fully capable of completely imploding as in the 2013 season in which he led the league with an astounding 27 interceptions.  Manning tossed 217 interceptions so far, second among active quarterbacks.  His inconsistency can appear even in the same game.  Manning may look like a Hall of Famer one minute making solid pinpoint accurate throws for chunks of a game.  The next minute might easily see Manning throwing horribly inaccurate throws and making awful decisions usually reserved for rookies.  And what about that stellar playoff record?  Outside of those two Super Bowl seasons, Manning produced exactly zero wins in four playoff appearances producing an abysmal 54% completion percentage, a miniscule 6.3 yards per attempt, and an ugly 3:7 touchdown to interception ratio during those games.

Eli Compared to Other Quarterbacks

I next take a look at how Manning has performed in relation to other NFL quarterbacks.  The chart below shows Manning’s yearly ranking for a variety of quarterback metrics including ESPN’s QBR, passer rating, and Football Outsider’s quarterback DVOA.  Manning’s average of each metric is displayed at the bottom of the chart not including 2017.  The results are decidedly mediocre.  Manning manages zero top-5 and few top-10 finishes by any measure throughout his entire career.  His best score is a middle of the pack average of 15th over his career.  Eli’s recent history is even worse.  From 2013-2016, Manning best average among the listed metrics is only 21st.  Put succinctly, Eli was never among the better quarterbacks in the league and his play in recent years qualifies only as average, at best, for starting quarterbacks in the NFL.  His play this season does appear completely not out of the norm when compared to his latest years.

So what types of players are the best comparables to Manning?  Jay Cutler and Joe Flacco provide the closest comps to Manning with very similar yards per attempt, completion percentage, and touchdown to interception ratios found below.  This may seem surprising at first but really should not be when one thinks about the players, particularly Cutler.  Manning and Cutler share many of the same strengths including good arm strength but also many of the same weaknesses including the afore-mentioned poor decision making and inconsistent accuracy.  Pro-Football-Reference’s Adjusted Yards per Attempt and Net Yards per Attempt are also included below for additional comparison purposes.

Eli’s Surrounding Circumstances in New York

Numbers sometimes hide the true value of a player working in a sub-optimal situation so we need to look at Manning’s surround cast during his time with the Giants to determine if he was handicapped by his fellow teammates.  Below we find Football Outsider’s efficiency rankings on total defense, offensive line pass protection (adjusted sack rate), and offensive rushing for New York during the Manning years with the average rank from 2004 to 2016.  New York’s defense and rushing attack have overall been within the norm of the NFL, ranking slightly above average.  Most interesting is the great pass protection Manning received over his career which has generally been superb.  New York finished outside the top-11 in adjusted sack rate only twice in thirteen years and Eli only faced very poor pass protection once which happened during his rookie season.  Overall, the data verifies Manning was not hindered by his teammates over the course of his career and his supporting personnel likely boosted his outcomes to some extent above what would be expected if Manning played for another team.

Looking at this season, there is no doubt the offensive line struggles significantly impact Manning’s performance.  Eli is under far more pressure than what he is accustomed to and the Giants’ coaching staff has not provided help for an offensive line that is clearly overmatched so far this year.  Manning has not helped the situation.  He looks like an immovable statue in the pocket and holds the ball far too long too often taking sacks when it is clear he should simply throw the ball away.

Conclusion

While Manning’s gross numbers and accomplishments suggest a player worth of Hall of Fame recognition, a deeper look into the statistics demonstrates a decidedly average quarterback over the course of his career.  His perception as a great quarterback relies significantly on what I will call “highlight” bias coming from two Super Bowl wins and his luck on the injury axis likely contributed by a great offensive line throughout much of his career.

We really should not be surprised by Manning’s current level of play given his drop off in efficiency over recent years.  Manning benefitted from stellar pass protection for most of his career.  With what looks to be one of the few truly bad offensive lines in Eli’s career this season, Manning’s lack of mobility might well be on full display.  Ben McAdoo and the rest of the New York coaching staff may very well adjust blocking schemes adding more blockers, or adjust offensive schemes to quicker throws.  If not, Manning and the Giants offense could be looking at a very ugly season.  Taking a broad view, it is doubtful Manning’s play greatly diminished this season as some suggest.  It is far more likely New York’s offensive line struggles simply magnify some of Eli’s deficiencies as a player.  Manning has not been a particularly good quarterback for a long time and that is unlikely to change as his career draws to an end.


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.

Into the Regular Season

Updated: September 7th 2017

The preseason brings lots of excitement for those of us deprived of the NFL for so long.  It also leads to some of the worst analysis from fantasy “experts”.  Reviewing stat lines from preseason games is mostly meaningless.  Touch sample sizes are typically incredibly small with starters playing very limited snaps.  Teams usually incorporate very “vanilla” play calls which may not be similar to what happens during the regular season.  Backups compete against second and third string players or worse.  While much of what we see in preseason play is essentially worthless in predicting fantasy value for the upcoming season, examining player situations and delving deeper into game tape can provide some useful observations for the coming season.

Moving Up

The most significant mover of the preseason is Chiefs’ running back Kareem Hunt.  The devastating torn PCL and LCL injury to Kansas City starting running back Spencer Ware opens the door for the third round rookie.  Hunt finished as one of Pro Football Focus’ highest ranked backs in college at Toledo and flashed nice plays throughout the preseason (along with some not-so-nice “rookie” moments).  The Chiefs are left only with Hunt, Chancandrick West, and re-signed C.J. Spiller as the only running backs on the roster.  Hunt should see plenty of work for Kansas City this season.

Perhaps no player benefits more from a quarterback change than Miami wide receiver Devante Parker.  Gone are the days of Ryan Tannehill force-feeding short passes to Jarvis Landry with Tannehill out for the season.   In comes Jay Cutler at quarterback with the arm talent to aggressively attack defenses down field.  The former Bear also has the mindset to throw into tight coverage and allow his physically gifted receivers to make plays on their own.  Parker is set up for a big third season in the NFL.  Cutler also solidifies deep threat Kenny Stills’ value while at the same time likely limiting the volume Landry has seen over the course of his career.

Questions about Kelvin Benjamin’s role in the new Carolina offense with two high draft pick offensive weapons and his ballooned weight in training camp depressed his fantasy value to the point that Benjamin moved all the way down to WR38 in early RSO auctions.  Second round draft pick Curtis Samuel was slowed by injury and no other receiver emerged during the preseason.  Benjamin clearly appears like the Panthers’ WR1 right now.  Early Benjamin buyers could have received quite the steal.

Wait and See Mode

Seahawks’ backfield historically holds good fantasy value during the Russell Wilson era in Seattle.  Wilson’s ability as a rusher prevents teams from keying on running backs opening running lanes for the back.  Last season Wilson suffered early injuries limiting his mobility throughout the season.  Wilson’s injuries and some horrendous run blocking by Seattle’s inexperienced offensive line inevitably led to a big decline in the Seahawks’ rushing game effectiveness.  Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, and C.J. Prosise competed for first-team duties this offseason but all suffered from minor injuries during the preseason.  Rawls and Lacy likely split rushing down carries limiting the fantasy appeal of either.  You will want to avoid this backfield early in the season until injuries take hold or someone emerges as the clear top option.  Prosise will hold value as a low end flex play, especially in PPR leagues, as the passing down back and only real receiver out of the backfield.  This is particularly true early in the season with an extremely shallow receiving core behind starters Doug Baldwin and Paul Richardson.  Tyler Lockett will be eased back into the receiving rotation after a gruesome leg injury late last year.

The Green Bay backfield was ugly last season.  Converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery filled in admirably in a limited role last year after injuries destroyed the running back core but did not receive enough volume to be a consistent fantasy option.  I was hoping someone would stand out in the preseason to take over the primary back role.  No one did.  Montgomery was limited with injuries throughout the preseason and struggled with pass protection once again.  All three Green Bay running backs drafted this year (Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, and Devante Mays) made the 53-man roster.  None consistently showed enough to earn a big role.  Montgomery starts as the “lead” back and his receiving skills should make him a solid flex play but it remains to be seen whether his health and pass protection struggles will allow enough time on the field for enough volume to be a consistent RB2 option.  Williams makes for a nice stash in case Montgomery misses time.

Moving Down

Expectations for Terrelle Pryor and Tyreek Hill were extremely high this offseason with both being typically drafted as high to low-end WR2s. Many thought each had WR1 upside.  The preseason showing from both should dampen those expectations.  Both had massive problems catching the football with drops galore, a huge issue on teams whose passing game relies primarily on short, high percentage throws.  Pryor also continued his very raw route running skills from last season.  The Washington and Kansas City offense will undoubtedly run through superstar tight ends, Jordan Reed and Travis Kelce.  Pryor could easily end up as the third most targeted player in Washington behind Reed and Jamison Crowder.  Hill is due for negative touchdown regression this year and will be fighting for touches behind Kelce on a low volume Kansas City passing attack.  Consider both players boom-or-bust WR3s as of now.

The unknown timetable of Andrew Luck’s return moves all Colts down in the rankings to start the season most notably T.Y. Hilton.  Backup quarterback Scott Tolzein looked horrendous this preseason, so much so that Indianapolis traded for Patriots’ third string quarterback Jacoby Brissett to eventually take over backup duties.  This could lead to prime buy-low opportunities for Hilton and Luck.

Blake Bortles remarkably is still the starting quarterback in Jacksonville.   Chad Henne was unable to supplant Bortles in a bizarre one-week open competition for the starting spot.  Bortles might be benched at any time this season and the backup is not much of an improvement.  The dreadful quarterback situation means bad things for any Jaguars player’s fantasy fortunes including Allen Robinson and Leonard Fournette.  The Jacksonville offensive line displayed little improvement this preseason and Fournette is already dealing with a foot injury.  Just stay away from this offense.


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: 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.