Rookie Pick Craze

Updated: July 8th 2016

Most rookie drafts are now complete and owners are looking forward to the start of training camp in a month’s time. Throughout this process of drafting, I came to ask myself the question of whether rookie picks of all kinds are overvalued. With the hype-train that is the 2017 draft, I have seen many trades on both twitter and in my own leagues that would suggest that every player available is going to be the next Eric Dickerson, Randy Moss, and Tony Gonzalez. Even looking ahead to 2018, owners are reluctant to trade their picks based on the unknown of what the caliber of rookies will be in two years. While that is a fair argument, the last time I checked,  the whole point of playing fantasy football was to win championships, not assemble “the best” forward- looking team. Therefore, I wanted to take a look how successful rookie picks actually are. I should give credit to RotoViz writer Jacob Rickrode who looked at a similar topic last year. I will link his article here for those of you who have access to their articles.

Rookie Success

If we look back at the last six rookie drafts starting in 2010 below is a breakdown of how successful a rookie selected was. The chart looks at the average ADP of each year’s rookies. For 2012 Trent Richardson, Andrew Luck, and Doug Martin were the average top 3 drafted in that order. The Success Rate evaluates whether a pick had a top 12 (QB, TE) or top 24 (RB,WR) season at least once since being drafted. The Percentage of Top Seasons represents how often each pick was able to reach the top 12/24. The final two columns indicate the total round’s Bust Rate, whether they had at least one top season, and Top Season Rate, the percentage of having multiple top 12/24. I chose to only do individual picks for the first two rounds for two reasons: the fluctuation in ADP after 24 varied tremendously from site to site and the data showed that players drafted after the second round were mostly irrelevant.

Rookie Pick Chart

As you can see the first round selections have a slightly better than 50/50 chance to have at least one top 12/24 season while only a 20% chance of having more than one top seasons. From there it gets steadily worse. An interesting anomaly, the large value of success from the 2.12 is greatly inflated by Rob Gronkowski who’s five top 12 finishes are only second in that round to pick 2.02 (6). That’s one player versus six! As well, the 1.02 has seen some elite talent with names like Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, and Andrew Luck which is why it is the only pick that currently holds a perfect 100% success rate. The only individual players to have a perfect score (reaching the top 12/24 each season) having played in 2 or more seasons are Odell Beckham Jr. (2 years), Mike Evans (2), Jeremy Hill (2), Giovanni Bernard (3) and A.J. Green (5). This is the part of the article where you tip your cap to the Cincinnati Bengals scouting staff. Even if we look at the so-called “Best class in recent history” – 2014, in their first two seasons only 7 of 12 players have had a top 12/24 season thus far. Even looking ahead , with a couple more seasons under their belts, I do not see much more coming out of this round however due to names like Sankey and Manziel stinking up the average.

Move Up or Move Out

So knowing this information what can we do to come out ahead? If we look at my last article which helps layout the value of picks against one another and combine that with the stats presented here we can create a couple of trade strategies to maximize value. If you are a contending, bottom round team the likelihood of your rookie selection being a useful player is slim. Looking at the last 6 picks in the first round the success rate drops to only 40% and the multi-season success down to 10%. Consider also that if your team is contending and therefore full of top talent players, already the likelihood of incoming players being better than those players is even less likely. Therefore, you should be looking to move your picks to the top 3 where you have a robust 83% chance of picking a successful player as well as a 67% chance that they will have multiple top seasons.

Ryan Matthews

Forgotten veterans are a contender’s best friend

If you are unable to move into a position to secure a top 3 selection then the second option is to move out completely. The goal is to win championships, so if your pick isn’t going to help you win during your window then you should be getting value from it. Savvy veteran players are always undervalued and while they may not offer high returns like ODB or Allen Robinson, they definitely will have higher floors than shares of David Wilson, Cordarelle Patterson, and Johnny Manziel currently holds. Players like Matt Forte, Ryan Matthews, Greg Olsen, and Drew Brees are perfect candidates to target by casting out a late first round pick. I have said this in many articles before but the beautiful of RSO is that no player is locked in forever so the landscape of teams changes more than standard dynasties. For those of you who have been on the site for several years now you probably understand what I am saying since your first rookie class is coming due for their first free agency.

Hopefully, I have been able to open some eyes to what really happens with rookie picks and help you understand what to do with everyone going 2017 crazy! As always if you have questions or want to talk strategies you can find me on twitter @naandrews19.

Should We Retire D/ST Position?

Updated: July 8th 2016

#NoMoreDefST

Where did the D/ST position come from? I understand that, like prop bets, it’s fun to have action on every aspect of a football game, but I believe the D/ST increases the randomness of weekly contests and makes fantasy football a less fun and skillful hobby. I’ve long believed the scoring outputs are too matchup and touchdown dependent, and are often aided by fluke, unpredictable plays. The quality of the defense matters less than it does at any other position. This has been a theory of mine for years, but I wanted to dive into the data and see if my theory was actually true.

There has been a movement to get rid of the kicker position, which has even been adopted by DraftKings and MyFantasyLeague. Why isn’t there much of a push to retire the D/ST position? Let’s examine why there should be #NoMoreDefST.

Weekly Matchups Impact D/ST Outputs More Than Any Other Position

Through analyzing ESPN’s 2015 Points Against Data, I discovered that defenses (D/ST) were affected more dramatically by weekly matchups than any other positions. Defenses facing the Tennessee Titans‘ offense averaged 11.5 fantasy points per game. Cleveland‘s offense was just behind Tennessee at 10.4 fppg. Ranking as the 32nd best matchup, defenses facing the Arizona Cardinals‘ offense averaged only 1.6 fppg. Teams facing the best matchup, Tennessee, scored 719% more points than those facing Arizona, the worst matchup. Looking at that same metric, it’s clear that other positions are far less affected by weekly matchups – QBs 197%, RBs 216%, WRs 196%, and TEs 260%. As unpredictable as the NFL, do we really want our weekly contests being decided by whichever defense is lucky enough to face a team like Tennessee or Cleveland?

How Does The Season Schedule Impact The D/ST Scoring Leaders?

Since we’ve found that weekly matchups matter greatly to fantasy D/STs, I wanted to determine if the frequency of good matchups dramatically impact the season long scoring leaders. To test this theory, I tallied how many top 10 matchups (using the aforementioned ESPN Points Against Data) each of the top 10 and bottom 10 fantasy scoring defenses faced in 2015. Teams that finished in the top 10 in scoring, according to ESPN’s 2015 Scoring Leaders, averaged 5.8 top 10 matchups during the season, while bottom 10 teams averaged only 4.1 top 10 matchups. A difference in nearly 2 top 10 matchups per team appears to have impacted the standings. This isn’t to say the quality of the D/ST doesn’t matter, but to explain that factors outside of their control impact their scoring outputs more than any other position.

Are TDs Too Heavily Weighted For D/STs?

The Philadelphia D/ST scored 7 TDs in 2015, tied for the most of any team. This aided the Eagles D/ST into becoming a defense that warranted consideration from many fantasy owners. On the season, Philadelphia finished 16th after a poor final month. Of the top 23 D/STs in 2015 scoring, no D/ST had more zero or negative point games than Philadelphia. Philadelphia had 5 such games. 7 plays  –Darren Sproles return TDs, a blocked punt, a fumble, and several interceptions caused the Eagles to swing several matchups in 2015. I’d argue that the randomness and unpredictability of these TDs required little preparation and skill from their fantasy owners.

Verdict

Fantasy football has never been more popular than it is right now. Major networks such as ESPN, Yahoo, CBS, and NFL Network now produce weekly shows to help fantasy owners set lineups before kickoff every Sunday. Fantasy football platforms with unique offerings like Reality Sports Online are rapidly growing in popularity. With all of this growth in the industry, the widely accepted standard roster positions and scoring have mostly remained intact. With more resources for preparation and news information available than we have time to read, we should also aim to optimizing the experience on Sundays. Nothing is more frustrating than watching your season end as a defensive lineman runs into the endzone for a TD on a recovered fumble. You saw that coming? Me neither.

Join me in retiring the D/ST position on Twitter (@DaveSanders_RSO) by using the hashtag #NoMoreDefST!


Bio: An avid fan of all things NFL, Dave has been playing fantasy football since 1999.  Though Dave participates in all types of fantasy football including redraft and daily, he prefers keeper and dynasty leagues as talent evaluation and scouting are integral components of each. 

Receiveland

Updated: July 7th 2016

In the Zone

First off, I’d be remiss as someone born and raised in Cleveland to not talk about the first championship in 52 years as the Cleveland Cavaliers became part of history in coming back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Warriors. Watching the final four and a half minutes of the game and seeing the Cavs hold the Warriors scoreless was very similar to my waiting out my semi-final playoff matchup in my main Reality Sports Online league last year. While that one didn’t go my way on the final play as I’ve written about before on a Drew Brees dumpoff to Tim Hightower, this one did and it was beyond my wildest expectations.

Outside of family events, this by far was the best event I’ve experienced and all the better that it was on Father’s Day as a I hit the floor in a sea of emotions when the buzzer sounded like I played in the game. In many ways I’m still celebrating this team as The Chasedown and The Three replace The Drive, The Fumble, The Blown Save, The Move. Suffice to say, I cannot wait until the championship gear we ordered shows up on my doorstep and am grateful to LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and the rest of the Cavs for providing me the freedom to watch sports with no nervousness that the worst will happen going forward.

With that aside, it is time to talk a little bit about some wide receivers and tight ends that I like for 2016. I’ll stay away from the obvious names that may not be available in your auctions or will command top dollar. Writing articles like this are certainly bittersweet for me because I feel like I’m giving people in my leagues insight into potential targets of mine, but the beauty of Reality Sports Online marketplace pricing makes value fairly subjective. Before I jump in, one of the best in the business at dissecting wide receivers for fantasy football is NFL.com’s Matt Harmon through his Reception Perception series. If you are serious about contending in your league, Harmon’s strength is dissecting the route tree receivers run and the success and advanced metrics that support predictive analysis.

1) Tyler Lockett & Doug Baldwin, Wide Receivers, Seattle Seahawks

Tyler Lockett did a little bit of everything last year for the Seahawks and when Russell Wilson started airing it out in Seattle in Week 11, Lockett became a serious threat as a receiver, including catching 30 of his 40 targets for 444 yards and five touchdowns in seven games. As Harmon pointed out in Reception Perception, the Seahawks love taking deep shots with Lockett as the “nine” route was the route that the Seahawks ran the most with Lockett in his sample. The Seahawks targeted Lockett two to three times a game down the stretch and while some of those lacked success, Wilson works tirelessly with his receivers in the offseason so you can expect Lockett to be the recipient of amplified targets based on his ability to beat different coverages with frequency.

In leagues that factor in return yardage, Lockett is even more valuable. My fellow league-mate and USA Today Network’s Ryan Bonini recently compared Lockett to Randall Cobb and I think he could be right in terms of his rookie to second year ascension.

Further, if you are one who thinks the Seahawks will turn into a ground and pound team again at the beginning of the season and are paying $20 million plus to Thomas Rawls in your leagues, you may want to rethink that decision based on Doug Baldwin’s recent four year, $46 million ($24 million guaranteed) extension.

To me, this contract extension signals the Seahawks transition to being a passing team. Drafting C.J. Prosise, who excels as a pass catching running back as a former college receiver shows that the team wants to surround Wilson with the full arsenal of aerial weapons, as well as highlights that they are not fully invested in Rawls, who is coming off a significant ankle injury after being an undrafted rookie success last season. Look, I’m not sending Rawls to Siberia; however, I think his sample size is still small enough that in spite of an astronomical yards per carry last season that the Seahawks don’t have much capital invested in him, which makes him a scary dynasty asset to predict (think C.J. Anderson last season).

Back to Baldwin. In the same post Game 11 stretch as Lockett, Baldwin amassed 40 receptions on 53 targets for 590 yards and 11 touchdowns. Talk about crazy efficiency, but also note that Baldwin went bananas in a four game stretch with multiple touchdowns in each of those in the midst of your fantasy football playoffs.

Those in the fantasy football community talk about regression frequently and those who don’t understand the term automatically associate it with something bad. However, it more refers to statistical deviation and performances regressing to a mean or average. Surely, Baldwin’s touchdowns should come down this year or get closer to his career averages (29 total touchdowns in five seasons); however, would you really complain if he scored eight touchdowns for your fantasy squad this year as a top 24 wideout?

Based on the Reality Sports Online data I’ve seen, it is likely that Baldwin is a free agent in your auction and while others pursue some bigger names like T.Y. Hilton and Keenan Allen, Baldwin figures to perform on a similar level for a boatload less money. Ride the continued perception of the Seahawks ground game to get their wideouts on the cheap.

2) Coby Fleener, Tight End, New Orleans Saints

For fantasy owners seeking a quote to bank on for getting a steal at the suddenly declining tight end position, “He’s Always Open” is hopefully not the “We’ll run him until he throws up” quote from yesteryear (C.J. Spiller on Buffalo). However, Saints Quarterback Drew Brees uttered these words recently about new free agent signing Coby Fleener after playing the NFC South last season and watching lots of film on Fleener.

Early returns are that Fleener’s getting open in practice too, for what’s that worth. It may not matter. When a tight end like Benjamin Watson has 74 receptions on 110 targets for 825 yards and 6 touchdowns at age 35, following Jimmy Graham’s run in New Orleans, it is clear that the system produces opportunities for tight ends. In Indy, Fleener was forced to block and was inconsistent without Andrew Luck.

If there were any doubts in how New Orleans values the position, Fleener’s 5 year, $36 million contract with $18 million guaranteed should quell those questions. Now, the only question becomes whether or not a player with a history of drops makes the most of always being open. To me, the smart money in your auction is to take the chance on Fleener on a one to two year deal around $5-6 million a year. Assuming health, your reward should be a Top 8 tight end with upside.

3) Daniel Braverman, Wide Receiver, Chicago Bears

File this one in the rookie sleeper category, but Chicago’s Daniel Braverman is a slot wide receiver who shows an uncanny ability to get significant yards after the catch and catch the ball in traffic. If you aren’t aware of him, he left Western Michigan after his junior season in which he caught 108 balls for 1,367 yards with 13 touchdowns. The 5’10, 177 lb. Braverman runs a 4.47 40 yard dash and was a 7th round selection of the Chicago Bears.

His story is compelling as he grew up in South Florida playing with an incredible work ethic and a chip on his shoulder because he was often overlooked among 5 star recruits. Braverman is the protege of former NFL wideout and fellow Miami University alum Sly Johnson who has been his mentor since 7th grade in South Florida. You certainly want to root for a guy as a fantasy owner who has overcome his mother leaving Braverman and his father at a young age.

When you watch tape of Braverman like this game against Ohio State and you see plays that show a little bit of Golden Tate, a splash of Julian Edelman (perhaps it is the Jewish receiver connection), and some Cole Beasley. He shined in two games against top ten opponents Michigan State and Ohio State, finishing the former with 13 catches for 109 yards and the latter with 10 receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown, showing the ability to break free over the middle while running all sorts of routes. Braverman also handled some punts and kickoffs which would add to his fantasy value.

What makes Braverman attractive to me are the targets that exited with Martellus Bennett, as well as Marquess Wilson’s foot injury landing him on the PUP list to begin the season. Add in the fact that Eddie Royal is 30 years old and we all know what he brings, and this brings unique opportunity for Braverman who seems like the type of player that will work his way into playing time and then play well enough to never relinquish it. Word is he’s already seeing some snaps with the 1’s while Royal has been out.

For a price of a third round rookie pick or a flier multi-year deal in your free agency auction, there’s significant value to be had on Braverman and I’m all in on the Braverman Express.


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

Offseason Cookbook

Updated: July 7th 2016

Many important offseason decisions are rapidly approaching for those of you out there in the Reality Sports Online universe. Are you in need of a recipe for the offseason?  I have you covered with a simple guide that will cover many of the most important offseason considerations to get you ready for the 2016 season.  This guide does not cover every question you will have but is a starting point for how to think about a few of the fundamental offseason topics in RSO leagues.

  1. Team Evaluation

This step is perhaps the most difficult part for both amateurs and experts alike. Every owner looks optimistically at their own roster.  Of course you did not give your favorite player a big contract thinking he would not be a key contributor!  Now is the time to make a realistic assessment of where your team is at whether your team performed beyond expectations or well below them.  You must ask yourself tough questions and answer with your head not your heart.  Were injuries a factor that derailed your team or helped it?  Have younger players progressed like you hoped or have they hit their peak?

How do we come up with an unbiased evaluation of our team? One solution is to apply point projections for your predicted starting lineup and add them up to find your projected team total.  Then compare the point total against the point total finish of teams in your league from last season.  RSO has 2016 player projections and last season’s league data readily available.  You will have to make some assumptions about players you expect to obtain for positions you do not have filled yet.  I will generally assume that I am a contender if my projected team point total is near the top of the team scoring leaders from last year.  Conversely, I will start planning for a couple of years ahead if I project near the bottom of my league.  I will rapidly try to change my team if I find myself in the middle.  RSO’s own Nick Andrews provides a more detailed article on deciding if your team is a contender or a rebuilder here.

  1. Player Drops

We all make good and bad decisions with respect to player contracts. Some gambles do not work out as we plan because of injuries, suspensions, bad play, or a host of other reasons.  Now is the time to correct some of those bad decisions.  Cutting players is never easy but is necessary when it is clear that the player will not provide the value you need to justify keeping him at his current contract level.  The decision to drop a player is complicated.  An owner should consider many factors including the player’s contract, expected production, team and league salary cap situation, and the pool of available players in the free agent auction.  You can read more about the salary cap implications of dropping players on RSO’s How It Works page.

Let me give an example from a league I am in to demonstrate a few of the considerations in determining whether to drop a player. The league has 12 teams with 1QB/2RB/3WR/1TE/2FLEX/1K/1DEF starting requirements.  I currently have Jeremy Hill on contract with one year left at almost $19 million.  Cutting Hill would save around $9.5M in cap space.  I would cut Hill in many cases given the contract and his expected production in 2016.  In this particular league, there will be about $800 million available in the free agent auction for approximately 40 fantasy relevant players coming to nearly $20 million per player.  In addition, only about twelve relevant RBs are in the FA auction and over half of the teams have significant RB needs.  The excess money available and high demand for running backs led me to keep Hill in this situation.

  1. Franchise Tag

Our next major offseason decision is whether or not we use the franchise tag. Each team may use the franchise tag on one player.  The franchise tag value is calculated as the greater of the average of the top 5 salaries at the position or 120% of the player’s previous year salary.  Table 1 breaks down the average top 5 salaries by position from RSO leagues in 2015.

Position Top 5 Average
TE $10,627,859
QB $16,228,848
RB $19,966,313
WR $20,466,396

*Table 1: Average of Top 5 Salaries per Position from 2015

Notice that tight ends are generally a solid place to use the franchise tag if you have one of the few high end options given how relatively cheap the position is. I would also not hesitate to franchise a top option at wide receiver because of the relative safety and expected production at the position, despite being the most expensive group.  Quarterbacks will not usually provide the value needed to justify using the franchise tag and there are too many cheaper options available in most leagues.  The running back position provides one of the true high risk/ high reward options when using the franchise tag.  Workhorse running backs rival top wide receivers in value when healthy but are more injury prone.

I personally used the franchise tag this year on Jordan Reed for $12 million in the league described above in the player drops section. The low value of the contract provides a low risk high reward option for a player who is the focal point of the Washington offense, outscored Rob Gronkowski on a per game basis, but who has had numerous issues staying on the field due to injuries.

  1. Rookie Draft and Free Agent Auction

We now arrive at the core of RSO leagues and what really sets the RSO platform apart from other types of leagues. This is the place where savvy owners build the nucleus of their teams for years to come.  We must address which rookie warrants a cheap multi-year contract, what free agent deserves a huge contract, and how we distribute our limited multi-year contracts.

As in the NFL, the RSO rookie draft provides teams the chance to secure players at below market prices for extended periods of time. An owner who hits on rookie picks holds a significant advantage over those who do not.  While we are always looking to acquire the most valuable player with our picks, I like to keep in mind a couple of key guidelines for RSO rookie drafts.

  1. Time is at a premium: RSO contracts are limited in length which means I place a premium on players who have better odds of contributing early. “Project” players who likely sit on an NFL bench developing move farther down my draft board.
  2. Second round value: RSO rookie contract structure favors acquiring picks in the 2nd round of rookie drafts. I will actively try to obtain as many as possible through trades due to the odds of picking contributing rookies and the low costs of contracts in this round.

While the rookie draft supplements the future of your team, the free agent auction is where most owners mold the core of their teams. Most leagues allow more multi-year contracts in the free agent auction than in the rookie draft.  This gives teams the ability to rapidly change in a short period of time.  How an owner distributes contracts can have implications that impact the present and future.  RSO owners face a complex problem of how to distribute contracts salaries across players and years.  A couple of concepts stand out when making these decisions.

  1. Player values change yearly: RSO leagues are different from yearly auction leagues in that the player pool, amount of salary cap available per team, and team needs all vary from year to year. Just as in the NFL, a player’s value likely increases significantly if he is the top available option at the position in the free agent auction.  Similarly, expect player prices to soar in a league where $600 million in salary cap is available for the FA auction vs. a league where only $300 million is available.
  2. Big vs. Small: RSO owners face one of the biggest decisions in determining if they want to put big money in multi-year player contracts or instead utilize small long-term commitments and place big money into 1 year deals. Big long-term deals allow teams to lock up the best players with the least risk.  These contracts can be a big burden on teams when they miss though.  Owners, conversely, might use their multi-year deals on cheaper, more speculative plays like players who went undrafted in the rookie draft or players caught in bad situations but are in the last year of their NFL contract.  This strategy provides owners maximum year to year roster flexibility and also reduces the consequences of missing on players but also significantly reduces the chances of hitting on contributing players.  Keep in mind players who might become available next offseason when deciding upon your preferred strategy.

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

Open the Wallet – Players to Buy

Updated: June 22nd 2016

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

2.01 Is The New Black

Updated: June 22nd 2016

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

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

How To Value Each Round

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

NFL Trade Value Chart

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

Draft Pick Value Chart Round 1 - 3

Draft Pick Value Chart Round 1 - 3

This information is more easily represented via the chart below.

Rookie Pick Graph

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

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

How To Stay Atop The Mountain

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

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

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

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

Cost efficient rookies turn championship teams into dynasties

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