2016 Writers’ Bold Predictions

Updated: July 22nd 2016

Training camp is just days away! Only a short few weeks till the Hall of Fame Game which means that it’s time to start making some projections. The writers here at RSO have passed around five (5) topics about what we are keeping an eye out for in 2016. The list includes players to stash, players to be wary of as well as one bold prediction for fantasy this season.  Let it begin!

Interesting team/position group to watch for in fantasy

Matt Goodwin: I like the Cleveland Browns receivers to be better than advertised. Let’s not underestimate head coach Hue Jackson. The Browns will likely be trailing in most games and the team invested high draft capital in Corey Coleman, who I peg to eclipse 1,000 yards and 80 catches and 6 touchdowns this season. Andrew Hawkins is healthy and while the team will throw to running back weapon Duke Johnson and tight end Gary Barnidge plenty (don’t expect a steep drop-off in targets for Barnidge), this offense will be considerably better than people think. If Josh Gordon manages to come back too (the Browns brass seem like they’ve moved on and would likely trade their maligned star wideout), this offense could be somewhat dare I say, dynamic.

Coaching Changes

A change in Philly could be good for two cities

Luke O’Connell: The most fascinating fantasy position group has to be the San Francisco 49ers and their ragtag band of WRs: Torrey Smith, Deandre Smelter, Bruce Ellington.  Owners salivate over the projected negative game scripts for the 49ers and the sheer volume that Kelly might generate. Monopolizing these players at the beginning of the year and dropping the losers of the fantasy gold rush seems a viable strategy for owners.

Bernard Faller: Perhaps no team completely remade their offense as much as Houston did in the offseason.  The Texans instantly transformed from one of the slowest offensive skill position groups to one of the fastest.  Hopkins and Miller have top-5 potential plus Oz could be a sneaky play in 2QB and Superflex leagues with all the new weapons around him.

Dave Sanders: 49ers’ passing game under Chip Kelly is intriguing. As one of the slowest paced teams in 2015, they’ll see a drastic increase in snaps per game. For the 2016 season, I’m buying Torrey Smith as a low-end WR3 and whichever QB lands the job as a QB2.

Nick Andrews: Maybe it’s because I have actually conversed with Doug Pederson in the past (who is hilarious by the way) but I want to see what he can do running the show in Philadelphia. Being very different from former Eagles coach Chip Kelly I want to see what he can get out of his skilled positions, specifically Ryan Matthews, Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz. We know what he could do with the Chiefs last year making Maclin a seriously underrated WR1 each week and turning any RB into a fantasy commodity. Assuming either Wentz or Bradford can be an average, stable QB (à la Alex Smith) we could see a better-motivated offense coming out of PA.

Rebound/Comeback Player of the Year

Goodwin: Obviously Jordy Nelson brings the vertical threat back to the Packers and should once again thrive in Green Bay. Seems too obvious. Going out of the limb for me would be Victor Cruz. I rightfully get the Sterling Shepard hype, but with Cruz slated to be the Giants #3 receiver, I think his price is so low that he represents significant value and upside, especially if injuries occur. Cruz has always been a solid route runner and if the calf if really healthy, can easily exploit weaker defensive backs in the slot.

Dez and Romo

Big things cooking in Big D this year?

Luke: The last ride of Tony Romo is one in which fantasy owners should be interested.  He has a stacked line, an explosive rookie RB as a pressure valve, and the enigmatic Dez Bryant catching passes.  He could, perhaps even should, be the comeback star.

Bernard: You could put any Packer here but I will go with Eddie Lacy.  The consensus “safest” RB last season struggled with poor offensive line play, injuries, and poor play due to weight issues.  Lacy ended 2015 as the RB47 in PPR PPG.  Look for a contract year Lacy to be in prime condition and improve greatly, along with the rest of the Green Bay offense, with the return of Jordy Nelson.

Dave: I’m all in on Jordy Nelson this year.  He’s my WR7 this year in PPR leagues after having a full calendar year to recover from his torn ACL.

Nick: There will be a lot more “X” being thrown up in the end zone in 2016. Dez Bryant said he is good to go this season after missing half of last season with a foot injury and missing his QB for the other half. Before last season Bryant had three straight seasons with 1,200+ yards receiving and 12+ touchdowns. The man plays the game with a competitive fire that won’t let him have back-to-back down seasons. Throw that “X” up!

Who do you think the fantasy community’s Overvalued POTY will be?

Goodwin: Thomas Rawls and it isn’t close. The Seahawks secret sauce in the past has been pounding Beast Mode. However, with a different offensive line and receiving weapons, the Seahawks seem better equipped to turn the keys over to Russell Wilson like they did down the stretch in 2015. I feel Rawls resembles a 2014 C.J. Anderson and while I agree that if I’m paying lots of money for running backs, I want them young; however, if I’m buying young I want the pedigree too (high draft capital) or a larger sample size. Rawls has neither of these while the Seahawks invested in C.J. Prosise in the draft and Rawls is coming back from a significant injury. To invest long-term in him with $20+ million a year when the Seahawks can so easily walk away from him seems to be incredibly irresponsible.

Luke: Le’veon Bell rapped “I’m at the top and if not I’m the closest/Ima need 15 a year and they know this,” in his track “Focus.”  Viewed by many as the top RB in fantasy, the risk is starting to outweigh the reward.  Rumors of missing drug tests, a reconstructed knee, and contract negotiations via albums dropped on twitter…Le’Veon Bell will not toll for this GM.

Bernard: This is Donte Moncrief for me.  I spoke to many people who expect Moncrief to take over as the #1 WR in Indianapolis and possibly produce low-end WR1 numbers.  Many people will be disappointed this year.  Moncrief was quietly one of the most inefficient WRs in the NFL last season with or without Luck.  T.Y. Hilton is still the #1 target in Indy and will be for some time.

Dave: Count me out on Jordan Matthews.  According to Fantasy Football Calculator, he’s currently going 27th among WRs in PPR, but places 47th in my PPR WR rankings for this season.  After OTAs, Matthews is expected to remain a slot WR in Doug Pederson’s offense that will operate at a much slower pace in 2016.

Nick: Running back is one of the trickiest positions to understand as a fantasy player. New names seem to come out of the woodwork each week only to disappear before you can even put in a waiver claim.

Unproven RBs

Two sophomore RBs that may be too good to be true

This year’s hot name is David Johnson who took the NFL by storm with a 3 TD, 200 total yards performance against Philadelphia in the fantasy playoffs. Last I checked though Chris Johnson is coming back for another season and before CJ2K’s injury in week 12 David had seen a total of 27 carries. I’ve been burned one too many times from early round redraft RBs (Zac Stacy, C.J. Anderson) to invest heavily in another.

 

Who do you think could be the Underrated POTY?

Goodwin: Tyrod Taylor. While there seem to be a multitude of options at quarterback this season, Taylor’s versatility with his legs and another year of experience in a contract year will only benefit him. The Bills have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, a now healthy Robert Woods and assuming Sammy Watkins’ health; I expect huge things from this tandem. I wouldn’t be surprised if Taylor finishes as a Top 5 fantasy quarterback this season.

Underrated QBs

A pair of waiver wire QBs that could be a cap saver in 2016

Luke: Alexander the Great, while rolling and conquering much of known world, had time to learn philosophy from Aristotle and drop lines like this one: “As one lion overcomes many people and as one wolf scatters many sheep, so likewise will I, with one word, destroy the peoples who have come against me.” The lion that may prove to overcome many this year is Matthew Stafford.   In traditional redraft leagues His ADP puts him down in 14th round. However, with a ceiling that projects favorably to Big Ben and Drew Brees (5/6th round picks) you can save crucial salary cap money and destroy the league that comes against you.   If analysis based purely on cost isn’t your cup of tea, know that Jim Bob lets Stafford sling it inside the 10 yard line.  Stafford led all passers in the NFL with 21 touchdowns last year and was by far the most efficient, completing 75% of his passes inside the 10 yard line despite being one of the league leaders in attempts.

Bernard: Dwayne Allen is currently coming off the board as a mid-range TE2.  He could finish much higher.  Coby Fleener and Andre Johnson left Indianapolis with 162 targets.  Expect Allen to pick up a big chunk of those targets.  Allen is also a nice target near the goal line on a team without much in the way of red zone threats.  Do not be surprised if Allen hits double digit TDs on a high powered Colts offense.

Dave: I’m higher on Kevin White for this season and in dynasty than much of the fantasy community.  He’s currently going 37th among WRs in PPR leagues this season (30th in my rankings) and 21st among WRs in July dynasty startups according to DLF July ADP. If Jeffery misses time, White could quickly jump into the WR2 conversation.

Nick: If Giovani Bernard isn’t the ideal buy low target in fantasy this season I don’t know who is. The Bengals lost over 150 targets in Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu and Tyler Eifert looks like he could miss games to start the season with yet another injury. With only A.J. Green to help Dalton consistently in the passing game I can easily see a scenario where Gio becomes the number two. A schedule that includes the Jets, Dolphins, Patriots, Bills and Broncos along with two divisional games against the Steelers and a better Ravens squad will make for close scoring games.

Your 2016 Fantasy Bold Prediction

Goodwin: I felt like I just gave one with Taylor, but I’ll go something different. Here goes-Charles Sims outscores Doug Martin in fantasy points this season. Sims is already slated for more carries than his 107 totes in 2015 (higher than you’d think given Martin’s season) and is the Bucs receiving back. While Martin got the big money deal, Sims to me is too talented to keep off the field, especially if the game script is in his favor.

Luke: Perhaps it’s just too much “All or Nothing” on Amazon, but my bold prediction is that David Johnson will be the highest scoring RB in all formats this upcoming year.  His starting workload from last season projected over an entire year is a Cardinal virtue for BA’s team.

Ryan Matthews is the new Jamaal Charles

Ryan Matthews is Doug Pederson’s new Jamaal Charles

Bernard: Ryan Mathews finishes as an RB1.  Mathews has been a very productive back throughout his career, averaging 4.5 YPC, despite playing with some bad offensive lines.  Injuries have also been Mathews undoing far too frequently.  The former Charger is by far the most talented lead back on the roster mixing prototypical size, speed, and power.  He is the clear #1 back on an offense that will be run heavy with new head coach Doug Pederson.  Mathews stays mostly healthy on his way to a big year.

Dave: Adrian Peterson will not finish 2016 as a top 10 RB in PPR scoring.  Peterson’s never been a huge part of the passing game and is now finding himself on the sidelines often in 3rd and long situations according to Pro Football Focus.   Entering his age 31 season, I’d rather be out one year too early than one year too late.

Nick: The new NFL features more passing and requires versatile running backs that can both run between the tackles and catch passes down the field. Because of this I boldly predict that Giovani Bernard will lead all running backs in receptions while simultaneously having the most scrimmage yards of any running back in 2016. Management and the coaches clearly saw Bernard being a big part of their offense by extending his contract through 2019. They could have just as easily let him play out the season and see what’s available in free agency as well as the 2017 draft. With the inconsistencies of Jeremy Hill on the ground and the lack of receiving options in the air, Gio should be used in the same role as fellow AFC North running back Le’veon Bell.

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.

2016 Under/Over Predictions

Updated: July 4th 2016

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

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

Overachievers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Underachievers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Predictions

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

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

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

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

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


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

Open the Wallet – Players to Buy

Updated: June 22nd 2016

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Value Town: TEs

Updated: June 10th 2016

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

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

State of the Tight End Position

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

Tight End Values

The Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bad

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Forward

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

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


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