Taming the Wild

Updated: March 31st 2016

How many times has this happened to you? Your phone buzzes and you read a trade notification email and you are left pondering, “What is that guy thinking!?”  You try to research information that you may have missed that would change your opinion on the trade but cannot find a thing. You then label that owner as a scrub and throw a terrible trade offer their way to get in on the reaping. They feel insulted and reject the trade. You are then left wondering why they would accept the first trade but see your offer as heresy. Sound familiar?

While ADPs are always the easiest reference points to compare two players against one another there will be biases towards certain players that an owner always has. What I have found is that there are four different types of owners found in every fantasy football league. These four types can be characterized as: the elephant, the hyena, the vulture, and the mouse. Over time everybody in fantasy will be one of these examples. Hopefully I am able to help you recognize where your league-mates are in their strategies, and how to best approach each of them with trade and counter trade offers.

The Elephant

A wise and intelligent owner, they often know a dearth of football knowledge. They have likely been playing fantasy football for a number of years and have a solid foundation for how they want to approach their strategies. Unfortunately, this knowledge can often hinder their decisions related to trading, cuts and drafting as they are set in their process. Players that are perceived as bad stay bad, and those that had a good year in 2013 are still those same players despite the ever changing situations in the NFL. An example would be those who held Peyton Manning as their QB1 heading into the season because he’s been the stud for the last two decades, reasoning why would you need another QB1?

The Hyena

Almost an opposite of the elephant owner, the hyena seems to be always changing what they perceive a player to be valued at and what their strategy will be. They are always on top of what the latest buzz news is around the league and try and jump ahead of the crowd without concrete analysis. While they may be sneaky to trade for the big name free agent before he moves to the ideal new team but they also get burned by the news that a player is meeting with another team only to end up in a much less opportune situation. Think those who trade for Trent Richardson after hearing about his move to Indy or traded away Doug Martin before last season’s rebound.

The Vulture

This owner is always waiting for a player to have an injured or bad season and will then look to pick them up across several teams. While in trade conversations they will often talk down the players that you have as old, broken or not that good while every player they have on their team is the next Randy Moss or LT. They will often also send out the most trade offers per season to which you wonder who would ever accept these crappy offers? However, at some point each season a league-mate or two makes a deal with this owner, whether out of necessity or to fit their own strategy, that everyone else in the league is left scratching their head.

The Mouse

These are the owners who keep their players close to the vest. While not all of these owners are inactive because they don’t pay attention, they definitely don’t make as many moves as the rest of the league. Think the same strategy as the Packers in terms of free agents. Similar to the elephant this could be because they have a set strategy to which they do not need to make a large number of trades. They instead would rather build their team through the draft (rookie and auction) without moving much of their own capital. That’s not to say they will not trade but they are more calculated in when they initiate and accept trade offers.

Developing a Strategy

Now that I have outlined the four types of players we can see a friendly illustration below of how each of the owners interact with one another.Trade Circles

As you can see each has two owners that they can frequently negotiate with and one that it is more difficult. This makes sense as someone who is set in their ways (elephant) is not likely to be swooned by someone with sudden and aggressive trade offers (hyena). Alternatively an owner who is savvy and recognizes someone panicking over a player’s situation (vulture) or someone who sees a player who fits well into their roster (mouse) will always investigate the owner’s interest.

It is now easier to see how strategies will develop when approaching trades with these owners in your league. The main point to get across regardless of who you are dealing with is COMMUNICATION.  For different reasons and motives it is always important to stay in constant communication with everyone in your league. The second point is to know that every owner will fall into all four of these broad categories at some point with each of their players. The goal to being successful in dynasty is to recognize what their impressions are regarding each player and approach accordingly. This is ultimately where you are able to create tremendous value in trades.

Do’s and Don’t

Here is a quick list of how to approach each owner type:

Elephant

  • Do offer the studs on the decline, especially if you are in a rebuild. Capitalize on that top dollar before your players retire or meet father time (ex. Forte, Marshall, AP).
  • Don’t target their core players using savvy values. If you are in championship mode and looking for a few veterans to help your run don’t expect much for aging discounts on the players above.

Hyena

  • Do try and capitalize on hype players. No player is untradeable and you should at least see if anyone will pay the moon for one player. (Alfred Morris, Lamar Miller, Brock Osweiler, Ladarius Green)
  • Do establish a value for dropping ADP players. If an owner is souring on a player’s new situation try and see if you can pounce. (ex. Demaryius Thomas, Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Chris Ivory)
  • Don’t get sucked into the snowballing trade; keep your focus on a certain player. Often a trade starts one for one or two for one and then it snowballs into trading half your team for half of theirs.

Vulture

  • Do listen to each offer that they send. Even the most ludicrous of trade offers can be narrowed down to be something that would hold value.
  • Don’t feel you need to do any trades because you are rebuilding or strapped for cash. Just because you might be placed in less than ideal conditions doesn’t mean another owner should be able to buy your players for eighty cents on the dollar.

Mouse

  • Don’t approach with too vague an offer. Starting a conversation with, “I’m looking at X, what would you value him at?” will usually go nowhere. Do your homework and have a flexible list of players and picks that you would be willing to offer.
  • Don’t start the conversation involving their core players unless you are willing to offer up one or two of yours. Unless they are in a rebuild a mouse will usually only do ancillary deals to fill holes rather than changing the foundation of their whole team with one trade.
  • Do offer savvy veteran pieces if they are in a championship run. While they might not offer the top dollar for aging players like the hyena or the elephant they will see value and will often be easier to negotiate with.

Hopefully from reading this article you are now able to recognize the different personas that are in your individual leagues. Remember that any one owner can be all four of these characters at once so you need to keep in communication about their impressions from one player to another. As each league gets closer to their rookie and auction drafts strategies will change and player values will fluctuate. For those of you that read my Fold’em or Hold’em article in the second part I will frequently reference these types of owners when it comes to developing a strategy leading into next season.


Bio: Nick is a Sports Administration graduate in Canada who has worked/interned with two NFL organizations. His 7 championships allow him to mock and ridicule relentlessly across his three different family and friend’s leagues to a point of annoyance. While the value of those championships is meaningless in terms of his professional enhancement he will subtly place them as “related skills” in his work applications. 

Will DeMarco Murray Thrive in TEN?

Updated: March 28th 2016

DeMarco Murray, a Tennessee Titan?  That will take a few preseason games to get used to.  Will the polarizing running back now thrive away from Chip Kelly?

Scheme-fit

MurrayThe popular narrative surrounding DeMarco Murray’s dreadful 2015 was that he was misused by the Eagles coaching staff as he turned out to be a poor scheme fit for Chip Kelly’s offense.  Utilized out of shotgun on nearly 85% of his runs, Murray stumbled in Philadelphia – averaging 3.6 yards per carry out of the shotgun, after averaging 5.3  yards per carry on just over 100 carries out of the shotgun in Dallas according to Mike Clay of ESPN.  His declining performance eventually led to Murray being phased out of the offense as the season progressed.  After letting go of Chip Kelly, Eagles Interim Head Coach Pat Shurmur ran Murray frequently under center in the Eagles Week 17 win over the New York Giants.  Aside from a 54 yard touchdown run where Murray ran untouched straight through the Giants defense, Murray only gained 15 yards on the other 11 carries.  Excluding the long run on a missed assignment, Murray wasn’t effective in this game even with Bradford under center.

DeMarco Murray should see a more consistent workload in Tennessee

DeMarco Murray should see a more consistent workload in Tennessee

In Murray’s introductory press conference, Titans head coach Mike Mularkey stated that Mariota will be under center more than he was last year, likely more frequently than in shotgun.   At first glance, that would appear to be good news for Murray as nearly 91% of his 2014 carries came with the quarterback under center.  Mularkey’s strategy runs contrary to the league wide trend of increasing shotgun snaps every year since 2011.  Across the NFL, 62% of snaps in the 2015 season came out of shotgun, a number that’s grown every year since 2011 when only 41% of snaps came under center according to Jared Dubin of CBS Sports.  The reasoning for this makes perfect sense as shotgun snaps have resulted in between 0.9 to 1 MORE yards per play EACH SEASON than snaps under center.  Moving under center more frequently could hurt the Titans offense enough to limit his workload due to negative game flow.

Impact of 2014 Workload

DeMarco Murray record 497 touches for Dallas in 2014

DeMarco Murray recorded 497 touches for Dallas in 2014

497 – That’s the number of touches DeMarco Murray had in 2014.  Coming into 2015, many wondered what toll this workload would take on the then 27 year-old running back.  Aside from not adapting well to the Eagles’ offensive scheme, Murray looked like a player in decline as he lacked explosiveness, seemed a step slow, and wasn’t able to cut upfield when there was an opening in the Eagles’ zone read attack.  His decline is best quantified through Pro Football Focus’ running back grades.  According to Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus, Murray went from the 2nd best running back in 2014 to the 2nd worst running back in 2015.  Murray also broke significantly fewer tackles in 2015 as he averaged one broken tackle per 8 carries in 2015 vs. 5 carries in 2014, according to John Breitenbach of Pro Football Focus.  After weeks of low production, Murray slipped significantly on the depth chart, even at times falling behind journeyman Kenjon Barner.

Expected Workload in Tennessee

This is where the outlook turns positive for Murray.  He should clearly be the lead back in a Tennessee backfield that desperately lacked production in 2015.  After taking on his sizable contract, the Titans will be plenty motivated to feed DeMarco and make their investment worth-while, especially as they attempt to lower the burden on second year quarterback Marcus Mariota.  Mike Mularkey’s history, as both an offensive coordinator and head coach, also points to a heavy workload for Murray, as he has a history of leaning heavily on star running backs like Jerome Bettis, Willis McGahee, and Ronnie Brown.  This is best exemplified by his use of Michael Turner from 2008 to 2011 in Atlanta.  Turner averaged 21 carries per game over these 4 years with Mularkey as Atlanta’s OC.  21 carries per game for 16 games projects to 334 carries per season.  In a league where two and three-headed running back committees are becoming more common in today’s NFL, Murray’s projected workload definitely boosts his fantasy value in Tennessee.  There will be very few running backs projected for more carries in 2016.  How productive he will be remains to be seen, but efficiency only matters in fantasy football if it leads to a declining workload which likely won’t be the case in Tennessee.  A consistent workload should put DeMarco Murray back in the RB2 (RB ranked 11-20) discussion, strictly due to volume.  Projected 2016 Stats: 275 carries – 1045 yards – 9 TDs; 41 receptions – 291 yards – 0 TD

Implications for RSO Leagues

After signing with the Eagles in the 2015 off-season, Murray was an attractive player in RSO auctions.  Across all 2015 RSO auctions, he received an average contract of approximately $20.2 million per year for nearly 3 seasons.  Rolling these contracts forward to today, many owners still have Murray contracted for 2 or more seasons at a rate of over $20 million a year.  I cannot recommend owning Murray on any contract longer than one season as I’m terrified that he won’t be as productive as the Titans are expecting, which could lead to a more limited role in 2017.  For anyone who owns Murray on a multi-year contract, I’d rush to place him on the trading block and start fielding offers today.  There likely are a few owners in your league who expect big things out of him in Tennessee for years to come and I’d be willing to dump him for second round rookie pick value, which I believe you could get.

Time will tell on how DeMarco Murray fairs in Tennessee, but I certainly don’t want to be the owner paying more than $20 million for Murray in 2017 and beyond.

Running on Empty?

Updated: March 17th 2016

In the Zone

As evident in NFL free agency, the three-down running back is a dying breed and one that has diminishing value for most teams in a league that has morphed into a passing league. Your Reality Sports Online league is probably no different. After all, you left the comfy confines of traditional leagues where you are forced to start two running backs and came to our platform, seeking more dynamic scoring and customizable lineup options.

With that said, the running back position is somewhere you may not want to allocate a large percentage of your $155.3 million in 2016 cap space. If your league is like mine, you may just need to hit on one running back one way or another and then spend your long-term contracts on other positions with more predictability and longevity. In that scenario (especially in PPR leagues), you can get away with someone like Danny Woodhead (who finished 8th in my league’s RB scoring) for cheap production.

Let’s jump in to what’s happened in the 2016 offseason already using Average Years and Average Contract Dollars remaining to assess some scenarios and decisions that our general managers may face in the upcoming months. First though, I’d like to be explicit in saying that while most think that the NFL running back cliff is the age 30 season, I’ve seen studies where the production slip is much sooner than that, so plucking running backs in the Rookie Draft (especially this year when the wide receiver class seems a little shaky and not deep-sorry but I just can’t get excited about someone like Ohio State’s Michael Thomas being any better than a player I’ve seen him compared to-Michael Crabtree).

Basically, you are better taking the risk on a 22-year old on a rookie deal than a player with question marks as some of the players I will dive into have. More importantly, while I don’t watch that much college football (when compared to the NFL), I watched more Ohio State games than any other college team over the past few seasons. Based on that viewing, I see things in rookie runner Ezekiel Elliott that warrant him being the #1 pick in all your rookie drafts, and someone with more upside than Doug Martin types. Elliott is one of the best pass blockers I’ve seen in college footage, has a second level acceleration that is rare, and likes to dole out punishment. He also can catch the ball out of the backfield (even if Ohio State relied more based on their personnel with some gadgetry and wide receiver screens), making him a true three down back. In a win-now scenario with a hulking offensive line and Tony Romo returning, I think the Cowboys taking Elliott at #4 would get them back in the playoff picture immediately, even if that is too high of draft capital to spend on a running back these days.

Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1.3 average years remaining, $15.9m average remaining contract)

While it seemed unlikely at the beginning of the 2015 season, Martin was awarded with a 5 year, $35.75 million deal with $15.0 million guaranteed after a prolific 2015 season. You have to like Martin’s 4.87 yards per carry in 2015, but his line of 288 carries for 1,402 yards and 6 touchdowns was boosted by 14 plays over 20 yards, which is always subject to regression. I really like the team’s signing of J.R. Sweezy from the Seahawks, who recently said how much he loves to run block.

However, Martin is significantly hampered by teammate Charles Sims in the receiving game. Sims had 51 catches to Martin’s 33 and had over 1,000 combined yards from scrimmage.

Assessment: Most Martin owners are in two buckets: 1) fourth-year league players who paid big for Martin following his breakout rookie season and have him for one more year at a super high salary, or 2) owners who took a flier on Martin based on less-productive 2013 and 2014 seasons. If you are in the first group, consider moving Martin in the trade market and if you’re in the second bucket, hold on to him and hope for similar production for the next season or two.

Arian Foster, Free Agent (1.3 average years remaining, $16.6m average remaining contract)

Unfortunately, yours truly faces an offseason decision regarding Foster. I got overzealous and signed him to a two-year deal in last year’s auction trying to get my team over the hump and am facing paying Foster $26.3 million this season or getting 50% of his contract value back by cutting him.

It is well documented that Foster has a lot of things going against him, including his entering his age 30 season and his multitude and history of significant injuries. Nobody questions his work ethic in recovering from them, but the question in fantasy circles is what team will take a chance on Foster, if any, as it appears that Foster is planning on signing with a team later in the free agency period and focusing on recovering from an achilles tear, one of the more difficult injuries to come back from with a small sample size of running backs coming back from them. Note that Demaryius Thomas is one player who successfully came back well from this injury, if you are looking for a glimmer of hope.

I really liked the possibility of Foster reuniting with former coach Gary Kubiak in Denver, but with C.J. Anderson returning to Denver now, that looks moot.

Assessment: There is no need to hurry and cut Foster. If you can somehow package low draft capital to get his full contract off your books, this rookie class may be weak enough to warrant that. I’m not excited about Foster going into a timeshare anywhere (even Seattle) as of now and that or Miami seems like the best scenario he’ll find himself in now that Denver matched Anderson’s offer sheet.

Lamar Miller, Houston Texans (1.5 average years remaining, $19.9m average remaining contract)

With Foster getting cut, the Texans turned to Miller to be their new top runner on a 4 year, $26.0 million deal. For GM’s owning Miller, this should increase his utilization.

Miller doesn’t turn 25 until next month and is a very good receiver out of the backfield as well (47 receptions in 2015). There is no reason that he shouldn’t shine in the Texans offense and head coach Bill O’Brien is certainly not afraid to run the ball frequently.

Assessment: Miller truthers finally will get to see him get the opportunities he was lacking in Miami. While the Texans offensive line is fairly pedestrian, Miller is a special talent with very little competition and should be a trade target of GM’s.

Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (1.6 average years remaining, $37.4m average remaining contract)

At $23.4 million annual average contract, and coming off his second torn ACL, Charles is for the first time finding himself outside of the fantasy elite at the running back position. Both Charcandrick West and bruiser Spencer Ware played well in Charles’ absence. However, the Chiefs are fiercely loyal to their star running back and he’s under a reasonable real-life contract.

Charles turns 30 in December, which doesn’t help matters as well.

Assessment: Overall the Chiefs are trending up as a team and they have doled out big money this offseason to extend tight end Travis Kelce and sign right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. While the Chiefs brass says that Charles is “ahead of schedule”, I’m expecting there to be a more concerted effort to keep him fresh for the playoffs with the production of West and Ware.

While his trade value is low coming off of injury, I’d test the waters to see what other owners may be offering at the very least. If something is attractive enough, consider moving Charles.

Matt Forte, New York Jets (1.4 average years remaining, $26.9m average remaining contract)

Forte figures heavily into the Jets passing game as a premier receiver out of the backfield.

Assessment: Forte’s value is heavily dependent on who is throwing him the ball in Chan Gailey’s offense. I love the move if Ryan Fitzpatrick re-signs with the team, especially given the attention Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker command. If the quarterback is someone along the lines of Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III, you can take Forte down a peg.

An annual average of $19.2 million seems potentially high right now for Forte, but he can remain productive for the 2016 season.

Some of the Rest

In terms of other running back moves, I’m not excited about the timeshare in Jacksonville between newly signed Chris Ivory (1.3 average years, $9.1 million average remaining contract) and T.J. Yeldon. I dislike it more for Yeldon owners as you probably snagged him in your rookie drafts last season and loved how much tote he was getting. For Ivory owners, the price tag and years aren’t much of a concern anyways.

I’m not buying the “coachspeak” about DeMarco Murray and still would shy away from his 1.7 average years and $32.7 million average remaining contract. He may be “fresh” from not getting much work in Philly last year, but I can’t trust his production right now in Tennessee of all places. On the flip side, I’m interested to see what Ryan Mathews can do with the Eagles (1.2 average years and $6.8 million average remaining), as his contract is fairly favorable and he looked good at times last season, averaging over 5.0 yards a carry in spite of having to have groin surgery following the season.


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

Peer Pressure: Doing What is Right

Updated: March 20th 2016

No less a mind than Albert Einstein dropped this line on his Nazi-fighting personal physician and friend, Janos Plesch, in 1947: “When I examine myself and my methods of thought I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”   The fantasy GM in me likes to think Einstein was genius-level taunting his buddy after winning their inaugural fantasy season.   Big Al’s victory was sealed by the effort of one Elmer Angsman, a third round pick out of Notre Dame dropping two 70-yard TD runs in the ’47 NFL championship game as the Chicago Cardinals dusted the Philadelphia Eagles.  Einstein selected Elmer for his team, “Straight Outta Quantam,” to mockery from his friends in the analytics community that saw Angsman as too one-dimensional to succeed at the pro-level.  Albert later pointed to the lone scouting report that convinced him to draft Angsman, a rival defensive back saying of Elmer, “He was…A straight ahead north and south runner who would just as soon leave cleat marks on your balls as run around you.” Victory.

The preceding story is, of course, fantasy in its fullest sense.  The quotes and people are real, but stripped of any context to produce new meaning.   The very best friends, fantasy GMs, and experts realize that fantasy means more than absorbing common knowledge.  They are stripping reality to its parts and building teams and leagues largely dependent on two pillars; the NFL players and fantasy players.  This column will attempt to remind the fantasy community that the fantasy players you know bear as much impact on fantasy success as the NFL players you may never meet.  When it comes to our own community, we have to borrow once more from the genius of Albert Einstein, “What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right.”  Reality Sports Online auction drafts will help the best fantasy GMs determine both what is popular and right in the new, young, and hungry RSO community.

How does one determine what is popular in the fantasy football community?  Multiple levels come into play, but at the most macro level it seems possible to determine where the community at large is getting its information.  Initial analysis of web traffic indicates that sites like Yahoo, NFL.com, and CBS drive and support casual fantasy football play at massive rates.  Future posts should examine how more specialized and sophisticated players set up preseason draft boards, but in every instance the great GM should try to determine how and where our frenemies in the league are getting their information.   Does your crew support a few drifters that roll in on draft day with “cheatsheets,” smelling of beer, fresh ink, and hot paper emblazoned with the logos of well-known sports outlets? If so, nod along to the popular risers like Lamar Miller while noting your favorite names buried deep on that list.   Using data from Fantasy Draft Calculator from 2013-15 we can establish a baseline of how the community at large drafted over a series of mocks preceding each season.    The link between the preseason site rankings of Yahoo (currently the clubhouse leader in sports web traffic) and ADP of drafted players according to fantasy calculator matches at a statistically significant rate over that three year sample.  This could be true for several reasons.  My theory is that massive sites that offer free information like Yahoo rankings drive the average player in a causal way.   Most people don’t have hours to research, agonize over, and tinker with fantasy draft boards.  It doesn’t make them dumb, lazy, or stupid.  In fact these casual players serve as humbling reminders to every GM who has “the bug” that the fickle whims of fortune all too often determine the victor.  If this theory is right, however, it is incumbent on you as a GM to understand that such fantasy players default to typical internet usage habits, hang with the crowd, and defer to the most readily available, popular, rankings.

Several counter-arguments can be made to my thesis that popular websites drive drafting patterns. I will focus on two notable objections.  First, an easy argument might suggest that experts constructing Yahoo’s rankings actually model off ADP collected in preseason mocks so the rankings are reactive rather than predictive of GM draft patterns.    For example, Yahoo’s preseason rankings predicted the ADP of the top 10 picks in a standard scoring at a 90% rate.  2013 was particularly telling, when Yahoo either drove or matched community consensus as it coalesced around early running backs.  Only a detailed chronology could sort the truth of whether the rankings or the ADP came first. This correlation between rankings and ADP reveals the second strong argument against the original thesis; experts and average fantasy players draw from the common data set of NFL players to produce results that correlate, but are not caused by, popular rankings.  Of the second point, I am particularly wary, as gifted minds provide hilarious examples to remind us that Nicholas Cage’s acting and drowning deaths are probably not causally connected.

Here is where value of my hypothesis can be tested in a specific way with the Reality Sports Online platform.  The average player is deprived of the multiplicity of cheatsheets and rankings that blurred the causal relationship in the aforementioned objections.  RSO auction drafts provide a unique test because there is only one free, popular, and visible tool to determine rankings in the RSO offseason.  If my intuition is correct, most players will depend on the site’s recommended contract values as they prepare for league play.  Those values meet the criteria we established above: free, readily available, and popular.  The recommended contract values take on outsized importance because of their presence in the mock draft rooms and the auction draft rooms itself. As both the most prominent, and sole, source of rankings during the actual draft, the values land with the authority of an Adam Schefter tweet during free agency. Staring down the clock and the eye-of-Sauron-like power of the recommendations is where your mettle as a fantasy GM gets tested by RSO and your league, because the popular choice of adherence to the crowd will be pitted against the mockery of any wild pick driven by your own research, but…a note of caution.  What is popular and what is right is not mutually exclusive.   Knowing something is popular in the fantasy community informs your subjective decisions about your own team in a meaningful way because you understand the context of your league.   Determining what your friends and league mates are doing is important, but rarely order to fit in.

At some point growing up I became acutely aware that my father was often the smartest guy in the room. More NASA than NFL in his game by a wide margin.  The man emphasized tangible, concrete truths in life: housing, hard work, and grades.    This paternal wisdom often came at great cost to his sons. Popularity was more of a prayer than an aspiration in my youth. Homemade clothing, haircuts resembling a family montage of “before they were stars,” and the infamously mockable eyewear known as Rec Specs, are written into my family history as indelibly as burning half my auction budget on Adrian Peterson. Popularity never drove my father’s reasoning in these confounding decisions, and he never wavered in the cliché “nerds rule the world.”  This fantasy offseason affords you a chance to pivot away from the peer pressure of the fantasy community to the wisdom of its nerdiest, brightest minds. Find your baseline with the solid, thoughtful, and regularly updated, ADP work at places like Dynasty League Football and mock drafts on RSO.  Once you have a sense of what the “cool crowd” is doing it is time to break from the pack.

The final move should be a search for, and commitment to, some of the Einsteins of the fantasy business.  Brilliant ideas will gain popularity eventually, as the best GMs come to understand practical applications. It is best to be ahead of the game with hipster-like savvy.   Most of us do not have the time, nor expertise to construct algorithms, watch tape, or synthesize data in brilliant new ways  By determining experts with a track record of success, and contrasting them with the loudest, most popular voices in your immediate fantasy circle, you properly contextualize where NFL players will likely be drafted in your own drafts, and at what cost.  Cut the noise and find a Virgil for your Dante draft-day purgatory. Your best fantasy days will come when you see clearly the reality of the NFL players in front of you and your friends and fantasy GMs around you.  With a bit of work you will find the right fantasy thing may be popular, but its popularity is neither necessary nor sufficient to make it right.   We are all following in someone’s fantasy footsteps, here’s hoping you choose the right ones to leave some cleat marks in your league.

Value Town: QBs

Updated: March 15th 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.

Quarterback Values

Our first question, when determining player values, concerns what exactly we value when we bid on a player. The most common approach, value over replacement player (VORP)*, examines player values by looking at the marginal points a player scores over a commonly available player at the same position deemed the baseline player.   This system takes into account a number of league settings such as scoring rules, number of teams, and positional starting requirements when determining player values.

I derive player values using a modified VORP methodology taking into account a number of additional items including number of games played, rosters, salary cap, and minimum salaries.  My standard RSO league for computing each player’s value consists of 12 teams, 1QB/2RBs/3WRs/1TE/1 Flex (RB/WR/TE) starting requirements, and PPR scoring.  Keep in mind that player values will vary between leagues based on league settings.  Leagues with a superflex position where two QBs may start have different player values than a start 1QB league and leagues using PPR scoring will have different player values than non-PPR leagues as examples.  Average salaries were derived from all 2015 RSO startup auctions.

Paying homage to one of the classic westerns of all time, I look at individual player values below.

* VORP is heavily related to the Value Based Drafting (VBD) methodology. An introduction to the topic can be found here.

The Good

Blake Bortles  –  Average Salary: $1.8M, Approximate Value: $11M

The best QB value in 2015 enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign where he finished the season among the NFL passing TD leaders with 35. He also bested his freshman season in almost every major statistical category.  Bortles is not among the better QBs in the league yet, as demonstrated by his 23rd ranked passer rating, but there is optimism for the future with his improved play in 2015.

Tyrod Taylor –  Average Salary: $1.2M, Approximate Value: $7M

Taylor emerged from a three way competition during the preseason for the starting QB job in Buffalo after spending his first few seasons in Baltimore. The first time starter did not disappoint ending the season as the 9th highest rated QB in 2015.  Taylor displayed his dual threat skills throughout the season adding an impressive 568 rushing yards to his resume.

Other Good Values: Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, and Andy Dalton

The Bad

Aaron Rodgers –  Average Salary: $22.4M, Approximate Value: $5M

Only in the world of Aaron Rodgers can we consider a QB7 finish to be a bad year. 2015 was the first healthy year since Rodgers was given the starting job in which he was not either the QB1 or QB2.  The lack of separation created by his outside receivers, combined with issues in the running game, diminished the Green Bay offense all year.  Look for a rebound in 2016 with the return of Jordy Nelson and a focused Eddie Lacy in his contract year.

Matt Ryan –  Average Salary: $7.3M, Approximate Value: Below replacement level

Matt Ryan had a very normal Ryan season in Atlanta under new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan except for touchdowns. Ryan threw for his lowest TD total since his rookie season.  Expect Atlanta to add new receiving options at the WR and TE position in the offseason through free agency or the draft. This should help a lackluster set of offensive weapons outside of Julio Jones.  Ryan should challenge for low end QB1 status with some positive TD regression next season.

Other Bad Values: Andrew Luck, Sam Bradford, and Teddy Bridgewater

The Ugly

Peyton Manning –  Average Salary: $12.1M, Approximate Value: Not worth a roster spot

Manning went out on top with a Super Bowl victory in the final season of a magnificent career which will inevitably lead to a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, the road to that victory this season was not a beautiful thing to behold.  Combining deteriorating physical skills and poor play with injuries, Manning posted the worst passer rating and lowest TD total of his career.  His 9.2 fantasy PPG were among the worst of any starter this season.   Manning made the correct choice with retirement.  We do not know what the future holds for Manning but we wish him the best and know he will succeed on whatever path he chooses next.

State of the Quarterback Position

The quarterback position changed in many ways for the 2015 fantasy season. Four out of the five top scorers from 2014 were not a part of the top five in 2015 due to injuries and diminished performance.  We witnessed the end of the Peyton Manning era riding off in the glory of a Super Bowl victory while struggling throughout his final season and becoming a non-entity for fantasy players.  Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, and Tony Romo each dropped out of QB1 status, succumbing to the effects of injury.  Blake Bortles, Tyrod Taylor, and Kirk Cousins rose from the ranks of fantasy obscurity to become quality starting options throughout the year.  Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota enjoyed nice rookie seasons showing the promise of last year’s top two draft picks.

The one area in which the quarterback position remained relatively unchanged is that it continues to be a very replaceable position in fantasy football. One tool we can use to evaluate the importance of a position is Value Market Share (VMS).  VMS is defined as the ratio of the sum of Points Above Replacement (PAR) for all players in a position group relative to the sum of PAR for all players in the league.  QBs enjoyed a VMS of about 8% in 2015, remaining relatively unchanged from 2014.  This is the lowest number of any offensive position group and also the lowest on a per player basis.  Another way to evaluate the value of a position is looking at the spread in points per game.  The difference between the QB2 and the QB16 was only about 4 PPG in 2015. There continues to be a large supply of suitable replacement options at QB capable of providing acceptable point levels at cheap prices.

What can we expect in 2016 from the QB position for RSO leagues? The QB position continues to be very deep and that probably will not change with the current emphasis on the passing game in the NFL.  There should be an abundance of cheaper options available for those owners preferring to choose between multiple lower end QBs on a week to week basis which should continue as a popular strategy.  The QB market might overcorrect somewhat given the poor performance and injuries of the more expensive options from 2015, setting up potential value for savvy owners.


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.

Maximizing Quarterback Value

Updated: March 17th 2016

The year of the breakout first or second year quarterback is over.  Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles, and Derek Carr all took positive steps in 2015 that have created a buzz among their fan bases and fantasy owners alike.  Speaking purely in terms of their fantasy value, could the hype make these players overvalued in dynasty football?  We’ll examine further as we explore the 3 steps to maximizing quarterback value.

Step 1: Sell young quarterbacks who broke through in 2015  

QB Jameis Winston

Time to sell as Buccaneers’ QB Jameis    Winston’s stock has never been higher

Immediately upon reading that, you may recoil.  You may be asking yourself, “Why would I want to give up a young QB who appears to be on the track towards becoming useful in fantasy on a week to week basis?”  The answer is simple.  They’re worth more on the trade market than they are on your roster.  2015 was a breakout fantasy year for Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles, and Derek Carr as many became serviceable plays in the right matchups.  The assumption among many in the fantasy community is that these players will continue on that positive trajectory.  However we’ve seen countless examples of quarterbacks showing promise, yet never quite making it to that tier of elite fantasy quarterbacks.  If we look back just seven months ago, Teddy Bridgewater and Ryan Tannehill were two of the hottest names in dynasty football.  Both were selected among the top 7 quarterbacks in start-up dynasty mock drafts according to Dynasty League Football’s August 2015 Average Draft Position data.  After having disappointing seasons, neither is drafted among the top 16 quarterbacks in DLF’s Feb 2016 ADP data.  Imagine if Bridgewater and Tannehill owners had a do-over.  Think they wish they’d cashed in on the buzz surrounding these quarterbacks entering the 2015 season?  Of course.  For every exception like Andrew Luck or Cam Newton, there are cautionary tails that failed to launch themselves into the elusive grouping of elite quarterbacks.

Step 2: Buy undervalued veteran quarterbacks outside of the elite tier and focus your most valuable resources towards wide receivers 

These types of quarterbacks are severely undervalued in many Reality Sports Online leagues, yet many were productive in 2015.  According to Fantasy Pros 2015 fantasy points per game datawhich uses settings similar to RSO’s standard scoring, Drew Brees ranked 4th place in points per game, Carson Palmer 6th, Andy Dalton 10th, Kirk Cousins 12th, Eli Manning 14th, Ryan Fitzpatrick 15th, and Philip Rivers 16th.  If the rest of your roster is strong, you certainly can build a championship team by acquiring one or two of these types of quarterbacks each year.  To take full advantage of this strategy, you’ll need to be aggressive in free agency and the trade market since you’ll be targeting these quarterbacks who are often and preferably on short-term deals.  

Instead of investing heavily in quarterbacks, my priority in RSO and standard dynasty leagues alike is to build my team around elite wide receivers.  From year to year, wide receivers hold their value significantly better than running backs.  These are the players that I want to invest in with my long-term contracts and that I value so highly in RSO leagues.  More specifically, I’m placing these long-term contracts on the high-priced elite wide receivers and players of all positions, except quarterback, that I believe in significantly more than the consensus of my opponents.  An example of this would be fantasy players that liked Michael Crabtree‘s potential last season.  Anyone who was smart enough to lock in Crabtree on multi-year contract at an inexpensive salary has profited significantly on Crabtree and will for years to come.  In the coming months, I will release a piece identifying several players that I’m targeting with these long-term contracts in start-up drafts and free agency.  

Brees

Saints’ QB Drew Brees is the perfect type of veteran to target

If we relate this strategy of profitability back to quarterbacks, the buzz around these young quarterbacks is so high that they are going to cost a lofty price in start-up drafts.  The opportunity to profit is minimal, at best.  In established leagues, you only have these quarterbacks for 3-4 years from when they enter the league before you have to franchise tag them or allow them to enter free agency.  How many times during those 3-4 years will they actually be a top 5, difference making quarterback?  Blake Bortles was the only QB1  quarterback ranked in the top 10 in points per game among quarterbacks to play in at least 7 games.  Marcus Mariota placed 17th, Jameis Winston 18th, and Derek Carr 19th.  Mariota, Winston, and Carr could all take another step forward and still not crack the top 10 in points per game, which would make them not even an average fantasy starter.  The price to acquire your preference of Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, or Ryan Fitzpatrick is very low in start-up drafts or even through trades in established leagues.  Make the move for one or two of these quarterbacks and allocate most of your resources elsewhere.

Step 3: Avoid drafting quarterbacks in rookie drafts

Cardinals’ RB David Johnson, taken outside of the 1st round in 2015 rookie drafts, burst onto the scene late in the season

RB David Johnson, taken outside of the 1st Rd    in 2015 drafts, burst onto the scene late in the season

When building a team on Reality Sports Online, I am most concerned with how my players can outperform what they cost for me to acquire them, whether it’s through the draft or free agency.  As we’ve discussed earlier, rookie quarterbacks offer the lowest chance of profitability while they remain on your roster.  Aside from the value they may have in trades, quarterbacks in rookie drafts don’t have the breakout potential and weekly “start-ability” that you can find in running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends.  If we take another look at DLF’s August 2015 ADP data, all of these players were taken outside of the top 10 in rookie drafts: David Johnson, Duke Johnson, Tyler Lockett, Devin Funchess, Jeremy Langford, Jay Ajayi, Javorius Allen, Matt Jones, Tevin Coleman, Phillip Dorsett, David Cobb, Jaelen Strong, Maxx Williams, Cameron Artis-Payne, Ty Montgomery, and Zach Zenner.  Thomas Rawls even went undrafted.  Locking players like these in for 3-4 years allows you to profit significantly on these picks as they are much more likely to find ways into your lineups than quarterbacks will.  For example, rookie running backs can quickly become NFL starters and immediately fantasy RB1s: see how David Johnson and Thomas Rawls finished 2015.  Aside from Johnson and Rawls, there are many names in this group that hold more value going into 2016 than their RSO rookie contract would indicate.  In addition to profiting for the next 2 to 3 years, a few of these players may be worthy of the franchise tag for a season or two if their production warrants.  While you may hit on the occasional quarterback that you’re able to trade for profit after a breakout, the smarter strategy is to use your draft picks on other positions which feature a much better likelihood of profitability.


Personal 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.