Early RSO Contracts: WRs

Updated: August 22nd 2017

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

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

Top Avoids

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

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

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

Best Values

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

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

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

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

 

Average RSO Wide Receiver Contracts

 


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

Early RSO Contracts: TEs

Updated: August 16th 2017

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

When they are Healthy…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of the Rest

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

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

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

Expect some Regression

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

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

Streamers and Matchup Plays

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

 

Average RSO Tight End Contracts


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

Expert League’s Auction Afterthoughts

Updated: August 10th 2017

Our Expert League’s sophmore auction concluded at the end of July. Some owners needed to fill most of their roster while others were able to cherry-pick a few players to fill in the gaps. In all, it played out like a usual RSO auction night with several prized players going for exorbinate amounts of money and then some of the more risk adverse owners scooping up the value players with the final few contracts. After a week of deliberation we asked several of the writers to give their thoughts on what some of their favorite (and least favorite) contracts were. The gave their responses and discussed them below.

Terrelle Pryor – 3 years, $15.5MM – Dave Saunders

 Matt “Goody” Goodwin – While I think there is more to the narrative why Pryor is no longer with the Browns, a team he wanted to stay with than what we know, there is definitely a target upside opportunity in Washington in Kirk Cousins’ high-flying passing attack. With Jamison Crowder, Jordan Reed, and Josh Doctson all already injured, Pryor could see plenty of targets. His range of outcomes highlights upside and Top 5 WR potential if he can keep from having an attitude that may have given the Browns brass pause from bringing him back. He definitely has a real reason to be playing for another contract based on his one year NFL deal and flashed some serious big-play potential in his first year as an NFL receiver. I believe that the contract he was signed to in our league is underpriced by at least $8 million a year in what was a shallow free agent pool at the wide receiver position.

Cameron Meredith – 4 years, $9MM – Stephen Wendell

Goody – Stephen got a total steal here. Figures to be targeted frequently and the price is not much less than a 2nd round rookie. His stretch last season demonstrates what he can do and you have to assume the Bears’ game script figures to be one where the team is behind the next few years.

Sterling Shepard – 3 years, $2MM – Kyle English

Goody – I know he’s injured currently, but this contract is basically free for someone who had a knack for finding the end zone last season as a rookie. The Giants offense is too talented for Shepard not to have a healthy amount of targets if he remains healthy. And even if he doesn’t, the price was certainly right.

Jamaal Williams – 3 years, $2MM – Nick Andrews

Goody – While Ty Montgomery was impressive last season in his transition to running back from wide receiver, the Packers used decent draft stock to pick Williams and he already has earned some first team reps. The price is incredibly low and the opportunity in Green Bay is huge, especially given Montgomery’s injury history.

Nick Andrews  – Each year I try to get at least one rookie/project player that I can use a multi-year contract to build value with. As I said in our 2017 Rookie Discrepancies I’m higher than most on Williams and so far my love for him has been rewarded with great reviews from Packers camp. I moved in on Howard last year before he built up his value and it helped me win a championship. My hope is that Williams will follow a similar rookie season and will hold tremendous value heading into 2018. Either way, $2MM is a very low risk, high reward cost to pay.

Danny Woodhead – 1 year, $9MM – Bob Cowper

Bob – I estimate that the split between Woodhead and Terrance West will be similar to that of Woodhead and Melvin Gordon in 2015.  Despite getting about 40 fewer touches than Gordon, Woodhead was more productive with 80 receptions, 1,000+ total yards, and 9 TDs.  In that season, Woodhead was RB3 in PPR scoring per FantasyData.com.  Woodhead haters will point out his age and injury history.  The injuries are worrisome but for me, the age is not because while the tires may be old there isn’t a lot of wear on them.  Over his career, Woodhead has just 770 touches which averages to just 8 touches per game.  It’s also worth noting that Woodhead’s huge 2015 season was coming off a season-ending injury in 2014 so he has experience in managing this type of situation.  If he can avoid re-injury, I expect Woodhead to be a solid RB1 in our PPR league.

Matthew Stafford – 4 years, $37MM – Bernard Faller

Kyle English – This contract is an absolute steal in this Superflex league.  Compared to the other contracts doled out to solid QB options (Mariota 4/$96M, Wentz 4/$89.5M, Dak 4/$74M) this is an excellent value. He is the 18th highest paid QB in our league who should produce for four years.

Nick – As I stated in one of my earlier offseason articles sometimes it’s a blessing or a curse to get the first player at a position in the auction. The market hasn’t set so you can be grossly overpaying or absolutely stealing a player. A QB1 season to season Stafford went for slightly less ($44MM) than what my auction formula recommended. Compared to the cost of the other marquee QBs that were available Stafford was a major steal.

Jordan Howard – 2 years, $30MM – Jaron Foster

Luke O’Connell – Jaron had a remarkable draft netting Jordan Howard and following that up with Dak Prescott for 4 years/$74MM which is below market in our Superflex for an ascending young QB. This made the contrast with my own Ajayi 2yr/$50MM and Mariota 4yr/$96MM a painful lesson on how to bid on players within the same tier.

Rishard Matthews – 2 years, $3MM – Stephen Wendell

Nick – My man crush for Matthews probably borders on lunacy as I have turned down some decent offers simply because he was going the wrong way. It’s too bad that I already had a full roster of WRs because I would have loved to add him in this league. He is a player that is a tremendous value compared to his cost and could mirror what Michael Crabtree has done opposite to a young rookie receiver (Corey Davis) for their first couple seasons.

Kenny Britt – 1 year, $2MM – Bernard Faller

Nick – A great candidate to be a target monster in Cleveland, Britt should have a comfortable floor on a weekly basis. With the league being so shallow (10 teams) values for the mid-tier players can sometimes fluctuate in a way that allows WR2-3s to be forgotten until the end of the auction. Britt should offer Bernard great flex options on a weekly basis and will be a cheap option to shop if he so choses.

Jay Ajayi – 2 years, $50.5MM – Luke O’Connell

Kyle – This one seems really expensive.  Coming into the auction the top three RBs available by most rankings were Ajayi, Howard, and Crowell.  Howard went for 2/$30.5M while Crowell went for 2/$37.5M so any extra $6-10M/yr extra for Ajayi seems steep.  This contract also makes him the highest paid RB in our league for 2017 and 8th most expensive player at any position in 2017 which seems too high to me.

Nick – As I said early it can be hard to buy the first player at a position in auctions and Ajayi was a cautious tale of that. While he has the opportunity to be an RB1 this season the risk associated with RBs being 1-year wonders is all too real. In RSO especially you want to make sure your double-digit contracts are used on players that you know have safe floors. This contract has very little room for upside and a very real chance of being a blunder.

Carson Wentz – 4 years, $89.5MM – Dave Sanders

Marcus Mariota – 4 years, $96MM – Luke O’Connell

Dak Prescott – 4 years, $74MM – Jaron Foster

Nick – Superflex leagues are definitely the way to go for fantasy, especially in smaller leagues, but sometimes the needle swings totally in the other direction in terms of value for QBs. I’m firmly in the camp that Mariota is a serious breakout candidate for 2017 and has a chance to be a QB1 for the next 5-10 years. But for him and the other two young QBs (Wentz, Prescott) they were approaching Aaron Rodgers levels of expectancies from their given contracts. Again, I’m all about finding the value and with these contracts, there is very little room for value and a whole lot of room for disappointment.

Early RSO Contracts: RBs

Updated: August 6th 2017

Knowing the types of contracts given out by other fantasy teams can give the alert reader a big advantage when your own RSO free agency auction arrives.  Your league settings and available players will have a big impact on the size of contracts given out at various positions, but looking at the relative contracts within position groups provides some useful information. This week I move to one of the most volatile positions in fantasy football, running back, where increased injury rate and player turnover make long-term decisions extremely difficult.

Top of the Market

No shock here.  Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, and Le’Veon Bell are the three highest paid running backs in RSO leagues and also atop the overall player salaries.  There is not much of an argument to be made about why they do not belong here.  Each is a proven game changer at the position and potential league winner capable of putting up 2,000 total yards with extraordinary potential touch volume.

The only issue which concerns me is the lengths of contracts where each is averaging nearly four years.  I do not have much of an issue with Zeke given the dominant offensive line mostly locked up with long term deals and a quarterback who was excellent as a rookie, but questions linger about his off-the-field behavior.  I am a little more skeptical of Bell and Johnson though with situations more in flux and extensive workloads which increase injury risk.  Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger could retire any year moving forward with no real alternatives on the rosters leaving a possibly dicey quarterback situation for each.  Bell also has multiple suspensions, major injury issues, and is not signed to a long-term contract with Pittsburg (and will not be until after the season, if at all).

The Rookies

The rookies listed in the table all came from one auction as most rookies will go in rookie drafts instead of auction, so do not put too much stock into the results.  I believe it is a useful reminder, however, of inflated rookie prices which can occur in startup auctions.  Leonard Fournette, Joe Mixon, Christian McCaffrey, and Dalvin Cook all landed maximum term contracts in the auction with average salaries that would place each in the top-14 among running backs without playing a down in the NFL.  This is just a reminder not to go overboard with rookies in your auction.

An Important Tier Break

For those owners who like to invest in two heavy volume running backs for your starters, remember the name Lamar Miller.  He is the last player on the list before a major tier drop, coming off the board as the RB15 in average salary.  The main reason for this big tier break is certainty of volume.  Forgetting the rookies, I have every back priced above Isaiah Crowell projected for 270+ touches over the course of a full season.  I do not have any other back projected for over 250 touches.  The primary problem for these other backs centers around 1) uncertainty of role (example: Spencer Ware) or 2) playing on projected bad teams limiting workload (example: Carlos Hyde).

Top Buys

C.J. Anderson heads my list of top running back buys this season.   The Denver back is virtually assured the the lion’s share of carries with last year’s bust Devontae Booker (already injured), late rounder De’Angelo Henderson, and former superstar Jamaal Charles (still returning from injury and on the roster bubble) as the only competition.  Anderson averaged 18 touches per contest through 7 games last season before injury ended his year and was the RB12 during that time.  The Broncos improved their offensive line in the offseason and will want to rely heavily on the run game no matter who ends up starting at quarterback.  Anderson is a steal as the RB26.

Bilal Powell (RB35), Danny Woodhead (RB37), and Theo Riddick (RB42) provide cheap useful starters, particularly in PPR leagues, for those teams taking a wide receiver-heavy approach.  Each has standalone value and a lot of upside should the other committee back on their respective team go down with injury.

Top Avoids

The narrative surrounding Ty Montgomery (RB22) has amused me to no end this offseason.   Montgomery started 12 games, including three in the playoffs, once bruiser Eddie Lacy went down with injury.  The converted wide receiver rushed for more than 11 times once and accumulated more than 60 rushing yards once in his 12 starts.  Those games were with James Starks (likely done in the league) and Christine Michael (who has been cut more times than we can count) as the only real competition for touches.  Green Bay was even giving Aaron Ripkowski touches.  Now the story is that Montgomery will take over a far bigger role after the Packers drafted multiple running backs with far more talent than last year’s backs? Montgomery is the classic perceived “great situation” case boosted by small sample efficiency stats which were propped up on two games against a Chicago defense decimated by injuries.

I am a big fan of C.J. Prosise and the multi-dimensional skill-set he brings.  I am not paying starter money on a short-term contract for a player likely needing multiple items going his way to take over the primary back role.  Grab Prosise on a cheaper longer-term contract if possible in your league as a nice lottery ticket.

 

Average RSO Running Back Contracts


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

The Watch List: ACC Preview

Updated: August 6th 2017

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

Players to Watch

  • Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville:  My grandmother once told me that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”  So… onto Deon Cain.  Just kidding, I have plenty to say and plan on sharing with you, my fellow RSO owner.  Let’s start with Jackson’s statistics.  He had some gaudy numbers in 2016 like 3,543 passing yards, 1,571 rushing yards and 51 total TDs (hence the Heisman).  My concern lies in his completion percentage: 56.2 in 2016.  It was even lower in limited action in 2015 at just 54.7%.  To get a better feel for when Jackson was completing his passes, I used CFBStats.com’s situational stats.  In the red zone, his completion percentage falls even lower to 50.7% (albeit with 19 TDs).  When the score is tied or worse, it was 54%.  I was really hoping that when it counted most that Jackson’s accuracy would improve but it did not; in fact it is buoyed by less important game situations.  Using Sports-Reference.com’s play index, I was able to find a strange, but possibly telling stat for Jackson: he led the NCAA in games with 300+ passing yards but with a completion percentage below 60% (4 games).  When he completes a pass, it’s often for a chunk of yards but there are many negative plays in between.  It’s also important to notice that 15 of his 51 total TDs (or nearly 30%) came against Charlotte and Marshall who were the 102nd and 107th worst defenses last season.  Maybe it’s unfair to pick out his best games but I’d be less worried if they came against stronger teams.  My accuracy concerns were borne out in the film I watched of Jackson against Marshall.  Early in the first half I counted four consecutive plays where the ball was behind his receiver.  He does not appear to be great at leading a receiver.  There were two very poor decisions that Jackson made while scrambling – both balls should have been thrown away but were instead lofted up and one led to an interception.  His lack of pocket presence showed in the Clemson game too.  In fairness the Clemson defense victimized the Louisville offensive line (5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss) but Jackson did not adjust and was consistently rattled by the rush.  Want some good news?  Okay fine.  Jackson is an electric player when he has the ball in his hand and he’s rushing.  DraftScout.com has him in the 4.32-4.52 range and it would not surprise me to see him hit the top end of that (in March, Louisville announced he ran a 4.34 at Spring practice).  If he ran that at the combine, it would make him the second fastest QB since 2010 (RGIII).  Hopefully Jackson measures in true to the listed 6’3″ and 205lb but I’m not so sure.  Don’t let the accolades and awards fool you, Jackson does not warrant consideration as a top prospect in this year’s class.  If I had to guess now, I would probably have him as my 7th or 8th quarterback and likely undraftable in most RSO formats.
  • Deon Cain, WR, Clemson: In 2015, when Mike Williams was out with injury and Deon Cain was a freshman, Cain caught 34 balls for 582 yards and 5 TDs.  In 2016, in Williams’ shadow, Cain caught about the same number of balls (38) but improved to 724 yards and 9 TDs.  In both seasons he led the team in yards per reception (17.1 and 19.1).  Because of his second-fiddle status, I feared that most of Cain’s production would have been against FCS and weak non-conference foes.  Per CFBStats.com, Cain had 34 of his 38 receptions and 7 of his 9 TDs against Power Five teams in 2016.  The only caveat is that a plurality of his yards and 4 of his TDs came in garbage time when the Tigers were up by 15+ points.  Cain’s biggest game of 2016 came against Syracuse when he had 5-125-2.  I watched film of that game and came away impressed.  Cain blew past corners with straight line speed on multiple occasions, one of which went for a score.  I was most impressed by his concentration and focus at the catch.  At the end of the first half, he had a play where he went over the corner on a fade, managed to find the ball, and got his toe down in the end zone.  Unfortunately his heel came down out of bounds and it was called back.  He had a similar concentration grab later in the game near the sideline.  He let the ball come over his shoulder, stopped the ball with his right hand, secured it with both hands and then managed to get both feet in bounds.  It was an NFL worthy catch and he was pretty nonchalant about it after the fact.  I was even more encouraged about Cain when I checked his combine size comps: Amari Cooper, Sammy Watkins, Justin Blackmon, Davante Adams and DeAndre Hopkins.  That’s quite a group of talented players to be compared to (with varying levels of success in the NFL of course).  I’m bullish on Cain and am thinking he will be a 3rd-4th round NFL selection if he comes out this year and should be a target late in your RSO draft.
  • Mark Walton, RB, Miami:  Walton is a small back with quick feet and a penchant for bouncing off tackles.  In the clips package I watched, there were multiple plays against both FAU and Pitt where Walton showed supreme patience at the line.  He would shuffle his feet either left or right, keep his pads parallel to the line of scrimmage and wait for his hole.  Once he hits the hole he has the speed (DraftScout.com predicts him in the 4.49 range which is exactly what Dalvin Cook ran) and bounce-off ability to break big plays.  In 2016, as a sophomore, Walton rushed for 1,117 yards and 14 TDs.  He also added 27 receptions which will be a necessary skill in the NFL given his smaller size.  The good news for Walton is that Miami has 100 OL starts returning which is the 6th best in the NCAA per Phil Steele.  The bad news for Walton is that 2018 will be a crowded RB class (Barkley, Guice, Chubb, Scarborough to name the top four) so even if he improves this season he should stay put and wait for his senior season.
  • Honorable Mentions
    • Deondre Francois, QB, FSU:  I fell in love watching Francois during one of FSU’s nationally televised games last year (can’t remember which).  He was getting battered but took the hits and kept getting up.  He looks bigger than his 6’2″ and 205 lb frame to my eye.  He’s just a redshirt sophomore, with a lot to improve on, so I don’t think he comes out but he could be in the Heisman race.
    • Max Browne, QB, Pitt: Browne has one more shot to prove his potential.  Per Rivals.com he was a five star recruit and the #1 QB recruit in the 2013 class.  He landed at USC where he threw 112 career passes, most coming last year before he lost the job to Sam Darnold.  Browne has the pedigree and the size (6’5″) to force NFL scouts to take a look.
    • Derwin James, S, FSU:  Don’t know the name?  Don’t worry I didn’t either.  James missed most of 2016 with a knee injury but will still be a top IDP prospect if he comes out as a junior.  As a true freshman he had 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 4 passes defended, 2 fumbles forced and 2 fumble recoveries.  He has linebacker type size and would be one of the bigger safeties in recent classes (a close combine comp is former FSU LB Telvin Smith).
    • Christian Wilkins & Dexter Lawrence, DTs, Clemson: This dynamic duo of disruptive DTs combined to put up 110 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 10 passes defended and 4 fumble recoveries last year.  Lawrence did so as a true freshman and won the ACC Rookie of the Year award (unfortunately that means he isn’t draft eligible until 2019).  Coach Dabo Swinney even likes to use Wilkins on trick plays – in 2016 he rushed for a first down on a fake punt and also caught a TD pass.
    • Harold Landry, DE, Boston College:  Landry is a rising senior who could have come out after a tremendous 2016 campaign.  He had 50 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks, 4 passes defended and 7 forced fumbles.  As a sophomore, before fine-tuning his pass rushing ability, he had 60 tackles.  Landry is WalterFootball.com’s 6th ranked DE for 2018 and is projected to be a 1st or 2nd round pick right now.  He’s a bit undersized for a 4-3 end but could be a valuable IDP if he lands in a productive 3-4 scheme.

Storylines to Watch

  • Clemson Let Down:  There’s simply no way that Clemson can stay in the national title picture for a third year in a row.  The Tigers lost first round talents in QB Deshaun Watson and WR Mike Williams and also lost other offensive contributors (including one of my favorites, RB Wayne Gallman).  Per Phil Steele’s experience charts, Clemson is ranked 128th in returning offensive yards.  The only team worse that played in the FBS last year?  Conference foe North Carolina.  If Dabo can keep Clemson in the division race and finish the season at 9-3 or better it would do more for him in my eyes as a head coach than winning last year’s title.
  • Heisman Distractions Abound:  The ACC has two of the top five Heisman hopefuls, according to an ESPN study of the Vegas odds, in Lamar Jackson and Deondre Francois.  The shadow of expectations, will follow those two and their teammates throughout the season.  Jackson has to carry the burden of trying to repeat as the winner – a feat only accomplished by Archie Griffin.  Francois will likely be faced with paint-by-numbers comparisons to former FSU QB Jameis Winston who won the Heisman and national championship in 2013.  Also on the list of Heisman candidates are Mark Walton, Derwin James and Deon Cain (albeit all at 100:1 odds).
  • Wolfpack Lurking: Repeat readers know that I highly value Phil Steele’s annual experience charts.  I think they are a great tool to help identify teams who will outperform expectations.  What caught my eye was how high Steele had North Carolina State ranked – 8th in the NCAA – so I did a bit more research.  The Wolfpack ended 2016 on a high note winning 3 of 4, including a 41-17 domination of Vanderbilt in the Independence Bowl.  They lost leading RB Matt Dayes but they return the top four receivers, QB Ryan Finley and eight defensive starters.  WR Nyheim Hines is switching to RB so technically they have a returner there as well.  Finley is a transfer from Boise State, where he also worked with current NC State OC Eliah Drinkwitz (great name, by the way).  He threw for just over 3,000 yards last year with 18 TDs and 8 INTs and should improve further in 2017.  Three of the toughest games for NC State come at home: Louisville, Clemson and the rivalry game against UNC.  I won’t go as far as to say that they will win the tougher Atlantic Division, but they will finish above two of FSU, Clemson and Louisville.

Games to Watch

  • September 2, Alabama vs Florida State:  What a doozy to end the first true Saturday of the college football season.  Both teams are preseason championship contenders and whoever wins this game will probably be the favorite.  There will be plenty of NFL talent on display, including Dondre Francois, Derwin James, Bo Scarborough, Calvin Ridley, and as usual most of the Crimson Tide defense.
  • September 16, Clemson at Louisville:  This is pretty early in the season to get such a meaningful in-conference game.  Beating Louisville would go a long way to proving whether Clemson will stay relevant or if they will collapse after hemorrhaging all of their top players to the NFL.  For Louiville’s Lamar Jackson and his Heisman hopes, the consecutive games against UNC and Clemson will be vitally important to overcome the let down of finishing September against Kent State and Murray State.
  • November 4, Virginia Tech at Miami:  If second year Hurricanes coach Mark Richt wants to aspire to more than the Russell Athletic Bowl he’ll have to hold off the Hokies who won the Coastal last year.  The Hurricanes are more experienced and have an easier schedule so they likely have the edge this season but this game will be a must-win.  It’ll be in Miami and it’s been designated as their homecoming game – maybe there’s a mind game at work.
  • November 25, North Carolina at North Carolina State and Florida State at Florida:  These in-state rivalry games will make for a fun post-Thanksgiving Saturday.  One of the two will end up as the 8pm showcase game on ABC because Ohio State/Michigan will be at noon and Alabama/Auburn will likely be the CBS 3:30pm game.  The North Carolina game will feature teams fighting for their respective division titles, or at least bowl eligibility.  The Florida game will feature teams looking to stay in the CFP bracket.  The “last” button on your remote will be your friend if they both end up in primetime.

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

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

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

FA Expectancy: Robert Woods

Updated: July 31st 2017

For the final 2017 FA Expectancy article, I wanted to shine the spotlight on Robert Woods who signed with the L.A. Rams. His arrival wasn’t a big splash like Brandin Cooks in New England or Alshon Jeffery in Philadelphia and most owners have seen Woods move from one stagnant offense in Buffalo to another in L.A. as neutral at best. So why should anyone be excited about a receiver moving to the 27th ranked team in pass attempts in 2016 and who hasn’t accumulated more than 700 yards or 5 touchdowns in a season? It all has to do with the situation he finds himself with new coach Sean McVay and the lack of experienced receivers on the depth chart.

Can Woods Be the #1 Option?

The Bills for the last two seasons under Rex Ryan finished 31st and 32nd in pass attempts. Before Ryan arrived Woods had 65-699-5 in his sophomore season playing alongside Sammy Watkins and the team was ranked 13th in pass attempts. With the three years that most expect receivers to develop it would have been interesting to see how Woods would have developed in a moderate passing offense these last two years.

Last season Watkins missed weeks 2-11 forcing Woods to be the WR1 and he produced an average of 10.66 points in PPR leagues. This was highlighted by his game on Monday Night Football in week 9 against Seattle of all teams when he had 10 catches for 162 yards. Clearly, he can contribute enough to be a fantasy relevant receiver and this all came with only a single touchdown in 2016. Increasing his touchdown total to even a moderate 5 or 6 would make Woods a solid WR3 with WR2 upside on a weekly basis.

Fisher-less Rams

Despite some confusion midseason with the Rams giving Jeff Fisher a contract extension the team finally came to their senses and fired him before the end of the season. His replacement, Sean McVay, is the youngest head coach in the modern NFL history (30). With all the hype surrounding Kyle Shanahan and how he will be changing the fortunes of the 49ers, there’s not much being talked about with McVay’s success. I argued this in a previous article that Shanahan wasn’t that dominant of a play caller for Washington and after McVay replaced him the team actually scored a slightly higher amount of touchdowns (38:34) per season.

So why are people so high on players like Pierre Garcon and Joe Williams but aren’t as high on Robert Woods and Todd Gurley? The only reason must be because of how little publicity the moves the team made in the offseason have been and the stigma of a Fisher-led team leaves. We should remember that before last year’s draft most expected Jared Goff and Carson Wentz to be developmental QBs and were likely going to be 2-3 years away before deciding what their NFL talent levels would be. Therefore, it should be expected that there be an improvement from last year. Even if the quarterback play doesn’t improve drastically from Goff the addition of McVay should increase the passing numbers from Fisher’s 27th ranking last year.

 

Addition by Subtraction

The team added Andrew Whitworth to the offensive line which was a big reason for Gurley’s disappointing sophomore season. Getting a running game involved in the offense will always help open up zones in the secondary which is where Woods earns his money. At 6ft, 200lbs and a 4.51 40-time Woods isn’t going to blow the top off or box out defenders, he will need time to create separation and make himself open. Luckily for Woods, the Rams still have Tavon Austin who can be the speedy, gadget player that can stretch the field. They also released last year’s receiving leader Kenny Britt along with Brian Quick which immediately put Woods in the role of the X receiver. The team did draft Josh Reynolds (a Matt Waldman darling) and Cooper Kupp who people are very excited about for the future. Still, somebody has to be the primary option and at least for 2017 that would seem to be Woods. Averaging 10PPR points seems like a floor for Woods who wouldn’t need to be more than a WR4/5 on any roster. With the upside of being a target volume vacuum in what should be a more pass friendly team, the cost of $3-6MM for Woods offers tremendous value for the stat line he could have.