2017 Top 25s: WRs and TEs

Updated: July 16th 2017

Since RSO has rolled over to 2017, now’s the perfect time to revisit your rosters and start planning for the next season!

Do you have any players on your team that warrant a franchise tag?  Is it time to shop a player who’s 2016 didn’t meet your expectations and now burdens you with a high salary contract?  My “way too early” PPR rankings, known as my 2017 Top 25s, are here to help with those decisions!

If you missed part 1, I explored quarterbacks and running backs.

In part 2 of my 2017 Top 25s, I’ll finish by examining the wide receiver and tight end positions:

 

Top 25 WRs for 2017

While several of the top WRs didn’t pan out in 2016, I wouldn’t shy away from a WR-heavy strategy in 2017. The top 7 in my rankings have shown year-over-year consistency, which should ease the minds of those recently burned by Hopkins and Robinson. In 12 team leagues, I’d want to leave the auction with at least 3 WRs from this list. since the depth from 13 to 25 is much stronger at WR than it is at RB.

 

Top 25 TEs for 2017

In 2017, I plan to target Gronkowski, Kelce, and Reed with AAV (average annual values) over $10 million per season. If I strike out on the three of them, I’m likely to wait and select 1-2 TEs from the 9-18 range of my rankings and hope that one can turn into someone I’m comfortable starting on weekly basis.

My Recommendation

Take an hour this weekend and send out personal emails to all of your fellow owners. Get the trade conversations started because they likely won’t come knocking down your door to acquire one of these players you’re looking to vanquish from your roster. Explain what you’re looking to accomplish, who interests you on their team, and provide an idea of how a potential deal could be reached. If you’re in an active league, you’ll be surprised at the quality of responses you receive.

I followed this recommendation last year, revamped one of my teams almost from scratch, and ended up winning the league.  Have a few minutes?  Read my article on Pressing the Reset Button to find out more about how this strategy can work for you.


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.  Follow him on Twitter @DaveSanders_RSO

Most Frequently Franchised in ’16

Updated: October 17th 2016

Back in May, we took a look at the most frequently cut players in 2015 to learn some lessons in advance of our free agent auctions.  Now that we are in season, I thought it would be useful to look at which players were most frequently franchise tagged in 2016.  In my experience, Week 6 seems to be the time when struggling owners first commit to being a seller rather than a buyer for the rest of the season.  Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, you can gain some valuable insight by looking at last year’s franchise tag trends.  I personally did this in my home RSO league – I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold onto him, so I sent my tagged David Johnson to the second place owner for Theo Riddick, a 2017 First and a 2018 Third.

Here’s the list of the top seven most frequently franchise tagged players for 2016 and my takeaways:

  1. Thomas Rawls
  2. Jordan Reed
  3. Rob Gronkowski
  4. Antonio Brown
  5. Tyler Eifert
  6. DEN Defense
  7. Greg Olsen

Make an Offer for a Top TE

Four of the top seven spots went to TEs which shouldn’t be a surprise as Reed, Gronk and Eifert are all injury risks while Olsen is getting up there in age – offering a multi-year deal to these guys is risky.  If you’re making a championship run, take a look at the TE position of your league’s worst teams.  If one of them is holding Olsen, Reed or Gronk, make the offer now without hesitation.  It will help you this year and gives you a viable franchise tag option next year (TE tends to have the most value with so many low priced guys who bring down the average).  Olsen is by far the TE1 in PPR scoring with Reed in second.  Gronk is far down the list due to injury but if anything that might help you get him slightly cheaper.  Zach Miller, Kyle Rudolph and Travis Kelce are averaging 2-4 points per game less than Reed and 7-9 less than Olsen (I’m discounting Martellus Bennett whose 3 TD game buoys his stats and is unsustainable).  Five points or so most certainly will be a factor at some point for you in the playoff push.

Antonio Brown May Be Available in 2017

I was surprised to see Brown on this list.  In both of my RSO leagues he’s on a long term deal so part of me assumed that would be the case across the board.  If you’re doing poorly in 2016 and have an eye to 2017, check on Brown’s contract status.  If he’s franchised in your league, there is a chance he becomes available in free agency (unless of course the owner tags him again so take a look at their 2017 cap space and draft picks to determine if they can make it work) and you can pounce on him.  While others in your league are concentrating on 2016, offload some win-now players on multi-year contracts;  you’ll get picks in return and reduce their 2017 cap space to give you a better shot at the top free agents, including guys like Brown.

Don’t Franchise Tag Jordan Howard!

Granted, Howard was probably drafted in your rookie draft but the point is this: franchising a RB who succeeded as a rookie is a bad idea.  Sure you could end up like me, who used it on David Johnson, or you could end up like all of the Thomas Rawls owners.  Take a look at last year’s top ten rookie RBs in rushing yards if you need a reminder of how quickly the shine can fade:

  1. Todd Gurley
  2. Thomas Rawls
  3. TJ Yeldon
  4. Melvin Gordon
  5. Ameer Abdullah
  6. David Johnson
  7. Jeremy Langford
  8. Karlos Williams
  9. Buck Allen
  10. Matt Jones

At best, half of that list is not startable and a few are droppable.  If any of this year’s valuable rookie RBs are still available, by all means pick them up and ride them for all they are worth this season but don’t make the mistake of franchising them next year, even if they explode late in the season.

Most Frequently Franchised in '16

Updated: October 13th 2016

Back in May, we took a look at the most frequently cut players in 2015 to learn some lessons in advance of our free agent auctions.  Now that we are in season, I thought it would be useful to look at which players were most frequently franchise tagged in 2016.  In my experience, Week 6 seems to be the time when struggling owners first commit to being a seller rather than a buyer for the rest of the season.  Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, you can gain some valuable insight by looking at last year’s franchise tag trends.  I personally did this in my home RSO league – I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold onto him, so I sent my tagged David Johnson to the second place owner for Theo Riddick, a 2017 First and a 2018 Third.

Here’s the list of the top seven most frequently franchise tagged players for 2016 and my takeaways:

  1. Thomas Rawls
  2. Jordan Reed
  3. Rob Gronkowski
  4. Antonio Brown
  5. Tyler Eifert
  6. DEN Defense
  7. Greg Olsen

Make an Offer for a Top TE

Four of the top seven spots went to TEs which shouldn’t be a surprise as Reed, Gronk and Eifert are all injury risks while Olsen is getting up there in age – offering a multi-year deal to these guys is risky.  If you’re making a championship run, take a look at the TE position of your league’s worst teams.  If one of them is holding Olsen, Reed or Gronk, make the offer now without hesitation.  It will help you this year and gives you a viable franchise tag option next year (TE tends to have the most value with so many low priced guys who bring down the average).  Olsen is by far the TE1 in PPR scoring with Reed in second.  Gronk is far down the list due to injury but if anything that might help you get him slightly cheaper.  Zach Miller, Kyle Rudolph and Travis Kelce are averaging 2-4 points per game less than Reed and 7-9 less than Olsen (I’m discounting Martellus Bennett whose 3 TD game buoys his stats and is unsustainable).  Five points or so most certainly will be a factor at some point for you in the playoff push.

Antonio Brown May Be Available in 2017

I was surprised to see Brown on this list.  In both of my RSO leagues he’s on a long term deal so part of me assumed that would be the case across the board.  If you’re doing poorly in 2016 and have an eye to 2017, check on Brown’s contract status.  If he’s franchised in your league, there is a chance he becomes available in free agency (unless of course the owner tags him again so take a look at their 2017 cap space and draft picks to determine if they can make it work) and you can pounce on him.  While others in your league are concentrating on 2016, offload some win-now players on multi-year contracts;  you’ll get picks in return and reduce their 2017 cap space to give you a better shot at the top free agents, including guys like Brown.

Don’t Franchise Tag Jordan Howard!

Granted, Howard was probably drafted in your rookie draft but the point is this: franchising a RB who succeeded as a rookie is a bad idea.  Sure you could end up like me, who used it on David Johnson, or you could end up like all of the Thomas Rawls owners.  Take a look at last year’s top ten rookie RBs in rushing yards if you need a reminder of how quickly the shine can fade:

  1. Todd Gurley
  2. Thomas Rawls
  3. TJ Yeldon
  4. Melvin Gordon
  5. Ameer Abdullah
  6. David Johnson
  7. Jeremy Langford
  8. Karlos Williams
  9. Buck Allen
  10. Matt Jones

At best, half of that list is not startable and a few are droppable.  If any of this year’s valuable rookie RBs are still available, by all means pick them up and ride them for all they are worth this season but don’t make the mistake of franchising them next year, even if they explode late in the season.

One is the Loneliest Number

Updated: April 17th 2016

I have recently joined two new RSO leagues. For most when you join a new league you look at the scoring and rules to see if there will be any major discrepancies in terms of player value. Obviously certain RBs and WRs lose value in non-PPR leagues; while earning points for kick return yardage and touchdowns places slightly more value on those Swiss Army knife players. Most of the leagues that I have participated in, redraft or dynasty, feature some combination of half to full point PPR and start between two and four RBs and WRs with flex players mixed in. These are almost the new standard for fantasy football leagues. However one style seems to be less prevalent and sometimes actively avoided across the community, 2QB.

Starting two quarterbacks seems counter intuitive to some owners as they want the closest experience to being a real general manager in the NFL. That is why RSO owners choose the site since the salary cap and contracts are as realistic as possible. Therefore if you want the real experience why would you ever want to start two quarterbacks in fantasy when there is only one on the field? While it may not seem realistic, fantasy owners do need to remember what position is most important on the field, the quarterback. Depending on scoring formats of the top 20 scoring players in 2015, eighteen were quarterbacks!  Despite this, the smart owners know to not overspend in auctions, and to invest lower or no draft capital in the position. Fellow RSO writer Dave Sanders wrote an article explaining how to hold your dollars and picks for other positions instead of investing heavily in an elite quarterback.

Stacking the Deck

If we know that football’s most important position is now being undervalued due to an influx of usable options, how can we fix leagues to make quarterbacks more valuable in terms of contract dollars and trade value? Simple, you start two of them! The chart below shows the average points per game that the first ranked player earned over the 10th, 20th and 30th ranked player at each position. Since most leagues start more than one WR/RB this is why these two positions on most championship teams earn contracts in the $20-$30million/year range while the starting quarterback contract is between $8-$15million/year.

Position PPG 2015

To further illustrate my point that leagues should be 2QB as a standard I am going to use a formula that some of you may already be aware. I like to think of this formula as one similar to the WAR score (wins against replacement) that is frequently referenced in baseball. The principles are the same; the higher the score the better that player is against the average replacement player at his position. The use of this formula is to set contract values for each player in your free agency auction based on their expected fantasy points. In my next article I’ll breakdown the formula in more depth when I show you how to prepare your budget for your auction draft. For the purpose of this article I’ll just be showcasing the result comparing a 1QB vs. 2QB league.

2QB 4TD Contracts

Comparing four of the most valuable quarterbacks and two elite players at both running back and wide receiver shows the big disparity between the values. Elite skilled positions are at a greater premium and therefore command a greater amount of the annual salary cap. However, when owners become forced to use the 20th ranked QB (and up to 30th in the case of bye weeks, injuries, benching etc.) the point differential increases to the level of starting three RBs/WRs. The value of these elite quarterbacks then rises on average over 170%. When we make this same comparison in a league that uses six points for a passing touchdown instead of four the gap is almost completely lost. As seen in the chart below the values of the quarterbacks actually leapfrogs the running backs and rivals that of the wide receivers.

2QB 6TD Contracts

Now we see the most valuable position in football start to hold similar value in fantasy football as it does on the field. In a league with this format it would make it much easier to justify trading, drafting and paying for quarterbacks. Additionally, this helps leagues that lack trades because it creates opportunities for teams to have different strategies to build a championship team around. In the case of leagues bigger than 10 teams however, I recommend utilizing only one quarterback and offering a superflex position instead. This allows teams that are not able to have three starting quarterbacks on their roster to still compete each year since there would not be 36 starters each week to use.

Ups and Downs of the RSO Playoffs

Updated: December 24th 2015

golden-tate-nfl-new-orleans-saints-detroit-lions-850x560

They say it is sometimes better to be lucky than good. To win Reality Sports Online league titles, it seems like you have to be a bit of both. Hit on your rookie draft picks, don’t spend big dollars on busts and get your multi-year deals right, don’t have player injuries and then have it all align in the playoffs.

So, after being in my main league for three years and the Writers League for two years, I can honestly say I haven’t won a championship and am still after that holy grail. As someone who is their own worst critic, and who writes strategy pieces for the website, that makes me feel like a little bit of a fraud. I know I’m beating myself up on this, but let me share my two league circumstances with you this year.

I welcome any of you who suffered a similar loss to Tweet me or contact me as some form of therapy. I have writing about this experience as my therapy, so let me be the one you vent to after reading this if you are in the same boat as me.

First, I’ll start with my Writers League with folks who I write with at Reality Sports Online and numberFire mainly (some have moved onto other sites like Rotoworld and ESPN). I finished 11-2 in the regular season with the highest scoring team by far. That earned me the #2 seed and a matchup against my friend @GrahamBarfield, the #3 seed in the league, while 12-1 #1 Seed @LeoHowell8 played upstart first-year owner and Baylor Law Professor and late summer league addition #4 seed (brought in via Twitter to compete against writers) @RoryRyan in the other playoff matchup.

Buoyed all season by a Tom Brady/Rob Gronkowski stack, Devonta Freeman and Eric Decker, my team was stacked and I have most of these players (and Todd Gurley, Demaryius Thomas) for several more years. In round one however, I went into Monday Night Football with a 16 point lead and Graham having Lamar Miller remaining. Miller scored two touchdowns by halftime and my highest-scoring team in the league (and second highest among 10 teams that week) was toast.

On the other side, Howell, who has lost exactly two regular season games in two years in the league, put up a dud and lost to Ryan, who inherited one of the worst teams in the league mid-summer, was awarded T.Y. Hilton by the league on a two year, $40.0 million contract and left to his own devices to turn the rest around. He slid into the playoffs behind some good moves and then, wouldn’t you know it, won the whole thing while Howell and I put up very high totals in the third place game.

Rory Ryan Shocks the Writers League

Basically, Ryan capitalized on being healthy and opportunistic,  and a few solid moves. Here’s his summary of what lead to his success (in his words):

“As I looked around the locker room before the championship match, I decided we needed to do something unusual. We went around the room and introduced ourselves–as six of the ten starters were waiver-wire pickups. As I drove my family back from the Polar Express train ride during Monday’s finale, I kept getting SiriusXM updates that were good. Then better. Then — victory. To say the team I inherited was in “rebuilding mode” would be an understatement. But we were able to scrape out just enough wins and ride a whole lot of luck to the title. “

“Although (to quote Nuke Laloosh) “winning is like . . . so much better than losing,” the year was great either way. As I told folks on social media, it was fun playing against the guys whose advice I use when setting my lineups in other leagues. And the RSO format really does make even traditional dynasty leagues seem primitive. The contracts, waivers, salary cap, etc., make up the way fantasy ought to be played. “
“The opportunity to play this format against these guys was too much to pass up — despite my (formerly) firm rules against not playing in leagues with kickers, defenses (if I can help it), and true decimal scoring. But I’m still looking forward to next year, where hopefully my roster will be slightly more settled. “

“So what was my strategy? When I entered the auction, there were few (no) stars and plenty of money. So prices were inflated. I went after some grinders who I’d always feel OK inserting into the lineup: Jonathan Stewart, Frank Gore, and Doug Martin (didn’t get him). But I spent little money. Instead, I saved most of my cap room, knowing that injuries and sleepers would emerge, and I would have the big bankroll. DeAngelo Williams, Danny Amendola, Antonio Gates, Dion Lewis, and Zach Miller all played important roles during the season.

“As for the future — we will see if my strategy works. Since there were no stars to lock down, I went after a group of guys who I thought were more talented than their projections, hoping that at least one of them ends up in an ideal situation. The prices are low enough that hitting 1/3 and cutting the other two will more than pay for itself in savings, despite the cap penalty, as I’ll avoid waiting for the player to demonstrate the market value. So, Golden Tate, Torrey Smith, and Markus Wheaton — please answer the phone if the Patriots call.”

A Rivalry Is Continued in Reality Sports Online

Let me set the stage for you a bit with some history. My best friend since our freshman year at Miami University, @MarkPesavento and I have been in fantasy football leagues together since 1996. He is my biggest rival and our fantasy matchups have quite a history of craziness as you can imagine for anyone playing against each other for that long. Since he works in sports and I don’t, there is an extra layer of who is the smarter football mind is between the two of us.

With that in mind, Mark and I left an ESPN keeper league a few years ago in search of something bigger, something more challenging that was fully customizable. As part of his work at the time, he discovered Reality Sports Online and we’ve been hooked ever since. Together we are co-commissioners of the Not Quite Gentlemen’s League, a super-customized PPR league with 12 teams and lineups consisting of only one required running back, three flex positions, and where turnovers are heavily punished (-5 points for interceptions, fumbles) and the 5th and 6th playoff seeds are determined solely based on total points scored.
RSO Co-Founder and Chief Operating Office Stephen Wendell is now in our league too, which adds to the competitiveness. Pesavento finished first overall at 11-2 with the highest point total (he won the league in 2014), newcomer Wendell finished 9-5 and was the #2 seed. I was the second highest scoring team, but finished 7-6 and got the #5 overall seed.

My high-scoring team proved no fluke in the opening round of the playoffs, winning 321.54-179.99 and a Week 15 rematch with Pesavento, who I was 0-2 against on the season, loomed.

Setting the Stage-Week 12

First, though, let me take you back to Week 12 where Pesavento and I squared off in an epic battle. He staked to an early lead behind Odell Beckham Jr., Philip Rivers, and Spencer Ware that seemed insurmountable at the time. Then late in the late games, my quarterback Russell Wilson hooked up with Doug Baldwin for an 80 yard touchdown, en route to a 72 point fantasy performance.

I was close going into the Sunday night game where I had Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots DST to his Broncos DST. Behind a Gronk touchdown and subsequent Gronk-spike and an inteception by the Patriots D, I staked out to a fairly decent lead (like 20 points). As the clock turned to the 4th quarter, I instant messaged Pesavento saying this game seems like it is over.

And then the collapse happened. The Patriots muffed a punt, Denver’s running game started picking up steam and the Patriots were bleeding out yardage allowed and points scored. The game was getting much closer. All I needed was another Gronk catch and I’d be fine.

Then Gronk got called for offensive pass interference on a big catch that was nullified. A few plays later, then he was carted off with a knee injury. So my happiness of likely winning the game turned into losing my key league advantage (and someone I’d like to franchise tag on a good deal for 2016) for the season, and potentially this game as well.

The Broncos scored to take the lead and all I then needed (while I was frantically worried about Gronk’s health for the rest of the season) was the game not to go to overtime. Well, we all know Stephen Gostkowski is fantasy gold and the game went to overtime. In overtime, as long as the Broncos didn’t score a touchdown, I’d win.

I think you know the rest. C.J. Anderson scored on a 48 yard touchdown scamper to end the game and Pesavento beat me by .25 points, continuing a series of close calls in recent match-ups.

The Worst Possible Way To Lose?

Heading into the Week 15 playoff matchup of the two highest scoring teams in the league, Pesavento was favored, yet he had some of his best players with tough matchups (Beckham Jr vs CAR, Antonio Brown vs. DEN DST, DEN DST at PIT) while mine on paper seemed favorable (A.J. Green @SF, Wilson vs. CLE, Devonta Freeman @JAX, Gronkowski vs. TEN, NE DST vs. TEN).

I staked out to a decent lead as Beckham Jr. didn’t have any catches through three well-documented quarters vs. shutdown corner Josh Norman. While I was watching on the NFL Game Mix (8 games at once on a not so-huge TV on DirecTV), I noticed that things were getting super chippy and was waiting for OBJ to get ejected by referee Terry McAulay’s crew for the punches thrown and the cheap shots.

I usually don’t get “holier than though” watching football, but by the time the Giants started their comeback and OBJ started racking up fantasy points I was on my high-horse and stark-raving mad that Beckham Jr. hadn’t been tossed. Heck, I’ve been tossed from rec-league basketball games for way less.

However, his Alshon Jeffery only had one catch for 10 yards and a touchdown, my Patriots DST had a good game and I was hanging in with him heading into Wilson’s huge matchup against my hometown Browns. Knowing that Wilson was hot and the Browns defense is porous, I knew Russ would deliver for me.

What I wasn’t prepared for was Brown scoring 70 points against his Broncos DST. So as the Steelers/Broncos game wore down and I was hoping the Broncos would give up more points, I was hoping that another player would score the final touchdown of this game. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and when Ben Roethlisberger threw an egregious interception on a terrible pass to his Denver defense right before the two minute warning that I coined the “Class of 1998 Miami University Fantasy Football Scholarship”, I knew that 5 points for the Broncos would loom large.

And as Brown caught another ball, I found myself down 15 points heading into Monday Night Football where it was my Golden Tate vs. his Tim Hightower for the right to survive and advance. Tate was coming off his best game of the season and was facing the porous Saints secondary. Hightower was coming off a solid game. Game flow seemed to favor Tate, but I figured the 15 points would loom too large for Tate to overcome.
As the game started and Tate scored two early touchdowns I found myself up in the game. Hightower scored right before half, but the play was called back on a lineman failing to report. The two of us went crazy over IM the remainder of the game.

At one point, unsolicited my wife and 5 year old son and 1 year old daughter started chanting “Golden Tate, Golden Tate!” pleading for him to get the ball when the Lions were on offense. It was super cute to see my daughter who talks but doesn’t know too many words saying this.

I was clinging to a slight lead and game flow took Hightower out of the game mostly. As I watched the Lions fumble away a few possessions that Tate could’ve had opportunities and the Lions DST unable to force punts to Tate as the returner (we get punt return yards for individual players in our league), I knew this was going to come down to the wire.

With five minutes left and me clinging to an ironic .26 point lead (basically the Week 12 margin of defeat), I paced around knowing that if Hightower got one more carry I would lose. I made it basically to the end of the game where the Lions were running out the clock unscathed. Alas, they didn’t have the ability to run off the entire clock and in came Matt Prater to kick a chip-shot field goal to end the game. Prater then missed, and I knew anything could happen.

The Saints had a few plays left and surely would be setting up for a Hail Mary after gaining a little bit of yardage. Initially seeing C.J. Spiller as the receiving back in the game, I figured I was fine. On a play with 14 seconds left, Drew Brees looked and pump faked at Hightower, but threw elsewhere. With six seconds left to go, folks in my league (including Pesavento) were congratulating me on the win.

Talk about Dewey vs. Truman. The last play should have been a Hail Mary. Instead, Brees decided to pad his completion percentage and throw a dump-off to Hightower. The yardage didn’t matter-I had lost after overcoming a deficit, in another crushing close defeat to Pesavento. Again on the last play of the game.
I wish this writing was fiction and not fact. I had seemingly overcome some poor performances by Green, T.Y. Hilton (who I started over Danny Woodhead based on recent history, Matt Hasselback starting, and Hilton’s history against Houston). I think back to all the dynamics of the matchup- Beckham not getting ejected and missing a for sure deep touchdown early in the game, two straight fade routes to Gronk in the end zone late in the Patriots/Titans game that came up just short, pass interference calls covering my Randall Cobb in the end zone, the Broncos late interception, and finally Hightower’s catch with the Saints down 8 points on the last play of the last game of the week, and I realize that the Reality Sports Online holy grail is a temptress. I easily could have lost by 50 points, won by 20 points or won by .26 points, but instead I lost by a few points and now wish Pesavento good luck in the finals (without Beckham and potentially Jeffery) while I play Wendell for third-place this week.

Only a combination of luck, health, and solid roster moves will result in winning this thing and I hope that my championship window with the same core I have locked up through 2016 will bring me better results next year. There’s always next year.

Please feel free to reach out to me with similar stories, start/sit questions for your big week 16 championship, or to call me a fraud via Twitter @Mattgoody2.

The Matt's Unplugged

Updated: September 5th 2015

DLF RSO

For my last article of the offseason, I figured I’d up the strategy element by doing a back and forth A Tribe Called Quest style with Reality Sports Online President and Founder Matt Papson. Since we’re both Matt’s, I’ll refer to us by our last names. I hope this is a fun look at auction strategy, the season ahead, all things Reality Sports Online and everything in between. We figure most people are about to have their auctions in the next few days.

With that, I’m going to jump right in and put Papson on the hot seat right now.

Editor’s Note from Papson: I’m writing this from 30,000 feet in the air, without wifi, so this piece will have fewer data/facts and more hyperbole than I would typically utilize – basically I’m channeling my inner Stephen Wendell, Chief Operating Officer of Reality Sports Online.

The Player I build my franchise around:

Papson:

  • Veteran: Andrew Luck When we talk about a franchise player in Reality Sports Online, we’re talking about somebody who is going to be the cornerstone of your franchise for at least four years, and maybe even five or six if the player proves to be franchise-tag worthy. And, for veterans, you’re talking about someone who is probably going to be your highest paid player. Right now, there is no safer bet for fantasy relevance in 2018+ than Andrew Luck. The Front Office could change, the coaching staff could change, his weapons could change, but he is a once-in-a-generation player that’s still 2-3 years away from his “prime”. Trust me, I love me some Antonio Brown – I like to think I climbed aboard the train long before most. Last year he was on every single one of my fantasy teams, and many the year before that. In fact, in one of my RSO Experts leagues he’s making just $6.5M this year on my roster. But, I’m hesitant to make a 4-year investment of the magnitude ($20M+ APY) it would take to lock up AB long-term, or almost any RB/WR for that matter. If you look at the last 10 years of fantasy data, I think you’ll find very few WRs or RBs that were in the top 5 in positional Fantasy points for 4-straight years. I think you’ll find many examples for QBs. An elite quarterback who is consistent and in their prime just has more longevity than a wideout who has a shorter window in his prime.
  • Rookie: Todd Gurley This one is really difficult, but I typically like to spend my rookie picks on Running Backs who could end up as fantasy cheap fantasy starters in years 2-4. Gurley is the best RB in this year’s class by far, and I really like the situation he ended up in with the Rams and Jeff Fisher. I expect him to be getting the majority of the touches by the mid-point in the season, and from my perspective, touches (not necessarily extraordinary production) for Rookies is the most you can reasonably ask for.

Goodwin:

  • Veteran: Antonio Brown Interesting. While I love the production and longevity that Luck will provide to owners and the proven track record he’s paved over his first few years, I tend to like my franchise guys to be wide receivers. As a result, I love the consistency and high targets, touchdowns, and production of Antonio Brown, so I’d take him for the next three years of him being a Steeler. He was also tackled at the one yard line four times last year! Big Ben being locked up until 2020 certainly helps matters too. I think that a quality quarterback like Tony Romo could produce in the same ballpark as someone like Luck on a much cheaper, shorter deal and that in given weeks even streaming could yield you a Top 5 quarterback. Of course over the long haul, Luck is the quarterback I’d want, but there’s nothing precluding someone like Marcus Mariota from being in Luck’s ballpark in a year, whereas Brown also is super consistent and at the top of his game right now.
  • Rookie: Todd Gurley As for rookies, I agree with you on Gurley and put my money where my mouth is in my Reality Sports Online/numberFire Writers League auction. I love Gurley’s burst and he just runs with an edge to him. I have zero concerns about his knee long term and agree with you that by midseason Gurley will be getting the lion’s share of running back touches in St. Louis.

Which tight end is a better contract play for you-Travis Kelce or Jimmy Graham?

Goodwin:

  • Based on age (Graham is 28 and Kelce is 25) and Graham’s high perceived value, I’d go with Kelce. I like his Gronk-like characteristics and while both tight ends don’t have a ton of wide receivers on their respective teams to compete with for targets, I think Kelce was used very cautiously last year coming back from microfracture knee surgery. To me, Kelce’s ceiling is higher and he’s already established a predictable floor at a fraction of Graham’s costs in your auction. He’s so good after the catch that I think he’ll be getting the over-the-middle volume that Graham got in New Orleans. Do I think Graham scores 10 touchdowns a season for my in market Seattle Seahawks? You bet-he was brought in to fix the red zone problems that cost them the Super Bowl. However, the team is one of the most run heavy over the past few years and I don’t expect that to let up much. In fact, Graham’s run blocking snaps were higher in the preseason than they were when he was a Saint and the Saints had 200 more pass attempts than the Seahawks last year. That smells like a regression candidate to me fantasy wise.

Papson:

  • Here’s the thing, this is really hard to evaluate without an exact contract comparison. Would I rather have Kelce for $5M than Jimmy Graham for $20M? Sure. But, if we’re talking about Jimmy Graham for 3 yrs/$50M and Kelce for 3 yrs/$40M – give me Jimmy Graham all day. You speak as if Jimmy Graham is ancient! He’s ?28 years old! I don’t want this to be perceived as Kelce-bashing, but I think Kelce really benefited from the extremely weak group of Wide Receivers the Chiefs played in 2014. With the addition of Jeremy Maclin (and maybe even Chris Conley?), and a heavy dose of Jamaal Charles, Knile Davis, and De’Anthony Thomas I foresee a significant reduction in total targets and redzone targets for Kelce. I’d be surprised if there’s ever been another top 5 TE in an Andy Reid offense. It seems like there are a lot of people concerned about Jimmy Graham’s transition to Seattle, although I have to say I’m surprised at tempered expectations. Barring injury, if any Tight End other than Gronk and/or Greg Olsen score more fantasy points than Jimmy Graham – I will be shocked.

How would you value Arian Foster based on his injury?

Papson:

  • 2 yrs, $16M Total (that’s what I signed him for in the Expert Auction). At the time I made the referenced signing, the Foster injury had just happened and it really seemed like people were predicting the worst – I/R for the season? I/R Designated for Return? PUP list? Since then, the injury news has steadily gotten better. Most reports now have him slated to return between weeks 2 and 4. I’d rather have the Texans wait than rush him back, but whenever he returns, he’s going to get a ton of touches. I’m not much of an Alfred Blue or Jonathan Grimes guy (I do like Chris Polk), so I think Arian is still a safe bet for 20+ touches in every game in which he plays. He takes great care of himself, and even though we try to be objective, he’s a guy I enjoy rooting for – he’s not your standard NFL personality.

Goodwin:

  • I like the valuation and would love to get a similar valuation for Foster. The key is that he ends the season healthy for your playoff run. I’m also a fan of the two-year deal as that is when he turns 30 and his contract with the Texans ends. At this point based on the news, I think I’d give Foster up to a 2 year, $30 million deal depending on league circumstances. I have no doubt he will be productive when he’s on the field.

Now that Rob Gronkowski is 100% healthy, would you give him a 4 year contract in Reality Sports Online leagues?

Goodwin:

  • I’m not sure on a pure four-year deal to a player with Gronk’s injury history (which granted I think are a series of bad, fluky luck) but I’m basically giving Gronk a four-year deal currently in my third year in the league with the franchise tag options. Luckily for me, the original 2 year, $26M contract that won me Gronk when he had forearm and back injuries heading into the 2013 season just expired following the 2014 season and offered me two separate franchise tag 1 year options. As tight end salaries in my league represent the lowest for a skill position, and Gronk finished last season healthy, I’ll gladly pay $15.9M for my first year franchise tag and if healthy, give him a 20% raise for next year two. Definitely trying to capitalize on my championship window with Gronk in tow. In short, Gronk is so much better at his position than his peer group right now that he is one of the most valuable players in the game, in spite of his injury history.

Papson:

  • I spent a significant amount of time above talking about investing your big-money four-year deals in Quarterbacks, but there are exceptions to every rule. I’ve tried (and failed in a few auctions) to land Gronk, Graham, or Olsen in each of my leagues. In 2015, I see more separation between Tight Ends 1 and 5 than QBs 1 and 5, WRs 1 and 5, and RBs 1 and 5. Think of it this way, if I offered you any of the following bets for a significant amount of money:
    • One Quarterback (Rogers, Luck, etc.) of your choice or “the field” to finish first in points/gm?
    • One Runningback (Peters, Bell, etc.) of your choice or “the field” to finish first in points/gm?
    • One Wide Receiver (Brown, Bryant, etc.) of your choice or “the field” to finish first in points/gm?
    • One Tight End of your choice (Gronk, Graham, etc.) of your choice or “the field” to finish first in points/gm?

    Isn’t the latter, “Gronk vs. the Field” the only bet where that you’d reasonably consider taking a single player versus the field? I think that speaks volumes.

Name a few late auction sleepers you’d consider giving multi-year contracts to and how much would you pay them?

Papson:

  • My favorite place to use my multi-year deals is on cheap sleepers – if you hit, it’s a major win. If you miss, the ramifications for cutting the player before the expiration of the contract are minimal.
    • Michael Crabtree: 2-3 yrs / $4M APY
    • Bryce Brown: 3 yrs / $2M APY (I can’t seem to kick my addiction)
    • Kenny Britt: 2 yrs / $2M APY

Goodwin:

  • I personally like Knile Davis for 2-3 years at around $2M per year. If anything happens to Jamaal Charles, Davis becomes a top running back. Even if not, he has standalone value. In terms of wide receivers, I of course like Jeff Janis on a 3 year deal for $3M per year. I think he’ll work out his chemistry with Aaron Rodgers and become a target in the Packers offense.

Who are guys you are really high on that you think will outperform their expected value heavily?

Goodwin:

  • In terms of receivers, I really like Eric Decker and Kendall Wright. Decker showed flashes when he got his health back last December (finishing strong is always a good thing) and I’m not scared at all by the quarterback situation. As for Wright, he’s already been discussed as Marcus Mariota’s favorite target, the Titans will be down and chucking it in most games, and he’ll see tons of targets. Staying with the Jets, Chris Ivory is a running back that I have high expectations for that others may not feel strongly about. I also really like Danny Woodhead bouncing back from injury and seeing plenty of action in the passing game. No need to shy away from Antonio Gates at tight end. I don’t care about the 4 game suspension, there is plenty of gas left in that tank. There are tons of quarterbacks who should perform well on the cheap. Carson Palmer may come the cheapest, but I like Tony Romo the best of the mid-tier guys based on the Cowboys offense. Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, or Eli Manning either.

Papson:

  • This is my favorite question, because it’s the broadest stroke. I could probably name 50 guys that I expect to outperform their average APY, but I’ll try to keep it to a few.
    • Steve Smith: there are a lot of people aboard the train, so that probably means that it will blow up in my face, but I don’t see any reason why Steve Smith wouldn’t have 1,250+ receiving yards. Also, if you can save some 2015 cap space by giving him a 2-year deal, I would do it. I know he says he’s retiring after this year, but I can’t see him hanging it up until the wheels completely fall off. He’s too competitive to walk away after he puts up once of his most productive seasons of all time in 2015.
    • Darren McFadden: Yes, he’s injury prone. But, count me among the few who expect him to receive the majority of the backfield touches in Dallas in 2015. McFadden is still talented, and will play behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. Also – how did Joseph Randle get the hype by default? Honestly, I know it’s simple-minded of me to think this way, or maybe living in Razorback country has clouded my judgement – but Jerry Jones has been obsessed with Darren McFadden for a decade. There was a 100% chance he signed with the Cowboys this off-season, and I still follow the dollars when it comes to predicting fantasy touches.
    • Owen Daniels: For the skeptics, I share your concern about Virgil Green being a Julius Thomas athletic replica and limiting Daniels playing time and targets. But, I think Daniels is going to average 5 catches & 60 yards per game underneath a lot of Demaryius Thomas/Emanuel Sanders/Cody Latimer routes. And don’t forget the Gary Kubiak isn’t afraid to run double tights.

Which player do you like bouncing back in a big way this year?

Papson:

  • Nick Foles: Sam Bradford has stolen all of the hype from the Rams-Eagles Quarterback swap, but I think Foles is being extremely undervalued right now between QB 20 and 25. Foles looked totally broken in 2014, but I’ve watched every game he ever played in an Eagles uniform, and I still think he’s a playoff caliber NFL Quarterback. I like the Rams offensive weapons from Quick to Britt to Austin to Gurley to Mason to Cook. If you can get Foles as your backup, he could make for excellent trade bait mid-year after someone else realizes they need a starter.

Goodwin:

  • Keenan Allen: People forget that he’s only 23. He’s only on his Chargers rookie deal through 2016, but I wouldn’t hesitate to give Allen something in the $10-$12M a year range, or maybe even higher depending on your league dynamics. Philip Rivers has beamed about how well Allen has performed in camp and I really think his third year is when Allen shines bright, especially in PPR leagues.

Which real NFL free agent will perform best in his new digs?

Papson:

  • I’ve saved this answer until now, although I could have selected him for a few of the prior questions. I’ve been vocal about my prediction for a big year from Jeremy Maclin. It seems like the majority of analysts think being a Chiefs Wide Receiver automatically means Maclin is going to touchdown hell. I’m glad the majority thinks that way, because last year was a combination of a fluke and a less-than-stellar receive corps. I’m honestly not sure there’s a ceiling for Maclin’s finish – I certainly won’t be shocked if he finishes top 5. Alex Smith enters year 3 in this offense and I think the Chiefs are going to be firing on all cylinders.

Goodwin:

  • I agree 100%. Like in Old School and Will Ferrell’s winning debate against James Carville, I will say you just gave the perfect answer. This is how you debate!

Who do you think will be the season’s biggest bust?

Goodwin:

  • On a cheaper scale, I’d say Joseph Randle, but that seems too obvious here. If we are going a bigger name, I’m going to stick to my earlier guns and say Drew Brees. For me it is as much about what left his roster and the team’s desire to be more balanced with the running game as what other quarterbacks who will go for cheaper will do. If you really watched game tape of Brees last season (which I did), you’d see a dinker and dunker who had trouble taking the top off the ball deep. He’s just not worth a top five quarterback investment now contract wise when there are other replaceable options like Romo, Big Ben, Philip Rivers and the like on the cheap.

Editor’s Note: While I think that Brees will be between QB5 and QB8, I love Brandin Cooks this season. He shows so much Randall Cobb like qualities with more speed and came into the league way more accomplished. Cooks is a guy that I’d love to have on his original rookie deal and someone I would be targeting in trades or first year auctions without hesitation. 

Papson:

  • C.J. Anderson – Is he the next Arian Foster? The undrafted guy who found himself in the right situation and thrived for years and years? Or, is he Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, Dominic Rhodes, Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman, etc. – a guy who thrived with Peyton for a year or two but was really just a plug-and-play in a powerful offense. To be honest, I don’t know the answer. But, I know that he’s going to need a lot of touches to be worth anywhere near what he currently costs. Why are we giving up on Montee Ball? It took Knowshon Moreno four seasons to reach his potential – are we really saying the Broncos are done with Montee after 2? The old coaching staff is gone, but the same Front Office that drafted Ball remains in place.

Editor’s Note: I think all of the Davante Adams people were saved by Jordy Nelson injury. It’s not that I don’t like Adams, but I think before the Nelson injury you would have had a hard time getting expected production from Adams. The Packers run a lot of 3+ WR sets, but I think you would have seen a heavy rotation between Adams, Montgomery (who I like), and Janis. Now Adams gets to be the #2 WR.

Name one defense you think will surprise people this season.

Papson:

  • Philadelphia Eagles: I see them ranked between 10th and 15th most places, and sometimes even lower. The Eagles might have more talent on defense than they do on offense. I also think teams are going to be playing from behind against the Eagles, which will give the Eagles an opportunity to leverage their strength rushing the passer and producing turnovers. I feel pretty confident that the Eagles will have a top 7 defense, and maybe even top 5.

Goodwin:

  • Cleveland Browns: You could call me a homer for this pick, but if you know me well, I typically avoid Cleveland players on my fantasy squad like the plague. That said, the Browns have a really good (and potentially elite) secondary who has an eye for creating turnovers. The front seven should be better at rushing the quarterback off the edge and they killed it in the draft with Danny Shelton as a run-stuffer and Nate Orchard as a pass rusher. While the offense is lagging, hopefully you are in a league that doesn’t punish your defense for that.

What’s the craziest Reality Sports Online trade you’ve made?

Goodwin:

  • On Wednesday, I literally traded nothing (insert favorite Seinfeld reference here) for Kendall Wright who has three years remaining on his deal and who I’ll pay $6.6M this season. The other team basically has their entire roster full prior to our auction and needed wiggle room to grab a player on a minimum deal or go for a premium free agent with their remaining money. Like I always say, cap space is an asset and now Reality Sports Online allows trades to happen with no players in return.

Papson:

  • I’ve been a part of a few blockbusters, especially in the Matt Waldman/Rookie Scouting Portfolio Experts league. My affinity for wheeling and dealing seems to amuse Waldman, but I think the rest of the league probably gets annoyed by my constant trade offers. In 2013, I took over a team where the original Owner had left mid-Auction and left me with a lowly roster, but  $60M+ in cap space. Ultimately, I’m really thankful he left and I took over the team I did, because this is now my favorite and most competitive league. After a two-year rebuilding project, I actually think I might be in position to make a run at the title this year. It was a flurry of moves, not really one blockbuster, but it felt like one big trade to me. I’ll have to see if I can dig up the actual terms or find the article where Waldman recapped the moves, but in a two-week window I:
    • Acquired Alex Smith for a future 3rd round pick
    • Assumed the 4-year/$40M+ Aaron Hernandez contract that another team gave out shortly before the incident, so that I could cut him and eat the cap hit. I also received Percy Harvin as part of that deal, who at the time seemed poised for a long, bright future with the Seahawks. Today, it’s the ugliest contract (and my second highest paid player at $14M) on my roster.
    • Traded Maurice Jones-Drew (1-year) and Zach Ertz for Antonio Brown (3 yrs/$18M) and another player

As someone very familiar with the NFL Salary Cap, name one free agent deal you nailed in 2015

Papson:

  • I’m not sure it’s fair to use the term “nailed”, but I got pretty close on Maclin, Murray, McFadden, and the recent Russel Wilson extension.

Goodwin:

  • I got very close on the Cobb deal and predicted right that Green Bay would sign him for a four-year deal around Victor Cruz/Marques Colston money.
  • Is Peyton Manning retiring after this year?

Papson:

  • No way. I think Peyton will make it until at least 2018, and I think Brady hits at least 2020. There’s such a shortage of playoff caliber Quarterbacks right now, that I can’t see either of them being forced out of a starting position in the next 2-3 years. I’m not going to predict that either of them remain with their current teams beyond their current contract, but I think they can both be relevant starters for 5+ years. Would you rather have an aging Peyton Manning or the Browns situation? There will be a place for each of them to start for quite a while, the question is whether they want to keep playing – I think the competitive drive is there to keep going.

Goodwin:

  • I think this is Peyton’s swan song and will be a good one at that. The pieces and the ground game is set up for #18 to make a Super Bowl run this year. However, I think that being a true historian of the game, Manning won’t want to leave after the game has passed him by and that time is around the corner.

Everyone has players on their squad that they are not rational about in terms of trade value, bid price, etc. Who are yours?

Goodwin:

  • For me, Cobb is way up there on the list. I’ve talked myself out of many deals involving me shipping him out. Wilson is someone I love being a local in Seattle too, although I am realistic that he may come down to fantasy earth this season based on less rushing opportunities for him.

Papson:

A couple of guys on my current teams that I wouldn’t give up because of favorable contracts…

  • Antonio Brown – 1 year $6.5M remaining
  • Sam Bradford – 4 years, $20M (I’ve got to see what happens first)
  • Bishop Sankey – 2 years, $10M remaining (I’m among the few that believe he’s going to be good)

My Fantasy Football Mount Rushmore Consists of These Players Owned by My Teams

Papson:

  • I’m going to just go with a list of retired guys from the early 2000’s: Priest Holmes, Ladanian Tomlinson, Daunte Culpepper, Tony Gonzalez, Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison.

Goodwin:

  • For me, it is Cris Carter (I’ve joked with my best friend and RSO leaguemate Fox Sports’ Mark Pesavento) that Carter’s Hall-of-Fame bust should be in my basement for all the damage he did vs. his fantasy squad, Priest Holmes, Aaron Rodgers, Andre Johnson

You recently told me following one of my articles that you love mid-90’s hip-hop and A Tribe Called Quest is one of your favorites. Who ya got-Q-Tip or Phife Dawg?

Papson:

  • (Quoting Phife Dawg from Electric Relaxation)If my mom don’t approve then I’ll just elope…

Goodwin:

  • (Also Quoting Phife Dawg): Picture Phife losing a battle, c’mon, get off it. Put down the microphone son, surrender forfeit… I like Phife’s scrappy, diminutive stature. He’s like the slot receiver of MC’s to Q-Tip’s high draft status.

What is the best part of creating a platform like Reality Sports Online?

Papson:

  • Well, first – in addition to this being a business venture, I built the game because this is kind of fantasy platform I wanted to play on. The business experience has been absolutely awesome. I’ve learned way more in 3-years of running a startup than I did from 5+ years of undergrad & grad school. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a roller-coaster – running any startup comes with the assumption that you’re going to face challenges, give up a lot of free time, test the boundaries of personal and professional relationships, etc. Plus, people take fantasy football very seriously, so once in a blue moon we get a nastygram that makes me wonder if people realize there’s a human on the other side of the screen. But, the customer feedback is overwhelmingly positive and the rush we get from the supportive feedback is indescribable. We’re trying to make ourselves and the platform better every day. I also get to work with my close friend, Stephen, who is probably the only person in the world that is unanimously more stubborn/hard-headed than I am – but he’s also a gregarious personality, the most meticulous worker I know, one of the best people I know, and like an older brother to me. The support we’ve gotten from friends, family, and the fantasy community means the world to me. I also want to give a quick shout-out to Kyle, our tech lead, for all his work, and for being the tie-breaking vote when Stephen and I disagree on something.

Well, that’ll wrap it up for the offseason, folks. Good luck in your auctions. Special thanks to Matt Papson for having such fun and coming strong for this article. Follow him on Twitter @RealitySportsMP and you can find me at @mattgoody2