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.

Press Your Luck

Updated: September 4th 2016

When I was a kid, I used to love the Game Show Press Your Luck (Editor’s Note, this is my (Stephen’s) favorite game show of all-time). While I’m sure this makes it easy to guess my age, a young me loved the days on winter break or off from school when I was in front of a television with those hilarious whammies and contestants yelling, “Big Bucks! Big Bucks! STOP!” For those of you who have never seen the show, check out a link here.

While the Reality Sports Online Free Agent Auction offers way more substance than those sophomoric whammies, sometimes it becomes necessary to go against your initial instincts and press your luck to go all in on a player. What I mean by this is like the famous saying from the WWE’s Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase that “everyone has a price”, sometimes you have to go out of your comfort zone bid wise to get the player(s) that makes you the league favorite.

Today, with many of you yet to have your auctions before the season starts, I will outline how I employed that strategy in two writers/expert leagues the past few weeks and in what situations/scenarios you should consider making bold moves. I’m predicating all of these scenarios based on you having adequate cap space to carry out this strategy without overextending yourself. Of course, another good strategy that sometimes works is making trades pre-auction so you don’t have to pay market prices for players you covet if most of the best players are under contract.

Scenario #1) Only One or Two Elite Free Agent Options Available in Your League

This very scenario occurred for me in my numberFire and friends writers league a few weeks ago (I hate to call anything an “experts” league because to me there’s always someone who I don’t know who I feel is an awesome fantasy player and to this point, a non-writer won the league last year). I was coming into this 10 team, third-year league with a team that has not gotten in done in the playoffs the past two seasons in spite of a combined regular season record of 19-7 and being the highest scoring team in the league the past few years. In my mind, my starting receivers of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker were solid, but didn’t offer the upside to compete with the elite receiving options in the league. Most top receivers are concentrated on a few teams that in my opinion pose the biggest threats to me-ESPN’s Leo Howell’s team (Antonio Brown,Mike Evans, Allen Robinson), FantasyGuru.com’s Graham Barfield’s team (Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Alshon Jeffery) , and numberFire’s Tyler Buecher (Julio Jones, Brandin Cooks).

So, when I took inventory of this and found that Leo Howell would not be franchise tagging DeAndre Hopkins for a second straight year, I determined that my bidding strategy on Hopkins was to win him at all costs because it strengthens my position while weakening one of my chief competitors, one who has gone 24-2 the past two regular seasons.

My $91 million in cap space and the need really to only fill two flex positions in my starting lineup helped justify the massive expense on Hopkins, who by far was the best free agent available in this league and especially so at a position of need for me. So my pre-auction plan was to win Hopkins at any cost for four years-my pre-auction budget was around 4 years and between $140 million and $150 million total. However, Howell had plenty of cap space too and was targeting a return of Hopkins as well.

I ended up signing Hopkins to a 4 year, $171.5m deal which was the biggest contract I’ve seen in any of the three leagues I’m currently in. It sent some shock waves to the rest of the league (and a few Twitter followers) and honestly pushed my comfort zone somewhat because I do think Hopkins may experience some regression this season. However, it was definitely the right move for my team based on him being the premier option in the auction and fitting a team need.

Later in the auction players who are solid starters but not necessarily difference makers fetched big prices as a result of the Hopkins auction and teams being flush with cap space-for instance Randall Cobb received 3 years, $96.5 million and Jeremy Maclin signed for 4 years, $102 million. In essence, I may have set the market on receivers by my huge Hopkins bid and based on what happened afterwards, I’m happy that I added an elite option to my team that I hope puts me over the top.

Scenario #2) You Have Very Few Roster Spots Left

Especially in leagues where you have more than two rounds of rookie draft picks and carry roster sizes in the 20’s, by the time you get to a third-year auction, roster spots may not be plentiful when your auction rolls around. So, you might as well spend your cap space and get what you want, even if some of the pricing runs counter to what you are comfortable with. Sometimes that may involve you winning a player you don’t necessarily want via price enforcing, but more often than not, it will help you carry out a strategy.

For instance, RSO President and Founder Matt Papson and I got into a slight bidding war on Arian Foster, who he ended up signing for one year, $19.5 million. I’m sure that he was probably hoping to spend less, but he only had four roster spaces open coming into the auction for a team he took over and got value where he saw it. If Foster returns to previous year’s form, he fits well into Papson’s lineup (especially since he owns Jay Ajayi also).

But the key to me is that if Foster gets hurt again, Papson is still protected with only a one year deal. This is in and of itself a strategy-Papson is a chess-player and he may already be eyeing some of the 2017 free agents and his option value on Foster is huge. It also capitalized well on his bountiful cap space for very few roster spots.

While I’m advocating for spending your money in your auction, I’m not suggesting giving risky players multiple years on a big contract, however. Sometimes it is better to have the option value, even if the upside is lacking.

Scenario #3) Capitalizing on/Extending Championship Window

Let’s face it-not every team in your league is built to win for extended periods of time. You have to strike when the iron is hot. So if you’re only a flex player away from winning the whole freakin’ thing, go get your player and worry about the contract dollars on the back end later.

For me, furthering my example from #1, I arguably have the best and cheapest starting running back tandem in the league in picking Devonta Freeman and Todd Gurley in consecutive rookie drafts. Since I only have this combination again this season (before franchise tags kick in) for a combined $7.7 million, winning time is now (or worst case next year). Heading into that auction, I also had Rob Gronkowski for another two seasons (before franchise tags) for around $15 million a year.

Taking into account Hopkins and the contracts I have, I feel that adding Hopkins extended my window to contend another two years beyond this year and leverages my Gronk and running back core.

Scenario #4) Your League Employs Late Round QB Strategy

If any of you reading this are doing multiple fantasy leagues and not following my numberFire editor JJ Zachariason, he is really one of the true visionaries in fantasy football these days. Plus, he works incredibly hard, is an overall nice guy, and offers tons of strategy and podcasts in terms of how to stream positions like quarterbacks and tight ends.

While the RSO format with multi-year contracts makes it a little more difficult to “stream” QB’s than a redraft league, there are certainly leagues which devalue QB play in your auction market dynamics. My numberFire writers league is exactly that. I mean, prior to Hopkins coming up for auction, I had to sit idly by while Aaron Rodgers was signed by defending champion Rory Ryan on a 3 year, $11 million contract. That may be counter-intuitive to some of you, yet that’s the Late Round QB strategy in full effect and while I would’ve loved to hope in that Rodgers bidding, I had to stay in my swim lane in order to be able to get Hopkins.

Basically that school of thought says to pay in auctions for wide receivers and running backs as QB play is usually not that differentiated (this works differently in two QB leagues). Anyways, if your entire league or most of it employs Late Round QB dynamics (or you at least do), you’ll have tons of money to spend on other players and if you combine that with only a few elite options in free agency and having few roster spots left, you’ll start breaking the bank for guys like C.J. Anderson and Michael Floyd who went to Leo Howell for 3 years each at $88 million and $72 million respectively-not a bad combined use of the money that would have otherwise went to Hopkins.

Scenario #5) You’re Typically Conservative 

If you have been in a league for a few years or start your first year auction super conservative, sometimes you have to throw your opponents for a loop. Some of your leaguemates have certain owners typecasted on who will bid on which players and then you hit them with a surprise left. When they look at your roster and see your biggest contract is $15 million a year, they don’t think you’ll go big on someone like Jamaal Charles. And then you do and he helps you big time.

The key is mixing in risk in years when you need that extra push to contend vs. not overextending yourself with players who may be dead money in other years. Who is in the free agent pool certainly matters and so does using player’s ages, sample sizes and gut instincts when awarding multi-year contracts.


numberFire Writer’s League Likely 10 man starting lineups

So as I went all in for Hopkins, here are the likely 10 man starting lineups for each team. Curious what everyone’s thoughts are. The league is 0.5PPR and starts a QB, Two RB’s, Two WR’s, TE, DST, K, FLEX, FLEX

University of Phoenix Online (Brandon Gdula, numberFire) 

Dalton, Elliott, Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Jordan Matthews, Kelce, Broncos, Crosby, Ryan Mathews, Baldwin

The Quickie Martin (Sam Hauss, numberFire)

Mariota, Doug Martin, Lacy, Nelson, Maclin, Fleener, Panthers, Walsh, Duke Johnson, Delanie Walker

Hospitable Takeover (Matt Papson, President and Founder, Reality Sports Online)

Wilson, L. Murray, Ingram, Beckham Jr., Edelman, Maxx Williams, Bills, TBD, Foster, Langford

Team: Great Odin’s Raven (Dan Pizzuta, numberFire)

Newton, David Johnson, Yeldon, Cooper, Watkins, Olsen, Texans, Tucker, John Brown, Emmanuel Sanders

Team: gingersauce4u (Tyler Buecher, numberFire)

Fitzpatrick, DeAngelo Williams/Bell, McCoy, Julio Jones, Cooks, Reed, Eagles, Vinatieri, Marvin Jones, Desean Jackson

Team: SamHerbie (Sammy Light, Reality Sports Online)

Rivers, Peterson, Jeremy Hill, Landry, Hurns, Graham, Rams, McManus, Cobb, Hyde

Team: Cleveland’s Award Tour (Matt Goodwin, Reality Sports Online & numberFire)

Roethlisberger, Gurley, Freeman, Hopkins, Decker, Gronkowski, Seahawks, Catanzaro, Demaryius Thomas, Diggs

Team: Leo Howell (Leo Howell, ESPN)

Brees, Charles, C.J. Anderson, Antonio Brown, Allen Robinson, Ertz, Chiefs, Gostkowski, Evans, Floyd

Team: Funky Monks (Graham Barfield, FantasyGuru.com & Rotoworld)

Luck, Lamar Miller, Riddick, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Gates, Bengals, Hauschka, Jeffery, Fitzgerald

Team: Loss Aversion (Rory Ryan, Baylor University Law Professor)

Rodgers, Rawls, Gore, Hilton, Marshall, Bennett, Cardinals, Bailey, Golden Tate, Torrey Smith


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

Receiveland

Updated: July 7th 2016

In the Zone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Coby Fleener, Tight End, New Orleans Saints

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

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

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

3) Daniel Braverman, Wide Receiver, Chicago Bears

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.

Saying Goodbye To Being In Control

Updated: October 2nd 2015

Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (33) poses for a portrait during the NFLPA Rookie Premiere on Saturday, May 31, 2014 in Los Angeles. (Ric Tapia/AP Images for NFL Players Inc.)

Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (33) poses for a portrait during the NFLPA Rookie Premiere on Saturday, May 31, 2014 in Los Angeles. (Ric Tapia/AP Images for NFL Players Inc.)

I’ll start by saying that this article is particularly long. For those only interested in the football aspect of the article, you will want to scroll down to the #6 heading. For those of you who appreciate my writing style and want to see how a personal experience of mine has changed my fantasy football outlook, please read on.

This past weekend was one of the most difficult I’ve encountered on a personal level. And no, I’m not talking about fantasy football or my RSO leagues. Amidst a fairly hectic couple of weeks at work which took many turns while we landed on our most recent financial forecast, I got the news mid-last week that my Aunt Paula, who was battling Stage 4 cancer, was in home hospice.

To me, there was only one possibility for how I was going to spend my weekend — traveling to Southern California to support my parents and see my aunt and say my goodbyes, followed by traveling back home to my wife and young kids on one of my once-sacred fantasy football Sundays. I’d imagine that each of you has an Aunt Paula or an uncle like her; she played the role of the “cool aunt”– the one without kids of her own — to my younger brother and me. And she knocked it out of the park every time. She was the one who took us to countless baseball games (and two hour autograph sessions at team busses afterwards), the circus and many other events, all while she was in her 20’s and could have been living her own life. She was the one who provided innumerable life lessons to me and even explained to a younger version of me why a young woman was squatting outside of Cleveland Stadium before a Browns game (she only had to explain once, but this type of activity was commonplace for Browns games).

She is the reason I love numbers and statistics. She was a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), and later became a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in the healthcare industry. When partners of her CPA firm took her to Cleveland Indians games, somehow I was the one who got to tag along and then win sports trivia contests as a youngster against these shocked partners of her firm. While I followed in her footsteps and became a CPA too, I decided that I was more interested in finance and strategy. However, my love of sports statistics that she instilled in me has only grown stronger, and through Reality Sports Online I get to be at the pinnacle of these statistics and use them to help others and try to win my leagues.

I’m not gonna lie, seeing a once vibrant woman full of life be non-responsive and in significant pain was the toughest experience I’ve been through and I can only imagine what was going through her mind and body. And while I wish I had happier news to report, Aunt Paula succumbed to cancer early Monday morning. She will be missed dearly by our family and her friends and co-workers.

The past weekend taught me so many lessons that I can draw from going forward and some can even be applied to Reality Sports Online leagues and fantasy football in general as well. Family members and friends who are only reading this for the non-football strategy aspects, you can stop reading now.

1) My proudest fantasy football moment of the weekend was….

One of my Reality Sports Online Twitter followers and fellow Seattle-area resident (whom I haven’t met yet but look forward to catching some games with), was asking me advice about trades and starting lineup decisions on Saturday. I apologized to him for not being as responsive as I usually am and tried to offer advice, although I really was in no place to do it. He apologized for what I was going through and when I had some time to respond on Sunday I found a stat on Steve Smith’s recent success against the Bengals for him that changed my course and advice on who he should start at wideout (he’s loaded there) and Smith powered him to victory while John Brown sat on his bench.  To his opponent, “Ice up, son!”

I really enjoying helping others with their lineups and strategy and hope that my articles this offseason have helped others build a roadmap to winning their leagues.

2) Sometimes I’m no more of an expert than anyone else….

While I went 12-4 in my weekly picks last week, I was 6-10 the week prior. Further, heading into Monday night’s games, I was dead last (50/50) in the FantasyDraft RSO Expert contest.  I ended up finishing higher than this based on Randall Cobb’s big performance, some of the players I chose who exhibited a high floor actually had no floor (Tyler Eifert had zero points) in this weird Week 3 of fantasy football.

So know that for every pick I get right, there are other picks I get very wrong.

3) I’m still chasing my first RSO Championship, but this week was definitely a highlight….

After three weeks in two RSO leagues, I’m the highest scoring team in both leagues. I’m 3-0 in my writers league and 2-1 in my main league. In my main league, I scored 337 points, which approached approached a league record. See my lineup below:

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 2.50.29 PM

I’m doing all this without Arian Foster, who was my big free agency get. I paid more than I would’ve liked for him (2 years, $51.5 million), but the cliff fall of remaining running backs in our league auction thereafter was very steep. Since we only are required to start one in this league (myself and my co-commish thought long and hard about our league scoring system and roster composition based on the NFL being a “passing” league), it was important to get a running back with “go-off” potential.

Little did I know in this very weird Week 3 of fantasy football that Devonta Freeman would have one of the best debuts as a starter in fantasy football history, certainly worthy of the “go off” categorization. I did think that he’d be solid in PPR, but in the little football I did get to watch while shuttling between airports and airplanes, Freeman showed the ability to get his pads low and deliver punishment while consistently reaching the second level of the Dallas Cowboys defense. Color me impressed. While Freeman is definitely at his highest “sell-high” point, those who own Tevin Coleman should fear that the running back who went in the first round of many RSO rookie drafts will now be a platooner at best if Freeman stays healthy. In terms of Freeman’s rest of season outlook, he’s definitely in the Top 24 running back discussion.

4) Most importantly, I learned that being in control is “overrated”…

I wouldn’t call myself a control freak, but with my unique ability to recollect statistics, facts, etc. that I acquired from Aunt Paula, I have a hard time not being in control. This is probably the reason that I rarely have drunk myself into oblivion, because I’m not a fan of not being able to remember things.

For these same reasons, until this past weekend I felt that my fantasy teams, NCAA Tournament brackets, etc. performed better if I was watching. Basically that my watching could somehow “control” the outcome. Of course it is more fun to be able to watch your fantasy players perform, but sometimes that simply isn’t possible.

Before marriage and children, there would be no way that I would even deign to consider flying on a football Sunday. My Thanksgiving travel has consistently featured either Saturday or Monday returns (cheaper that way, too). With my aunt’s health taking a significant turn for the worse, I had no choice but to fly and say my goodbyes quickly and fly back home on a football Sunday. Of course with the Sunday Ticket Max and Wi-Fi, I figured I’d be no worse for wear on Sunday while traveling.

That’s where I was wrong. The Wi-Fi was weak in the first airport I was passing through and I couldn’t stream any games or the Red Zone Channel. I basically was able to watch the Falcons/Cowboys game until I boarded, which is why I was able to tell early on that Freeman was looking good before he blew up. Another surprising performer for me this week, Lance Dunbar (about time after two years of touting him in Scott Linehan’s offense) was someone else I was able to watch a bit as well and I think he has cemented himself as part of the offense, although the whole “game-script” logic applies to him. Start him in PPR leagues, but be careful otherwise.

Luckily, I was able to check my scores and see my teams were performing well while I wasn’t watching. That was a feeling I had never really experienced before for prolonged periods of time. So when I boarded my first flight from Ontario to Oakland (Southwest’s regional spoke system for sure), I quickly was delighted to learn Wi-Fi was available, but then quickly disappointed that the Wi-Fi (which I paid $8 for) didn’t let me stream the Sunday Ticket. I then decided to pay another $4 for Red Zone so I had other options besides Eagles/Jets and figured my second flight (a two hour flight from Oakland to Seattle) would have Wi-Fi and I had already paid for the whole day on the first flight.

From 30,000 feet I saw that Steve Smith was going off for me in my writers league (someone inexplicably dropped Mr. Ice Up, Son during the week) and that A.J. Green was wrecking the Ravens as he typically does (which was to my benefit in one league and to my detriment in another as I was facing him).

When I landed in Oakland, it was the end of the early games and I peeked at the TV from a Chili’s (I have a deeply irrational love for Chili’s and wish they had them closer to me in Seattle, which is very anti-chain restaurant) as my Browns were failing in a last-ditch effort against the Raiders. It was still nice to be clued in on the games that had fantasy impact.

As I was boarding the second flight, the Seahawks were pulling off the fake-punt return play the Rams pulled on them last season, except Richard Sherman doesn’t have Robert Brooks’ “breakaway speed” and got caught from behind. The Seahawks sputtered early against the Bears, which is becoming a theme (more on that in a bit) as I headed down the jetway to board my plane.

Then, something that would have previously sent my world in a spiral happened. I entered the doorway of the plane and didn’t see a Wi-Fi symbol. I asked the flight attendant if there was Wi-Fi on the flight. Her response was “No, this is a classic airplane,” and then in her Southwest-Airlines-flight-attendant-trying-to-be-funny mode quipped, “You’ll have to make friends with your neighbor.” I thought to myself, “I don’t want to make friends with my neighbor. My aunt is effing dying, I’m tired as you-know-what and ALL I want to do is watch the Seahawks game.” And by the way, I was flying from one of the most tech savvy areas (Bay Area) to another highly techie area (Seattle). Of all the routes not to have Wi-Fi, this was it?

Somehow I killed two hours listening to music (those who know me best know what was on the playlist) on my noise-cancelling headphones (there wouldn’t be any making friends with my neighbor on this flight, missy!) and there was a quiet calm for me as our plane landed. Quick aside — I don’t travel much, but highly advocate buying a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Simply put,they are amazing and for the times you do travel are so nice to have and can change your mood instantly.

What this weekend taught me is that I didn’t have to be in control of everything. I wasn’t going to get my aunt back to health, I was there to say goodbye and be helpful and supportive to my family. I wasn’t going to have control of my ability to watch my fantasy players, I just had to trust they’d perform well. As my weekends going forward will certainly fill up with family activities like apple picking, soccer games, and playdates, it certainly is nice to know that I can pick my spots and not obsess over every play, because I don’t truly control the outcome.

5) I also can’t control what other teams in my league do on the trade market….

Both my teams have a legitimate chance if my players stay relatively healthy to win my leagues. However, I can’t control if a non-contending team shops their best players to my main competition for development players and draft picks. This has already happened in my league, but I’m in the position that I’m playing well without Foster and if it ain’t broke, there is no reason to fix it right now. People in other leagues hopefully realize that too. As commish, a trade would have to be an overt demonstration of collusion for me or my co-commish to consider vetoing it.

Additionally, a word of advice. My main league takes advantage of RSO’s playoff bracket flexibility. Our top four records make the playoffs and are the top four seeds. The final two playoff spots are determined by total points scored. This basically gives everyone a shot at being in the playoff picture for an extended period of time in the season. It sometimes works to our detriment in that teams are hesitant to trade in season until the deadline because they think they are still alive for a playoff spot. I’d highly recommend an approach like this for the fun of your league and to keep teams incentivized to continue to play until the final snap.

6) It’s Time To Sell, Sell, Sell These Guys….

While I like the Broncos faith in C.J. Anderson’s ability to bounce back, the injuries, a porous offensive line, and lack of performance have me channeling my inner-Duke brothers from Trading Places. “Turn those machines back on and sell, sell, sell,” says Randolph Duke. You’ll need something in return for Anderson, so you may need to package some draft capital if Anderson’s salary and years are high. If you can’t get something of value without giving up the farm, you’ll just have to hold Anderson and hope he turns it around, but the signs point against that.

The Seattle Seahawks have a problem on offense. For starters, their line stinks. For that reason, and while the timing isn’t ideal, I wouldn’t be too excited about Marshawn Lynch’s rest of season prospects. I’ve watched enough Seahawks games in Russell Wilson’s tenure with them being the local market team. The problem the Seahawks have is not a lack of offensive weapons-it’s Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell’s play-calling.

Basically the Seahawks wait the entire first half of games to feel out the opponent’s defense. This means Wilson stays in the pocket, they throw bubble screens (having flashbacks of the Percy Harvin era) and wait for Lynch or the defense to make a play. Then after half they start hitting their stride. The problem is that doesn’t offer you as a fantasy owner a ton of upside. Wilson is my starting quarterback in my main league and fits my league (high completion percentage, good runner, doesn’t turn the ball over in a league that interceptions and fumbles are worth negative 5 points), but I can unequivocally say that on a one-year deal I’d rather have Carson Palmer at this point).

In terms of a sell-high guy, Keenan Allen fits the bill. He has tons of targets and has performed in two of three games. However, Antonio Gates returns soon, and quarterback Philip Rivers is notorious for starting quickly and then coming back down to earth. And Stevie Johnson isn’t going away anytime soon.

I’m leery on a bunch of highly-rated running backs from the offseason, but I think guys like Jeremy Hill turn it around. He’s in too good of an offense and is likely on a nice rookie deal for you. Be patient with him. The same can’t be said for Justin Forsett. He’s a classic example of someone with a small sample size and one good season causing offseason hysteria. If the Ravens continue to lose games, look for the team to give more run to their young running backs.

7) These Guys Are For Real….

I love Marcus Mariota’s poise in the pocket and his subtle fakes and shifts to get out of danger. He has some Aaron Rodgers like qualities. I’d be targeting him in the trade market on his rookie deal as your quarterback of the future and I like the Mariota-Kendall Wright connection for years to come. Get Wright now as someone who will outperform his contract based on his sure hands (he had zero drops in 2014) and Tennessee’s defense allowing lots of points meaning the team will be throwing often.

In terms of a right-now guy, Tyrod Taylor is the real deal. His ability to run and use his weapons makes him dangerous. He’s really the only piece of the Buffalo offense I have faith in right now. Plus anytime he blows up, you can say, “When the east is in the house, Ty, Ty-Rod (Danger)”. Bonus points to anyone who knows what I’m talking about here. At this point, you’d have to consider starting Taylor over quarterbacks like Ryan Tannehill, Drew Brees, and Wilson.

Not that you are doubting him, but Julian Edelman is really good at football. He’s super-consistent, gets tons of targets and plays in one of the best offenses in football. If you can get him on your team in a trade, make it happen and don’t trade him if you have him.

I love how Arizona is using Larry Fitzgerald as a slot receiver. His physical tools enable him to win balls against smaller slot corners and his 2015 fantasy value is more than intact. His 2016 is fully guaranteed in real life, so feel free to pursue him via trade if you like him as a medium term play. His numbers will have to come down, but based on his pace, 12 touchdowns this year is within reason if Palmer stays healthy and he’s being heavily targeted.

Well, that caps a very bittersweet week for me. I sincerely appreciate whatever eyeballs got all the way to the bottom of this and for Matt and Stephen giving me freedom in what I write. Feel free to reach out to me 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