FA Expectancy: Marshall & Decker

Updated: July 24th 2017

Throughout the offseason, I will be preparing a collection of articles that will focus on free agents and trade candidates. The articles will discuss the player in question, and what the move does to their value, as well as what their landing spot means for their new and old teams.

Like the Raiders of the 2000’s, the Jets might be the worst place for NFL talent to go this decade. Despite having career years in 2015 Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker were unable to propel the Jets back to playoffs for the first time since 2010. Then last year, an injury ended Decker’s season before October and Marshall’s stats came crashing back down due to the poor quarterback play of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith and Bryce Petty. Both receivers were released and the Jets are once again in rebuilding mode. Both players are over 30 years old now (Decker 30, Marshall 33) but still have fantasy value for the right price and while the Jets are expected to have an awful record they do have some interesting young receivers that could benefit from garbage time points and be savvy plays week to week.

Marshall to New York 2.0

It made sense that Brandon Marshall would want to stay in New York with his frequent appearances on Inside the NFL and luckily the Giants are trying to keep their playoff window open. Therefore, it was a mutually beneficial acquisition. The Giants are looking to build on their playoff appearance last year but needed more than just Odell Beckham Jr. to beat the Falcons, Packers, Seahawks, and Cowboys. Marshall is no stranger to playing in an offense that features a #1 and 1A receiver, though he’s usually been the first option so it will be interesting to see what his role will be as the #2. There shouldn’t be a decline in production from Odell’s standpoint and much like Mike Evans the addition of another passing option should help keep safeties from shading one side of the field. Expect another top 10 fantasy production season in 2017.

Probably the player that has been most affected by this addition is sophomore receiver Sterling Shepard who looked like he may be coming into his own during the final games of last season. While the Giants have been one of the more consistent teams to run 3 WR sets their WR3 the last two seasons has not been fantasy relevant scoring only 101 PPR points. Shepard may be one of the better buy-low candidates because of his long term upside but for RSO owners it would be difficult without there being an injury to Marshall. Because of the RSO rookie contract format, he was likely a 1st round rookie pick last year which means that he will be under contract for as long as Marshall is in town. He may have the opportunity to regain his WR2 role after 2 years but then he will be back in your auction in 2018 or 2019. If you think he will be a great receiver moving into the next decade or you do not trust Marshall to stay healthy he should be easy to acquire. It will also be unlikely that he asks for a large salary with the new resign feature so it would be possible to hold him for another 5-7 years. Otherwise, if you drafted him last year and you want to have value now it’s probably best to get at least a 2nd round return for him before he loses more value.

Eli Manning should benefit from having another weapon to get the ball to in the end zone as they lacked a running game to finish off drives last year. Marshall has been one of the better targets in the end zone having 8 or more touchdowns 4 out of the last 5 years. Any given week Manning has the upside to be a QB1 but often manages to disappoint owners in easy matchups and therefore can be a headache to start. There are several other QBs that would cost the same or slightly less (Taylor, Rivers, Stafford) that I would rather pick up in the auction. Let others be frustrated with the highs and lows a typical Eli season.

Decker’s Move to the Music City

Decker Titans

Much like Marshall’s ties to New York, it made sense that Eric Decker would move to Nashville to be closer to the country music scene where his wife, country singer Jessie James works. It probably also helped that the Titans are shaping up to be a pretty good team in the AFC South and could be the sleeper team to win the division this season.

There are two pressing questions that are holding down Decker’s fantasy value for owners in 2017. The first is his health and whether at 30 years old he will be able to continue to play at a high level coming off of shoulder and hip surgeries. Adam Schefter reported that he was medically cleared back in June and the Titans would have done their due diligence before signing him. Still, they only signed him to a one year deal which could suggest that he was brought in to see what’s left and act more as a mentor to their young receiving core of Corey Davis, Taywon Taylor, and Tajae Sharpe.

The second question is what Decker’s role will be in the “smashmouth” offense of Head Coach Mike Mularkey and whether Corey Davis/Rishard Matthews can be the primary receiver. When Decker was able to operate as the second option behind Demaryius Thomas (2012, 2013) and Brandon Marshall (2015) he was able to take advantage of the coverage and averaged 84 catches, 1100 yards and 12 touchdowns in those three seasons. His 2014 season with the Jets he had to function as the primary receiver and he only had 5 touchdowns and less than 1,000 yards. In an offense that has two powerful redzone RBs and another receiver (Matthews) that also operates as a redzone threat, it might be difficult for Decker to accumulate the scores that he has been known to do over the last 5 seasons. Luckily, no one should be drafting Decker to expect his 2012-2013 stats but his 2015 season (less a few touchdowns) could be a reasonable expectation. He presents WR2 upside so he should be a value in auctions between $4-8MM. Just don’t get carried away and offer more than 1 year as we don’t know what his situation will be this time next year.

Low Flying Jets

The Jets cleaned house after a 4-12 season letting go of several key players on both sides of the ball. The team is unlikely to have a lot of wins in 2017 but luckily for fantasy, there are always garbage points. With the top two options gone the depth chart is also wide open for a receiver to accumulate these points. Quincy Enunwa is thought to be the first choice for fantasy owners as he played the most snaps last year of the remaining receivers and he showed fantasy value for deeper leagues. He has the size and athleticism (6’2”, 225lbs) that you would want from an X receiver which is where most people think he fits best. Playing opposite to Marshall last season he didn’t have to face many double teams and blanket coverages which could be a problem if he is unable to win off the line or create space for himself. WR3 is probably a ceiling for Enunwa but he also has the highest floor of any Jet receivers. I acquired him in my first auction of the season for $14MM/4yr and he earned $17.5MM/3yr in my home league. I expect at least one owner in each league to value him in about this range. Depending on how late in your auction he is nominated he may go for even less.

For those who don’t want to spend the same money on Enunwa, you can add Robby Anderson who I also got at the end of the auction for $1MM. Anderson is the opposite of Enunwa, a lighter receiver (190lbs) that is likely going to be playing mostly out of the slot. Depending on whether the QB that wins the starting job likes to press the ball downfield or wants to throw short, underneath routes will likely determine whether Anderson has any fantasy value in 2017. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Jets games where Anderson gobbles up curl and drag route catches in the 4th quarter to turn 3 point games into 10 point games in PPR. Predicting these games will require a little bit of luck but for what is essentially a free player you can see what he has and then move on during the season if need be.


Make sure to continue to read more Free Agency Expectancy articles throughout the offseason to be prepared for your summer Auctions. Have a player that you want me to evaluate? Leave me a message on Twitter @naandrews19.

Stock Watch

Updated: October 6th 2016

With three weeks of football to use as a measuring stick trends are immerging and we can start to see who the real fantasy stars for 2016 might be. This is also the ideal time to talk trades since teams that are 0-3 might be ready to sell already and teams that are 3-0 might be more inclined to drop their picks on players for today. I am going to look at players to try and buy, or sell, based on how the community seems to be viewing their value. Players will fall into four categories: buy low, sell high, buy high and sell low. The first two seem rather obvious but “Buy High” and “Sell Low” seem counterintuitive. My logic is this, if a player has shown you enough to warrant the price then you should buy now before they are untouchable. Likewise, if a player seems to be trending down but still has brand value to his name it might be time to get something before they become nothing. Alright now that we have the definitions laid out let’s start some trade talks.

BUY LOW, Golden Tate

Golden TateGoodbye Calvin Johnson, hello…. Marvin Jones? When Megatron left the Motor City people immediately saw this as tremendous value for Golden Tate. Instead, Marvin Jones has dominated the Lions’ share of targets (pun intended) and is coming off of a 200-yard receiving performance in week 3. Still, the Lions have no workhorse in the running game and continue to throw the ball at a considerably high rate (120 attempts in 3 games). With games against Chicago, Washington, Jacksonville and New Orleans still on the schedule, I can see Tate being a great complimentary piece to have for the second half of the season.

BUY LOW, Cole Beasley

Cole BeasleyDak Prescott likes to check it down, A LOT! While both he and Tony Romo have used the running game to set up the pass, Romo would often try to push the ball deep downfield to Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams. Instead, Prescott prefers the death by a thousand papercuts approach which has greatly increased Beasley’s role this season. Playing a similar role to Julian Edelman in New England, Beasley looks like a lock to secure 4-7 passes coming across the field and on short curls and screens each game. His floor is much higher than most WR3s, and he’s still underutilized (started in <28% of leagues) in fantasy.  He is likely on just a one-year deal in most leagues, but depending on your situation at WR I could see him being available for just a low draft pick or an underperforming WR3.

SELL HIGH, Todd Gurley

I was originally going to write about LeGarette Blount here, but every other site has been writing up a storm about his dropping value once Tom Brady returns in week 5. Instead, I wanted to create some controversy by saying that you should be selling Todd Gurley. Yes, Gurley is considered to be one of the top dynasty assets today, and yes I know there is no concern about injuries or timeshares in Los Angeles. However, with coach Jeff Fisher signing a new three-year extension he appears to be content with putting out a mediocre roster week-after-week and season-after-season.  What are the chances that the offense becomes any more effective in the next year or two? Taking into account that the team has games against Carolina, New York Jets and Giants, New England, and Seattle still remaining this season I don’t see his opportunities getting much better in 2016. Many owners likely have Gurley on a low rookie contract for either two or three years which may make it hard for you to swallow moving him.  If however you are offered a 2017 1st and either another upstart RB or a sturdy WR you would likely have to seriously consider it.

SELL HIGH, Jets Skilled Players

NYJAfter a monster week 2 that saw the Jets have 3 touchdowns from Matt Forte and 100 yards for Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker week 3 saw the team turn the ball over 8(!) times against the Chiefs. Both receivers also came out of the game less than 100% healthy. These Jet players have currently enjoyed  strong value and could even be great ancillary pieces on a championship team this year. But with the workload that Forte has earned early this season, I find it hard to believe he will  stay healthy come playoff time. Same goes for the oft-injured Marshall who was already questionable coming into the game this past week. Their value will never be higher than it is currently, and you can probably move any of them for a late first or early second in the current market.

BUY HIGH, Mike Evans

 

Mike EvansRemember back in 2014 when it was debatable whether Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans should be the 1.01 in rookie drafts? A lot has changed in just two years and the values of these two have changed quite a bit. Evans has been stellar this season and has established a real connection with second-year quarterback Jameis Winston. His 17 targets in week 3 are mind blowing, and I don’t really see him slowing down anytime soon. It will cost you at least a first round pick to acquire him, but if you have a chance to acquire him this season he’s going to be great. Two matchups in the playoffs against the Saints make him worth every penny.

BUY HIGH, Stefon Diggs

 

Stefon DiggsLaquon who? Stefon Diggs has been a beast for the Vikings the first three weeks of 2016. With concerns about him being a Charles Johnson 2.0, his value was at best lukewarm during the offseason. Currently, he has 47% of the receiving yards in Minnesota’s pass attack. Norv Turner will likely continue to feed his best player. From his fast start to the season there won’t be too much concern about him being a bust, and many of his owners won’t be actively shopping Diggs now. Still, it’s every fantasy player’s duty to at least see what the asking price is, and if it’s reasonable he’s worth it.

SELL LOW, John Brown

 

John BrownDo not be fooled by the last two weeks’ stat line. Brown only played 57% of the team’s snaps and benefited greatly from Palmer throwing 50(!) passes in Buffalo. He then benefited again from a favorable game script that saw the Cardinals down for most of their week 4 game against LA. He still is playing behind Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd and has even seen Jaron Brown take away from his time on the field. With so many mouths to feed (including David Johnson out of the backfield) it will be difficult to rely week to week on Brown. If any team is hurting at their WR I would look to move him their way for any other WR3 at this point.

SELL LOW, Randall Cobb

 

Randall CobbJordy is back! Rodgers is moving the ball again, but Cobb is still lacking from what you would expect from a reliable WR2. PPR scores of 13, 9, and 4 are leaving a sour taste in fantasy owner’s mouths. Unless you purchased him recently, one would assume that he’s being paid pretty handsomely. He still has great name value and the offense he plays in offers the opportunity to have solid fantasy weeks. However, if I had the choice between Cobb and other receivers such as Jordan Matthews, Jeremy Maclin, Emmanuel Sanders or Doug Baldwin I would be moving him without looking back.

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.

Open the Wallet – Players to Buy

Updated: June 22nd 2016

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Top 5 Remaining Offseason ?s

Updated: June 7th 2016

In the Zone

As the offseason has progressed, there have been some storylines that have continued to linger and others that have been new developments. There are fantasy implications all abound for all of these questions. Here are my top five remaining questions (in no particular order) that will alter the mindset of how players in these situations are viewed. I’m not including Tom Brady’s four-game suspension because the Patriots will be able to game plan for it if it sticks.

1) Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Contract Situation

The New York Jets, according to Spotrac, have only $3.1 million of remaining cap space for its Top 51 players. That provides an interesting conundrum on bringing back Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is coming off a career season with 3,905 yards passing and 31 touchdowns against 15 interceptions.

These numbers far exceed prior contributions from the signal-caller, yet Fitzpatrick only completed 59.6% of his passes last season and had one 300 yard game while the team narrowly missed the playoffs. Fitzpatrick seems to be wanting $12 million a year, possibly on a one year deal, which doesn’t appease the Jets who want to spread out the salary over time for cap purposes.

While the Jets were clearly a better team last year with Fitzpatrick at the helm, how much of that is attributable to a solid ground game and more importantly, renaissance man Brandon Marshall? I’d say a lot. Even with bolstering its offensive line with the trade for left tackle Ryan Clady and the big free agent signing of versatile running back Matt Forte, giving the quarterback the most amount of talent he’s ever had around him by far.

Geno Smith hasn’t effectively been a game manager, but hasn’t really been given the opportunity since the unfortunate broken jaw incident that led to Fitzpatrick starting the season and catching fire. Smith is the starter in OTA’s in Fitzpatrick’s absence and is a free agent in 2017. It would behoove the Jets to see what they have in Smith this year, especially if Fitzpatrick continues to hold out for what he believes he deserves.

What does all this mean for fantasy football? Not much, really. Marshall and fellow wide receiver Eric Decker have performed well no matter who their quarterback is, even if they are showing solidarity for Fitzpatrick. I watched Fitzpatrick frequently miss connections with Decker plenty last season and Decker does have a 200 yard game on his resume with Smith as quarterback. Forte also performed well in Chicago, even at a greater clip without Jay Cutler.

That’s your main concern, unless you are a Jets fan. Let’s face it- you aren’t throwing eight figures at Fitz in your auction or are considering him as a QB2 for any of your leagues.

Conclusion: Proceed as you were. Nothing to see here, people.

2) Sammy Watkins’ Injured Foot

It certainly came out of left field last month when it was announced that third-year wide receiver Sammy Watkins had foot surgery in April. This is the same surgery that impacted Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, and Julian Edelman. The big question that fantasy owners are dying to know is whether Watkins will be back in time for the regular season.

From a Reality Sports Online perspective, and I’ve said this on the record on Twitter, this Watkins news makes his price that much more reasonable and I’d be in buy mode while he’s cheaper. There are a few buckets of owners of Watkins in leagues. First, you have those who have Watkins on a rookie deal, likely around $6.0 million a year currently. That is a steal for a potential top 10 fantasy wideout for the next two years. Those who entered leagues later may have a heftier price tag on Watkins, but if it is anything under $20 million a season, that could be value.

As for me, I traded my final contract year of Randall Cobb (1 year remaining, $17.4 million) for Watkins (2016: $6.4 million, 2017: $7.0 million) and Matthew Stafford (1 year remaining $14.0 million). Basically, while I like Cobb’s potential efficiency to increase this year with the return of Jordy Nelson, I think Watkins ceiling is massive and a cheap price. Stafford is likely a cheap trade or cap casualty as I have Russell Wilson as my starter on a cheaper deal, but that to me was a small price to pay to get a potential superstar (which no doubt Cobb has been as well at times).

The news on Watkins having a screw inserted and prior history with Bryant rushing back and a subsequent Edelman surgery are troubling, but the Bills know what they have in Watkins and won’t make him take unnecessary training camp reps to risk not being ready for the regular season. Even if he starts slowly the first two weeks, his back half of 2015 was dominant on a team that only threw the ball more than 30 times in half of the final eight games.

How dominant you ask-try 41 catches for 732 yards and 6 touchdowns in the final eight games, including four 100 yard games. In fact, in that stretch, when Watkins was targeted 10 or more times, his worst game was 5 catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. Further, that’s on a run-oriented team and the team didn’t bring much in the help department for quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the passing game.

Lastly, in the event I haven’t convinced you on Watkins yet, he’s got a potential fantasy playoff slate against Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Miami, all at home in Weeks 14-16 and the Raiders and Jags immediately prior.

Conclusion: Not concerned currently, but pay attention to the news. If you have Watkins, you’re probably holding him and expecting big things. If you have someone who is losing faith on him in your league, pounce on that, especially if the price is right.

3) The Josh Gordon Saga-Will It Continue?

By now you know the narrative about Josh Gordon. Incredibly talented, but can’t stay out of trouble. Those of you who still own him at an average of 1.7 remaining years and $9.3 million remaining contract are sincerely hoping Gordon can put his past (and Johnny Manziel) behind him to tear it up on the gridiron again.

That picture remains unclear, but there is some optimism that when August rolls around, Gordon can be clean and reinstated. The question then is what do the Browns do with him? He certainly would like nice in an all Baylor connection with Robert Griffin III and rookie #1 pick Corey Coleman (who I really like as a Top 3 rookie draft get), but at the same time Browns coach Hue Jackson is emphasizing character and the team is stockpiling Moneyball draft picks for the future.

Conclusion: Wait and see. If you have Gordon at an annual average of 1.7 years remaining and a little over $9.0 million left on his contract, just hope he hits the field, because if he does, he’ll produce anywhere. He still has top five wide receiver potential at close to bye week replacement pricing.

4) Is This the Year to Go Cheap at Quarterback?

Given the popularity of streaming quarterbacks in weekly redraft leagues and similar low dollar values in some daily games, a popular strategy that is now emerging in Reality Sports Online leagues is to spend as little as possible on your starting quarterback. The theory, as adopted by Reality Sports Online’s own Stephen Wendell with a quarterback like Derek Carr is simple: there are only 10-12 starting quarterbacks in each league, so don’t overpay for one while your budget can be used on positions that may require more cap space.

If any a year to adopt this strategy, 2016 seems like a prime one with quarterbacks like Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston in their second year of rookie deals which typically found them as late first or early second round picks in 2015. The same holds true for Carr and fellow third year quarterback Blake Bortles. Both third year signal-callers have plenty of weapons. Heck, even Andy Dalton was playing like a top five quarterback until he got injured last season.

With quarterbacks like Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, and Eli Manning always a possibility to produce, unless quarterback is a position that derives more value in your leagues, it might be smart to not go crazy trying to sign the Aaron Rodgers types for $25 million when one of these quarterbacks can be had for $5 million or less.

Conclusion: 2016 seems like the first RSO league year where the cheap quarterback may really derive an advantage. I’m a firm believer in prime signal callers in the fantasy playoffs, someone you are sure will produce solid numbers even on a bad day. But if you can load up at receiver and get the right running backs under contract, this strategy is an interesting one.

5) Arian Foster: Whose Fantasy Season is he Going to Screw Up?

It is somewhat insane that Arian Foster remains unsigned, but it seems like he wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s close to having a clean bill of health and there are definitely a few potentially needy teams still lurking. Foster likely is looking at a $3-4 million deal with some incentives that could be achieved if he’s healthy and performs well.

To me, the big question isn’t where Foster signs, but which current fantasy starter he’s going to destroy value for?

First off, if you are still holding Foster thinking he may be the same running back he was on Houston when healthy, please temper your expectations. He’s a very accomplished runner with excellent pass catching ability and a nose for the end zone. That’s where he holds the biggest value to teams. I don’t think teams are looking at him to be their bell-cow at this point in virtually any scenario.

I’d expect him to sign with the Miami Dolphins and if he does, Jay Ajayi owners will not be happy. Washington remains a good possibility and they’ve built up a pretty nice offense at this point. Put Foster in a committee and give him pass catching and goal-line responsibilities and he’ll have almost as much fantasy value on efficiency and fresh legs than he did as the featured back on the Texans. I personally don’t buy the New England hype-Dion Lewis is younger, coming off an easier injury to recover from, and under a fairly good contract.

Conclusion: If you haven’t cut Foster yet, hang on and see where this next month takes him. I wouldn’t overpay for him as a handcuff, but I’ve come around on him if he’s in a good situation and used well (10-12 touches a game), he could have Danny Woodhead like PPR fantasy value. If you are holding Ajayi or were hoping that Matt Jones was about to break out this year, get nervous, but wait to see what happens.


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

Ups and Downs of the RSO Playoffs

Updated: December 24th 2015

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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.