2017 RSO Rookie Mock Draft v3.0

Updated: August 23rd 2017

This August update was the hardest mock I have done so far for RSO (including my first 2018 mock which is yet to be published).  It’s easy to fall into the trap of weighting preseason action too heavily so I tried to fight that urge as much as .  I’m sure you will disagree with a number of these picks and I’d like to hear about it @robertfcowper on Twitter.  Please note, I am writing this before the third week of preseason games which is typically when we see the most “realistic” preseason football and you’ll likely be reading it during or after those games.

1.01 – LEONARD FOURNETTE, RB, JAGUARS
1.02 – COREY DAVIS, WR, TITANS
1.03 – CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY, RB, PANTHERS

I’ve had Fournette and Davis as my 1.01 and 1.02, in that order, from the beginning and don’t plan to change them now. Fournette’s value may be negatively impacted by QB Blake Bortles if he continues to struggle like he has so far in the preseason and Davis’s injury hurts his immediate value slightly. Neither falls behind McCaffrey for me, but McCaffrey’s solid preseason work pushes him into a close third in my first tier. If you need a RB over WR, I wouldn’t fault you for getting caught up in the CMC hype at 1.02.

1.04 – DALVIN COOK, RB, VIKINGS
1.05 – JOE MIXON, RB, BENGALS

In addition to moving McCaffrey out of this tier, I decided to flip-flop Cook and Mixon. Mixon may end up with the more productive career over time but on RSO we are drafting for more immediate production as rookie contracts are only three or four years long. Cook has an easier route to RB1 touches with Latavius Murray in front of him rather than Mixon who has Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard to battle.

1.06 – ZAY JONES, WR, BILLS

I was high on Zay previously having him at 1.10 but since July his stock has risen due to personnel moves in Buffalo. Sammy Watkins was traded, Jordan Matthews was acquired and Anquan Boldin signed and promptly retired. Ultimately that’s a net positive for Jones. The Bills won’t be great, but neither was East Carolina.

1.07 – OJ HOWARD, TE, BUCS

Howard stays the course here at 1.07. I haven’t seen or heard anything that encourages me to move him up or down yet.  Don’t forget to grab Cameron Brate too because like most rookie TEs he will need time to develop.

1.08 – KAREEM HUNT, RB, CHIEFS
1.09 – D’ONTA FOREMAN, RB, TEXANS

Foreman has had better success so far during the preseason but I think Hunt has a higher ceiling for the near future. Even if Hunt can’t beat out Spencer Ware for the starting role, he will have value in the passing game. Foreman could see short yardage work so a line of 350 yards but 6-7 TDs wouldn’t be surprising. I originally put players like David Njoku and John Ross ahead these two because of their upside but I’m leaning more towards the sure thing as we get closer to the season.

1.10 – MIKE WILLIAMS, WR, CHARGERS

In true dynasty formats, Williams should not fall this far. However, in our RSO format, there’s a good chance you lose out on 20-30% of Williams’ rookie contract due to his current injuries. His ceiling is higher than that of Jones, Howard, Hunt and Foreman but his floor is lower.

2.01 – ALVIN KAMARA, RB, SAINTS

I’ve hated on Kamara a lot. It’s time to move him up my list though. So far this preseason he has just nine carries but they have been very productive. He has a 50 yard TD carry and 96 total yards; even if you remove the long carry, Kamara still averages 5.75 yards per carry on his other carries. He’ll also be a factor in the passing game, which like with Hunt, will allow him to offer some value as a rookie even with limited carries.

2.02 – DAVID NJOKU, TE, BROWNS

The bloom might be off the rose for Njoku. A report from a few weeks ago showed coach Hue Jackson’s frustration at Njoku’s hands. Plus he suffered an ankle injury in Monday’s game against the Giants (too soon as of this writing to know if it’s serious). He’s still an athletic freak with high upside so he’s worth a speculative pick at the top of the second.

2.03 – JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER, WR, STEELERS
2.04 – SAMAJE PERINE, RB, REDSKINS

JJSS has just one catch and one carry so far but battled a minor injury to start camp. Perine has 14 carries so far (plus one 29 yard catch). I have not heard any glowing camp reports about either guy so they are basically holding steady despite being on crowded depth charts.

2.05 – MITCHELL TRUBISKY, QB, BEARS
2.06 – PATRICK MAHOMES, QB, CHIEFS
2.07 – DESHAUN WATSON, QB, TEXANS

I’m hedging my bet by putting all three of these quarterbacks together at this point but I truly believe the value in RSO drafts is too good to pass up. To lock up these rising stars for three or four years on a cheap contract is just a huge advantage. Sure, the guy you take has to “hit” but that’s the case with all of these rookies. I am a huge Mahomes fan and am encouraged by his 73% completion percentage and 3 TDs so far but it’s hard to ignore how good Trubisky has looked too and he has a better chance of starting Week 1. Watson will likely win the starting job but I have not been a fan of his so I’d rather take Mahomes and wait.

2.08 – JOHN ROSS, WR, BENGALS
2.09 – EVAN ENGRAM, TE, GIANTS
2.10 – CURTIS SAMUEL, RB, PANTHERS

These three have fallen significantly in my eyes. Ross, no surprise, has been injured. 2.08 might be harsh for Ross but I won’t own any shares of him this season if I have to take him in the first. I’m still worried about Engram’s lack of size and whether he can earn enough snaps at WR behind OBJ, Marshall and Shepard (although recent injuries to those three could linger and open the door). Samuel is supposed to be a “jack of all trades” type but until I see him in action and that the Panther’s offense can support him and CMC, he’ll be a “master of none” for me.

3.01 – TAYWAN TAYLOR, WR, TITANS
3.02 – KENNY GOLLADAY, WR, LIONS
3.03 – COOPER KUPP, WR, RAMS
3.04 – CHRIS GODWIN, WR, BUCS
3.05 – DEDE WESTBROOK, WR, JAGUARS

This group of receivers was tough to sort and I made a number of changes before settling on this. Westbrook and Golladay join the mock based off the success they have had in limited action thus far this preaseason. Westbrook had a single catch for a 42 yard touchdown in his first game and followed that with 6-131. Golladay started strong with a 3-53-2 game against the Colts and fell to just one reception for six yards against the Jets. Westbrook has off-field concerns and is likely a terrible human being but if he can ignite a stagnant Jaguars offense he’ll get some looks. Golladay’s hype train is speeding out of the station with plenty of hangers-on but I’m not ready to push him that high in my rankings after four NFL receptions. The other three receivers were in my original mock: Taylor and Godwin down a few picks and Kupp moved up. I still believe in Taylor who has taken advantage of Corey Davis missing time in camp and in the preseason and has 7 for 97 yards; pushing the QBs higher means Taylor falls to the third through no fault of his own. Kupp has a 8-105-1 line through two games. Sammy Watkins coming to town kills any hope of Kupp being the lead target for Jared Goff but he should beat out Robert Woods, et al by midseason. I’m disappointed so far by Godwin who has caught just three of his six targets. I am still hopeful that all of the attention devoted to Mike Evans, DJax and OJ Howard mean Godwin will have sneaky production.

3.06 – MARLON MACK, RB, COLTS
3.07 – WAYNE GALLMAN, RB, GIANTS

Signing Christine Michael this offseason threw some cold water on my Mack ranking.  Why sign a journeyman like Michael to a crowded backfield after drafting Mack?  Michael ended up getting hurt and is out for the season, but Mack was banged up too and missed the start of the preseason. Frank Gore and Robert Turbin can carry the load to start the season so the Colts might take it slow with Mack. Encouragingly, he did have seven touches for 49 yards in his first game action. I’ve had a man crush on Gallman since I started researching the 2016 Clemson Tigers and I haven’t given it up yet, although I continue to drop Gallman down my mock draft (2.09 to 3.05 to 3.07). I don’t believe in Paul Perkins and I’m not sure the Giants do either since they have more draft capital invested in Gallman than Perkins.

3.08 – JAKE BUTT, TE, BRONCOS
3.09 – DESHONE KIZER, QB, BROWNS

The true value of these two players will come down to when they get on the field. I rank them here with the expectation that they will start a majority of the season for their teams. Butt would have been a first round NFL talent if he wasn’t injured – he’s good value here. This late in your rookie draft, Kizer represents good value too even if he’s just QB28 at the end of the season. I’d rather lock these guys up on cheap long-term contracts now before their value crests in my auction draft (if it’s announced that they will be starting Week 1) or in free agency (if they get on the field a little later).

3.10 – TARIK COHEN, RB, BEARS

Cohen has impressed in this first two weeks of the preseason. His size is worrisome (he’s just 5’6″ and 180lbs) but it hasn’t hindered him yet. Cohen leads rookie RBs in yards (181) and leads the Bears backs in attempts (18). His size will keep him from being a workhorse in the NFL but he will have a role. It’s interesting to note that the Bears invested a higher draft pick in Cohen (4th round) than Jordan Howard (5th), even after Howard’s great rookie season.


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

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

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

Early RSO Contracts: WRs

Updated: August 22nd 2017

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

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

Top Avoids

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

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

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

Best Values

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

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

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

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

 

Average RSO Wide Receiver Contracts

 


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

Early RSO Contracts: TEs

Updated: August 16th 2017

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

When they are Healthy…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of the Rest

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

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

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

Expect some Regression

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

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

Streamers and Matchup Plays

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

 

Average RSO Tight End Contracts


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

Early RSO Contracts: RBs

Updated: August 6th 2017

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

Top of the Market

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

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

The Rookies

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

An Important Tier Break

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

Top Buys

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

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

Top Avoids

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

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

 

Average RSO Running Back Contracts


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

The Watch List: Big 12 Preview

Updated: July 31st 2017

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

Players to Watch

  • Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State: Rudolph is the top QB prospect in the conference and likely has the most to gain from a good 2017 season.  His Heisman odds stand at 20:1 right now, tied for 5th highest; interestingly, fellow Big 12 QB Baker Mayfield is higher on that list but is seen as less of a pro prospect by most.  Rudolph has prototypical size at 6’5″ 230lbs and is a better runner than his 61 yard and 6 TD stat line would have you believe (don’t forget college rushing stats for QBs minus sack yardage; per Phil Steele’s stats he had 264 positive rushing yards in 2017).  In 2014, Coach Mike Gundy decided to remove Rudolph’s redshirt to have him start the last three games of the season.  In 2015 he was the starter and finished with 3,770 yards, 21 TDs and 9 INTs.  He improved on those stats in 2016 finishing with 4,091/28/4; other categories like completion percentage and yards per attempt increased slightly as well.  My main concerns after watching film of Rudolph against Oklahoma and Colorado last year are his accuracy and his ball security.  During the game against Oklahoma he fumbled one snap and dropped the ball during a zone read fake (he recovered both himself).  The rain may have exacerbated his handle of the ball but it’s not like he’ll never play in the rain in the NFL.  He also made a very poor decision on a quick out that was behind the back and nearly returned for a pick six; the play was a 1st down early in the 4th quarter when the Cowboys were down by 11 – there was absolutely no reason to take the chance and possibly lose any chance at a comeback.  During that game he had multiple bad throws, some underthrown and some overthrown.  Rudolph does throw the ball with some touch though.  Against Colorado in the Alamo Bowl, he had a nice touch pass from the opposite hash on a key 3rd & 9 in the 2nd quarter.  It was an NFL throw and shows the confidence that Rudolph has in himself.  As I mentioned above, Rudolph does have some rushing ability but I do not think that will translate into the NFL.  He is not quick and looks more like a statue in the pocket than a scrambler.  Against Oklahoma, I did count four designed runs for him, one of which was a TD, but none against Colorado.  I only noted one play combined in both games, where Rudolph bootlegged out of the pocket and threw on the run (not counting scrambles forced by the rush).  It was an inaccurate throw which leads me to believe that he and his coaching staff know that throwing on the run is not an attribute of his.  One thing that stood out while studying his stats were his game logs: in 22 of 29 career starts he has 250+ yards.  One last, cautionary, stat to point out: Rudolph’s red zone completion percentage last year was just 56.5% (compared to 62.7% for top QB prospect Sam Darnold and 70% for Mayfield).  He’s Phil Steele’s 3rd ranked QB for the 2018 draft, he’s WalterFootball.com’s 9th ranked QB and he’s DraftScout.com’s 1st ranked senior QB.  Ultimately I think that Rudolph will start the mock draft season as a late 1st round pick but will creep up into the 12-18 range come April 2018.  For RSO owners, you’re probably looking at an early third rounder in single QB leagues, maybe a round earlier in superflex.
  • James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State: I got a sneak peek of Washington while I was watching Mason Rudolph’s tape and I honestly was not that impressed.  I was hoping that further study of his stats and game logs would help but I just can’t get excited about him as a pro prospect yet.  Washington has contributed since he was a true freshman in 2014.  In 2016 he totaled 71 receptions, 1,380 yards and 10 TDs.  He was 2nd Team Big 12 in 2015 and 3rd Team All-American in 2016.  I watched tape of Washington from 2016 against Texas and Kansas State.  It’s clear pretty quickly that he is fast (I would guess 4.30 fast) and a great open field runner (quick feet, good juke moves).  He has good hands and catches the ball away from his body – as evidenced by a double-clutch catch on a screen against Kansas State, I’m not sure how he ended up with it and gained positive yardage from it.  Also against K State, he had a beautiful high-point touchdown catch on a post.  His separation speed against single coverage reminded me of Desean Jackson (who is significantly smaller than Washington; his closest recent combine comp is Torrey Smith).  All that sounds great but there were a few things that gave me pause.  The Cowboys offense features Washington on a lot of short routes, screens and shallow crosses which help pad his stats a bit.  In the two games’ worth of film I watched, there were just two plays I noted that Washington was a plus blocker.  On other plays he was either to the opposite side or just disinterested (in fairness, the person making his film reels may be leaving out blocking plays).  On a number of plays across the middle when Washington was victimized by QB Mason Rudolph’s inaccuracy, Washington had alligator arms.  Rather than going all-out for the catch, he pulled back and let the ball fall incomplete (or worse, he let it be intercepted as happened against Kansas State which was then returned for a touchdown).  In the game against Texas, Washington ended up leaving early due to a concussion.  Not a huge red flag since I bet most of the 2018 prospects will have at least one in their history but it’s certainly not a positive.  I think most analysts will be higher on Washington than I.  As of today, I would say he’s a second round RSO target.
  • Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State: Lazard is a senior and is looking to improve his counting stats for the fourth year in a row.  He shows a nice progression in receptions (45-56-69), yards (593-808-1,018), yards per catch (13.2-14.4-14.8) and TDs (3-6-7).  Lazard’s best attribute his his size: 6’5″ and 225lb.  Frequent Watch List readers will know I love to check combine comparables and Lazard has one of the best in Mike Evans.  I did not watch enough film of Lazard, just a mostly forgettable game against Oklahoma last year, to judge his concentration, hands or blocking ability.  Either way, I have him circled in my notebook and will keep an eye on him.  He was by far the best player on a bad Cyclones team the last two seasons (3-9 in both) so at least we know he’ll get the lion’s share of the targets in 2017.
  • Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma: This redshirt junior is massive. Like, unbelievably so at 6’8″ 340lb. He was Phil Steele’s #1 ranked OT prospect in his high school class and is still that now that he’s looking forward to the NFL. He decided to stay in school one more year despite being draft eligible for 2017 – not a chance he stays for his senior season. I’m no expert on offensive linemen technique but even in the few minutes of tape I watched I can see how dominant he can be. Don’t be surprised to see Brown atop NFL draft boards come the Spring.

Storylines to Watch

  • OU’s Experienced OL: The Sooners return the most offensive lineman career starts in the Big 12 (9th overall in the FBS). Experienced offensive lineman often translate into reliable offensive production which should help Baker Mayfield & Co. eclipse the 43.9 points per game that they put up last year. OT Orlando Brown is the clear leader of the bunch but they also have versatile OG Dru Samia Jr., who is Phil Steele’s 18th ranked draft eligible player at the position, and has starts at RG, LG and RT in his career. This group will buoy Baker Mayfield’s NFL draft stock and will help an inexperienced RB corps decimated by the departures of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.
  • Return to Relevance for Texas: New head coach Tom Herman comes into town hot off of two spectacular seasons at Houston. Herman managed to beat both Oklahoma and Louisville last year, both ranked 3rd in the nation at the time. If Herman can beat OU this year he will immediately endear himself to the Longhorn faithful. Herman had an impressive record at Houston (22-4, 3-0 vs Top 10, 6-0 vs Top 25) and with a larger recruiting base at Texas he should thrive if given time. The squad did lose their best offensive player in D’Onta Foreman but they return their top three receivers and sophomore QB Shane Buechle. As a true freshman, Buechle was solid enough to warrant some excitement this year under Herman (2,958 yards, 21 TDs and 11 INTs).
  • Baylor Under New Rhule: We all know that Baylor is a mess. I would not have been upset to see their program get the “death penalty” given how likely it is that the coaching staff and administration knew what was going on. Instead, the Bears are gearing up for another season and this one under Matt Rhule. Rhule’s resume is less impressive than Herman’s so I’m less bullish. Rhule is 28-23 in his career as a head coach but can hang his hat on back-to-back 10-4 seasons at Temple. If Rhule can win a game in the second half of the season, the Baylor fans should welcome the change with open arms (Baylor started 6-0 last year and finished 7-6 after a bowl win).

Games to Watch

  • September 16, Oklahoma State at Pitt: The 2016 version of this matchup ended up being a 45-38 shootout in which OKST prevailed. It’s the Cowboys toughest non-conference game and is in the middle of a stretch where three of four games are on the road. If OKST can come through unscathed, specifically against Pitt, they will be in good position to challenge Oklahoma for the title.
  • October 14, Oklahoma vs Texas: The Red River Rivalry is one of the best name-brand rivalries in college football. Despite Texas’ struggles in recent years, it is surprising to see how close it has been. In the past four years Oklahoma has come into the game ranked while Texas was unranked; they split the series 2-2. Texas coach Tom Herman will have a lot to prove and the Sooners will be looking to stay relevant in the conference championship race – this should be a good one.
  • November 4, Oklahoma at Oklahoma State: Over the last five years, Bedlam has been just that: the games average 73.6 total points. This matchup will likely be a conference championship game preview (new for 2017 for the Big 12) and that is likely the reason it is being played earlier in November than the usual late season date. If somehow both teams make it to Stillwater undefeated, I would bet that even the loser has an outside shot to factor into the College Football Playoff.

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

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

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

FA Expectancy: Robert Woods

Updated: July 31st 2017

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

Can Woods Be the #1 Option?

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

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

Fisher-less Rams

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

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

 

Addition by Subtraction

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