FA Expectancy: Kyle Shanahan

Updated: July 23rd 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.

Kyle Shanahan – HC, San Francisco 49ers

I want to take a different approach to my FA Expectancy than I normally do and look at new 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan. More specifically, I want to see what type of coach he is and what his presence brings to the 49ers from an offensive standpoint. I also want to examine what his departure means for several high profile Falcons’ players.

A Team Saviour?

Shanahan began his coordinating career in Houston with the Texans from 2008 till 2010. His two seasons with the Texans he executed a balanced offense with 21 and 29 passing TDs to 16 and 13 rushing TDs respectively. In 2010 Shanahan was hired as the offensive coordinator underneath his recently unretired father, Mike, in Washington. For the first two seasons, they were a terrible offense. Led by Donovan McNabb (2010) and Rex Grossman (2011) they averaged only 18.5 points per game and failed to score 10 rushing TDs in either season. Then in 2012 Washington infamously traded for Robert Griffin III and the offense exploded around him and fellow rookie Alfred Morris. The Shanahan’s did an excellent job of keeping the offense simple and allowed both Griffin and Morris to control the game one the ground. The team finished with 22 rushing TDs (2nd overall) and averaged over 27 points per game, good for 4th overall.

Unfortunately, the offense took a step back in 2013 finishing average to below average in offensive statistics. This was likely due to the injury that Griffin suffered in the playoffs the season before as he became unable to execute the scramble drill that allowed the offense to make big, downfield plays. Both Kyle and his father were fired at the end of the season. Kyle became the offensive coordinator in Cleveland for the 2014 season and while awful in the passing game the team did have success running the ball, ranking 4th with 17 rushing TDs.

In 2015 Shanahan moved to join the newly hired Head Coach Dan Quinn in Atlanta. Quinn was the defensive coordinator of the Legion of Boom Seahawks that went to two Super Bowls and combining him with Shanahan was praised throughout the league. The team went through growing pains in their first season after starting off undefeated through the first month but failed to make the playoffs. Much like their record stated the offense was average with rankings of 21st in scoring, 23rd in passing and 13th in rushing. Then the offense exploded last season finishing top 3 in all three categories on their way to the team’s second Super Bowl appearance. The day after the Super Bowl Shanahan used his success to land the head coaching job in San Francisco, a team that was 27th in scoring in last season.

Having laid out his 8-year career as an offensive coordinator the below graphs show how Shanahan led offenses have done since 2008. For context, I have also listed the QB-WR-RB combo that led each team.

 

 

 

Kyle Shanahan Offensive Standings
YEAR Team SCORING S. RANK S. AVG PASSING P. RANK P. AVG RUSHING R. RANK R. AVG
2016 ATL 33.8 1 22.8 38 2T 24.6 20 3T 13.8
2015 ATL 21.2 21T 22.8 21 23T 26.3 13 13T 11.4
2014 CLE 18.7 27 22.6 12 32 25.2 17 4 11.9
2013 WAS 20.9 23 23.4 20 24 25.1 14 13T 12.8
2012 WAS 27.3 4 22.8 24 13T 23.7 22 2 12.5
2011 WAS 18 26 22.2 19 23 23.3 8 26 12.5
2010 WAS 18.9 25 22 21 22 23.5 9 24T 12.5
2009 HOU 24.3 10 21.5 29 5T 22.2 13 18 13.4
2008 HOU 22.9 17 22 21 13T 20.2 16 11T 14.9
AVG   22.9 17.1 22.5 22.8 17.4 23.8 14.7 12.7 12.9

 

Featured Starters
YEAR QB REC RB
2017 Brian Hoyer Pierre Garcon Carlos Hyde
2016 Matt Ryan Julio Jones Devonta Freeman
2015 Matt Ryan Julio Jones Devonta Freeman
2014 Brian Hoyer Andrew Hawkins Terrance West
2013 Robert Griffin III Pierre Garcon Alfred Morris
2012 Robert Griffin III Josh Morgan Alfred Morris
2011 Rex Grossman Jabar Gaffney Roy Helu
2010 Donovan McNabb Santana Moss Ryan Torain
2009 Matt Schaub Andre Johnson Steve Slaton
2008 Matt Schaub Andre Johnson Steve Slaton

 

Suffice to say that other than last year’s juggernaut Falcons and a magical season from a pair of rookies in 2013 his offenses have been pretty pedestrian. Matt Kelley of RotoUnderworld discussed how backward it is to assume that coaches who have had generational talents at a position are somehow going to make mid-tier to mediocre talent into fantasy stars. He even specifically talks about this infatuation with Kyle Shanahan and his Coach Klein-like advantage of motivating and play calling. If you want to listen to his full discuss you can find it here. Be warned that it does include some NSFW language.

What to Expect in San Francisco?

Football wise the 49ers were in complete shambles last season which is reflective in their two wins and 31st overall finish. Shanahan and new first-time General Manager John Lynch brought in veterans Brian Hoyer and Pierre Garcon, both of which Shanahan has worked with in the past, to have some stability in the passing game. I have already looked into the passing game in my Pierre Garcon article and discussed how Hoyer and Garcon can have appeal as low-cost options in 2017. Looking deeper into past seasons my 2017 prediction would be that the offense will fall somewhere between Shanahan’s 2013 Washington team and his 2014 Cleveland Browns. This would suggest that passing TDs would be hard to come by and therefore Garcon will need to rely heavily on collecting targets to hold WR3 value.

As we can see from above other than Matt Ryan the options at QB have been below average at best. This, along with the reputation his father had to turn any athlete with two legs into a 1,000-yard rusher, may be an indication as to why most Shanahan led offenses lean more heavily on the run. For those that are concerned that negative game script will force Shanahan to have to pass more frequently it has shown that even with mediocre teams Shanahan has always stuck with his running game. There is definitely fantasy appeal to having a Shanahan led backfield.

The question now becomes, “Who will be the primary back once the season opens”? They inherited Carlos Hyde who has been a workhorse back when healthy and also drafted Joe Williams in the 4th round. Apparently, Shanahan was adamant that the team take Williams for him to use in his offense. This has many thinking that Williams is the guy to own in San Francisco which has moved his rankings to the mid-second round in rookie drafts believing that his time will come sooner rather than later. But there has been news out of San Francisco that undrafted RB Matt Breida is looking better than Williams in practice and again Matt Kelley (in a separate discussion) mentioned back in May about how he was skeptical about Williams being ahead of Brieda on the depth chart come week 1. Have a listen here if you want the 3-minute conversation (again NSFW). Because of this for 2017 you want to stay the course with Carlos Hyde and try and acquire him from any panicky owners that don’t think he will return his usually RB2 value.

Will Atlanta suffer a Super hangover without Shanahan?

Other than Shanahan leaving the offense stays relatively the same. They still have Julio Jones who is top 3 of everybody’s receiver rankings. They still have Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman who make up one of the best 1-2 backfield combos in the league. And they still have Matt Ryan who is an ascending QB talent in the prime of his career. Regression probably is expected but that’s what happens when you have a record setting offense. Hopefully, not as bad as Cam Newton and Carolina last year but regression is expected nonetheless. Let’s be clear though that it won’t be because of Shanahan leaving. Remember that the team was middle of the road with Shanahan in his first season, statistically so we should expect the team to be somewhere between their mediocre 2015 season and their outstanding 2016 season.

If you are looking to acquire value from this team out of the previously mentioned players I would be trying to acquire Tevin Coleman. Devonta Freeman’s contract ends after this season and depending on what he is asking for it might be more economical if the Falcons let him go and draft another RB to pair with Coleman. This could open up the whole backfield in a strong offense to Coleman making his 2018 stock skyrocket. Worst case scenario Freeman signs a new contract and Coleman is in the same place he is now, a mid RB2 value in PPR leagues.

 

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? Send me a message on Twitter @naandrews19.

2017 Top 25s: WRs and TEs

Updated: July 16th 2017

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

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

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

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

 

Top 25 WRs for 2017

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

 

Top 25 TEs for 2017

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

My Recommendation

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

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


Bio: An avid fan of all things NFL, Dave has been playing fantasy football since 1999.  Though Dave participates in all types of fantasy football including redraft and daily, he prefers keeper and dynasty leagues as talent evaluation and scouting are integral components of each.  Follow him on Twitter @DaveSanders_RSO

2018 Player Rankings

Updated: August 7th 2016

You’re probably thinking, “Did I read that right? 2018 rankings?”  Yes, yes you did.  In dynasty leagues, we often project a player’s long-term upside by evaluating the perceived ceiling for that player.  But rarely do we give much thought to when that career year may occur.

When participating in a start-up draft or auction, I’ll typically target players that should have at least 3 production left or will enter their prime within the next 3 years  – call it my “Rule of 3”.  For example, I’ll rarely draft or bid on a running back over 30 years old like Adrian Peterson, but likely also won’t target a quarterback like Carson Wentz who may not even start in the NFL during his rookie year.

Having a three year plan in dynasty is as important as planning for the upcoming season. Having your team projected to finish .500 is not where you want to be.  If in contention, I’m always going to seek opportunities to buy.  If I realize by-mid season or before that a championship isn’t probable this year, I’ll reach out to each owner in my league and shop the players least likely to help me in future seasons.  Taking a small step back could result in your team take a huge step forward in the years to come. With all that said, let’s dive into my WAY TOO EARLY rankings for the 2018 season…

Quarterbacks

1) Andrew Luck
2) Russell Wilson
3) Cam Newton
4) Derek Carr
5) Aaron Rodgers
6) Jameis Winston
7) Marcus Mariota
8) Blake Bortles
9) Jared Goff
10) Matthew Stafford

*We’re seeing the dawn of a new era for the elite fantasy quarterbacks.  For plenty of years, we grew familiar with seeing Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees occupy the top tier of quarterbacks.  It’s now time for a similarly prolonged stretch for Luck, Wilson, and Newton.  Baring injury, I don’t see anyway these quarterbacks aren’t top 10 in 2018.

Running Backs

1) Ezekiel Elliott
2) Leonard Fournette
3) LeVeon Bell
4) Todd Gurley
5) David Johnson
6) Nick Chubb
7) Derrick Henry
8) Lamar Miller
9) Dalvin Cook
10) TJ Yeldon

*What is there not to like about Ezekiel Elliott?  He’s one of the best running back prospects to enter the league in a long time, plays behind the best offense line in football, and excels as a receiver and in pass blocking.  He should be a true three down back for an offense that will give him as much work as he can handle.  See, DeMarco Murray‘s workload in 2014.  Derrick Henry should take over for DeMarco Murray as the Titans‘ primary ball carrier in 2017, if not sooner.  He should immediately become a top 10 RB once given 250 carries in a season as a potential touchdown machine.  However, Henry won’t be too involved in the passing game and should be lowered slightly in rankings for PPR leagues.

Wide Receivers

1) Odell Beckham Jr.
2) DeAndre Hopkins
3) Amari Cooper
4) Sammy Watkins
5) Allen Robinson
6) Keenan Allen
7) Julio Jones
8) Mike Evans
9) Brandin Cooks
10) Donte Moncrief

*This group of wide receivers is special.  Pay what it takes to acquire any of them…you won’t regret it while they’re filling up the stat sheet for the next 5+ years.

Tight Ends

1) Rob Gronkowski
2) Jordan Reed
3) Tyler Eifert
4) Zach Ertz
5) Ladarius Green
6) Travis Kelce
7) Coby Fleener
8) Clive Walford
9) Hunter Henry
10) Austin Hooper

*It’s Gronk and everybody else.  I’m a huge fan of Jordan Reed who’s basically a 6’2″ wide receiver playing the tight end position, but his injury history scares me.  He could be #1 or #2 on this list or could just as easily fall completely outside of the top 10.

Let me know your thoughts on Twitter @DaveSanders_RSO!  Would love to hear who you think I am too high on or should have included in my Top 10s!

My next article will explore the likelihoods that rookie QBs, RBs, WRs, and TEs put together a top 10 season within their first 3 years in the NFL.  Look for that to drop later this month!

Bio: An avid fan of all things NFL, Dave has been playing fantasy football since 1999.  Though Dave participates in all types of fantasy football including redraft and daily, he prefers keeper and dynasty leagues as talent evaluation and scouting are integral components of each. 

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.

Do You Just Know?

Updated: May 2nd 2016

In the Zone

College Swagger

For the most part, I’m a fairly humble person. After all, that is the upbringing of most folks from the Midwest. However, my freshman year in college at Miami University, I had a resident advisor (let’s call him Chuck) that I disliked so much that out of standing up for myself turned me into a trash-talking a-hole, especially on the basketball court.

One night I was playing 3-on-3 hoops with some friends (and Chuck), and Chuck and I were matched up on each other. That night, I got the better of him for the most part and prior to a game I announced it would be my last as I had to head to study group. That seemed to tick Chuck off and he was yapping more than usual while guarding me the entire game.

It got to the point where we were a basket away from winning a close game and the ball got kicked out to me in the corner more than 20 feet out and way before Steph Curry was a known entity. As I squared up to assess my options, Chuck kept taunting me shouting, “be the hero, (Goody)”. I’m not sure but I think I even passed out of that situation initially only to find the ball back to me in the same place seconds later. The chatter ensued. Finally, I had enough of Chuck-I raised up, shot the ball and without looking immediately started running towards my backpack with my hand in the air (kind of like Larry Bird when finishing off a 3 point contest All-Star weekend).

By now, you know the outcome-why would I tell this story if the shot didn’t go in, right? Chuck charged me and wanted to fight because I shut him up again. The big question is “how did I know it was going in?”. The answer and tie-in to my article this week, is sometimes you “just know”.

There’s A Draft In Here…

I get the hype of the NFL Draft. It is the best process for a downtrodden team to make strides to turn things around and sometimes help a team get a missing piece to put them over the top to be Super Bowl Champions. The intrigue here is that players of all positions can be the cornerstone for a franchise, even those outside of the skill positions.

From a fantasy football perspective, it provides a new crop of players to fawn over, especially in dynasty leagues and even more so in a hyper-league format like Reality Sports Online. Pick the right rookies for three or four years on market-friendly deals and the thought is, you can write your own championship narrative.

No doubt folks who have recently drafted Odell Beckham, Jr. or Todd Gurley can attest to how prime talent at $6.0 million a year or less can take their RSO teams to new heights. That is why we as RSO owners get so hyped for the draft, other than the intuitive fact that it is the time when these rookies situations become more known (not from a depth chart perspective, but at least opportunity wise). Remember, even Beckham’s success wasn’t a given and his injury-riddled start cast some doubt initially and now he’s a Top 5 league contract.

In the right years like the 2014 wide receiver class, it eliminated some of the guess-work on the “just know” factor. While players like Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans have not knocked it out of the park the past two years, nobody doubted their talent at the top of rookie drafts (the just know factor), and they have been slight victims of opportunity from offenses that aren’t necessarily pass happy thus far, but the consensus is their outlooks are still very rosy.

2016 Is Not A Just Know Year

With customization across leagues, including those that have individual defensive players (IDP), the rookie draft each year may have a deeper talent pool. For those who are in more common leagues that have 20-25 player rosters and offensive skill positions and team defenses, not all first round rookie deals are owner-friendly, especially if you draft a guy that isn’t a “just know” player, so sometimes it is better to spread your money around in a smarter way.

I’m fairly active on Twitter and follow Dynasty trade tweets frequently. Lots of times you see studs getting traded for a bevy of rookie picks because certain owners fawn over rookie potential in search of the big score on hitting on picks, especially late-round cheap ones. To me, that strategy is fairly risky, especially in a year like this one that is not a “just know” one.

By way of example, let’s dig into Nick Andrews’ Pre-Draft Mock. Of Nick’s Top 12 picks, only Ezekiel Elliott flashes the potential to be an immediate fantasy star (I’d define this as being top 10 in fantasy points at his position for the upcoming few years) and the Cowboys taking him cements that behind their hulking offensive line and Scott Linehan’s affinity for passing to running backs. From an NFL perspective, it probably didn’t make sense for the Cowboys to go this route given the devaluation of the running back position; however, RSO owners don’t want to hear that noise and should take Elliott at 1.01 in all their rookie drafts. Other players may take at least a year to prove themselves (which isn’t a bad thing if you think of players like Devonta Freeman).

However, if you have a league which features three-year rookie deals, you almost need immediate contributors or to hit on your post round one rookie draft picks (which points to trading down to get more shots at this-the Moneyball strategy is being tested in Cleveland and certainly can be applied to your RSO rookie drafts). Let’s get into a few hypothetical situations that may mirror decisions you are facing when assessing your offseason trade or rookie draft strategy (assuming you have a bit of time to evaluate and aren’t doing your rookie draft next week before depth charts are being figured out with offseason workouts).

Hypotheticals-Would You Rather Have?

Established Player A: Golden Tate, WR, Detroit Lions-1.6 years remaining, $14.0m remaining contract

Rookie Player A: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Minnesota Vikings-1.02 mock, 4 years, $6.0-$7.6m average annual contract

These are the types of questions that really test the mettle of RSO owners. Tate is a solid PPR option who figures to get the ball more with Calvin Johnson retired, although he’s probably around the 24th best fantasy wide receiver for the next two years.

Treadwell fills a big need in Minnesota, and as one of the highest regarded receivers in the draft, those players typically often become the instant primary target for their teams. Treadwell’s rookie draft value will likely be derived in years 2-3 of his four-year deal and based on the GM’s confidence in his role on the Vikings offense, which has been a fantasy wasteland for receivers for a long time now.

I don’t get too hung up on 40 times like Treadwell’s 4.65 if the player has known game speed. Larry Fitzgerald ran a 4.63 and was fast enough to be able to watch himself leave Steelers defenders in the dust on the Jumbotron while heading to the end zone in his lone Super Bowl appearance. For me, based on Treadwell’s situation in Minnesota, I prefer the steady, if not spectacular Tate based on known production and his role as the number one receiver in the Detroit offense. Full disclaimer, I’d also prefer Cleveland’s first round pick Corey Coleman over Treadwell as well. I know the Browns offense is a mess (with or without Josh Gordon), but they will have to throw the ball and will work with Coleman’s skills to get him the ball in space. This screams heavy volume and potentially a role in the return game as well.

Established Player B: Matt RyanQB, Atlanta Falcons-1.6 years remaining, $17.0m remaining contract

Rookie Player B: Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams-2.11 mock, 4 years, $1.3-$1.6m average annual contract

I’m certainly not the first to compare these players, as Bleacher Report’s Mike Tanier did in this article. From a real football perspective, Goff is asked to be the savior of a team returning to Los Angeles and that will likely take time to do, especially given that the franchise has mortgaged in terms of future drafts to get their face of the franchise for the new era of Rams football. The Falcons quickly pivoted to get Ryan some weapons, something that the Rams don’t have the luxury of doing, so they either have to count on Brian Quick types to come out of nowhere or hit a home-run with late round picks in either the 2016 or 2017 NFL Draft.

That said, from a fantasy perspective in dynasty leagues where you are starting one quarterback across a 10-12 team typical format, even with Goff’s potential challenges of being the day-one starter in 2016, the RSO contract values and fantasy production seem to highlight that Goff’s upside and potential return as a second round rookie pick exceed Ryan’s market dynamics.

I love Goff’s presence and instincts (much like fellow Cal alum Aaron Rodgers) and think that he will break out in Year two even without a top wideout like Julio Jones, who Ryan has the luxury of having. At this point, Ryan still has weapons, but hasn’t proved to be worth more than a replacement/streaming quarterback in our format, and that isn’t worth paying out multi-millions and multi-years for.

So in this case, consider me a member of fellow writer Bob Cowper’s valuing rookie QB’s higher school of thought.

Established Player C: Danny Woodhead, RB, San Diego Chargers-1.0 years remaining, $3.5m remaining contract

Rookie Player C: C.J. Prosise, RB, Seattle Seahawks -1.09 mock, 4 years, $3.6-$4.5m average annual contract

Who better to compare to Woodhead than a former wideout who played running back at Notre Dame last year? In this case, Prosise is still somewhat of a work in progress and needs to better pass protect to see time on an NFL field. However, his route running ability and size are key assets in giving him the opportunity for significant playing time in the right system.

With the increased emphasis on the passing game in the NFL, Woodhead was surprisingly a top 10 fantasy running back last year in PPR leagues and Philip Rivers loves him. Can Prosise be the same at similar dollar values? Who would you take?

For me, this argument really boils down to where you can get Prosise in your rookie draft. Woodhead, while very productive is sometimes challenging to own in fantasy based on offensive game flow. No doubt will the Chargers continue to emphasize Melvin Gordon in the run game and his snaps ramped up on obvious passing downs as the season progressed. Woodhead is also a free agent in 2017 and will be fighting for targets with Keenan Allen returning from a season-ending injury and with newly-signed Travis Benjamin.

Prosise certainly has the ability to be a 50-60 catch guy with the quicks to be like another C.J. (Spiller). However, rookie draft owners making this pick hope that Prosise gets more playing time and utilization than Spiller. If the utilization is similar to Woodhead’s with some carries sprinkled in , it is a 50-50 proposition between Woodhead and Prosise at a pick around 1.09 in the rookie draft from a salary perspective that heavily skews towards Prosise if Thomas Rawls misses extended offseason time, as Rawls is far from cemented as an established fantasy entity. Anything past 1.09 heavily favors Prosise’s upside, especially in Round 2 or later.

Conclusion

Due to the lack of “just know” guys this year, the Moneyball strategy of trading down may benefit you. There are only a few players/situations right now that seem to be definitive, so sometimes the solid, if not flashy vet is a better option than the rookie draft pick. Last year, I traded my 1.08 pick for a year of T.Y. Hilton and I’d do it again with a contending team, in spite of some bad luck surrounding Hilton’s QB last year.

How your team stacks up against the competition and whether you are in contend/rebuild mode matters for your decisions, but the “just know” factor means a ton and dictates whether or not you move up or down in your rookie drafts or trade out of them completely.

As for Chuck, I still laugh about that game and think about the ball going through the net sight unseen.

My Top 5 Picks

If my rookie draft were this week based on the situations they are in and long-term upside, here’s who I’d select:

  1. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
  2. Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns
  3. Josh Doctson, WR, Washington Redskins
  4. Tyler Boyd, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
  5. C.J. Prosise, RB, Seattle Seahawks

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.

One is the Loneliest Number

Updated: April 17th 2016

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

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

Stacking the Deck

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

Position PPG 2015

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

2QB 4TD Contracts

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

2QB 6TD Contracts

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