League Contract Settings

Updated: July 23rd 2017

As we round the final turn heading into training camp, let’s get into the final segment of the League Settings article series.  If case you’ve missed them, the first two articles focused on League Scoring Settings and League Configuration and Settings. As Alec Baldwin emphatically states in my favorite movie, Glengarry Glen Ross in reference to executing contracts, “there’s only one thing that matters: get them to sign on the line that is DOTTED!”.

The Reality Sports Online platform is unlike any other with respect to contracts. The Free Agent Auction Room and the online rookie draft allow for all sorts of both fixed priced contracts (rookie wage scale) and dynamic market-priced deals (free agent auction). Therefore, when a commissioner is creating or tweaking contract settings in their league, there are a myriad of things to consider so let’s dive in head-first.

1) Don’t Go Too Crazy With Long Term Contracts

I know, I know. You joined this platform because you actually wanted to use your brain. All the other keeper leagues feature roster keeper decisions that anyone can make. Keep Mike Evans for another year? Sure, can I have more steak with that? The RSO element of a league or commissioner-elected quantity of multi-year contracts enables maximum strategy on how you prioritize who gets long-term deals and manage yearly salary cap space.

Each year, you get the same allotment of contracts elected by your league (I know this is a question I get from newbies all the time so I wanted to address this). However, post-auction you can make any type of roster moves and trades to acquire whatever long-term or short-term talent you want as long as you have the cap space and roster slots to do it. If you want your team to consist of all four-year contract players, it may be difficult to amass, but it can happen.

When folks join a league like this, the inkling is to keep your studs in perpetuity. Talent and value constantly change, and making a multi-year contract mistake in your first year is crippling. My inaugural year had teams splurge on Trent Richardson and C.J. Spiller. It took a lot to get out from under those deals.

As a result, my recommendation is to start your league with the following contract allotment: 4 year contracts: one, 3 year contracts: two, 2 year contracts: three. The good part of this approach is it focuses your four year deal on someone you really value or the possibility of hitting a developmental home run at a cheaper price.

One year deals can be incredibly value in RSO leagues, assuming you strategize them well. For instance, in last year’s RSO Superflex writers league, I picked up Melvin Gordon on a one year, $8.0 million deal coming off an injury. I loved his talent and figured that his zero touchdowns scored in his rookie season was an anomaly. I was right, and now I have used my franchise tag on Gordon for the upcoming season for one year, $20.3 million.

I personally like using at least one of my two year deals on a quarterback and tend to like wide receivers for long term deals. It is rare for me to give a running back more than two years, based on how frequently that position changes and the short life span of most high-end backs.

2) Have A Two or Three Round Rookie Draft; Have Them Offline

If you’ve read some of our offseason pieces, the rookie draft has been a huge focus. I love the fixed price of rookies, especially at the top of the second round where the contract costs drop precipitously. To keep the rookie pool from getting diluted (like in a five round rookie draft), I recommend having two to three rounds of rookie drafts for most leagues that have 10 to 12 teams. That way there are a few coveted rookies who spill into the auction (think Jay Ajayi two years ago), but enough talent to not have rookies get dropped from rosters for weekly moves.

In terms of having the rookie draft offline, this is a mindset shift for me after having our writers league draft over email this year. I was astonished by how many trades occurred and how efficiently we could still pick rookies. I adhere to the more strategy the better, so I loved all the trade activity that occurred in the rookie draft.

Rookies remain incredibly valuable, especially if you can hit on your draft picks. Those who don’t like rookies can maximize their value by trading these picks for prime assets either at the trade deadline, throughout the offseason, etc.

3) The New Normal: In-season Contract Extensions

In April, Reality Sports Online released details on in-season contract extensions here. In general, I’m a fan of this as it adds another element of strategy to the league. However, I would recommend that owners proceed with caution on banking on in-season extensions or making trades with limited knowledge of how this will work in practice (it is all theory now) this offseason.

For starters, I would recommend that all leagues vote on how many in-season extensions they want to adopt each season (and potentially revisit this decision after the first year of this feature). My main league voted on one extension for transparency purposes with the thought being that we love the auction and want the player pool to be as deep as possible in the auction, but still allowing the opportunity to exercise the in-season extension for one key player per team.

One thing is obvious from all the guidance in Kyle’s release and my interactions with Stephen and Matt on the in-season extension. Players will not be taking pay cuts. So if you franchised tagged a player last season and the breakout season never came, that salary still serves as the base for a potential extension in season. These will be difficult decisions to make.

Further, until you see what the algorithm spits out in Weeks 4 through 13 of the 2017 season, it is a totally crapshoot. Especially with the famed rookie class featuring Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks, and Sammy Watkins. Those rookies have a low base salary by virtue of the rookie wage scale but figure to jump to what they’d command in the auction if they were free agents on the in-season extension market. For instance, I paid 4 years, $169 million for OBJ in an auction last summer.

Both historic player performance and current year performance will factor into player salaries as well, so you really would be making a decision with imperfect information if you were basing 2017 offseason moves (including franchise tagging a player in hopes of extending them next summer) or trading for a player who could be extended.

4) An Outside-the-Box Thought

As you all know, I’m a huge fan of RSO and it is currently the only league platform I play on. That said, there are inherent limitations of any start-up which has to weigh the costs and benefits of making platform changes. For me, one sticking point is the fact that any player thrown out by an owner in an auction has to be thrown out at a minimum bid. Often towards the end of the auction, there’s a developmental type player I have my eye on and unless someone else throws that player out or I do and ensure that someone else bids on that player, the player I’m targeting may end up on my team as a one-year guy, which wasn’t my intent.

As a result and based on a conversation I had with Stephen this offseason, our league has adopted an off-platform workaround to that issue. Basically, every team in our league has the ability to convert a 1 year, $500k minimum contract to a multi-year contract of the length of their choice (two, three, or four years) within 24 hours of the auction by notifying the commissioner in writing. The commissioner would then have to use the edit contracts feature to alter the contract length. The intent would be for this player to be of the devy type, so ideally defenses and kickers would be excluded but your league could decide on that as you see fit.

By implementing this option, your league would be adding another layer of strategy without impacting the overall contract allotment that you have elected for your auctions.

5) Franchise Tags

The franchise tag is a super-valuable strategic piece that has been in RSO leagues since inception. Basically any expiring player can be extended for the higher of 120% of current year salary or the Top 5 positional average of your league for players under contract.

Since the salary of these players can get fairly high, I recommend that each league allows one franchise tag per team. A player can be franchise tagged and traded if the “Finalize Franchise Tag” button is selected in the offseason.

I personally have used my tag before and it typically pays off if you signed an oft-injured player who produced on his deal. For instance, I turned a two year, $26 million deal for Rob Gronkowski from our inaugural year into to franchise tags at 120% raises. Gronk is now out of franchise tags and will return to the player pool this offseason.

Positionally, depending on your league, there are some leagues where significant value can be found in using the franchise tag for positions like quarterbacks (those late round QB types), tight ends and DSTs. Wide receivers and running backs typically command a prettier penny.

6) Trades/Waivers

I think trades and waivers are fairly standard in RSO leagues. For trades, we let our commissioner review and make the decision. In a format like this, almost every deal has some form of long-term strategy, so something would have to be egregious or somehow demonstrate collusion (which frankly is super rare) for a deal to get rejected. To ensure that teams that are trading draft picks are invested long-term in our league, we make teams trading future year picks kick in at least 50% of next year’s league dues upon trade execution.

In terms of waivers, the FAAB system prevails for one year players. It is fairly standard.

 


Matt Goodwin is entering his fourth season as a writer for Reality Sports Online and is in year five of his main league. He also contributed for numberFire for several years. He is an avid sports fan from Cleveland, Ohio who would count a Cleveland Indians World Series victory a close second behind getting married to his wife Renee and the births of his children, Jory (7 year old son) and Lainie (2 year 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.

2017 Top 25s: QBs and RBs

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!

In part 1 of my 2017 Top 25s, I’ll explore the quarterback and running back positions:

 

Top 25 QBs for 2017

Aaron Rodgers is in a tier of his own, making him an elite asset in Superflex and 2QB leagues. Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo are two of the most intriguing names on this list. Over the next few months, we should find out where they’ll play in 2017. If either lands in Denver or Houston, expect their values to rise even higher up this list.

Top 25 RBs for 2017

Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, and David Johnson form the elite trio of RBs that should command the highest AAV (average annual value) of any players in free agency auctions. Rookies Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette could be RB1s in the right situation. Coming off major injuries, veteran RBs Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson just missed the top 25. If they appear healthy as the season approaches and have promised roles, both could be underrated RB2s that will be undervalued in many free agency auctions.

My recommendation

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

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


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

Most Frequently Franchised in ’16

Updated: October 17th 2016

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

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

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

Make an Offer for a Top TE

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

Antonio Brown May Be Available in 2017

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

Don’t Franchise Tag Jordan Howard!

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

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

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

Most Frequently Franchised in '16

Updated: October 13th 2016

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

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

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

Make an Offer for a Top TE

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

Antonio Brown May Be Available in 2017

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

Don’t Franchise Tag Jordan Howard!

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

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

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

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.

What's a Rookie Draft Pick Worth?

Updated: July 10th 2015

melvin-gordon-wisconsin-nebraska-tri

I love mid 90’s hip-hop. Admittedly, this does date me a little bit. From groups like A Tribe Called QuestDe La Soul, and The Roots to artists like Nas and Ice Cube, I sometimes long for hip-hop to return to the witty lyrics that drew me to it. In that timeframe, many rappers seemed to have at least one lyric in their repertoire about “Making a dollar out of fifteen cents”.

After much thought and seeing several rookie draft trades for Reality Sports Online leagues being tweeted on Twitter and a few in my own leagues, I’m after the holy grail of figuring out what a rookie draft pick is worth, trying to turn my fifteen cents into a dollar. I think the answer really is “it depends”. However, let’s dig deeper as the value of rookie draft picks really depends on your team situation and some other pivotal factors.

1. Your Team Situation Means Everything to How You Value Rookie Draft Picks

For those owners who are sitting at the top of their rookie drafts (top three picks) either due to trades or a season that didn’t go as planned last year, these high draft picks are invaluable. Basically it is your way of choosing your groceries in a setting where nobody else gets a crack at these guys. On the contrary, in the Free Agent Auction, the only thing precluding a team from bidding on certain players is cap space.

If you are sitting atop this perch heading into your 2015 Rookie Draft, guys like Amari Cooper, Melvin Gordon, and Todd Gurley should be atop your lists. If you are luke-warm on players like this, certainly don’t act that way. You want to hit a home run at the top of your rookie draft and get a star on a 3 or 4 year deal on the cheap that is the foundation for your future success. Aren’t convinced that you can trust Cooper on the Raiders or that Gurley will contribute this season? Move the pick then, but don’t undersell (more on this later).

If you are sitting towards the back of the rookie draft because your team is potentially a Top 3 team in a 12 team league, unless there is a player you are super high on that you believe will make an impact this year (most important factor as championship windows don’t last long in leagues like this) and going forward, consider moving your pick to a team you don’t expect to contend. This may yield a player that will help you this season in your quest to let your championship flag fly forever. Think of a scenario like this one: what if someone offered you Keenan Allen with two years remaining at $8.0m a year for Rookie Pick 1.10. I’d take Allen in a heartbeat in this scenario as a contender, especially in a PPR league.

Another idea if you are a top 3 team in expected league standings (not top 3 draft pick owner) is to package your 2015 1st rounder and your 2016 1st rounder (assuming you are confident you’ll finish high) to a team in rebuilding mode for one of their stud players. Yes, you may be sacrificing the future a bit, but if you are getting another star on a fairly-priced market deal, it is worth taking the bird in the hand for two draft picks that are essentially worse than 50-50 probability of those back of the first round rookies panning out. Think about it-if you can have someone like Antonio Brown with two years left at $18 million a year approximately and what you had to give up was 1.09 this year, 1.12 next year (let’s assume you win the championship) and Brandon Marshall, you shouldn’t blink twice on this.

Essentially the draft pick this year, according to our own Bo Wulf’s RSO Rookie Draft Rankings, is someone like DeVante Parker. While Parker has potential, he is not a sure-fire superstar like Brown is. For more visibility into the Average Draft Position of the Reality Sports Online Rookie Draft from 2014 and currently through 2015, please see the tables following the next paragraph.

Of course, don’t send this package for someone who isn’t worth it, or who constrains your ability to spend cap space in the auction. Say this same deal is available for Julio Jones, who just happens to cost $25 million a year. Then you’ll have to think more about it, realizing though that you are clearing some cap space by virtue of trading your first rounders as well.

AvgPick FirstName LastName Pos ProTeam
2.28 Sammy Watkins WR BUF
3.16 Mike Evans WR TB
4.66 Bishop Sankey RB TEN
5.67 Brandin Cooks WR NO
6.44 Johnny Manziel QB CLE
7.04 Eric Ebron TE DET
8.45 Carlos Hyde RB SF
9.42 Odell Beckham Jr. WR NYG
10.58 Kelvin Benjamin WR CAR
12.57 Teddy Bridgewater QB MIN
12.70 Marqise Lee WR JAC
13.73 Jordan Matthews WR PHI

And now for the 2015 Rookie Average Draft Position through July 7, 2015:

AvgPick FirstName LastName Pos ProTeam
1.31 Todd Gurley RB STL
2.33 Amari Cooper WR OAK
3.37 Kevin White WR CHI
3.89 Melvin Gordon RB SD
6.17 DeVante Parker WR MIA
6.99 Nelson Agholor WR PHI
8.33 Breshad Perriman WR BAL
8.58 Tevin Coleman RB ATL
8.63 T.J. Yeldon RB JAC
10.50 Dorial Green-Beckham WR TEN
10.64 Ameer Abdullah RB DET
12.86 Jameis Winston QB TB

What you should notice from both years is that the top four picks from each year essentially comprise a tier. I’d agree with how the 2015 tier has been slated thus far as those four players were the highest WRs and RBs taken, which are the most valuable positions in a league like this for rookies.

Beyond that first tier, the remainder of the round is filled with running backs who have training camp battles to win significant playing time, wide receivers who figure to be at best the second option on their teams this season, and guys like Green-Beckham and Jameis Winston who have character concerns.

So, if you are picking past pick four (which may have worked well in 2014 as you can see), you may want to either trade up, trade down, or pay attention to some other strategies noted in this article.

2. Packaging A High Rookie Draft Pick is the Perfect Way to Dump a High Salary on Someone Else

In the third year of Doug Martin on a huge deal and having buyer’s remorse? Probability is that your team may also own a top three pick too based on the lack of cap flexibility you may have by owning Martin and frankly how disappointing the player you once viewed as your lynchpin has been. If this is you, move your high rookie pick and Doug Martin to another rebuilding team or interested party. Try to get something in return for it, but know that you can also make this deal now in Reality Sports Online leagues for nothing in return. Yes, the beauty of a league like this is that cap space is an asset, and a huge one at that.

So in other words, congrats, you just saved yourself $30 million to spend in your upcoming auction. Yes, you lost out on a rookie draft pick that might turn into a stud and dumping Martin for essentially no player in return is admitting a mistake you made a few years ago (don’t worry you’ll get over it quickly). However, a star free-agent is already proven so you are paying for certainty here.

3. How Many Years Are Your Rookie Deals?

I’m in two separate Reality Sports Online leagues and one has 4 year rookie deals and the other has 3 year rookie deals (my writer’s league). In the writer’s league last season, I picked Carlos Hyde in our Year 1 Rookie Draft at 1.06 of a 10 team league. While I was pretty sure Hyde would be the guy in San Francisco last season, I moved him at the trade deadline last year for C.J. Anderson and what turned into 1.01 of the 2015 Rookie Draft. The point is, I had already lost a season of Hyde not being productive and with only two seasons to go of Hyde, I decided that my mentality is way different in my league where rookie deals are 3 years instead of 4. This is all part of building your rookie draft strategy based on your league dynamics.

In the 3 year rookie drafts, I encourage you to trade up if there is a player you like and get the guy you think is going to contribute from the get go. In 4 year rookie drafts, you can be a little more patient. So while I love a guy like Gurley as perhaps the next Marshawn Lynch, I want the clean bill of health before the season if I’m picking him in the top three because my team is in contention now and I can’t afford to wait until the midseason to contribute if the Rams bring him along slowly from his ACL injury.

This also means that is you are in the middle of the first round in a 10 or 12 team league, trading down may yield a player that is the same as the guess you would be making with that pick. Basically, not everyone is going to be this year’s Jeremy Hill.

4. Pick 2.01 is the Best Pick in the Rookie Draft and it Isn’t Close

Unless you are in a massively sized league, the first pick of the second round is the best value in the rookie draft and it isn’t close. Since the Reality Sports Online rookie draft is based on the NFL wage scale, you are getting millions of dollars of discount from the end of the first round to the beginning of the second in a traditional 10 to 12 team league. In a 10 team league the 2015 salary in a 4 year rookie deal league for pick 2.01 is $1.3 million compared to 1.10’s value of $3.2 million and that differential basically extends for another three years.

So the thought is once the known rookie starters are gone, you are taking a chance on your pick anyways. Essentially you are then treating these rookies as commodities, and a guy like Duke Johnson isn’t materially different to you than Ameer Abdullah. The difference is Johnson can totally flame out at $1.3 million a year and you’d live with it much easier than if Abdullah busted at $3.2 million. Basically, buy low at 2.01. Those who did that with a player like Allen Robinson in the 2014 Rookie Draft may have the last laugh this season.

5. Know Who Is Available in Your Free Agent Auction for the Next Two Years

If seven of the top ten scoring running backs are heading into free agency this year in your league, suffice to say you may be more excited about the prospect of Arian Foster wearing your team colors than T.J. Yeldon. Plan your strategy with that in mind, especially if you have the luxury of having significant cap space to chase these free agents. Then, if you hold onto your rookie draft pick, perhaps take a wide receiver (generally to me the ones with the highest success rate that you want on long-term deals) in the first round and grab your running back in free agency.

6. Other Things of Note With Rookie Draft Trades

While I’d like to think that the owners in your league (and mine) will stick around forever, the reality is that owners turn over in leagues. If you are in leagues where owners are trading future year rookie draft picks (like 2016) now, make them put some “skin in the game” for doing so to ensure the future continuity of your league. Figure out what that means to your league whether it be website fees, league dues, etc. The last thing you want is an owner who in their head is already gone from your league the following season causing their replacement owner to inherit a mess by trading future rookie draft picks.

Conversely, if there is an owner in your league obsessed with stockpiling rookie draft picks, they clearly are carrying out some type of strategy of what to do with those. At one point when our offseason began in my 12 team, four year rookie draft pick league, one owner had accumulated five of the twelve first round rookie draft picks (2015 Rookie Draft Picks 1.03 through 1.07). That owner has been very active in our league offseason, already having made three trades,including the following:

1) Traded Odell Beckham Jr. (last season’s 1.10) in exchange for 2015 Rookie Draft pick 1.01 and Brandin Cooks (2014 season’s 1.02)

2) Traded Doug Martin (2 years remaining, $69.2 million), 2015 Rookie Draft pick 1.03, and 2015 Rookie Draft pick 1.07 in exchange for Giovani Bernard (2 years remaining, $29.7 million)

3) With same team he traded Martin to, traded 2015 Rookie Draft pick 1.04 and Martavis Bryant (1 year remaining, $1.5 million) in exchange for 2015 Rookie Draft pick 1.07, Demaryius Thomas (2 years remaining,$48.3 million ), Justin Hunter (3 years remaining, $15.6 million) and Kendall Wright (3 years remaining, $21.5 million)

From these examples above, you can see that this owner (and the owner he made two trades with) did a little bit of draft pick accumulation and salary dumps all in two deals. Clearly the team that traded Thomas and obtained 2015 Rookie Draft Picks 1.03 and 1.04 and took on Martin’s huge salary is in rebuild mode. He may cut Martin and recoup 50% of his salary for 2015 and 2016, but there is no rush to do that until right before the rookie draft if he doesn’t try to move Martin in another trade.

The one owner who has made these trades did get rid of Beckham Jr. who is on a hugely cheap contract, but netting Cooks and Rookie Draft pick 1.01 in the deal gives him the ability to choose who he wants atop the draft. He salary dumped Martin for a more productive player and got a top receiving option in Thomas while not taking on huge commitments in Hunter and Wright. And by the way, that owner still has four 2015 first rounders, 1.01, 1.05, 1.06, and 1.07 (which puts me a little on edge as I have 1.08). This certainly means this owner has lots of flexibility heading into both the rookie draft and the auction to get impact players.

What do you think of these deals? I’d be curious to know.

7. Some Rookie Deals Other Reality Sports Online Owners Have Made This Offseason

As part of my research, I asked other Reality Sports Online owners to chime in on Twitter to see what deals they have made in the offseason involving rookie draft picks. A few of you chimed in with deals such as these (a big thanks to all those who responded):

Tim Breemersch took advantage of the fact that there was a huge Raiders fan in his league and after picking Amari Cooper at 1.02 in his rookie draft, was offered Kevin White (drafted at 1.04) plus a 2016 1st rounder for Cooper and a 2016 2nd rounder. That’s a good way to appropriate value as both receivers are projected to be among the best at their position as rookies.

Others like Chris Cangialosi made his draft pick trade at last year’s deadline, sending Mark Ingram on a one-year deal to a contender for the rights to a 2015 first rounder which turned into Rookie Draft pick 1.10.

8. Do Things On Your Terms

Echoing De La Soul’s: Buhloone Mindstate, which had the theme of “We might blow up, but we won’t go pop,”, come up with a strategy for your rookie draft and stick with it based on whether you think your team is in rebuild mode, top three mode, or somewhere in between. Don’t get so obsessed with these rookie picks that it clouds your ability to nab an established player that will help your team more or an opportunity to dump 100% of a cap-killer to afford you the ability to take many different paths in the auction.

Stay thirsty my friends and feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @mattgoody2