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

Ranking NFL’s Best Young QBs

Updated: October 9th 2016

The past three NFL draft classes have supplied with the league with a great crop of talented, young quarterbacks.  These quarterbacks include Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Trevor Siemian, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch, and Dak Prescott.  From a keeper and dynasty football standpoint, I often advocate investing in proven veterans because of their reasonable cost of acquisition.  That said, rebuilding teams or those in two quarterback or superflex leagues may want to attach themselves to the next Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, or Russell Wilson.  For those folks, I’m here to help as I’ve ranked these quarterbacks in terms of fantasy value for the next three seasons.  

  1. Derek Carr – He has already become a borderline top 10 fantasy quarterback in his third season.  With Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, Oakland’s building a great team around Carr.
  2. Jameis Winston – He has all the physical tools and has shown why Tampa Bay selected him first overall in 2015.  Though he ranked 34th of 37 quarterbacks in terms of accuracy percentage in 2015 according to Pro Football Focus, Winston has shown plenty of promise in his first two seasons and is paired with the best young WR besides Odell Beckham Jr. in Mike Evans.
  3. Carson Wentz  – He’s quickly becoming the breakout star of 2016.  Expected to remain on the sidelines until 2017, Wentz was named the starter immediately following the Sam Bradford trade.  Many expected that he wouldn’t be ready after missing most of the preseason with a rib injury.  Instead of running a conservative scheme and attempting to hide their QB while he develops, Pederson has put a lot of trust in Wentz – best exemplified by the Eagles opening drive Week 2 against the Bears on Monday Night Football where Wentz opened the game, play after play, in an empty back set.  His weapons don’t compare to Carr, Winston, or Bortles, but Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz, Dorial Green-Beckham, and Nelson Agholor have potential to develop into reliable targets.
  4. Blake Bortles – Coming into this year, we knew Blake Bortles’ remarkable 2015 season was largely aided by negative game-script.  However, that may not go away anytime soon.  The Jaguars should continue to struggle and fall behind as their defense has not improved as quickly as some may have hoped.  Receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns will make Bortles’ at least a high end QB2 each of the next three years, but Bortles makes far too many mistakes, hasn’t shown much growth in year 3, and likely is a better fantasy QB than NFL QB.
  5. Marcus Mariota – There’s no denying Mariota has disappointed in 2016.  The Titans have the worst WRs in the AFC and recently demoted free-agent signee Rishard Matthews for 35 year-old Andre Johnson.  Mike Mularkey’s “Exotic Smashmouth” scheme has lacked creativity and seems focused on protecting Mariota rather than developing him. I’m still a fan of Mariota, but definitely would be concerned as a Mariota owner.
  6. Jared Goff – There’s so much unknown surrounding Jared Goff.  It’s very curious that he couldn’t beat out Case Keenum or Sean Mannion in training camp.  Even when he’s eventually handed the reigns, Goff will join the least creative offense in the NFL that is currently struggling to get the most out of star RB Todd Gurley.  LA has the worst pass catching options in the NFL, led by gadget player Tavon Austin.  There are many reasons Goff was considered the top prospect in the NFL draft by many, but I’ve cooled on him since the April draft.
  7. Paxton Lynch – Considered more of a project than Goff or Wentz, Paxton Lynch has played fairly well in limited action.  He has excellent physical tools and is built to run Gary Kubiak’s offense.  Like Wentz, his running ability should aide his fantasy value, potentially making him a top five fantasy QB during his best seasons.
  8. Dak Prescott – Through four games, Dak Prescott looks like he belongs.  With no turnovers through four games, Prescott has kept the Cowboys afloat without veteran QB Tony Romo.  He may lack the ceiling as a passer of Carr, Winston, and Wentz, but has showcased his abilities enough to be considered a potential long-term starter in the NFL and likely the Cowboys QB in 2017.  The Dallas offensive line and presence of a healthy Dez Bryant could make Prescott a high end QB2 by the end of 2016, assuming Romo doesn’t return.
  9. Teddy Bridgewater – Coming into 2016, I was very down on Teddy Bridgewater and even sold him for Tavon Austin in one of my dynasty leagues.  Let’s not forget that the Vikings ranked 31st in passing yards in 2015 and 25th in yards per attempt according to Pro-Football-Reference.  I don’t love his arm strength, especially in the NFC North where he’ll have to play outdoors in Green Bay and Chicago.  Depending on how the 2016 Vikings season ends, Sam Bradford may not have to give back the starting QB job when Bridgewater returns.
  10. Trevor Siemian – He likely isn’t a long-term long-term NFL starter, but is showing he belongs at least as a backup in the NFL.  He has lesser physical abilities than fellow Broncos QB Paxton Lynch and likely is on a short-leash, but has impressed enough this season to warrant being on the radar of fantasy owners.

I want to hear from you!  Which players ranking do you agree or disagree with most?  Let me know on Twitter @DaveSanders_RSO!


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

Ranking NFL's Best Young QBs

Updated: October 9th 2016

The past three NFL draft classes have supplied with the league with a great crop of talented, young quarterbacks.  These quarterbacks include Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Trevor Siemian, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch, and Dak Prescott.  From a keeper and dynasty football standpoint, I often advocate investing in proven veterans because of their reasonable cost of acquisition.  That said, rebuilding teams or those in two quarterback or superflex leagues may want to attach themselves to the next Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, or Russell Wilson.  For those folks, I’m here to help as I’ve ranked these quarterbacks in terms of fantasy value for the next three seasons.  

  1. Derek Carr – He has already become a borderline top 10 fantasy quarterback in his third season.  With Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, Oakland’s building a great team around Carr.
  2. Jameis Winston – He has all the physical tools and has shown why Tampa Bay selected him first overall in 2015.  Though he ranked 34th of 37 quarterbacks in terms of accuracy percentage in 2015 according to Pro Football Focus, Winston has shown plenty of promise in his first two seasons and is paired with the best young WR besides Odell Beckham Jr. in Mike Evans.
  3. Carson Wentz  – He’s quickly becoming the breakout star of 2016.  Expected to remain on the sidelines until 2017, Wentz was named the starter immediately following the Sam Bradford trade.  Many expected that he wouldn’t be ready after missing most of the preseason with a rib injury.  Instead of running a conservative scheme and attempting to hide their QB while he develops, Pederson has put a lot of trust in Wentz – best exemplified by the Eagles opening drive Week 2 against the Bears on Monday Night Football where Wentz opened the game, play after play, in an empty back set.  His weapons don’t compare to Carr, Winston, or Bortles, but Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz, Dorial Green-Beckham, and Nelson Agholor have potential to develop into reliable targets.
  4. Blake Bortles – Coming into this year, we knew Blake Bortles’ remarkable 2015 season was largely aided by negative game-script.  However, that may not go away anytime soon.  The Jaguars should continue to struggle and fall behind as their defense has not improved as quickly as some may have hoped.  Receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns will make Bortles’ at least a high end QB2 each of the next three years, but Bortles makes far too many mistakes, hasn’t shown much growth in year 3, and likely is a better fantasy QB than NFL QB.
  5. Marcus Mariota – There’s no denying Mariota has disappointed in 2016.  The Titans have the worst WRs in the AFC and recently demoted free-agent signee Rishard Matthews for 35 year-old Andre Johnson.  Mike Mularkey’s “Exotic Smashmouth” scheme has lacked creativity and seems focused on protecting Mariota rather than developing him. I’m still a fan of Mariota, but definitely would be concerned as a Mariota owner.
  6. Jared Goff – There’s so much unknown surrounding Jared Goff.  It’s very curious that he couldn’t beat out Case Keenum or Sean Mannion in training camp.  Even when he’s eventually handed the reigns, Goff will join the least creative offense in the NFL that is currently struggling to get the most out of star RB Todd Gurley.  LA has the worst pass catching options in the NFL, led by gadget player Tavon Austin.  There are many reasons Goff was considered the top prospect in the NFL draft by many, but I’ve cooled on him since the April draft.
  7. Paxton Lynch – Considered more of a project than Goff or Wentz, Paxton Lynch has played fairly well in limited action.  He has excellent physical tools and is built to run Gary Kubiak’s offense.  Like Wentz, his running ability should aide his fantasy value, potentially making him a top five fantasy QB during his best seasons.
  8. Dak Prescott – Through four games, Dak Prescott looks like he belongs.  With no turnovers through four games, Prescott has kept the Cowboys afloat without veteran QB Tony Romo.  He may lack the ceiling as a passer of Carr, Winston, and Wentz, but has showcased his abilities enough to be considered a potential long-term starter in the NFL and likely the Cowboys QB in 2017.  The Dallas offensive line and presence of a healthy Dez Bryant could make Prescott a high end QB2 by the end of 2016, assuming Romo doesn’t return.
  9. Teddy Bridgewater – Coming into 2016, I was very down on Teddy Bridgewater and even sold him for Tavon Austin in one of my dynasty leagues.  Let’s not forget that the Vikings ranked 31st in passing yards in 2015 and 25th in yards per attempt according to Pro-Football-Reference.  I don’t love his arm strength, especially in the NFC North where he’ll have to play outdoors in Green Bay and Chicago.  Depending on how the 2016 Vikings season ends, Sam Bradford may not have to give back the starting QB job when Bridgewater returns.
  10. Trevor Siemian – He likely isn’t a long-term long-term NFL starter, but is showing he belongs at least as a backup in the NFL.  He has lesser physical abilities than fellow Broncos QB Paxton Lynch and likely is on a short-leash, but has impressed enough this season to warrant being on the radar of fantasy owners.

I want to hear from you!  Which players ranking do you agree or disagree with most?  Let me know on Twitter @DaveSanders_RSO!


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

FA Auction: Lessons Learned

Updated: June 18th 2016

Last time in this space, I took a look at the most frequently cut players from each offensive skill position.  My hope was that an analysis of where we went wrong last year could help steer us in this season’s free agent auction.  After all, nothing could sink a promising franchise faster than dead cap space.

For each position I picked a few players who I think that you should avoid spending big money on in your 2016 free agent auction.  Every player can be valuable with the right contract, this is not to say the below players should not be owned, I am arguing you should avoid splashing the cash on them.  First, let’s start with the obvious caveat: every league is different (size, scoring, roster size, etc.), so your mileage may vary, one league’s trash could be another’s treasure.

QUARTERBACKS:

  1. Tyrod Taylor
  2. Brock Osweiler

The biggest take away after looking at last year’s most frequently released QBs was that you should not overpay for a small sample size.  I am not advocating skipping these two altogether, but I think prudence is the key.  Taylor went 8-6 and only threw 6 INTs (3 of which in one game) but he also had five games with less than 15 completions and five games with less than 200 yards passing.  The x-factor for Taylor, of course, is his rushing ability but that is the part that worries me: it will either lead to injury, it could be game planned away by the defense or be removed from his own game plan as preservation (see: Robert Griffin III).  I’m staying away from Taylor this year, I would rather be the guy who missed on him rather than have to eat his salary later.

For Osweiler, the sample size is much smaller and his rate stats were lower than Taylor’s (completion percentage, rating, yards per attempt, etc).  So, why do I think you should avoid Taylor more so than Osweiler?  Osweiler’s value is not so heavily influenced by his rushing ability, or lack thereof.  Osweiler is a “prototypical” quarterback and has 7″ and about 20lb on Taylor.  Still, though, I am concerned what a change of scenery will mean for Brock and can’t help but see him as the next Matt Flynn.  I wouldn’t avoid him at all costs but I would only offer him a one- or at a maximum, a two-year deal.

RUNNING BACKS:

  1. Chris Ivory
  2. Matt Forte
  3. Demarco Murray

The theme with last year’s most frequently cut RBs was that you should avoid the hype of the veteran who was changing teams.  Despite some niggling injuries last year, both Ivory and Forte had decent seasons in 2015.  Ivory broke 1,000 yards for the first time in his career (1,070) and had more receptions (30) than he had the rest of his career combined (23).  Forte missed three games but was on pace for another 1,000 yard rushing season if he played the full campaign; he also pitched in with 44 receptions which was down on a per-game basis from 2014 but is still more than most RBs see in a full season.  Ivory has left the Jets for Jacksonville and Forte has taken his place.  Unless I can get them for just $2 or $3 million, I am probably skipping both Ivory and Forte.

Murray is interesting after what could not have been a more disappointing season in Philly last year.  He joins the Titans and could be at a point where his stock is so low you could actually get him for a song.  The ultimate post-hype sleeper.  He’s burned me once though, so I’m going to sit this year out.  I might let another owner take him, and if the contract is small enough, try to swing a trade once training camp starts and we see how the Titans backfield will work out.  Or maybe that’s the Cowboys fan in me talking.

WIDE RECEIVERS:

  1. Jordy Nelson – Jeff Janis
  2. Michael Crabtree – Seth Roberts
  3. Brandin Cooks – Willie Snead

The lesson to be learned last year was to not spend too much money on the up-and-coming WRs who may unseat an established veteran.  So, for this position, I thought it would be useful to look at both the old and the new at the same time because I would actually avoid picking both sides of these pairs.

Jeff Janis had a memorable playoff game for the Packers against the Cardinals (7-145-2) but is it enough to make everybody forget about Jordy Nelson who missed the season due to injury?  Probably not, but I have just enough doubt to avoid Nelson this year.  Nelson is now 31 and has had two serious injuries – an ACL and a hamstring – which forced him to miss significant time.  Dynasty players know Janis well but I don’t think his brief flash is enough to warrant anything more than a minimum contract – many of us have been fooled by his potential already.

Amari Cooper is obviously the top Raiders WR to own, but who should you target second?  After all, Derek Carr does like to air the ball out.  I’m not biting on Crabtree’s 85-922-9 and instead think that Seth Roberts will emerge.  Roberts was an unheralded rookie out of West Alabama whose line was 32-480-5.  Like Janis, his sample size is too small to spend on, but his presence means I will not sign Crabtree this offseason.

Chances are that Willie Snead was snagged off waivers by somebody last year rather than being signed to a long term deal.  I cannot imagine there were too many owners who were holding Snead futures so he’s likely up for free agency.  I’d bite in a PPR league but there weren’t enough TDs there for standard scoring, in my opinion.  Snead’s emergence dented Brandin Cooks’ potential.  Cooks didn’t score his first TD or surpass 100 yards until Week 5; ultimately he had six sub-50 yard games versus just four over-100 yard games.  His strong suit was supposed to be the volume of receptions but even that was lacking – just 84.  The saving grace for Cooks fantasy-wise was his 9 TDs but I would take the under for 2016.  Snead and Cooks are too similar in their playing style and so cannibalize each other’s opportunities to succeed.

TIGHT ENDS:

  1. David Johnson
  2. Alex Smith
  3. Coby Fleener
  4. Ladarius Green

In my last piece, I noted that David Johnson and Alex Smith were two of the most frequently cut tight ends.  Originally I attributed it to their deep, deep sleeper status but after further thought I think it was definitely because they share a name with another position player.  Whether it was an honest mistake or an unscrupulous nomination, I think some owners ended up with the wrong guy and immediately cut bait landing them on the list.  Don’t make that mistake again this year, folks.

Last year, we should have all held off on anointing Josh Hill the Jimmy Graham heir apparent, and I think this year you should similarly avoid Fleener.  Green is likewise joining a new team, the Steelers, and while he has shown flashes, he’s never been the go-to tight end for an extended period of time.  Ultimately, I think both are so close to replacement level that I wouldn’t bother.


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

Maximizing Quarterback Value

Updated: March 17th 2016

The year of the breakout first or second year quarterback is over.  Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles, and Derek Carr all took positive steps in 2015 that have created a buzz among their fan bases and fantasy owners alike.  Speaking purely in terms of their fantasy value, could the hype make these players overvalued in dynasty football?  We’ll examine further as we explore the 3 steps to maximizing quarterback value.

Step 1: Sell young quarterbacks who broke through in 2015  

QB Jameis Winston

Time to sell as Buccaneers’ QB Jameis    Winston’s stock has never been higher

Immediately upon reading that, you may recoil.  You may be asking yourself, “Why would I want to give up a young QB who appears to be on the track towards becoming useful in fantasy on a week to week basis?”  The answer is simple.  They’re worth more on the trade market than they are on your roster.  2015 was a breakout fantasy year for Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles, and Derek Carr as many became serviceable plays in the right matchups.  The assumption among many in the fantasy community is that these players will continue on that positive trajectory.  However we’ve seen countless examples of quarterbacks showing promise, yet never quite making it to that tier of elite fantasy quarterbacks.  If we look back just seven months ago, Teddy Bridgewater and Ryan Tannehill were two of the hottest names in dynasty football.  Both were selected among the top 7 quarterbacks in start-up dynasty mock drafts according to Dynasty League Football’s August 2015 Average Draft Position data.  After having disappointing seasons, neither is drafted among the top 16 quarterbacks in DLF’s Feb 2016 ADP data.  Imagine if Bridgewater and Tannehill owners had a do-over.  Think they wish they’d cashed in on the buzz surrounding these quarterbacks entering the 2015 season?  Of course.  For every exception like Andrew Luck or Cam Newton, there are cautionary tails that failed to launch themselves into the elusive grouping of elite quarterbacks.

Step 2: Buy undervalued veteran quarterbacks outside of the elite tier and focus your most valuable resources towards wide receivers 

These types of quarterbacks are severely undervalued in many Reality Sports Online leagues, yet many were productive in 2015.  According to Fantasy Pros 2015 fantasy points per game datawhich uses settings similar to RSO’s standard scoring, Drew Brees ranked 4th place in points per game, Carson Palmer 6th, Andy Dalton 10th, Kirk Cousins 12th, Eli Manning 14th, Ryan Fitzpatrick 15th, and Philip Rivers 16th.  If the rest of your roster is strong, you certainly can build a championship team by acquiring one or two of these types of quarterbacks each year.  To take full advantage of this strategy, you’ll need to be aggressive in free agency and the trade market since you’ll be targeting these quarterbacks who are often and preferably on short-term deals.  

Instead of investing heavily in quarterbacks, my priority in RSO and standard dynasty leagues alike is to build my team around elite wide receivers.  From year to year, wide receivers hold their value significantly better than running backs.  These are the players that I want to invest in with my long-term contracts and that I value so highly in RSO leagues.  More specifically, I’m placing these long-term contracts on the high-priced elite wide receivers and players of all positions, except quarterback, that I believe in significantly more than the consensus of my opponents.  An example of this would be fantasy players that liked Michael Crabtree‘s potential last season.  Anyone who was smart enough to lock in Crabtree on multi-year contract at an inexpensive salary has profited significantly on Crabtree and will for years to come.  In the coming months, I will release a piece identifying several players that I’m targeting with these long-term contracts in start-up drafts and free agency.  

Brees

Saints’ QB Drew Brees is the perfect type of veteran to target

If we relate this strategy of profitability back to quarterbacks, the buzz around these young quarterbacks is so high that they are going to cost a lofty price in start-up drafts.  The opportunity to profit is minimal, at best.  In established leagues, you only have these quarterbacks for 3-4 years from when they enter the league before you have to franchise tag them or allow them to enter free agency.  How many times during those 3-4 years will they actually be a top 5, difference making quarterback?  Blake Bortles was the only QB1  quarterback ranked in the top 10 in points per game among quarterbacks to play in at least 7 games.  Marcus Mariota placed 17th, Jameis Winston 18th, and Derek Carr 19th.  Mariota, Winston, and Carr could all take another step forward and still not crack the top 10 in points per game, which would make them not even an average fantasy starter.  The price to acquire your preference of Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, or Ryan Fitzpatrick is very low in start-up drafts or even through trades in established leagues.  Make the move for one or two of these quarterbacks and allocate most of your resources elsewhere.

Step 3: Avoid drafting quarterbacks in rookie drafts

Cardinals’ RB David Johnson, taken outside of the 1st round in 2015 rookie drafts, burst onto the scene late in the season

RB David Johnson, taken outside of the 1st Rd    in 2015 drafts, burst onto the scene late in the season

When building a team on Reality Sports Online, I am most concerned with how my players can outperform what they cost for me to acquire them, whether it’s through the draft or free agency.  As we’ve discussed earlier, rookie quarterbacks offer the lowest chance of profitability while they remain on your roster.  Aside from the value they may have in trades, quarterbacks in rookie drafts don’t have the breakout potential and weekly “start-ability” that you can find in running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends.  If we take another look at DLF’s August 2015 ADP data, all of these players were taken outside of the top 10 in rookie drafts: David Johnson, Duke Johnson, Tyler Lockett, Devin Funchess, Jeremy Langford, Jay Ajayi, Javorius Allen, Matt Jones, Tevin Coleman, Phillip Dorsett, David Cobb, Jaelen Strong, Maxx Williams, Cameron Artis-Payne, Ty Montgomery, and Zach Zenner.  Thomas Rawls even went undrafted.  Locking players like these in for 3-4 years allows you to profit significantly on these picks as they are much more likely to find ways into your lineups than quarterbacks will.  For example, rookie running backs can quickly become NFL starters and immediately fantasy RB1s: see how David Johnson and Thomas Rawls finished 2015.  Aside from Johnson and Rawls, there are many names in this group that hold more value going into 2016 than their RSO rookie contract would indicate.  In addition to profiting for the next 2 to 3 years, a few of these players may be worthy of the franchise tag for a season or two if their production warrants.  While you may hit on the occasional quarterback that you’re able to trade for profit after a breakout, the smarter strategy is to use your draft picks on other positions which feature a much better likelihood of profitability.


Personal 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.

The Matt's Unplugged

Updated: September 5th 2015

DLF RSO

For my last article of the offseason, I figured I’d up the strategy element by doing a back and forth A Tribe Called Quest style with Reality Sports Online President and Founder Matt Papson. Since we’re both Matt’s, I’ll refer to us by our last names. I hope this is a fun look at auction strategy, the season ahead, all things Reality Sports Online and everything in between. We figure most people are about to have their auctions in the next few days.

With that, I’m going to jump right in and put Papson on the hot seat right now.

Editor’s Note from Papson: I’m writing this from 30,000 feet in the air, without wifi, so this piece will have fewer data/facts and more hyperbole than I would typically utilize – basically I’m channeling my inner Stephen Wendell, Chief Operating Officer of Reality Sports Online.

The Player I build my franchise around:

Papson:

  • Veteran: Andrew Luck When we talk about a franchise player in Reality Sports Online, we’re talking about somebody who is going to be the cornerstone of your franchise for at least four years, and maybe even five or six if the player proves to be franchise-tag worthy. And, for veterans, you’re talking about someone who is probably going to be your highest paid player. Right now, there is no safer bet for fantasy relevance in 2018+ than Andrew Luck. The Front Office could change, the coaching staff could change, his weapons could change, but he is a once-in-a-generation player that’s still 2-3 years away from his “prime”. Trust me, I love me some Antonio Brown – I like to think I climbed aboard the train long before most. Last year he was on every single one of my fantasy teams, and many the year before that. In fact, in one of my RSO Experts leagues he’s making just $6.5M this year on my roster. But, I’m hesitant to make a 4-year investment of the magnitude ($20M+ APY) it would take to lock up AB long-term, or almost any RB/WR for that matter. If you look at the last 10 years of fantasy data, I think you’ll find very few WRs or RBs that were in the top 5 in positional Fantasy points for 4-straight years. I think you’ll find many examples for QBs. An elite quarterback who is consistent and in their prime just has more longevity than a wideout who has a shorter window in his prime.
  • Rookie: Todd Gurley This one is really difficult, but I typically like to spend my rookie picks on Running Backs who could end up as fantasy cheap fantasy starters in years 2-4. Gurley is the best RB in this year’s class by far, and I really like the situation he ended up in with the Rams and Jeff Fisher. I expect him to be getting the majority of the touches by the mid-point in the season, and from my perspective, touches (not necessarily extraordinary production) for Rookies is the most you can reasonably ask for.

Goodwin:

  • Veteran: Antonio Brown Interesting. While I love the production and longevity that Luck will provide to owners and the proven track record he’s paved over his first few years, I tend to like my franchise guys to be wide receivers. As a result, I love the consistency and high targets, touchdowns, and production of Antonio Brown, so I’d take him for the next three years of him being a Steeler. He was also tackled at the one yard line four times last year! Big Ben being locked up until 2020 certainly helps matters too. I think that a quality quarterback like Tony Romo could produce in the same ballpark as someone like Luck on a much cheaper, shorter deal and that in given weeks even streaming could yield you a Top 5 quarterback. Of course over the long haul, Luck is the quarterback I’d want, but there’s nothing precluding someone like Marcus Mariota from being in Luck’s ballpark in a year, whereas Brown also is super consistent and at the top of his game right now.
  • Rookie: Todd Gurley As for rookies, I agree with you on Gurley and put my money where my mouth is in my Reality Sports Online/numberFire Writers League auction. I love Gurley’s burst and he just runs with an edge to him. I have zero concerns about his knee long term and agree with you that by midseason Gurley will be getting the lion’s share of running back touches in St. Louis.

Which tight end is a better contract play for you-Travis Kelce or Jimmy Graham?

Goodwin:

  • Based on age (Graham is 28 and Kelce is 25) and Graham’s high perceived value, I’d go with Kelce. I like his Gronk-like characteristics and while both tight ends don’t have a ton of wide receivers on their respective teams to compete with for targets, I think Kelce was used very cautiously last year coming back from microfracture knee surgery. To me, Kelce’s ceiling is higher and he’s already established a predictable floor at a fraction of Graham’s costs in your auction. He’s so good after the catch that I think he’ll be getting the over-the-middle volume that Graham got in New Orleans. Do I think Graham scores 10 touchdowns a season for my in market Seattle Seahawks? You bet-he was brought in to fix the red zone problems that cost them the Super Bowl. However, the team is one of the most run heavy over the past few years and I don’t expect that to let up much. In fact, Graham’s run blocking snaps were higher in the preseason than they were when he was a Saint and the Saints had 200 more pass attempts than the Seahawks last year. That smells like a regression candidate to me fantasy wise.

Papson:

  • Here’s the thing, this is really hard to evaluate without an exact contract comparison. Would I rather have Kelce for $5M than Jimmy Graham for $20M? Sure. But, if we’re talking about Jimmy Graham for 3 yrs/$50M and Kelce for 3 yrs/$40M – give me Jimmy Graham all day. You speak as if Jimmy Graham is ancient! He’s ?28 years old! I don’t want this to be perceived as Kelce-bashing, but I think Kelce really benefited from the extremely weak group of Wide Receivers the Chiefs played in 2014. With the addition of Jeremy Maclin (and maybe even Chris Conley?), and a heavy dose of Jamaal Charles, Knile Davis, and De’Anthony Thomas I foresee a significant reduction in total targets and redzone targets for Kelce. I’d be surprised if there’s ever been another top 5 TE in an Andy Reid offense. It seems like there are a lot of people concerned about Jimmy Graham’s transition to Seattle, although I have to say I’m surprised at tempered expectations. Barring injury, if any Tight End other than Gronk and/or Greg Olsen score more fantasy points than Jimmy Graham – I will be shocked.

How would you value Arian Foster based on his injury?

Papson:

  • 2 yrs, $16M Total (that’s what I signed him for in the Expert Auction). At the time I made the referenced signing, the Foster injury had just happened and it really seemed like people were predicting the worst – I/R for the season? I/R Designated for Return? PUP list? Since then, the injury news has steadily gotten better. Most reports now have him slated to return between weeks 2 and 4. I’d rather have the Texans wait than rush him back, but whenever he returns, he’s going to get a ton of touches. I’m not much of an Alfred Blue or Jonathan Grimes guy (I do like Chris Polk), so I think Arian is still a safe bet for 20+ touches in every game in which he plays. He takes great care of himself, and even though we try to be objective, he’s a guy I enjoy rooting for – he’s not your standard NFL personality.

Goodwin:

  • I like the valuation and would love to get a similar valuation for Foster. The key is that he ends the season healthy for your playoff run. I’m also a fan of the two-year deal as that is when he turns 30 and his contract with the Texans ends. At this point based on the news, I think I’d give Foster up to a 2 year, $30 million deal depending on league circumstances. I have no doubt he will be productive when he’s on the field.

Now that Rob Gronkowski is 100% healthy, would you give him a 4 year contract in Reality Sports Online leagues?

Goodwin:

  • I’m not sure on a pure four-year deal to a player with Gronk’s injury history (which granted I think are a series of bad, fluky luck) but I’m basically giving Gronk a four-year deal currently in my third year in the league with the franchise tag options. Luckily for me, the original 2 year, $26M contract that won me Gronk when he had forearm and back injuries heading into the 2013 season just expired following the 2014 season and offered me two separate franchise tag 1 year options. As tight end salaries in my league represent the lowest for a skill position, and Gronk finished last season healthy, I’ll gladly pay $15.9M for my first year franchise tag and if healthy, give him a 20% raise for next year two. Definitely trying to capitalize on my championship window with Gronk in tow. In short, Gronk is so much better at his position than his peer group right now that he is one of the most valuable players in the game, in spite of his injury history.

Papson:

  • I spent a significant amount of time above talking about investing your big-money four-year deals in Quarterbacks, but there are exceptions to every rule. I’ve tried (and failed in a few auctions) to land Gronk, Graham, or Olsen in each of my leagues. In 2015, I see more separation between Tight Ends 1 and 5 than QBs 1 and 5, WRs 1 and 5, and RBs 1 and 5. Think of it this way, if I offered you any of the following bets for a significant amount of money:
    • One Quarterback (Rogers, Luck, etc.) of your choice or “the field” to finish first in points/gm?
    • One Runningback (Peters, Bell, etc.) of your choice or “the field” to finish first in points/gm?
    • One Wide Receiver (Brown, Bryant, etc.) of your choice or “the field” to finish first in points/gm?
    • One Tight End of your choice (Gronk, Graham, etc.) of your choice or “the field” to finish first in points/gm?

    Isn’t the latter, “Gronk vs. the Field” the only bet where that you’d reasonably consider taking a single player versus the field? I think that speaks volumes.

Name a few late auction sleepers you’d consider giving multi-year contracts to and how much would you pay them?

Papson:

  • My favorite place to use my multi-year deals is on cheap sleepers – if you hit, it’s a major win. If you miss, the ramifications for cutting the player before the expiration of the contract are minimal.
    • Michael Crabtree: 2-3 yrs / $4M APY
    • Bryce Brown: 3 yrs / $2M APY (I can’t seem to kick my addiction)
    • Kenny Britt: 2 yrs / $2M APY

Goodwin:

  • I personally like Knile Davis for 2-3 years at around $2M per year. If anything happens to Jamaal Charles, Davis becomes a top running back. Even if not, he has standalone value. In terms of wide receivers, I of course like Jeff Janis on a 3 year deal for $3M per year. I think he’ll work out his chemistry with Aaron Rodgers and become a target in the Packers offense.

Who are guys you are really high on that you think will outperform their expected value heavily?

Goodwin:

  • In terms of receivers, I really like Eric Decker and Kendall Wright. Decker showed flashes when he got his health back last December (finishing strong is always a good thing) and I’m not scared at all by the quarterback situation. As for Wright, he’s already been discussed as Marcus Mariota’s favorite target, the Titans will be down and chucking it in most games, and he’ll see tons of targets. Staying with the Jets, Chris Ivory is a running back that I have high expectations for that others may not feel strongly about. I also really like Danny Woodhead bouncing back from injury and seeing plenty of action in the passing game. No need to shy away from Antonio Gates at tight end. I don’t care about the 4 game suspension, there is plenty of gas left in that tank. There are tons of quarterbacks who should perform well on the cheap. Carson Palmer may come the cheapest, but I like Tony Romo the best of the mid-tier guys based on the Cowboys offense. Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, or Eli Manning either.

Papson:

  • This is my favorite question, because it’s the broadest stroke. I could probably name 50 guys that I expect to outperform their average APY, but I’ll try to keep it to a few.
    • Steve Smith: there are a lot of people aboard the train, so that probably means that it will blow up in my face, but I don’t see any reason why Steve Smith wouldn’t have 1,250+ receiving yards. Also, if you can save some 2015 cap space by giving him a 2-year deal, I would do it. I know he says he’s retiring after this year, but I can’t see him hanging it up until the wheels completely fall off. He’s too competitive to walk away after he puts up once of his most productive seasons of all time in 2015.
    • Darren McFadden: Yes, he’s injury prone. But, count me among the few who expect him to receive the majority of the backfield touches in Dallas in 2015. McFadden is still talented, and will play behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. Also – how did Joseph Randle get the hype by default? Honestly, I know it’s simple-minded of me to think this way, or maybe living in Razorback country has clouded my judgement – but Jerry Jones has been obsessed with Darren McFadden for a decade. There was a 100% chance he signed with the Cowboys this off-season, and I still follow the dollars when it comes to predicting fantasy touches.
    • Owen Daniels: For the skeptics, I share your concern about Virgil Green being a Julius Thomas athletic replica and limiting Daniels playing time and targets. But, I think Daniels is going to average 5 catches & 60 yards per game underneath a lot of Demaryius Thomas/Emanuel Sanders/Cody Latimer routes. And don’t forget the Gary Kubiak isn’t afraid to run double tights.

Which player do you like bouncing back in a big way this year?

Papson:

  • Nick Foles: Sam Bradford has stolen all of the hype from the Rams-Eagles Quarterback swap, but I think Foles is being extremely undervalued right now between QB 20 and 25. Foles looked totally broken in 2014, but I’ve watched every game he ever played in an Eagles uniform, and I still think he’s a playoff caliber NFL Quarterback. I like the Rams offensive weapons from Quick to Britt to Austin to Gurley to Mason to Cook. If you can get Foles as your backup, he could make for excellent trade bait mid-year after someone else realizes they need a starter.

Goodwin:

  • Keenan Allen: People forget that he’s only 23. He’s only on his Chargers rookie deal through 2016, but I wouldn’t hesitate to give Allen something in the $10-$12M a year range, or maybe even higher depending on your league dynamics. Philip Rivers has beamed about how well Allen has performed in camp and I really think his third year is when Allen shines bright, especially in PPR leagues.

Which real NFL free agent will perform best in his new digs?

Papson:

  • I’ve saved this answer until now, although I could have selected him for a few of the prior questions. I’ve been vocal about my prediction for a big year from Jeremy Maclin. It seems like the majority of analysts think being a Chiefs Wide Receiver automatically means Maclin is going to touchdown hell. I’m glad the majority thinks that way, because last year was a combination of a fluke and a less-than-stellar receive corps. I’m honestly not sure there’s a ceiling for Maclin’s finish – I certainly won’t be shocked if he finishes top 5. Alex Smith enters year 3 in this offense and I think the Chiefs are going to be firing on all cylinders.

Goodwin:

  • I agree 100%. Like in Old School and Will Ferrell’s winning debate against James Carville, I will say you just gave the perfect answer. This is how you debate!

Who do you think will be the season’s biggest bust?

Goodwin:

  • On a cheaper scale, I’d say Joseph Randle, but that seems too obvious here. If we are going a bigger name, I’m going to stick to my earlier guns and say Drew Brees. For me it is as much about what left his roster and the team’s desire to be more balanced with the running game as what other quarterbacks who will go for cheaper will do. If you really watched game tape of Brees last season (which I did), you’d see a dinker and dunker who had trouble taking the top off the ball deep. He’s just not worth a top five quarterback investment now contract wise when there are other replaceable options like Romo, Big Ben, Philip Rivers and the like on the cheap.

Editor’s Note: While I think that Brees will be between QB5 and QB8, I love Brandin Cooks this season. He shows so much Randall Cobb like qualities with more speed and came into the league way more accomplished. Cooks is a guy that I’d love to have on his original rookie deal and someone I would be targeting in trades or first year auctions without hesitation. 

Papson:

  • C.J. Anderson – Is he the next Arian Foster? The undrafted guy who found himself in the right situation and thrived for years and years? Or, is he Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, Dominic Rhodes, Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman, etc. – a guy who thrived with Peyton for a year or two but was really just a plug-and-play in a powerful offense. To be honest, I don’t know the answer. But, I know that he’s going to need a lot of touches to be worth anywhere near what he currently costs. Why are we giving up on Montee Ball? It took Knowshon Moreno four seasons to reach his potential – are we really saying the Broncos are done with Montee after 2? The old coaching staff is gone, but the same Front Office that drafted Ball remains in place.

Editor’s Note: I think all of the Davante Adams people were saved by Jordy Nelson injury. It’s not that I don’t like Adams, but I think before the Nelson injury you would have had a hard time getting expected production from Adams. The Packers run a lot of 3+ WR sets, but I think you would have seen a heavy rotation between Adams, Montgomery (who I like), and Janis. Now Adams gets to be the #2 WR.

Name one defense you think will surprise people this season.

Papson:

  • Philadelphia Eagles: I see them ranked between 10th and 15th most places, and sometimes even lower. The Eagles might have more talent on defense than they do on offense. I also think teams are going to be playing from behind against the Eagles, which will give the Eagles an opportunity to leverage their strength rushing the passer and producing turnovers. I feel pretty confident that the Eagles will have a top 7 defense, and maybe even top 5.

Goodwin:

  • Cleveland Browns: You could call me a homer for this pick, but if you know me well, I typically avoid Cleveland players on my fantasy squad like the plague. That said, the Browns have a really good (and potentially elite) secondary who has an eye for creating turnovers. The front seven should be better at rushing the quarterback off the edge and they killed it in the draft with Danny Shelton as a run-stuffer and Nate Orchard as a pass rusher. While the offense is lagging, hopefully you are in a league that doesn’t punish your defense for that.

What’s the craziest Reality Sports Online trade you’ve made?

Goodwin:

  • On Wednesday, I literally traded nothing (insert favorite Seinfeld reference here) for Kendall Wright who has three years remaining on his deal and who I’ll pay $6.6M this season. The other team basically has their entire roster full prior to our auction and needed wiggle room to grab a player on a minimum deal or go for a premium free agent with their remaining money. Like I always say, cap space is an asset and now Reality Sports Online allows trades to happen with no players in return.

Papson:

  • I’ve been a part of a few blockbusters, especially in the Matt Waldman/Rookie Scouting Portfolio Experts league. My affinity for wheeling and dealing seems to amuse Waldman, but I think the rest of the league probably gets annoyed by my constant trade offers. In 2013, I took over a team where the original Owner had left mid-Auction and left me with a lowly roster, but  $60M+ in cap space. Ultimately, I’m really thankful he left and I took over the team I did, because this is now my favorite and most competitive league. After a two-year rebuilding project, I actually think I might be in position to make a run at the title this year. It was a flurry of moves, not really one blockbuster, but it felt like one big trade to me. I’ll have to see if I can dig up the actual terms or find the article where Waldman recapped the moves, but in a two-week window I:
    • Acquired Alex Smith for a future 3rd round pick
    • Assumed the 4-year/$40M+ Aaron Hernandez contract that another team gave out shortly before the incident, so that I could cut him and eat the cap hit. I also received Percy Harvin as part of that deal, who at the time seemed poised for a long, bright future with the Seahawks. Today, it’s the ugliest contract (and my second highest paid player at $14M) on my roster.
    • Traded Maurice Jones-Drew (1-year) and Zach Ertz for Antonio Brown (3 yrs/$18M) and another player

As someone very familiar with the NFL Salary Cap, name one free agent deal you nailed in 2015

Papson:

  • I’m not sure it’s fair to use the term “nailed”, but I got pretty close on Maclin, Murray, McFadden, and the recent Russel Wilson extension.

Goodwin:

  • I got very close on the Cobb deal and predicted right that Green Bay would sign him for a four-year deal around Victor Cruz/Marques Colston money.
  • Is Peyton Manning retiring after this year?

Papson:

  • No way. I think Peyton will make it until at least 2018, and I think Brady hits at least 2020. There’s such a shortage of playoff caliber Quarterbacks right now, that I can’t see either of them being forced out of a starting position in the next 2-3 years. I’m not going to predict that either of them remain with their current teams beyond their current contract, but I think they can both be relevant starters for 5+ years. Would you rather have an aging Peyton Manning or the Browns situation? There will be a place for each of them to start for quite a while, the question is whether they want to keep playing – I think the competitive drive is there to keep going.

Goodwin:

  • I think this is Peyton’s swan song and will be a good one at that. The pieces and the ground game is set up for #18 to make a Super Bowl run this year. However, I think that being a true historian of the game, Manning won’t want to leave after the game has passed him by and that time is around the corner.

Everyone has players on their squad that they are not rational about in terms of trade value, bid price, etc. Who are yours?

Goodwin:

  • For me, Cobb is way up there on the list. I’ve talked myself out of many deals involving me shipping him out. Wilson is someone I love being a local in Seattle too, although I am realistic that he may come down to fantasy earth this season based on less rushing opportunities for him.

Papson:

A couple of guys on my current teams that I wouldn’t give up because of favorable contracts…

  • Antonio Brown – 1 year $6.5M remaining
  • Sam Bradford – 4 years, $20M (I’ve got to see what happens first)
  • Bishop Sankey – 2 years, $10M remaining (I’m among the few that believe he’s going to be good)

My Fantasy Football Mount Rushmore Consists of These Players Owned by My Teams

Papson:

  • I’m going to just go with a list of retired guys from the early 2000’s: Priest Holmes, Ladanian Tomlinson, Daunte Culpepper, Tony Gonzalez, Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison.

Goodwin:

  • For me, it is Cris Carter (I’ve joked with my best friend and RSO leaguemate Fox Sports’ Mark Pesavento) that Carter’s Hall-of-Fame bust should be in my basement for all the damage he did vs. his fantasy squad, Priest Holmes, Aaron Rodgers, Andre Johnson

You recently told me following one of my articles that you love mid-90’s hip-hop and A Tribe Called Quest is one of your favorites. Who ya got-Q-Tip or Phife Dawg?

Papson:

  • (Quoting Phife Dawg from Electric Relaxation)If my mom don’t approve then I’ll just elope…

Goodwin:

  • (Also Quoting Phife Dawg): Picture Phife losing a battle, c’mon, get off it. Put down the microphone son, surrender forfeit… I like Phife’s scrappy, diminutive stature. He’s like the slot receiver of MC’s to Q-Tip’s high draft status.

What is the best part of creating a platform like Reality Sports Online?

Papson:

  • Well, first – in addition to this being a business venture, I built the game because this is kind of fantasy platform I wanted to play on. The business experience has been absolutely awesome. I’ve learned way more in 3-years of running a startup than I did from 5+ years of undergrad & grad school. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a roller-coaster – running any startup comes with the assumption that you’re going to face challenges, give up a lot of free time, test the boundaries of personal and professional relationships, etc. Plus, people take fantasy football very seriously, so once in a blue moon we get a nastygram that makes me wonder if people realize there’s a human on the other side of the screen. But, the customer feedback is overwhelmingly positive and the rush we get from the supportive feedback is indescribable. We’re trying to make ourselves and the platform better every day. I also get to work with my close friend, Stephen, who is probably the only person in the world that is unanimously more stubborn/hard-headed than I am – but he’s also a gregarious personality, the most meticulous worker I know, one of the best people I know, and like an older brother to me. The support we’ve gotten from friends, family, and the fantasy community means the world to me. I also want to give a quick shout-out to Kyle, our tech lead, for all his work, and for being the tie-breaking vote when Stephen and I disagree on something.

Well, that’ll wrap it up for the offseason, folks. Good luck in your auctions. Special thanks to Matt Papson for having such fun and coming strong for this article. Follow him on Twitter @RealitySportsMP and you can find me at @mattgoody2