RSO Rookie Rundown: 2018 RBs, Part I

Updated: February 2nd 2018

Welcome to the RSO Rookie Rundown, a resource to help RSO owners prepare for their upcoming rookie drafts. For more college football and NFL Draft coverage, follow me on Twitter at @robertfcowper. Throughout the offseason, the RSO Rookie Rundown will delve into dozens of future rookies for your consideration. Each prospect will be evaluated on a number of criteria including size, production, performance, character and durability. This is an inexact science but the goal is to gain a better perspective of each player through research. Each player will be given a draft round grade as well as a recent NFL player comparison. For draft round grades, it’s important to remember that some positions are valued more highly than others in the NFL. For player comparisons, it’s important to remember that it is a rough heuristic for illustrative purposes and is based on a physical and statistical basis rather than a prediction of a similar NFL career.

Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State

Rashaad Penny put up incredible production in 2017, largely against inferior opposition though.  He’s a fantastic kick returner which will help insulate his value and ensure he earns a role out of training camp.  I also believe he’s an underrated pass catcher because he proved to be a factor in the passing game when his team needed it against the biggest opponents (see the Stats & Accolades section for details on this point).  Penny does not have any injury concerns to report, nor any character concerns.  Penny decided to stay in school for his senior year despite a 1,000+ yard 2016 season when he was the second fiddle to FBS leading rusher Donnel Pumphrey.  Coming back to school ended up being a great decision for Penny.  At the Senior Bowl, Penny actually measured taller and heavier than I expected which is a good thing.  He is officially being listed at 5’11” and 224lbs on the Senior Bowl roster (some sites estimated 5’10” and 220lbs”).  We don’t have a 40 yard dash time for Penny yet but NFLDraftScout.com estimates he’ll run in the 4.52 range – good but not great.

Stats & Accolades:  I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I tell you that Penny was a standout this season: his 2,248 rushing yards led the FBS.  He started with a limited role as a sophomore in 2015 but still managed 5 TDs from scrimmage and added three more as a returner.  In 2016 he took on a bigger role and ended with 1,242 yards from scrimmage and 14 TDs; he also returned a pair of kickoffs for scores too.  In 2017, he exploded.  Despite being the bellcow on his way to that FBS leading rushing total, Penny still managed to add 2 receiving TDs, and 3 return TDs.  All told, he has 52 career TDs.  What may be even more impressive is that Penny has a 7.5 yards per carry average for his career.  Penny’s game logs don’t disappoint either.  He has 15 career games with over 100 rushing yards.  He’s gone over 200 yards in seven games, including a streak of five straight to end 2017.  One knock on Penny is his competition playing in the Mountain West.  To get a feel for his production against Power 5 teams I delved deeper into his 2015, 2016 and 2017 game logs.  He played five games in those three years against Power 5 opponents (Arizona State, Stanford, Cal twice, Penn State).  In those games, Penny rushed 64 times for 508 yards (an average of 7.9 yards per carry) and 2 TDs.  He added 11 receptions, 97 yards and 2 receiving TDs.  But wait there’s more… he also totaled 3 kickoff return TDs.  Interestingly, 26% of his career receptions came against Power 5 opponents which made up just 12% of his games from 2015-2017.  That’s a good sign in my opinion as it shows he can be a receiver when needed.  Let’s recap, in five games against Power 5 teams, Penny averaged over 8 yards per touch, not counting the kick return yards, and scored seven touchdowns.  Sign me up.  Not only is Penny clutch against better teams, he’s also clutch when his team is behind the sticks.  On 3rd downs, Penny’s yards per carry average jumped to 11.79 in 2017; on 39 such carries, he converted 20 of them for a first.  I checked Pro Football Focus’ Signature Stat Guide to see if their stats backed up the traditional stats that show below and discussed above.  Unsurprisingly, they do.  PFF ranked Penny as the 3rd highest in their Elusive Rating stat.  Elusive Rating takes broken tackles and yards after contact into account to help control for uneven offensive line play.  The two backs ranked higher than Penny, Damien Harris and Bryce Love, both decided to return to school for their senior seasons so Penny reigns supreme as the most elusive back in the draft.  Over his career, Penny fumbled the ball seven times, losing five.  In 2017, Penny had an incredible number of long runs.  He had 58 over 10 yards and 29 over 20 yards.  For comparison, the other two backs in this profile were well behind: Michel had 33/11 while Jones had 41/16.

Rushing & Receiving Table
Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2014 San Diego State MWC FR RB 10 2 22 11.0 0 0 0 0 2 22 11.0 0
*2015 San Diego State MWC SO RB 14 61 368 6.0 4 8 120 15.0 1 69 488 7.1 5
*2016 San Diego State MWC JR RB 14 136 1018 7.5 11 15 224 14.9 3 151 1242 8.2 14
2017 San Diego State MWC SR RB 13 289 2248 7.8 23 19 135 7.1 2 308 2383 7.7 25
Career San Diego State 488 3656 7.5 38 42 479 11.4 6 530 4135 7.8 44
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2018.
Kick & Punt Returns Table
Kick Ret Punt Ret
Year School Conf Class Pos G Ret Yds Avg TD Ret Yds Avg TD
*2014 San Diego State MWC FR RB 10 20 500 25.0 0 0 0 0
*2015 San Diego State MWC SO RB 14 24 804 33.5 3 0 0 0
*2016 San Diego State MWC JR RB 14 20 624 31.2 2 0 0 0
2017 San Diego State MWC SR RB 13 17 521 30.6 2 2 70 35.0 1
Career San Diego State 81 2449 30.2 7 2 70 35.0 1
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2018.

Film Study: Boise State (2017), Stanford (2017)

I remember watching the San Diego State vs Stanford game earlier in the season so that was my first choice.  I wanted to revisit that game and see if, with the benefit of hindsight, I was still impressed with Penny now as I was then.  The answer is yes.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t see some negatives though.  Against Boise State, a film I picked because of the Broncos’ above average defense, Penny mostly struggled but there was one highlight play I’ll touch on (including one awful play in pass protection that luckily didn’t end worse for his quarterback).

My overall impressions were that Penny is quicker than he is fast, cuts well, has excellent vision and is a versatile player who can be utilized in numerous ways.  I would say he is an average pass blocker.  I counted ten pass protection situations in the two games where I felt I could either grade Penny as a plus or a minus to the play’s protection; of those ten, I counted three negative plays.  Something that I had read about Penny and was interested to see on film is his tackle breaking ability.  He breaks some tackles (I counted twelve in the two games) but much of his yardage comes when he makes tacklers miss rather than breaking their tackle.  When reviewing PFF’s Elusive Rating stat, I have previously thought to myself, “why do they list it as ‘missed tackles’ rather than ‘broken tackles’?”  Now I realize why.  When Penny has the lane and the open space to make defenders miss, he does.  When he runs into contact at, or near, the line of scrimmage he is often bottled up for little gain.  He’s not the type of back that you can run into the defensive line on three successive plays and expect to move the chains before fourth down.  Penny is much more adept at pressing the line of scrimmage and waiting for his cut-back hole to open up.  He’s also good at bouncing the play outside but since he lacks elite speed he’s better off cutting it inside.  He’s not very good at lowering his head and ramming the ball downhill.  He does not keep his feet well and is often susceptible to low tackles that other stronger backs may shrug off.  Penny was heavily involved in the passing game against Stanford (5 passes) but not at all against Boise when he struggled.  He is utilized all over the field through different positions and motions.

There were a few good examples I found of Penny’s running style that I’ll describe here.  I would highly recommend checking out the links to these plays so you can see them in action.  I have linked them to the corresponding Youtube video right to the specific play.  The first prototypical example I’ll show comes early in the second half on first down.  Penny angles to the right, running right up the back of his guard.  The line gets such good push that he actually ends up cutting into the other A gap between the LG and C as they finish their blocks.  It’s an effortless run for 15 yards.  Later in the third, Penny shows an even better example of his vision.  Penny starts left as the RG and RT combo block the end before the guard moves to the LB on the second level.  The TE helps seal the hole and Penny cuts twice, first to the right and then back to the left through the hole.   The next play shows how Penny can adapt and use his elusiveness as a play breaks down.  He takes the pitch eight yards deep, sheds the first defender.  Just past the line another defender squares up to take Penny down.  As he runs towards the sidelines, with his shoulders parallel to the sideline, he cuts back towards the line of scrimmage and away from the defender.  It buys him just enough space to beat the tackler.  He then turns on his speed and makes it to the first down before two pursuing defenders.  It was a key play that came late in the upset over #19 Stanford.  Against Boise, Penny again shows his ability to get the edge, this time after his intended cut back lanes are clogged.  He bounces it outside and the defense, which was stacking the box all game, doesn’t have anybody with an angle to get Penny in time.

The last play I’ll discuss is the bad pass protection play against Boise.  Ultimately the play didn’t matter as it came in a big loss and the fumble that was caused was overturned but it’s still instructional.  Penny finds himself momentarily staring down two pass rushers.  He’s probably unsure about who he should block and hesitates.  The tackle ends up taking the inside rusher but by then it’s too late for Penny to get to the outside rusher.  The defender gets to the quarterback just as he is throwing the ball.  If he got there a split-second sooner, as the rusher probably would in the pros, it would have been a big hit right to the chops of the unprepared quarterback.

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective.  The objective here: getting drafted.)

Strengths: Durability, lack of an injury history, versatility as a kick returner, elusiveness, production vs Power 5 teams.

Weaknesses: Lacks elite speed, played lesser competition in the Mountain West, not very active in the passing game.

Opportunities: Can earn an instant roster spot in training camp as a kick returner.  Would be a great partner to an established veteran, a la Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara in New Orleans.

Threats: The lack of success by former teammate Donnel Pumphrey as a rookie may sour some on his potential (i.e. the “system” tag some QBs get).  Some teams may see him more of a kick returner than a feature back in the NFL and may not be willing to spend a high enough draft pick on him.

Draft Round Grade:  Mid to Late 3rd Round

I’d love to put Penny higher because he’s a favorite of mine but I don’t think NFL teams will bite.  Penny isn’t elite so he won’t see the 1st round and there are so few 2nd round running backs in recent history (just five in the last three drafts) that I think it’s inevitable he falls to the 3rd.  If Penny falls out of the 3rd round, he’ll be a prime trade up candidate to start Day 3.

Recent NFL Comparison: CJ Prosise

I struggled to find a comparison for Penny that ticked all of the boxes I usually seek.  I feel most comfortable with a comparison when they 1) have similar size and speed, 2) have a similar playing style, 3) produced similarly in college and 4) had a similar draft grade.  I was first leaning towards Boston College’s Andre Williams as his production somewhat mirrored that of Penny, especially in their senior seasons (down to receiving Heisman votes), but when you watch the two play they are of a totally different style.  Of all the other possibilities I considered, I thought Prosise was the best fit for playing style even if their production was not comparable.  Like Prosise, Penny gains most of his yards because of his vision, change of direction and elusiveness rather than by sheer strength and tackle breaking ability.  Prosise was a more accomplished receiver at Notre Dame but as I’ve outlined, I have faith in Penny’s receiving ability.  Prosise is conspicuously missing any kick or punt return experience so Penny has a huge advantage there.

 

Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

Sony Michel has been rocketing up fantasy rookie draft boards lately after his success against Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semi-finals.  With good reason too: Michel totaled 202 yards from scrimmage and 4 TDs in that game.  It was the best of his career and it was extremely well timed.  Like many of the young men we’ll meet this draft season, Michel has an interesting story.  He’s the son of Haitian immigrantsHis parents and sister ended up getting jobs at his high school to help improve their meager means, an opportunity most certainly offered due to his standing and on-field success at the school.  As positive as my character notes are about Michel, my injury notes are quite negative.  In my opinion, there’s enough here to dent Michel’s draft stock.  In 2014 he broke his collarbone which forced him to miss multiple games.  In 2016 he broke his arm in what could have been a much more serious ATV accident; the injury occurred in the Summer and Michel ended up missing the season opener.  In 2017 Michel suffered two injuries: 1) a minor ankle injury against Notre Dame that led the coaches to hold him out against Samford and 2) a knee injury that forced him to leave the SEC Championship game early.  These injuries aren’t debilitating or impossible to come back from, obviously, but I fear it may signal missed time in the pros.  Michel has decent size for the position (5’11”, 215lbs) and has about 4.50 speed.  As a senior, Michel is a bit older than many prospects.  DLF lists him as 22.9 years old which is almost a full year older than Rashaad Penny and nearly 2.5 years older than Ronald Jones.  There’s a lot to like about Michel but armchair draftniks have to be careful that they avoid the recency bias and look at Michel’s full profile rather than his most recent stats.

Stats & Accolades: By now we all know the underlying story of Michel’s production.  For most of his time in Athens, he was the second option behind Nick Chubb (side note: I loved reading that Michel and Chubb are best friends, that’s awesome).  The only time that Michel got to shine as the lead back was in 2015 after Chubb had gone down with a serious knee injury.  In that season Michel had seven double digit carry games while he had just one combined the last two years.  You’ll notice that his per carry averages are lowest in that season (5.2) than the other seasons when he had the benefit of sharing the load (6.4, 5.5, 7.9).  I don’t necessarily think that Michel cannot handle a starter’s load but I am merely pointing out that he typically has not and when he has, his performance per carry has declined.  As I mentioned above, Michel had the best game of his career this postseason against Oklahoma (11 carries, 181 yards, 3 rushing TDs; 4 receptions, 41 yards, 1 receiving TD).  He has four other 150+ rush yard games in his career so he does have the ability to go-off.  Michel found lots of success running the ball this season on a championship quality team.  He hit career bests in rushing yards, rushing TDs and yards per carry.  He led the SEC in yards per carry and ranked fifth in the FBS overall.  Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 7th back in their Elusive Rating category (interestingly, one spot behind Chubb).  Michel was most effective as a receiver as a sophomore and junior and then showed that ability again against Oklahoma this season.  In those two seasons, Chubb combined for a solid 29 receptions, 419 yards and 4 receiving TDs.  He’s far from the best pass catching back in this class but it does add to his value.  Michel has issues with ball security.  He has 12 career fumbles, five of which were lost to the defense.

Rushing & Receiving Table
Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2014 Georgia SEC FR RB 8 64 410 6.4 5 7 106 15.1 1 71 516 7.3 6
*2015 Georgia SEC SO RB 13 218 1136 5.2 8 26 270 10.4 3 244 1406 5.8 11
*2016 Georgia SEC JR RB 12 152 840 5.5 4 22 149 6.8 1 174 989 5.7 5
2017 Georgia SEC SR RB 14 156 1227 7.9 16 9 96 10.7 1 165 1323 8.0 17
Career Georgia 590 3613 6.1 33 64 621 9.7 6 654 4234 6.5 39
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2018.

 

Film Study: Auburn (2015), Notre Dame (2017), Alabama (2017)

I started with a film from 2015 so I could see Michel when he was the lead back with Chubb out.  The game that was available was against Auburn.  I was not impressed with Michel’s running in this one for the most part.  Most carries have him running right up the gut for little to no gain.  The first outside run I noted was a sweep in the middle of the third that gained 9 yards.  His best run came late in the third.  He takes a pitch right up the middle, uses his blockers well, breaks two tackles and collides with the defensive back.  He churns his feet and tries to push the defender forward.  He ultimately fails and is short of the first but it was still a good effort.  Michel had two attempts inside the five yard line in the game and failed on both.  One of those attempts was actually a fumble where he missed the pitch; it could have been equally the quarterback’s fault but ultimately it was charged to him (Georgia recovered it which led to his second failed attempt).  I counted five broken tackles, two of which came on that one play highlighted above, and that might have been generous.  Most times when Michel is contacted near the line of scrimmage the play ended shortly after.

I was encouraged by the progress that I saw in Michel in the 2017 film against Notre Dame.  His third run of the game was reminiscent of the run in the Auburn game where he failed to push the defender back.  This time, he nails the safety with a lowered shoulder and falls forward for the first.  In this game he looked much more explosive and patient than he did as a sophomore.  His best successes came when running inside of LT Isaiah Wynn (an NFL prospect himself).  The explosiveness and patience was evident in this late fourth quarter run.  It’s a 3rd and 1 when Georgia was down 19-17.  Michel takes the pitch left, the end is unblocked and it’s up to Michel to make him miss.  He does just that after a hard plant with his left foot and an explosive cut to the right.  He easily brushes past the arm tackle.  This happened in the backfield though so Michel still has yards to gain to get the first.  He sees WR Javon Wims blocking a corner and heads towards him rather than cutting upfield where he wouldn’t stand a chance.  He runs right at Wims which makes the defender decide if he wants to try and beat the block to the inside or the outside.  Michel calculates he won’t be able to make it around the outside so he waits for Wims to angle his block as the defender leans outside.  By that point Michel easily gained the first.  It was a great play that illustrated a number of traits that Michel improved between his sophomore and senior seasons.

Like you, I watched the Georgia vs Alabama game a few weeks ago but I wanted to watch the film once more.  I ended up not taking a single note about any of Michel’s runs because I was so impressed with his pass protection.  There were a number of plays where he excelled but there are two I’ll highlight, both blocking potential first round NFL talent.  I’ll show the later one first.  On this play, Michel is responsible for the blitzing safety, Ronnie Harrison.  Michel patiently waits for Harrison to hit the line and picks up the blitz to give QB Jake Fromm enough time to deliver a deep pass which ended up going for a score.  Michel does not show the best blocking mechanics on the play, it looks like he sets his base too soon and may get beat inside if the play extended but it was enough to let Fromm get the ball out.  An even better pass protection play came earlier when Michel stood up 308lb DT Da’Ron Payne.  The DTs run an inside stunt and Payne ends up with what would be a free rush at the QB if Michel did not stay home on the play.  Wynn, the LT, pushed his rusher inside but before he can come back outside for Payne, he falls.  Michel was in good position and actually initiates contact with Payne driving a shoulder right under his chin, which momentarily pushed Payne back.  Michel keeps Payne in front of him with good hand placement.  Of all the good runs I saw Michel make while watching these three games, this was the single most impressive play I saw.

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective.  The objective here: getting drafted.)

Strengths: Personality, pass catching ability, pass protection, flashed in biggest games of his career this postseason, is a good teammate as evidenced by his friendship with starter Nick Chubb.

Weaknesses: Injury history, ball security, was rarely used as the RB1 except for in 2015 after Chubb’s injury, age.

Opportunities: Teams will view Michel as a solid third down back because of his pass catching and pass blocking abilities.  He’ll be a good locker room guy as coaches will not have to worry about him complaining about playing time.

Threats: Teams may hesitate to draft Michel as their lead back which could hurt his draft stock – it’s hard to draft a situational player in the second round.  The combination of his injuries, age and usage in college could be just enough to scare off teams.

Draft Round Grade:  Mid to Late 3rd Round

Since he played behind Nick Chubb for most of his career, there’s a chance we haven’t seen Michel’s full potential.  Unfortunately, he does have numerous injuries in his history.  When I started this profile, I was anywhere between early 3rd and 5th round.  After studying his stats and history, I was leaning towards the 4th round.  However, after seeing how adept at pass protection Michel was against Alabama, I’m willing to bump him into the middle of the 3rd round.

Recent NFL Comparison: Marlon Mack

Mack and Michel are nearly identical prospects when you consider their size, speed and production.  Mack measured at 5’11” and 213 whereas Michel is estimated at 5’11” and 215lbs.  Mack ran a 4.50 whereas NFLDraftScout.com estimates Michel will run a 4.52.  Mack rushed for 3,609 yards, a 6.2 yards per carry average, 32 rushing TDs and added 65 receptions; Michel’s line is 3,613 yards, a 6.1 average, 33 rushing TDs and 64 receptions.  Mack was drafted in the 4th round so the draft grade is reasonably close too.  When I watch highlights of Mack, he looks to run with a more upright style but there’s enough similarity there for me to make the comparison, especially compared to Michel’s Notre Dame tape.

 

Ronald Jones, RB, USC

I was low on Ronald “RoJo” Jones to start the 2017 season but I have come around in a big way.  My biggest concern about Jones was his weight.  At approximately 6’0″ he needs to weigh in at at least 200lbs.  Looking back at NFL Combine measurements since 2010, you’ll notice a bad trend for somebody Jones’ size: only three backs have measured 5’11” or taller and less than 200lbs.  Unfortunately, those players don’t exactly inspire confidence as they are Taiwan Jones, CJ Spiller and Joe McKnight.  Luckily, Jones has increased his weight year-over-year and I expect him to get near 210lbs when he officially weighs in.  I checked USC media guides for the last three years and his weight progression was 185-195-200; an LA Times article from July said that Jones was already up to 205lbs at that point.  If Jones weighs in at less than 200lbs, I plan on dropping him down my board.  A benefit of not carrying too much bulk is that Jones is lightning quick.  NFLDraftScout.com estimates he’ll run a 4.39.  Jones has a few minor injury nicks on his resume.  The first being a 2016 rib injury that he played through but limited his touches (just 36 carries in the first five games).  The second being a 2017 injury that kept him out of the game against Cal; the injury was reported as both an ankle and a thigh injury so I’m not sure which it truly was but I expect the ankle.  Thankfully that injury did not linger as he gained 128 yards the next week against Washington State.  Even though he was a three year starter, Jones is exceedingly young.  Per DLF, Jones is the youngest prospect in the class at 20.5 years old.  When I was researching Jones’ personality and character I did not find much of note.  I found an interview prior to the Cotton Bowl where he said “I like to play silently” which ultimately explained the dearth of articles out there.  There were two funny things I came across in my character research… 1) teammate Stephen Carr said that Jones has “horse legs” which made me actually laugh out loud and 2) “Ronald Jones” was apparently a character in both The Hunt for Red October and Halloween: H2O.  If the NFL doesn’t work out for Jones, maybe he has a future as a vanilla background character in Hollywood!

Stats & Accolades:  In addition to showing a good progression with his weight, Jones has a good progression with his base stats.  His carries, yards and touchdowns have all increased year-over-year, as have his receptions and receiving yards.  Jones is not a big pass catching threat with just 32 career receptions but his huge 13.4 average per catch this season is encouraging.  Jones’ yards per carry average has decreased each season, however it was still a strong 5.9 at it’s lowest so I’m not that concerned.  Jones had two huge games in 2017 with 216 rushing yards and 2 TDs against Arizona State and then following it up with a 3 TD and 233 scrimmage yard outing against Arizona.  Jones’ biggest game of 2015 came against Arizona too (177 yards) so maybe he just has a personal vendetta against the state?  I like that the Trojans gave Jones 261 carries this year (14th most in the FBS) which shows me they were less concerned about his durability this season than in the past, likely a factor of him bulking up.  In the aforementioned PFF Elusive Rating statistic, Jones ranked 15th.  He also shows up in their Pass Blocking Efficiency table with a 94.2% efficiency.  Per their stat tracking, Jones had 67 snaps in pass protection and allowed just five hurries and no sacks.  Jones has the best ball security by far of this trio of running backs.  He has just two career fumbles and lost just one.  He was perfect in 2017 without a single fumble.

Rushing & Receiving Table
Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2015 USC Pac-12 FR RB 14 153 987 6.5 8 7 39 5.6 1 160 1026 6.4 9
*2016 USC Pac-12 SO RB 13 177 1082 6.1 12 11 76 6.9 1 188 1158 6.2 13
2017 USC Pac-12 JR RB 13 261 1550 5.9 19 14 187 13.4 1 275 1737 6.3 20
Career USC 591 3619 6.1 39 32 302 9.4 3 623 3921 6.3 42
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/27/2018.

Film Study: Texas (2017), Colorado (2017)

Jones was mostly held in check against Texas as a rusher (just 47 yards on 18 carries) but he still made a huge impression.  Two of the first three plays of the game for USC featured Jones split out blocking on wide receiver screens.  That tactic continued throughout the game when Jones was often utilized as a blocker in the open field.  This play is a good example of Jones blocking downfield.  He starts in the backfield but motions out to the right, to the wide side of the field.  He runs up field with a tight end to form a perfect lane for WR Steven Mitchell to run through after he catches the screen.  Due to the strength of the Longhorn defense, Jones was often called on to help in pass protection too.  I counted nine positive pass pro plays and no negative plays; he’ll need more size, experience and improved technique to stand up to NFL defenders but it’s a good start.  Jones only had one reception in the game but he made it count.  It was late in the second quarter with just 0:05 left with the score tied 7-7.  Jones stays in to protect at first but then leaks out as a safety valve for QB Sam Darnold.  Darnold is forced to scramble and finds Jones who had stopped his route in the open field to make an easy target for Darnold.  Jones turns up field, jukes the first defender, and then uses his speed (and a great block from Mitchell) to beat the defenders to the pylon.  At one point there are eight pursuing defenders in the frame and none of them can get an angle on Jones.  Without the momentum, and the points, that that play provided USC likely would have been upset by Texas.  Jones had two goal line carries and was stopped just short on both; the second came on 4th down so it was also a costly turnover.

Against Colorado’s softer defense, Jones was able to show me more as a runner.  Right from the start, his vision was apparent as he made three straight runs that impressed me (and the commentators too, who must have been the Colorado home game crew).  Jones is not a big broken tackle runner, similar to Penny he makes his yards by eluding defenders rather than overpowering them.  There were a few plays though that I noted key broken tackles by Jones, especially this 4th and Inches in the second quarter.  The linebacker has a free shot at Jones behind the line but he breaks the tackle and gets the first.  Two traits that Jones showed in the second half of the Colorado game were his jump cut and his patience.  This replay angle shows just how much ground his jump cut can cover which is almost unfair.  He later showed his patience on two plays as the Trojans were trying to run out the clock.  On the first, he slowly considers three separate potential holes before finally bouncing it to the sideline and nearly getting the first down.  It’s like watching him play real-life Frogger, making it up the field and toward the sideline a little at a time.  Shortly after that run, he takes a stretch handoff to the right, hesitates behind his blockers and then cuts it all the way back across the field for a score.  During my research, I came across many analysts who doubt Jones’ patience but I’m not nearly as concerned after watching those two plays.  Again, it’s not the main part of his game but Jones showed good play strength on this off tackle run in the third quarter.  A defender ends up on his back, which he shrugs off, and then he fights through a leg tackle to fall forward for a few extra yards.

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective.  The objective here: getting drafted.)

Strengths: Ball security, pass protection, speed, jump cut, age.

Weaknesses: Weight, lack of passing game activity, age.

Opportunities: Because of Jones’ ball security and pass protection, teams will trust him to be their back in all situations.  Teams can spin age either way, in this case they may feel that since he’s so young he hasn’t hit his full potential yet.

Threats: Due to the lack of receiving game work, teams may feel that Jones is not a great fit on third down or in the two minute drill even though he’s a good blocker.  Teams can spin age either way, in this case they may feel that since he’s so young he will be immature.

Draft Round Grade:  Late 2nd Round

I think that Jones is the perfect mix of known and unknown which will entice NFL scouts.  He has enough on tape to warrant being a Top 60 pick and the fact that he is so young will surely make a team want to take a chance on him becoming even better.  As I mentioned in the Opportunities section above, teams will feel that they can trust Jones.

Recent NFL Comparison:  Jamaal Charles

I vacillated between Lamar Miller and CJ Spiller for Jones’ comparison at first but then extended my search of combine measureables back further and found an even better comp in Charles.  Charles averaged 6.2 yards per carry at Texas to Jones’s 6.1 average.  Charles was a little more active as a pass catcher but not by much.  Both had two sub-200 carry seasons to start their career and then ended with 250+ in their junior season before coming out early.  Assuming Jones comes in at about 200lb they should match up near identically when it comes to measureables plus they run with a similar elusive, cutting style.  Charles was picked in the early 3rd round which is probably the worst case scenario for Jones.

 


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

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: 2018 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, ndtscouting.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes

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.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

Mock Draft Trends

Updated: July 23rd 2017

Does anybody else have Mock Draft Fever yet?  I sure do.  I’ve been checking out various mocks around the interwebs and have noticed two trends that I think are important for RSO owners to keep in mind as we head into the combine season.  Will things change as we progress through the combine and pro-days, certainly, but starting your research now is still a good idea.  Here are two story lines that RSO owners need to pay attention to as they start their mock draft and rookie research.

Offensive Line is Almost Historically Weak

Since 1999, an offensive lineman was not taken in the Top 10 just twice: 2015 and 2005.  Ultimately, like the quarterback position, I think team need will supersede talent and somebody will reach for whomever they feel is the top graded tackle.  You may be asking yourself, who cares, I’m not drafting Cam Robinson regardless of where he goes in the NFL draft.  Of course, but I think this is important for two reasons…
  1. The later the first offensive lineman is taken, the higher the potential that star offensive skill position rookies get drafted higher (i.e. by worse teams)
  2. The earlier the first offensive lineman is taken, the more likely a “run” on them starts because teams are worried they will get stuck with a third-rate tackle
Let’s use a real example to illustrate both ideas and how they could play out.  If the Jaguars, who arguably need both OL and RB help, take RB Leonard Fournette at #4, the next likely landing spot for the first OL would be the Chargers, Panthers or Bengals at #7-9.  If they all skip on OL too, it’s possible we may not see an OL taken until #14 and the Colts who desperately need to protect Andrew Luck.  If the Jaguars go OL first, maybe Fournette falls to #8 and the Panthers, which would look A LOT better for his rookie RSO prospects than the Jaguars.  If the Jaguars do go OL and it causes any of the next ten teams to panic and grab their own over a skill position player, it could mean somebody like WR Corey Davis falling to a better offense like the Titans or Bucs to pair with their young franchise QBs.

2017 Could be the Year of the 1st Round RB

Depending on which mock draft you look at, we will likely have multiple RBs taken in the 1st Round, probably three.  Fournette will undoubtedly go first followed by Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffery.  The draft fortunes of RBs has fluctuated over the last twenty years but over the last five years specifically, the demand for rookie RBs has trended downward.  We could argue if that has more to do with the talent of the players or the importance of the position to NFL teams but that is a conversation for another day.

The last two years gave us Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon, but 2014 and 2013 gave us zero 1st Round backs.  2012 was the last time that three RBs were drafted in the 1st Round but two of those were at #31 and #32.  You’d have to go back to 2010 to see a stronger crop with #9, #12 and #30.  Looking back at the 1st Round names before the 2013-14 drought is scary: Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, David Wilson, Mark Ingram, CJ Spiller, Ryan Mathews and Jahvid Best.  The best of this group, Martin and Ingram, are viable RB1s in RSO formats today but they have had bad seasons along the way and aren’t without question (you could throw Gurley and Gordon in that mix too – of course Elliot is a step above them all).  Spiller, Richardson and Mathews have had varying levels of success but none proved to be dynasty assets.  Wilson and Best were both out of the league prematurely due to injury.  Should you be scared of drafting a 1st Round RB for your RSO dynasty?  Probably if his name is not Leonard Fournette.

I think 2017 should probably be a two RB year in the NFL Draft’s 1st Round: Fournette and Cook.  After seeing the success of Elliot in 2016 though, I would not be surprised if some team who thinks their OL is on the rise tries to recreate that magic, albeit with a lesser back.  I predict somebody will reach for McCaffery in the 24-30 range and would not be surprised to see either Joe Mixon (despite his off field issues) or Wayne Gallman (after all of Clemson’s success the last two years) get a nod at #32 if the Patriots trade out which they often do.  Your RSO draft of course will look different with only skill position players but at this point in the process, I would be hesitant to take Cook higher than 1.05 and for McCaffery/Mixon I would wait even a few picks later (of course that could all change based on who drafts these guys).

*Note: When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com/

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.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

2016 Stories and Lessons

Updated: May 28th 2017

Happy holidays everyone! I hope everyone is having a great end to the year.  The fantasy season concluded recently for most of the fantasy community with the week 16 championships (we do keep in mind our wild brethren who finish in week 17) and the NFL season finishes shortly in week 17.  While some of you out there may still be celebrating your successful season and others might be crying after disaster, it is a good time to look at stories that dominated the fantasy season and examine a few lessons learned from the year.

Return of the Running Back

What a difference a year makes. Running backs were the ugly step-child of the fantasy community coming into the season with seemingly every analyst avoiding them like the plague.  We heard everything from “Running Backs are always hurt” to “Every team is going to a committee” or “Nobody runs the ball in a passing league”.  The much-maligned position group came back with a vengeance in 2016 absolutely dominating in a way we have not seen for years.  Table 1 details the big increase in weekly scoring among running backs this season, particularly among the top scorers.  The top running backs have also been far more reliable losing fewer games to injury this season.  The top six scorers per game from 2015 lost 41 games to injury while this year’s group has lost only 6 games total (including 3 games from LeVeon Bell’s suspension).   While the injury rate for running backs returned closer to historical levels, the scoring was far higher than recent years.  I do not expect the increased scoring to continue and will likely be lower on running backs than the consensus next season.

Table 1: PPR PPG for running backs

                RB1        RB2       RB6       RB12     RB18     RB24

2016       26.69     26.45     19.28     14.78     13.68     12.49

2015       21.09     20.22     16.95     14.52     12.80     12.24

 

Tight End is the new Running Back

Similarly to running backs in 2015, the top of the tight end position lost a lot of time to injuries in 2016. The top-6 per game scorers lost only 7 games in 2015.  That number ballooned to 19 so far this season primarily including top options Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed, and Tyler Eifert.  This number does not include a bunch of “decoy” games with minimum use due to injuries and reincorporation to the offense following an injury which lowered player scoring averages dramatically as seen in table 2.   Many in the fantasy community will use this data as evidence of how “injury-prone” tight ends are.  I will use it as a buying opportunity to obtain one of the few game changers at the position on the cheap.

Table 2: PPR PPG for tight ends

               TE1         TE6       TE12

2016       14.7        12.1        11.0

2015       18.1        14.7        10.8

Avoid Injured Players

Here is a small sample of stat lines for players returning from injury in 2016:

Julio Jones: 4 receptions, 60 yards; Stephon Diggs: 2 receptions, 18 yards;  Steve Smith: 4 receptions, 47 yards

Donte Moncrief: 4 receptions, 41 yards;  Julio Jones: 4 receptions, 60 yards;  Rob Gronkowski: 0 receptions, 0 yards

Tyler Eifert: 1 reception, 9 yards;  Jordan Reed: 1 reception, 10 yards

The conventional wisdom has been to insert your star players into fantasy lineups whenever they are available. The reality is that any player either returning from an injury or playing with an injury is a gargantuan-size risk usually not worth taking.  We will not know how effectively each individual will perform and, perhaps more importantly, how coaches will limit their snaps and thus the opportunity to put up fantasy points.  Coaches and front office personnel tend to the conservative side with players the organization invested heavily in.  It may not seem smart to bench your star players but, in many instances, it is exactly the correct move.

Avoid Skill Position Players with Bad Quarterbacks

There is a common belief among many that talent supersedes situation in dictating fantasy production. The reality is that situation plays a far larger part.  Perhaps no other situation highlights this dynamic more than the relationship between quarterbacks and skill players.  In particular, bad quarterback play negatively impacts fantasy production of attached players dramatically.

This negative impact manifests directly on wide-outs by receivers accumulating less yards for every target. Bad quarterback play also limits the opportunity for receivers to score touchdowns as drives tend to stall much earlier with fewer plays near the end zone.  Competitive teams shield bad quarterbacks in many cases by decreasing passing attempts which means fewer targets for wide receivers.  The bottom 9 NFL teams in passing rating so far in 2016 are:  New York Jets, Los Angeles Rams, Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers, and the Chicago Bear.  What does this “stellar” group have in common?  There is not a single wide receiver that managed even a WR2 season so far this season (based on PPG) in PPR leagues.  Terrelle Pryor is currently the highest ranked wide receiver out of these teams at WR25.  Those who invested in Allen Robinson, DeAndre Hopkins, or Brandon Marshall likely saw their fantasy seasons end early due to abysmal quarterbacks.

Bad quarterback play can also have a detrimental impact on running backs. Backs suffer from the same loss of touchdown opportunities as wide receivers but also see negative indirect consequences which limit effectiveness.  Defenses adjust to bad quarterbacks by placing more men closer to the line of scrimmage forcing teams to choose between passing with their awful quarterback and running against stacked boxes in low upside situations.  Los Angeles Rams’ Todd Gurley and Houston Texan Lamar Miller provide two examples (both currently top-6 in rushing attempts) which demonstrate the effect.  Both suffered from bottom of the league QBs and faced extensive loaded defensive fronts (along with marginal offensive line play and predictable offensive play calling) throughout the season.  The heavy volume should dictate RB1 numbers but QB play has heavily impacted each resulting in RB2 seasons.


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

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

Best Values – Writers' League

Updated: September 7th 2016

Values.  Even in a league comprised of the RSO founders and writers, there are plenty of players that sign for below their projected values.  Many factors contribute to this, including the timing of player nominations, each team’s roster construction, and each team’s remaining room under the salary cap.

As the auction progresses, owners throughout the league felt regret as several players slipped through the cracks for reasonable, team-friendly deals.  After the draft, several owners shared with me which players they felt were the best values in the auction.

Quarterbacks

Aaron Rodgers (4 years, $72 million) Ice Cold Bruschis

“Didn’t realize it during the action, but after the fact this looks like a steal.  He’s still the 5th highest paid QB on a per year basis and the 6th highest in 2016, but he’s almost 9M/yr cheaper than the #1 QB Wilson and a solid 3-4M/yr lower than the other top tier QBs of Luck, Cam, and Brees.  Add in the fact that he’s the only QB locked in for 4 years in this superflex league and this buy looks great.  I personally went into the auction with the strategy of not wanting to target the top QBs, but in hindsight I should have gone after Rodgers at this value.” -Kyle English

“A-Rod also really good to have locked up for 4 years. He will probably have a huge year this year now that Nelson is back in the fold.” -Stephen Wendell

Ben Roethlisberger (2 years, $25 million) Bro-lo El Cuñado

“Ben at 2/$25M was my favorite multi-year QB deal” -Matt Papson

Derek Carr (3 years, $21.5 million) Like The Language

“Derek Carr is a nice flyer at $7.2M per year for the next 3 years. I was already set at QB by the time he came available so I could not get involved.” -Matt Papson

“I am big on Carr and love that contract as well. He will be able to use or trade that at some point this year.” -Stephen Wendell

Blake Bortles (2 years, $18 million) Like The Language

Love the Blake Bortles contract. In a 2 QB league, he is going to be a valuable starter for Kyle’s squad for many many weeks.  -Stephen Wendell

Running Backs

Le’Veon Bell (3 years, $45.5 million) New York Knightmare

“Bell was unbelievably cheap, even with his recovery. I wasn’t prepared to absorb the risk that comes with him, but this has the chance to be the best overall deal signed at the end of the year.”  -Matt Papson

LeSean McCoy (2 years, $22 million) BallinOnABudget

“I fully expect McCoy to deliver big value on this contract.  He is the lead back in a run-heavy Buffalo offense and a dangerous receiving option out of the backfield on a team without many receiving weapons.  McCoy missed some time last year and was one of the first running backs nominated in the auction, which probably explains his low valuation in our league as owners  were waiting on the running back position.” -Bernard Faller

“Matt’s Shady contract could prove to be really good…in a PPR league, I just think he is so undervalued. I bowed out of that signing too early…as an Eagles fan, the whole Shady thing is tough to get through.” -Stephen Wendell

“I’m not a huge McCoy fan in general but given the turmoil his backups are going through, I think it’s safe to say McCoy is looking at 300+ touches this year if he can stay healthy (which he did in 2013 and 2014 don’t forget).  McCoy’s 2016 salary is lower than guys like Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and Matt Forte – all three have their own injury histories and I would argue neither has as high a ceiling as McCoy.”  -Bob Cowper

Devonta Freeman (2 years, $26 million) New York Knightmare

“Freeman and Bell are both on solid contracts, though I like Freeman signing more than Bell. The discount was there for Bell for obvious reasons but 4 years is a lot to commit to him given his off the field issues and the age of Big Ben…he goes down and that offense really changes.” -Stephen Wendell

Jeremy Langford (1 year, $4.5 million) $7 Worth of Hoobastank

“Jeremy Langford signing could prove to be a great bang for the buck this season at $4.5mm. Forte was not just a fluke catching dump off passes in the freezing cold all those years in Chicago. Langford will score a bunch of fantasy points…don’t get me wrong, I hate the Bears and Cutler, but this is a good singing I think.” -Stephen Wendell

Thomas Rawls (1 year, $5 million) $7 Worth of Hoobastank

“Rawls at $5MM looks like great value in retrospect. I remember being upset he went for that little.” -Stephen Wendell

Wide Receivers

Josh Doctson (3 years, $3.5 million) Suck It Trebek

“My favorite contract in this league is Suck It Trebek’s (Bernard’s) signing of Josh Doctson for 3 years, $3.5m. Basically, even if Doctson sat out the entire season in 2016, he has the potential to be a superstar and runs the entire route tree. Doctson can win against all types of coverage, especially in the air on a Washington offense full of weapons. Bernard will benefit from this late-auction deal big time in the future years and potentially in OBJ type form if Doctson comes back to full health at some point this season. I personally would have bid higher and had the money to do it or even price enforce a bit, but I was saving my last multi-year deal (only had my 2 year deal left) for Sterling Shepard with OBJ already in tow and being fairly receiver heavy.” -Matt Goodwin

“At the point in the draft where he was selected, many of us were low on salary cap room and/or multi-year contracts. Still, this is incredible value given the contracts many of the other high-upside wide receivers and was a lesson in patience for my trigger-happy bidding style.” -Jaron Foster

Kelvin Benjamin (3 years, $50.5 million) Save Us Carson Wendtz & Kevin White (3 years, $34 million) $7 Worth of Hoobastank

“The receivers got the bulk of the multi-year deals in this league, which is to be expected, but there was some craaaaaazy cash flying around in Free Agency. In the end, I think Kelvin Benjamin and Kevin White have a chance to be really special players for a while.” -Matt Papson

Jeremy Maclin (4 years, $24 million) BallinOnABudget

“I mean just look at this numbers last year to know how good this signing was by Papson – don’t love the length but it is an easy cut decision in 2 years if need be.” -Stephen Wendell

“My value pick has to go to Matt “Papi” Papson and his Jeremy Maclin $26M/4years contract. As his team name would suggest (BallinOnABudget) Matt seemed to be looking for value rather than bidding wars and he definitely found one here. Maclin was quietly one of the most consistent WRs last season and looks comfortable as Andy Reid’s number one option. We will see what his value holds in the fourth year of the contract, he’ll be 31, but at an average salary of just over $6 million he is a significant discount to some of his other WR2 brethren.” -Nick Andrews

Laquon Treadwell (2 years, $6 million) Like The Language

“Treadwell’s contract looks pretty good for that amount of time. He is going to be good.”  -Stephen Wendell

Marvin Jones (1 year, $3 million) Bro-lo El Cuñado

“Jones at that value has a chance for a special year in a Megatronless Detroit.” -Stephen Wendell

Tight ends

Zach Ertz (2 years, $8 million) Bro-lo El Cuñado

“The Ertz contract was easily the TE value of the night. I must have been asleep at the controls for this one.”  -Matt Papson

Let us know on Twitter about some of the best/worst contracts in your RSO league.


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

More Analysis by Dave Sanders

Best Values – Writers’ League

Updated: October 16th 2016

Values.  Even in a league comprised of the RSO founders and writers, there are plenty of players that sign for below their projected values.  Many factors contribute to this, including the timing of player nominations, each team’s roster construction, and each team’s remaining room under the salary cap.

As the auction progresses, owners throughout the league felt regret as several players slipped through the cracks for reasonable, team-friendly deals.  After the draft, several owners shared with me which players they felt were the best values in the auction.

Quarterbacks

Aaron Rodgers (4 years, $72 million) Ice Cold Bruschis

“Didn’t realize it during the action, but after the fact this looks like a steal.  He’s still the 5th highest paid QB on a per year basis and the 6th highest in 2016, but he’s almost 9M/yr cheaper than the #1 QB Wilson and a solid 3-4M/yr lower than the other top tier QBs of Luck, Cam, and Brees.  Add in the fact that he’s the only QB locked in for 4 years in this superflex league and this buy looks great.  I personally went into the auction with the strategy of not wanting to target the top QBs, but in hindsight I should have gone after Rodgers at this value.” -Kyle English

“A-Rod also really good to have locked up for 4 years. He will probably have a huge year this year now that Nelson is back in the fold.” -Stephen Wendell

Ben Roethlisberger (2 years, $25 million) Bro-lo El Cuñado

“Ben at 2/$25M was my favorite multi-year QB deal” -Matt Papson

Derek Carr (3 years, $21.5 million) Like The Language

“Derek Carr is a nice flyer at $7.2M per year for the next 3 years. I was already set at QB by the time he came available so I could not get involved.” -Matt Papson

“I am big on Carr and love that contract as well. He will be able to use or trade that at some point this year.” -Stephen Wendell

Blake Bortles (2 years, $18 million) Like The Language

Love the Blake Bortles contract. In a 2 QB league, he is going to be a valuable starter for Kyle’s squad for many many weeks.  -Stephen Wendell

Running Backs

Le’Veon Bell (3 years, $45.5 million) New York Knightmare

“Bell was unbelievably cheap, even with his recovery. I wasn’t prepared to absorb the risk that comes with him, but this has the chance to be the best overall deal signed at the end of the year.”  -Matt Papson

LeSean McCoy (2 years, $22 million) BallinOnABudget

“I fully expect McCoy to deliver big value on this contract.  He is the lead back in a run-heavy Buffalo offense and a dangerous receiving option out of the backfield on a team without many receiving weapons.  McCoy missed some time last year and was one of the first running backs nominated in the auction, which probably explains his low valuation in our league as owners  were waiting on the running back position.” -Bernard Faller

“Matt’s Shady contract could prove to be really good…in a PPR league, I just think he is so undervalued. I bowed out of that signing too early…as an Eagles fan, the whole Shady thing is tough to get through.” -Stephen Wendell

“I’m not a huge McCoy fan in general but given the turmoil his backups are going through, I think it’s safe to say McCoy is looking at 300+ touches this year if he can stay healthy (which he did in 2013 and 2014 don’t forget).  McCoy’s 2016 salary is lower than guys like Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and Matt Forte – all three have their own injury histories and I would argue neither has as high a ceiling as McCoy.”  -Bob Cowper

Devonta Freeman (2 years, $26 million) New York Knightmare

“Freeman and Bell are both on solid contracts, though I like Freeman signing more than Bell. The discount was there for Bell for obvious reasons but 4 years is a lot to commit to him given his off the field issues and the age of Big Ben…he goes down and that offense really changes.” -Stephen Wendell

Jeremy Langford (1 year, $4.5 million) $7 Worth of Hoobastank

“Jeremy Langford signing could prove to be a great bang for the buck this season at $4.5mm. Forte was not just a fluke catching dump off passes in the freezing cold all those years in Chicago. Langford will score a bunch of fantasy points…don’t get me wrong, I hate the Bears and Cutler, but this is a good singing I think.” -Stephen Wendell

Thomas Rawls (1 year, $5 million) $7 Worth of Hoobastank

“Rawls at $5MM looks like great value in retrospect. I remember being upset he went for that little.” -Stephen Wendell

Wide Receivers

Josh Doctson (3 years, $3.5 million) Suck It Trebek

“My favorite contract in this league is Suck It Trebek’s (Bernard’s) signing of Josh Doctson for 3 years, $3.5m. Basically, even if Doctson sat out the entire season in 2016, he has the potential to be a superstar and runs the entire route tree. Doctson can win against all types of coverage, especially in the air on a Washington offense full of weapons. Bernard will benefit from this late-auction deal big time in the future years and potentially in OBJ type form if Doctson comes back to full health at some point this season. I personally would have bid higher and had the money to do it or even price enforce a bit, but I was saving my last multi-year deal (only had my 2 year deal left) for Sterling Shepard with OBJ already in tow and being fairly receiver heavy.” -Matt Goodwin

“At the point in the draft where he was selected, many of us were low on salary cap room and/or multi-year contracts. Still, this is incredible value given the contracts many of the other high-upside wide receivers and was a lesson in patience for my trigger-happy bidding style.” -Jaron Foster

Kelvin Benjamin (3 years, $50.5 million) Save Us Carson Wendtz & Kevin White (3 years, $34 million) $7 Worth of Hoobastank

“The receivers got the bulk of the multi-year deals in this league, which is to be expected, but there was some craaaaaazy cash flying around in Free Agency. In the end, I think Kelvin Benjamin and Kevin White have a chance to be really special players for a while.” -Matt Papson

Jeremy Maclin (4 years, $24 million) BallinOnABudget

“I mean just look at this numbers last year to know how good this signing was by Papson – don’t love the length but it is an easy cut decision in 2 years if need be.” -Stephen Wendell

“My value pick has to go to Matt “Papi” Papson and his Jeremy Maclin $26M/4years contract. As his team name would suggest (BallinOnABudget) Matt seemed to be looking for value rather than bidding wars and he definitely found one here. Maclin was quietly one of the most consistent WRs last season and looks comfortable as Andy Reid’s number one option. We will see what his value holds in the fourth year of the contract, he’ll be 31, but at an average salary of just over $6 million he is a significant discount to some of his other WR2 brethren.” -Nick Andrews

Laquon Treadwell (2 years, $6 million) Like The Language

“Treadwell’s contract looks pretty good for that amount of time. He is going to be good.”  -Stephen Wendell

Marvin Jones (1 year, $3 million) Bro-lo El Cuñado

“Jones at that value has a chance for a special year in a Megatronless Detroit.” -Stephen Wendell

Tight ends

Zach Ertz (2 years, $8 million) Bro-lo El Cuñado

“The Ertz contract was easily the TE value of the night. I must have been asleep at the controls for this one.”  -Matt Papson

Let us know on Twitter about some of the best/worst contracts in your RSO league.


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

More Analysis by Dave Sanders

How RSO Rookie Drafts Differ

Updated: August 30th 2016

After participating in several RSO rookie drafts, I began to think about how much these differ from standard dynasty league rookie drafts that are the industry standard throughout the fantasy community.  Rankings and Average Draft Positions that you’ll see on sites like Dynasty League Football are intended for standard dynasty leagues, where you can keep the selected rookies on your roster for an unlimited amount of time.  The presence of 3 to 4 year rookie contacts may create a market inefficiency with owners not shifting their draft strategy away from standard dynasty to match the uniqueness and realism RSO provides.  Retaining that player past their rookie contract will likely force that owner to pay the average of the top five salaries at that position, meaning that the player must become elite at their position by the end of their rookie deal to warrant the tag.  It’s worth noting that some leagues implement limits on the number of times a player can be tagged before he has to return to the free agent auction.  Sure, the player can be re-acquired in the free agent auction, but his cap hit will now be determined by the open market.

The Research

I set out to determine which positions should be prioritized in RSO rookie drafts by providing the best return on investment (ROI).  To do this, I created a sample of QBs, RBs, WRs, and TEs that in the last three years (2013, 2014, 2015) posted a season that was “start worthy”.  For simplicity, I defined “start worthy” as players who finished among in the top 10 QBs, top 25 RBs, top 25 WRs, and top 10 TEs for the 2013, 2014, or 2015 seasons in standard scoring, data courtesy of Pro Football Reference.  The sample created a player pool consisting of 19 QBs, 47 RBs, 48 WRs, and 20 TEs.  With my sample pool selected, I began tracking how quickly each player put together a “start worthy” season by recording the results from their first four seasons in the league.

The Results

Start Worthy Chart

Quarterbacks

95% “Start Worthy” by year 4 – Before conducting this research, I expected quarterbacks to take longer to become “start worthy” and was surprised to see 18 of 19 did that in their first 4 seasons.  On average, it took these QBs 2.61 years to put together such a season, meaning this usually happened in years 2 and 3.  Those numbers alone may not mean a lot, but let’s see how it compares to other positions.

Running backs

1.91 years, the average time it takes a running back to become “start worthy” – For a variety of reasons (most of which I agree with), RBs are devalued in dynasty leagues.  However, I believe we should think differently about running backs in RSO as they typically become “start worthy” by year 2 at a ROOKIE SALARY!  This past off-season, I went out of my way to acquire additional second round picks to have more chances of hitting on one of these cost-effective productive young RBs.

Wide receivers

2.02 years, the average time it takes wide receivers to become “start worthy” – WRs are the stars of dynasty football, the prized assets that command huge trade returns.  Becoming “start worthy” by year 2 confirms that WRs are still very valuable in RSO, but might not hold as drastic of an edge over RBs as in standard dynasty leagues.

Tight ends

5% = the lowest % increase in becoming “start worthy” from year 3 to year 4 – By year 3, you may know what you have with your TE prospect.  80% of the sample put forth “start worthy” seasons by year 3, with only 1 TE waiting until year 4.  Important to note, TEs also took the longest time to produce an ROI with an average of 2.53 years to become “start worthy”.

What does this mean to RSO players?

Personally, I wouldn’t select a rookie QB in the 1st round of a rookie draft unless the format is 2QB or Superflex.  With that said, I do feel more comfortable with selecting the top QB prospects in the 2nd or 3rd round of rookie drafts after discovering that the breakout QBs almost always do so by their fourth season.  RBs and WRs should be heavily prioritized in RSO rookie drafts, given that they’re the quickest to produce “start worthy” seasons after entering the league.  While I’d give WRs a slight edge over RBs since they’re more consistent year to year, RBs close the gap a bit in RSO by becoming “start worthy” the soonest.  TEs, on the other hand, should be widely ignored in rookie drafts.  It frequently takes too long for these players to develop into starting caliber options.  Sure, there are outliers – Rob Gronkowski comes to mind.  But strategies built on the outcomes of outliers are doomed to fail.

To summarize, target RBs and WRs in your rookie drafts.  In trades, I’ll typically ask for a 2nd round pick to be added as a thrown in.  While mostly insignificant, I want more chances at hitting on a breakout RB or WR on a multi-year rookie contract.  The RBs and WRs that break out often do so by year 2, which makes it quicker to know when to cut bait on a bust and use the roster spot elsewhere.


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. 

More Analysis by Dave Sanders