2017 Top 25s: QBs and RBs

Updated: July 16th 2017

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

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

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

 

Top 25 QBs for 2017

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

Top 25 RBs for 2017

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

My recommendation

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

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


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

Super Bowl Predictions

Updated: July 16th 2017

Well, those two Conference Championship games were complete duds. The Falcons and Patriots dominated from the start in each game, controlling both sides of the ball, and winning with ease. While Brady and Ryan have both appeared dominant this season, the similarities stop there with respect to this Super Bowl. Matt Ryan will be playing in his first Super Bowl game, having failed to reach the big game during his previous four trips to the playoffs. While Ryan has made five playoff appearances (certainly nothing to sneeze at for the 9th year veteran), Brady will be searching for his 5th Super Bowl victory in his 7th trip to the big game, an astonishing achievement. Irrespective of what happens in this game, there is no doubt in my mind that he is the GOAT, but if Brady is able to persevere in what will have to be a solid performance given the potency of the Falcons’ offense, he will leave no doubt. What do our writers think? Each dissects the game and gives you his prediction below. In case you are tracking at home and/or relying on a particular writer for betting purposes today, here are the writers’ records throughout the playoffs (in order of ML picking performance).

  1. Bernard Faller: Last Week 2-0 ML & 1-0-1 ATS; Playoffs 9-1 ML & 5-3-2 ATS
  2. Matt Goodwin: Last Week 1-1 ML & 1-1 ATS; Playoffs 8-2 ML & 6-3-1
  3. Luke O’Connell: Last Week 1-1 ML & 1-1 ATS; Playoffs 8-2 ML & 6-4 ATS
  4. Stephen Wendell: Last Week 1-1 ML & 1-1 ATS; Playoffs 7-3 ML & 7-3 ATS
  5. Nick Andrews: Last Week 2-0 ML & 1-1 ATS; Playoffs 7-3 ML & 6-4 ATS
  6. Kyle English: Last Week 1-1 ML & 0-2 ATS; Playoffs 7-3 ML & 4-6 ATS
  7. Dave Sanders: Last Week 1-1 ML & 1-0-1 ATS; Playoffs 6-4 ML & 6-3-1 ATS
  8. Matt Papson: Last Week 1-1 ML & 0-2 ATS; Playoffs 6-4 ML & 5-5 ATS
  9. Robert Cowper: Last Week 0-2 ML & 0-2 ATS; Playoffs 5-5 ML & 4-6 ATS

Atlanta Falcons vs. New England Patriots [Line: Patriots -3]

Stephen Wendell: I don’t have much to add than what I alluded to in the introduction above. Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense have been incredible, and I don’t think they choke in this Super Bowl. Rather, I think Belichick figures a way to slow them down, the Pats get an opportune turnover as they usually do, and Brady plays flawless football en route to a Patriots victory and Brady’s 5th Super Bowl Championship. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Falcons 21.

Matt Papson: The greatest coach ever vs. a great coach. The greatest quarterback ever vs. a great quarterback. The greatest offensive coordinator ever vs. a great offensive coordinator. Kyle Shanahan has gotten the most of some average & slightly above average NFL quarterbacks. Brian Griese, Chris Simms, Matt Schaub, RG3, Kirk Cousins, Brian Hoyer (there was an aging Donovan McNabb in there too). Matt Ryan was the first great quarterback he got to work with, and they’ve been great together. While there’s no doubt Shanahan is thoroughly prepared for this game and wants desperately to win, he’s also the current head coach of another NFL football team (the 49ers). That’s kind of a weird dynamic to balance while preparing for and calling the biggest game of his life. Plus, the opponent isn’t exactly a pushover. Bill & Tom are unanimously considered among the best ever — here and there somebody will have one or the other second or third on their “list”, but nobody with an opinion worth listening to has them outside the top 3. The appearance in this game should cement them at the top, but a win would leave no doubt. Everybody cites the 4 rings, but what’s crazy is just how good Brady has been after his first 3 Super Bowl victories. If you only took his career since 2005 (most of which coincides with Josh McDaniels as OC), Brady would STILL be in the discussion for greatest ever, and maybe even considered it. Since 2005 (not including ’08; injured), he’s won 134 of 172 games, completed 64.5% of his passes, and averaged 33 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He’s made 11 playoff appearances (every season), appeared in 8 conference championships, 4 Super Bowls, and he’s won at least one Super Bowl, maybe two. That is an absolutely insane career in an of itself. I can’t root against greatness, and I certainly won’t bet against it. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Falcons 23.

Kyle English: I believe the Falcons can put up points against the Pats with their offense so I think this game comes down to how well the Falcons defense plays.  They’ll need to generate a pass rush on Tom Brady without sending the house and they’ll need to win (or at least tie) the turnover battle.  I would love to see Matt Ryan win the big one and will be cheering hard for the Falcons, but I don’t believe their defense will do enough for him. Pats win yet another one… Projected Score: Patriots 34 – Falcons 28.

Robert Cowper: The Patriots of recent memory certainly know how to win Super Bowls – more importantly they know how to keep those games close.  In the six Super Bowls the Pats have played in since 2002, the scoring margin was a combined 20 points.  If the game turns into a shootout I don’t believe Brady & Co can keep up with the stable of playmakers the Falcons have on offense so I think we are going to see Patriot game planning at its best.  We’ll see a heavy dose of Blount and I would take him as my MVP pick at +2000 odds and hope for one of his signature three 1-yard TD games.  I think it will be a typical Patriots Super Bowl, about 40 total points and comes down to a Gostkowski field goal.  Given how well my predictions have gone so far this playoff season, we’ll probably see a 45-38 scoreline but I’m going with my gut again.  Projected Score: Patriots 22 – Falcons 20. 

Matt Goodwin: I’ve had one big miss in a red-hot playoffs and that was in thinking Aaron Rodgers scorching run would continue in Atlanta, who demonstrated to me they have what it takes to be Super Bowl Champions. To me this game is about an opportunistic defense and an offense that RSO player and numberFire Editor Brandon Gdula wrote about this week as historic. In my mind, that all starts with the free-agent signing of center Alex Mack from the Cleveland Browns. Mack, who was Pro Football Focus’ top run blocker at the position, also anchors a line that gives MVP candidate Matt Ryan all sorts of time to make big plays to many different receiving options, including both playmaking running backs (Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman). While it is hard to go against Tom Brady in his quest for a fifth ring, I just don’t think he has the same support on offense that the Falcons do, especially in a run game that frankly disappointed in its two playoff games. Aside from Dion Lewis’ three touchdowns against the Texans which is really only fantasy relevant, the Patriots yards per carry was atrocious. Without a good ground game, the underrated and opportunistic Atlanta defense (remember head coach Dan Quinn anchored a Super Bowl blowout for Seattle) and Vic Beasley can get pressure on Brady. So while all the intangibles swing towards New England and Brady, in a game to me that feels like a virtual heat, I’ll take Julio Jones to be the difference maker and Matt Ryan to get MVP honors in a Falcons win. Projected Score: Falcons 30 – Patriots 27. 

Nick Andrews: The Big Game. The Show. Whatever you call it this matchup was surprisingly not the one that people realized they wanted until it happened. If you are a Patriots fan you want to see Brady get his 5th title to confirm his G.O.A.T. status. For everyone else sick of them you are hitching your wagon to “anybody else” which is played by a young, exciting Atlanta team. While most people have this game being a high scoring, back and forth affair (O/U at 59) Super Bowls generally are not. Looking back at the last two #1 scoring offenses to play in the Super Bowl the 2013 Denver Broncos scored eight points and the 2007 Patriots scored seventeen. Good games just don’t feature score after score, blowouts do. These two defensive-minded head coaches are too good to not have a game plan that revolves around feeling out what the other is doing in the first half and adjusting for the second half. Similar to their meeting two years ago when Quinn was a coordinator for the Seahawks. That game finished 28-24 which should be the template for predicting this game. Projected Score: Patriots 24 – Falcons 20. **Bonus MVP Prediction** Julian Edelman 120 yards, 2 TDs. 

Dave Sanders: Could this be one of the highest scoring Super Bowl’s ever?  Vegas thinks so with an over/under of 59 (as of Thursday), which will be the highest Vegas has ever projected in Super Bowl history if it stays over 57.  We all know that the big game features two of the league’s top offenses, but Tony Khan (@tonyrkhan on Instagram) shared several stats that truly quantify what we’re seeing: 1) Both teams rank among the top three teams in offensive line stability (% of snaps taken by the same players). This speaks to the importance of continuity among the offensive line and that both lines are fairly healthy. 2) The teams also rank 1st and 2nd in QBR, Passer Rating, TD/INT, and YAC/Completion, which makes sense with Ryan and Brady playing possibly the best football of their careers. It’s never smart to bet against Brady in the postseason. Projected Score: Patriots 37 – Falcons 27.  

Bernard Faller: This should be a fun one.  There is no dominating defense in the Super Bowl for the first time in years.  Instead we have what many would consider the top two offenses in the NFL.  The key to this game is if the young Atlanta secondary will avoid the big mistakes that leave receivers wide open for Tom Brady to take advantage of.  The Patriot defense largely avoided these types of blunders this year.  They won’t stop the vaunted Falcons offense but do just enough to make them work for their points. Projected Score: Patriots 34 – Falcons 31.

Luke O’Connell: Dante drops one of the most famous lines in all of literature at the start of arguably the greatest epic poem ever written: “Midway upon the journey of our life/I found myself within a forest dark,/For the straightforward pathway had been lost.”  (Inferno, Canto I, 1-3).  The straightforward path is precisely my point of concern after attempting to analyze the Falcons’ chances against the Patriots.  If the Falcons lose, it will be largely because of the interior line play of the New England Patriots.    After PFF sorted them near the bottom of the league last season (25th) they have ascended from the inferno with Dante Scarnecchia, their offensive line coach.  The bright lights will shine on the usual names, but if you don’t hear the names Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaquille Mason then you can be sure the Falcons have not beaten the Patriot’s guards and center with interior pressure.  No straight path to Brady means Atlanta will find all is lost. RSO Angle:  Who will be the more expensive contract/trade commodity between Dion Lewis and Tevin Coleman?  Both men will not be able to hide talent or usage on the biggest stage. Projected Score: Patriots 30 – Falcons 27. 

Open the Wallet – Players to Buy

Updated: June 22nd 2016

In dynasty and RSO leagues, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of staying active year round in trade talks.  Player values fluctuate more than ever during this time of year.  If you’re willing to stomach some risk, there’s an opportunity for profit.  When discussing trades, I often hear that owners are afraid making a move and having it backfire in the long term.  My strategy is a bit different as I’m unafraid to make an aggressive move if I believe I’m getting more value at the time of the trade.  If you accept that you will lose in some trades but believe you will win out more than 50% of the time, be as aggressive as possible.  Right or wrong, I do not just consider deals made to be potential wins or losses.  I also think this way about trade talks that were close, but never materialized for whatever reason.  For example, trades I’ve declined have potential to be wins or losses as well though my roster has remained intact.

In this off-season edition of Open the Wallet, I’ll explain which players I’m actively looking to buy before the 2016 season.

Mark Ingram RB NO – I’ll admit, I wasn’t a fan of him early in his NFL career, but his production the last few years cannot be ignored. In fact, Ingram has averaged 4.5 yards per carry over the past 3 seasons, while increasing his utilization in the passing game each year.  In 2015, Ingram caught 50 passes in only 12 games.  With an ADP of 44th overall in Dynasty League Football June startup drafts, Ingram is a value with a few years left in the tank.

 

Ryan Mathews RB PHI / Wendell Smallwood RB PHI – Give me running backs in a Doug Pederson offense.  We saw last year that non-elite talents like Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware could be effective in Pederson’s conservative scheme. In Philadelphia, Pederson should continue running a conservative offense, especially while grooming Carson Wentz. The Eagles off-season moves also indicate that they’ll be heavily focused on running the football. They didn’t add any notable WRs in the draft or free agency, leaving the receiver corps very thin.  Philadelphia also invested heavily on the offensive line and at tight end this off-season. Mathews was very efficient in 2015, especially early in the season. He should be a borderline RB1 for as long as he can stay healthy. That said, Mathews isn’t the only running back on the team with fantasy value. Wendell Smallwood quietly was a do-it-all workhorse at West Virginia. I’d expect for him to open the season as Ryan Mathews backup with the potential to become the feature back if/when Mathews misses time for an injury.

 

Danny Woodhead RB SD – Woodhead finished 5th in PPR scoring among RBs last year. As we all know, Melvin Gordon struggled last season but still managed to eat 217 touches. With Gordon returning from microfracture surgery, Woodhead may have an even larger role this season.  He still has enough in the tank to be a valuable contributor for title contending teams, especially in PPR or .5 PPR formats.

 

Keenan Allen WR SDAccording to DLF ADP, Keenan Allen is currently being selected just ahead of a group of exciting but unproven wide receivers that includes Laquon Treadwell, Kevin White, Donte Moncrief, and DeVante Parker. Allen’s currently going 15th overall, 11th among WRs. He was on pace to put up career numbers in 2015 before lacerating his kidney. Expected to be at full strength for Week 1, Allen is an excellent trade target if you own one of these young and unproven WRs listed above or own an aging wide receiver like Dez Bryant, AJ Green, or Demaryius Thomas and want to cash in while they still have top 20 value. You likely wouldn’t need to toss in more than a second round rookie pick with Treadwell, White, Moncrief, Parker, or Thomas to acquire Allen.

 

Eric Decker WR Jets – Quietly Eric Decker had a monster year in 2015.  Many expected that his productive days would end when he left the Peyton Manning led Denver Broncos, but that hasn’t been the case.  In fact, he’s been very productive with bottom-tier talents Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith.  While Fitzpatrick’s numbers were solid last year, he was largely aided by his star wide receivers and the Chan Gailey scheme.  Pro Football Focus ranked him as just the 25th best QB in 2015.

 

Tom Brady QB NE – As Matthew Berry coined in 2015, the “Gronk You Tour” may continue into 2016.  He’s the perfect number two QB for a contending team as he’ll likely provide elite production for a majority of the season.  Let’s not forget that Brady was the 2nd best fantasy QB in 2015.  His four-game suspension presents a great buying opportunity as he’s currently 122nd in DLF ADP, 11th among QBs.

 

Carson Palmer QB ARI – Similar to Brady, Palmer was very good in 2015 – ranking 5th among QBs. I’m hoping the memory of his last game, the 4 interception disaster vs. Carolina in the playoffs, remains in the front of his owners’ minds. Optimistic that he has 1-2 good seasons left, I’d be willing to part with a late round rookie pick to acquire Palmer.  That’s likely all it would take as he’s currently being drafted 153rd in DLF ADP, 13th among QBs.

Which of these players are you also targeting in trades? Let me know @DaveSanders_RSO on Twitter!

Ups and Downs of the RSO Playoffs

Updated: December 24th 2015

golden-tate-nfl-new-orleans-saints-detroit-lions-850x560

They say it is sometimes better to be lucky than good. To win Reality Sports Online league titles, it seems like you have to be a bit of both. Hit on your rookie draft picks, don’t spend big dollars on busts and get your multi-year deals right, don’t have player injuries and then have it all align in the playoffs.

So, after being in my main league for three years and the Writers League for two years, I can honestly say I haven’t won a championship and am still after that holy grail. As someone who is their own worst critic, and who writes strategy pieces for the website, that makes me feel like a little bit of a fraud. I know I’m beating myself up on this, but let me share my two league circumstances with you this year.

I welcome any of you who suffered a similar loss to Tweet me or contact me as some form of therapy. I have writing about this experience as my therapy, so let me be the one you vent to after reading this if you are in the same boat as me.

First, I’ll start with my Writers League with folks who I write with at Reality Sports Online and numberFire mainly (some have moved onto other sites like Rotoworld and ESPN). I finished 11-2 in the regular season with the highest scoring team by far. That earned me the #2 seed and a matchup against my friend @GrahamBarfield, the #3 seed in the league, while 12-1 #1 Seed @LeoHowell8 played upstart first-year owner and Baylor Law Professor and late summer league addition #4 seed (brought in via Twitter to compete against writers) @RoryRyan in the other playoff matchup.

Buoyed all season by a Tom Brady/Rob Gronkowski stack, Devonta Freeman and Eric Decker, my team was stacked and I have most of these players (and Todd Gurley, Demaryius Thomas) for several more years. In round one however, I went into Monday Night Football with a 16 point lead and Graham having Lamar Miller remaining. Miller scored two touchdowns by halftime and my highest-scoring team in the league (and second highest among 10 teams that week) was toast.

On the other side, Howell, who has lost exactly two regular season games in two years in the league, put up a dud and lost to Ryan, who inherited one of the worst teams in the league mid-summer, was awarded T.Y. Hilton by the league on a two year, $40.0 million contract and left to his own devices to turn the rest around. He slid into the playoffs behind some good moves and then, wouldn’t you know it, won the whole thing while Howell and I put up very high totals in the third place game.

Rory Ryan Shocks the Writers League

Basically, Ryan capitalized on being healthy and opportunistic,  and a few solid moves. Here’s his summary of what lead to his success (in his words):

“As I looked around the locker room before the championship match, I decided we needed to do something unusual. We went around the room and introduced ourselves–as six of the ten starters were waiver-wire pickups. As I drove my family back from the Polar Express train ride during Monday’s finale, I kept getting SiriusXM updates that were good. Then better. Then — victory. To say the team I inherited was in “rebuilding mode” would be an understatement. But we were able to scrape out just enough wins and ride a whole lot of luck to the title. “

“Although (to quote Nuke Laloosh) “winning is like . . . so much better than losing,” the year was great either way. As I told folks on social media, it was fun playing against the guys whose advice I use when setting my lineups in other leagues. And the RSO format really does make even traditional dynasty leagues seem primitive. The contracts, waivers, salary cap, etc., make up the way fantasy ought to be played. “
“The opportunity to play this format against these guys was too much to pass up — despite my (formerly) firm rules against not playing in leagues with kickers, defenses (if I can help it), and true decimal scoring. But I’m still looking forward to next year, where hopefully my roster will be slightly more settled. “

“So what was my strategy? When I entered the auction, there were few (no) stars and plenty of money. So prices were inflated. I went after some grinders who I’d always feel OK inserting into the lineup: Jonathan Stewart, Frank Gore, and Doug Martin (didn’t get him). But I spent little money. Instead, I saved most of my cap room, knowing that injuries and sleepers would emerge, and I would have the big bankroll. DeAngelo Williams, Danny Amendola, Antonio Gates, Dion Lewis, and Zach Miller all played important roles during the season.

“As for the future — we will see if my strategy works. Since there were no stars to lock down, I went after a group of guys who I thought were more talented than their projections, hoping that at least one of them ends up in an ideal situation. The prices are low enough that hitting 1/3 and cutting the other two will more than pay for itself in savings, despite the cap penalty, as I’ll avoid waiting for the player to demonstrate the market value. So, Golden Tate, Torrey Smith, and Markus Wheaton — please answer the phone if the Patriots call.”

A Rivalry Is Continued in Reality Sports Online

Let me set the stage for you a bit with some history. My best friend since our freshman year at Miami University, @MarkPesavento and I have been in fantasy football leagues together since 1996. He is my biggest rival and our fantasy matchups have quite a history of craziness as you can imagine for anyone playing against each other for that long. Since he works in sports and I don’t, there is an extra layer of who is the smarter football mind is between the two of us.

With that in mind, Mark and I left an ESPN keeper league a few years ago in search of something bigger, something more challenging that was fully customizable. As part of his work at the time, he discovered Reality Sports Online and we’ve been hooked ever since. Together we are co-commissioners of the Not Quite Gentlemen’s League, a super-customized PPR league with 12 teams and lineups consisting of only one required running back, three flex positions, and where turnovers are heavily punished (-5 points for interceptions, fumbles) and the 5th and 6th playoff seeds are determined solely based on total points scored.
RSO Co-Founder and Chief Operating Office Stephen Wendell is now in our league too, which adds to the competitiveness. Pesavento finished first overall at 11-2 with the highest point total (he won the league in 2014), newcomer Wendell finished 9-5 and was the #2 seed. I was the second highest scoring team, but finished 7-6 and got the #5 overall seed.

My high-scoring team proved no fluke in the opening round of the playoffs, winning 321.54-179.99 and a Week 15 rematch with Pesavento, who I was 0-2 against on the season, loomed.

Setting the Stage-Week 12

First, though, let me take you back to Week 12 where Pesavento and I squared off in an epic battle. He staked to an early lead behind Odell Beckham Jr., Philip Rivers, and Spencer Ware that seemed insurmountable at the time. Then late in the late games, my quarterback Russell Wilson hooked up with Doug Baldwin for an 80 yard touchdown, en route to a 72 point fantasy performance.

I was close going into the Sunday night game where I had Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots DST to his Broncos DST. Behind a Gronk touchdown and subsequent Gronk-spike and an inteception by the Patriots D, I staked out to a fairly decent lead (like 20 points). As the clock turned to the 4th quarter, I instant messaged Pesavento saying this game seems like it is over.

And then the collapse happened. The Patriots muffed a punt, Denver’s running game started picking up steam and the Patriots were bleeding out yardage allowed and points scored. The game was getting much closer. All I needed was another Gronk catch and I’d be fine.

Then Gronk got called for offensive pass interference on a big catch that was nullified. A few plays later, then he was carted off with a knee injury. So my happiness of likely winning the game turned into losing my key league advantage (and someone I’d like to franchise tag on a good deal for 2016) for the season, and potentially this game as well.

The Broncos scored to take the lead and all I then needed (while I was frantically worried about Gronk’s health for the rest of the season) was the game not to go to overtime. Well, we all know Stephen Gostkowski is fantasy gold and the game went to overtime. In overtime, as long as the Broncos didn’t score a touchdown, I’d win.

I think you know the rest. C.J. Anderson scored on a 48 yard touchdown scamper to end the game and Pesavento beat me by .25 points, continuing a series of close calls in recent match-ups.

The Worst Possible Way To Lose?

Heading into the Week 15 playoff matchup of the two highest scoring teams in the league, Pesavento was favored, yet he had some of his best players with tough matchups (Beckham Jr vs CAR, Antonio Brown vs. DEN DST, DEN DST at PIT) while mine on paper seemed favorable (A.J. Green @SF, Wilson vs. CLE, Devonta Freeman @JAX, Gronkowski vs. TEN, NE DST vs. TEN).

I staked out to a decent lead as Beckham Jr. didn’t have any catches through three well-documented quarters vs. shutdown corner Josh Norman. While I was watching on the NFL Game Mix (8 games at once on a not so-huge TV on DirecTV), I noticed that things were getting super chippy and was waiting for OBJ to get ejected by referee Terry McAulay’s crew for the punches thrown and the cheap shots.

I usually don’t get “holier than though” watching football, but by the time the Giants started their comeback and OBJ started racking up fantasy points I was on my high-horse and stark-raving mad that Beckham Jr. hadn’t been tossed. Heck, I’ve been tossed from rec-league basketball games for way less.

However, his Alshon Jeffery only had one catch for 10 yards and a touchdown, my Patriots DST had a good game and I was hanging in with him heading into Wilson’s huge matchup against my hometown Browns. Knowing that Wilson was hot and the Browns defense is porous, I knew Russ would deliver for me.

What I wasn’t prepared for was Brown scoring 70 points against his Broncos DST. So as the Steelers/Broncos game wore down and I was hoping the Broncos would give up more points, I was hoping that another player would score the final touchdown of this game. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and when Ben Roethlisberger threw an egregious interception on a terrible pass to his Denver defense right before the two minute warning that I coined the “Class of 1998 Miami University Fantasy Football Scholarship”, I knew that 5 points for the Broncos would loom large.

And as Brown caught another ball, I found myself down 15 points heading into Monday Night Football where it was my Golden Tate vs. his Tim Hightower for the right to survive and advance. Tate was coming off his best game of the season and was facing the porous Saints secondary. Hightower was coming off a solid game. Game flow seemed to favor Tate, but I figured the 15 points would loom too large for Tate to overcome.
As the game started and Tate scored two early touchdowns I found myself up in the game. Hightower scored right before half, but the play was called back on a lineman failing to report. The two of us went crazy over IM the remainder of the game.

At one point, unsolicited my wife and 5 year old son and 1 year old daughter started chanting “Golden Tate, Golden Tate!” pleading for him to get the ball when the Lions were on offense. It was super cute to see my daughter who talks but doesn’t know too many words saying this.

I was clinging to a slight lead and game flow took Hightower out of the game mostly. As I watched the Lions fumble away a few possessions that Tate could’ve had opportunities and the Lions DST unable to force punts to Tate as the returner (we get punt return yards for individual players in our league), I knew this was going to come down to the wire.

With five minutes left and me clinging to an ironic .26 point lead (basically the Week 12 margin of defeat), I paced around knowing that if Hightower got one more carry I would lose. I made it basically to the end of the game where the Lions were running out the clock unscathed. Alas, they didn’t have the ability to run off the entire clock and in came Matt Prater to kick a chip-shot field goal to end the game. Prater then missed, and I knew anything could happen.

The Saints had a few plays left and surely would be setting up for a Hail Mary after gaining a little bit of yardage. Initially seeing C.J. Spiller as the receiving back in the game, I figured I was fine. On a play with 14 seconds left, Drew Brees looked and pump faked at Hightower, but threw elsewhere. With six seconds left to go, folks in my league (including Pesavento) were congratulating me on the win.

Talk about Dewey vs. Truman. The last play should have been a Hail Mary. Instead, Brees decided to pad his completion percentage and throw a dump-off to Hightower. The yardage didn’t matter-I had lost after overcoming a deficit, in another crushing close defeat to Pesavento. Again on the last play of the game.
I wish this writing was fiction and not fact. I had seemingly overcome some poor performances by Green, T.Y. Hilton (who I started over Danny Woodhead based on recent history, Matt Hasselback starting, and Hilton’s history against Houston). I think back to all the dynamics of the matchup- Beckham not getting ejected and missing a for sure deep touchdown early in the game, two straight fade routes to Gronk in the end zone late in the Patriots/Titans game that came up just short, pass interference calls covering my Randall Cobb in the end zone, the Broncos late interception, and finally Hightower’s catch with the Saints down 8 points on the last play of the last game of the week, and I realize that the Reality Sports Online holy grail is a temptress. I easily could have lost by 50 points, won by 20 points or won by .26 points, but instead I lost by a few points and now wish Pesavento good luck in the finals (without Beckham and potentially Jeffery) while I play Wendell for third-place this week.

Only a combination of luck, health, and solid roster moves will result in winning this thing and I hope that my championship window with the same core I have locked up through 2016 will bring me better results next year. There’s always next year.

Please feel free to reach out to me with similar stories, start/sit questions for your big week 16 championship, or to call me a fraud via Twitter @Mattgoody2.

Marketwatch 2015: Stock Up/Down

Updated: May 27th 2015

Now that the NFL Draft and NFL Free Agency are over, team depth charts are starting to form as OTAs get underway. With all this in mind, which moves have had the most impact from a fantasy perspective for your Reality Sports Online fantasy leagues? Let’s dive in, and I’ll try to avoid topics I’ve already significantly covered this offseason and focus more on the moves that impact the stock of some fantasy players we haven’t delved into much yet.

Stock Up

1) Melvin Gordon, Running Back, San Diego Chargers

While I agree with the St. Louis Rams that Todd Gurley was the best running back in the 2015 NFL Draft, I think Gordon inserted himself to the best situation right away. The Chargers invested heavily on the offensive line in the offseason, re-signing King Dunlap and grabbing the versatile Orlando Franklin away from their division rival Denver Broncos. Gordon reminds some of having similar traits to Jamaal Charles and should be featured in the screen game as well in spite of having only 22 catches at Wisconsin as quarterback Philip Rivers loves to dump the ball off.

Coaches have already raved about Gordon’s pass blocking, which bodes well for him being on the field in most situations. Based on lackluster performance from Donald Brown, Branden Oliver, and Danny Woodhead being a specialist in the passing game who is coming off a serious injury, I love what Gordon brings to the table immediately for the Chargers. Down the line, you are looking at a top ten fantasy running back as well.

2) Ryan Tannehill, Quarterback, Miami Dolphins

With a new contract in tow and coming off a season in which he passed for over 4,000 yards, 27 touchdowns and only threw 12 interceptions, one has to be excited about Tannehill’s passing prospects in 2015. Then factor in the deep-ball ability of wide receiver Kenny Stills, who was acquired in a trade with New Orleans, the drafting in the first round of wide receiver DeVante Parker, and the signing of veteran Greg Jennings to join second year slot receiver wunderkind Jarvis Landry and the Dolphins receiving corps is formidable. This doesn’t even account for the addition by subtraction of team chemistry vacuum cleaner Mike Wallace and adding tight end Jordan Cameron, who just two years ago showed he was one of the more promising targets at the position.

Expect continued development and a strong running game under offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s high-powered system, and Tannehill to beat opponents with both his arm and his legs in 2015.

3) Russell Wilson, Quarterback, Seattle Seahawks

By now you know that my love for Wilson goes beyond rationality. The addition of Jimmy Graham gives Wilson the weapon over the middle of the field and more importantly in the red-zone that will bolster Wilson’s passing yards and especially passing touchdowns in 2015. The Seahawks typically have late round success in the draft as well, and used several picks to bolster the offensive line. However, the most impactful pick to the team may be the drafting of WR/KR Tyler Lockett in the third round, as the Seahawks surrendered four draft picks to move up and take the 5’11, 170 lb. receiver out of Kansas State. Given that the Seahawks tend to do well in the middle rounds of the draft, the trade with Washington to move up and pick Lockett suggests the team is very high on him.

Before you start having flashbacks to Percy Harvin’s forced Seattle stint, don’t view Lockett as the gadget play guy. On this team he is just another weapon along with the dependable Doug Baldwin and Paul Richardson, when he returns mid-season from an injured ACL that occurred in the playoffs. Add in Super Bowl surprise Chris Matthews and his 6’5 frame, and Wilson has more weapons than he’s ever had to pick apart defenses. In a contract year, he’ll be grateful for that.

4) DeAndre Hopkins, Wide Receiver, Houston Texans

Nobody did more with less from the quarterback position than Hopkins in 2014. Hopkins only turns 23 next month and finished 2014 with 76 receptions for 1,210 yards and 6 touchdowns. Now, Andre Johnson is in Indy and the team didn’t use first round capital to grab another wide receiver, waiting until the third round to grab Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong, who provides a nice complement to Hopkins. Coach Bill O’Brien has gone on record calling Hopkins one of the best in the game right now. With Cecil Shorts being a possession type receiving option for the Texans and Strong being a rookie who the team is limiting to play outside receiver only, the sky is the limit for Hopkins. Be prepared to pony up for him if he’s available in your auction.

5) Jonathan Stewart, Running Back, Carolina Panthers

Down the stretch last year, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better running back than J-Stew. The team went 5-1 in his last six games and he averaged 99 rushing yards a game in that stretch. With no real competition and the team getting more receiving weapons as well in the draft (Devin Funchess), Stewart figures to be a sleeper for the first time in a long time. He’s still only 28 years old and under contract through 2018.

Stock Down

1) Devonta Freeman, Running Back, Atlanta Falcons

It wasn’t like Freeman set the world on fire with his rookie campaign. However, when the team cut Steven Jackson and let Jacquizz Rodgers leave via free agency, things looked decent for the former Seminole to be the bell-cow for the Falcons this year. When the team didn’t draft local product Gurley at #8 overall, opting instead for defensive help and then didn’t draft a running back in round two either, things seemed like the job may have been Freeman’s heading into training camp. That changed quickly in Round 3 when the Falcons selected Indiana running back Tevin Coleman, who draftniks view as a home run hitter who has superior skills (and better pass blocking ability than Freeman).

Freeman is thought of to be a better fit for offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme, however indications this week are that these two will get equally share of training camp reps. This did work with some success in Cleveland last year before center Alex Mack’s injury. From a RSO perspective, the drafting of Coleman simply casts some of Freeman’s trade value in doubt and for that reason, his stock is down.

2) Teddy Bridgewater, Quarterback, Minnesota Vikings

By most accounts, Bridgewater had a successful rookie season. especially from a completion percentage perspective. However, Minnesota’s offense is in slight turmoil. Running back Adrian Peterson wants out, Wallace is a chemistry killer who either gets targeted or complains, and the team passed up on Bridgewater’s college teammate Parker in the draft.  Count me as someone who isn’t overly excited by the Vikings receiving corps or Cordarrelle Patterson living up to his potential anytime soon.

3) Dennis Pitta, Tight End, Baltimore Ravens

While Pitta is optimistic he’ll play in 2015, I’m more bearish. The Ravens picked University of Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams in the second round as the first tight end of the draft board and used another of their nine picks to select another tight end in the draft. Pitta turns 30 this year and has suffered two hip dislocations. His 2015 salary is guaranteed by the Ravens, but expecting anything from Pitta in 2015 is wishful and in the “bonus” category. Probably worth dropping him, even if you are rooting for him to get back into the Ravens lineup.

4) Tre Mason, Running Back, St. Louis Rams

No Reality Sports Online owner left the 2015 NFL Draft more queasy than those owning Mason. Those owners came into their 2015 offseason thinking they have a rookie on the cheap for 2 or 3 more years (after all with the optimism around Zac Stacy in the 2014 offseason, Mason was probably a second rounder in your rookie draft), only to have a rookie season with 765 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns erased by the drafting of Gurley.

While the transition to Gurley, who is recovering from knee surgery, may be slow in 2015, you don’t draft a running back 8th overall to sit him on the bench when he becomes healthy. Mason may be entrenched as the starter for now but unless the Rams trade him, RSO owners will be left holding the bag on something that one of his father’s De La Soul albums (Buhloone Mindstate) fought hard to combat, because Mason’s Rams career has blown up and might go pop.

5) Tom Brady, Quarterback, New England Patriots

This may fall in the master of the obvious category, especially if Brady’s four game suspension sticks (I’m guessing it will get cut in half). Those owners who have Brady locked up though will have to search for a backup option and he may start the season a little bit rusty. Additionally, the loss of future draft picks could hurt from a weapons perspective. The Patriots also did very little to upgrade at the receiver position in the 2015 draft. Which means your investment in 2015 has lost a little bit of air.

I’m curious what you think about these players and others you feel strongly about. Feel free to follow or reach out to me on Twitter @mattgoody2. See you soon!

Top 5 Offseason Questions

Updated: March 4th 2015

Now that the NFL offseason is about to begin, Reality Sports Online (RSO) owners can replace the void of no football games on the tube with offseason strategy. Now is the time that you set the foundation for your team’s future and ideally make moves to build a champion. Like Alec Baldwin says in Glengarry Glen Ross, “Always Be Closing”.

Let’s face it- you joined an RSO league because you wanted something more from a fantasy platform, basically the ability to act exactly like an NFL team General Manager. You craved all the strategic decisions a GM makes, including assessing your overall roster and salary cap situation, drafting rookies, and potentially using your Franchise Tag as an asset. Except you get to negotiate with players without them being divas or dealing with potentially greedy agents who are only about “Show Me the Money!”

Being an owner of an RSO team, you hopefully have a keen sense of strategy and utilize many information sources to manage your teams in the offseason and throughout the regular season. Let me first advocate our own Matt Papson’s Off-Season Team Analysis as an incredibly valuable resource. Simply put, it isn’t often that you get free advice from someone who has worked in an NFL front office regarding your fantasy team.

To help you through your offseason key decisions, I’m writing a strategy series that outlines potential decisions you may face as an owner, regardless of when you started your league. Consider this article a primer to that series, which starts out with the Top 5 questions you should be asking when reviewing your offseason rosters. So without further ado, let’s jump in and be “About That Action, Boss”.

1) What is my overall salary cap situation?

First off, the 2015 salary cap in the NFL was announced yesterday at $143.3 million, which is a $10.3 million increase on the 2014 salary cap of $133.0 million.  What you first need to assess is based on the dynamics of your league which players will be the key free agents in your league and what they figure to command.

For instance, if you have a 2015 salary cap of $100 million committed on six or seven starters on your roster before using your rookie picks, you are likely going to be looking at getting one star in free agency  (think like a DeMarco Murray type) and “painting the edges” to fill out your roster. This means that you end up with a few starters you may not be very excited about (maybe that means starting a Tight End like Heath Miller), unless you are good at picking sleepers.

You should also know your league opponents cap situation inside and out. If they are in a dire cap situation, you may be able to take advantage. If they have a lot of cap space, they figure to be your main competition in an auction or a team that may be coming in with less talent on their roster, meaning they could be a prime trading partner.

2) Which players do I think about trying to buy/sell in a trade market?

Offseason trades won the main league I was in last year by another owner as he maneuvered with first round rookie draft picks to separately dump David Wilson and trade for Le’Veon Bell, while having lots of cap space to sign Antonio Brown at a high price. The lesson is to approach the offseason trade market as an opportunity to upgrade at a certain position or hope you can pawn off someone you aren’t high on to another owner.

A key thing to remember is that in a league like this, everything is an asset, including cap space. What I mean by this is that while you may be excited about someone like Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and can nab him at 1.03 in your rookie draft, you may be better off packaging your rookie draft pick with a high salary player that you’ve given up on just to have ample cap space in what may be a bountiful Free Agency Auction Room experience.

Along those lines, players like Adrian Peterson, who fetched a pretty penny a few years ago (average RSO contract of 2.56 years and $22.6m annually) should be packaged with first round draft picks if you are looking to unload and value cap space more than players on your roster. For instance if you gave up 1.03 and dumped Peterson’s salary on another owner in exchange for a 2015 second round pick, you essentially created almost $27m of 2015 cap space (more if Peterson had additional years on his contract).

Another thing to think about when trading a player is whether they seem like a regression candidate as well. What I mean by this is that a player who performed well above their expectation may regress to the mean, or average.

One player who I view as a regression candidate (more on him in another section too) is Randall Cobb. While Cobb had the highest WR rating of 134.3 according to Pro Football Focus’ Signature Stats (subscription required), meaning that Aaron Rodgers had the highest QB rating of all quarterbacks when targeting Cobb, it is hard to imagine that Cobb replicates his 12 touchdowns in 2015, even if he remains in Green Bay.  Cobb had 91 receptions for 1,287 yards (both career highs), which theoretically he could see again based on volume, but with Davante Adams figuring to get more looks, Cobb could certainly regress in 2015.

As such, you may want to gauge the trade market for the 5’10” slot receiver because someone else may be high on him whether or not he remains a Packer based on his 2014 season and his RSO salary cap figure.

If you are on the buy side, look for players that you think will breakout in 2015. This may be driven by your gut somewhat or based on a player who regressed last year that you may think will return to a certain performance level. This can take many forms in terms of players, so while Michael Floyd was terrible last year, you may be able to buy him cheaply this offseason if you think he’ll return to form.

Additionally an owner may be down on the upside of a player that you think will hit a new level next year. Lamar Miller strikes me as one of those players based on opportunity and at worst, he still was very consistent in 2014.

3) Is There Anyone I Should Cut Bait With?

I know that in a format like this you can get attached to your multi-year contract players. However, sometimes having 50% of their cap space is more valuable to you, especially if you are only eating one year. It killed me to drop Andre Johnson (apparently more than it killed the Texans) with one year remaining at $10.6 million after I lost in my league playoffs. However, the $5.3 million in cap space is more valuable in 2015 to me to fund other roster moves (sadly he cleared waivers and ended up on the league champion).

Remember that in Year 1 of your auction you may not have fully known what you were doing and got carried away in the auction. While dead cap money is essentially paying someone for not being on your roster, and essentially equates to admitting a mistake, the relative value of the flexibility of the added 50% of your cap money buys you all sorts of option value on how to use that money (rookie draft, franchise tag, free agent auction).

I would not advocate dumping someone who has more than one year left on their contract, unless the contract is small enough that the escalators, etc. are insignificant or it is clear this player will no longer be productive and/or playing.

As someone who was born in Cleveland and raised a Browns fan, I will say that I’d cut bait on Josh Gordon in your RSO leagues because the risk significantly outweighs the return unless you priced Gordon’s risk in your winning auction bid and can wait him out.

4) How Can I Most Effectively Use My Franchise Tag

 While the prospect of paying a Top 5 average salary to one of your players may seem outrageous, especially if your auction got out of hand, the Franchise Tag is a very useful asset in RSO. In a format like this, the perception is almost always that locking up good players on multi-year deals is the best strategy. However, there are misses along the way, which make one year deals or option value like the Franchise Tag pretty valuable as well.

In my mind there is a certain type of player who is an ideal candidate for use of the Franchise Tag. Personally, my prototype example is Rob Gronkowski. When I originally signed Gronk to a 2 year, $26.0 million deal, it was known he’d miss some time at the beginning of the 2013 season and then he tore his ACL at the end of the season. However, for $13.3 million in 2014, Gronk ended up being a steal. Given his injury history, it is nice to have two separate one-year options on a player like Gronk, especially given the positional fantasy point differential he will earn me.

Running back and wide receiver positions typically have the largest Top 5 contracts that serve as the average for the Franchise Tag. These numbers may seem outrageous to you- probably around $25 million and up a year. However, if you are in a scenario where your team has one of the best rosters/cap situations in the league and keeping someone like Jamaal Charles for another year works under your cap, you have to think about it.

You should also think about using the Franchise Tag based on what potential free agents are available. If there are seven of the top ten fantasy running backs in terms of scoring available in your auction, franchising your guy is essentially bidding against yourself and causing you to overpay. So then, it is best to see what the positional need is of other owners in the league and franchise the more scarce option if the players are somewhat equal.

Speaking of bidding against yourself, if you are a Peyton Manning owner, I would (and will not) use the franchise tag on him for 2015. While I like the one year option value for a player with injury risk who is a known top producer, I view franchising Manning as bidding against yourself, especially if his salary numbers escalate based on high dollar quarterback values.

Since you only need one starting quarterback in most leagues, the salaries of quarterbacks may be way less than Manning would command. This is the case in my writer’s league. I have the ability to franchise Manning for around $20 million in a league where most quarterback salaries are $5 million because these owners believe in the “Late Round QB” strategy. So for me to franchise Manning would be stupid, especially with Tom Brady on my roster at $3.0 million in 2015 (got him price enforcing in my auction).

Don’t sleep on Tight Ends or Defenses for use of the franchise tag. Their price tags will be significantly less than running backs or wide receivers. I know that tight ends were incredibly inconsistent in 2014 and you may want to wait for the auction to get yours, especially if your options are somewhat boring. As for defenses, if you have the ability to protect someone like the Texans or Seahawks who have most of their core defensive players locked up and defensive scoring is worth solid value in your league, you can probably franchise tag a defense for $2.0 million or less which could be valuable.

5) How Does “Real” NFL Free Agency Impact the Analysis Above?

When you were in the heat of the auction and someone like DeMarco Murray’s name came up, you were high on the guy and had to have him. Last season he made you look smart. But wait, you signed him to a three year deal (no time to really check this in a fast-moving auction) and now he is an unrestricted free agent that the Cowboys may not be able to afford.

This scenario means that you have a real NFL free agent whose value is mainly tied into what offensive system he plays in (same goes for Cobb, my friends). Meaning that if these players moved to an unfavorable situation on a new team – think Cobb leaving the cozy security blanket of having Rodgers throwing him the ball and then Cobb getting his best offer from the Raiders or Chiefs. As they said in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, welcome to “Ouchtown, population you, bro!”

So if you have someone in your league that is a speculative buyer for productive free agents and can make a trade with that owner at a high price, but not necessarily a ceiling price, you may be smart to go for it. Otherwise you could be facing 2014 Eric Decker on the Jets.

Peripherally, you also want to check and see if any stalwart offensive line changes happen in free agency. Not that you’d be giving up on Rodgers if his tackle Bryan Bulaga left, but if you are an Eddie Lacy owner perhaps you’d try to see what value you could get for him if losing a key lineman is something that you think would be detrimental to Lacy’s future production.

That’s all for now, folks, but we’ll continue this throughout the offseason. You can find me on Twitter @mattgoody2