Deep Draft Targets

Updated: June 5th 2016

Everyone is always looking for those hidden gems the NFL seems to have missed in the early rounds of the NFL draft. We all want to be that RSO owner who finds the next Arian Foster or Allen Hurns.  This can be very difficult though. NFL production tends to correlate with draft position.  Higher draft picks have better odds of producing at the NFL level.

I want to focus on players drafted in the 7th round or went undrafted in the NFL draft.  These players will likely go undrafted or drafted late in your RSO rookie drafts.   There is a good reason for this.  These players are very unlikely to help your fantasy team.  As an example, just two out of seventy-five wide receivers (Julian Edelman, Stevie Johnson) selected in the seventh round since 2003 have put together significant stretches of fantasy production.  This article looks at a few of those deep round options in rookie drafts who might have a little better chance of providing some fantasy production for your team.

Keith Marshall, RB, 7th Round, Washington

Sometimes a player needs a change of scenery to bring out the best. Keith Marshall might be one of those players.  A highly recruited athlete coming out of high school, Marshall endured a seemingly endless string of setbacks at the college level.  An ACL tear ended his season five games into his sophomore year after a productive freshman year at Georgia.  He then attempted to return before his knee fully healed and managed only three games as a junior.  His senior campaign saw limited work behind Nick Chubb, who many consider to be one of the better backs in college.

So why the optimism given Marshall’s limited resume? Marshall (5’-11”, 219 lbs) comes into the NFL with one of the all-time best combinations of size and speed at the running back position. He ran a blistering 4.31 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, practically unheard of at his near optimal weight.  Competent pass catching skills and smooth, efficient change of direction added to his game-breaking speed produce an intriguing prospect with a ceiling practically unheard of for a seventh round pick.  His size and speed usually result in him falling forward for extra yards.  He is not the most elusive back and does not show a lot of power in his runs, resulting in few missed and broken tackles.

Marshall also goes to a tremendous situation in Washington, a team with a young ascending offense and very little at the running back spot ahead of him on the depth chart. Marshall’s primary competition for early touches is Matt Jones, one of the worst running backs in the league last year according to Pro Football Focus.  Jones averaged a paltry 3.4 yards per carry, the lowest of any back to have 100 carries, behind PFF’s 13th ranked rushing offensive line.  Jones also managed to lose four fumbles on his disastrous first year.  Overall, this is simply one of the best combinations of athletic ability and opportunity that a running back selected in the seventh round will ever see in the NFL.

Josh Ferguson, RB, Undrafted, Indianapolis

Ferguson profiles as a quality pass catcher out of the backfield for the Colts. He totaled 168 receptions and averaged over five yards per carry over his career on an Illinois team that struggled to remain competitive in the Big Ten.  The 5’-9”, 198 pound back has quick feet, great short area moves, and tremendous lateral agility that routinely made defenders look silly.  He also plays larger than his size with the ability to break arm tackles of defensive backs.  His size likely limits him to a passing down back role which was probably the reason he went undrafted as not every team utilizes a receiving back specialist.

Indianapolis could be a great landing spot for Ferguson. This is a pass first offense and Luck has shown the willingness to utilize his running backs extensively, particularly near the goal line where the Colts do not have a dominant red zone threat.  The Colts would love to run the ball more in order to protect Luck and tried to address the issue taking four offensive linemen in this year’s draft.  However, Gore was thoroughly ineffective last season and is unlikely to improve at the age of 33.  The depth chart behind Gore, headed by released former Seahawk Robert Turbin, is also uninspiring leaving plenty of opportunity for Ferguson to make an immediate impact.

Devon Cajuste, WR, Undrafted, San Francisco

The huge former Stanford Cardinal wideout has a versatile skill set which could translate well to the NFL. Cajuste averaged almost 18 yards per reception at Stanford.  He has enormous 10-3/4” hands that helped him continually make difficult catches.   Cajuste effectively uses his large frame to shield defenders from throws particularly near the end zone.  He has deceptive speed that allows him to get by unsuspecting players.  The 6’-4”, 234 pound receiver also displayed incredible agility for a player of his size with an NFL combine best three-cone drill time of 6.49 seconds.

Oppurtunity is the key for Cajuste in San Francisco. The wide receiver and tight end situation in San Francisco is largely unsettled.  Torrey Smith led the returning group of players with small totals in both receptions (33) and targets (61).  Anquan Boldin was not resigned leaving 110 targets from 2015.  The high volume Chip Kelly offense should also have more targets available for the receiving crew.  Philadelphia doled out almost 100 more targets than San Francisco last season.  Cajuste’s size, skill, and versatility could see him playing multiple roles for San Francisco as a move tight end, a big slot receiver, or an isolated wide out near the goal line.

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

Squeeze Every Penny

Updated: June 5th 2016

Let me start this article by raising a glass to the creator at Twitter who added the poll option to tweeting. Since this feature has been added, the ability to quickly skim through @dynastytrades feed to vote and see the results of fantasy football trades, has been an incredible resource. If you are not already following them you should be. However, be careful when reading these polls that they don’t offer exactly approximate value of players in the context of YOUR league. As I have said in previous articles owners have tendencies towards certain players and team philosophies that can alter the value of these players. Even entire leagues can have a style that can alter how one participates in their auctions. One league can be very bullish in their contract signings while another can be coyer when spending large cap figures on single players. Regardless of your league setup however, there is a way that you can quantify how much each player should receive. I will breakdown how to understand and use this formula for not only your auction drafts but also to compare the values of players that are already currently owned.

Please note there are two factors that prevent the formula from being applied universally across all leagues. The first is that the point values are inputted at the discretion of the user and different lists could yield different results. Some users simply like to apply the point totals for last season, others like to use predicted point totals that are released from various fantasy sites. Whichever YOU chose,  just be sure that you feel comfortable with the values as these are the drivers for all the contracts. The second variable is the league settings, including roster sizes and number of starters at each position. It should be pretty easy to understand that the more players that are started and the larger the roster size the more money that needs to be spread throughout each roster. This will reduce the max dollars that the elite players should receive when compared to smaller rosters.

Preparing Your Chart

Once you find a database for every player’s fantasy point total that you are comfortable with, organize them into each individual position so that you can create a baseline and margin scores. Again make sure that the database values that you are using were calculated based on your league’s scoring settings. There is a big difference between half, full and non PPR scoring as well as TE premium and 6 points/passing TDs that will drastically change the values for certain players. From here you can place each player and their fantasy point value in a chart that goes in descending points order along with 6 extra columns labeled as below. This example is for the QBs in my 10 team 0.5 PPR home league which starts 1QB, 3RB, 4WR, 1TE, 2FLEX, 1K, 1DST and has a roster size of 26.

Auction Chart 1

A tip here would be to use Microsoft Excel so that you can input all the formulas and save some time. Either way, now that you have the information entered you can create the VORP score (Value Over Replacement Player) for each player. For each of the BASE values they will be equal to the number of starting players in your league times the appropriate multiplier (1.75, 1.5, 1, 0.5). In my example that would be values of 18, 15, 10 and 5. These values are what you are going to be comparing each player against to calculate their margin score. For example, in the Base x1 to determine Aaron Rodgers’ margin you would compare his points versus that of the 10th ranked QB (Andy Dalton) and subtract his points from Rodgers (304.58-269.3=35.28). You would follow the same process to fill out the rest of the chart where comparisons would be made against the 18th, 15th, 10th and 5th ranked players. This is also why you may have noticed that I did not include every QB available. Every player that ranks lower than your Base x1.75 value, in this case the 19th ranked QB and lower, should only receive the minimum bid at auction. Now you will have a chart now that looks like this. I also included the margin value which is the sum of these base values.

Auction Chart 2

Applying the Math

Once you have done this for every position you can then calculate the contract values. This requires a formula that will be the same for all positions and will yield a multiplier to calculate contract values.

Contract Multiplier = (∑QB Margins+∑RB Margins+∑WR Margins+∑TE Margins)/[(Salary Cap -Roster Size*Minimum Bid)*Number of Owners]

This may seem like a daunting formula but it is simple when broken down. First, multiply the number of rostered players you must have in your league by the minimum auction bid of $500,000. Subtract that number from the salary cap value of $155,270,000 for this year. This difference becomes the “fun money” that you have to spend after accounting for filling out the roster with minimum bid players. Multiply this by the number of teams in the league and you have the entire league’s “fun money”. This number will likely be in the billions of dollars!

The numerator part of the formula takes all of the margins for each position and adds them together. Notice that I did not include a sum for kickers or defenses as I believe in only spending the minimum. Let other owners in your league spend the extra money so that you have more to use on positions that matter. Finally, divide this sum of all position margins from the billions of dollars available in total league “fun money”. This value will be very small, likely a number with four to six 0s after the decimal. For my example this number comes out to 0.00001456 or 1.456e-5.

You now have your multiplier to compare players’ values against one another. Divide an individual player’s margin by the contract multiplier and a dollar value will appear as your contract value. Don’t forget to add back $500,000 to account for the minimum bid value that comes with each player with a value equal to 0. Doing this for every position will yield a completed chart as below.

Auction Chart 3

For those of you that participate in IDP leagues the same formula can apply. You simply would need to do the same margin charts for all defensive positions and apply their sum margins to the numerator.

Hopefully you have stayed with me throughout this impromptu math session. The key to staying focused in your auction is to be prepared. Every owner is entitled to conducting the auction in their own manner, however, too often I have seen owners come in knowing that they want a collection of players and are willing to pay whatever to acquire them. Having a sheet prepared of all the approximate values for each player helps see the whole field instead of getting locked in with blinders. I know math and computers are not everyone’s strong suit so if you have any questions about the chart or want help setting up yours you can find me on twitter @naandrews19.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews

Most Frequently Cut Players in 2015

Updated: June 4th 2016

Knowing how to manage your available cap space is integral to championship caliber Reality Sports Online teams.  As Sir Isaac Newton, an early proponent of salary cap management, once said, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”   The cap penalty for cutting an under-contract player is not “equal” to the amount that is owed, but it is significant and owners must be cognizant of the penalty when constructing their team.  Sometimes cutting dead weight may be worth the penalty while other situations may call for holding on longer.  As RSO owners get ready for their free agent auctions, I thought it would be wise to take a look at some of the mistakes that were made last year.  In next week’s piece, we’ll apply those lessons to 2016.


  1. Robert Griffin (average contract value: $983,000)
  2. Colin Kaepernick ($2,034,000)
  3. Joe Flacco ($2,188,000)
  4. Jay Cutler ($1,891,000)
  5. Sam Bradford ($5,574,000)
  6. Peyton Manning (15,375,000)

I originally planned to list just the five most frequently cut players but I figured adding in Peyton Manning was prudent based on his massive contract value.  RGIII, Kaepernick and Manning being on this list should surprise nobody but they are cautionary tails.  In the case of RGIII and Kaepernick, that lesson would be not overpaying for a relatively small sample size; as for Manning you need to be wary of overpaying for an aging star.  I’m not sure there is a big takeaway on Flacco and Cutler.  They are serviceable backups or borderline starters in bigger leagues, it makes sense to me that they would be signed to reasonably priced contracts and would be signed/cut throughout the year.  The glaring mistake in this list is obviously Bradford.  Unfortunately it seems that too many RSO owners were drinking the Chip Kelly Kool-Aid.


  1. Ryan Williams ($597,000)
  2. Fred Jackson ($1,270,000)
  3. Lorenzo Taliaferro ($1,340,000)
  4. Montee Ball ($1,670,000)
  5. Denard Robinson ($1,346,000)

Well that list was surprising.  Clearly a whole lot of owners thought that Ryan Williams was going to be a factor in Dallas; thankfully, most owners used an un-guaranteed $500,000 minimum contract on Williams.  The trend with the other backs was equally as hopeful: Jackson looked like he could be a valuable change of pace to the bruising Marshawn Lynch; Taliaferro, Ball and Robinson were three young backs in the running for their team’s starting role.  I think the lesson here, as it is in the NFL, is that running backs are so interchangeable that the guy who you target in May and June is unlikely to be the bell-cow in November.  Luckily, these guys were all on cheap, and likely short, contracts that would limit the penalty to cutting bait.


  1. Charles Johnson ($5,310,000)
  2. Brian Quick ($2,484,000)
  3. Roddy White ($3,690,000)
  4. Cody Latimer ($2,150,000)
  5. Nick Toon ($945,945)

I was expecting WR to give us the most interesting set of frequently cut players and I think this is borne out in the above list.  Let’s start with Roddy White, the elder statesman of this list.  Roddy has been second fiddle to Julio Jones for a few years now but managed to maintain some PPR value until 2015 when his targets plummeted.  The other four WRs, much like our young RBs above, had some buzz going into the preseason about emerging as a starter but they did not pan out for various reasons, namely injury or the rising stock of a teammate (i.e. Stefon Diggs and Willie Snead).  Given the higher salaries here compared to QB and RB, I was surprised that owners didn’t hold onto see if free agency would change the outlook for the younger WRs.


  1. David Johnson ($583,000)
  2. Dwayne Allen ($2,715,000)
  3. Owen Daniels ($2,289,000)
  4. Josh Hill ($2,106,000)
  5. Alex Smith ($546,000)

No, the Arizona RB and Kansas City QB were not mislabeled in my statistics, David Johnson and Alex Smith were both sleeper tight end prospects heading into 2015 training camps.  Johnson was behind an old Heath Miller and Smith was in the running with Josh Hill for the Saints TE job after Jimmy Graham was shipped to Seattle.  Neither Johnson or Smith are with those teams anymore so I’m not sure why I’m wasting my breath here but, alas.  Hill was disappointing in 2015 but that should not have been surprising given his unsustainable touchdown rate of 2014.  Allen missed four games and was not involved in the games in which he did play.  Daniels ended up with a respectable season (46 receptions, 517 yards, 3 TDs) with a few big games but it was so hit-or-miss that you likely missed.  Let’s face it, most of today’s TEs are inconsistent and near enough to the replacement level that if you don’t have somebody like Gronk, Travis Kelce or Greg Olsen you shouldn’t bother paying more than the minimum.

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

Post-Draft Rookie Mock Draft

Updated: May 18th 2016

As you’ve likely already heard by now, the 2016 draft class is not strong. After watching the NFL Draft unfold, I’m less optimistic than I was about this class even a week ago. Last year there was a debate between Amari Cooper and Todd Gurley for the 1.01 pick, but we expected both to be excellent players in the NFL. This year no such debate exists as Ezekiel Elliott cemented himself as the 1.01 pick by landing with the Dallas Cowboys. After Elliott, there are six players that would be worthy of a 1st round rookie pick in most years.  Calling the end of the 1st round ugly would be an understatement. The caliber of player drops off a cliff, making late 1st round picks not much more valuable than 2nd rounders.

If we compared this draft to the 2015 class at the time they entered the NFL, only Elliott would be among the top 5 prospects. In my opinion, Amari Cooper, Todd Gurley, Kevin White, and DeVante Parker were all better prospects last year than Treadwell, Coleman, Doctson, Shepard, Henry, etc.

Without further ado, let’s kick off this 12 team, standard scoring IDP mock draft:

Round 1

1.01 – Ezekiel Elliott RB DAL

Undoubtedly the number #1 pick in all rookie drafts, he immediately slots in as my #3 RB for dynasty and is even a 1st round pick in redraft leagues.

1.02 – Laquon Treadwell WR MIN

While his stock has fallen over the past few months, Treadwell still is a very good prospect that should have plenty of opportunity in Minnesota.

1.03 – Corey Coleman WR CLE

Immediately the #1 WR on the team, Coleman should get fed the ball plenty. If everything clicks, Coleman has dynasty WR1 potential.

1.04 – Josh Doctson WR WAS

Love Doctson’s ability to go up and get the ball. He should be an immediate red-zone threat that plays frequently opposite DeSean Jackson. However, it’s important to note that Doctson is several years older than both Treadwell and Coleman.

1.05 – Sterling Shepard WR NYG

Thought of mainly as a slot receiver, Shepard has the ability to win on the outside and should make plenty of plays opposite OBJ in the Giants’ West Coast offense.

1.06 – Michael Thomas WR NO

He’s a work-in progress, but has great physical tools. Should challenge Willie Snead for the #2 WR position in New Orleans.

1.07 – Tyler Boyd WR CIN

Maybe the most polarizing player of this dynasty rookie class, Boyd lands in a nice spot and will help replace departed free agents Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu.

1.08 – Derrick Henry RB TEN

I did not expect Tennessee to draft a RB early after trading for DeMarco Murray. While he may not play a ton in his rookie year, Henry has a chance to be “the guy” moving forward in a run-first offense.

1.09 – Kenneth Dixon RB BAL

My favorite running back prospect besides Elliott, Dixon is more talented than Buck Allen and could immediately threaten Justin Forsett for carries.

1.10 – Will Fuller WR HOU

I typically shy away from the big play, low volume receivers that fit the DeSean Jackson mold. That said, there’s no denying Fuller’s talent makes him a borderline 1st rounder in a weak rookie class.

1.11 – Paul Perkins RB NYG

Perkins has a chance to share carries early in the season and potentially be the Giants’ lead back by seasons end.

1.12 – Jordan Howard RB CHI

If you haven’t read it yet, I’d encourage you to check out Mike Clay’s piece on Jeremy Langford’s rookie season. Upon further review, Langford really struggled in year 1. Of course there is room for improvement, but it would not be crazy to see Howard become the lead back in Chicago.

Round 2

2.01 – Leonte Carroo WR MIA

Carroo easily could have found himself as a mid-1st rounder had he landed in a better situation. In Miami, he’ll have to compete with young WRs Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker for targets. Tannehill also is not the ideal quarterback to maximize Carroo’s skill set.

2.02 – CJ Prosise RB SEA

Prosise should be an excellent 3rd down compliment to Thomas Rawls and is clearly an improvement for Seattle on the 2015 version of Fred Jackson.

2.03 – Myles Jack LB JAX

Without the injury concerns, Jack would have firmly cemented himself as a late 1st rounder.

2.04 – Devontae Booker RB DEN

Booker should quickly become the #2 RB in Denver ahead of Ronnie Hillman in Denver’s run-first offense led by Mark Sanchez/Paxton Lynch.

2.05 – Keith Marshall RB WAS

It’s not often a 7th round pick becomes a fantasy commodity, but this is the case for Marshall as the incumbent Matt Jones has done little to secure the job.

2.06 – Tajae Sharpe WR TEN

Many will question whether the sure-handed receiver from UMass can be a productive fantasy WR. In a weak class, I’m willing to take a chance on him in the 2nd round.

2.07 – DeAndre Washington RB OAK

Rumors have swirled this off-season about the Raiders’ lack of confidence in Latavius Murray. DeAndre Washington, the undersized productive running back out of Texas Tech, could immediately push for playing time.

2.08 – Jared Goff QB LA

The face of the LA Rams, Goff has potential to be a franchise QB and potentially a QB1 in fantasy someday.

2.09 – Carson Wentz QB PHI

Wentz should be given the keys to open the 2017 season. I wouldn’t even be shocked if Wentz starts the final few games of 2016 to give him some experience in meaningless games for the Eagles. With experience in a pro-style offense, the Eagles hope he can quickly adapt to the NFL game.

2.10 – Wendell Smallwood RB PHI

I’ll admit that I’m higher on Smallwood than most. I strongly believe he’ll see work behind Ryan Mathews from Week 1. Smallwood’s abilities as a pass blocker and receiver should get him plenty of 2nd and 3rd down work to start the season. Even while playing through an ankle injury, Smallwood carried the ball 238 times for WVU’s run heavy offense. He also showed big play ability as over 30 percent of his carries went for 15+ yards.

2.11 – Darron Lee LB NYJ

Lee is a great fit in Todd Bowles’ scheme. The speedy pass rusher has tons of upside.

2.12 – Kenyan Drake RB MIA

I expected Miami to add a more versatile back to challenge Jay Ajayi for the starting job. Drake projects to be passing down back in Miami, but I wouldn’t expect him to carry the full load if Ajayi gets injured.

Round 3

3.01 – Jonathan Williams RB BUF

Williams could have been a late 1st/early 2nd rookie pick if he landed in a better situation….say Miami for instance. Even in Buffalo, I’ll bet on his talent and take a chance on him.

3.02 – Paxton Lynch QB DEN

Lynch may not be ready to start in 2016, but has a unique combination of size and athleticism. If he puts it all together, he has a chance to be the best fantasy QB of this class.

3.03 – Pharoh Cooper WR LA

Cooper has an opportunity to earn playing time among the Rams’ thin wide receiver core.

3.04 – Braxton Miller WR HOU

At the very least, Miller should be a gadget player who creates mismatches for Bill O’Brien’s offense.

3.05 – Joey Bosa DE SD

Bosa is the best pure pass rusher in this draft and should immediately make an impact in fantasy.

3.06 – Hunter Henry TE SD

The most talented TE in this draft, Henry is a great long-term prospect but don’t expect much in year 1.

3.07 – Malcolm Mitchell WR NE

The Patriots haven’t had much success when drafting receivers lately, but his 2015 season forces me to take notice, especially considering the offense he’s joining.

3.08 – Rashard Higgins WR CLE

One of the best route runners in this draft, Higgins has a great opportunity for early playing time.

3.09 – Jaylon Smith LB DAL

Like Jack, Smith’s value is greatly deflated due to massive injury concerns. I’m slightly more optimistic than I was heading into the draft after Dallas took him early in the 2nd round. It’s also important to note that the Cowboys’ team doctor performed Smith’s surgery. Dallas must feel he’s worth the risk so I’ll take the gamble as well. If you’re a bit more bullish than me, you may need to target him in the 2nd round of rookie drafts to be sure to get him.

3.10 – DeForest Buckner DL SF

San Francisco’s roster severely lacks talent. Destined for a high draft pick again in 2017, DeForest Buckner is a nice building block for the 49ers.

3.11 – Leonard Floyd LB CHI

Floyd needs to be coached up, but the raw talent is intriguing.

3.12 – Mike Thomas WR LA

With an excellent ability to reel in the ball in contested situations, Thomas has a chance to earn playing time with LA in year 1.

Round 4

4.01 – Tyler Ervin RB HOU

4.02 – Reggie Ragland LB BUF

4.03 – Austin Hooper TE ATL

4.04 – Cardale Jones QB BUF

4.05 – Noah Spence DL TB

4.06 – Karl Joseph DB OAK

4.07 – Keanu Neal DB ATL

4.08 – Danny Lasco RB NO

4.09 – Keyarris Garrett WR CAR

4.10 – Shaq Lawson DL BUF

4.11 – Kevin Dodd LB TEN

4.12 – Alex Collins RB SEA

Most Intriguing Pick of Round 4: Cardale Jones – Rumors are swirling that the Bills are lacking confidence in Tyrod Taylor as the long-term solution at QB.  Jones has all the physical tools, but is strictly a developmental prospect that needs a great deal of coaching.

Round 5

5.01 – Robert Nkemdiche DL ARI

5.02 – Deion Jones LB ATL

5.03 – Charone Peake WR NYJ

5.04 – Tyler Higbee TE ATL

5.05 – Jalen Ramsey DB JAX

5.06 – Christian Hackenberg QB NYJ

5.07 – Su’a Cravens DB WAS

5.08 – Chris Moore WR BAL

5.09 – Josh Perry LB SD

5.10 – Kenny Lawler WR SEA

5.11 – Darian Thompson DB NYG

5.12 – Sheldon Rankins DL NO

Most Intriguing Pick of Round 5: Christian Hackenberg – His inclusion in the top 60 is strictly due to the confidence the Jets have placed in him.  When it comes to Christian Hackenberg, I don’t see it.  After a promising freshman year, where he fed now NFL superstar Allen Robinson, he regressed greatly…showing poor accuracy and bad footwork.  The arm talent is there, but he needs to be completely rebuilt by this coaching staff.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts – reply in the comments section or tweet me @DaveSanders_RSO!

More Analysis by Dave Sanders

Value Town: RBs

Updated: May 18th 2016

Most people like a deal. Receiving good value for that new phone, TV, car, or any other item allows us to put our hard earned resources into other things we value.  Obtaining good values on players in Reality Sports Online (RSO) leagues is a must when putting together a winning team.  The Value Town series examines the good and bad buys from the 2015 season in RSO leagues plus the overall state of positional groups in an attempt to get owners ready for the upcoming 2016 season.

This article examines the RB position group from 2015. You can find more information on methodology, assumptions, and definition of terms in the first article of the series here.

State of the Running Back Position

2015 will be remembered as the year of the injury for running backs. The top seven scorers on a points per game (PPG) basis all missed games at some point during the season, including fantasy stars Jamal Charles, Arian Foster, and LeVeon Bell.  The group totaled forty-nine missed games averaging seven games per player.  This high attrition rate among the best running backs had profound consequences throughout the fantasy world.  Running backs contributed just twenty-three percent of the total replacement points in fantasy leagues, a decrease of more than thirty percent from 2014. On a per starter basis, running backs only eclipsed quarterbacks last season.   The high injury rate meant that many RSO GMs who spent heavily on running backs in 2015 did not enjoy a great year.

The mass injury rate presented opportunities for many other running backs waiting for their chance. The Pittsburg running game never missed a beat following Bell’s knee injury as DeAngelo Williams, at 33 years old, played like a man a decade younger.  Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West formed a potent combination helping Kansas City roll to the playoffs without Charles manning the lead back role.  Many rookies including David Johnson, T.J. Yeldon, and Jeremy Langford flashed potential starting ability when given touches.  Adrian Peterson returned to form in 2015 as one of the best backs in the league following his year-long suspension.  DeVonta Freeman took control of the Atlanta backfield following rookie Tevin Coleman’s early season injury issues and never looked back ending 2015 as the top scoring running back.

Running Back Values

The Good

DeVonta Freeman –  Average Salary: $2.6M, Approximate Value: $44M

Freeman exploded on the fantasy scene in 2016 ending as the RB1. His breakout campaign was highlighted by a four week stretch of thirty-plus point performances including nine touchdowns during that span.  Freeman’s rushing faded down the stretch, averaging a miniscule 3 yards per carry in his last seven games.  Expect more carries to go to Coleman next season but Freeman will still have value catching a lot of balls out of the backfield.

DeAngelo Williams –  Average Salary: $1.9M, Approximate Value: $17M

Williams was picked up by many Bell owners given Bell’s early suspension. Williams rewarded his owners with over 20 fantasy points per game when Bell was not in the lineup which would be among the league leaders.  Expect DeAngelo to be a popular handcuff again with his great 2015 play and Bell’s injury history.

Passing Down Backs

Cheap passing down backs, once again, provided a lot of value for those owners who chose to put most of their resources into other position groups. Dion Lewis (RB5 in PPG) and Danny Woodhead (finished as the RB3) vastly overproduced their low salaries while many others including Gio Bernard, Bilal Powell, and Charles Sims provided adequate cheap production.   Bargains galore will be found again in this group for 2016.

The Bad

Eddie Lacy –  Average Salary: $18.4M, Approximate Value: Replacement Level

Considered by many to be the safest running back for 2015, Lacy was outplayed by and eventually lost snaps to his teammate James Starks. The entire Green Bay offense regressed in 2015 and with it much of Lacy’s production.  I would bet on a bounce back campaign next season from a trimmed down Lacy with an improved Green Bay offense.

Demarco Murray –  Average Salary: $16.3M, Approximate Value: $8M

Just a disaster from the first snap, Murray never fit in Chip Kelly’s lateral running system. Philadelphia’s offensive line never seemed to be on the same page early in the season after losing two guards in free agency resulting in Murray being hit in the backfield on too many occasions.  Murray’s move to Tennessee and the Titans drafting Derrick Henry in the second round of the NFL draft put a lot of uncertainty in Murray’s 2016 value.

Jeremy Hill –  Average Salary: $15.6M, Approximate Value: Replacement Level

C.J. Anderson –  Average Salary: $15.1M, Approximate Value: Replacement Level

Two of the most hyped young running backs coming off of terrific second halves in 2014 disappointed many RSO owners this past season. Anderson and Hill were both outplayed by their smaller teammates early in the season.  Anderson was limited somewhat due to injuries and Hill was subject to a brutal defensive S.O.S against the run.  Gio Bernard will continue to be a big part of the Cincinnati offense and Devontae Booker could provide competition to Anderson’s touches, but I would expect both to have more consistent years in 2016.

Looking Forward

Uncertainty and transition are the overriding themes for 2016. Many of the top fantasy stars from previous years, including Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, and Marshawn Lynch, are at or near the end of their careers.  How many of the young up and coming backs like David Johnson, Thomas Rawls, and Matt Jones will take over dominant roles as their teams featured backs?

What has not changed? The NFL has seen a steady decline in rushing yards over the last few years and that is unlikely to change.  Examining Tables 1 and 2, we see that the performance of top running backs did not change very much.  Both fantasy PPG and yards per attempt were very similar in 2015 throughout the distribution of starting running backs.  The lack of value in the running back position was clearly caused by the unsustainably high injury rate in 2015, not by a sudden loss in effectiveness.  This may present RSO owners with the opportunity to buy high end running backs at value prices from owners scared off by all of the injuries to the top running backs.

Year RB1 RB6 RB12 RB18 RB24
2015 21.09 16.95 14.52 12.8 12.24
2014 23.16 17.04 14.45 12.95 11.3

Table 1. Fantasy PPG

Year RB1 RB6 RB12 RB18 RB24
2015 5.6 4.8 4.5 4.3 4.1
2014 5.4 4.8 4.6 4.2 4.0

Table 2. Yards Per Attempt

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

Carrying the Rock

Updated: May 18th 2016

April 28th 2007. My girlfriend sat outside her family home in the aging cracked leather seats of a still-glistening black Celica convertible on the Jersey shore, and inside I was asking her mother and father for her hand in marriage.   She was blissfully unaware how her life would change that day.  She knew the plan.  She could tell you about the drive to NYC that was to come.  The time and location of the show at the New Victory Theatre.  What she didn’t and couldn’t see was the ring designed for her in my pocket, the behind the scenes intrigue that would put her on a Broadway stage at the close of the show, and the question that would link us forever.

Earlier that day Adrian Peterson was asked “how do you feel about being a Minnesota Viking?”  Megatron got a proposal from the Lions.  The Raiders and Browns were forever changed by Jamarcus Russell and Brady Quinn…Less in a “happily ever after”, and more in “college regret your buddies will remind you of at reunions” kind of way.    This is part of the intrigue of Dynasty.   The commitment GMs make to players.  It is understood that this won’t be a fling, there will be some sickness and health involved.   In reality most human beings and NFL teams are best served by going all in with a commitment to one person.   My bride carrying that rock on her finger, and Adrian toting the rock for the Vikings nearly a decade later speak to that truth.  Fantasy, particularly in RSO, demands a certain degree of fiscal promiscuity, however, understanding that some of the costs will be lost, but ultimately it may prove cheaper to spread three contracts over an uncertain backfield than pay for the services of stud and his handcuff.

April 28th, 2016.  Nine years later the first round of the NFL draft reintroduces us to the wonder and beauty of the fantasy season in earnest after the long national nightmare of the offseason.  Dynasty fantasy GMs carefully gauge the worth of their rookie picks as players meet their betrothed teams for the first times.  Veterans on the fantasy roster rise with the well-placed selection of a lineman with high hopes, or fall as the fickle gaze of a team turns to the next hot prospect.  Last article we looked at teams with relative stability at running back position, or at least a succession plan that seems probable.  The other half of the league can be looked at in light of the majesty of the draft.  Notably, CJA and Murray owners have clear handcuffs and possible successor targets in Booker(Utah) and Henry(Alabama).  Ezekiel Elliott’s bare midriff found its way to Dallas.  This, of course, caused last year’s cellar-dwelling fantasy GMs to squeal like middle-aged women at an N’sync concert.  McFadden and Alf owners were left annoyed and appalled like teachers chaperoning Prom.  Little analysis is needed here, the best RB prospect behind a line regarded as one of the best in football immediately vaults Elliott into top three RB status in the minds of many dynasty GMs.  Experts at Rotoviz make a case that Zeke might already be the #1 fantasy back overall in dynasty.

The fate of the following teams remain in the balance, however, and wise RSO GMs do well to note better deals and opportunity in other backfields as the draft unfolded.   This is not a column advising you to sell as the draft loomed over your players.  Dave Sanders did some prescient work for you on the Dallas and Miami situations, for example.  What we need to look for here are places where the incumbent running back situation is muddled, driving down value, and producing risk and opportunity for owners.  Think like an RSO GM clearly here.  While there is significant value in getting stud running backs described in other places, bigger rosters and the contract format of RSO allows you to monopolize backfields at a reasonable cost.  This hedges against failure and produces situations like Arizona last year where Ellington, CJ2K, and David Johnson could be rostered on your team for less than a single contract for a player like Eddie Lacey.

First the NFC East (DAL, WAS, NYG, and Phi) presents the most opportunity for savvy owners.  We covered Dallas.  Washington has the same offense and a nominal commitment to Matt Jones.  There are plenty of carries to go around as Alf departs with 202 carries.  Keith Marshall landing in Washington promises to have some value this year and moving forward.  Buy Jones and the rookie.  The New York Giants introduce McAdoo as head coach, but as he was the offensive coordinator and Jennings carried the load, it should prove easy for a savvy owner to roster Vereen and Paul Perkins in the hope that one back emerges.  Finally, the Eagles have a relatively loaded, but aging depth chart, proving another opportunity to stagger short terms/trades for Matthews and Sproles to pair with a long-term rookie contract for the rookie Smallwood.

The AFC North (Bal, Cin, Cle) tells a different story.  Hue Jackson leaves behind an offense that produced two backs with over 200 touches a piece.  Hill and Bernard won’t come cheap and as Bernard approaches free agency, the best hope for an owner would be an expensive double-down anticipating the two backs split in free agency next year, but this feels like a scenario to avoid.  Baltimore requires three roster slots for the enterprising owner, as Forsett, Buck Allen, and Kenneth Dixon can all be had at reasonable cost in most leagues.  Whatever back emerges in the lead roll behind a line likely improved by the draft should provide extremely valuable.  Cleveland’s value likely lies in its receivers due to perennial game-flow questions.  Duke Johnson is the value here, unless Hue Jackson drives the hype train too hard.

Staying on the up North in the NFC.  Chicago seems to have a marginal lead back in Langford, but protecting that investment with contracts for Ka’Deem Carey and Jordan Howard should be very affordable.  Langford and company are headed for a committee under Fox and should not demand a premium.  Detroit will offer very little value in terms of opportunity at RB for rookies.  Look to consolidate Abdullah and Riddick in the event one back emerges.  Zenner may be worth a roster spot in deeper leagues.

Rounding out the NFC are two teams that demand consideration.  Chip Kelly’s unpredictability diminishes Hyde as a surefire lead but he is safer than most options in this category.  Rostering a rookie RB that is more of a pass-catcher seems particularly valuable in light of the potential for some big deficits and Kelly’s famously up tempo offense.  Your NFL runner-up is the most intriguing.  The oft-injured Jonathan Stewart is locked in to lead the Panthers in carries this year, but whatever rookie the Panthers sign in 2017 in will be coupled with a strong offense and little competition beyond Stewart, unless a man named Fozzie Whittaker moves you.

The final AFC backfields to target if you believe in gathering all the parties provide one fine situation in Indy.  Owners can trade for/stagger a short term Gore deal with a long term rookie contract.  Dion Lewis must be paired with James White.   Lewis provides the biggest boom/bust potential in terms of injury and usage of this whole group.  Finally Oakland and Miami have relatively strong incumbents, and some failed free agent flirtation by their team in the offseason suggests owners would be wise to assume a 2017 rookie in Oakland and Kenyan Drake factor into their teams’ plans long-term.

In fantasy the best GMs know how to ask the right question.  When confronted with talents like Ezekiel Elliot the answer is obvious.  The more valuable questions in terms of contractual obligations seem to lie in assuming the risk of backfields in their entirety.   Putting the rock in the right hands is such a vital part of real and fantasy football, so pay close attention to the landing spots below and consider the opportunity of the rookies as they answer “yes” to their new teams.

In list form:

  1. Ezekiel Elliot- If you have the 1.1 enjoy.
  2. Dion Lewis- Absurd PPG when healthy.
  3. Yeldon + Ivory- More touchdowns are coming.
  4. Hill+Bernard
  5. Murray + (Deandre Washington)- Breakout offense.
  6. Hyde + (Wait for 2017).
  7. Gore + Rookie (Wait for 2017)
  8. Stewart + Rookie (Wait for 2017)
  9. Baltimore Backfield (Kenneth Dixon) Forsett, Buck Allen
  10. Eagles Backfield Ryan Matthews + (Wendell Smallwood)
  11. Langford + (Jordan Howard)
  12. Jennings + Vereen (Paul Perkins)- Begging for a transition.
  13. Matt Jones + Keith Marshall
  14. Cleveland Backfield (Duke Johnson) Crowell
  15. Ajayi + Kenyan Drake- Will need a couple years for Gase to sort a lead back.
  16. Detroit Backfield (Abdullah) + Zenner/Riddick

The list is ordered in terms of my anticipated points by backfield for the upcoming season.  The backs in bold project better over a three year span.

Bio: Luke @FantasyDocOC is husband, father, doctoral student, and teacher slowly building a reality dynasty league comprised entirely of daughters. Following in the footsteps of Saint Francis, “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” CUA. Hoya Saxa.

More Analysis by Luke O'Connell