2018 Positive Regression Candidates

Updated: May 20th 2018

My last article focused on some players due for decreased fantasy scoring next season because of factors outside their control.  For all the players on the lucky there are those on the opposite end of the spectrum.  This piece takes a look at a handful of players who saw their fantasy scoring dip below what their play warranted last year and due for better success this year.

Quarterbacks

Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan is one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the NFL thanks to top-notch accuracy which rates high year after year.  That play continued in 2017 as Ryan finished top-8 in completion percentage and yards per attempt.  He also is one the most durable quarterbacks missing only 2 games in his career.  The main problem for Ryan last season was a lack of work.  His pass attempt total was the lowest since his second year in the league which contributed to low yardage and touchdown totals.  His 4,095 passing yards were more than 400 less than any of his past five seasons. His 20 touchdowns also made the lowest total since his rookie season and he produced the lowest touchdown rate of anyone close to his efficiency last season.

Ryan’s 2017 fantasy season did not mirror his level of play as a top-10 quarterback.  Take advantage.  He consistently generated borderline QB1 fantasy seasons through much of his career which matches with his on-field performance.  I expect that trend to continue in 2018.

Marcus Mariota

It was an extremely rough 2017 for the Tennessee quarterback.  The former 2nd overall pick had his worst season as pro seeing a sizeable drop in efficiency.  His touchdown to interception ratio (13:15) also bottomed out.  That ratio should increase back to standards closer in line with his first two seasons as his play did not truly change that drastically.  One mark for Mariota (or against depending on how you look at it) is his very steady, albeit middling, production during his career.  Mariota’s per game completion percentage, rushing and passing volume, rushing and passing yardage have all remained remarkably consistent throughout his three years as a pro.  He has unfortunately been cursed with injury issues missing games in each season.

Mariota is due for better touchdown luck next season but he is more a mid-floor, low upside option at this stage in his career.  There may be theoretical upside, particularly in the rushing department, with a new coaching staff depending on his always questionable health.  Count on him as a solid fantasy QB2.

Running Backs

Jay Ajayi

Ajayi struggled thru a dismal offensive situation in Miami before being traded to the Eagles where he flourished.  He ended the season with only two touchdowns on 232 touches.  LeGarrette Blount is out of town leaving Ajayi as the lead back with no back of consequence added to the roster.  Philadelphia possessed one of most unbalanced scoring lines in the league last year passing for 38 touchdowns while rushing for only nine.  Expect that ratio to be more balanced in 2018 with Ajayi as the main beneficiary.  The offense should be solid with one of the best offensive lines in the league.

Ajayi is a risky play given Philadelphia’s proclivity for backfield committees but one with a lot of upside in a good situation.  He is a high-variance borderline RB2/RB3.

Joe Mixon

Joe Mixon’s rookie season most certainly did not go as planned.  Cincinnati’s offensive line self-destructed after letting its two best members walk in free agency contributing to Mixon’s sub-par 3.5 yards per carry and only four touchdowns.  Mixon also garnered only limited use in the passing game, one of his strongest traits coming out of college, catching 30 of 34 targets.  The situation improved drastically in the offseason.  Cincinnati significantly upgraded the o-line, trading for an upgrade at tackle and drafting a cornerstone center with their first round rookie pick.  Tyler Eifert also adds another dynamic piece to the Bengals’ offense if he can stay somewhat healthy for a season.

There is a cap on Mixon with a quality back like Gio Bernard receiving significant work so do not expect elite level production.  This offense has the pieces to take a step forward which puts Mixon firmly in the RB2 mix.  Mixon’s receiving talents give him incredible upside if he assumes a dominant role in the backfield.

Wide Receivers

Mike Evans

Evans is the poster-child for variability in touchdown scoring from year to year.  He has four consecutive 1,000 yard receiving seasons but his touchdowns have travelled all over the map scoring 12, 3, 12, and 5 touchdowns over his four years.  Evans has a huge 6’-5” frame which lends itself to massive touchdown upside every year.  The problem is the factors outside of Evans control including the inconsistency of quarterback Jameis Winston’s play.  Look for luck to swing the other direction in 2018 after only five scores in 2017.

Evans ranks high as one the young target hogs with no season in the NFL less than 124 targets.  His volume and touchdown upside put him squarely in the WR1 crowd.  You may be able to buy Evans at a discount after a perceived down year campaign similar to after 2015 where he also had a low touchdown total.

Julio Jones

Jones rates as one of the top wide receivers in the NFL by almost any measure.  He is the all-time leader in yards per game and has accumulated at least 1400 yards, 129 targets, and 83 receptions each of the last four seasons ranking no less than 3rd in receiving yards every year during that time.  Jones was another victim in 2017 of the coin-flip that is touchdowns.  The Falcons number one wide receiver has never been a huge touchdown scorer in the Atlanta offense but last year’s total of 3 is an extreme outlier for Jones that correlated with quarterback Matt Ryan’s down touchdown year.

There is not much doubt about the fantastic Atlanta wide receiver.  Jones possesses huge big play ability and a massive reception ceiling making him one of the very few receivers able to challenge for the top fantasy wide receiver without depending on a big touchdown year.  Lock him in as a top-five wide receiver.


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

The Watch List: 2018 FCS Preview

Updated: May 20th 2018

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players, storylines and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  Check back throughout the Summer for previews on each conference and my preseason predictions.  During the regular season, The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Players to Watch

Easton Stick, QB, North Dakota State: Stick is my favorite of the three top FCS quarterback prospects that I have studied.  Stick, besides having a great name, has elite accuracy and good touch.  I noted very few missed passes while watching two of his games.  He is not a deep passer but does show at least average arm strength.  Stick needs to improve his pocket presence and better see and feel the pass rush.  When he does scramble, which he does often, he is adept at keeping plays alive and is willing to take a hit.  He is not very agile or quick and looks labored as a runner but he can rack up the yards (663 in 2017).  Stick does not play in a high volume passing offense like the two FCS passers I profile below which could help or hurt his professional prospects depending on who you ask.  He completed a respectable 62.1% of his passes and finished near the top of the QBs on my watch list in terms of yards per attempt (9.3) and rating (169.5).  Stick is 6’2″ and 220lbs which did not impact him against FCS defenses but it could turn into an issue at the NFL level if he continues with his reckless play style.  The comparisons to Carson Wentz are inevitable but I caution armchair analysts to remember that Wentz was a superior athlete.  Stick will get NFL Draft buzz and if I had to guess now, we’re looking at a Day 2 grade for him.

Gage Gubrud, QB, Eastern Washington: Gubrud is a redshirt senior starting his third year eat EWU.  He excelled in 2016 with two future NFL targets (Cooper Kupp and Kendrick Bourne) but saw his stats come back to earth in 2017.  He was still productive though with 3,342 yards and 26 TDs.  Gubrud has a strong arm but lacks accuracy.  His strong arm means he often overthrows deep receivers.  In fact, I did not note a single deep completion in my two game film study.  He possesses good pocket presence and relishes the chance to improvise and scramble.  Gubrud already proved he can lead EWU to success (12-2 in 2016) so let’s see if they can get back in championship contention.

Devlin Hodges, QB, Samford: The Bulldogs have made it to the FCS Playoffs the last two years under starter Devlin Hodges.  Unfortunately they have yet to win a playoff game after back-to-back first round exits.  Hodges is a touch thrower with a strong arm and a wonky motion.  His sidearm motion does not look natural to me and almost looks like he’s trying to shot put the football.  The motion and his height (listed at 6’1″ but probably shorter) lead to batted balls at the line and numerous short passes landing in the dirt as he tries to get it over a defender.  Despite those misses, Hodges does complete a high percentage of passes (65.7%).  He threw for 3,983 yards in 2017 which is second to just McKenzie Milton on my 2019 watch list (albeit against FCS opponents).  Hodges did have a very notable game against Georgia in 2017: 26-35, 227 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs.  It was the kind of game that makes you think he could persevere and get a shot at the next level.  He’s not a dynamic running threat but he does have good pocket mobility and throws well on the run.  His height and motion will probably be disqualifying to NFL scouts but he’s interesting nonetheless as a fun college player.

Marcus Jones, RB, Gannon:  Gannon, you ask?  It’s actually a small Division II school in Erie, PA.  I’m not enough of a masochist to do a Division II preview so I figured I would add Jones here.  I came across him while researching some hidden NFL Draft prospects and was blown away by his 2017 stats and measureables.  Sure, the stats can be minimized because of the competition but they are still eye-popping: 2,176 rushing yards, 8.1 yards per carry, 24 receptions, 288 receiving yards and 31 total TDs.  His size can’t be explained-away because he comes in at a near perfect running back size of 5’11” and 225lbs (think Nick Chubb).  Film of Jones is predictably impossible to find but I was able to scrape together a few highlights.  In those highlights I see a thick-bottomed back with a good stiff arm and the athleticism to hurdle a defender on his way to a run-away touchdown.  I really hope I get to see more of this kid.

Bruce Anderson, RB, North Dakota State: I’m looking forward to watching more of Anderson but at this point there’s not much out there to watch except for a few FCS Playoff highlights.  From the little I did see of him, he looks fast.  He’s at least 4.50 fast but is probably a touch faster.  He shows good balance and adds versatility as a kick returner.  After watching his highlights, I was surprised to see he only had 8 receptions this season; since they all seemed to come in big moments, I’ll bet we see more of him as a pass catcher in 2018.  Anderson only averaged 5.2 yards per carry which sounds like a lot to NFL fans but is below the 5.8 average of my watch list sample.  I include Anderson here because he plays for the reigning FCS champion and we’ll probably see a lot of him this year, especially if Easton Stick starts getting the spotlight.

Dominick Bragalone, RB, Lehigh: Bragalone is another RB prospect who you’ll be hard pressed to find film on.  I was able to find a number of highlight packages from the school that I could piece together to get a feel for his game.  He’s squat, like a bowling ball, and runs strong.  He is not fast, likely in the 4.60-4.65 range.  He easily brushes off arm tackles and keeps his feet well.  It appears that he’s at least above average when it comes to pass protection, if not better.  He racked up the carries in 2017 (247) and averaged 5.6 yards per for a total of 1,388 yards.  He had 22 total TDs too which is one of the highest totals in my sample.  My opinion is that Bragalone will be used more like a FB in the NFL or as a situational short yardage back but could handle the starting load for short spells (maybe like Peyton Hillis?).

Keelan Doss, WR, UC Davis: Keelan Doss is a name to remember.  After my limited research, yet another FCS prospect with no game films out there, I think he could factor into fantasy drafts next season.  Doss has good size at 6’3″ and 206lbs but lacks elite speed (4.55 at best).  He uses that size well to dominate FCS corners.  Doss shows good to elite hand and play strength.  He is not afraid to go over the middle and is a bear in contested catch situations.  He often snags the ball with solid hands and does not let the ball get into his body.  Doss put together the best 2017 stat line of all my watch list receivers: 115 receptions, 1,499 yards and 7 TDs.  Of the fifty receivers on my list, he led them all in receptions and yards.  I need to watch more of Doss to evaluate his route running and willingness to block but my gut tells me he could be special.

Emmanuel Butler, WR, Northern Arizona: Butler is the only player on this list who was a possibility for the 2018 NFL Draft.  He missed most of 2017 due to a shoulder injury that resulted in surgery.  If it weren’t for that injury he likely would have come out after the 2017 season.  Instead he returns for his fifth season and gives us another look.  Butler got the Matt Waldman treatment back in February before it was clear that Butler would return.  In summary, Waldman likes what he sees so who am I to disagree?  When I watch Butler I see somebody who uses his elite size (6’4″ and 220lbs) to go over and through smaller and weaker corners.  He exhibits strong hands and has a few spectacular one-handed grabs on film.  He is a motivated player who does not give up on the play.  One play in specific comes to mind, it’s one that Waldman highlighted as well.  Against Eastern Washington, Butler’s quarterback throws an interception on an end zone fade.  After hitting the turf, Butler gets up and runs down the defender, likely saving six points.  It’s the type of play that few players make so it stood out on the tape.  It’ll be a close race between Doss and Butler to see who can be the top FCS receiving prospect this year.

Donald Parham, TE, Stetson: Parham is Lanky with a capital L.  He’s listed at 6’9″ and 235lbs.  That makes him the tallest TE on my watch list but one of the lightest.  He looks raw and uncoordinated as an athlete but as the cliche goes, “you can’t teach size.”  In fact, Parham would be the tallest skill position player since at least 2000, when Pro-Football-Reference.com started tracking, if he managed a combine invite.  I was only able to find a few short highlights so I can’t actually evaluate him as a player but we should all bookmark him just in case he is able to fill out his frame and continue his above average production.  He missed games in both 2016 and 2017 but if you extrapolate his stats over a twelve game season he would finish with a 60-804-4 line.


Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  For top prospects I may add a third game, while for long shots I might only devote the time for one. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, ndtscouting.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes
More Analysis by Bob Cowper

2018 Post-Draft Rookie Rankings

Updated: May 11th 2018

I’m feeling a bit bittersweet today.  After months of research, statistical analysis and film watching this will be my last post about the 2018 rookie class.  You’ll be in capable hands with the rest of our RSO writing crew but I can’t help but feel sad about losing “my guys.”  I’m looking at you Anthony Miller and Rashaad Penny.  I had been a casual college football writer for years, and a fan for much longer, but the 2018 class was the first that I went truly deep on.  Alas, I will probably feel the same about the 2019 class this time next year.  Speaking of the 2019 class, expect to see content rolling out starting in June.  I have compiled a watch list of 150 players from the FBS to Division III.  I will release conference previews in the Summer, along with a way-too-early mock draft.  I will also unveil a Madden-like grading system I devised as a way to quantitatively compare players across levels and positions.  Before all of that though, let’s take one last look at my 2018 rookie rankings.  These were updated after the NFL Draft and I have also included a write-up about some noteworthy players.  Enjoy!

#3 – Nick Chubb, RB, Browns

I have vacillated on Chubb’s ranking more than anybody else at the top of my rankings. Earlier in the year I had Chubb and Derrius Guice alternating as my RB2/RB3. Immediately after the draft I bumped Chubb down to RB4 (1.04), behind Ronald Jones, due to concerns about playing on a poor Browns team that has a crowded backfield. The more I thought about it though, I decided I’d rather have Chubb because I think he’s a better player and will earn ample opportunity early enough in his career to warrant the 1.03 pick.

#5 – Rashaad Penny, RB, Seahawks

It was hard not to have Penny rocket up my rankings after he went 27th overall to the Seahawks. It felt like a confirmation of everything I saw and loved during the 2017 season. I tempered my excitement though for two reasons. First, Penny’s struggles as a pass protector are well known and I fear this could limit his touches to start his career. Second, the Seahawks have a weak offensive line (ranked 27th by PFF after 2017) that will test even Penny’s elite evasion. I was also building some return game work into Penny’s valuation but now that he’s a first round draft pick I doubt there’s any chance he gets to return kicks.

#6 – Calvin Ridley, WR, Falcons
#7 – DJ Moore, WR, Panthers

I’m sticking to my guns here. I have had Ridley as my WR1 throughout the season and I still don’t feel he has done anything to change that for me. Moore certainly impressed at the combine more so than Ridley but it’s not like Ridley looked like Orlando Brown out there. Moore was a victim of a poor passing game at Maryland, but you could say the same about Ridley who was rarely featured. Moore will get a lot of early targets as the lead receiver in Carolina but I’d rather have Ridley’s fit in Atlanta with a top passing offense. Julio Jones will dictate coverage which should leave Ridley and his superb separation and route running skills wide open.

#20 – Bradley Chubb, DE, Broncos
#21 – Josh Rosen, QB, Cardinals

Chubb and Rosen come in as the first of their position in my rankings. IDP and QBs are always tough to rank because they are so heavily dependent on league settings and scoring. In general, for a typical RSO IDP league, I think that taking your first IDP near the second turn is a good bet; same with quarterbacks in a 1QB league. If you’re in a league featuring high IDP scoring or in a Superflex or 2QB league, you’ll need to push these guys higher by about a round. Similarly to Ridley, Chubb joins a unit where he won’t be the focus and can prosper. I’d be buying shares of the Broncos in team defense leagues, boy are they going to rack up the sacks. Rosen was the fourth quarterback taken in the NFL Draft but I think he should be the first off the board in your fantasy draft because he has the best combination of short-term opportunity and supporting cast in my opinion. Darnold and Allen may see the field just as soon but they won’t be throwing to Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson and Christian Kirk. Mayfield is the wildcard if he beats out Tyrod Taylor, who the Browns spent a 3rd round pick on in a trade, because the Browns skill position players look intriguing if they all stay healthy and out of trouble.

#39 – Lorenzo Carter, OLB, Giants

I have a man crush on Lorenzo Carter. He’s a quick and lanky edge rusher who also showed the ability to drop into coverage late in the season. He’ll probably start as a situational pass rusher but the Giants will soon find that they found a gem in Carter. If you’re playing in an IDP league you can probably get Carter later than 39th overall but I wouldn’t chance it. Take him in the third round, stash him on your bench and be the envy of your league this time next year.

#45 – Ito Smith, RB, Falcons

Like Carter, Smith is a sneaky late round pick to stash on your bench. He’ll be lucky to find 50 touches in 2018 behind Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman but once Coleman leaves in free agency, Smith will fall into a fruitful timeshare. Smith ran for 1,100+ yards each of the last three years while catching 40+ passes. Smith is strong and thick with powerful leg drive. I rated him as a B+ blocker in his class so despite his short stature he isn’t a liability in pass protection. Smith will be the type of back who earns 75% of his fantasy production in the last two minutes of each half. He’ll come on the field for his mix of receiving and protection and stay on the field while the team runs the hurry-up.

#48 – Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Packers
#49 – J’mon Moore, WR, Packers

I’m not very high on either of these Packer receivers but one of them is going to emerge, it’s just a matter of which one does. There were rumors that St. Brown fell in the draft because of his “diva” personality which shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anybody who has done any research about his family. That pedigree and promise is what garnered St. Brown buzz the last two years – it certainly wasn’t his on-the-field production. Moore is shorter, lighter and slower but put up two solid seasons at Mizzou in 2016 and 2017 (60+ receptions, 1,000+ yards, 8+ TDs). I wouldn’t recommend drafting either player, you’re better off waiting to see which one hits and then scramble to the waiver wire, but if I had to pick I would go with St. Brown for his superior physical attributes.

#50 – Mason Rudolph, QB, Steelers

I like Rudolph as a speculative third round pick in Superflex and 2QB leagues. While Ben Roethlisberger has been squawking about the Rudolph pick, let’s not forget that just a year ago he was considering retirement. I don’t think it’s a mistake that the Steelers brass decided to draft James Washington and then pair him with his college quarterback. There’s also a chance that Rudolph gets playing time in the short-term due to an injury to Big Ben. Ben has only played a full 16 game season three times in his 14 year career. If you happen to get two games out of Rudolph in 2018 when your own starter is hurt or on bye you’ll already be ahead of the game value-wise.

#64 – Josh Sweat, DE, Eagles

Josh Sweat is another IDP sleeper of mine. Sweat may not get much opportunity early in his career but he had first round talent and physicals but was available later due to his injury history. The stories about his knee injury are pretty gnarly so I would not recommend spending much draft capital on him but if you’re in a deep IDP league and looking for a long shot, he’s your guy.

#80 – Richie James, WR, 49ers

So you’re saying there’s a chance? The 49ers offense is an enigma at the moment. As a Jimmy G owner, I’m excited for what he showed late last year but I am concerned about who he’ll be targeting this year. Pierre Garcon will be back from injury but he’s old. Marquise Goodwin is back too but he’s nothing more than a complementary player in my opinion. The door is open for somebody to emerge and Richie James has as much of a chance as anybody else on the roster. James had two uber productive seasons to start his career: 107-1,334-8 and 105-1,625-12. He lost most of 2017 to injury but is healthy now and reports are that he played well at the team’s first mini camp. You’d have to be in a pretty deep league to consider drafting James but once you get past WR15 it’s a crap shoot anyway.


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

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, ndtscouting.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes
More Analysis by Bob Cowper

2018 Negative Regression Candidates

Updated: May 2nd 2018

“But Player X did this last season”.  It is one of the most predictable and easily exploitable responses from amateur fantasy players.  We should certainly keep in mind past performance when predicting future production but also keep in mind last year is just one data point.  Fantasy football is a game of ebbs and flows, of peaks and valleys.  Year to year statistical production for any player displays some natural variation due to factors largely outside of a player’s control.  A wide receiver’s production is due in large part to quarterback play.  Running backs depend heavily on offensive line play.  All players are subject to the skill of their coaching staffs.  Touchdown production is one of the key fantasy factors that tend to vary dramatically from year to year.  Knowing the above, we can take historical data and get a good idea of players who have a significant chance of underperforming compared to last season.

Quarterbacks

DeShaun Watson

The former Clemson Tiger got off to a tremendous start his rookie season leading QBs in fantasy points per game last year on the strength of a tremendous five game stretch in which he averaged almost 300 passing yards, 3.6 touchdowns, and 37 rushing yards per game.  Unfortunately his season came to an abrupt end due to a season-ending ACL tear.  So what’s not to like for the coming year?  For one, Watson’s league high 9.3% touchdown-rate more than doubled the league average and is almost certain to take a huge step backward.  Pro Football Focus actually graded Watson below fellow rookie Mitch Trubisky last season which highlights the big number of bad plays which went along with his great ones.  He also is rehabbing from an ACL tear (he tore his other ACL in 2014) that possibly delays his return to the field in 2018.

Many people have Watson as an elite level QB1 already with some ranking him as the overall QB1.  His initial showing puts him in the lower QB1 range for me but I would not want to pay his current price based on last season’s play.  Watson is the classic case of a player with great statistical production over a very small sample size that overshadows his play-to-play inconsistency for many people.

Carson Wentz

Wentz is sort of the Watson-lite version of possible regression players.  He broke out in his second year campaign where he was on pace for 40 touchdowns thanks largely to a big 7.5% touchdown rate which ranked second in the league behind Watson.  Like Watson, he suffered an ACL tear (along with other damage) to end his season.  The problem is that his touchdown rate is likely unsustainable, particularly when looking at his underlying metrics.  Wentz ranked just 11th in yards per attempt and 25th in completion percentage while only being on pace for around 4,000 passing yards.

Similar to Watson, most see Wentz as an upper-level QB1 while some have him as their top overall QB.  His underlying metrics so far in his career just do not support that level of fantasy production and there is some risk he will not be fully ready to go to start the year.  Price him as low-level QB1 and you will be much happier next season.

Running Backs

Todd Gurley

What a difference a year makes.  Some were calling Gurley a bust possibility after a disastrous 2016.  A new head coach plus a couple of quality offensive lineman made him an MVP candidate and the most valuable fantasy player just a year later.  A big part of his fantasy success derived from his 19 touchdowns which topped the next running back (more on him later) by 6 touchdowns.  That number almost certainly takes a dive next year.  Gurley also averaged 12.3 yards per reception last season, an absurdly high number for a running back getting his volume which additionally probably falls.

Do not worry about the likely regression coming.  He still would have ranked 2nd in fantasy scoring at the position if his touchdown rate was just the league average.  Gurley remains a top tier player being one of the few running backs good for 20 touches a game, significant work in the passing game, and attached to one of the brightest play-callers in the NFL.

Alvin Kamara

Kamara is probably the most obvious player on this list.  He had a historic rookie season highlighted by an eye-popping 6.0 yards per carry (YPC).  That number is headed for a big dip. Only four other qualified runners have met the six YPC mark since 2002.  Each saw a big decline afterward.  It is just one of those super rare outlier seasons that is never repeated.  Another area where we can expect less from Kamara is the TD department.  He accumulated 12 touchdowns touching the ball just over 200 times far exceeding the touchdown rate of most other backs.  You will also likely be disappointed expecting a big workload increase from Kamara.  Sean Payton has always utilized significant committee schemes regardless of the running back pool available.  The Saints running backs also garnered an enormous 34% target share which is by far the highest mark for any team since 2013. New Orleans was bottom-10 in WR share and dead last in tight end target share.  Expect these numbers to revert back somewhat in 2018.

Almost every significant factor is working against Kamara repeating his spectacular rookie season.  He is a great talent with a superb role in a hyper-efficient Drew Brees offense but that role limits the touches he is likely to receive.  I like him as a lower-tier RB1 for 2018.

Players with 6+ Yards per Carry from 2002-2017 (100+ Carries)

*Charles only gathered 12 rushing attempts before injury in 2011.  Number is from 2012 season.

Wide Receivers

Marvin Jones

Marvin Jones somewhat surprisingly ended as a bottom-end WR1 in fantasy last season.  Do not let that fact influence you to overpay this upcoming season though.  Jones’ per game targets and receptions remained very similar to his 2016 season with a slight uptick in yardage.  The big difference clearly evident was his touchdown production.  He more than doubled his touchdown output from four in 2016 to nine in 2018 securing one of the higher touchdown rates among wide receivers.  This resulted in his fantasy output increasing from 11.5 PPG (WR47) to 14.1 PPG (WR15).

It was a down year for wide receiver scoring across the league, thanks largely to some key QB injuries, and Jones was one of the biggest beneficiaries in the fantasy realm.  He is a player averaging less than 110 targets per 16 games in his time with Detroit which is not enough to keep him as a consistent high-end producer.  His projected target load and role put him in my borderline WR2/WR3 range for the coming season.

Devin Funchess

Funchess had a breakout campaign in 2017 thanks in large part to being one of the only receiving threats left on the Carolina offense.  The Panther’s lost tight end Greg Olsen and last year’s 2nd round pick, Curtis Samuel to injury while trading away Kelvin Benjamin to the Bills.  Funchess accounted for a whopping 8 of Cam Newton’s 22 touchdown passes last season (36%).  The outlook for 2018 is not so rosy with the return of Olsen and Samuels plus adding the first overall wide receiver selected in the draft, 1st rounder D.J. Moore.

Funchess’ is another player with a lot of factors working against him.  Funchess is stuck with a below average, low-volume passer on a team using significant draft capital at the wide receiver position in recent year.  His role in the offense likely sees a significant reduction and his touchdown rate probably falls.  Funchess was a flex option in 2017 but is more of a bench stash for 2018.


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

2018 NFL Mock Draft: Part I, Picks 1-16

Updated: April 24th 2018

If you have not already read Part IV of my mock draft, please start there so you can start at the bottom and follow through to the beginning.  Part IV includes detailed notes about my methodology and process.  You can then move on to Part III and then to Part II before continuing below.  An important note to remind readers is that this mock draft was compiled on March 30-31 so please keep the timing in mind as you read in case there are trades or free agent signings in the interim.

#16 – Ravens – Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

The Ravens have been desperate for a WR1 for what feels like a decade.  Sadly, I don’t think free agent signing Michael Crabtree is the answer nor are there are any true standout WR prospects in the class.  Despite my criticism, I believe that Ridley is the best of the bunch.  Aside from a solid 40 yard dash, Ridley mostly hurt his stock at the combine.  I previously had him as a Top 10 player but have dropped him because of lingering doubts.  Ridley is quick, shows good hands and is an excellent route runner.  When I watch him on film he just pops, damn the stats or the combine results.  I’m less convinced about his chance to become a team’s WR1 now than I was a year ago but I still think he can be a productive NFL receiver.

#15 – Cardinals – Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Denzel Ward at #15 is an absolute steal.  In real life, I believe Ward will go higher because some team will either trade their pick to a team looking for a corner or some team will just go BPA and snag him.  He very likely could go a spot earlier to Green Bay but instead I have him falling to the Cardinals.  Unfortunately for the Cards, none of the top quarterbacks have made it this far so they’ll be the ones to go BPA and take Ward.  While researching Ward, I came across a telling stat: opposing quarterbacks completed just 32% of their passes when targeting Ward.  He had a very positive combine to go with the tape.  He tied for the fastest 40 yard dash by a corner (4.32), had the longest broad jump and the second highest vertical.

#14 – Packers – Derwin James, S, Florida State

James started the year in Top 5 consideration with Minkah Fitzpatrick but slipped a bit during a disappointing season for the Seminoles.  Long time starting safety Morgan Burnett is gone to the Steelers so Green Bay has a vacancy in their defensive backfield.  James excels in run support and near the line of scrimmage which would fit perfectly with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at free safety.  The Packers did draft a safety last year in the second round, Josh Jones, but I don’t think that would be enough to make them pass on James.  Even though he and the team struggled at times, James still put up good totals (84 tackles and 2 INTs) in his comeback season from 2016’s knee injury.  Corner may be a more immediate need for the Packers but something about Derwin James in Green Bay felt right.

#13 – Redskins – Vita Vea, DT, Washington

The Redskins need a NT for their 3-4 scheme and there is none better in this class than Vita Vea.  He has refrigerator like size: 6’4″ and 347lbs.  He ran a 5.10 which sounds slow since we’re so conditioned to the times for RBs and WRs so let me put it into context.  Since 2010, he ran the second fastest of any defensive lineman 345lbs or more.  The only player faster was Dontari Poe who went 11th overall to the Chiefs in 2012.  Vea’s stat line isn’t overwhelming (43 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks in 2017) but that’s because you can’t measure his impact with the boxscore.  Lining him up alongside 2017 first rounder Jonathan Allen will create a stellar one-two punch for years to come.

#12 – Bills – Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

In my preview of Lamar Jackson this offseason, I comped him to then Bills QB Tyrod Taylor so it’s ironic that I have him landing here after Taylor’s trade to the Browns.  Jackson is an incredible runner as we all know.  There was rumors that he should switch to WR but that was ridiculous – he’s a good quarterback.  He may have a smaller frame than you would want from a run-first QB but he played 38 games in college and is not injury prone like the narrative suggests.  Could he sustain a freak, season-ending injury?  Of course, just ask Tom Brady.  Jackson’s accuracy needs to improve to truly make it in the NFL (57% career completion percentage).  I think he will start his career as an inefficient, big-play-waiting-to-happen type of quarterback.  It’ll come down to the timing of those big plays.  One last thought, can you imagine Lamar Jackson and LeSean McCoy running the read option together?  My god.

#11 – Dolphins – Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have said that Smith would be the first linebacker off the board.  Fast forward to April and Tremaine Edmunds has leapfrogged him but the Dolphins would still be getting a Pro Bowl caliber player here.  Smith is slightly faster than Edmunds (4.51 vs 4.54) but is smaller at 6’1″ and 236lbs.  Over his final three games, under the brightest of spotlights in the SEC Championship and the College Football Playoff, Smith totaled 37 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.  Pairing Smith with returners Kiko Alonso and Cameron Wake, the newly acquired Robert Quinn, and a hopefully-healthy Raekwon McMillan would give the Dolphins a fearsome front seven.

#10 – Raiders – Mike McGlinchey, T, Notre Dame

Much like how I picked Nelson for the 49ers to help protect their big money quarterback, I have done the same for the Raiders with McGlinchey.  Incumbent LT Donald Penn is 34 years old and coming off a season-ending foot injury in 2017 which could cause him to miss some offseason time.  Penn also has a huge roster bonus due in 2019, the last year of his deal, so I’ll bet that the Raiders are planning to move on from him regardless of his injury status.  The Raiders offensive line was already a strength of the team (they allowed just 24 sacks, tied for third best in the league) but adding somebody like McGlinchey would solidify the position long term.

#9 – 49ers – Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

I was surprised to see that Nelson didn’t fit anywhere earlier for me.  He’s probably a Top 5 talent but teams rarely draft a guard that high.  A guard has only been taken this high four times since 1985 (coincidentally, twice in 2015; one of which is the much maligned Ereck Flowers from the Giants).  Nelson has some fantastic highlights and I love watching them whenever they show up on my Twitter timeline.  I’m not convinced the 49ers truly need to draft a guard this high but I figured that they just invested a ton of money in Jimmy Garappolo so they might as well add a piece to protect that investment.

#8 – Bears – Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

Tremaine Edmunds has climbed up draft boards since the start of 2017 and finds himself at #8 in my mock now.  He ran very well at the combine (4.54) and has fantastic size as well (6’5″ and 253lbs).  He was very productive in 2017: 108 tackles and 5.5 sacks.  Pair that production with his size and speed and you have a can’t miss linebacker.  He will feature as an ILB in the Bears 3-4 defense but because of his speed and explosiveness, he can get to the quarterback too so he’ll have value as a situational pass rusher as well.

#7 – Bucs – Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama

Tampa has thus far only re-signed one of their four free agent DBs, and have not signed any from other teams, signaling to me that it is a position they plan to target in the NFL Draft.  What better player to target than Fitzpatrick who played both CB and S at Alabama.  He likely factors more as a safety in the NFL but could see time as a strong nickel.  Depending on the matchup, I would expect to see him in shadow coverage against a dominant tight end.  Fitzpatrick struggled through a hamstring injury in 2017 but still managed to play 13 games.  Don’t overthink it.

#6 – Colts – Bradley Chubb, EDGE, NC State

Before the Colts traded the #3 pick to the Jets, Chubb was a common pick for them in mock drafts.  The fact that the Colts traded back, adding multiple second round picks, and still land Chubb is awesome.  Chubb put together back-to-back seasons with at least 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss.  He finished the year as the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American.  Like Barkley, he’s a better player than his draft slot would lead you to believe.

#5 – Broncos – Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

The Broncos traded QB Trevor Siemian and signed journeyman Case Keenum in free agency.  Keenum is 30 years old and his deal is only for two years so they’ve created a perfect situation to bring in a project QB like Allen.  Keenum can start in 2018 and possibly even into 2019 if necessary.  Allen’s accuracy issues are well documented and I am personally not a fan because of them.  Many who know more than I, however, think he has the tools to be a star in the league.  Coming in behind an established veteran would be the best thing for Allen’s future prospects.

#4 – Browns – Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Barkley is possibly the best true football player in the class, at worst he’s second to Bradley Chubb.  However, the quarterback run and general hesitance to draft running backs high lowers Barkley’s stock.  He’s an absolute stud and will be a fantasy monster from Day One.  He has an uncommon combination of size and speed and is a great receiver.  He did struggle at times in 2017 as a runner but when he did, he made up for it in the passing game.  If the Browns do go the direction I have planned for them, they would end up with a formidable offense in 2018.

#3 – Jets – Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

The run on quarterbacks continues!  I have read a lot of Mayfield/Jets connections in the last few months and when there is smoke, there is fire.  Mayfield is hyper-accurate and just plain hyper.  His personality has undoubtedly taken him off some teams’ draft boards but I would want him on my team.  My favorite part of the Senior Bowl might have been watching Mayfield on the sideline.  It was a non-competitive all-star game but there he was living and dying with each play, hyping up teammates and helping his fellow quarterbacks.  The only thing that makes me question this pick is the fact that the Jets brought in Teddy Bridgewater.  I have never been a Bridgewater fan so I still think the Jets should go for a QB here.

#2 – Giants – Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

I have previously compared Rosen to Giants QB Eli Manning so this seems like a great fit.  In my opinion, Rosen is the most NFL ready quarterback of this class.  He does have injuries in his past and some like to question his “love for the game” but that’s not factoring into my analysis.  He’s a prototypical pocket passer who will have a long NFL career.  It’s not often that you get a chance to draft a franchise quarterback so the Giants need to just make this pick and stop pretending that Manning is anything more than a stopgap option at this point in his career.

#1 – Browns – Sam Darnold, QB, USC

I don’t believe that Darnold is the best quarterback of this class, but I do think that he will be the first overall pick.  Darnold is a confident passer which results in turnovers just as often as it does spectacular plays.  He has an ability to extend the play with athleticism in the pocket and he is a team leader and motivator.  I noticed that he has a long throwing motion which worries me and might be the explanation for the high number of interceptions (the window closes before he actually gets rid of the ball) and the fumbles (because the ball dips so low, it’s a target for rushing defenders).  He has a high ceiling but also has a low floor – a high risk, high reward pick.


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

Same Site…New Look!

Updated: April 24th 2018

It’s taken us a bit longer than we would have liked, but we are now rolling out an updated site.  Most of the functionality of the site is the same or similar to what it was before, just with a vastly new look.  Along with this new look, you should see more responsive pages when viewing on mobile devices as well as better overall performance on some pages (and it shouldn’t be any worse on the others).  I’ll highlight a few of the bigger changes we’ve made with this update:

League Nav

The first thing you’ll probably notice is the new league navigation.  Gone are those static sub navigation items that were always near the top of the page.  They are no longer ingrained into the content of the page, but rather appear as part of the navigation menu and appear/disappear as you hover over other options.

As we’ve grown, more and more of our users are now belonging to more than one RSO league, so we’ve made it easier on those of you.  The same navigation that you’ve had for the past year on the external pages to enter your league now appears internally as well so you can quickly navigate between leagues when needed.

Owners/Roster/Ledger

Unfortunately with the new navigation, we needed to cut down the number of sub navigation items and so we’ve combined the old Owners, Rosters, and Ledger pages which will all be under the new ‘Owners’ item.  They are still there, but if you’re going to the Roster or Ledger page it’s going to take one more click than it used to.

League Home

If you didn’t notice the navigation first, you’ll sure notice the new league home page.  Admittedly, functionally this is more or less the same page that it was, but we have moved a few things around and it will be your first look at how all the pages will be laid out.  The NFL schedule now appears in a slider at the top of the page.  The transactions have been moved from the larger content area to the side area under the weekly fantasy matchups.  Also a few other small touchups but you can discover those for yourself.  We did remove one section from the home page and that’s the Messages.  We didn’t feel like having the messages on the home page brought enough value especially given that you couldn’t even read the full contents of the message.  We do however have some good news for those of you that do regularly use the messaging feature…

Messaging

This has my vote for most improved experience on the site.  What we had before was rather clunky and honestly I thought was a bit of a pain to use.  Now everything is all on one page and is hopefully a more familiar layout to what you’re used to.  We’ve also added the ability to see who the messages are to since we know that in the past it wasn’t easy (or impossible) to distinguish public vs private messages.  Also now moved to this page is the ability to toggle whether the league chat window appears or not.

Other Improvements

There’s plenty of other smaller improvements that we’ve made, most of which I’ll let you discover on your own but here’s a few quick items:

  • Can now filter by position on the Contracts Overview page (which is also now exclusively under the Player navigation rather than also under Team)
  • The few total point leagues out there should have a better experience on a few pages (Home and History mostly)
  • Other bug fixes and error hadnling so you shouldn’t see that dreaded error/oops page nearly as often

Other FYIs

If you have them, bookmarks to league pages from before this update will no longer work (they’ll take you to the site home rather than your league).  You’ll need to re-bookmark the league page(s).

We’ve tested the new site on all the latest verisons of the major browsers (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Edge) so those are all supported.  We also tried it on IE 10 and 11 as well and it should be fine on those browsers outside of a couple very minor cosmetic issues.  If you’re using anything before IE 10 then you’re on your own.

Also, it’s a large site and it’s possible that we could have missed something.  If you see something that isn’t behaving as you believe it should or if you see anything that looks off, screenshot it and send it to inquiries@realitysportsonline.com and we’ll take a look at it.

What’s next

Draft season is upon us, so we’ll be busy with the new rookies.  Over the next month or so we’ll also be looking to add SSL to the site, add 1st downs as a scoring option, as well as other smaller items.

Follow me on twitter @RSOKyleEnglish for the latest RSO technical updates or any quick technical questions you may have.

More Analysis by Kyle English