Early 2019 Free Agency Look: RBs

Updated: February 10th 2019

The running back position is fairly deep in this free agent class.  The group offers a diverse skill-set with three-down players among the best at the position and a deep group of backs with a history of solid rushing production.  Most of the proven players available are in the older age range for running backs and many of the younger ones have significant question marks.   Overall, though, this is a good group for teams not wanting to use draft picks on running backs.  The following list does not cover every free agent running back.  It does give the reader a brief overview of most free agent running backs with a chance to have significant roles with teams.

Tier 1 – Every-down Backs

Le’Veon Bell

Bell fits the mold of an every-down back in today’s NFL as well as anyone with prototypical size and incredible receiving ability.  Many would consider him one of the better slot receivers in the game.  He accumulated at least 75 receptions in different three years.  Still, a running back with three 1,800 scrimmage yard seasons should not have this many questions going into free agency.  Bell has significant past injury issues, a suspension, and over 1,500 touches already in his career.  Another issue is that every running back replacing Bell in recent memory, from DeAngelo Williams to James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, sustained success in the Pittsburgh backfield.  Teams will wonder how much of his production was due to the surrounding talent and scheme.  Part of Bell’s allure is the ability to continuously stay on the field during a game but one of his main complaints in Pittsburgh was the extensive usage.  He just sat out an entire year, refusing to play for $14.5 million after turning down a big contract extension offer from the Steelers.  Clearly Bell is looking for a huge payday.  What happens if the market does not develop as he is hoping for?  Ultimately, I do not think any of the questions will matter.  There are teams with loads of cap space for 2019 including the Colts, Jets, and Bills with the most cap room.  Someone will likely pay big money for the top back available.

Kareem Hunt

This one comes with a big asterisk.  Hunt was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list after a video surfaced showing an ugly incident at a hotel and released by Kansas City.  The league is investigating this episode and other instances of alleged violent off the field behavior.  He will be suspended at some point, reportedly before free agency begins.  The early reports indicate Hunt playing in 2019 with multiple teams reportedly already showing interest in signing him.  There is a lot to like about the former Chief on the field.  Hunt won the rushing title in 2017 as a rookie and averaged over 100 scrimmage yards per game in his career.  He displays some of the best ability to take hits and stay on his feet in the NFL leading to a lot of missed tackles.  Hunt also turned himself a good receiver and pass blocker making him a good all-around back.  His contract situation will be interesting to follow.  Hunt has only two accrued years meaning any team signing him to a 1-year deal would have rights to Hunt in 2020 as a restricted free agent or as an exclusive rights free agent if Hunt’s upcoming suspension prevents him from earning an accrued season in 2019.  This makes for a potentially cost-friendly contract for a team willing to sign Hunt.

Tier 2 – Combo Back

Tevin Coleman

The thing a player wants in free agency is a skill-set that separates him from the pack.  Coleman is the only high-profile running back this year with true “home run” speed, the type of player who can take it the distance from any point on the field.  He also distances himself from most other backs as a plus route runner out of the backfield or lined up wide as a receiver.  These talents helped Coleman average an incredible eleven yards per reception over his career and at least four yards per carry in every season.  With the emphasis on the passing game for today’s NFL, his receiving ability combined with game-breaking jets probably get Coleman paid more than many predict.  He does not fit every running scheme.  He does not excel as an inside-heavy rusher as he does not possess the size to consistently push piles and brake tackles.  Coleman will not get 350 touches in a season.  Part of his draw on the free agent market will be that he touched the ball only a little over 600 times in his NFL career.  A team which exploits his outside running capability and heavily utilizes his receiving skills obtains a dynamic playmaker however who can lead a running back group.  He will be the target of many teams not wanting to pay Bell’s asking price.

Tier 3 – Rushing Down Backs

Mark Ingram

Good all-around rusher who developed quality hands for screen plays and quarterback check downs with the Saints.  Long history of solid production.  His best option is staying in New Orleans but could lead a committee elsewhere.  29 years old with only about the same number of touches in his career as Bell.

Jay Ajayi

One of the better tackle breakers in the game when healthy with nice combination of power and decent long-speed.  Career filled with knee concerns and that was before he tore his ACL.  Will the market develop for someone not fully healthy by the time free agency arrives?

C.J. Anderson

Big bodied back who showed spurts of really strong play with Denver and produced a huge end of year for the Rams after being cut by Panthers and Raiders.  Will it be enough to lead to a committee next season?

Latavius Murray

Large between the tackles runner with good breakaway speed once he hits his stride.  It makes a lot of sense for Minnesota to re-sign Murray given Dalvin Cook’s extensive injury history.

Adrian Peterson

The future hall of famer put up a bounce back campaign in 2018 showing off a little of the speed and power showcased throughout his early career.  He offers practically nothing as a receiver.  How much interest will develop for a one-dimensional 34 year old running back?

Frank Gore

The ageless wonder played very well in 2018.  He would like to stay in Miami.  The Dolphins have two young running backs on cheap rookie contracts for a rebuilding team where the need for an older veteran may be minimal.

The Raiders Backs

Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin (UFAs), and Jalen Richard (RFA) are all free agents.  Richard was excellent as a receiving specialist.  My first instinct is that Oakland signs Richard to a long-term deal and brings back one of Lynch or Martin depending on if Lynch retires.  Martin was serviceable replacing Lynch but graded out worse than the older back.

Tier 4 – Potential backups and role players to keep track of

T.J. Yeldon

Three down NFL size back with very good hands but average, at best, everywhere else.  Plays with the power of someone 20 lbs lighter and not much wiggle or speed with the ball.  Yeldon was one of PFF’s lowest graded qualified backs in 2018.  Reports of bad influence in locker room.  Solid do-it-all backup for teams which relies primarily on one back.

Jeremy Hill

Hill looked very good this preseason earning the big back role for New England before tearing his ACL in his first game with the Patriots.  Unlikely a team prioritizes running back recovering from knee surgery.

Bilal Powell

Underrated runner and receiver capable of receiving back or committee role.  Undersized and unknown recovery time from neck injury for player with long injury history.

Darren Sproles

The smaller dynamo says he might be back for another year.  He will be on the PPR radar if he plays depending on who the Eagles bring in at running back.

Ameer Abdullah

Smaller athletic back with 2nd round draft pedigree who never worked out with Detroit.  Will a new team be able to find a role?

Spencer Ware

Big, thick rusher who performed well throughout his time with Kansas City including a very good 2016.  Possible product of system as almost every rusher, given the chance, performs well in Kansas City.

Ty Montgomery

There are always potential spots on teams for former college wide receivers with running back size.  May always be a jack-of-all-trades player with no defined role or consistent usage.  Struggled with injuries throughout his time with Green Bay.

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.

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Early 2019 Free Agency Look: QBs

Updated: January 18th 2019

As usual, there is no shortage of quarterback-needy teams in the NFL.  Jacksonville and Miami very likely look for immediate change while Denver and the New York Giants need fixes very soon.  Alex Smith’s gruesome leg injury unfortunately creates uncertainty in Washington. Tampa Bay and Tennessee probably stick with what they have in 2019 but the future appears murky, at best, for Winston and Mariota.  Oakland and Cincinnati are lower probability bets for quarterback moves where Carr and Dalton continue as mediocre options.  New England, Pittsburgh, and the Chargers may soon address their respective long-term situations.

We should be clear right from the start.  This is not a good year for teams with quarterback needs.  The draft class does not rate anywhere near 2018’s lot and the free agent group does not have a single plug-and-play starter.  Teams might decide to stick with what they have in many cases as they do not view available quarterbacks as significant upgrades.  The reader could see many teams just “taking their lumps” next season in preparation for 2020.

Free Agents

Teddy Bridgewater

The fact that this article begins with Bridgewater says all you need to know about the 2019 free agent quarterback class.  Bridgewater does not possess much upside but has long-term competent NFL starter potential.  That is enough to put him ahead of most of the other quarterbacks on this list for many NFL teams.  We have seen nothing from Bridgewater which suggests he will be much of a fantasy option for any of the potential suitors.  New Orleans might convince Bridgewater to sign a longer-term deal to remain with the Saints as their long-term option at quarterback.

Tyrod Taylor

Taylor shot out of nowhere in 2015 for Buffalo finishing as the 7th highest rated passer after years on the bench in Baltimore.  Unfortunately, Taylor has seen a steady downward trajectory to his career ever since seeing his yards per attempt, QBR, and passer rating fall each and every year from his first starting season.  The run culminated with a disastrous 2018 in which he was benched for Baker Mayfield after four games.  Still, there is potentially a spot for Taylor as a starting quarterback.  We can forgive any player’s stint with Hue Jackson in Cleveland.  Taylor plays a very conservative style which minimizes turnovers and makes enough plays with his legs to extend drives occasionally.  Jacksonville, for example, seems a particularly attractive spot for him where the defense will be counted on to win games.  Taylor’s rushing ability can mean big fantasy points so he needs to be on the radar, especially in deeper leagues if a team signs him as a starter or injuries occur.

Sam Bradford

The downside of Bradford is readily apparent.  He can not stay healthy.  Bradford appears molded from the most brittle substance on the planet.  The odds do not appear good that he will get a starting job in 2019.  Still, coaches around the league seem to like him as he continually gets starting chances with multiple teams.  His career trajectory pointed upward until his 2017 injury.  Like Taylor, we need not diminish Bradford too much for an ugly 2018 in which no offensive skill player on Arizona had much of a chance given the coaching staff and offensive line deficiencies.

Potentially Available in Trade or Release

Nick Foles

The Philadelphia legend probably earns top pick among NFL teams if he becomes a free agent.  Foles’ career may be best described as inconsistent.  He had one of the all-time amazing years in 2013 with an incredible 27-2 touchdown to interception ratio and led Philadelphia to the Super Bowl title in 2018 during a great post-season run.  He ranged from a solid starter to a bottom-end option during the various games for three teams over the rest of his time in the league.  His contract presents lots of options.  The Eagles could pick up the $20 million salary option for 2019 forcing Foles to give back $2 million to buy his way into free agency or setting up a potential trade.  This move proves potentially problematic tying that much money to a backup quarterback.  The more likely option allows Foles to hit free agency capitalizing on his recent post-season success to a starting job in 2019.

Joe Flacco

Flacco parlayed the Ravens’ 2012 Super Bowl title into an enormous contract which has been a disaster for Baltimore.  The contract had to be reworked for cap purposes extending the contract further out leading to continual cap problems for Baltimore.  In return, the Ravens received mostly bottom-level quarterbacking keeping Baltimore in that ugly middle-tier of teams despite having a strong defense most years.  His contract is reasonable with no guarantees left and a $18.5 million salary for 2019.  The question is what type of team would be interested in Flacco?  He won’t be the long-term answer for any team, would just delay the inevitable for teams not really in the super bowl hunt, and is not a significant upgrade on the host of marginal starters floating around he might replace.  Flacco possesses very little fantasy relevance wherever he ends up.

Current Starters

A new group of potential quarterbacks emerge if teams decide to move on from their current starters.  The Dolphins fired Adam Gase which could mean the end of Ryan Tannehill in Miami.  He displayed some quality throws occasionally with good athleticism but comes with immense injury baggage and struggles with pocket awareness.   The most likely scenario for Eli Manning is retirement or the Giants convincing themselves once again they are not as far away from contention as they actually are with Manning returning again for 2019.  Blake Bortles is almost certainty done in Jacksonville following multiple benching.  He also almost certainly will not be starting for any other team in 2019.  One great season convinced Denver to give Case Keenum a solid contract and ignore the rest of his career.  His masquerade as a starter in the NFL may end sooner than later.

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.

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Mid-Season Quarterback Stories

Updated: October 31st 2018

Numerous interesting stories exist at the midway point in the NFL season from Patrick Mahomes emergence to the uptick in offensive production across the league.  This article looks at a few quarterback situations in flux and what that means rest of season for your fantasy team.  The writing concentrates on the Bortles scenario and how Jacksonville arrived in the place they are, with lessons learned from how they handled his contract.

The Blake Bortles Saga

Jacksonville benched Blake Bortles week 7 in a move which clearly foreshadows the end of his time as starting quarterback for the Jaguars sometime in the near future.  The question remains how did the Jaguars get to this point with Bortles still as their starting quarterback and significant money left on his contract?  A calamity of faulty reasoning and different biases supply a big piece of the answer and give examples for NFL teams and RSO GMs of what not to do to get in this type of trouble.

  1. Jacksonville picks up Bortles’ 5th year option. This act set in motion future events for the Jaguars with relation to Bortles. General manger Dave Caldwell picked up Bortles’ option under two primary reasons.  First, Caldwell contends the $19 million option was a relative bargain at quarterback.

“I think that slots him as the 16th highest quarterback next year, right around the median,” Caldwell said. “If he was to get the franchise tender that puts him at the third or fourth or fifth ranked quarterback depending on who gets new deals next year.”

The obvious question that comes to mind is what possible reason would the Jaguars have in franchising Bortles?  No other NFL team was going to give Bortles anything remotely close to $19 million per season, much less the expense of a franchised quarterback.  The odds that another team would have even given him a starting opportunity were extremely low at the time.  It is clear Caldwell misevaluated Bortles value, both on the open market and to his own team.  The fact that Bortles was Caldwell’s first pick for Jacksonville likely influenced his decision to pick up the option.

The second reason given by Caldwell for picking up Bortles’ option is his relatively cheap two-year salary with the extension.

“We look at two-year values on our contracts,” Caldwell said. “I think this year he’s scheduled to make about $3.2 million in cash, and then the $19 million next year is just a little over $22 million, it’s a two-year, $11 million average on what is considered a new deal, and that puts him not in the Top 16 of quarterbacks.”

This classical error may be seen across the business world.  The final year of Bortles’ rookie contract was already locked in and should have had no bearing on the new decision to pick up his option.  What the deal averages out to when including old contract numbers is irrelevant.

Lesson for RSO GMs:  Take your ego out of decisions when franchising or extending players.  Do not let the fact that you drafted a player influence your decision on future contracts and his worth.  Examine the player’s expected value in your league to determine an appropriate salary and be prepared to move on if the franchise tag or extension price is too high.

  1. Jacksonville signs Bortles to three-year extension. Caldwell doubled down on the option mistake by signing him to a three-year $54 million extension following the season. The extension, in part, stems from the option by reducing the $19 million cap hit to a more reasonable $10 million in 2018.  This came at the cost of $16.5 million in dead cap for 2019 which makes releasing Bortles in 2019 an expensive option.  Cap room was not the only reason for the extension however.  Jacksonville believed Bortles made significant progress in 2017 and was a piece of Jacksonville’s future.

“Blake’s growth and development last season was a key to the success we had as a team,” Jaguars executive VP Tom Coughlin said in a release from the team. “Blake has proven, with toughness and dependability, that he can be the leader this team needs going forward. Along with this contract come high expectations that he will continue to improve and help our team accomplish its ultimate goal.”

So how did Jaguars management get fooled into believing in Bortles long-term?  The answer is Bortles performed well near the end of the year in 2017.  He was averaging a very Bortles-like 58% completion percentage and 6.4 yards per attempt to go with 12 touchdowns and 8 interceptions through 11 weeks last season.  He followed that up the next four weeks averaging a robust 9.1 yards per attempt with a 69% completion percentage to go with 9 touchdowns.  Bortles also finished the season with an impressive outing versus New England in the AFC championship game.  How did he accomplish this upgrade in play?  The Jaguars faced incredibly soft passing defenses during those games with Football Outsiders’ 21st, 25th, 28th, and 32nd ranked pass efficiency defenses to go along with a Seattle defense decimated by injuries at the end of season.  The Jaguars saw progress where in reality Bortles simply faced lower-end pass defenses and took advantage of the matchups.  They ignored the long body of work and let a handful of games dictate their outlook.  Jacksonville is now stuck in an ugly situation with no long-term answer at quarterback and the short-term solution is unenviable at best on a team which just missed the Super Bowl last season.

Lesson for RSO GMs:  Do not let recency bias distort your view of players too much.  Relying on players based on a handful of recent games while ignoring everything before can lead to disaster for your fantasy team.

Rest of Season Fantasy Outlook: Bortles was a lower-end streaming option before the benching.  He is almost impossible to trust now, even as a streamer, given that he may be benched in any game.  Look at Bortles as an emergency starter in 2QB and superflex leagues.

Jameis Winston

Bortles was not the only quarterback benched recently.  Winston got the hook after a disastrous four interception game versus Cincinnati last week.  The Bucs have already named Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was benched for Winston earlier, the starter next week.  No one really knows after that.  Winston might relieve Fitzpatrick next week if he struggles or at some future week if Tampa Bay is eliminated from contention.  Tampa Bay put the fifth year option on Winston which is guaranteed for injury only.  This means he also might never see the field again in Tampa Bay if they have determined he is not part of their future in order to eliminate injury risk.

Rest of Season Fantasy Outlook:  Chaotic. Impossible to predict.  What we do know is tremendous weekly upside exists for whoever throws the ball.  Tampa Bay averages 376 passing yards per game (58 more than the next highest team) with a stable of high-end receiving threats and a defense among the league’s worst.  The upcoming schedule is also great for Tampa Bay passers.  Definitely grab Fitzpatrick if he is on your waiver wire.  The upside is so high that I would not mind having both him and Winston on my roster.  The main problem lies in the fact that either may be benched on any given week possibly ruining you fantasy week.

Eli Manning

Career finishes rarely end well for NFL star players.  Their skills diminish quickly toward the end and they almost never are able to make an accurate assessment of their lower abilities.  Manning is no different.  Manning is a statue in the pocket with non-existent movement skills who freezes up anytime pressure presents itself playing on a team which really struggles protecting the passer.  In this case, the organization failed miserably in evaluating Manning and a New York roster which won three games last season.  Management vastly over-estimated this roster and the ability to play competitive football weekly.  No realistic backup plan exists for Manning and the quarterback spot.

Rest of Season Fantasy Outlook:  Manning is a lower-end starting option in two QB leagues.  The Giants season is virtually over already which means they may want to get a look at younger quarterbacks on the roster.  Be prepared with other options if you are counting on Manning in your league.

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.

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RSO Extension Targets

Updated: October 3rd 2018

An important stage begins for the RSO fantasy season.  RSO GMs may extend players in the final year of their RSO contract, starting in week 5 and ending in week 13, for those leagues in which the contract extension option is enabled.  Player extensions were designed to force difficult decisions on RSO GMs.  This article helps with the process by looking at a few key considerations, recommending targets for extension, and determining the best time of year to extend.

We ignore young players still on rookie deals (post-2015 draft) in most leagues as they can’t be extended but be sure to check your league for young undrafted players.

Key Extension Considerations

Extension values fluctuate through the extension period.   Weekly performances drive contract values up or down on a weekly basis.  A monster game increases extension costs while a poor week potentially lowers contract prices.  This means a player’s week 5 offered extension contract may be substantially different from the week 13 offer. The decision of when to extend a player may cost or save your team significant cap room.

Extension terms are specific to your league.  League settings such as scoring rules, rosters, and positional starting requirements impact extension offers.  Contracts in your league also influence extension offers.  Put another way, not only does projected player production impact extensions but also how your league values players across position groups.  This may set up considerable savings toward certain types of players in your specific league.

Players do not accept pay cuts on extensions.  This necessitates that players coming off cheap rookie contracts, cheap speculative deals, or coming back from injury are more likely extension targets than top-level veteran players on near-market level deals even if the veteran is having a down year.

Quarterback Targets

Russell Wilson

There are some relatively cheap Wilson contracts out there after he played hurt in 2016.  He currently ranks, at best, as a low-end QB2 under new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.  Focus on the run game has, somewhat predictably, led to a stagnant offense rating just 26th in passing yards.  On the surprising side, Wilson’s rushing attempts have been almost completely cut-off.  Wilson has the same number of rushing attempts (11) as a one-legged Aaron Rodgers and immobile Joe Flacco plus less yardage than the stuck-in-mud Matt Ryan and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

This is likely one of the lowest points at which you will ever be able to extend Wilson after performing near his fantasy floor.  The Seattle offensive coordinator will be forced to evolve to the modern NFL or likely be done in short order.  There is even an out in Wilson’s contract for Seattle to move on after this season if it wants to go in another direction than Wilson.  It could be a long 2018 but if you can acquire the passing and rushing talent of Wilson on the cheap it could be well worth it going forward.

Derek Carr

Most would consider the career of Derek Carr somewhat mixed, at best, to this point.  He boasts one of the least efficient rankings of any quarterback during his time and has never been much of a fantasy asset.  That could change with new coach Jon Gruden.  Carr threw for the fourth most passing yards in the league so far to go along with career bests in efficiency and completion percentage.  Carr currently ranks next to Wilson as a bottom-end QB2 in fantasy thanks to some big interception totals early but his volume and efficiency supports higher possible fantasy production.  The defense might yield extreme points for a long time forcing Carr into big volume for the foreseeable future.

Running Back Targets

Devonta Freeman

This one is easy.  Tevin Coleman hits free agency next year and Freeman takes over as the bigger part of the rushing committee when he returns from his knee injury.  Freeman’s role possibly increases next season with Ito Smith as his compliment in comparison to Coleman.  Lock Freeman up prior to his return.

Giovani Bernard

This move certainly falls into the speculative, but cheap, class of extensions.  Bernard’s NFL contract runs through the 2019 season so why extend a backup player?  First, Bernard has performed at a high level whether as the main back or in a more complimentary role.  Second, Cincinnati drafted Bernard’s likely replacement as Mixon’s backup in Mark Walton this year. Third, the Bengals have a cheap out on Bernard’s contract following the 2018 season.  Will they really spend $4.5 million on a backup running back in 2019?  Possibly but it might be worth the price to find out.  Wait as long as possible for an extension here.  Bernard falls back into the backup role when Joe Mixon returns lowering his value as the season goes on.

Wide Receiver Targets

T.Y. Hilton

This extension comes with more risk than others.  2017 saw a down year for Hilton and he checks in as low level WR2 in 2018.  Concerns exist as to Luck’s shoulder moving forward and Hilton is at the stage where receiving production sometimes falls off.   One must consider that Hilton averaged 81 receptions and 1250 yards the previous four seasons prior to 2017 with Luck though.  He is a potential big hit if Luck’s shoulder continues to strengthen.  Hilton likely misses the upcoming Thursday game so feel free to wait a week before extending.

Allen Robinson

The case for Robinson is similar to Hilton’s but with some key differences.  Robinson lost 2017 to an ACL-tear and his production in 2018 has also so far been modest.  Robinson presents a murkier picture when compared to Hilton however.  Robinson produced only one notable season in his career and the quality of his quarterback, and offense in general, remains a big mystery going forward.  One might expect a better connection with his quarterback as he gets more reps and Robinson is just entering his athletic prime years.  This could be a low point to extend Robinson if you believe in the talent and offense going forward.

Tight End Target

Vance McDonald

Reliable options at tight end stay extremely limited.  Ertz might be available for a reasonable extension in your league but I will discuss another player.  McDonald struggled with injuries, drops, and poor quarterback play in San Francisco.  The injury issue has not disappeared in Pittsburgh but we have seen his receiving ability shine when on the field for the Steelers over the last two seasons.  McDonald is the clear top receiver at tight end for Pittsburgh.  He should be a relatively cheap extension whose value could spike by the end of the year if he remains (mostly) healthy.

Players from 2015 Rookie Drafts

Consider this a reminder that 2018 is the final season of four year rookie deals for Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, David Johnson, Tevin Coleman, Amari Cooper, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota among others.  Gurley and Gordon currently rank top-3 in RB scoring and are solid extension candidates to center your team around.   There value is unlikely to grow much so you can gamble on extensions later in the year.  Johnson represents a quality buy-low extension option.  His NFL contract essentially locks him in through 2020 and the first few weeks of the season have been mediocre under a new coaching staff.  Extend him immediately.  His role could grow as the season moves on.  Look no further than Coleman for next year’s McKinnon, a running back who saw a big value spike in free agency.   His abilities work in the run and passing game.  Hold off on an extension until later in the year when Freeman comes back and Coleman assumes the smaller part of the committee.  Cooper is coming off one of his signature “boom” games in week 4 but has mixed results so far currently sitting as the WR34.  He is one of the riskier extension candidates but someone still extremely young with potential for more consistency.  Winston ranks among the most turnover-prone players in the league.  He improved each season as a quarterback however.  There might not be a better time to extend Winston coming off of suspension and a rusty two interception performance to start the season.  It is difficult to judge Mariota in his career given the coaching staff he played with.  His play has been maddeningly inconsistent with shoddy accuracy at times while injuries plagued his career.  Mariota possesses all the physical tools necessary for a successful quarterback. A new coaching staff may bring his best out.

Injured Players

San Francisco supplies the poster-child for capitalizing on injured players where the QB1, RB1, and WR1 have all been injured with two of them lost for the year.  Jimmy Garappolo, Jerick McKinnon, and Marquise Goodwin could all come in as cheap extensions for your league with big upside next season.

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.

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The Amazing, Good, Sad and Embarrassing

Updated: September 19th 2018

The first two weeks of the NFL season are in the books.  If you need a brief overview of what happened, this is the place.  The article looks at some of the outstanding players and teams so far to some of the worst with a couple more topics thrown in.

The Amazing

Ryan Fitzpatrick and Patrick Mahomes

“FitzMagic” is back!  The Harvard-grad leads the NFL after two weeks in passing yards with over 400 per game, in passer rating (151.5), and yards per attempt (13.4) which is almost three more than any other quarterback.  The “Beard” performed this monumental feat despite playing against two defenses which were top-8 in Football Outsider’s pass efficiency last season.  DeSean Jackson provides a big reason for Fitzpatrick’s early success.  The 31 year old is proving his doubters wrong by setting up big plays for Fitzpatrick getting easy deep separation with his game-changing speed.  Jackson leads the league in receiving yards on only nine targets catching each one for a gaudy 30.6 yards per reception.

Not to be outdone, the Kansas City second-year playcaller is setting records early in 2018.  Mahomes already racked up ten touchdowns without throwing an interception leading the Chiefs to a 2-0 start.  He is receiving good pass protection and the assortment of offensive targets makes big plays possible on every snap.  It is a truly outstanding start to his career.

The Good

NFL Passing

Offenses sometimes start slowly the first few weeks of the season thanks to limited practices in the preseason.  That is not the case this year where teams are putting up video game offensive numbers early.  I talked about the expected increase in passing prior to the season but we have witnessed a massive overcorrection so far.  Tom Brady led the NFL in passing last year at 286 yards per game.  There are eleven quarterbacks averaging more so far this year.  Eleven quarterbacks have passer ratings in excess of 100 this season while only five managed that feat last year.  Yardage and scoring are broadly up throughout the league.  This is a great NFL for those who worship offensive football.

Los Angeles Rams

There was some concern out there the Rams might regress somewhat after an amazing 2017.  We must keep in mind the opponents played so far but the early results suggest the concern is unwarranted.  Los Angeles dismantled the Raiders and Arizona on the way to a league-leading +54 point differential.  The Rams rank no worse than 7th in yardage and scoring for both offense and defense highlighted by allowing a league best 6.5 points per game.  The major offseason additions of Cooks, Suh, Peters, and Talib appear to have integrated nicely at this point making for a dangerous team on both sides of the ball.

The Sad

Josh Gordon

The Gordon saga with the Browns finally came to an end this week after a suspension fueled tumultuous time in Cleveland filled with off the field issues.  The hope and promise of a player who led the league in receiving five years ago never fully materialized again for the Browns.  The fact that Gordon is still on an exclusive rights free agent contract seven years after being drafted tells all you need to know about his struggles.  He was traded to New England Monday.  Everyone hopes he succeeds with the Patriots but that concern is a distant second in comparison to hoping he gets his life in order away from the football field.

Buffalo Bills

Many people envisioned the Bills taking a major step backward after winning nine games and making an improbable playoff bid in 2017. The playoff birth was a mirage masking a Buffalo team finishing with a -57 point differential and ranking just 20th in Football Outsiders team efficiency.  The Bills’ coaching staff understood this was not a playoff-worthy roster and started a complete takedown.  The process will be even uglier than most envisioned.  The offensive side of the ball features one of the worst offensive lines in the league after losing two top linemen to retirement and trading a third away.  There are no receiving options which scare any team.  The only real offensive weapon, LeSean McCoy, just suffered a rib injury.  The Bills were even forced to put rookie Josh Allen into the starting lineup after Nathan Peterman predictably was benched yet again.  A mediocre Bills’ defense crumbled under the pressure of an incompetent offense this year yielding a league worst 39 points per game.  Things are so bad Vontae Davis gave up millions to retire at halftime of week two.  Things will get better in Buffalo but 2018 will be a struggle.

The Embarrassing

Arizona Cardinals

Arizona was competitive last year despite big losses during the season.  The Cardinals went 8-8 in 2017 without David Johnson for most of the year while also starting either Blaine Gabbert or Drew Stanton for over half the season.  New head coach Steve Wilks and the rest of the coaching staff has managed to make a complete mess in Arizona so far this season.  The Cardinals have been outscored by a combined 58 to 6 tally in two lifeless outings on the way to a 0-2 start.  New quarterback Sam Bradford accumulated 346 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions in his last full start for Minnesota.  He has a combined 246 yards and zero touchdowns with two interceptions in two starts for Arizona this year.  This looks like a team destined for a complete top to bottom rebuild with everyone from players to coaches in danger.

Honorable mention: Detroit Lions.  The Lions are another competitive team from last season with a new head coach, Matt Patricia, whom struggled mightily in two games.  The 9-7 team from 2017 has not been close in two contests, including being blown out at home against a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start, with players already calling out the new coaching staff.  It could be a rough year for Detroit in a solid NFC conference.

The Giants Offensive Line

Anyone watching the New York-Dallas game Sunday night should easily recognize the huge discrepancy between offensive lines.  Dak Prescott was able to sit back in clean pockets for much of the night while Eli Manning was under constant pressure for almost every dropback forcing short quick dumpoffs and ugly throws.  The Giants’ line struggles continued to the run game where Saquon Barkley was continuously required to make defenders miss nearly as soon as he touched the ball.  New York will not compete this season if new head coach Pat Shurmur does not fix the dreadful offensive line, no matter the wealth of talent at the skill positions.

NFL “Roughing the Passer” Issue

Defenders may not hit the quarterback in the head, or the knees, or the mid-section, or land on them, or pick them up, or…   You get the picture.  What are defenders supposed to do?  Put their hand up as a stop sign and hope the quarterback falls to the ground out of fear?  There is simply no reasonable way for defenders to tackle quarterbacks without being at risk of penalty at this time.  The NFL has vastly overcorrected thanks to high-profile injuries at quarterback last season.  The recent Matthews’ penalty is just the most recent example of the problem that costs teams wins.  The NFL must make a decision as to whether quarterbacks are actual football players or porcelain dolls in need of protection at all costs.  Acknowledge the dangers of the sport and go back to calling the most egregious hits if it is the former.  Use a touch rule or flags to eliminate hitting of quarterbacks altogether If it is the latter.

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.

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Lessons and Narratives Heading into the Regular Season

Updated: September 2nd 2018

I want to give the reader a few final tips before the NFL season begins next week.  The article includes a key concept in determining potentially undervalued players and also examines some narratives thrown on the fantasy community.  You can use these in your final RSO auctions or evaluating potential roster additions and trades prior to week 1.  Here is hoping everyone has a great upcoming season.

Lesson:  Using Projected Offensive Shares

Finding an edge in fantasy football can be a struggle these days.  There are so many expert rankings and projections out there for the casual fan.  Let me give you a tip to show where one may find fantasy upside utilizing available player projections.  Passing in the NFL is a zero sum game.  What I mean is that all of a quarterback’s passing must be distributed to players on his team.  A quarterback who throws for more yards than another quarterback means his skill players necessarily accumulate more total receiving yards.  A simple concept but how does that help us?  The table below helps us with the question by examining the projections of skill players for three selected teams; San Francisco, Kansas City, and the New York Giants.

Notice right off Jimmy Garoppolo is projected for 400 more passing yards than Eli Manning with equivalent touchdowns and completions; and almost 500 more passing yards than Patrick Mahomes with another touchdown plus over 20 more completions.  Now take a look at the top projected skill players for each quarterback (the RB1, WR1, WR2, and TE1).  Interestingly, San Francisco’s top receiving targets mostly come at a significant discount and lower projection when compared to Kansas City and New York’s top players despite Garoppolo being projected for more passing totals than the other two quarterbacks.  The highlighted projected shares in the last columns can help us understand why.  The top 49er targets are projected for a far smaller portion of Garoppolo’s completions, yardage, and touchdowns than the equivalents from Kansas City and New York.  The San Francisco reception share is at least 15% less, the yardage share at least 17% less, and the touchdown share at least 19% less than the other two teams.

Table 1. Projected Offensive Shares from Fantasy Pros 8/27 Consensus Projections

What are the implications of these differences in shares among teams?  Most importantly, top targets on teams with low projected shares among them offer more upside as a group.  For example, the group of Goodwin, Garcon, Kittle, and McKinnon could reasonably earn another 10% of Garoppolo’s passing totals and still be well under the projected share of Kansas City and New York’s top players as a group.  Each player has the chance to increase fantasy production without decreasing other top player’s production.  Conversely, teams with projected passing shares highly concentrated in its top skill players offer little room for growth as a whole.  Teams like Kansas City and New York already have about 4/5 of the projected passing game production tied up in its top skill players.  There is not much room to add to that portion.  WR3s, WR4s, RB2s, TE2s, and other sub-package skill players will have roles in the offense which limit further production of the top players.  This does not mean that top players on these highly concentrated teams will not exceed projections, just that any increase must necessarily come at the expense of another primary target on the team.

The specific example above may not apply if you do not agree with projections about the quarterbacks in question but the key concept holds for whatever projections you do rely upon.  When you are looking for potential skill player upside beyond projections, examine projected offensive shares of key players for a team.

Narrative 1:  Wide receiver X was ranked Y in 2017.  He should finish around Y again in 2018.

The Reality:  2017 was a down year for passing across the NFL partly because of injuries to starting quarterbacks. Yardage and scoring should increase significantly in 2018.  Quarterbacks and wide receivers which remain stagnant in fantasy scoring will move down the rankings in 2018.

NFL passing has been trending upward for some time.  Rules making it harder for defenses to defend the pass and analytics demonstrating the value of the passing game have resulted in increased passing over the last decade.  That trend came to a crashing halt in 2017.  Total passing yardage in the NFL dropped 7.1% from 2016 to 2017 and was the lowest since 2010.  We saw the fewest passing attempts since 2011 and the lowest yards per attempt since 2010.  This down passing year contributed to total scoring for the league decreasing 4.6% in 2017.  Is this a new trend starting?  I highly doubt it.  A number of short term factors influenced the problems in passing across the league.  Green Bay (-25%), Indianapolis (-31%), and Arizona (-12%) all posted considerably less passing yardage thanks to injuries to quality starting quarterbacks for example.  The injury rate should subside in 2018, especially among the better quarterbacks, increasing passing yardage in the NFL.

The decreased passing transferred to wide receivers in fantasy.  Jordy Nelson and T.Y. Hilton, for example, went from WR1s in 2016 to unreliable fantasy assets largely due to Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck missing action.  The sliding of top wide receivers necessarily moved others up the rankings.  Golden Tate finished 2017 with almost identical fantasy output as 2016 but moved up the rankings four spots.  The chart below details the phenomenon in a more general way.  A player scoring 12 points per game in 2017 was a fairly decent flex option in most leagues ranking 28th in per game scoring.  That same player was barely usable as a bye week fill-in for the 2016 season ranking a whopping 14 spots below the same 2017 player.  Remember that 2017 was an anomaly in the passing game when valuing players for 2018.


Table 2.  Wide Receiver Fantasy Points per Game (PPG) Scoring in PPR Leagues, 2016 vs. 2017


Narrative 2:  Quarterback X targeted position Y a lot on his old team.  He will do so again on his new team.

The Reality:  Quarterbacks throw to players based on personnel talents and coaching scheme, not because of individual preference for a certain position.

Let’s examine two quarterbacks this narrative has been thrust upon, Alex Smith and Kirk Cousins.  The story goes these quarterbacks like throwing to tight ends and will continue to do so with their new teams.  There is no doubt Alex Smith utilized the tight end position extensively in his career with both San Francisco and Kansas City.  Both teams finished highly in tight end target percentage on multiple occasions.  However, we must look at who he was throwing to.  Smith had Vernon Davis, a top-6 overall draft pick who is one of the top athletes to ever enter the league, in San Francisco.  The Chiefs ranked 5th or better in tight end target percentage each of the last four years but that was with the super being known as Travis Kelce as the TE1.  Washington has also targeted tight ends heavily under Cousins, ranking top-10 in tight end target rate each of the last three seasons.  That was with Jordan Reed, one of the most dynamic receiving weapons at the tight end position, and the afore-mentioned Vernon Davis (when Reed is not healthy) primarily manning the tight end spot.

Kansas City ranked next to last in Smith’s first season with team, however.  Anthony Fasano was the TE1 that season.  This story plays out over and over again with quarterbacks and coordinators adjusting for personnel.  Tom Brady throws significantly to tight ends when he is Rob Gronkowski, not when the TE1 is Michael Hoomanawanui.  Greg Olsen has been a key target of Cam Newton’s for years, not so much for Ed Dickson last year when Olsen was injured.  One may expect Smith to heavily target Reed (at least when he is on the field) because he is a tremendous receiver, not because he happens to play tight end.  We should not expect the lumbering Kyle Rudolf to become a focal point of Cousins’ in Minnesota simply because Cousins previously targeted tight ends at a high rate.  Players matter.

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.

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