Early 2018 RSO Contracts: QBs

Updated: July 4th 2018

My annual look at early RSO auction values begins at the quarterback position in 2018.  The series was designed to give the reader help in planning for upcoming auctions by looking at actual RSO auctions already finished.  The data comes from a variety of different types of leagues with varying scoring rules and starting requirements which can drastically alter player values so be cautious in expecting values to match your particular league.  The information does provide a useful starting point for examining how RSO owners value players at a certain position relative to one another and the length of contract they are willing to invest.

Average RSO Quarterback Contracts

Paying up (QB1-10)

Aaron Rodgers once again comes in as the most expensive quarterback.  The Packers lack any real speed threat at wide receiver which could hurt his efficiency somewhat but he is the best pure passer in the business.  Wilson seems an easy choice between him and Watson or Wentz at their similar contracts.  I detailed the potential pitfalls for Watson and Wentz coming after their super seasons in 2017.  No one should be paying for Luck at his QB7 price point given his substantial injury risk.  Newton and Brady provide similar upside at comparable cost without the risk.  The top-10 finishes with an interesting group of quarterbacks.  Cousins finished as a QB1 each of the last three seasons and now moves to a Minnesota team this year with arguably better receiving weapons.  The Vikings feature a far superior defense and better running game which might limit Cousins passing volume.  We only have seven starts over the last two seasons to evaluate Garoppolo from but that sample is truly extraordinary.   He completed 68% of his passes, averaged over 280 passing yards per game, and owns a monstrous 8.7 yards per attempt over that span on his way to a 7-0 record without a single poor start.  His quick release and consistent down-to-down play are easily evident on tape and only confirm the statistics.  Brees produced his worst fantasy season in recent memory thanks largely to a massive drop-off in passing attempts.  While we likely are through with the upper-600 yearly pass attempts which were previously routine, look for a bump in yardage and touchdowns this season.

The Value Tier (QB11-20)

This tier of players gives us both some nice reliable options and younger quarterbacks with upside but lots of question marks.  The tier is bookended by two second year pros.  Mahomes possesses an arsenal of quality receiving weapons in KC and a cannon for an arm with good athleticism. Will Reid be able to reign in his poor decision making and inconsistent accuracy?   Trubisky enters his sophomore year with a year of experience under his belt and new head coach Matt Nagy from the Reid coaching line.  Chicago undoubtedly upgraded the receiving options but one-year wonder Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, and rookie Anthony Miller are largely unproven.   Stafford represents a safe floor with no less than 4,200 passing yards in each of the last seven seasons.  Prescott looked like a rising young star his first year and a half with a super offensive line and run game.  He looked like a backup-level quarterback the second half of last season who completely fell apart when the offensive line took an injury-hit and Elliott missed time.  Goff went from one of the worst rookie seasons ever to one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league under Sean McVay.  Mariota and Winston enter the the final year of their rookie deals showing flashes of starting-level talent but neither living up to their lofty draft status so far.  Winston starts the year with a three-game suspension and will try to reign in his mistake-prone tendencies.  Mariota gets a new head coach but questions remain whether he is simply a quality game-manager.  Roethlisberger and Ryan give us good value at the 16th and 17th spot.  The Steeler quarterback has received a physical beating over the years but is still a quality fantasy and real-life producer at the position when on the field.  Ryan is a good bounce-back candidate who should see big boosts in yardage and touchdowns.  Carr has been one of the least efficient starters in the league over his four years in the NFL.  His contract could be cut following 2018 if things go poorly in the first year of the Gruden regime.

Going Cheap (QB21+)

Our rookie quarterbacks start coming off the board now (Note there was a limited sample of auctions with rookies as most went in rookie drafts).  Rosen leads the way soon followed by Mayfield, Jackson, and Darnold while Allen is an afterthought near the bottom of our top-40 list.  Jackson is a quality stash on your roster.  He has, by far, the most work to do to become an NFL-ready quarterback but is capable of 1,000 yard rushing seasons which translates to massive fantasy upside.  Allen probably ends up on a lot of my rosters at his next-to nothing cost.  Quarterbacks drafted that high almost always make it through their rookie contracts as starters, even bad ones (see Blake Bortles), and his athleticism with unworldly arm strength give him underrated fantasy possibilities.  Smith just posted his best season as a pro at the age of 33 and moves to pass-friendly Washington where Kirk Cousins posted multiple QB1 seasons.  The system and lots of receiving talent make a Rich Gannon-type late career finish possible.  No quarterback provides more value than Rivers if you are not spending big at the position.  He finished 8th or better in passing yards each of the last five seasons with four top-5 finishes and 12th or better in touchdowns with three top-5 finishes.  Taylor, Bradford, Flacco, and McCown/Bridgewater are wild cards who all have 1st round rookie picks drafted by their teams behind them.  The amount of games played this season by each largely depends on team circumstances where competitive teams probably keep the veteran in.  Injury concerns also follow Bradford.  Bortles, Manning, Tannehill, and Dalton all surprisingly enter the year with no significant competition, either through the draft or free agency, to replace them.   They each should be safe for another season.  You will not feel particularly good riding anyone of them each week but some combination of the four could make for an intriguing super-low cost weekly matchup-based unit for your team with all pricing in QB30+ territory.


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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Run Area Effects on Rushing Efficiency

Updated: June 13th 2018

One topic rarely covered by fantasy writers is the run area scheme of NFL offenses and its effects on rushing efficiency.  By run area, I simply mean where teams tend to run the ball along the offensive formation.  Do teams utilize outside runs heavily or rely on a more “between the tackles” philosophy and does the scheme affect expected rushing efficiency?  I examine NFL play-by-play data from 2014 to 2017 compiled at NFL savant to help answer the question.

Run Area Scheme

NFL teams, on average, maintain a fairly uniform run distribution across the formation as can be seen from Figure 1 below with a slight tilt toward plays in the middle of the offensive line.  Runs around the end make up a little over 23 percent of all rushes where center gap runs account for just under 27 percent.  While rushing distribution is somewhat uniform across the NFL, Table 1 details plenty of variation between NFL teams.  For example, the average run rate at the guard gap is around 25 percent in the NFL but some teams ran almost 50 percent of their plays toward the guard gap and others as little as 9 percent last season.

 

Figure 1.  NFL Rushing Distribution

Table 1.  Maximum and Minimum NFL Team Run Area Rates, 2017

The distribution of NFL runs may be tilted toward the interior of offensive lines but rushing efficiency clearly gains more toward the exterior.  Figure 2 displays a clear increase in yards per carry as rushes move from the center to the end.  This trend holds steady each year of the data set producing a reliable relationship.  NFL teams gain almost a full yard per carry more on end runs when compared to rushing at the center gap.  A couple of possible explanations quickly come to mind when looking at the rushing efficiency leaps as we move farther from the middle of formations.  First, the defender density (number of defenders per yard of field width) typically decreases as we move farther from the center.  This produces larger rushing lanes and correspondingly more opportunities for big plays as we move away from the middle of the formation.  Second, typically less stout run defenders occupy more of the area as we move to the outside of the formation.  Pulling offensive lineman are able to match up against outside linebackers and defensive backs instead of the hulking defensive tackles on the interior.

Figure 2. NFL Rushing Efficiency

Why then do teams not use exterior run schemes more often given the big efficiency differences?  Figure 3 helps provide an answer.  The expected increased yardage of outside rushing comes at a cost.  End runs result in almost double the rate of negative runs when compared to runs up the middle.  The benefits of those wider rush lanes can work in the opposite direction.  Defenders on the exterior deal with less linemen and have increased open areas to defeat blockers allowing more plays in the backfield.  Some coaching staffs display risk averse tendencies (possibly too much) not wanting to put their offenses in increased poor situations which result from using more end runs.  There are also other situational factors that dictate the use of more center runs.  Center runs have better odds of gaining short positive yardage which make them better bets for short yardage plays (think 3rd down and a yard to go) to extend drives.

Figure 3.  NFL Rushing Distribution, End vs. Center Runs

Best and Worst Team Situations for Rushing Efficiency

Taking into account the above data we can get a real feel for why some teams struggle with efficiently running the football.  I used each team’s directional running distribution and offensive line run blocking rankings (utilizing a composite of PFF offensive lineman run blocking grades) to model the expected yards per carry and compared that to actual rushing efficiency.   The benefit of this simple model is that it gives us a measure of team expected rushing efficiency independent of the running back play.  Table 2 gives us a look at some of the best and worst team situations in the NFL from 2017 for running back efficiency.

 

Table 2.  2017’s Best and Worst Situations for Rushing Efficiency

None of the top or bottom rushing situations should really shock anyone.   The top-5 situations all possessed top-6 offensive lines and all but Dallas ran heavy edge schemes.   Chicago might surprise some near the top.  It should not.  The Bears have one of the most underrated run-blocking units in the league and, despite running back Jordan Howard’s reputation as a between the tackles grinder, actually utilize one of the most running back-friendly schemes with the lowest rate of center runs and the second highest percentage of end runs.  The bottom-5, conversely, are generally characterized by bad run blocking units with running schemes emphasizing up-the-middle concepts and/or lack of perimeter runs.  Houston should surprise no one at the bottom of this list.  The offensive line does not contain a single player one would consider starting-NFL caliber and the Texans ran the lowest rate of those high-leverage end runs in the league.

Effects on Yards Before Contact

You may have read one of the many fantasy articles out there which try to employ yards before contact (YBC) as a measure of an offensive line’s effectiveness.  Be very careful with this interpretation.  While an offensive line certainly affects YBC, the data indicates run area scheme also has a substantial impact.  As we examined before, end runs result in a far higher rate of negative runs and correspondingly more hits in the backfield.  This means YBC numbers can diminish for teams with heavy end run schemes, even those with very good offensive lines.  Contrarily, teams which use a heavy interior run scheme may see YBC boosted beyond what the offensive line skill may dictate.

Keep Rushing Efficiency in Proper Context for RSO Leagues

Consider a running back receiving 250 carries (that would have been the 9th most from 2017) who gains an extra 0.5 yards per carry.  That translates to an extra 125 yards and 12.5 fantasy points in most leagues or less than a single fantasy point per game.  This translates to only a couple of extra touchdowns in a season.  Remember that variations in rushing efficiency plays a relatively minor role in running back scoring when compared to the impact volume and touchdown volatility have.


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 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.

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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.

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Evaluating Cleveland’s Trades

Updated: March 15th 2018

Cleveland made a few high-profile trades this past weekend using some of their enormous draft capital.  I take a closer look at what the Tyrod Taylor and Jarvis Landry moves mean, both in real life and for fantasy purposes.

Tyrod Taylor from Buffalo to Cleveland for 208 3rd (65th Overall)

Let’s start with one of the more divisive players based on evaluator’s opinions.  The Bills move a player clearly not in the team’s future and receives significant compensation in the process, Cleveland’s top of the third round pick.  The trade gives Cleveland a short-term placeholder for the likely top-4 pick quarterback taken in this year’s draft.  For the most part, you know what you are getting from Taylor at this point.  He provides a low-volume passer who prefers running the ball than throwing into tight windows when questionable passing situations arrive.  What does he do well?  His supreme athleticism sets Tyrod as one of the top rushers at the quarterback position and gives him the ability to extend plays and escape free rushers.  This gives his team free first downs to extend drives from time to time when other quarterbacks would simply throw the ball away and punt.  He also has a risk-averse personality which limits the number of turnover-worthy plays resulting in one of the lowest interception rates in the league.

On the other side of the spectrum, Taylor struggles with most aspects of the passing game.  His lack of fundamental footwork, mechanics, and pocket awareness routinely results in inaccurate throws.  He does not possess the arm-strength to drive the ball which severely limits the number of intermediate-deep routes, particularly boundary throws. Taylor also struggles mightily in diagnosing defenses and choosing open receiving targets resulting in far too many missed opportunities.  Taylor is a player who can keep you in competitive games with his legs and avoid turnovers but his limitations as a passer hurts drive to drive consistency and severely hinders a team playing from behind needing to pass the ball.

Figure 1.  Selected Tyrod Taylor Statistics

What does the trade mean for fantasy?  Tyrod remains in the low-end QB1/high-end QB2 conversation thanks largely to his rushing ability.  He averaged over 500 rushing yards and almost 5 rushing TDs in his three seasons for Buffalo.  His surrounding players are likely at least as good, and probably better than those in Buffalo.  At the same time, the Bills quarterback never exceeded 436 attempts or 3,035 yards in any of his three seasons with Buffalo.  Taylor’s low-volume passing attack is unlikely to significantly change in Cleveland.

Looking at the other direction, what does this do for the fantasy prospects of Cleveland receivers?  Unfortunately, this is one of the worst-case scenarios for Browns pass catchers.  Gordon, Coleman, and Njoku all looked like potential values heading into the year.  The arrival of Taylor probably puts that on hold for a season.  Almost any other conceivable available option at quarterback provided far more potential volume and scoring opportunities to the receiving corp.  During Taylor’s three starting seasons, Buffalo ranked no better than 28th in passing yards, 20th in passing touchdowns, and 30th in completions.  Put another way, Buffalo averaged 6 fewer passing touchdowns, 63 less completions, and over 700 less yards than the average NFL team each season under Taylor.  Taylor produced very little in the passing department despite playing with wide receivers which have been more productive on other teams including Kevin Hogan, Kelvin Benjamin, Jordan Matthews, Robert Woods, and Marquise Goodwin.  The Browns likely limited passing volume means one of Cleveland’s receivers would need a huge target share to make a substantial fantasy impact.  The arrival of Jarvis Landry makes that event even less likely to occur.

Figure 2.  Buffalo Passing vs NFL Passing, 2015-2017

Grade: C-, Taylor is a fine short-term option at quarterback but the 65th pick is a hefty price to pay for a probable middling stopgap.  He immediately improves the quarterback spot over what the Browns received from Kizer last season, however you could say the same thing for virtually anyone they would have brought in.  The deal looks worse in a deep free agency quarterback class with multiple options who possess production potential similar to Taylor’s and far higher upside available for no draft compensation.

Jarvis Landry from Miami to Cleveland for 2018 4th (123rd Overall) and 2019 7th

Miami’s abysmal salary cap situation made moving Landry a virtual must-do to get out of his contract.  The Browns obtain a quality NFL receiver, albeit one with a very specific skill-set, at a relatively cheap price in terms of draft pick compensation.  Landry provides a safety net for Taylor (see above) and whoever Cleveland takes at quarterback in the draft for the future.  The offense will need to incorporate many designed screens and other short routes to take advantage of his strengths.  He is not a player you will run a typical route tree with and expect to be successful.

Landry’s fantasy value becomes very problematic to pinpoint in Cleveland but is almost certainly a significant downgrade next season.  His value while in Miami was tied to a unique scheme in which the large majority of receptions and yardage came from the short passing game.  He averaged 100 catches a season with the Dolphins but only 10.1 yards per reception while gobbling up almost 142 targets per year.  It is difficult imagining a scenario with Taylor at quarterback where Landry sees anywhere close to that kind of usage.

Grade: B, The bottom of the fourth round is where teams start expecting role players, backups, and special teamers.  That is a very reasonable price to pay for a good NFL starter.  The true value of the trade depends on what role the Browns have in store for Landry and how they incorporate him into the offense.  This deal becomes better if Cleveland signs Landry to a reasonable long-term contract. They definitely have the cap space to do so.


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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OC’s Gameplan: Bad Offenses and Good RBs

Updated: March 8th 2018

My brother once asked me when he was going to college: what major was most likely to find a wife?   Looking back, this is an odd thing for an 18 year-old to worry about, but highlighted for me the importance what questions we should be asking.   Orthodoxy around drafting running backs points us toward opportunity.   That wisdom of the crowd may not be far off, but one aspect of a running back’s chances often has me thinking and saying statements such as: “draft running backs attached to good offenses,” or “I want Aaron Rodgers’ caddie.”   At a macro level, our preparation for the 2018 season, and the projections of the best minds in the fantasy business, suggest that a team’s overall pace of play, scoring, and potential yardage is factored and then fantasy prognosticators can begin carving the ham for individual players.   The hours of our lives we spend panning through the dirt and grit of film and data for the nuggets of golden touchdown goodness from our adopted players is desperate to a degree that might even merit sympathy from prospectors.  How do we find the highest scoring running backs? Do we know the best offenses?  Will the two ever meet?

Think for a moment about the scoring offenses that are truly great over the last three years.   Upstarts in the LA Rams took the crown this past season.  Prior to that was Atlanta’s outlier, and the season before the Falcons, the Carolina Panthers.   The only thing these offenses share is that none of them appear in the top 10 the other two seasons under our scrutiny.   Not too many hands are in the air when asked who predicted the Gurley men would wreck real and fantasy seasons, nor Matty Ice flinging the rock like the only sober guy in a cornhole contest.  However, the Panthers led by wunderkind Cam Newton had more preseason hype.   The only problem is that if we attached our fantasy RB fortunes to the Panthers, the recently departed Jonathan Stewart was riding shotgun and returned RB2 numbers.   Not until 2017 did the top overall RB come from the top scoring team, and last season of the top 24 scoring RBs, 16 of them came from offenses outside the top 10.   It did become slightly more promising in the top 10 where 6 of the 10 RBs corresponded to the top offenses, but two of them, Mark Ingram and the golden-grilled Alvin Kamara hailed from the same offense.

Two significant problems arise with the “hitch your cart to the best offense” theory of drafting running backs.  1) Our cart-hitching is fairly random, as only three offenses (NE, NO, and Pitt) have sustained a presence in the top 10 for the last three years.  2) Even if we manage to predict those offenses, only one of them, has produced a top 10 back in all three years.  Pittsburgh managed that feat but with DeAngelo Williams in 2015 and Lev Bell the past two seasons.   In fairness, NO should be counted on as well.  Standing in the shadow of larger names, Mark Ingram makes a case for the most consistent back in fantasy over the last three years (registering RB1 numbers each time) but just outside of the top 10 once.

The most stunning aspect of looking into the truly elite NFL scoring offenses, however, is that the league AVERAGE for rushing touchdowns over that three year span was always within 5 of an average of those elite offenses.  In 2017 the ratio was 12/17, 2016: 14/16, and 11.4/16.*  The elite offenses seem to distinguish themselves by outstripping their average counterparts in passing touchdowns by nearly double digit margins.  Fantasy orthodoxy holds that players should look to tether their fortunes to RBs in the best offenses.   The truth seems to point to other aspects of opportunity as far more important and so future examinations of offensive play calling will point you to the coordinators and players likely to garner scoring chances.  Incidentally, I told my brother he should look into Musical Theatre and Nursing…opportunity over talent, I suppose.

*All numbers drawn from the inestimable Pro Football Reference

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Luke @FantasyDocOC is husband, father, doctoral student, and teacher slowly building a reality dynasty league comprised entirely of daughters. He writes OC’s Gamplan for Reality Sports Online.  Following in the footsteps of Saint Francis, “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” CUA. Hoya Saxa.

More Analysis by Luke O'Connell