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.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

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.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

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.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

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.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

Early 2018 RSO Contracts: WRs

Updated: August 18th 2018

The early RSO auction value examination concludes with the wide receiver position.  Receivers offer the most choices among fantasy positions with the deepest group of quality options available.  The problem with all that depth is the lack of clear separation in projection from one player to the next, especially as you move away from the top performers.  Let’s take a look at some of the top paid receivers in RSO leagues working through some of the good and bad situations to get a better grasp of players for the coming season.

The reader may find links to previous articles in the series below in preparation for upcoming auctions.

Early 2018 RSO Contracts: QBs

Early 2018 RSO Contracts: RBs

Early 2018 RSO Contracts: TEs


Average RSO Wide Receiver Contracts

Top Targets (WR1-9)

The case for Brown is very easy.  He finished inside the top three wide receivers in PPR leagues since every season since 2012.   Hopkins garnered 151+ targets each of the last three seasons.  Apparently only Brock Osweiler can limit his fantasy success.  In case you forgot after an injury ruined his 2017 season, Beckham Jr. has never finished outside the top-4 in PPR points per game.  There is more volume competition in New York than ever before with second overall pick Saquon Barkley and second year phenom Evan Engram.  Thomas racked up an absurd 52% of the Saints receivers’ targets in 2017 on his second consecutive year with at least 92 receptions and 1,137 yards.  That percentage of the pie probably decreases in 2018 but an increase in New Orleans passing volume could balance the effect as the Saints went from one of the most pass happy teams to middle of the pack last season.  The inconsistency of Jameis Winston and random nature of touchdowns is in full view when one looks at Evans who scored 12 touchdowns in two seasons and five or less in his other two years.  He holds a decent floor with four 1,000 yard seasons to start a career.  Allen averages 163 targets, 112 receptions, and 1.396 yards per 16 games over the last three seasons and the Chargers lost potential breakout Hunter Henry already.  For whatever reason, Jones has never been a huge touchdown scorer finishing with just three TDs last year.  That means a potential discount for a player with four consecutive 80+ catch, 1,400+ yard seasons.  2017 also felt like a disappointing year for Green who saw his lowest standard PPG of his career.  Look for a rebound from Green and a Cincinnati offense who struggled last season with injuries and an underperforming offensive line where upgrades have been made this offseason.  Adams scored 22 touchdowns the last two seasons and gets back Aaron Rodgers.  This is still a player averaging below 12 yards per reception for his career with no 1,000 yard receiving seasons.

Potential WR1s with Risk (WR10-22)

Hill might count as the most explosive player in the NFL with six 50+ yard plays last season.  His relatively low volume combined with increased target competition and new quarterback makes for a risky WR1 option.  Robinson produced a huge 1,400 yard season in 2015 but the resume is barren otherwise. Uncertainty abounds returning from an ACL-tear with a young QB and unknown role in new offense.  Cooks posted three consecutive 1.000 yard seasons with Brees and Brady at QB.  No receiver in a Sean McVay offense (Washington or the Rams) amassed a 21% target share in any of the last four years.  Thielen and Diggs should dominate targets in Minnesota from new QB Kirk Cousins on what should be a quality passing attack.  Cooper ranked just 51st in receiving yards from a disastrous 2017 season despite a monstrous 210 yard game.  New coach Jon Gruden gives hope to those looking for a return to Cooper’s promising first two years.  Jeffrey played through a severe shoulder injury last year and might not be ready to start the season but remains one of the top targets in the Eagles passing attack.  The 21 year old Smith –Schuster impressed his rookie season gaining 75+ yards in 5 of his last 7 games.  He remains behind both Brown and Bell for targets in the Steelers’ offense but looks like a quality long-term investment.  Baldwin should dominate targets on a depth chart with little competition.  Questions surround the Seattle wide receiver going into season with a mysterious knee injury that will keep him from most of preseason.  Davis is a popular breakout receiver on a revamped Tennessee offense with new coaching staff.  Lot of competition for targets exists on a likely low-volume passing attack in Cleveland where Landry and Gordon will fight for main billing.  Landry’s prospects increase daily as Gordon remains away from camp.   The depth chart in Indianapolis behind Hilton is one of the shallowest in the league.  His top-level production possibilities remain tied to Andrew Luck’s health.

Lots of Quality Options, Upside, and Questions Left (WR23+)

Detroit boasts one of the most stable WR duos in Tate and Jones on a regular top-10 volume passing offense.  Thomas leads the Denver receiving core with what should be an upgrade at QB.  Fitzgerald posted 108+ receptions in three consecutive seasons and gets check-down machine Bradford at QB.  Kansas City paid Watkins a huge amount to be a big part of the offense but his role is uncertain given the other weapons for the Chiefs.  The Rams’ receiving core projects as a three-headed monster with similar target shares for Cupp, Woods, and Cooks.  Funchess’ role becomes unclear with the addition of rookie Moore plus the return of Olsen and Samuel.  Will Parker take control of a Miami receiving group previously predicated on short passing to Jarvis Landry?  Crowder heads a deep receiving group in Washington with lots of talent but injury questions and little on-field production.  Is Edelman the same player at 32 after a torn ACL and PED suspension?  Will Bryant find a meaningful role in a revamped Oakland offense?  Benjamin should be a target hog on one of the worst offenses in football.  Similar to Benjamin, Crabtree could head the receiving core for a low-upside, Flacco-led Baltimore offense.  Nelson goes from one of the most efficient passers in history (Rodgers) to one of the least efficient passers in his time in the league (Carr).  An owner can pay WR4/5 prices for Garcon and Goodwin on a projected top-10 passing offense.  Anderson is the top receiver for the Jets but could be hit with a suspension at any time.  Cobb remains a quality flex option as the WR2 on a Rodgers-led passing attack whenever he is healthy.  Questions remain on how long that may be.

Interesting Names outside the Top-50

Hogan (55) is the only returning starting receiver for New England from last year with Edelman suspended to start the year.  Sanders (59) suffered through bad QB play and ankle injuries in Denver last year but could achieve near-Thomas target levels.  It is conceivable Stills (60), Wilson (93), or Amendola (99) ends up leading the Dolphins in receptions.  Lockett (63) flashed explosive play-making ability at times in Seattle and the Seahawk receiving depth chart is very shallow, particularly with questions about Baldwin’s availability.  Matthews (68) might still be the number one target in Tennessee with a new, hopefully improved, offensive scheme.

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

Early 2018 RSO Contracts: TEs

Updated: August 2nd 2018

Our early RSO auction value examination moves to the tight end position.  The group is among the least valuable positions in most fantasy football leagues with very few reliable options.  What little value exists overwhelmingly resides in the top few options.  The combined duties of blocking and receiving for most tight ends make weekly fantasy consistency an issue.  The NFL has seen an injection of talent at the position in recent drafts, however, and we are left waiting to determine who will emerge.

The reader may find links to previous articles in the series below in preparation for upcoming auctions.

Early 2018 RSO Contracts: QBs

Early 2018 RSO Contracts: RBs

Average RSO Tight End Contracts

Set It and Forget It (TE1-3)

We have a new player atop tight end salaries for the first time in recent memory.  The dynamic Kelce finished each of the last two seasons as the overall TE1 accumulating 83+ receptions each year.  He carries more uncertainty going forward with brand new starting quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, and increased target competition in the form of heavily paid Sammy Watkins.  No tight end provides the kind of advantage Gronkowski does on a weekly basis.  He possesses ridiculous yardage and touchdown upside from being tied to one of the best quarterbacks of all time and atypical usage with deep targets abound.  The entertaining “Gronk” has not closed a season outside the top-8 in points per game since his rookie season and only once during that time has he not ended as the overall TE1 or TE2 in PPG.  Health remains the primary concern for someone who has not played a full 16 games in the last 6 seasons.  The model of consistency award goes to Philadelphia Eagle Zach Ertz who comes at a discount compared to the top two tight ends but without their upside. His receptions ranged from 74 to 78 over the last three seasons while his yardage spanned from 816 to 853.  The touchdowns spiked in 2017 doubling his previous high to eight resulting in the TE3 scorer.  He is a candidate for negative touchdown regression correspondingly with his third year signal caller Carson Wentz.

Uncertainty Already (TE4-8)

Engram  produced one of the top fantasy seasons from a rookie tight end thanks in part to a rash of injuries to Giants’ receivers.  Volume likely drops significantly in 2018 with the return of Beckham and a more balanced offense including top pick Saquon Barkley.  Engram should see a spike in efficiency to counterbalance the reduced volume.  Offensive line deficiencies forced Engram to lineup as an inline tight end nearly 70% of the time and reduced his receiving usage to primarily low depth of target opportunities.  Offensive line upgrades this offseason should allow deeper routes and more usage at his natural move tight end spot where his ridiculous 4.4 forty speed and dynamic receiving skills can be better put to use.  Foot injuries doomed Olsen to his worst season as pro in 2017 but previously he posted three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons.  A lot of changes occurred in the offseason with new offensive coordinator Norv Turner and the addition of 1st round wide receiver D.J. Moore plus the return of last year’s second round pick Curtis Samuel.  We have also seen time and time again how foot injuries linger contributing to other lower body problems and late-career (Olsen is 33) injuries are especially difficult to come back from.  Graham is not the same dynamic player he once was thanks to a serious knee injury but any receiver, particularly one with Graham’s receiving skill-set, holds massive touchdown upside in Green Bay.  The story for Reed never changes.  He remains one of the top options at the position when he plays finishing as the PPR TE1 on a per game basis in 2016 and 2015.  Unfortunately he never played a full season in the NFL.  Gesicki showed off an amazing athletic profile at the NFL combine and there are a lot of targets up for grabs in Miami.  Rookie tight ends rarely do much of anything.  Do not get sucked in.


Young Upside Plays and Low Upside Veterans (TE9-15)

The Browns hope last year’s athletic first round pick Njoku makes a big second year leap.  He must contend with another athletic player, Seth Devalve, for tight end targets with a low volume passer and a receiving group which added target-hog Jarvis Landry.  Rudolf exceeded 532 yards in a season just once while averaging less than 10 yards per reception over his career.  The huge tight end holds solid touchdown upside which keeps him the low end TE1 conversation.  An ACL tear already ended the season for Henry.  He is a strong long-term buy grading out very well his first two seasons in the league.  It is conceivable Burton, who Chicago paid a lot of money in free agency, becomes the focal point of an almost completely rebuilt Bears passing attack.  The undersized former undrafted free agent might also remain a limited-use niche weapon in the passing game.  Walker posted four consecutive 800+ yard seasons while never exceeding 7 touchdowns.  Look for mid to low TE1 numbers again on a team without much in receiving weapons.  The uber-athletic Kittle represents a cheap option for those looking to get a piece of the Garoppolo-led San Francisco offense on a team without much in redzone targets.  He ceded more work to running-mate Garrett Celek in the second half of the season, never seeing above 56% of the snaps in the last eight games.  The story of Eifert reads similarly to Reed.  He grades out as one of the top all-around tight ends when on the field and an unstoppable force near the endzone.  Unfortunately Eifert played just 39 games in his first five seasons and is not yet ready to go for training camp.

Cheap Flyers (TE16+)

The Indianapolis tight end battle will be fun to watch with Doyle and Ebron battling for targets and Andrew Luck seemingly set to return.  The Colts have practically zero proven receiving talent behind T.Y. Hilton and Luck has utilized multiple tight ends in the past so both could hold value.  Last year’s first tight end drafted, Howard, is likely blocked from big fantasy relevance this season with fellow tight end Brate in the picture and a strong receiving core for Tampa Bay but both tight ends could be stream-worthy.  Cook led the Raiders in receiving yards last season and Oakland lost target-hog Michael Crabtree.  The situation is murky with the addition of Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant to go along with a new Jon Gruden offense.  McDonald is easily the best receiving tight end in Pittsburgh and got more involved at the end of the year culminating with a 112 yard eruption in the playoffs.  Injuries and questionable hands have limited effectiveness over his career.  The best receiving option in Buffalo might be Clay who has over 500 yards in five consecutive seasons.  Buffalo could produce the most ineffective offense in the league with a rookie or backup level QB at the helm and Clay has not played a full season in five years.  Seals-Jones has a golden opportunity with the Arizona tight end spot up for grabs.   Jermaine Gresham is coming off an Achilles tear opening the door.  The former wide receiver found some limited receiving success last season but his prospects going forward will largely depend on if he can make himself into a competent blocker which would allow him to stay on the field for more snaps.

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