2018 Positive Regression Candidates

Updated: May 20th 2018

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

Quarterbacks

Matt Ryan

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

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

Marcus Mariota

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

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

Running Backs

Jay Ajayi

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

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

Joe Mixon

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

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

Wide Receivers

Mike Evans

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

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

Julio Jones

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

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


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

2018 Negative Regression Candidates

Updated: May 2nd 2018

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

Quarterbacks

DeShaun Watson

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

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

Carson Wentz

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

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

Running Backs

Todd Gurley

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

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

Alvin Kamara

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

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

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

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

Wide Receivers

Marvin Jones

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

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

Devin Funchess

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

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


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

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.

 

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

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

_______________________________________________

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

NFL Combine: Events that Matter Most

Updated: March 3rd 2018

The NFL Combine events start up this week and not too soon it is for us football fanatics.  Players will compete in a diverse group of events testing strength, speed, quickness, and agility among other traits.  It would be great if players displayed tremendous all-around athleticism translating to superb well rounded players, but very few large athletes excel in every event like a Julio Jones or David Johnson.  The large majority of players coming into the NFL will not be dominating focal point wide receivers and tremendous all-around backs succeeding in all areas of the run and pass game. Most athletes will go on to play more specialized roles based on their unique abilities and strengths.

So which of these of these athletic events are we most interested in?  The answer, as usual, is that it depends.  I focus on athletic events which have translated to increased odds of success for a variety of players with different projected roles in the NFL.  This is not to say these events are any kind of guarantee of success or that they are even the most important quality for a player.  The athletic profile is just one more component of a player’s evaluation.

Quarterbacks

You mainly are allowed to ignore the athletic combine events for quarterbacks.  Accuracy, decision making, anticipation, defense recognition, and read progression are among the most important quarterback traits.  None of those show up at the combine. You surely want your quarterback possessing enough arm strength to make all the necessary throws from the pocket but velocity, by itself, has not translated to effective QB play over the years.  Likewise, few quarterbacks have maintained long careers primarily on their athletic ability.  It will be fun watching Lamar Jackson tear up the running drills and Josh Allen could smash the throw velocity record, but these are not metrics high on the list for successful quarterbacks.

Running Backs

The Space Back – Archetype:  LeSean McCoy

Events we most care about: 3 Cone Drill, 20 yard Shuttle

These players usually come in on the smaller size of NFL backs.  They consistently win by avoiding defenders with above average agility.  The lateral quickness drills are of prime importance here.  This group also dominates the passing down specialists and, in general, makes up the better receivers out of the backfield.  Dion Lewis, Theo Riddick, and Gio Bernard make up a small sample of other players in this grouping.

Compact Tackle Breaker – Archetype:  Marshawn Lynch

Events we most care about: Vertical Jump, Broad Jump

Here we come to the maulers who tend to be good creating yardage by breaking tackles with consistent leg drive.  Lower body explosion drills show off leg strength paramount to these players.  These are backs who perform well in the box.  While also generally on the short side, they typically weigh in on the heavier side giving a lower center of gravity making them hard to bring down.  Kareem Hunt and Jay Ajayi are a couple of other recent examples in this category who have had success in the league.

Two-Down Power Back

Events we most care about:  40-yard dash

The NFL is moving to more diverse backs who are capable pass catchers but there are still roles for bigger backs who can absorb the punishment of weekly 20-touch workloads.  I am primarily watching the 230 lb+ backs in this category like a Carlos Hyde.  These players do not need to be speed demons but I avoid the very slow backs in my fantasy drafts.

Wide Receiver

Slot Receiver – Archetype:  Julian Edelman

Events we most care about: 3 Cone Drill, 20 yard Shuttle

Start/stop quickness is the name of the game here.  The ability to effortlessly get in and out of breaks providing quick and easy passes for a quarterback defines much of a slot receivers’ success.  This trait also helps maximize missed tackles after the catch producing larger gains.  While we usually think of the smaller players in the slot role, high agility helps the bigger slot players like Cooper Kupp as the NFL evolves at the position moving receivers around the formation.

Deep Threat – Archetype:  Mike Wallace

Events we most care about: 40-yard dash, Vertical Jump, Broad Jump

The ability to make big plays from the wide receiver position will always be a valuable commodity to NFL teams.  Stretching a defense vertically helps spread the defense and opens up throwing lanes for underneath receivers.  High-end speed is nearly an absolute must for the smaller vertical threat to threaten defenses.  Leaping ability becomes a bigger factor for larger receivers who depend less on speed and more on high-pointing deep passes.

Tight Ends

Events we most care about: All of them

There have been few consistent upper-level fantasy options at tight end over recent years but the large majority of them who have existed usually exhibit great overall athleticism.  Gates, Gronk, Kelce, and Graham are a few examples of tight ends possessing the great size, strength, and power to dominate at the position.

In recent years, coaches have evolved utilizing smaller tight ends with more specialized receiving roles relying less on their blocking ability.  The “move” tight ends such as Delanie Walker and Jordan Reed carved out big roles in the passing game relying more on speed and agility to win routes.


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

2017 RSO Writer’s League Reviews and Lessons

Updated: February 18th 2018

The contributors to Reality Sports Online finished our second season of the RSO Writer’s League recently.  The 10-team league features PPR scoring and each team rosters 20 players with 1QB/ 2RBs/ 2WRs/ 1TE/1 Open Flex/1 Flex starting requirements.  One of the goals for this league was providing the readers content and insight into the ways writers view their own team situations.  This article focuses on a couple of team reviews and lessons learned from some of the RSO staff.  Special thanks to Matt Goodwin (@mattgoody2) for his significant contribution.

Team Reviews

Matt Goodwin (5th Place Regular Season)

Another year, another earlier exit than I hoped for in the playoffs. Unlike last year where I was Le’Veoned in the playoffs, this year I created my own demise by starting Tom Savage as QB2 at the last minute over DeShone Kizer who had a solid game against the Packers. Had I made that move the playoff landscape could have changed as I would’ve knocked Bernard and his Todd Gurley hot streak out of the playoffs.  Anyways, I could make all sorts of excuses for my team underperforming this year such as OBJ’s season-ending injury, Hunter Henry’s role in the Chargers offense, and Jay Ajayi’s trade to the Eagles mid-season, but in the end through building a deep team and some trades I had a decent shot to go far in the playoffs.

Year 3 presents significant challenges for me. While I have a very nice core coming back (an extended Tom Brady, OBJ, Kareem Hunt on a 1.08 rookie deal, Ajayi in his first year as starter in a nice Philly offense, Henry with no Gates (if he ever retires), I will need Corey Davis to step up and be my WR2 to have a legitimate shot to win this league in 2018. I traded my 2018 first along with Melvin Gordon and AP post-auction for Ajayi and Davis with the thought that Davis could contribute as a rookie and if not, I had a high-priced top WR (Beckham) and a likely stud WR (Davis) on a reasonable rookie deal to basically settle my WR corps at a solid average price. That remains a decent possibility. If not, I still have a good bit of faith in Jamison Crowder who is going to cost me $4.2 million next year. If Davis produces, I can slide Crowder to the flex and my starting lineup is basically done save for a QB2.

I swung and missed on a few guys this year on smaller multiyear deals and jettisoned a few already by cutting Paxton Lynch and trading Samaje Perine. My biggest miss was my two year deal for Isaiah Crowell figuring the Browns invested enough in their line to commit to the run game while being more competitive. Well, Hue Jackson foiled that plan with his stubborn play-calling (as a Browns fan I’m pleading for the team to fire Jackson and pick up anyone but Jeff Fisher). So Crowell heads into real-life free-agency and I’m saddled with a $19.1 million salary for him in 2018, which may be somewhat paralyzing given that my 2018 cap commits are already $139.3 million.

So I’m somewhat cap constrained and down a 2018 first rounder, but optimistic I can fill my needs well and fairly cheaply other than potentially the QB2 position in our Superflex league. The available QB Free Agents in our league have potential (Cousins, Rivers, Bortles, Tyrod, A. Smith), but we’ll see what happens.

Bernard Faller (3rd Place Regular Season, League Champion)

Nothing is quite as good in fantasy as unexpectedly winning a championship which occurred for my team this season.  Like many other teams, Todd Gurley almost singlehandedly bullied my squad to the league title.  I viewed my team as an above average group with three pieces (Gurley, Evans, and Reed) capable of producing near the very top of their position and solid starters elsewhere.  My expected typical weekly starting lineup going into the season was:

QB1 – Stafford, Open Flex- Rivers, RB1 – Gurley, RB2 -Miller, WR1 – Evans, WR2 – Jeffrey, TE – Reed, Flex – C.J. Anderson/Emmanuel Sanders.

What went wrong: My biggest fail starts with Jordan Reed.  Reed played hurt most of the season when he was available and split time with Vernon Davis throughout the year.  Reed did not play after week 8 and Washington put him on I.R. late in the year.  I counted on Reed as an elite option at tight end but instead he wasted a roster spot on my bench most of the year on the hope he would come back by the end of season.  Mike Evans hugely underperformed this season due in part to erratic quarterback play as Jameis Winston played with a shoulder injury for stretches.  Evans also suffered bad luck in the touchdown department.  My flex spot was a mess for much of the season forcing me to use the waiver wire extensively.  While Anderson played well this season, Denver went to a more committee approach at running back after the first month and negative game script adversely affected him.  Sanders suffered from nagging injuries and ugly QB play all year.

What went right:  The biggest winning move before the season undoubtedly was trading my 2018 1st and a year of Brandon Marshall for Gurley and his large contract ($23M this season) mid-season in 2016 after a bad start to the year for Gurley.   It was a bet on Gurley’s talent and against Jeff Fisher being the coach going forward.  New coach Sean McVay fully exploited Gurley’s explosiveness with the ball in his hands both as a runner and receiver.  I was not planning on using my 2nd round rookie pick, Evan Engram, extensively going into the season as rookie tight ends rarely produce.  Odell Beckham Jr.’s injury really opened the door for Engram to have a big role and allowed him to showcase his skill-set producing one of the better rookie tight end seasons in recent memory.  He was not a game-changer this year but hitting on what looks like a reliable starter moving forward is definitely a win from a 2nd round pick.  I played the value game at quarterback, spending less than $15M combined salary for my two quarterbacks.  The move played out well with Stafford and Rivers ending as the QB7 and QB8 in our league.

Looking forward:  Most of my starters return on contract except for Rivers and Reed.  The hope is that Jimmy Garoppolo, who has looked great in his brief career so far (and whom I have signed to a very cheap deal in our last free agent auction), will be a solid replacement for Rivers on my team.  Gurley and Evans form a nice young core with each showing the ability to vie for top scorer at their respective position.  I accumulated another late 1st in addition to my normal rookie picks and will have about $50M to spend in the free agent auction to help my team.  With reliable starters largely in place, the main offseason goal is adding as many high upside players as possible in free agency and the draft.  My free agency strategy typically revolves around using long-term contracts on safer options and cheaper high-upside gambles while using shorter-term contracts on expensive starters.  While potentially missing out on some star players, this strategy allows fielding a competitive team year after year with costly mistakes easily rectified in short order.

Lessons Learned

Stephen Wendell – “I must value draft picks now”.

This will be a popular sentiment after last year’s rookie class success.  Draft picks generally rise in value for superflex leagues.  The additional starting spot means quarterbacks, who usually are not drafted until the late 2nd round, will routinely be taken starting in the 1st round of rookie drafts.

Robert F. Cowper – “Trust the process”.

The key here is do not panic if things go wrong in a single season.  Remain committed to a rebuild if that is the path you chose or you could end up with a mediocre team for a long time.  Do not change your valuations of rookie picks just because some did not pan out.

Matt Goodwin – In looking at our league, it seems that the frequent trading teams seem to do well and those that have two solid QBs in their starting lineup, with few exceptions. I think my decision to trade down in the second round and free myself from Sterling Shepard’s contract cost me Deshaun Watson who will be a significant force in this league for years to come. Getting a QB in the rookie draft in Round 2 and hitting on it is the best potential value you can extract in this league and I missed with Kizer who will surely be replaced by the Browns first overall pick this offseason. It’ll definitely be another fun ride (and hopefully every team in the league has less injuries next season).

Bernard Faller – 1. Doubling down on Matt’s point about having two reliable quarterbacks (or more) because it is so important.  You are putting yourself at a big disadvantage forcing positional players in your superflex spot.  An owner typically must pay a premium salary for a positional player to score an equivalent level of points.  2.  In a shallow league like this, there will almost always be quality players left on the waiver wire.  Make sure you keep some salary available to reinforce weak spots on your team or grab that great player who shows up out of nowhere.  3.  Do not bail on the season too early.  The rewards of winning a championship dictate you should try as hard as possible to make the playoffs.  Make a realistic assessment of your team but anything can happen if you get in the playoffs.


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