Re-Examining Early 2018 RSO Auctions

Updated: March 23rd 2019

Many leagues will start-up after the upcoming NFL rookie draft.  Now seems a good time to look back at how RSO general managers spent their cap dollars in 2018 and what type of production they received for their investment.   The article will not focus on which players performed well or poorly but rather on where dollars spent in RSO auctions translated to fantasy points for various positions and how that changed throughout the given salary ranges for different position groups.  Examination of this information gives us some broad ideas of where our contract dollars can be utilized most effectively going forward.

The data below will show the average auction values plotted against per game fantasy production for the top-30 at each position with polynomial best-fit trendlines to give the reader an idea of expected fantasy scoring at different salary levels for each group.  Using per game instead of season long fantay scoring normalizes production differences due to injuries.  The salary data was taken from June and prior RSO auctions after the NFL draft and opening free agent period in 2018.  The salary data combines many scoring systems so 0.5 PPR scoring was utilized as a middle ground for comparison.  The group excludes Jerick McKinnon, Le’Veon Bell, Derrius Guice, and Hunter Henry who all missed the entire NFL season.

Running Backs and Wide Receivers

We start with running backs and wide receivers as they show some similarities in the data and for fantasy teams.  These positions typically represent the backbone of most fantasy squads given the majority of league settings when compared to quarterbacks and tight ends.  When looking at the data, note the more linear production tendencies from running backs and wide receivers throughout the salary range.  This simply means that additional auction dollars spent at those positions tended to translate to fairly uniform increases in fantasy production.  This certainty is a key consideration when determining how to split your auction dollars among position groups.

The charts also show a similar average salary range for running backs and wide receivers except for a couple of exceptions.  Saquon Barkley was a big outlier in the early running back data with an average auction value of about $58 million per season in a limited number of auctions which was more than $17 million above the next back, Todd Gurley.


Auction Values vs Fantasy Output for Running Backs and Wide Receivers

There are a couple of differences between these groups we need to address.  Running backs had higher expected production near the upper range of corresponding salaries while wide receivers led the way at the lower end.    Seven running backs outscored the top wide receiver in per game scoring in the 0.5 PPR format.  Wide receivers came with less risk overall, though.  The variance of outcomes for wide receivers was narrower overall and they missed far fewer games.  The top-30 priced running backs averaged only 11.4 games played while wide receivers averaged almost 14 games.


It is readily apparent how different the data looks for quarterbacks.  The salary range for quarterback is, unsurprising, lower than running backs and wide receivers.  Many league settings necessitate this fact because of limited starting requirements of quarterbacks.  The trendline also becomes far flatter at a much lower relative salary ranking for quarterbacks meaning RSO owners did not see much additional fantasy scoring for the additional money spent on the top priced quarterbacks.  The main problem centers on opportunity.  The top-10 highest paid running backs, for example, averaged 21.3 opportunities (rushing attempts plus targets) per game, the next ten averaged 15.2, and the final group averaged 13.  We have a decent idea of differing roles running backs will have going into the season which allows us to project variation in volume and thus differences in fantasy production.

The problem for quarterbacks is that we do not have the same type of variation in opportunity to guide us in assigning salaries.  Starting quarterbacks usually take all the snaps in a game whether they are one of the best or a middling example and thus get all of the opportunities.   The top-10 highest paid quarterbacks averaged 37.7 opportunities (passing plus rushing attempts) per game, the next ten averaged 37.5, and the final group averaged 32.  The middle tier of quarterbacks receives virtually identical workloads as the top players which resulted in similar fantasy production.  Few quarterbacks can consistently separate themselves in fantasy with the lack of difference in opportunity.

Auction Values vs Fantasy Output for Quarterbacks

It might help a little to break the information in a different form below.  The top-10 highest paid quarterbacks averaged 20.2 fantasy points per game at an $18 million salary while the next ten highest paid quarterbacks averaged 20.1 points per game at only $10 million salary.  There was virtually no difference in scoring between the top and middle tiers.  The top-10 did provide a safer option with far less variance and a safer floor than the middle tier, however.  Note there exists a significant difference between the cheapest quarterbacks and the rest.  Teams do try to limit the role of the worst quarterbacks which, when combined with poor performance, results in less opportunities and fantasy production.

Auction Values and Fantasy Output for Quarterbacks Tiers

Tight Ends

The data for tight ends might be even more out of line compared to the other positions with increasing marginal fantasy points near the top of our salaries.  Much of the reason is that we saw historic production from a couple of the top tight ends.  Three players topped 1,300 receiving yards and/or 100 receptions.  Travis Kelce and Zack Ertz obliterated the production of their previous top seasons.  One must go back to 2011, in the glory days of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, to find a season even close in production at the top.  It is a good bet we will see a reduction in the output of the top tight ends in 2019.

Auction Values vs Fantasy Output for Tight Ends

There was big value to be found at bargain prices also.  George Kittle and Eric Ebron also put up huge career seasons averaging less than $5 million in RSO leagues.  Investing in the lowest priced tight ends is a gamble, but a cheap one, with a massive range of potential outcomes.  That large range of outcomes for the the cheaper tight ends is largely the result of unknown offensive roles which remain largely shrouded in mystery before the NFL season begins.

Primary Conclusions

  1. Place your big money in wide receivers and running backs. We more accurately project those groups in comparison to tight ends and quarterbacks because we generally have a better idea of differences in expected volume for players. Confidence in the application of our cap money for these positions translates throughout the range of salaries.  Most league settings also dictate spending bigger in these areas for pure value reasons.
  2. The middle class rules for quarterbacks. We see virtually no difference in opportunity from the top quarterbacks and middle options. The difference in skill is not enough to make up for the lack of difference in volume.  Playing the value game at quarterback is a viable option, even in superflex leagues, though it comes with more volatility.
  3. The tight end position remains an either/or proposition. The upper class of players can provide very big returns on your RSO dollars. The well-established middle class typically does not offer much upside over lower-tier options but does come with a lot less risk.

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

This Isn’t Your Year

Updated: November 15th 2018

So things have not quite gone as planned this season.  Injuries, under-performance, and other factors conspired against your RSO team putting it out of realistic contention this season.  Do not despair.  The nature of RSO leagues dictates the transition time from a bad team to competitive team can occur in a startling small amount of time.  A good rookie draft combined with solid free agent pickups potentially makes your team competitive as soon as next season.  Let us take a look at a few key steps now that your team is out of the playoff race.

Do Not Mentally Check Out

The first instinct for teams out of the race might include not paying attention anymore.  Resist the urge.  Regularly check in on the league for messages. Respond to trade offers in a timely manner.  Most importantly:

Set your best lineups.  While it might not seem important when you are playing for nothing, setting your best lineup is necessary for the league by maintaining as much competitive balance as possible.  I have no doubt many of you out there in fantasy football leagues have witnessed a non-playoff team with players on bye in their lineups, either due to inactivity or tanking (intentionally setting a sub-optimal lineup), giving competitors almost a free win that week.  No one wants that person in a league and that type of owner might not be invited back next season.  Stay involved.

There are a number of league rules which can keep owners active and prevent tanking.  The league could give a supplemental draft pick to the winner of a “toilet bowl” (playoffs for non-playoff teams) for example or assign some kind of punishment to the last place team.  This potentially keeps owners active who might otherwise not maintain much of a presence.  Assigning draft order based on potential points instead of win-loss record eliminates the incentive for tanking, while also giving a better measure of the quality of teams for draft consideration.

Prep for Next Season and Beyond

Performing the basic in-season tasks such as setting lineups is expected.  The real work involves setting up your team for improvement in future years once you are out of the playoff hunt by accumulating assets for next season and beyond. Rookie draft picks tend to be good assets to acquire because they typically go up in value around draft time and they are fluid assets more easily traded when compared to individual players.  They are not the only assets you should be focused on however.  Good multi-year contracts for under-performing players are quality trade targets and cheaper relative to draft picks in many cases.  A few other considerations in acquiring future assets if your team is out of contention this year:

Examine the upcoming free agent and rookie classes for your league.  The composition of both goes a long way in determining your trade strategy moving forward.  A strong free agent group forces consideration of trading solid to good contracts for a chance at potentially better ones in the upcoming free agent auction.  It also makes dumping bad contracts even more important for obtaining sought after cap space.  One might even trade draft picks for more cap room in this situation to expend on high-end free agents.  On the other hand, a league many years in might have a very shallow free agent pool in which case cheap rookie draft picks become more important.

Utilize your extension and franchise tag spots.  We think of trading players in the last contract year for longer term assets as the basis for improving your team going forward but it is not the only option.  Be sure to examine your remaining one-year contracts if your league utilizes RSO’s extension and/or franchise tag options.   Do not be afraid to trade for expiring contracts in order to use your extension or franchise tag on if you do not like the one-year options currently available on your team.

Stay updated on injured Players.  Players out for the season offer no beneficial advantage this year to competitive teams but may help you in future years.  A small sample of players out for most or all of this fantasy season:  Jay Ajayi, Jerick McKinnon, Derrius Guice, Devonta Freeman, Tyler Eifert, Dez Bryant, Cooper Kupp, Will Fuller, and Jimmy Garoppolo.  Injured players with multi-year contracts make for great trade targets as competitors concentrate more on the current season.  Remember a player may not be traded in most RSO leagues during the season once that player is removed from the active RSO roster and placed on Injured Reserve.  Pay close attention and be prepared to jump on injured players late in the season before the RSO G.M. utilizes the I.R. spot or trades to another alert team.

Check your waivers.  This is perhaps an underutilized mechanism in many RSO leagues and one that some owners forget about.  You may be surprised at the contracts which become available on waivers, particularly in shallower leagues.  Playoff contenders in a week with many teams on bye (the upcoming week 11 for example) might need free agents to fill in starting spots.  The owner may choose the release of a disappointing young player still on a rookie deal for bye-week replacements.  Your team will have a high waiver priority which you can use to pounce on cheap rookie deals and under-performing contracts with upside in the future.

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

Rookie vs. Veteran Value Analysis

Updated: April 17th 2018

The NFL draft season always creates a buzz around rookies which inflates the value of 1st and 2nd round picks in the current year. Until last year the RSO strategy for rookie picks was that you wanted to get a player who would produce immediately. This was because a player who needed a couple of years to develop would likely be on someone else’s team after his rookie contract ran out. With the latest features to have a 5th-year rookie option and the ability to resign a player, there may now be a shift in draft strategy where players that need a year or two to produce are still valuable. This creates two camps in the RSO fantasy community. The first are owners who want to accumulate rookies on 3 to 4-year contracts for between $1-7MM per year and have below market value players locked in long-term. The second are those that move their picks to acquire veteran talent because they know what they are getting, or at least can more accurately expect their production levels when compared to a college player arriving in the NFL.

So the question becomes which strategy is better for building a championship caliber team? To compare these strategies we need to look at the average production of a player on their rookie contract and place it against the top 24 players that are being priced according to their league’s market value in Free Agent Auctions at each position. The metric I will use shows a single value to compare all players against one another. This value will be a combination of two data points. The first is a player or draft pick’s points per game average over the last three (3) seasons compared to the average points from the top 24 players at each position. The second is a player or draft pick’s average annual contract value divided by their average fantasy points per game ($/FP) compared to the average $/FP of the top from the top 24 players at each position. This number will show how much a player is being paid per fantasy point whereby a lower number is the desirable outcome. Finally, a weighted ratio of 75:25 in favor of points per game is applied giving the final singular value, from here known as the Total Value.

Rookie Values

Now that we have gotten the background information out of the way let’s see what the data shows. First, the rookie selections. Plotting the data for the last three rookie drafts produces a graph that looks like this. For those in Superflex and 2QB, I have also done a separate analysis for comparisons.

Before continuing further one thing needs to be established regarding John Ross and where he fits within this data set. Because Ross didn’t score any fantasy points in his rookie season and doesn’t have any other years to compare against he was removed from the data. Including him would make the scale of the chart unreadable for all other players. If I revisit this data in the future when Ross has accumulated points I will add him back to the data.

As expected the 1.01 holds a lot of value. With players like Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliot, and Leonard Fournette the 1.01 has become an instant impact player that has been well below market value in their rookie season and beyond. Owners that have had these players under rookie contracts have had a strong advantage over their fellow league-mates when it comes to their buying power in Free Agency. The remainder of the first round, save for two spots, holds below average (1) value due to several expensive misses including Laquon Treadwell, Kevin White, Nelson Agholor, and Josh Doctson along with some yet to be sided picks in Corey Coleman and Corey Davis. It is likely no coincidence that the players listed are all WRs. More will be discussed about draft strategy regarding this later.

In the second round is where a separation in values between single and Superflex QB leagues. Because most leagues feature only one starting QB this makes drafting rookie QBs less of a priority and thus pushing them down the average draft board. Only two QBs had a first-round ADP in the last three seasons, Marcus Mariota (12.3) and Jameis Winston (12.6) compared to the seven total that were drafted in the first two rounds. The other five were drafted between 17 and 24 which is why the 2.07 – 2.12 features the lowest dollar per fantasy point value of any range of picks. For those who have started reading Matt Waldman’s RSP, he is noticing a similar trend over the last 5 years of rookie QBs producing earlier in their career. This is big news for RSO drafters because QBs score the most points in fantasy on average and if they can be acquired below market value early in their careers and now resigned to moderate contracts later drafting rookie QBs becomes even more of a second-round staple for value.

Comparing to the Veterans

Now that we have established the values of rookie picks we can bring in the veteran players to see what their values are. Remember that veteran players are likely to be earning higher contracts but they also have higher minimum production values when compared to rookies and rookie contracts. Below is a comparison between 2017’s top 3 scorers at each position and each pick within the first two rounds. Again, a second chart for 2QB and Superflex is also listed.

Before looking for me on twitter to tell me that Antonio Brown for the 2.01 immediately makes this study invalid here me out first. While the goal of this work was to try and give an exact yes or no answer to trades it turns out that cannot be done and much like most trades there is room for interpretation on both sides of a deal. The formula aims to value production over contracts but in some cases, it makes it difficult for the highest earning players to have greater value when players like Jordan Howard and Alvin Kamara are being drafted around the 2.01 at rock-bottom contracts. That is not to say that every 13th ranked player will be a top 24 player at his position but with their recent success, combined with their low contract value it makes them more valuable than other top players in the calculations.

The other reason for quirky results is because of players either being less roster-able in most leagues, their production was limited to a handful of games, or they were easily acquirable for minimum contracts in 2017. This is the case with players such as Josh McCown, Alex Collins, Benjamin Watson, Alex Smith, and Chris Thompson being considered “more valuable” than the 1.01.

Ultimately, this data is meant to be used to showcase where some of the more valuable spots within a draft are for selection value. The important numbers to focus on are at the bottom of the chart that shows veteran players hold more value compared to the average top 24 draft pick. Even in 2QB and Superflex, there is only slightly more value for draft picks due to QB’s higher scoring being more valuable under a rookie deal. For the full list of players and values, you can find the value charts shared here.

Final Thoughts

While the figures above would suggest moving down in (and often out of) the draft as the right decision we know also from the chart that scoring is not exactly even when comparing the top selection to the rest of the draft. If you are moving the 1.01 you want to ensure that you are receiving a great return in terms of veteran player production to counter the amount of cost savings the selection has when compared to the market value. Of course, the selection itself has to be the correct one otherwise the cost will doom its owner, both financially in the sunk cost of the first pick and production wise in the assets they forfeited to have it.

When it comes to making rookie selections the running back position is the position that offers the greatest likelihood of immediate and impactful returns. This is a key strategy for RSO leagues as you want to have championship windows built around having top performing starters being on below-market/rookie contracts before they become expensive to either resign or reacquire in Free Agency. While not always the case, most receivers take a few seasons to adapt to the NFL which reduces their value of being on low-cost contracts. If you have a top pick it is often more valuable to select an RB. Depending on if you play Superflex this may also be a spot to consider a QB, again because of the reduced cost and expected point total when compared to their veteran counterpart.

From the 1.05 to the 2.12 there is almost no correlation or change in expected career PPG. This is when the lottery begins on whether a player will be as successful as a top 24 player at his position. From any of these spots, you can start to weigh offers for veterans and decide whether their production value is equal to or greater than a realistic expectation of a rookie selected in that position. This is where I would reference my chart to see establish ranges where certain players become more valuable than a draft pick.

Other major takeaways to consider:

  • Do not draft a TE even if the value seems to be greater than that of any other player on the board. Their value should only be established once they become consistent producers. Paying a first round pick for a player like Travis Kelce is more justifiable than drafting a TE like O.J. Howard in the first round. You will be paying top TE salaries while hoping they produce as a top TE maybe by the final year of their contract.
  • In 1QB leagues, if you find yourself in the second round or later and are uninterested in drafting any of the available WRs or RBs take the highest available QB. Their value will often remain constant for the next year or two and can be flipped for similar pick values in future drafts.

Hopefully, these tips give you a leg up in the draft this season and if you have any questions about draft pick trade values send me a message on Twitter @RSO_NickAndrews.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews

Rethinking League Settings

Updated: April 17th 2018

A person recently asked me about auction values for some available players (all running backs and wide receivers) in his upcoming RSO free agent auction.  After looking over his team, I noticed he had a big need for tight end and quarterback and so asked him if he had any questions about QB and TE values.  His response essentially was “Who cares?  They are tight ends and quarterbacks so I will just take what is left over”.  Is that really how we want our leagues set up?  This issue is common in many leagues.  You can look at the big disparity in franchise tag values between positions or notice how late in rookie drafts tight ends and quarterbacks typically start going off the board to understand the issue.

With many leagues yet to begin, now is a good time to review league settings before startup auctions begin, particularly scoring and starting position requirements.  This article gives you a few ideas about how to address the big value differences between positions in your leagues.

Player Scoring

Let us do a quick review of player scoring among positions before we proceed.  I used data from the last four NFL seasons (2014-2017) to compute averages for player scoring on a Points Per Game (PPG) basis among the primary position groups in a fairly typical Points Per Reception (PPR) setting with quarterbacks scoring 4points per touchdown pass, -2 points per interception, and 1 point per 20 passing yards.  Figure 1 displays the results from which we can derive a few key insights to keep in mind going forward.  First, all position groups follow a similar pattern where the difference between player scoring tends to lessen as we get further down the ranks.  Second, quarterbacks generally score more as a group than other positions for most typically used scoring settings.  This becomes more important for those incorporating an RSO Open Flex (Superflex) spot.  Third, tight ends are drastically outscored by running backs and wide receivers.  This means a tight end will almost never be a good choice for your flex option.  Next, we examine what this means for player value.

Figure 1.  Average Player Scoring among Position Groups

Player Values Issues

Our next step is computing player values using our player scoring from above.  The question becomes what is player value?  In this context we define value as the difference between a starter’s PPG and the first league bench player for each position.  For example, say that the RB10 scores 15 PPG in a 10 team, start 2 running backs league and the RB21 scores 10 PPG.  The RB10 would have a value of 5 PPG.  A person may calculate each starter’s value using this methodology and examine the total values associated with each position group and relative to the other groups.

My baseline setting for this exercise is a typical 12 team league starting 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, and 1 TE using the scoring rules stated earlier.  Note that changing from a 3 WR league to a 2 WR plus 1 flex spot does not materially affect player values as wide receivers typically outscore running backs and tight ends over the flex spot range in a PPR league.  Figure 2 shows the values corresponding with our typical league using the averaged player scoring data detailed previously.

Figure 2.  Average Values among Position Groups in Baseline League

The above chart brings into sharp focus the big value differences between QBs/TEs and RBs/WRs.  The quarterback position, for example, holds only about 1/4th the total value of running backs and 1/5th that of wide receivers while the top quarterback averages about half the value of the top running back.  The average starter value of quarterbacks and tight ends are also significantly below that of running backs and tight ends.  Another issue involves the value concentration for the top quarterbacks and tight ends.  The top-6 quarterbacks and tight ends hold approximately 5/6th and 4/5th, respectively, of the total value at each position.  Many leagues use deeper starting requirements with more flex spots where the value differences between positions become even more pronounced.

Solutions to Value Issues between Positions

Thankfully there is no shortage of ways addressing the issues stated above.  Changing starting requirements, the number of teams, or scoring rules can have big impacts on player values.  RSO offers multiple scoring and roster options which provide plenty of flexibility to suit your league tastes.  Let’s examine one example of league settings which help balance our player values, a modified version of our baseline 12 team league adding another QB/Superflex and tight end spot with quarterbacks scoring 6points per touchdown pass and -3 points per interception plus giving tight ends 1.5 PPR scoring.  Looking at figure 3 below, the effect on league values is dramatic and presents some pleasing traits when compared to our baseline league.  Total player value is far more balanced between positions with the average starting player holding similar values among all positions.  The top players at each position also approach values far closer to one another.

Figure 3.  Average Values among Position Groups in a 2QB/2TE League

The modified league provides just one example address valuation differences and should not be thought of as a “be all” to every league.  There are countless league size, scoring variations, and starting lineup changes which can affect player valuations in positive ways.

2QB vs Superflex

I have used 2QB and Superflex leagues somewhat interchangeably in the above valuation analysis but there are differences you need to be aware of in your leagues.  The quarterback position is somewhat unique for fantasy purposes in that all NFL teams essentially play one quarterback each week barring the occasional injury or benching.  Each week there are at most 32 realistic starting options available, and as little as 26 in some bye weeks, for starting QB spots on RSO teams.  This means that, generally, some teams will likely be left without a viable quarterback for their second quarterback spot during bye weeks.  Taking a zero at the highest scoring position is extremely difficult to overcome in a given week which makes quarterbacks far more valuable in a 2QB league.  Backup quarterbacks also become roster considerations in 2QB leagues given the importance of fielding a QB.  A superflex league gives a team the ability to place another skill position player in play which is very appealing in many circumstances.  Superflex leagues also offer more strategic flexibility in how you construct your roster through trades, free agency auctions, and the rookie draft.

There is an argument that 2QB leagues should create an active trade market as competitive teams in need of quarterbacks are forced to look at other teams’ rosters for replacements.  Every league is different, but in my experience trade markets tend to freeze up for quarterbacks in deeper 2QB leagues due to the scarcity of starting options available.  The type of quarterback who should be part of an active trade market , veterans on expiring contracts, are not typically held by uncompetitive teams and competitive teams rarely want to depart with QB depth.  Nobody wants to give up quality starters on long-term deals.


There is no right or wrong way to set up your league but league settings will have big consequences on player values.  If you are bored of having quarterbacks and tight ends holding little value, consider starting your new league by adding an additional starting slot for each and/or changing other settings to bump up the value.  The result is a more challenging league which truly rewards good players no matter the position.

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

League Contract Settings

Updated: July 23rd 2017

As we round the final turn heading into training camp, let’s get into the final segment of the League Settings article series.  If case you’ve missed them, the first two articles focused on League Scoring Settings and League Configuration and Settings. As Alec Baldwin emphatically states in my favorite movie, Glengarry Glen Ross in reference to executing contracts, “there’s only one thing that matters: get them to sign on the line that is DOTTED!”.

The Reality Sports Online platform is unlike any other with respect to contracts. The Free Agent Auction Room and the online rookie draft allow for all sorts of both fixed priced contracts (rookie wage scale) and dynamic market-priced deals (free agent auction). Therefore, when a commissioner is creating or tweaking contract settings in their league, there are a myriad of things to consider so let’s dive in head-first.

1) Don’t Go Too Crazy With Long Term Contracts

I know, I know. You joined this platform because you actually wanted to use your brain. All the other keeper leagues feature roster keeper decisions that anyone can make. Keep Mike Evans for another year? Sure, can I have more steak with that? The RSO element of a league or commissioner-elected quantity of multi-year contracts enables maximum strategy on how you prioritize who gets long-term deals and manage yearly salary cap space.

Each year, you get the same allotment of contracts elected by your league (I know this is a question I get from newbies all the time so I wanted to address this). However, post-auction you can make any type of roster moves and trades to acquire whatever long-term or short-term talent you want as long as you have the cap space and roster slots to do it. If you want your team to consist of all four-year contract players, it may be difficult to amass, but it can happen.

When folks join a league like this, the inkling is to keep your studs in perpetuity. Talent and value constantly change, and making a multi-year contract mistake in your first year is crippling. My inaugural year had teams splurge on Trent Richardson and C.J. Spiller. It took a lot to get out from under those deals.

As a result, my recommendation is to start your league with the following contract allotment: 4 year contracts: one, 3 year contracts: two, 2 year contracts: three. The good part of this approach is it focuses your four year deal on someone you really value or the possibility of hitting a developmental home run at a cheaper price.

One year deals can be incredibly value in RSO leagues, assuming you strategize them well. For instance, in last year’s RSO Superflex writers league, I picked up Melvin Gordon on a one year, $8.0 million deal coming off an injury. I loved his talent and figured that his zero touchdowns scored in his rookie season was an anomaly. I was right, and now I have used my franchise tag on Gordon for the upcoming season for one year, $20.3 million.

I personally like using at least one of my two year deals on a quarterback and tend to like wide receivers for long term deals. It is rare for me to give a running back more than two years, based on how frequently that position changes and the short life span of most high-end backs.

2) Have A Two or Three Round Rookie Draft; Have Them Offline

If you’ve read some of our offseason pieces, the rookie draft has been a huge focus. I love the fixed price of rookies, especially at the top of the second round where the contract costs drop precipitously. To keep the rookie pool from getting diluted (like in a five round rookie draft), I recommend having two to three rounds of rookie drafts for most leagues that have 10 to 12 teams. That way there are a few coveted rookies who spill into the auction (think Jay Ajayi two years ago), but enough talent to not have rookies get dropped from rosters for weekly moves.

In terms of having the rookie draft offline, this is a mindset shift for me after having our writers league draft over email this year. I was astonished by how many trades occurred and how efficiently we could still pick rookies. I adhere to the more strategy the better, so I loved all the trade activity that occurred in the rookie draft.

Rookies remain incredibly valuable, especially if you can hit on your draft picks. Those who don’t like rookies can maximize their value by trading these picks for prime assets either at the trade deadline, throughout the offseason, etc.

3) The New Normal: In-season Contract Extensions

In April, Reality Sports Online released details on in-season contract extensions here. In general, I’m a fan of this as it adds another element of strategy to the league. However, I would recommend that owners proceed with caution on banking on in-season extensions or making trades with limited knowledge of how this will work in practice (it is all theory now) this offseason.

For starters, I would recommend that all leagues vote on how many in-season extensions they want to adopt each season (and potentially revisit this decision after the first year of this feature). My main league voted on one extension for transparency purposes with the thought being that we love the auction and want the player pool to be as deep as possible in the auction, but still allowing the opportunity to exercise the in-season extension for one key player per team.

One thing is obvious from all the guidance in Kyle’s release and my interactions with Stephen and Matt on the in-season extension. Players will not be taking pay cuts. So if you franchised tagged a player last season and the breakout season never came, that salary still serves as the base for a potential extension in season. These will be difficult decisions to make.

Further, until you see what the algorithm spits out in Weeks 4 through 13 of the 2017 season, it is a totally crapshoot. Especially with the famed rookie class featuring Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks, and Sammy Watkins. Those rookies have a low base salary by virtue of the rookie wage scale but figure to jump to what they’d command in the auction if they were free agents on the in-season extension market. For instance, I paid 4 years, $169 million for OBJ in an auction last summer.

Both historic player performance and current year performance will factor into player salaries as well, so you really would be making a decision with imperfect information if you were basing 2017 offseason moves (including franchise tagging a player in hopes of extending them next summer) or trading for a player who could be extended.

4) An Outside-the-Box Thought

As you all know, I’m a huge fan of RSO and it is currently the only league platform I play on. That said, there are inherent limitations of any start-up which has to weigh the costs and benefits of making platform changes. For me, one sticking point is the fact that any player thrown out by an owner in an auction has to be thrown out at a minimum bid. Often towards the end of the auction, there’s a developmental type player I have my eye on and unless someone else throws that player out or I do and ensure that someone else bids on that player, the player I’m targeting may end up on my team as a one-year guy, which wasn’t my intent.

As a result and based on a conversation I had with Stephen this offseason, our league has adopted an off-platform workaround to that issue. Basically, every team in our league has the ability to convert a 1 year, $500k minimum contract to a multi-year contract of the length of their choice (two, three, or four years) within 24 hours of the auction by notifying the commissioner in writing. The commissioner would then have to use the edit contracts feature to alter the contract length. The intent would be for this player to be of the devy type, so ideally defenses and kickers would be excluded but your league could decide on that as you see fit.

By implementing this option, your league would be adding another layer of strategy without impacting the overall contract allotment that you have elected for your auctions.

5) Franchise Tags

The franchise tag is a super-valuable strategic piece that has been in RSO leagues since inception. Basically any expiring player can be extended for the higher of 120% of current year salary or the Top 5 positional average of your league for players under contract.

Since the salary of these players can get fairly high, I recommend that each league allows one franchise tag per team. A player can be franchise tagged and traded if the “Finalize Franchise Tag” button is selected in the offseason.

I personally have used my tag before and it typically pays off if you signed an oft-injured player who produced on his deal. For instance, I turned a two year, $26 million deal for Rob Gronkowski from our inaugural year into to franchise tags at 120% raises. Gronk is now out of franchise tags and will return to the player pool this offseason.

Positionally, depending on your league, there are some leagues where significant value can be found in using the franchise tag for positions like quarterbacks (those late round QB types), tight ends and DSTs. Wide receivers and running backs typically command a prettier penny.

6) Trades/Waivers

I think trades and waivers are fairly standard in RSO leagues. For trades, we let our commissioner review and make the decision. In a format like this, almost every deal has some form of long-term strategy, so something would have to be egregious or somehow demonstrate collusion (which frankly is super rare) for a deal to get rejected. To ensure that teams that are trading draft picks are invested long-term in our league, we make teams trading future year picks kick in at least 50% of next year’s league dues upon trade execution.

In terms of waivers, the FAAB system prevails for one year players. It is fairly standard.


Matt Goodwin is entering his fourth season as a writer for Reality Sports Online and is in year five of his main league. He also contributed for numberFire for several years. He is an avid sports fan from Cleveland, Ohio who would count a Cleveland Indians World Series victory a close second behind getting married to his wife Renee and the births of his children, Jory (7 year old son) and Lainie (2 year old daughter). Matt loves mid 90’s hip-hop, playing pick-up hoops, traveling, Ohio State football and Arizona basketball, watching Glengarry Glen Ross for the millionth time and being outside the few months it doesn’t rain in Seattle where he lives. He can be found on Twitter @mattgoody2 and hopes you continue to read his In the Zone articles.

More Analysis by Matt Goodwin

RSO Rookie Picks Pt. 1

Updated: July 16th 2017

With the passing of this year’s NFL draft, many of you in the RSO community will soon hold your own rookie drafts. To help you along this path, I studied the value provided by previous rookie draft picks.  Part 1 of the 2-part series gives some basic insights into the valuation of RSO rookie picks.  This series is not meant to be all encompassing given the uniqueness of every league.  Starting requirements, number of teams, scoring rules, and many other considerations ultimately determine the value of players.  Every league is different but hopefully this study provides a basis for readers to evaluate rookie picks in their own leagues.

The Data

Rookie draft pick data came from MyFantasyLeague ADP Rankings using keeper league, rookie-only draft data primarily. My data set includes the top 20 draft picks (those picks relevant to a common RSO 10-team, 2-round rookie draft) from 2007 to 2016 which comes to 200 players.  The sample included 80 running backs, 80 wide receivers, 30 quarterbacks, and 10 tight ends.

I obtained player fantasy values from Pro Football Reference (PFR). VBD (Value Based Drafting) values were calculated on a non-PPR basis. VBD measures the fantasy points a player scores above a designated baseline player.  PFR uses the 12th highest scoring QB, 12th TE, 24th RB, and 30th WR as the baseline players.  A player scoring less than the baseline player is given a zero value (there are no negative values in the system).  The values come from season-long statistics which tends to overvalue players who manage to stay healthy throughout the season.  Conversely, high-end performers missing games to injury or suspension will be undervalued along with those players assuming major roles for only portions of the season (running back handcuffs for example).   The findings are best applied to non-PPR 10-team leagues using 1QB/2RB/2WR/1TE/1Flex starting requirements.

We next disaggregate the data into various groupings giving us a better of idea of how to value our rookie picks.

Value by Draft Pick

Image 1

The above chart details the average value produced each year by a draft pick based on draft position. Not surprisingly, better draft picks tend to produce better results.  Players selected in the top half of the 1st round (picks 1-5) in rookie drafts offered 50% more value than picks 6-10 and averaged almost four times the yearly value of players selected in the bottom half of round 2 (picks 16-20).

Image 2

Another way to judge rookie picks is by their success rate. I defined a success, with the somewhat liberal definition, as any player who holds some value (produces VBD points) during their initial 4-year rookie contract.  Again we find the top picks significantly out-producing lower picks.  Picks in the top half of the first round found success at some time during their initial four years a little under ¾ of the time.  Picks in the bottom half of the first round averaged success a little under ½ of the time while 2nd round picks came in at about a 1/3 success rate.  The yearly success rate for players is not nearly as good.  Rookie picks as a whole averaged just over 1 valuable season for every four years.

Value by Position

Image 3

The fact that running backs lead other positions in value is not unexpected for non-PPR leagues, but the extent to which they dominate might be to some. Running backs averaged over 50% more value per season than wide receivers, more than 100% of quarterbacks, and over 300% of tight ends for the sample draft picks.  Other positions simply have no way to make up for the massive volume top end running backs achieve leading to potentially huge yardage and touchdown totals.  Quarterbacks and tight ends are particularly handicapped by traditional fantasy starting requirements where only one TE and QB must start.  The difference from the QB8 to QB20 and TE8 to TE20 was about 30 points or less than two points per game in 2016.  There are simply too many cheap replacement-level players available who will not cost your team very much in scoring unless you are up against one of the few elite options at either position.  These large value differences among positions from the chart above and the afore-mentioned supply of replacement level players at QB and TE strongly argue for the use of 2QB/Superflex and 2TE requirements in order to help balance values among positions.

Value by Year in League

Image 4

I next examined player values by looking at how they performed in each year of the initial four-year contract. The biggest take-away from the above chart is that players, on average, see the biggest value jump after their rookie season.  Dividing the data further in Table 1 below by positions offers more interesting insights.

image 5

Running backs and wide receivers (the two biggest positions by value) display the largest jumps in value in year two.  This somewhat contradicts the popular “3rd year breakout” notion applied commonly to wide receivers.  The data suggests quarterbacks and tight ends breakout in year three but we should keep in mind the small samples associated with each position, particularly tight ends.


Part 1 is just the “tip of the iceberg” with regards to the evaluation of rookie pick value but it does provide a few useful insights:

  1. No rookie pick comes without risk, but the top picks are expensive for a reason. Picks in the top half of the first round provide value and reliability which greatly exceeds other picks.
  2. Running backs tend to dominate value in these shallow non-PPR leagues. You always want elite players but take the top back on your draft board if you are in doubt.
  3. Players production usually jumps substantially after the rookie season. This provides a buying window for savvy owners to take advantage of more impatient owners who were disappointed by a rookie’s first season.

While Part 1 dealt with some of the basics of rookie pick values, Part 2 will evaluate RSO rookie picks based on the contract values involved. Hope to see you there!

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