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.


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