RSO Roster Construction: Positional Variation

Updated: August 5th 2020

The question of optimal roster construction remains a mystery to many in RSO leagues.  How much should I allocate to different position groups?  How is the allocation distributed within each position?  How much should go to projected starters versus backups?  There exists practically near-limitless player combinations available to RSO teams and we can’t hope to cover any reasonable fraction of those.  A previous article compared rosters based on allocation of cap to different tiers of players.  This article gives a few examples of what various rosters can look like based on allocation of salary cap to different position groups.  We utilize average salary data taken from 2020 RSO startup auctions in order to construct 20-player rosters fitting near the RSO salary cap limits.  Note rookies are not included in rosters due to very small auction samples.  I assume 1QB/1SF/2RB/2WR and 1 or 2 flex spots in the starting lineup for this exercise.   I also allocated the same number of roster spots at each position for all rosters as a consistency measure.

The goal of this article is not to recommend individual players or even which type of roster construction is best.  League settings and conditions will have a big impact on the type of roster you desire on auction day.  The article does provide a starting point in evaluating different types of roster builds and the sort of trade-offs one must take into account when choosing how your team is constructed by examining a few rosters with differing cap distributions among players.

Running Back Heavy Roster

 

This roster allocates about 60% of cap space to the running back position.  It features two top-five RBs along with multiple other backs whom possess high-end workload potential.  The team relies on lower-tier starting options at both quarterback and tight end likely utilizing a weekly matchup-based approach for each.  Running back-heavy squads wish to capitalize on a few key areas.  One, top running backs outscore their correspondingly ranked top wide receivers, even in a PPR scoring system.  Typically the switch-off point where wide receivers start outscoring their running back counterparts occurs roughly in the 6-10 ranking range for PPR leagues. A team spending heavy on running back maximizes chances of hitting on a high-value player which wide receivers and tight ends can’t hope to compete with in terms of potential scoring and positional advantage.  Two, wide receiver depth makes spending less at that position a more viable strategy as quality reliable starting options  are readily available at price points one would pay for backup running backs and backs with unknown roles.  Three, heavy running back spending also mitigates more scoring variation at the position due to issues like higher dependency on surrounding players and coaching schemes.  A team is in a better position to make up for injuries and misses at the position.

There are also a few disadvantages with this strategy.  High-end running backs are typically the most expensive players in RSO leagues.  Investing in the top backs necessarily means less cap room for other positions compared to when a team pays for top players at other positions.  Lower-end tight ends and quarterbacks can provide passable options to fill your starting lineup but very rarely provide much upside. Also, elevated injury-risk at the position leads to more volatility from a season-long perspective.  In particular, the accumulation of volume and hits may lead to injury and/or underperformance of running backs toward the end of the fantasy season and playoffs when those big point totals are so valuable.

Wide Receiver Heavy Roster

 

The wide receiver heavy example consists of the same tight end and quarterback groups but allocates about 60% cap space to wide receivers.  The goal of this roster construction varies from the RB-heavy roster.  Instead of taking swings on more volatile high-risk, high-reward running backs, the team tries to accumulate more of the smaller, but more reliable and consistent, victories at wide receiver.  The team reduces injury-risk by not heavily investing in running backs and is still able to acquire running backs with potentially big roles and others with chances to eventually gain roles as injuries or underperformance hit other teams’ starting running backs.  This strategy becomes more viable as starting spots open to wide receivers increases in order to take advantage of all those accumulated small wins.

The most glaring issue with this strategy is that the running back puts you in a “cover your eyes and hope” position.  Questions with regard to the player, surround talent and coaching, and/or role in offense naturally increase as the contract price decreases.  The rate of questions to price is much sharper at the running back position which leads to vary questionable starting options.  The limited player pool of viable starting running backs also makes trading for one potentially very expensive.

Quarterback / Tight End Heavy Roster

 

There are some very pleasing traits to a team-build emphasizing the quarterback and tight end positions.  A team won’t have to devote as much cap space to get upper-end talent at the positions because teams typically only start 2 quarterbacks and 1 tight end weekly in superflex leagues.   This allows cap space spread out more uniformly among the various positions which may result in a more balanced starting lineup with no true weakness. This roster-type should offer a consistent weekly edge at quarterback and tight end, even in bye weeks and when injuries occur, while having an extra high-end tight end provides a potentially useful flex option.

Depth at the key fantasy positions of running back and wide receiver could be an issue with this type of team build.  There is not much room for many injuries or underperformance at those positions on a team like this.  Another issue is whether there is enough value to be extracted from paying a premium at quarterback.  The fantasy community is not particularly great at finding significant value at the position.  A previous article found RSO owners spending premium amounts of salary at quarterback did not result in much more expected production at 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.

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RSO Roster Construction: Player Tier Variation

Updated: July 18th 2020

The question of optimal roster construction remains a mystery to many in RSO leagues.  How much should I allocate to different position groups?  How is the allocation distributed within each position?  How much should go to projected starters versus backups?  There exists practically near-limitless player combinations available to RSO teams and we can’t hope to cover any reasonable fraction of those.  This article gives a few examples of what various rosters can look like based on allocation of salary cap to different tiers of players.  We utilize average salary data taken from 2020 RSO startup auctions in order to construct 20-player rosters fitting near the RSO salary cap limits.  I assume 1QB/1SF/2RB/2WR and 1 or 2 flex spots in the starting lineup for this exercise.   I also allocated the same number of roster spots at each position for all rosters as a consistency measure.

The goal of this article is not to recommend individual players or even which type of roster construction is best.  League settings and conditions will have a big impact on the type of roster you desire on auction day.  The article does provide a starting point in evaluating different types of roster builds and the sort of trade-offs one must take into account when choosing how your team is constructed by examining a few rosters with differing cap distributions among players.

Top-Tier Heavy Roster

Top-tier Heavy Roster Example

This roster paid a premium for top-tier players, holding one at each position.  The top-4 players combined for about 75% of the salary cap.  These top-tier players show the most certainty in production which means this roster construction profile puts most of the cap dollars in highly reliable players.  The hope for this type of team resides in exploiting the consistent week-winning upside of the high priced players while getting just enough production from lower priced players.  The team has potential for extremely high weekly production in shallow leagues if it gets lucky and hits on one or two low-priced, low-probability players.  That strategy gets murkier as the number of required starters increases when more “hits” on questionable players are needed to produce a winning lineup.

The main issue with a team constructed this way is that many roster spots are filled with minimum salary and other low-cost players with very small odds of significant fantasy production.  There is little chance of seeing significant value increases from these players.  Most trades will necessarily involve moving one of the prized star players to help alleviate any team deficiencies.  Any injury or underperformance of your star players is also a major issue for a team like this as there simply isn’t going to be a viable replacement in most cases.

 

Starter Heavy Roster

Starter Heavy Roster Example

This roster variation divests cap dollars away from the very top-tier players.  Most of our salary is still allocated to the starters but is more evenly divided among them.  We can see that secondary and tertiary starters see significant potential upgrades over the previous top-tier heavy roster both in upside and certainty.  The main question for teams utilizing this strategy is how they view the secondary starters.  The move away from the top-paid players may well be worth the cost if an owner sees potential top-tier production in the next tier of players.

Balanced Roster

Balanced Roster Example

This distribution notably puts more cap dollars in potential flex starters and bench players.  The flatter cap distribution approach displays two primary benefits.  First, the roster offers enhanced injury mitigation.  Unavailability of even the best players on this roster will potentially have a more diminished effect.  The statistical projections between players are less as the salary gap narrows.  There is a certain amount of “plug and play” replacement aspect here.  Second, this type of roster construction acknowledges the inherent randomness in statistical production.  New coaching, surrounding personnel, schemes, schedules, etc. have major impacts on the fantasy performance of players.  Dividing money to more players allows additional chances on players with reasonable chances of significantly out-producing respective salaries.   There exists a good chance one of the backups produces at starter-quality as a replacement for an underperforming projected starter.

The downside to this build is a team will usually not have the potential weekly upside using this roster methodology compared to more concentrated distributions.  Even when many of the questionable players exceed expectations, they are unlikely to achieve truly top-tier production levels and many may not make your starting lineup.  This becomes less of a concern as in deeper leagues as more of the “hits” can be utilized on a weekly basis.

 

Key Implications

  1. Highly concentrated cap teams attain more viability in leagues with shallower starting requirements. Flatter cap distribution among players finds its strength in deeper leagues as lower-tier players have more value.
  2. Injury and production risk decrease as we flatten the cap distribution. The risk is actually lower that key players underperform in a more concentrated distribution due to fewer key players but the harm done to a team is substantially higher when underperformance does occur. 

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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Early 2019 RSO Contracts: TEs

Updated: August 26th 2019

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

Average RSO Tight End Contracts

Tiers of One at the Top

The fantasy football realm tended to treat the top-3 tight ends (Kelce, Kittle, and Ertz) as a tier of their own early in the offseason.   There were very real reasons for this grouping.  Each earned at least 136 targets with two of the trio receiving at least 150.  Each caught at least 86 passes with two racking up 103 or more.  Each accumulated 1,163 yards with two breaking the 1,300 yard barrier.  In other words, 2018 was a historic season at the top of the tight end group.  Each tight should continue as a main piece of their respective offenses, while maybe not at the historic paces of 2018.  Each faces additional long or short –term concerns going forward.

RSO GMs made very clear price distinctions between the three, however.  Kelce heads the group at over $5 million more than the next tight end.  The Kansas City star should be locked in for another great year.  The only concerns center on the longer-term.  He is already 29 (The age Rob Gronkowski just retired at) and turns 30 in just a few months.  Kelce also dealt with injury issues recently including multiple concussions and “cleanup” procedures on his shoulder and knee.  Kittle faces much more target competition at both wide receiver and running back in 2019.  He also goes from a tight end friendly environment primarily with backup quarterbacks whom were among the league’s lowest depth of average target to a quarterback that targets deeper receivers more consistently.  Ertz is another high-end tight end facing new offensive options vying for receptions.   The addition of DeSean Jackson in Philadelphia brings a legitimate 3rd wide receiver option to Philadelphia and second tight end Dallas Goedert looks like a bigger piece of the offense in year two.

Hunter Henry also separated himself from the next tier in cost, receiving a sizeable premium in RSO auction prices.  He posted strong PFF grades his first two seasons in limited usage.   We still do not know how well  Henry integrates into the Chargers offensive game plan as a full time player and how far back he is after missing 2018 due to injury.

 

The Class of 2017

Three former 1st round picks from the 2017 draft class highlight the next tier of tight ends.  We start with Howard and Engram who saw huge 2nd year jumps in 2018.  Both finished as top-6 PFF-graded tight ends last year.  Howard is on a Tampa Bay offense many project as one of the top yardage-gainers for 2019.  Engram has been a top-5 fantasy tight end without Odell Beckham in the lineup during his first two years.  Each has dealt with injury issues the first two seasons of their careers.  Howard remains the likely third option in Tampa Bay.  Engram probably garners something near a co-number one type target share in New York but with some combination of Eli Manning and rookie Daniel Jones at the quarterback for the near future.  David Njoku is taking a little more time along the development curve.  That makes sense given he was only 20 years old when drafted.  The athletic specimen for Cleveland is attached to what many consider one of the top young quarterbacks in the league.  The question is whether Njoku can become a large enough part of the offense to justify his price.

We should keep an eye on a couple of veterans in this pricing tier.  Jared Cook set career highs in most categories last season at the age of 31.  He transfers to New Orleans adding a much needed target for Drew Brees on a team without much in the way of reliable receiving options outside of Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara.  Eric Ebron* also had a career season after signing with Indianapolis last year.  He scored 13 touchdowns after never scoring more than 5 in his career previously.  His role likely diminishes in 2019, along with the number of his touchdowns, after the additions of Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell to go along with the return of Jack Doyle.

*Andrew Luck’s retirement was just announced.  This news significantly downgrades the upside of Ebron for 2019.

 

Others to Watch

The Pittsburg Steelers traded Antonio Brown this offseason and that opens up a bunch of opportunity for Vance McDonald on a high-volume passing team without much in reliable receiving options outside of Juju Smith-Schuster.  Chris Herndon showed good chemistry with Sam Darnold and played well as a rookie, something rare.  He likely comes at a discount with a four-game suspension to start the season.  Greg Olsen, Jack Doyle, Delanie Walker, and Jordan Reed represent extremely cheap older veterans who, while not league winners, could potentially prop up your fantasy team on a weekly basis.  The talk of Raiders camp, outside of the Antonio Brown’s behavior, has been Darren Waller.  Linebackers and defensive backs consistently struggled covering the uber-athletic former wide receiver this offseason.


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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Early 2019 RSO Contracts: WRs

Updated: August 14th 2019

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

 

Average RSO Wide Receiver Contracts

Safety and Depth at the Top

From holdouts to health to usage to surrounding talent, the running back position presents question marks for many of the most costly RSO contracts in 2019.  The argument for putting your big RSO cap dollars in wide receivers relies on their relative safety.  Grabbing Hopkins, Adams, Beckham Jr., Thomas, Smith-Schuster, Evans, Jones, or Allen assures a dominant, high-volume receiver attached to efficient passing offenses.  Maybe just as impressive is the depth of top receivers available.  For example, T.Y. Hilton goes off the board at WR16 as the top receiver for Andrew Luck after finishing 2018 sixth in yards per game.    An RSO GM wanting a reliable high volume pass catcher should have no problem finding one in most leagues.

The top paid wide receivers are not completely devoid of risk, however.  Brown and Green are dealing with lower-leg injuries already with Brown also bizarrely threatening retirement based on his choice of helmet.  Amari Cooper remains one of the most volatile receivers in all of football attached to a low-volume pass offense which is difficult to stomach at his price.  The Minnesota tandem of Diggs and Thielen face their own questions going into 2019.  Diggs was among the most inefficient wide receivers of the heavily targeted players last season.  Thielen’s production fell off a cliff the second half of 2018.  Minnesota probably transitions to a more run-heavy approach potentially reducing volume to both.

Who Steps Up?

While there is a good amount of quality top-end targets, not every team’s target share is set and not every offense racks up big yardage.  Many young pass catchers have the chance to move up the ranks of receivers.  RSO GMs priced Corey Davis aggressively so far as WR17.  The former top-5 pick improved in his second season and appears locked in as the top target for Tennessee.  The problem for Davis is the limited upside in the Titans’ pass attack.  Tennessee ranked no better than 28th in pass attempts the last three seasons and is going with quarterback Mariota yet again in his 5th year.  The Titans also spent high draft capital on A.J. Brown and gave a big contract to Adam Humphries.  There is a lot of preseason buzz, both good and bad, about Dante Pettis in San Francisco on potentially a breakout offense.  The slight receiver must stay healthy and battle a host of other good receiving options at multiple positions for targets.

Joe Flacco’s ability to throw with velocity downfield represents a much better match for Courtland Sutton’s strengths in his second year over the weak-armed Case Keenum.  Flacco is still Flacco, one of the most inefficient quarterbacks in the NFL over the last few years, and Emmanuel Sanders looks ahead of schedule coming back from a late season Achilles tear.  New York will look for more consistency from Robby Anderson, to go along with the growth of 22 year old quarterback Sam Darnold, after displaying flashes in his young career.  The Jets made significant investments among the skill-position group with the additions of Bell at running back and Crowder at wide receiver.  The Arizona Cardinals project as a far more up-tempo passing offense in 2019 with new head coach Kliff Kingsbury and second year pro Christian Kirk seems to be a big part going forward.  As dynamic as the offense could be, we must consider the possibility that a first year head coach with a rookie quarterback leading a new offense might have trouble adjusting to the NFL.

Upside NFL WR2s and WR1s in Questionable Situations

The Bears employ a diverse offensive scheme adjusting significantly each week under Matt Nagy which makes predicting the target distribution questionable at best.  Allen Robinson is one more year away from his ACL tear and second round pick Anthony Miller looks for a second-year jump after playing with shoulder injuries for most of his rookie season.  Some people forget about Marvin Jones after his injury-marred 2018. Despite new Lions coach Matt Patricia attempts to set offensive football back thirty years in 2018, Jones ranked top-10 in air yards while on the field and might be closer to the 1B in Detroit than his RSO price suggests.

Aaron Rodgers’ second receiving option provides significant possible fantasy value.  Geronimo Allison could be that piece seeming fixed in the starting slot spot.  Marquez Valdez-Scantling appears locked in as the second outside wide receiver opposite Devante Adams and comes at a discount so far in comparison to Allison.  Panthers’ wide receiver Curtis Samuel has been the talk of training camp in Carolina routinely destroying attempted coverage by defensive backs.  Many analysts believe he is the better receiver opposite D.J. Moore.  The afore-mentioned Emmanuel Sanders instills excellent value on RSO rosters if he is indeed fully healthy.  It would be an extremely quick recovery from an Achilles injury.  Pittsburg is another team for which the second receiver might carry significant fantasy value.  RSO GMs are paying the most for James Washington early.  He faces lot of competition in former Colt/Jaguar Donte Moncrief who currently heads the depth chart while many consider rookie Diontae Johnson the best replacement.

Others Outside the Top-50

DeSean Jackson will put up some big games this season with Carson Wentz without the need for big target loads.  Move Tyrell Williams up your boards this based on the wild news surrounding Antonio Brown.  Somebody has to catch passes in Oakland.  Do not be surprised if Jamison Crowder leads the Jets in receptions.  We won’t see a high volume passing offense in Buffalo.  The speedy John Brown, however, best fits the relatively high-volume, high-target depth throws Josh Allen makes.


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

 

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

Early 2019 RSO Contracts: RBs

Updated: July 31st 2019

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

Average RSO Running Back Contracts

The Next Four

Elliot, Barkley, McCaffrey, and Kamara form the top tier of virtually every ranking for running backs in 2019.  Elliott is always a danger for off the field incidents and Kamara has longer term question marks once (if?) Brees retires but the group poses no significant short-term question marks.  The question marks come quickly after.  The next four rushers present three-down backs with unknowns.  Bell took a sabbatical last season from the NFL forfeiting about $14.5 million in the process.  He goes from one of the most prolific offenses and top offensive lines in Pittsburg to a New York team with a second year quarterback, one of the worst offensive lines in the game, and Adam Gase as the head coach.  The all-around talent for Mixon and surrounding skill players is not the issue in Cincinnati.  His dreadful offensive line from last season is after already losing its top-two projected starters this season.  Gordon’s knee injury history is similar to Todd Gurley’s and he is threatening a holdout after not securing a long-term contract so far.  Expect Gordon’s RSO contracts to start sinking quickly.  Johnson only registered as PFF’s 51st running back in 2018 thanks, in part, to dismal surrounding talent and a new coaching staff not up for the challenge.  His usage and effectiveness are among the highest variance for running backs due to what is, in effect, an experimental college offense transitioning to the NFL.

Injury Concerns Result in Bargain Prices (Sometimes)

Fantasy gamers discussed Todd Gurley’s knee issues ad nauseam this offseason.  RSO GMs listened.  The RB1 in points per game each of the last two seasons is going off the board as the 13th highest paid running back.  Nagging lower-body injuries combined with an awful situation in Jacksonville also lowered the price of Leonard Fournette considerably from last year.   A substantial upgrade at quarterback, much healthier offensive line, and new offensive coordinator give Fournette significant upside at his cost with 300-plus touch upside.   Many considered Guice a borderline RB1 going into last season before tearing his ACL.  A lot has changed in a year.  Future hall of famer Adrian Peterson came back from the dead for an impressive late career campaign and signed an extension.  Washington also drafted former Heisman runner-up Bryce Love, falling to the fourth round after an injury filled 2018 and eventual tearing his ACL late in the year.

Surprisingly, the injury issues associated with Cook and Johnson apparently are not affecting their costs as both hit the boards as top-10 running backs so far in RSO leagues.  Both have massive injury histories including, most notably, multiple shoulder surgeries plus knee, ankle, and hamstring injuries.  Expect Johnson’s price climbing to even higher levels with news of pass-catching specialist Theo Riddick’s release from Detroit.

Young Featured Backs

Chubb, Jones, Mack, and Michel present cases with many of the same strengths and limitations.  All young backs play on projected upper level offenses with quality quarterbacks.  Their respective teams utilized each as primary running down backs with limited passing game usage.  Jones offers a bit more upside in this group because Green Bay does not possess a true receiving down back, albeit under Aaron Rodgers at quarterback who has never utilized running backs extensively in the passing game.  Duke Johnson (Cleveland), Nyheim Hines (Indianapolis), and James White (New England) give each team a strong, complementary passing down option.  Michel’s knee issues and New England drafting 3rd round running back Damien Harris depressed his price somewhat.

The Battle for Touches

While we have a good feel for the depth chart of most teams, not all backfields share as clear of picture.  The explosive and undrafted Phillip Lindsay dominated touches last year for Denver but faded to end the year failing to hit 50 rushing yards over the last three games.  Look for Royce Freeman gaining more looks to keep Lindsay fresh in 2019.  Barber won the starting spot battle in Tampa Bay last year but may have lost the war after displaying backup level skills.  It might be the last chance for Ronald Jones after an ugly rookie season in which the 20 year old was not prepared for the NFL and struggled with hamstring injuries for much of the year.  Philadelphia remains an enticing but disappointing fantasy situation for running backs as committees have dominated recently.  Will Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, or any of the other backs receive enough work to break the mold?  San Francisco possesses three talented backs in Coleman, McKinnon, and Breida on what should be a good offense.  We do not know if any of them receives enough consistent work to hold strong fantasy value.  The Bills running back room is a mess you may feel free to avoid on a team not likely to be among the higher scorers in the NFL.

Outside the Top-50

The afore-mentioned Hines racked up 63 receptions and is the receiving downs back for an Andrew Luck-led offense.    Kalen Ballage is a size-speed specimen with impressive receiving ability who will form a committee with Drake in Miami.  C.J. Anderson should carve out a significant role in Detroit where former New England coach Matt Patricia wants to run the ball as much as possible.  Jalen Richard ranked 7th in receptions among running backs in 2018 and is extremely cheap after Oakland spent a 1st round pick on Josh Jacobs.


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

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.

Quarterbacks

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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