2020 Quarterback Manifesto

Updated: May 20th 2020

I’ve recently had the pleasure of collaborating with a few dynasty newcomers in my 3 RSO leagues.  In doing so, I have found their hunger for insight invigorating.  It’s caused me to push my own boundaries as an analyst.  Try as I may, I cannot cover everything these guys need to know in one offseason.  Learn by doing, right?  I hate giving them vague advice like, “Zig when people zag” or “Forget groupthink and do your own due diligence.”  I have to be able to offer them (and RSO readers) more.  So for me, this article goes beyond just breaking down quarterbacks.  It’s a template for changing the way you attack fantasy.

Years ago, I found myself constantly arguing with friends over the Aaron Rodgers’ “Sit and Learn” myth.  I call it a myth because until Pat Mahomes burst out on to the scene in 2018, the list of 1st-Round QBs that sat as rookies post-Aaron Rodgers’ 2008 breakout consisted of Tim Tebow, Blaine Gabbert, Johnny Manziel, and Paxton Lynch.  Not exactly the who’s who of NFL careers.  It took 10 seasons to find a second qualifying case for this gabage sentiment, and yet NFL pundits beat us over the head with it week after week, year after year.  As a result, many owners missed out on the Jared Goffs and Josh Allens, fearing that they might be wasting a pick/roster spot.  1st-round rookie QBs play Year 1 (except for you Jordan Love).  It may be 7 games like Lamar Jackson and Dwayne Haskins.  It may be 14 games like Daniel Jones and Baker Mayfield.  Whatever the case, buying into this realization and investing accordingly will always give you an edge from a cap perspective.

I understand this is old news for a lot of you veterans that could not wait to grab Tua and Herbert in your Rookie Drafts.  Hopefully, this next insight will be a bit more compelling.

Lamar Jackson threw a touchdown pass on 8.98% of his attempts last year.  Why not just round it up to an even 9% you ask?  Well, because since the merger, Peyton Manning is the only person to have ever surpassed that threshold.  He threw 49 TDs on a mere 497 pass attempts (9.86%) in 2004.  Despite all the monster QB seasons that came in the 15 years since then, Lamar’s 36 TDs on 401 attempts ranks the closest.  Here’s a list of the Top 10 seasons according to TD to Pass Attempt Ratio.

Name Year TDs Ratio
Peyton Manning 2004 49 9.86%
Lamar Jackson 2019 36 8.98%
Aaron Rodgers 2011 45 8.96%
Tom Brady 2007 50 8.65%
Pat Mahomes 2018 50 8.62%
Nick Foles 2013 27 8.52%
Dan Marino 1984 48 8.51%
Peyton Manning 2013 55 8.35%
Russell Wilson 2018 35 8.20%
Randall Cunningham 1998 34 8.00%

The TD to Pass Attempts Ratio helps us pinpoint efficiency.  Contemplate Rodgers vs Brady vs Brees for this upcoming season.   Deciphering which one of these old-timers we may want to invest in becomes much easier once we focus our attention to efficiency.  Rodgers has the biggest arm, while Brady boasts the best weapons.  Brees, however, is the clear-cut choice due to his 7.1% TD rate last year (3rd highest).  Observe what a difference this made in terms of fantasy points per game.You will notice Peyton Manning is the only player who has eclipsed 8% multiple times in his career, and the second instance came 9 years later in 2013.  This data can be beneficial to us in a couple of ways.  For starters, Lamar’s absurd scoring efficiency through the air is bound to come down in 2020 (more on that later).  35-36 TDs may be repeatable, but it will require a hell of a lot more throws moving forward.  So the first question you have to ask yourself is whether or not you envision Lamar increasing his pass attempts to say 480+.  If you do not, you should probably forget about him returning to this mark.

2018 TD/Att Ratio 2019 TD/Att Ratio 2019 Points Per Game PPG Ranking
Drew Brees 6.5% 7.1% 20.4 7th
Aaron Rodgers 4.2% 4.6% 17.4 13th
Tom Brady 5.1% 3.9% 16.5 16th

Back to Lamar.  Earlier I referrenced how disproving the “Sit and Learn” rookie myth provided clarity for dynasty leagues.  I would like to now PROVE a QB trend that should have a similar impact.  In 2018, Patrick Mahomes threw for 5100 yards and 50 TDs.  Public opinion varied on how he would follow it up.  Most expected at least a mild step back.  I, on the other hand, was placing small bets with friends that even with Tyreke Hill eluding a suspension, Mahomes would not exceed 36 TDs.  Now I hardly expected him to be reduced to nearly half his production (26 TDs).  I was more in the 32-34 range.  I did predict a massive regression, though, and here is why.

I call it the “Matt Ryan Rule”.  It’s simple.  Big seasons are followed up with considerable regression.  To prove it, I have provided a list of all the 34+ Passing TD seasons in NFL history, as well as their respective fantasy totals.  Also included are the follow-up seasons’ stats and Regression %.  Of the 51 season sample size, only 3 QBs managed to improve upon their big year fantasy output.  Another way of putting that is 94.1% of these QBs experienced some level of regression.  The average regression rate was 31.7%, which indicates these follow-up seasons as a whole range from significant dropoffs to absolute busts.

I know what you are thinking.  These passing trends do not account for the 1200 yards and 6 TDs Lamar just ran for, and therefore can not be applied to him.  Fair enough.  While we are at it, let’s disect history’s most notable QB rushing seasons.  Our metrics of qualification can be 500+ yards or 6+ Rushing TDs.

The running results are a bit more positive with 7 of the 44 QBs improving in their fantasy production via running.  Ultimately, though, it is a similar diagnosis.  84.1% of the follow-up seasons experienced some form of regression, and the average regression was 23.9%.  To sum it up, the safe bet is Lamar Jackson is neither throwing for 35-36 TDs, nor is he rushing for anywhere near 1200 yards in 2020.  I have him projected for 3500 passing yards with 26 TDs & 9 Ints. On the ground – 810 rushing yards with 6 rushing TDs & 4 Fumbles.  Those are still Top 5 QB numbers, but that represents a 16.5% regression.  If you are satisfied with that level of production on the final year of his rookie contract, power to you.  I, however, would consider shopping him around.  Perhaps someone in your league will throw you 3 future 1st-round picks, with plans to later tag and extend Lamar in the offseason.  Whatever you do, do not drop 30+ mil on him in the event that he is available in your auction (for leagues entering their 1st season).  Regression is coming.

The same can be said for Dak Prescott.  The man went from 3900 yards in 2018 to 4900 in 2019…on just 32 more completions.  I love Dak’s development through 4 seasons, and his WR trio is the best in the league in my opinion.  The Cowboys expeirenced a lot of stat padding in garbage time, however.  CeeDee Lamb and Blake Jarwin may have more upside than Randall Cobb and Jason Witten, but that is still a combined 118 receptions, 1,350 yards, and 25 years of experience that just left the building.  On top of all this, Zeke Elliott could easily lead the league in rushing once again.  All in all, I have Dak projected for 4300 yards with 25 TDs and 12 Ints, while adding 300 yards and 4 TDs on the ground.  This stat line represets roughly an 8% regression.  That forecast really shouldn’t scare you considering Dak has recorded 29, 28, 28 and 33 total TDs in his first 4 seasons.  I would pay Dak less than Wilson but more than Watson for what it’s worth.

 

So, if Lamar and Dak aren’t throwing for 30 touchdowns this season, who is?  I would like to close with 5 cheap QBs I believe can accomplish this feat in order of probability:

1).  Derek Carr will never receive the “Doing it with nobodies” credit the league showered Tom Brady and Andrew Luck with every year, but his 4,000+ yards & 21 TDs in 2019 is the new standard with which I measure those type of overachieving seasons.  Carr’s “veterans” consisted of Tyrell Williams, Zay Jones and Jalen Richard.  Darren Waller was embarking on his 4th season, but only had 18 career catches.  Aftert that it was all rookies, albeit some good ones: Josh Jacobs, Hunter Renfrow, Foster Moreau and Keelan Doss.  Such an uninspiring group, and yet Carr completed 70.4% of his passes (2nd only to Brees).  Observe below how his compared with 3 of the biggest names in the league.

Pass Yards Pass TDs Ints Comp %
Pat Mahomes 4031 26 5 65.9
Aaron Rodgers 4002 26 4 62
Tom Brady 4057 24 8 60.8
Derek Carr 4054 21 8 70.4

Carr’s perseverance last year proved to Gruden he is not only the right man for the job, but that this team is ready to compete for a playoff berth under his leadership.  He and Mike Mayock’s draft selections in April reflected that.  Henry Ruggs adds explosiveness to the offense.  Even if Carr cannot connect on vertical passes, Ruggs can take intermediate work in stride and turn it into chunk plays.  Bryan Edwards and Lynn Bowden bring strong run after the catch ability to the table as well.  We round out the offensive offseason additions with Nelson Agholor.  His hands are shaky at times, but he does have 2 60+ catch and 700+ yard seasons under his belt.  It’s a raw group, but it’s talented and I believe the Raiders and Broncos are both trying to out-offense the Chiefs for that division.

Projections:  4200 yards – 28 TDs & 10 Ints, 90 yards rushing – 2 TDs & 3 fumbles

2).  Ryan Tannehill started 10 games last year.  He threw 2 or more TDs in 9 of them.  I admit, it’s easy to fall into this trap of thinking, “Well, Henry might rush for 2,000 yards this year, and who’s the #2 after A.J. Brown?”  However, I have seen time after time a team exceed passing expectations due to a stout running game.  That is when play action is most lethal.  In 2014, Demarco Murray led the league in rushing with 1845 yards on 392 carries.  Tony Romo managed to throw 34 TDs on just 435 pass attempts.  That’s a 7.8% TD rate.  Ryan Tannehill finished 2nd in the league last year with a 7.7% TD rate.   In 2007, we witnessed a similar occurence with the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Willie Parker and Najeh Davenport combined for 428 carries for 1,815 yards.  That was hands down Big Ben’s most efficient season of his career.  He threw 32 TDs on just 404 pass attempts – 7.9% TD rate.  His top 3 pass catchers were Santonio Holmes with 942 yards, Hines Ward with 732, and Heath Miller with 566.  That’s the kind of season we can project for the 2020 Titans.

Projections:  3800 yards – 27 TDs & 11 Ints, 240 yards rushing – 3 TDs & 2 fumbles

3).  In the last 2 seasons, we have witnessed a 2nd year QB without much experience take over the league I’m not predicting an MVP caliber season, but I do believe Drew Lock is poised to somewhat follow in Mahomes and Lamar’s footsteps.  Full disclosure: I would prefer to talk about Daniel Jones or Kyler Murray here, but I don’t think they are very accessible.  From my experience thus far, their current owners aren’t interested in moving them.  Lock, on the other hand, can likely be acquired for say a future 2nd round pick.  I think many will be surprised to see just how well Lock performed in his 5 starts last year:

Week Opponent Result Comp % Yards TDs Ints QB Rating
13 Chargers W 23-20 64.29 134 2 1 84.5
14 Texans W 38-24 81.48 309 3 1 136
15 Chiefs L 3-23 45 208 0 1 50.8
16 Lions W 27-17 75.76 192 1 0 99.6
17 Raiders W 16-15 60.71 177 1 0 90.9

Lamar Jackson went 6-1 as a rookie with an 84.5 QB rating.  Drew Lock went 4-1 with an 89. 7 QB rating.  One of my favorite stats regarding Lock’s rookie campaign…he hit Courtland Sutton 4 times for 72 yards and 2 scores in his 1st NFL start & Noah Fant 4 times for 113 yards and a TD in his 2nd.  That answers the question of whether he can find his playmakers.  His completion percentage (64.1%) and his lack of Ints (3) also addresses any turnover concerns.  All that’s left to do is build around him, and did John Elway ever.  Melvin Gordon may be limited as a runner, but his 1680 yards, 11 TDs and 8.8 ypc as a receiver the last 4 years make him a perfect fit for a young QB.  Add Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Albert Okwuegbunam to the mix and Lock will now have freedom to make his own reads and exploit mismatches.  Commence “Operation Beat Chiefs 38-35 Twice a Year”.

Projections:  3700 yards – 25 TDs & 12 Ints, 210 yards rushing – 2 TDs & 4 fumbles

4).  You will have to forgive me for this one.  I can’t help but draw parallels between players sometimes.  In 2001, Drew Bledsoe signed a 100 mil contract with the Patriots at age 29.  He went down late in Week 2, and was replaced by 6th rounder Tom Brady.  Brady recorded an 86.5 QB rating through 14 games, and Bledsoe was subsequently traded to the Bills that offseason.  Fast forward 18 years.  Nick Foles signed an 88 mil contract with the Jaguars at age 30.  He went down in the first half of Week 1, and was replaced by 6th rounder Gardner Minshew.  Menshew recorded a 91.2 QB rating through 14 games, and Foles was subsequently traded to the Bears this offseason.  Now, by no means am I calling Menshew the next Tom Brady.  I just find the similarities interesting, especially considering Brady went on to throw for 3,764 yards and 28 TDs in his 2nd year as a starter.  That’s exactly the sort of ceiling I envision for Menshew in 2020.  For starters, the Jags hired Jay Gruden as the new offensive coordiantor.  Let’s take a look at his QB resume.

Year  Experience Comp % Pass Yards Pass TDs Ints QB Rating
Andy Dalton 2011 Rookie 58.1 3398 20 13 80.4
2012 Year 2 62.3 3669 27 16 87.4
2013 61.9 33 20 20 88.8
Kirk Cousins 2014 5 starts as RG3’s backup 61.8 1710 10 9 86.4
2015 Year 2 69.8 4166 29 11 101.6
2016 67.0 4917 25 12 97.2
2017 64.3 4093 27 13 93.9

Although he hasn’t had much success in the win column, Jay has long been regarded as a QB whisperer.  The additions of Tyler Eifert, Chris Thompson and Laviska Shenault Jr. will go a long ways in maintaining said reputation.

Another factor that plays into Menshew’s chances of ascending in 2020 is Leonard Fournette’s extreme mediocrity.  Buga found the endzone 3 times on 341 touches last year.  You can say he got unlucky in terms of goal-line opportunities.  That’s fine.  There is no denying his ineffectiveness in the passing game, however.  Let’s compare his numbers to the rest of the Top 10 Targeted RBs last year:

Fournette’s 6.9 ypc was tied for 3rd to last in this group, while his 5.2 yards per target fell short of everyone but Tarik Cohen (heads up to you Kamara owners out there as well).  The days of playing tough defense and grinding with Leonard Fournette are over.  The Jags gave up 26.5 points in the final 6 games last year.  Neither that unit, nor Leonard Fournette and his chronic ankles, are special.  The culture of this team is about to flip.  Fade Fournette and invest in Menshew long term folks.

Projections:  3900 yards – 25 TDs & 13 Ints, 360 yards rushing – 2 TDs & 5 fumbles

5).  What goes for the Jags also applies to Sam Darnold, Le’Veon Bell and the Jets.  It is time to evolve.  Bell is clearly not the runner or receiver he was in 2014 and 2016.  He and the Jets backfield accounted for 3 rushing TDs in 2019.  He didn’t do much with his 78 targets either.  If the Jets are going to score in 2020, it is going to be up to Darnold.  Chris Herndon is back.  Remember him?  He caught 39 passes for 502 yards and 4 TDs as a rookie in 2018.  Mark Andrews hauled in a similar 34 receptions for 552 yards and 3 TDs that same year.  I absolutely believe Herndon was poised for a Mark Andrews type of breakout before his 4 game suspension to start the season disrupted everything.  His prescence will be felt immediately this year.  As for the new WRs, I cannot promote Breshard Perriman and Denzel Mims too much, aside from the fact that they possess size mismatches at 6’2 215 lbs and 6’3 207.  This trio of big bodies, along with Jamison Crowder and what’s left of Le’Veon must be enough for Darnold to take that next step.

Sam threw 2 or more TDs 6 times out of 13 last year.  Baker Mayfield only managed 6 out of 16, and yet he wound up with 22 TDs.  I think that is very encouraging for all these young QBs.  You can play horrendous, backyard football, consistently fail to get a Top 5 WR the ball, and struggle with Ints all year, and still somehow finish with just 2-4 less TDs than Brady, Rodgers and Mahomes.  Darnold will never play as poorly as Baker did last year.  I think if he can give us a full 16 game season, 30 TDs is within reach.

Projections:  3800 yards – 24 TDs & 15 Ints, 150 yards rushing – 2 TDs & 3 fumbles

 

So this offseason, don’t sweat it if the Lamar, Dak or Mahomes owners talk.  Our focus is on depth and balance, not a big name QB.  Go sign/trade for 2 of the QBs on this list.  Pair them with a Matt Stafford, Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff or Drew Brees and I promise you will be in a better position than the rest of the league.

More Analysis by Grant Viviano

IDPs 101: How to Build Your 2020 DL Core

Updated: April 23rd 2020

He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts – for support rather than for illumination.
Andrew Lang, Scottish Novelist

Its Draft Week folks!!!  Talk about couldn’t have come any sooner too.  My fantasy circles were particularly chatty this weekend.  It got me thinking – aside from how grateful I was to have a temporary distraction from the daily stresses of the Coronavirus, I couldn’t help but wonder how we all got here.  I’m speaking in regards to my friends becoming the Dynasty nuts they are today.  It really was not too long ago I was drafting with owners who would try their best to select all Bucs’ players, or they based their decisions on whether or not someone played in the SEC.  Of course, now it seems like every owner keeps a finger on the pulse of the league year round.  We’ve got guys arguing about snap counts and average completed air yards in mid-April.  It’s beautiful!

Throughout this evolution, I have noticed a trend amongst our fantasy community as a whole.  We are all perfectly capable of taking a stance on a player & backing it up with numbers.  Whereas, we Saints’ homers used to proclaim Cam Jordan the best DE in the league simply out of Who Dat loyalty, we now back up our boasts with data (i.e., Jordan’s 40 sacks the last 3 seasons are the most of any DE in that time frame).  However, the problem is most owners are only interested in pursuing the numbers when it’s time to argue about their favorite players or the biggest names.  There is so much unrealized insight out there.  My hope is that this article can act as a springboard for reshaping your relationship with statistics, and ultimately regaining the edge you had back when your competitors were drafting Kevin Faulk in the 4th round because he went to their high school.

Take a look at some of these names:

Landon Collins – recorded 5 Ints and 4 Sacks in 2016.  He has since logged 2 Ints and 1 sack in 42 games.

Geno Atkins – 9+ sacks in 4 straight seasons. He finished with half that number last year.

J.J. Watt – only managed 4 sacks in the 8 games he played in 2019

Khalil Mack – failed to reach double digit sacks for the 1st time in 5 years.

We see this kind of stuff every season.  Big names will eventually let you down at every position, and IDPs are especially volatile.  I understand the frustration.  You signed the best IDPs in the game and it didn’t work out.  What more could you possibly do?

For starters, you must step off that carousel.  Chasing today’s biggest names will rarely yield tomorrow’s best results.  I challenge you all to try this instead.  Forget the names altogether and focus on the odds.  Therein lies my goal.  To provide RSO readers with actionable odds they can use in building their Defensive Line core this offseason.

I approached this challenge from 3 different perspectives.  The 1st – Based off the last 10 years, what are the odds of success for DL rookies in Years 1, 2 and 3?

I categorized these rookies into 3 subgroups: Top 10 Selections, 1st Rounders 11-32, and 2nd Rounders.  I determined success by the scale with which most of my RSO leagues score IDP production (1 point per Tkl, 0.5 per Assist, 2.5 points per Half-Sack, 7 points per FF or FR), along with an arbitrary target of 80 points.  Here’s what I found.

Top 10 Picks 11-32 2nd Round
Year 1 40.0% 13.2% 7.7%
Year 2 46.7% 24.5% 14.6%
Year 3 40.0% 33.3% 17.0%
1 of 3+ 86.7% 42.2% 29.8%
2 of 3+ 66.7% 24.4% 10.6%
3 of 3 20.0% 8.9% 0.0%
0 of 3 33.3% 60.0% 63.8%

The Top 10 consist of 20 players: Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Tyson Alualu, Marcell Dareus, Dion Jordan, Ezekiel Ansah, Barkevious Mingo, Jadeveon Clowney, Dante Fowler, Leonard Williams, Joey Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Myles Garrett, Solomon Thomas, and then 2019’s Draft Class – Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams, Clelin Ferrell, Josh Allen and Ed Oliver – whom only qualify for Year 1 figures.  Of the 15 players that came before them, only Ezekiel Ansah, Joey Bosa and Myles Garrett (more on these 2 later) have attained our definition of fantasy relevance all 3 years.

The sample size for Picks 11-32 (53) and 2nd Rounders (52) are much bigger.  As you can see, the odds increase with each season.  Also, both subgroups experience a steep descent from its antecedent.  This table’s 2 biggest takeaways:  At 40%, the Top 10 picks are 3 times more likely to be relevant their rookie season than the 1st Rounders 11-32 are.  The same holds true with the 2 out of 3 or greater successful seasons stat.  The Top 10’s 66.7% is also nearly 3 times the success rate of the remainging 1st Rounders.  This is useful information, but I was not satisfied with stopping here.  This brings us to the 2nd method of inquisition.

Let’s simplify things.  The DL position is predicated on getting to the QB right?  Therefore, Sacks are a powerful metric for which we can base our research.  I gathered all the DEs/DTs that recorded 7.5+ sacks in the last 10 seasons.  I then documented which year in the player’s career the feat was achieved.  Below is an example from 2010.

Name Year 
John Abraham 11
Jason Babin 7
Charles Johnson 4
Justin Tuck 6
Osi Umenyiora 8
Jared Allen 7
Chris Clemons 7
Robert Mathis 8
James Hall 11
Trent Cole 6
Dwight Freeney 9
Ndamukong Suh 1
Carlos Dunlap 1
Raheem Brock 9
Cliff Avril 3
Chris Long 3
Justin Smith 10
Mario Williams 5
Ray Edwards 5
Israel Idonije 7
Julius Peppers 9

Here are the results tallied up from seasons 2010-2019.

Year of Career Total
1 13
2 20
3 30
4 31
5 32
6 21
7 22
8 21
9 20
10 14
11 10
12 2
13 1

Only 13 players reached the 7.5 benchmark in year 1, 3 of which occured in 2019 (Josh Allen, Nick Bosa, and Maxx Crosby).  In Year 2 we observed a rate similar to that of Years 6-9.  Then we reach our sweet spot in Years 3-5.  I was pleaseantly surprised with how clean of a trend we wound up with here.  It energized me.  I had to know what sort of results would emerge from combining the previous 2 research methods.

The 3rd Perspective – How did each player on the list above fare sackwise in Years 1, 2 and 3?  With 92 qualifying Defensive Lineman, we had a total of 50 1st/2nd Rounders.  Here are the players of note:

3 of 3
Top 10
3 of 3
Picks 11-32
2 of 3
Top 10
2 of 3
Picks 11-32
2 of 3
2nd Round
Ezekial Ansah Dwight Freeny Myles Garrett Cam Jordan Osi Umenyiora
Aaron Donald Joey Bosa Robert Quinn Calais Campbell
Khalil Mack J.J. Watt Frank Clark
Andre Carter Jason Pierre-Paul Jabaal Sheard
Julius Peppers John Abraham
Mario Williams
Ndamukong Suh

 

 Total 3 of 3 2 of 3 1 of 3 0 of 3 2 of 3 1 of 3
Top 10 16 1 7 6 2 50.0% 87.5%
Picks
11-32
21 2 5 7 7 33.3% 66.7%
2nd Round 13 0 4 5 4 30.8% 69.2%

Our sample size decreased significantly here, but we are still able to recognize the Top 10 picks’ irrefutable edge.  So what does it all mean Basil?

Let’s assume this is your league’s first year, and you are operating with a 30 man roster that starts 2 DL.  In this scenario, I would want to roll with 4 guys.

I would start by making an aggressive push to lock up a Top 10 selection in the Rookie Draft, which this year figures to be Washington’s Chase Young.  If I have to move some picks around to lock him up, so be it.  I’m then targeting players entering Years 3, 4, 5 in the Auction since that range has the best odds.  Myles Garrett or Joey Bosa are Priority 1, and  I am willing to spend as much as 10 mil a year for one of them.

After that we have a couple of solid options at DT in Chris Jones and DeForest Buckner.  DTs often enjoy discounts since sacks are harder to come by at that position, and this pair endured a combined 11 sack dropoff in 2019.  I would want to add one of them or Yannick Ngakoue, who is severly underated.  Fun fact.  Yannick is 1 of 2 players from our list, not drafted in the 1st 2 Rounds who recorded 7.5+ sacks in all 3 of his first seasons.  The other was Jared Allen.

Finally, I am targeting a potential breakout player that has shown glimpses and will be acquired on the cheap.  Guys like Sam Hubbard, Jonathan Allen, Derek Barnett, Shaq Lawson, Matt Ioannidis, and Marcus Davenport all fit the bill.

Finding success in RSO leagues is all about planning and execution.  Although I will respect and even fear your trio of Cam Jordan, Aaron Donald and Melvin Ingram some weeks, I know the odds are in my favor to finish the year with a top DL core.  I challenge you to take a similar apporach this season.

More Analysis by Grant Viviano

Free Agency Fallout: Running Back Edition

Updated: March 31st 2020

What a wild first week that was!!!  With Tom Brady and Philip Rivers headlining, it was anticipated that the QBs would be the biggest dominoes in this year’s free agency.  To a degree, that was true.  These deals, along with the Teddy Bridgewater signing (Carolina) and the Nick Foles trade (Chicago), have certainly shaken up the league.  However, for us fantasy-folk the real action lies in the RB market, and this year provided some seriously high-profile names.

We are going to rank these RB relocations and explore what we can expect from them in 2020, but I would like to first preface this breakdown with the following anecdotes.

  • They say it’s a “Passing League”, but there were only 5 QBs that surpassed 4,200 yards in 2019. The previous 6 years resulted in 10, 5, 11, 9, 9 and 9.
  • Of the 32 projected starting QBs: 5 will be playing at age 37+, 9 have a season or less of experience under their belt, 5 play on conservative run-first teams, and 2 are running QBs.
  • 15 running backs surpassed the 1,000 yard mark in 2019. The previous 4 years resulted in 9, 9, 12 and 7.
  • Of these 15 running backs, 13 were guys still on their rookie deals. Carlos Hyde and Mark Ingram were the other two.

We’ve got two trends going here.  The level of passing took a bit of a hit in 2019, and I believe we will see even further regression due to age and inexperience.  It seems now more than ever that teams will be relying on the run.  Meanwhile, we know being a running back today isn’t what it used to be.  They are the comets of the sports world.  3-4 years of stardom and then they are lucky to be sharing the ball in a committee.   Therefore, since all 4 of these RBs are entering the second act of their career, and doing so in a new city, I thought it best to focus on their respective play caller’s history in order to map these projections.  Let’s begin.

#4.  Todd Gurley:  The Falcons signed an ex-Ram…high-profile, physical RB who thrives in the passing game.   Sound familiar?  We witnessed this before with Steven Jackson in 2013.  Dirk Koetter was the Offensive Coordinator then and has since reclaimed his role.  Here’s a look at his RB usage over the years:

Year Name

Attempts

Rush Yards

YPC

Rush TDs

2012

Michael Turner 222 800 3.6

10

2013

Stephen Jackson (12 games) 157 543 3.46

6

2014

Stephen Jackson 190 707 3.72

6

2015

Doug Martin 288 1402 4.87

6

2016

Doug Martin (8 games) 144 421 2.9

3

2017

Doug Martin (11 games) 138 406 2.9

3

2018

Peyton Barber 234 871 3.72

5

2019 Devonta Freeman 184 656 3.6

2

Barring the Doug Martin outlier in 2015, we can see a clear trend of ineffectiveness amongst what is a solid group of names.  I think we can expect a similar outlook for Gurley.  On a side note, Jaquizz Rodgers (5’6 205lbs) spent 6 years with Koetter (3 in Atlanta & 3 in Tampa Bay), and had a considerable workload for all of those years.  At 5’9 195 lbs, Ito Smith compares favorably to Rodgers and could assume that role.

Projections:  215 Atts, 796 Rush Yards, 3.7 YPC, 30 Rec, 210 Rec Yards, 8 Total TDs

 

#3.  Jordan Howard:  Aside from the shuffling of veterans and the usual depth-based signings, there really is only one team that was in desperate need of a running back – Miami.  Many will fade the Dolphins backfield in 2020, but I believe there is cause for optimism.  Dolphins’ brass has replaced first year Offensive Coordinator Chad O’Shea with a former Head Coach in Chan Gailey.  Let’s dive in to his past RB usage.

Year Name Rush Attempts Rush Yards YPC Rush TDs

2008

Larry Johnson 193 874 4.5

5

2010

Fred Jackson 222 927 4.2

5

2011

Fred Jackson (10 games) 170 934 5.5

6

2012

C.J. Spiller 207 1244 6.0

6

2015

Chris Ivory 247 1070 4.3

7

2016

Matt Forte 218 813 3.7

7

Aside from Spiller, this list is composed of big, physical backs.  Chris Ivory stands out in particular.  He was the exact same size as Howard at 6’0 224 lbs and had a very similar skill-set.  Interestingly enough, these backs all had smaller, change-of-pace counterparts.  Larry Johnson had Jamal Charles, Fred Jackson had C.J. Spiller, and Chris Ivory and Matt Forte both shared backfields with Bilal Powell.  Expect the Dolphins to draft a dangerous 3rd down option like D’Andre Swift, in an attempt to recreate the Eagles pairing of Howard and Miles Sanders.

Projections:  230 Atts, 966 Rush Yards, 4.2 YPC, 8 Rush TDs, 24 Rec, 190 Rec Yards

 

#2.  Melvin Gordon:  The Royce Freeman experiment is likely over, and the Broncos were in need of a 3rd down receiving back (a role Philip Lindsay is surprisingly lackluster in).  Melvin Gordon delivers on both fronts.  Philip Lindsay appears to be the better runner (Gordon has averaged less than 4.0 yards a carry in 4 of his 5 seasons) and you would think he would continue to see 10-12 carries a game.   Let’s see if Offensive Coordinator’s Pat Shurmur’s past supports that notion.

Year Name Rush Atts. Rush Yards YPC TDs Recs. Rec. Yards

2012

Trent Richardson 267 950 3.6 12 51

367

2013

Lesean McCoy 314 1607 5.1 11 52

539

2014

Lesean McCoy 312 1319 4.2 5 28

155

2015

DeMarco Murray,

Ryan Mathews

193

106

702

539

3.6

5.1

7

7

44

20

322

146

2017

Latavius Murray,

Jerick Mckinnon

216

150

842

570

3.9

3.8

8

5

15

51

103

421

2018

Saquon Barkley 261 1307 5.0 15 91

721

2019

Saquon Barkley 217 1003 4.6 52 438

8

Melvin Gordon is no McCoy or Barkley, but he is a genuine dual-threat RB .  Of the various ways in which this could play out, the Broncos backfield will most likely resemble that of the 2015 Eagles’, with Gordon assuming the DeMarco Murray role.

Projections:  182 Atts, 728 Rush Yards, 4.2 YPC, 48 Rec, 410 Rec Yards, 10 Total TDs

 

#1.  David Johnson:  After a 2,100 yard breakout year, Johnson sat out the entire 2017 season with a dislocated wrist.  He returned in 2018, but experienced a very steep decline in production.  Finally last year, he got off to a slow start, injured his ankle, and wass ultimately benched in favor of Kenyan Drake.  Fantasy owners everywhere have got to believe the Cardinals trade just sealed David Johnson’s fate as the hungriest man in the NFL.  Let’s see what kind of effect Bill O’Brien’s offense can have.

Year Name Rush Atts. Rush Yards YPC TDs Recs. Rec. Yards

2014

Arian Foster 260 1246 4.8 13 38

327

2016

Lamar Miller 268 1073 4.0 6 31

188

2017

Lamar Miller 238 888 3.73 6 36

327

2018

Lamar Miller 210 973 4.63 6 25

163

2019

Carlos Hyde 245 1070 4.37 6 10

42

2014 marked the end of Arian Foster’s illustrious run (28 years-old at the time), as well as the beginning of Bill O’Brien’s NFL Head Coaching career.  All 3 former Texans had a similar stature to Johnson, but the Foster comparison is scary.  At 6’1 227 lbs, Foster was surprisingly gifted in the passing game, totaling 119 receptions for 1221 yards in his first 2 seasons as a starter.  The 6’1 224 lb David Johnson (28 years-old) recorded 116 receptions for 1336 yards in his first 2 seasons as the starter.  I suspect a healthy Johnson follows in Foster’s footsteps for one final glory year in H-town.

Projections:  255 Atts, 1122 Rush Yards, 4.4 YPC, 44 Rec, 420 Rec Yards, 10 Total TDs

More Analysis by Grant Viviano

Running’s Back – Here’s Who Is Good At It

Updated: March 24th 2020

Some of the best business advice I ever received came from my Uncle one day upon discussing the stock market.  He said, “Grant, there are 3 keys to making it in this arena.  You have to be aggressive, you have to be lucky, and you have to be disciplined.”  Now I think most would agree that the first two are a given, but just how does one practice discipline on Wall Street?  After all, isn’t it basically Roulette on your laptop?  The answer is both big and simple.  I’m not kidding…that’s literally the answer.  Big data becomes a simple model/message.  You do the work combing through the annals of history, whether that be the last 3-12 months of the Oil and Gas sector, or say the 2019 NFL Season, and then you convert it into some concise, actionable strategy that gives you an edge over the rest of the field.  Straying from your edge reverts you back to just another gambler.  Staying discipline by ALWAYS implementing your model gets you in the green, or for our purposes, in the dance for your fantasy playoffs.  Let me show you what I mean.

Here are the NFL’s 2019 Top 25 Runners based on a composition of 1st Down Efficiency and Yards Per Carry Metrics.  I emphasize Runners because this list does not factor in the receiving aspects of the Running Back position.  Our focus is on measuring true efficiency & effectiveness; receptions are often a product of game script.  Therefore, players like James White and Austin Ekeler have been left off the list.  Same goes for Christian McCaffrey.  He’s the best in the bizz and we don’t need to poke holes in his game.  There are 13 metrics and they each feature Yards Per Carry and 1st Down %:

Attempts 1-10, Attempts 11-20

1st Half Attempts, 2nd Half Attempts

1st Quarter Attempts, 2nd Quarter Attempts, 3rd Quarter Attempts, 4th Quarter Attempts

Score Margin:  Attempts when the margin is within 0-7, Attempts when the margin is within 8-14, and Attempts when the margin is 15+

Attempts when Ahead, Attempts when Behind

If we aren’t going to log in the countless hours breaking down individual game film to spot specific reads, schemes and personnel, I believe this offers the next best way to get a well-rounded evaluation on how these RBs perform in various situations.  Our benchmarks are 4.5 Yards Per Carry and 21.54% 1st Down Rate (the average conversion rate for these 25 RBs).  We are fading anything sub 3.9 YPC or 18.54% 1st Down Rate.  The numbers in each category are Rankings.  Here are the results…

Overall Name 1st Down YPC
1 Derrick Henry 7 3
2 Chris Carson 2 10
3 Ezekiel Elliott 4 8
4 Mark Ingram 3 6
5 Nick Chubb 14 1
6 Devin Singletary 5 4
7 Dalvin Cook 8 16
8 Marlon Mack 1 16
8 Aaron Jones 9 7
10 Josh Jacobs 13 5
11 Carlos Hyde 11 12
12 Leonard Fournette 15 8
13 Todd Gurley 10 22
14 Melvin Gordon 6 20
15 Saquon Barkley 16 10
16 Ronald Jones 19 18
17 Miles Sanders 24 2
18 Alvin Kamara 21 12
19 Adrian Peterson 20 14
20 Joe Mixon 18 19
21 Sony Michel 12 23
22 Phillip Lindsay 22 15
23 David Montgomery 17 21
24 Devonta Freeman 23 24
25 Le’Veon Bell 25 24

 

Takeaways:

Although the usual suspects round out the Top 5, it doesn’t take us very long to see how applying these metrics can shake up the natural order of things.  Yes that is Devin Singletary chillin’ in the #6 spot.  He missed 4 games and was sharing reps with the Little Fundamental – Frank Gore.  As a result, many of us overlooked a stellar rookie campaign.  Devin was pegged as Maurice Jones Drew 2.0 in some circles, and he backed up those comparisons with a top 5 finish in 1st Downs Conversion Rate.

Nick Chubb is hands down the best runner of the football.  However, due to his team’s poor play-calling, his perceived limitations as a 3rd Down Back, and the Browns embarrassment of riches at the WR position, Chubb only finished 14th in 1st Down Conversion Rate.  Meanwhile, guys like Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon put up pedestrian YPCs, but were leaned on heavily to extend drives.  The correlation between 1st down conversions and touchdowns is very strong.  Gordon has 18 rushing TDs in his last 23 games started, while Gurley has 29 of his last 29.  Nick Chubb….16 rushing TDs in 32 games thus far.

I’ve highlighted Carlos Hyde (245 carries for 1070 yards 6 TDs) and Josh Jacobs (242 carries for 1150 yards 7 TDs) because they essentially had the same production, and I’m not sure many owners are privy to that comparison.  Of course, there is no way of knowing where Hyde will be in 2020 or how he will be used, but the perception that he is a one-trick pony plodder,  while Jacobs is a 1st rounder, All-Purpose Back is CURRENTLY incorrect.  Jalen Richard ate just as much into Jacobs (20 catches) receiving opportunities as Duke Johnson did to Hyde (10 catches).

On the other end of the spectrum, Miles Sanders (179 carries for 818 yards, 509 receiving) and Alvin Kamara (171 carries for 797 yards, 533 receiving) are on the field for 3rd Downs, but usually do so in the role of receiver due to their steady QB play.  Sanders touchdown upside may always be limited.  After Kamara’s descent from 14 to 5 TDs this season, I’m not sure the same can’t be said for him.  All I know is TODAY, Miles Sanders should absolutely be viewed in the same light as Alvin Kamara.  They are the same player to me.

I know I said we wouldn’t let receptions interfere with our metrics, but I just want to clarify something.  Marlon Mack and Dalvin Cook are counterparts using this scale.  Very similar rushing production.  However, Cook caught 40 more passes than Mack.  As long as that trend continues, Cook “should” outpace Mack in fantasy production.  I emphasize should because most folks do not realize Marlon Mack led the league in 1st Down Efficiency.  That’s a stat that correlates extremely well with projected redzone and goal-line attempts.  With Philip Rivers now at the helm, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Mack lead the league in touchdowns this year.

So I gave you all a tiny taste of the data and some important takeaways, but what’s this mysterious model I teased earlier?  Value is the name of the game, same as it’s always been.  You will be hard-pressed to find a 2020 redraft league in which you could acquire Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, Josh Jacobs and Mark Ingram, but I am here to tell you it is possible.  You simply have to target smaller names that play just as big.  Substitute Marlon Mack, Miles Sanders, Carlos Hyde (hypothetical in which he has a similar workload with his new team) and Devin Singletary, and you have got a stable just as good, yet far more realistic.  This is a battle tested fantasy model that I strongly encourage everyone to consider, especially after the Saquon Barkley, Leveon Bell, James Connor, Devonta Freeman and David Johnson debacle we witnessed last year.

More Analysis by Grant Viviano

FA Expectancy: Alshon Jeffery

Updated: July 16th 2017

Throughout the offseason, I will be preparing a collection of articles that will focus on free agents and trade candidates. The articles will discuss the player in question, and what the move does to their value, as well as what their landing spot means for their new and old teams.

Alshon Jeffery – WR, Philadelphia Eagles

Nobody was really surprised when Alshon Jeffery signed with the Philadelphia Eagles after he was linked to signing with either them or the Tennessee Titans before free agency opened. What was a surprise was the length of the contract, a single year at $9.5 million. I expected there to be some built-in insulation against Jeffery’s past injuries concerns but he still deserved at least some long term commitment. This contract suggests that either there was not as big a market for receivers as many would have thought or the offers were too low for Jeffery’s comfort and he settled for a “prove it” deal to try and cash in next offseason.

Fantasy players seem perplexed also in how to value Jeffery fairly. Nobody is questioning his talent but they are concerned with the consistency issues that separate the first tier of receivers from all others.

Seasons Games Played Rec/GM Yds/GM TDs/GM FP/Game
2013-2014 100% 5.4 79.8 0.5 16.6
2015-2016 66% 5.0 77.5 0.3 14.5

Over the last two seasons, Jeffery has played in 21 of a potential 32 games but played for a full two seasons in 2013 and 2014. So he is capable of being available. Even last year his four games missed were because of a failed PED test rather than an injury. But his per game production has dipped ever so slightly. Some may attribute this to games that he played in but was not fully healthy, or the lack of QB play that he has been paired with in Chicago. Either way, he’s in Fresh Prince Country now and he needs to step up if he is going to get paid in 2018.

So what does this mean for Eagles players?

The Eagles brought in not only Jeffery but Torrey Smith to go along with Jordan Matthews, Dorial Green-Beckham, and Nelson Agholor. There are rumors also that the Eagles could take a receiver early in the draft, with John Ross being the common name given.

Carson Wentz definitely will not have the “lack of talent” excuse that many were affording him during his rookie campaign. He threw for over 600 attempts last season (5th in the NFL) which many are not expecting him to repeat. Coach Doug Pederson would like to have a more balanced offense if he can either find a better back in the draft or get more out of Ryan Mathews. Still with this boost to the talent around him his efficiency (62.4% completion rate) and touchdowns (16) should increase. He will be a solid bye week and matchup-based starter in 1QB leagues and a great second option in 2QB (especially on his rookie deal).

The receiving core will be greater than the sum of its parts, with inconsistency being a fantasy nightmare some weeks. Likely Jeffery is used as the primary receiver both on the outside and in the end zone which should hopefully boost his touchdown totals. Those who have or bought into Jordan Matthews should finally see him move to the slot where he should have always been playing. The lack of talent around him the past two seasons forced him to have to be the primary outside receiver. Target volume and yards after the catch will be his key to success. These two should have between 100 and 130 targets along with Zach Ertz who surprisingly had 106 targets last season. He will be a nice low-end TE1 option in most leagues.

Outside of Matthews and Jeffery, it will be hard for another receiver to carve out a consistent fantasy role on a weekly basis. If you are looking for a cheap option that could get an increased role should Jeffery get injured Green-Beckham would fill his role as the big X receiver. Please, just drop Nelson Agholor already. He’s a spot on your roster and dollars in your pocket that could be spent elsewhere.

Boo! Nelson Agholor

So what is Jeffery’s value?

Before his signing with the Eagles, I moved Jeffery for the 1.07 in the upcoming draft. While that was lower than what I thought I could get from him I was glad to get out from his remaining 2 year/$60M deal. That owner subsequently flipped Jeffery and the 2.06 for Isaiah Crowell, Jeremy Maclin, and a 2018 2nd. Based on these moves and conversation about acquiring costs in other leagues Jeffery seems to be a hold for now. The community is split on whether Jeffery still belongs in that WR1 conversation and his future is still technically unknown as he could be on the move again next season. It is unlikely that owners would be willing to part with more than a late 1st for him. If you want to risk it he could pay dividends to a contender that needs another good receiver.

So what does it mean for Bears Players?

We haven’t talked much about the Bears yet but mostly because the options are limited. Cameron Meredith is a hot take that many fantasy enthusiasts have been propping up as a great 2017 sleeper receiver. Even Markus Wheaton has seen a modest uptick in his ADP by coming over. The Bears could also take another high receiver in the draft but they will likely want to see what they can get out of Kevin White for one more season before hitting the reset button on the position again.  The problem is that none of these players command double coverage which could also hurt Jordan Howard’s value with negative game script and stacked boxes. It will mostly come down to what Mike Glennon can and can’t do in the offense. His ball velocity is one of the weakest in the league and he was a typical game manager during his starts early in his career. One of these receivers will be at least a decent option for deep starter leagues and heavy bye weeks but guessing who that is in April is difficult. Don’t get caught up in a bidding war trying to acquire either Meredith or Wheaton’s services before we learn more in training camp.

Make sure to continue to read more Free Agency Expectancy articles throughout the offseason to be prepared for your summer Auctions. Have a player that you want me to evaluate? Send me a message on Twitter @naandrews19.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews