Early 2018 RSO Contracts: QBs

Updated: July 4th 2018

My annual look at early RSO auction values begins at the quarterback position in 2018.  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 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 Quarterback Contracts

Paying up (QB1-10)

Aaron Rodgers once again comes in as the most expensive quarterback.  The Packers lack any real speed threat at wide receiver which could hurt his efficiency somewhat but he is the best pure passer in the business.  Wilson seems an easy choice between him and Watson or Wentz at their similar contracts.  I detailed the potential pitfalls for Watson and Wentz coming after their super seasons in 2017.  No one should be paying for Luck at his QB7 price point given his substantial injury risk.  Newton and Brady provide similar upside at comparable cost without the risk.  The top-10 finishes with an interesting group of quarterbacks.  Cousins finished as a QB1 each of the last three seasons and now moves to a Minnesota team this year with arguably better receiving weapons.  The Vikings feature a far superior defense and better running game which might limit Cousins passing volume.  We only have seven starts over the last two seasons to evaluate Garoppolo from but that sample is truly extraordinary.   He completed 68% of his passes, averaged over 280 passing yards per game, and owns a monstrous 8.7 yards per attempt over that span on his way to a 7-0 record without a single poor start.  His quick release and consistent down-to-down play are easily evident on tape and only confirm the statistics.  Brees produced his worst fantasy season in recent memory thanks largely to a massive drop-off in passing attempts.  While we likely are through with the upper-600 yearly pass attempts which were previously routine, look for a bump in yardage and touchdowns this season.

The Value Tier (QB11-20)

This tier of players gives us both some nice reliable options and younger quarterbacks with upside but lots of question marks.  The tier is bookended by two second year pros.  Mahomes possesses an arsenal of quality receiving weapons in KC and a cannon for an arm with good athleticism. Will Reid be able to reign in his poor decision making and inconsistent accuracy?   Trubisky enters his sophomore year with a year of experience under his belt and new head coach Matt Nagy from the Reid coaching line.  Chicago undoubtedly upgraded the receiving options but one-year wonder Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, and rookie Anthony Miller are largely unproven.   Stafford represents a safe floor with no less than 4,200 passing yards in each of the last seven seasons.  Prescott looked like a rising young star his first year and a half with a super offensive line and run game.  He looked like a backup-level quarterback the second half of last season who completely fell apart when the offensive line took an injury-hit and Elliott missed time.  Goff went from one of the worst rookie seasons ever to one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league under Sean McVay.  Mariota and Winston enter the the final year of their rookie deals showing flashes of starting-level talent but neither living up to their lofty draft status so far.  Winston starts the year with a three-game suspension and will try to reign in his mistake-prone tendencies.  Mariota gets a new head coach but questions remain whether he is simply a quality game-manager.  Roethlisberger and Ryan give us good value at the 16th and 17th spot.  The Steeler quarterback has received a physical beating over the years but is still a quality fantasy and real-life producer at the position when on the field.  Ryan is a good bounce-back candidate who should see big boosts in yardage and touchdowns.  Carr has been one of the least efficient starters in the league over his four years in the NFL.  His contract could be cut following 2018 if things go poorly in the first year of the Gruden regime.

Going Cheap (QB21+)

Our rookie quarterbacks start coming off the board now (Note there was a limited sample of auctions with rookies as most went in rookie drafts).  Rosen leads the way soon followed by Mayfield, Jackson, and Darnold while Allen is an afterthought near the bottom of our top-40 list.  Jackson is a quality stash on your roster.  He has, by far, the most work to do to become an NFL-ready quarterback but is capable of 1,000 yard rushing seasons which translates to massive fantasy upside.  Allen probably ends up on a lot of my rosters at his next-to nothing cost.  Quarterbacks drafted that high almost always make it through their rookie contracts as starters, even bad ones (see Blake Bortles), and his athleticism with unworldly arm strength give him underrated fantasy possibilities.  Smith just posted his best season as a pro at the age of 33 and moves to pass-friendly Washington where Kirk Cousins posted multiple QB1 seasons.  The system and lots of receiving talent make a Rich Gannon-type late career finish possible.  No quarterback provides more value than Rivers if you are not spending big at the position.  He finished 8th or better in passing yards each of the last five seasons with four top-5 finishes and 12th or better in touchdowns with three top-5 finishes.  Taylor, Bradford, Flacco, and McCown/Bridgewater are wild cards who all have 1st round rookie picks drafted by their teams behind them.  The amount of games played this season by each largely depends on team circumstances where competitive teams probably keep the veteran in.  Injury concerns also follow Bradford.  Bortles, Manning, Tannehill, and Dalton all surprisingly enter the year with no significant competition, either through the draft or free agency, to replace them.   They each should be safe for another season.  You will not feel particularly good riding anyone of them each week but some combination of the four could make for an intriguing super-low cost weekly matchup-based unit for your team with all pricing in QB30+ territory.

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

FA Expectancy – Jimmy Graham

Updated: July 4th 2018

Our Free Agent (FA) Expectancy series is back! 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.

Jimmy Graham – TE – Green Bay Packers

When Jimmy Graham signed with the Packers in March there was plenty of excitement for owners that held his services. He was moving to an offense that features one of the best quarterbacks ever, Aaron Rodgers, and with the departure of Jordy Nelson, ARod would be looking for a new favorite red zone target. Davante Adams has emerged as a talented receiver but after Randall Cobb, who hasn’t done much since his breakout 2014 campaign, there are not many names that would warrant consideration for consistent targets. This must be a perfect match for Jimmy Graham to reclaim his TE1 title; or is it?

Since 2009 the Green Bay tight end has had a significantly reduced role in terms of target share and usage. The last two years Green Bay TEs have shrunk down to 15.8% and 10% of total targets and 8.2% and 6.2% for the team’s TE1 individual target share. The ceiling at this point may be similar to Richard Rodgers’ 2015 season where despite tight ends only being targets 18%, Rodgers managed to hold a 14.8% individual target share with 85 targets. This would have been good for a low-end TE1 target share in fantasy last season.

Many would be quick to point out that Graham is a far superior talent to Richard Rodgers and should, therefore, be able to outproduce his greatest statistics. Well, if we look back to the earlier career of Aaron Rodgers when he had the talented Jermichael Finley at tight end the stats are surprisingly not much different. In 2011 and 2012 Finley had 92 targets and 87 targets for a team target share of 16.7% and 15.6% respectively. This was also before every NFL team was running more 11 personnel (3WR, 1TE, 1RB) than any other type of formation so if a blocking TE is needed for running plays don’t expect to see Graham on the field. If Green Bay is creative with their schemes, they should find ways to use Graham as the third receiver and instead have Mercedes Lewis, who was also acquired, be the more traditional TE in 11 personnel formation. We will see though.

All in all, it is still likely that Graham will be a strong play at the weak tight end slot in fantasy. It should not be expected, however, that he would return anywhere close to his wide receiver level of production that he had with Drew Brees in New Orleans like some seem to think. If he is available in your auction this year look for a two year deal between $7-10MM annually. This way if he is productive in Green Bay you have him at about the highest TE Franchise Tag anyways without having to use your tag this season. If he has an expiring contract this year I would only be looking to resign him if either his contract is another one year deal or his annual value is low enough that if he doesn’t work out/retires in 2019 and beyond his cap space would not be a huge detriment. Without know his statistics through the first four weeks of this season I would suggest in the range of either $8MM/1year or $18MM/3year as a respectable contract for resigning Graham this season.

Seattle Seahawks Identity Problem

Fans of football have often reflected on the Seahawks trading for Jimmy Graham in 2015 as a knee-jerk reaction to the famed interception that cost them a second consecutive the season prior. The logic behind it sort of makes sense. If they had a big receiver that could they could trust in the end zone to “climb the ladder” for a jump ball instead of trying to throw inside to a smaller receiver they would have been champions twice over. They decided to trade away a key offensive line piece, center Max Unger, to try and solve this issue but in return ended up losing their team identity of being aggressive with their run game and defense. They haven’t looked the same since that Super Bowl 49 loss.

With Graham now gone and most of their defensive superstars either gone or aging it will be interesting to see how the Seahawks view their best strategy to win moving forward. They brought in Brandon Marshall to see if he still has some game left in him but at 34 and coming off multiple lower body surgeries it’s not even a guarantee that he makes the roster let alone has any fantasy value. The team drafted rookie running back Rashaad Penny in the first round which was a surprising move to many. This may indicate that the team wants to return to a game-controlling, run-first offense. Without much improvement on the offensive line, however, this may be difficult to accomplish so expectations for Penny should be kept at an RB3-4 max until we see how he will be utilized in both the passing game and carries per game. Ultimately, it comes down to how effective Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin can be and those three players (Wilson, Baldwin, and Penny) are the only players to expect game-to-game consistency in fantasy this season. Tyler Lockett does have upside but he hasn’t looked as explosive since his leg injury in 2016. He will have great games but be a ghost for more than one would feel comfortable as their third or fourth option at receiver.

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? Leave me a message on Twitter @NickAndrews_RSO.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews

The Watch List: 2018 Mountain West Preview

Updated: June 27th 2018

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players, storylines and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  Check back throughout the Summer for previews on each conference and my preseason predictions.  During the regular season, The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Favorite:  Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State.  Rypien is an enigma.  Heading into 2017 I said that Rypien’s potential draft stock would be “be buoyed by the name cachet of Boise State and some gaudy numbers.”  Things didn’t quite work out for Rypien in 2017 (in fact, he lost snaps to backup Montell Cozart) but I feel the same now as I did then.  Rypien will have a number of huge games passing for a team that is a national brand.  If he can do it over thirteen games, he’d be as likely as anybody in the Group of 5 to get a Heisman vote.
  • Darkhorse Heisman Candidate:  Armani Rogers, QB, UNLV.  Seven of the last eight Heisman awards were won by quarterbacks.  Those seven averaged 921 rushing yards and 12 rushing TDs in their Heisman winning seasons.  The only passer in the Mountain West capable of sustaining that rushing attack over a full season is Rogers.  The Rebels kickoff the season with a showcase game at USC which would be a great chance for Rogers to become part of the national conversation.
  • Offensive Player of the Year:  Marcus McMaryion, QB, Fresno State.  I was between Rogers and McMaryion for this pick.  I figured I would go with the more experienced McMaryion who I believe is playing on a team with 10-2 potential.  McMaryion threw for 2,726 yards and 14 TDs while adding 300 rushing yards and four more scores on the ground.  I expect his numbers to increase in 2018 since he’ll be the starter from Day One.
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  Andrew Wingard, S, Wyoming.  Wingard finished 5th in the conference in tackles last season (114) and tied for the most interceptions (5).  He also added 8 tackles for loss, a sack, two forced fumbles and a recovery.  Assuming he avoids injury, Wingard could hit 500 career tackles.  He’ll be on the shortlist of top safety prospects heading into the 2019 NFL Draft season.
  • Newcomer of the Year:  KJ Carta-Samuels, QB, Colorado State.  By the time you read this preview, Carta-Samuels will have arrived on campus as a graduate transfer but he will have missed Spring practices.  Despite that, he’s likely the favorite to take over for Nick Stevens.  Carta-Samuels attempted just 47 passes in his career as a Washington Husky.  He was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school who earned a high score from 247Sports.  Interestingly, he turned down an offer from Boise State to join Washington so the October 19th matchup between them and Colorado State could be interesting.   (Honorable Mention: Khalil Shakir, WR, Boise State.  This kid’s Hudl.com highlights really impressed me.  If he earns playing time he could rack up all-purpose yardage as a receiver, runner and returner.)
  • Underclassman to Watch:  Armani Rogers, QB, UNLV.  Rogers, a quarterback, is the conference’s third leading returning rusher from 2017 with 780 yards and 8 TDs.  Rogers averaged less than 19 passes per game and was not particularly efficient (122.9 rating) or accurate (52.4% completion percentage) when he did throw the ball.  Despite some of the passing struggles, I am excited to watch Rogers this season.  I sampled some highlights of his and he appears to have a number of good tools, including: height, long speed, toughness and a strong arm.
  • Best QB-WR Tandem:  Marcus McMaryion and KeeSean Johnson, Fresno State.  McMaryion was a rare graduate transfer with two years of eligibility when he joined the Bulldogs in 2017 from Oregon State.  By the end of September he had earned the starting role and WR KeeSean Johnson was the immediate benefactor.  In McMaryion’s first start, against Nevada, Johnson finished with a 7-104-3 line.
  • Best RB Corps: UNLV.  The Rebs have an impressive running game on tap for 2018.  Senior RB Lexington Thomas ran 211 times for 1,336 and 17 TDs, taking a huge step forward after sophomore Charles Williams went down.  Williams is returning from that ankle injury that cost him all but one game in 2017.  As a freshman in 2016 he totaled 141-763-3 and was the team’s leading rusher ahead of Thomas.  Williams is a little bit bigger but Thomas has more experience as a pass catcher.  It’ll probably be a 1A and 1B situation.  Also returning is senior RB Xzaviar Campbell (72-336-1) who gets my vote for best name in the conference.  Let’s not forget that QB Armani Rogers is a big part of the run game as well.
  • Coach on the Hottest Seat:  Tony Sanchez, UNLV.  It was surprisingly difficult to pick a coach to single out in this spot.  The others I considered are either too new or too established at their position to come down on them for a bad season (i.e. Brent Brennan from San Jose State or Bob Davie from New Mexico).  Sanchez has a career record of 12-24 at UNLV but has beaten the win projection each season according to CoachingTreeHotseat.com.  Still, I think it would be tough to hold onto the coach through another losing season if the Rebels don’t get to a bowl in season four when Sanchez is playing with his own recruits now.

Teams to Watch

 UNLV (5-7 in 2017)

After doing a bunch of research on the Rebels for this preview, I’m confident that they will be bowl eligible in 2018.  They have a fourth year coach in Tony Sanchez who was increased the team’s win total year-over-year (albeit by just one each season).  The team has a solid offense that will be led by dual-threat QB Armani Rogers and they are my pick for the conference’s best rushing corps.  If Lexington Thomas can keep up last year’s rushing pace while Charles Williams returns from injury, they will be poised to hold onto the ball and win time of possession.  Keeping the defense off the field will be key because it ranked 114th in the FBS in yards per game allowed (458.7).  UNLV has played in just two bowls over the last two plus decades so it’ll be a big deal if they can accomplish the feat in 2018.

 Fresno State (10-4 in 2017)

There’s not much room for the Bulldogs to improve in 2018 but they still earn a spot on my “Teams to Watch” list because of the duo of QB Marcus McMaryion and WR KeeSean Johnson.  I predict that they will lead the conference in passing in 2018 and that Johnson will become a vogue NFL Draft sleeper.  Fresno had the conference’s second best defense in terms of both points and yards allowed per game and they return the entire back seven which will help overcome inexperience up front.  They have two non-conference home games against Idaho and Toledo where Fresno State should be favored; the other two non-conference games are away at UCLA and Minnesota which are obviously more difficult but not unwinnable.  It’s not impossible for Fresno to win three of those four and end the regular season at 10-2 on the way to the MWC Championship game.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Ty Gangi, QB, Nevada:  My favorite play from the Madden video game series, circa 2010, was the “Quick Kick” play that was in the Steelers playbook.  The quarterback would receive the shotgun snap and then punt it over the heads of the safeties.  It was such a fun play and was oddly successful.  Why do I bring that up when previewing Nevada’s quarterback?  When researching Gangi, I realized he punted the ball six times last year for a 29.0 yard average.  In all seriousness, Gangi improved his rate stats from 2016 to 2017 and has two of the conference’s leading receivers returning.  If Nevada is to rebound from a disappointing 3-9 campaign, it’ll come down to Gangi.
  • Juwan Washington, RB, San Diego State:  The Aztecs seem to be Running Back University lately with back-to-back NCAA leading rushers (Donnell Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny).  I don’t have the same expectation for the diminutive (5070) Juwan Washington but he’s certainly going to put up stats.  He finished with 759 yards and 7 TDs in 2017 and added 2 kick return scores.  Washington is fast.  There are limited college highlights of his available online so I watched some high school clips.  The frame rate can’t keep up with his legs.  In the few college highlights I was able to watch, I saw a number of successful goal line carries which surprised me.  I’ll be watching to see if Washington can play with enough physicality to overcome the inevitable questions his size will bring.
  • Olabisi Johnson, WR, Colorado State:  Johnson is a former high school track star with 71 career receptions, including a career high of 41 as a junior last season.  He averages 17.2 yards per reception, for a career total of 1,223 yards, and has 7 TDs.  The Rams are losing their top passer, rusher and receiver heading into 2018 so there is a lot of production to be had if Johnson can step up.  Colorado State’s last two dominant receivers (Michael Gallup and Rashard Higgins) were both good enough to earn mid-round NFL Draft picks so a payday could be in Johnson’s future as well.
  • Andrew Wingard, S, Wyoming:  The aforementioned Wingard is a box score dream.  In three years as a starter he has: 367 total tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 8 INTs, 7 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery and 5 forced fumbles.  At 6000/209, he may be a little undersized to earn a high draft grade for the NFL (nobody 6000 or less was drafted higher than the 4th round in 2018).  I watched Wingard’s 2017 film against Iowa.  He frequently lines up close to the line as a box safety and rarely drops deep into coverage.  I envision him earning a situational rover-safety role in the NFL where he would have the freedom to play close to the line of scrimmage.

Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State

I mentioned above that Rypien had a strange 2017 and that he’ll be looking to prove he is the BMOC in 2018.  Rypien lost snaps in each game to grad transfer QB Montell Cozart.  Cozart ended the year with 97 pass attempts and 86 rush attempts so it was a significant amount of time that Rypien ceded to his backup.  He has average size at 6020/210 but lacks speed despite running a zone read offense at Boise (I only saw him take one designated run in the two games I watched).  Rypien has above average short and medium accuracy; he’s also accurate while on the run, specifically rolling to his right.  When it comes to the deep ball, Rypien is no different than most college passers in that he struggles to hit his receivers with regularity.  He did make a number of 40-50 yard throws look effortless.  Those throws are made easier when Rypien relies on positive mechanics but he too often gets lazy.  I noted a number of throws where he was off-balance, throwing without his feet set, falling away, etc.  There were multiple “fade aways,” as I called them in my notes, that led to interceptions at the goal line because he lacked the requisite touch.  While Rypien may not have much speed, he does move well in the pocket; he often avoids the rush by shuffling to and fro while keeping his eyes downfield.  Keeping those eyes downfield may be an issue though because he takes frequent sacks.  What was most concerning in the pocket was his lack of ability to feel blindside pressure.  There was one play in each of the two games I watched where he simply turned his back to the rush from the RE and took a hit square in the spine.  If you do that against NFL pass rushers you are not going to be long for the starting role.  Rypien is going to come out as a four-year starter with a lot of experience so even if he has some flaws, he’ll get a late round NFL Draft look.  Right now I’m thinking he’s more of a backup with upside rather than a potential starter.  (Film watched: Oregon 2017, Virginia 2017)

Lexington Thomas, RB, UNLV

Thomas is an undersized back who made the most of the opportunity he earned when Charles Williams went down with an injury.  He’s listed at 5090 and just 170lbs but he does look and play bigger than that weight.  I’d expect him to come in at closer to 180-185 this season.  Thomas racked up 17 TDs and 1,336 yards last season and averaged over 6.0 yards per carry.  I watched his Ohio State and New Mexico films.  I figured those would give me a feel for Thomas at his best and his worst and I think that was about right.  He’s often the victim of poor offensive line play, getting contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage.  Luckily, Thomas displays good indirect contact balance so he is often able to bounce off and maintain his run.  He frequently tries to spin out of tackles, further showing his balance, and has a solid stiff arm.  You would not expect Thomas to be great in pass protection given his size but he is above average at worst.  He does not have the strength to hold off most defenders but he can still be effective, especially when cut blocking.  Thomas’ best trait may be his breakaway speed and acceleration.  He’s probably in the 4.45 range and he uses intelligent angles to make safeties miss in the open field and seem even faster.  Thomas has excellent ball security (zero fumbles on 335 carries over the last two years!).  Unfortunately I picked two games to watch in which he did not catch a pass and ran few routes so I cannot evaluate that part of his game.  Thomas will likely need to share the load with the returning Williams which may hurt his NFL Draft chances.  If he improves as a pass catcher (just 8 receptions in 2017) and continues to be a serviceable blocker he would be a viable late rounder or priority UDFA.  (Film watched: Ohio State 2017, New Mexico 2017)

KeeSean Johnson, WR, Fresno State

To answer your question… no, there is no relation between KeeSean Johnson and Keyshawn Johnson.  KeeSean is listed at 6020/202 and plays bigger than that height.  His highlights from 2016 and 2017 feature frequent contested catches in the air.  He shows strong hands in those situations so I wish he always used those hands to catch the ball.  Oftentimes, Johnson relies on body catches when he’s open or in the middle of the field.  I did notice inconsistent hand placement on a few of his jump ball catches.  Johnson has the ability it’s just a matter of getting the proper technique down so I’m not detracting anything from him at this point.  His speed should test in the 4.55 range which is fast enough but does not make him a burner.  His run after catch numbers are limited, again mostly because of bad habits rather than ability.  On multiple plays, Johnson was able to make a great diving play for the end zone but on others he lazily steps out of bounds to avoid contact.  My question of his mindset was reinforced when I saw him get a penalty for a throat-slashing gesture directed at a defending player.  I’m not saying he’s a bad guy, I just think he needs to be motivated to do what’s best for the team on every play.  There was no full game package of Johnson available online so I’ll need some further study to evaluate his route running, release and blocking.  Johnson will greatly benefit from another season with McMaryion.  His stat line from 2017 was 77-1,013-8; I don’t think 1,300 yards and 12 TDs is out of the question.  I have a feeling he will go from “off the radar” to “sleeper” in a few months time.  (Film watched: 2016 & 2017 highlight packages)

Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  For top prospects I may add a third game, while for long shots I might only devote the time for one. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, ndtscouting.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

Q&A with Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State

Updated: June 13th 2018

I’m excited to bring you another interview with a 2019 NFL Draft prospect. Last week, we had Stetson TE Donald Parham. This week we are featuring Appalachian State RB Jalin Moore. I most recently wrote about Moore in my 2018 Sun Belt preview. In that piece, I picked Moore as my favorite to be the Sun Belt’s Offensive Player of the Year. He was draft eligible in 2018 so I covered him multiple times last season too. Moore is listed at about 210lbs and is an excellent pass blocker who runs with power. I hope to see Moore continue to get more involved as a pass catcher in 2018 which would really help increase his NFL Draft stock. Before we get to my Q&A with Jalin, let me show you my favorite play of his that I saw while studying some of his film. In this 31 yard touchdown run you see a bit of everything: his balance to avoid being tripped up, his speed to gain separation and his strong stiff arm.

Q: What’s the most memorable football game you ever played? Why does that one stick out?

A: The Idaho game my freshman year in 2015. It was a game where I got the opportunity I had been waiting for since I got here. I had been telling myself, with everybody on the team when you get to college, you don’t get too many chances, so I had in my head that this was my chance. I tried to make the most of the opportunity. (Moore certainly made the most his that opportunity; he ran 27 times for 244 yards in a 47-20 romp.)

Q: When you were growing up whose posters were on your wall?

A: Growing up, I was so good at basketball as a kid, everybody thought I was going to the NBA, so I had Michael Jordan, Shaq and Kobe, Tracy McGrady. I had all the jerseys, too. I was a real basketball fan growing up, and it’s funny now, I don’t even like playing for fun too much.

Q: If you could play one other position in college, offense or defense, what would it be? Why?

A: I’d probably say cornerback. Corners, they get to wear anything … long sleeves, towels. They’re not really in the trenches a lot, but they get to look good while they’re doing everything. They’re not bumping and grinding. They’re on the outskirts, so if I could play another position, it’d probably be corner.

Q: Do you have a player or team you particularly enjoy playing against? Maybe it’s a former teammate or a hated rival?

A: I’ve got to say Georgia Southern. Whether it’s Duke and Carolina and all the other teams, it’s up there with all the big rivalries in North Carolina. That’s Hate Week with trash talking and everybody saying everything to each other, and anything goes that week.

Q: Do you have any pregame rituals?

A: On the way back from the Mountaineer Walk, you meet with the fans, I’ll put my headphones back on when you get on the field just to get my mind right. I just try to zone out of everything and think about everything but the game. I can’t think about the game for too long. If I think about the game three hours before the game, by the time it gets there, I’d be drained out. I try to relax and get my mind right.

Q: What’s your favorite play that you’re always hoping gets called? Why is that your favorite?

A: Outside zone. That’s a play that’ll wear defenses down. You might get it the first four times, but you run it 30, 40 times, you get tired of running side to side. That’s when we’re going to chop you down and cut it straight up.

Q: Do you have any specific personal goals for the 2018 season?

A: I’ve got a few, but my No. 1 personal goal is to be the leader that this team needs me to be. We’ve got talent, but it takes way more than that.

Q: Is there a current NFL player that you model your game after?

A: I don’t really my model my game after him, but I feel like we have some of the same qualities, and he’s a young guy — Alvin Kamara. I feel like we have similar footwork, quick on the speed and shifty. Soft hands out of the backfield, I feel like I showed last year that I can catch the ball out of the backfield, too. As I look at his film, I feel like I see some of the same things.

Q: If fans want to follow you on social media, where can they find you?

A: On Twitter, it’s @itz__boobie.

(The above Q&A was lightly edited for formatting and clarification. Answers were received on June 8, 2018 via e-mail.)

Check back throughout the offseason as we showcase more 2019 NFL Draft Prospects. If there is somebody you would like to see us feature, please reach out to me on Twitter @robertfcowper.

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey. He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

Run Area Effects on Rushing Efficiency

Updated: June 13th 2018

One topic rarely covered by fantasy writers is the run area scheme of NFL offenses and its effects on rushing efficiency.  By run area, I simply mean where teams tend to run the ball along the offensive formation.  Do teams utilize outside runs heavily or rely on a more “between the tackles” philosophy and does the scheme affect expected rushing efficiency?  I examine NFL play-by-play data from 2014 to 2017 compiled at NFL savant to help answer the question.

Run Area Scheme

NFL teams, on average, maintain a fairly uniform run distribution across the formation as can be seen from Figure 1 below with a slight tilt toward plays in the middle of the offensive line.  Runs around the end make up a little over 23 percent of all rushes where center gap runs account for just under 27 percent.  While rushing distribution is somewhat uniform across the NFL, Table 1 details plenty of variation between NFL teams.  For example, the average run rate at the guard gap is around 25 percent in the NFL but some teams ran almost 50 percent of their plays toward the guard gap and others as little as 9 percent last season.


Figure 1.  NFL Rushing Distribution

Table 1.  Maximum and Minimum NFL Team Run Area Rates, 2017

The distribution of NFL runs may be tilted toward the interior of offensive lines but rushing efficiency clearly gains more toward the exterior.  Figure 2 displays a clear increase in yards per carry as rushes move from the center to the end.  This trend holds steady each year of the data set producing a reliable relationship.  NFL teams gain almost a full yard per carry more on end runs when compared to rushing at the center gap.  A couple of possible explanations quickly come to mind when looking at the rushing efficiency leaps as we move farther from the middle of formations.  First, the defender density (number of defenders per yard of field width) typically decreases as we move farther from the center.  This produces larger rushing lanes and correspondingly more opportunities for big plays as we move away from the middle of the formation.  Second, typically less stout run defenders occupy more of the area as we move to the outside of the formation.  Pulling offensive lineman are able to match up against outside linebackers and defensive backs instead of the hulking defensive tackles on the interior.

Figure 2. NFL Rushing Efficiency

Why then do teams not use exterior run schemes more often given the big efficiency differences?  Figure 3 helps provide an answer.  The expected increased yardage of outside rushing comes at a cost.  End runs result in almost double the rate of negative runs when compared to runs up the middle.  The benefits of those wider rush lanes can work in the opposite direction.  Defenders on the exterior deal with less linemen and have increased open areas to defeat blockers allowing more plays in the backfield.  Some coaching staffs display risk averse tendencies (possibly too much) not wanting to put their offenses in increased poor situations which result from using more end runs.  There are also other situational factors that dictate the use of more center runs.  Center runs have better odds of gaining short positive yardage which make them better bets for short yardage plays (think 3rd down and a yard to go) to extend drives.

Figure 3.  NFL Rushing Distribution, End vs. Center Runs

Best and Worst Team Situations for Rushing Efficiency

Taking into account the above data we can get a real feel for why some teams struggle with efficiently running the football.  I used each team’s directional running distribution and offensive line run blocking rankings (utilizing a composite of PFF offensive lineman run blocking grades) to model the expected yards per carry and compared that to actual rushing efficiency.   The benefit of this simple model is that it gives us a measure of team expected rushing efficiency independent of the running back play.  Table 2 gives us a look at some of the best and worst team situations in the NFL from 2017 for running back efficiency.


Table 2.  2017’s Best and Worst Situations for Rushing Efficiency

None of the top or bottom rushing situations should really shock anyone.   The top-5 situations all possessed top-6 offensive lines and all but Dallas ran heavy edge schemes.   Chicago might surprise some near the top.  It should not.  The Bears have one of the most underrated run-blocking units in the league and, despite running back Jordan Howard’s reputation as a between the tackles grinder, actually utilize one of the most running back-friendly schemes with the lowest rate of center runs and the second highest percentage of end runs.  The bottom-5, conversely, are generally characterized by bad run blocking units with running schemes emphasizing up-the-middle concepts and/or lack of perimeter runs.  Houston should surprise no one at the bottom of this list.  The offensive line does not contain a single player one would consider starting-NFL caliber and the Texans ran the lowest rate of those high-leverage end runs in the league.

Effects on Yards Before Contact

You may have read one of the many fantasy articles out there which try to employ yards before contact (YBC) as a measure of an offensive line’s effectiveness.  Be very careful with this interpretation.  While an offensive line certainly affects YBC, the data indicates run area scheme also has a substantial impact.  As we examined before, end runs result in a far higher rate of negative runs and correspondingly more hits in the backfield.  This means YBC numbers can diminish for teams with heavy end run schemes, even those with very good offensive lines.  Contrarily, teams which use a heavy interior run scheme may see YBC boosted beyond what the offensive line skill may dictate.

Keep Rushing Efficiency in Proper Context for RSO Leagues

Consider a running back receiving 250 carries (that would have been the 9th most from 2017) who gains an extra 0.5 yards per carry.  That translates to an extra 125 yards and 12.5 fantasy points in most leagues or less than a single fantasy point per game.  This translates to only a couple of extra touchdowns in a season.  Remember that variations in rushing efficiency plays a relatively minor role in running back scoring when compared to the impact volume and touchdown volatility have.

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

FA Expectancy – Kirk Cousins

Updated: June 8th 2018

Our Free Agent (FA) Expectancy series is back! 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.

Kirk Cousins – QB – Minnesota Vikings

It is still shocking almost three months later that Washington refused to try and win back Kirk Cousins and instead traded for an older and some would call inferior quarterback in Alex Smith. This allowed Cousins to sign freely with the Minnesota Vikings after being courted by several other quarterback-needy teams. The 2017 Vikings were a team that despite the impressive play of Case Keenum, people were suggesting they were a QB away from being a Super Bowl favorite. Because of this, the Vikings were willing to pull out all the stops to acquire Cousins’ services. His fully guaranteed 3-year contract is an important feature for RSO owners to consider in their auctions and suggests that he will be one of the top targets in Superflex leagues. So is Kirk Cousins being overvalued or does his resume warrant the rise that he has experienced this offseason?

Since becoming the full-time starter for Washington in 2015, Kirk Cousins has finished as QB8, QB5, and QB6 while averaging 290 standard QB-scoring fantasy points. He also averaged 567 pass attempts over the past three seasons. Meanwhile, Minnesota has averaged 523 pass attempts over the same time and has had QB finishes of QB23, QB23, and QB14 respectively. This should not be a surprise since drafting Adrian Peterson in 2008 the Vikings have been one of the most run-oriented teams. To be fair their QB room has been lacking in talent save for a quick drive-by of Brett Favre in his 40’s. Either way, they were second in the league last season with over 500 rushing attempts which makes it likely that bringing in Cousins should be a sign of the Vikings looking to improve their passing abilities rather than change their offense to a pass-heavy scheme.

Cousins is not Sam Bradford or Case Keenum. His gunslinger mentality means that he is unlikely to be having 70 percent completion seasons. However, for most leagues, all we care about in fantasy is touchdowns and yards. With Cousins’ aggressiveness, along with the receiving talent around him, there is a greater likelihood of big plays in Minnesota looking ahead to 2018.

Effecting the Offense

The Vikings offense uses only a handful of receiving options in the passing game which makes knowing who to target in fantasy much easier. Between Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph, and Jerick McKinnon these four receivers earned over 73 percent of the targets and 88 percent of touchdowns in 2017. Expecting things to stay the status quo these four receivers (swapping Dalvin Cook for McKinnon) should yield a similar collective target share in 2018. It will also be likely that Thielen will remain the target leader as Cousins’ previous slot receiver, Jamison Crowder, was his highest targeted option in Washington last season. Therefore, while Diggs receives a lot of the credit for being the name brand choice of Viking WRs if you can acquire Thielen for a reasonable fee he may once again still be an undervalued WR in fantasy.

The other Viking that should be a must acquire is Dalvin Cook. As previously mentioned Jerick McKinnon had almost 70 targets last season but split carries with Latavius Murray after Cook was injured. Cook averaged 4 targets per game while also averaging 18.5 carries which shows that the coaching staff was ready to roll with him right away as their main backfield option. With McKinnon gone the Vikings do not have a consistent receiving back outside of Cook which should only increase his role in the passing game moving forward. Cook’s recovery throughout the offseason will be one to monitor but if he is healthy he has the potential to be a top 5 running back in PPR this season.

Changes in the Capital

It is crazy to realize that Washington is only two years removed from having multiple 1,000-yard receivers (Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson) and a quarterback who almost threw for 5,000 yards. Now, none of these three players are on the team. I guess that’s the ever-changing landscape of the NFL. As previously mentioned Washington did not do any favors in trying to retain Kirk Cousins’ services and as a final one-finger salute they traded for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith before Cousins was even officially off the roster. I have nothing against Alex Smith and think that he has been one of the more underrated quarterbacks since being considered a bust after his early years in San Francisco. However, Washington is acquiring a 34-year-old quarterback who is coming off his one elite statistical season and had a tremendous group of players to support him. In D.C. Smith doesn’t have the same level of talent around him as he did in KC. Jordan Reed is probably his best option and he is closer to being forced into retirement with each snap he plays due to his extensive list of injuries.  All in all, Smith will have his work cut out for him to make people believe that he was the reason for his own stats last season.

The team did acquire rookie running back Derrius Guice in the second round who projects to be an early down runner which along with sophomore runner Samaje Perine will give Smith a strong running game behind him. Chris Thompson, who is returning from his own season-ending injury will also help to alleviate pressure by being a safety blanket satellite back. It is unlikely that Smith will have over 4,000 yards again this season but because of his play style, there should be few turnovers to negatively affect the offense. So while good for winning games it doesn’t translate to much fantasy value. Most of Washington’s passing options should be valued as at best bye week fillers until we see if one player can become a focal point of the offense.

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? Leave me a message on Twitter @NickAndrews_RSO.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews