Stock Watch

Updated: October 6th 2016

With three weeks of football to use as a measuring stick trends are immerging and we can start to see who the real fantasy stars for 2016 might be. This is also the ideal time to talk trades since teams that are 0-3 might be ready to sell already and teams that are 3-0 might be more inclined to drop their picks on players for today. I am going to look at players to try and buy, or sell, based on how the community seems to be viewing their value. Players will fall into four categories: buy low, sell high, buy high and sell low. The first two seem rather obvious but “Buy High” and “Sell Low” seem counterintuitive. My logic is this, if a player has shown you enough to warrant the price then you should buy now before they are untouchable. Likewise, if a player seems to be trending down but still has brand value to his name it might be time to get something before they become nothing. Alright now that we have the definitions laid out let’s start some trade talks.

BUY LOW, Golden Tate

Golden TateGoodbye Calvin Johnson, hello…. Marvin Jones? When Megatron left the Motor City people immediately saw this as tremendous value for Golden Tate. Instead, Marvin Jones has dominated the Lions’ share of targets (pun intended) and is coming off of a 200-yard receiving performance in week 3. Still, the Lions have no workhorse in the running game and continue to throw the ball at a considerably high rate (120 attempts in 3 games). With games against Chicago, Washington, Jacksonville and New Orleans still on the schedule, I can see Tate being a great complimentary piece to have for the second half of the season.

BUY LOW, Cole Beasley

Cole BeasleyDak Prescott likes to check it down, A LOT! While both he and Tony Romo have used the running game to set up the pass, Romo would often try to push the ball deep downfield to Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams. Instead, Prescott prefers the death by a thousand papercuts approach which has greatly increased Beasley’s role this season. Playing a similar role to Julian Edelman in New England, Beasley looks like a lock to secure 4-7 passes coming across the field and on short curls and screens each game. His floor is much higher than most WR3s, and he’s still underutilized (started in <28% of leagues) in fantasy.  He is likely on just a one-year deal in most leagues, but depending on your situation at WR I could see him being available for just a low draft pick or an underperforming WR3.

SELL HIGH, Todd Gurley

I was originally going to write about LeGarette Blount here, but every other site has been writing up a storm about his dropping value once Tom Brady returns in week 5. Instead, I wanted to create some controversy by saying that you should be selling Todd Gurley. Yes, Gurley is considered to be one of the top dynasty assets today, and yes I know there is no concern about injuries or timeshares in Los Angeles. However, with coach Jeff Fisher signing a new three-year extension he appears to be content with putting out a mediocre roster week-after-week and season-after-season.  What are the chances that the offense becomes any more effective in the next year or two? Taking into account that the team has games against Carolina, New York Jets and Giants, New England, and Seattle still remaining this season I don’t see his opportunities getting much better in 2016. Many owners likely have Gurley on a low rookie contract for either two or three years which may make it hard for you to swallow moving him.  If however you are offered a 2017 1st and either another upstart RB or a sturdy WR you would likely have to seriously consider it.

SELL HIGH, Jets Skilled Players

NYJAfter a monster week 2 that saw the Jets have 3 touchdowns from Matt Forte and 100 yards for Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker week 3 saw the team turn the ball over 8(!) times against the Chiefs. Both receivers also came out of the game less than 100% healthy. These Jet players have currently enjoyed  strong value and could even be great ancillary pieces on a championship team this year. But with the workload that Forte has earned early this season, I find it hard to believe he will  stay healthy come playoff time. Same goes for the oft-injured Marshall who was already questionable coming into the game this past week. Their value will never be higher than it is currently, and you can probably move any of them for a late first or early second in the current market.

BUY HIGH, Mike Evans

 

Mike EvansRemember back in 2014 when it was debatable whether Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans should be the 1.01 in rookie drafts? A lot has changed in just two years and the values of these two have changed quite a bit. Evans has been stellar this season and has established a real connection with second-year quarterback Jameis Winston. His 17 targets in week 3 are mind blowing, and I don’t really see him slowing down anytime soon. It will cost you at least a first round pick to acquire him, but if you have a chance to acquire him this season he’s going to be great. Two matchups in the playoffs against the Saints make him worth every penny.

BUY HIGH, Stefon Diggs

 

Stefon DiggsLaquon who? Stefon Diggs has been a beast for the Vikings the first three weeks of 2016. With concerns about him being a Charles Johnson 2.0, his value was at best lukewarm during the offseason. Currently, he has 47% of the receiving yards in Minnesota’s pass attack. Norv Turner will likely continue to feed his best player. From his fast start to the season there won’t be too much concern about him being a bust, and many of his owners won’t be actively shopping Diggs now. Still, it’s every fantasy player’s duty to at least see what the asking price is, and if it’s reasonable he’s worth it.

SELL LOW, John Brown

 

John BrownDo not be fooled by the last two weeks’ stat line. Brown only played 57% of the team’s snaps and benefited greatly from Palmer throwing 50(!) passes in Buffalo. He then benefited again from a favorable game script that saw the Cardinals down for most of their week 4 game against LA. He still is playing behind Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd and has even seen Jaron Brown take away from his time on the field. With so many mouths to feed (including David Johnson out of the backfield) it will be difficult to rely week to week on Brown. If any team is hurting at their WR I would look to move him their way for any other WR3 at this point.

SELL LOW, Randall Cobb

 

Randall CobbJordy is back! Rodgers is moving the ball again, but Cobb is still lacking from what you would expect from a reliable WR2. PPR scores of 13, 9, and 4 are leaving a sour taste in fantasy owner’s mouths. Unless you purchased him recently, one would assume that he’s being paid pretty handsomely. He still has great name value and the offense he plays in offers the opportunity to have solid fantasy weeks. However, if I had the choice between Cobb and other receivers such as Jordan Matthews, Jeremy Maclin, Emmanuel Sanders or Doug Baldwin I would be moving him without looking back.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews

Rookie Pick Craze

Updated: July 8th 2016

Most rookie drafts are now complete and owners are looking forward to the start of training camp in a month’s time. Throughout this process of drafting, I came to ask myself the question of whether rookie picks of all kinds are overvalued. With the hype-train that is the 2017 draft, I have seen many trades on both twitter and in my own leagues that would suggest that every player available is going to be the next Eric Dickerson, Randy Moss, and Tony Gonzalez. Even looking ahead to 2018, owners are reluctant to trade their picks based on the unknown of what the caliber of rookies will be in two years. While that is a fair argument, the last time I checked,  the whole point of playing fantasy football was to win championships, not assemble “the best” forward- looking team. Therefore, I wanted to take a look how successful rookie picks actually are. I should give credit to RotoViz writer Jacob Rickrode who looked at a similar topic last year. I will link his article here for those of you who have access to their articles.

Rookie Success

If we look back at the last six rookie drafts starting in 2010 below is a breakdown of how successful a rookie selected was. The chart looks at the average ADP of each year’s rookies. For 2012 Trent Richardson, Andrew Luck, and Doug Martin were the average top 3 drafted in that order. The Success Rate evaluates whether a pick had a top 12 (QB, TE) or top 24 (RB,WR) season at least once since being drafted. The Percentage of Top Seasons represents how often each pick was able to reach the top 12/24. The final two columns indicate the total round’s Bust Rate, whether they had at least one top season, and Top Season Rate, the percentage of having multiple top 12/24. I chose to only do individual picks for the first two rounds for two reasons: the fluctuation in ADP after 24 varied tremendously from site to site and the data showed that players drafted after the second round were mostly irrelevant.

Rookie Pick Chart

As you can see the first round selections have a slightly better than 50/50 chance to have at least one top 12/24 season while only a 20% chance of having more than one top seasons. From there it gets steadily worse. An interesting anomaly, the large value of success from the 2.12 is greatly inflated by Rob Gronkowski who’s five top 12 finishes are only second in that round to pick 2.02 (6). That’s one player versus six! As well, the 1.02 has seen some elite talent with names like Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, and Andrew Luck which is why it is the only pick that currently holds a perfect 100% success rate. The only individual players to have a perfect score (reaching the top 12/24 each season) having played in 2 or more seasons are Odell Beckham Jr. (2 years), Mike Evans (2), Jeremy Hill (2), Giovanni Bernard (3) and A.J. Green (5). This is the part of the article where you tip your cap to the Cincinnati Bengals scouting staff. Even if we look at the so-called “Best class in recent history” – 2014, in their first two seasons only 7 of 12 players have had a top 12/24 season thus far. Even looking ahead , with a couple more seasons under their belts, I do not see much more coming out of this round however due to names like Sankey and Manziel stinking up the average.

Move Up or Move Out

So knowing this information what can we do to come out ahead? If we look at my last article which helps layout the value of picks against one another and combine that with the stats presented here we can create a couple of trade strategies to maximize value. If you are a contending, bottom round team the likelihood of your rookie selection being a useful player is slim. Looking at the last 6 picks in the first round the success rate drops to only 40% and the multi-season success down to 10%. Consider also that if your team is contending and therefore full of top talent players, already the likelihood of incoming players being better than those players is even less likely. Therefore, you should be looking to move your picks to the top 3 where you have a robust 83% chance of picking a successful player as well as a 67% chance that they will have multiple top seasons.

Ryan Matthews

Forgotten veterans are a contender’s best friend

If you are unable to move into a position to secure a top 3 selection then the second option is to move out completely. The goal is to win championships, so if your pick isn’t going to help you win during your window then you should be getting value from it. Savvy veteran players are always undervalued and while they may not offer high returns like ODB or Allen Robinson, they definitely will have higher floors than shares of David Wilson, Cordarelle Patterson, and Johnny Manziel currently holds. Players like Matt Forte, Ryan Matthews, Greg Olsen, and Drew Brees are perfect candidates to target by casting out a late first round pick. I have said this in many articles before but the beautiful of RSO is that no player is locked in forever so the landscape of teams changes more than standard dynasties. For those of you who have been on the site for several years now you probably understand what I am saying since your first rookie class is coming due for their first free agency.

Hopefully, I have been able to open some eyes to what really happens with rookie picks and help you understand what to do with everyone going 2017 crazy! As always if you have questions or want to talk strategies you can find me on twitter @naandrews19.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews

FA Auction: Lessons Learned

Updated: June 18th 2016

Last time in this space, I took a look at the most frequently cut players from each offensive skill position.  My hope was that an analysis of where we went wrong last year could help steer us in this season’s free agent auction.  After all, nothing could sink a promising franchise faster than dead cap space.

For each position I picked a few players who I think that you should avoid spending big money on in your 2016 free agent auction.  Every player can be valuable with the right contract, this is not to say the below players should not be owned, I am arguing you should avoid splashing the cash on them.  First, let’s start with the obvious caveat: every league is different (size, scoring, roster size, etc.), so your mileage may vary, one league’s trash could be another’s treasure.

QUARTERBACKS:

  1. Tyrod Taylor
  2. Brock Osweiler

The biggest take away after looking at last year’s most frequently released QBs was that you should not overpay for a small sample size.  I am not advocating skipping these two altogether, but I think prudence is the key.  Taylor went 8-6 and only threw 6 INTs (3 of which in one game) but he also had five games with less than 15 completions and five games with less than 200 yards passing.  The x-factor for Taylor, of course, is his rushing ability but that is the part that worries me: it will either lead to injury, it could be game planned away by the defense or be removed from his own game plan as preservation (see: Robert Griffin III).  I’m staying away from Taylor this year, I would rather be the guy who missed on him rather than have to eat his salary later.

For Osweiler, the sample size is much smaller and his rate stats were lower than Taylor’s (completion percentage, rating, yards per attempt, etc).  So, why do I think you should avoid Taylor more so than Osweiler?  Osweiler’s value is not so heavily influenced by his rushing ability, or lack thereof.  Osweiler is a “prototypical” quarterback and has 7″ and about 20lb on Taylor.  Still, though, I am concerned what a change of scenery will mean for Brock and can’t help but see him as the next Matt Flynn.  I wouldn’t avoid him at all costs but I would only offer him a one- or at a maximum, a two-year deal.

RUNNING BACKS:

  1. Chris Ivory
  2. Matt Forte
  3. Demarco Murray

The theme with last year’s most frequently cut RBs was that you should avoid the hype of the veteran who was changing teams.  Despite some niggling injuries last year, both Ivory and Forte had decent seasons in 2015.  Ivory broke 1,000 yards for the first time in his career (1,070) and had more receptions (30) than he had the rest of his career combined (23).  Forte missed three games but was on pace for another 1,000 yard rushing season if he played the full campaign; he also pitched in with 44 receptions which was down on a per-game basis from 2014 but is still more than most RBs see in a full season.  Ivory has left the Jets for Jacksonville and Forte has taken his place.  Unless I can get them for just $2 or $3 million, I am probably skipping both Ivory and Forte.

Murray is interesting after what could not have been a more disappointing season in Philly last year.  He joins the Titans and could be at a point where his stock is so low you could actually get him for a song.  The ultimate post-hype sleeper.  He’s burned me once though, so I’m going to sit this year out.  I might let another owner take him, and if the contract is small enough, try to swing a trade once training camp starts and we see how the Titans backfield will work out.  Or maybe that’s the Cowboys fan in me talking.

WIDE RECEIVERS:

  1. Jordy Nelson – Jeff Janis
  2. Michael Crabtree – Seth Roberts
  3. Brandin Cooks – Willie Snead

The lesson to be learned last year was to not spend too much money on the up-and-coming WRs who may unseat an established veteran.  So, for this position, I thought it would be useful to look at both the old and the new at the same time because I would actually avoid picking both sides of these pairs.

Jeff Janis had a memorable playoff game for the Packers against the Cardinals (7-145-2) but is it enough to make everybody forget about Jordy Nelson who missed the season due to injury?  Probably not, but I have just enough doubt to avoid Nelson this year.  Nelson is now 31 and has had two serious injuries – an ACL and a hamstring – which forced him to miss significant time.  Dynasty players know Janis well but I don’t think his brief flash is enough to warrant anything more than a minimum contract – many of us have been fooled by his potential already.

Amari Cooper is obviously the top Raiders WR to own, but who should you target second?  After all, Derek Carr does like to air the ball out.  I’m not biting on Crabtree’s 85-922-9 and instead think that Seth Roberts will emerge.  Roberts was an unheralded rookie out of West Alabama whose line was 32-480-5.  Like Janis, his sample size is too small to spend on, but his presence means I will not sign Crabtree this offseason.

Chances are that Willie Snead was snagged off waivers by somebody last year rather than being signed to a long term deal.  I cannot imagine there were too many owners who were holding Snead futures so he’s likely up for free agency.  I’d bite in a PPR league but there weren’t enough TDs there for standard scoring, in my opinion.  Snead’s emergence dented Brandin Cooks’ potential.  Cooks didn’t score his first TD or surpass 100 yards until Week 5; ultimately he had six sub-50 yard games versus just four over-100 yard games.  His strong suit was supposed to be the volume of receptions but even that was lacking – just 84.  The saving grace for Cooks fantasy-wise was his 9 TDs but I would take the under for 2016.  Snead and Cooks are too similar in their playing style and so cannibalize each other’s opportunities to succeed.

TIGHT ENDS:

  1. David Johnson
  2. Alex Smith
  3. Coby Fleener
  4. Ladarius Green

In my last piece, I noted that David Johnson and Alex Smith were two of the most frequently cut tight ends.  Originally I attributed it to their deep, deep sleeper status but after further thought I think it was definitely because they share a name with another position player.  Whether it was an honest mistake or an unscrupulous nomination, I think some owners ended up with the wrong guy and immediately cut bait landing them on the list.  Don’t make that mistake again this year, folks.

Last year, we should have all held off on anointing Josh Hill the Jimmy Graham heir apparent, and I think this year you should similarly avoid Fleener.  Green is likewise joining a new team, the Steelers, and while he has shown flashes, he’s never been the go-to tight end for an extended period of time.  Ultimately, I think both are so close to replacement level that I wouldn’t bother.


Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  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

Top 5 Remaining Offseason ?s

Updated: June 7th 2016

In the Zone

As the offseason has progressed, there have been some storylines that have continued to linger and others that have been new developments. There are fantasy implications all abound for all of these questions. Here are my top five remaining questions (in no particular order) that will alter the mindset of how players in these situations are viewed. I’m not including Tom Brady’s four-game suspension because the Patriots will be able to game plan for it if it sticks.

1) Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Contract Situation

The New York Jets, according to Spotrac, have only $3.1 million of remaining cap space for its Top 51 players. That provides an interesting conundrum on bringing back Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is coming off a career season with 3,905 yards passing and 31 touchdowns against 15 interceptions.

These numbers far exceed prior contributions from the signal-caller, yet Fitzpatrick only completed 59.6% of his passes last season and had one 300 yard game while the team narrowly missed the playoffs. Fitzpatrick seems to be wanting $12 million a year, possibly on a one year deal, which doesn’t appease the Jets who want to spread out the salary over time for cap purposes.

While the Jets were clearly a better team last year with Fitzpatrick at the helm, how much of that is attributable to a solid ground game and more importantly, renaissance man Brandon Marshall? I’d say a lot. Even with bolstering its offensive line with the trade for left tackle Ryan Clady and the big free agent signing of versatile running back Matt Forte, giving the quarterback the most amount of talent he’s ever had around him by far.

Geno Smith hasn’t effectively been a game manager, but hasn’t really been given the opportunity since the unfortunate broken jaw incident that led to Fitzpatrick starting the season and catching fire. Smith is the starter in OTA’s in Fitzpatrick’s absence and is a free agent in 2017. It would behoove the Jets to see what they have in Smith this year, especially if Fitzpatrick continues to hold out for what he believes he deserves.

What does all this mean for fantasy football? Not much, really. Marshall and fellow wide receiver Eric Decker have performed well no matter who their quarterback is, even if they are showing solidarity for Fitzpatrick. I watched Fitzpatrick frequently miss connections with Decker plenty last season and Decker does have a 200 yard game on his resume with Smith as quarterback. Forte also performed well in Chicago, even at a greater clip without Jay Cutler.

That’s your main concern, unless you are a Jets fan. Let’s face it- you aren’t throwing eight figures at Fitz in your auction or are considering him as a QB2 for any of your leagues.

Conclusion: Proceed as you were. Nothing to see here, people.

2) Sammy Watkins’ Injured Foot

It certainly came out of left field last month when it was announced that third-year wide receiver Sammy Watkins had foot surgery in April. This is the same surgery that impacted Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, and Julian Edelman. The big question that fantasy owners are dying to know is whether Watkins will be back in time for the regular season.

From a Reality Sports Online perspective, and I’ve said this on the record on Twitter, this Watkins news makes his price that much more reasonable and I’d be in buy mode while he’s cheaper. There are a few buckets of owners of Watkins in leagues. First, you have those who have Watkins on a rookie deal, likely around $6.0 million a year currently. That is a steal for a potential top 10 fantasy wideout for the next two years. Those who entered leagues later may have a heftier price tag on Watkins, but if it is anything under $20 million a season, that could be value.

As for me, I traded my final contract year of Randall Cobb (1 year remaining, $17.4 million) for Watkins (2016: $6.4 million, 2017: $7.0 million) and Matthew Stafford (1 year remaining $14.0 million). Basically, while I like Cobb’s potential efficiency to increase this year with the return of Jordy Nelson, I think Watkins ceiling is massive and a cheap price. Stafford is likely a cheap trade or cap casualty as I have Russell Wilson as my starter on a cheaper deal, but that to me was a small price to pay to get a potential superstar (which no doubt Cobb has been as well at times).

The news on Watkins having a screw inserted and prior history with Bryant rushing back and a subsequent Edelman surgery are troubling, but the Bills know what they have in Watkins and won’t make him take unnecessary training camp reps to risk not being ready for the regular season. Even if he starts slowly the first two weeks, his back half of 2015 was dominant on a team that only threw the ball more than 30 times in half of the final eight games.

How dominant you ask-try 41 catches for 732 yards and 6 touchdowns in the final eight games, including four 100 yard games. In fact, in that stretch, when Watkins was targeted 10 or more times, his worst game was 5 catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. Further, that’s on a run-oriented team and the team didn’t bring much in the help department for quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the passing game.

Lastly, in the event I haven’t convinced you on Watkins yet, he’s got a potential fantasy playoff slate against Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Miami, all at home in Weeks 14-16 and the Raiders and Jags immediately prior.

Conclusion: Not concerned currently, but pay attention to the news. If you have Watkins, you’re probably holding him and expecting big things. If you have someone who is losing faith on him in your league, pounce on that, especially if the price is right.

3) The Josh Gordon Saga-Will It Continue?

By now you know the narrative about Josh Gordon. Incredibly talented, but can’t stay out of trouble. Those of you who still own him at an average of 1.7 remaining years and $9.3 million remaining contract are sincerely hoping Gordon can put his past (and Johnny Manziel) behind him to tear it up on the gridiron again.

That picture remains unclear, but there is some optimism that when August rolls around, Gordon can be clean and reinstated. The question then is what do the Browns do with him? He certainly would like nice in an all Baylor connection with Robert Griffin III and rookie #1 pick Corey Coleman (who I really like as a Top 3 rookie draft get), but at the same time Browns coach Hue Jackson is emphasizing character and the team is stockpiling Moneyball draft picks for the future.

Conclusion: Wait and see. If you have Gordon at an annual average of 1.7 years remaining and a little over $9.0 million left on his contract, just hope he hits the field, because if he does, he’ll produce anywhere. He still has top five wide receiver potential at close to bye week replacement pricing.

4) Is This the Year to Go Cheap at Quarterback?

Given the popularity of streaming quarterbacks in weekly redraft leagues and similar low dollar values in some daily games, a popular strategy that is now emerging in Reality Sports Online leagues is to spend as little as possible on your starting quarterback. The theory, as adopted by Reality Sports Online’s own Stephen Wendell with a quarterback like Derek Carr is simple: there are only 10-12 starting quarterbacks in each league, so don’t overpay for one while your budget can be used on positions that may require more cap space.

If any a year to adopt this strategy, 2016 seems like a prime one with quarterbacks like Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston in their second year of rookie deals which typically found them as late first or early second round picks in 2015. The same holds true for Carr and fellow third year quarterback Blake Bortles. Both third year signal-callers have plenty of weapons. Heck, even Andy Dalton was playing like a top five quarterback until he got injured last season.

With quarterbacks like Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, and Eli Manning always a possibility to produce, unless quarterback is a position that derives more value in your leagues, it might be smart to not go crazy trying to sign the Aaron Rodgers types for $25 million when one of these quarterbacks can be had for $5 million or less.

Conclusion: 2016 seems like the first RSO league year where the cheap quarterback may really derive an advantage. I’m a firm believer in prime signal callers in the fantasy playoffs, someone you are sure will produce solid numbers even on a bad day. But if you can load up at receiver and get the right running backs under contract, this strategy is an interesting one.

5) Arian Foster: Whose Fantasy Season is he Going to Screw Up?

It is somewhat insane that Arian Foster remains unsigned, but it seems like he wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s close to having a clean bill of health and there are definitely a few potentially needy teams still lurking. Foster likely is looking at a $3-4 million deal with some incentives that could be achieved if he’s healthy and performs well.

To me, the big question isn’t where Foster signs, but which current fantasy starter he’s going to destroy value for?

First off, if you are still holding Foster thinking he may be the same running back he was on Houston when healthy, please temper your expectations. He’s a very accomplished runner with excellent pass catching ability and a nose for the end zone. That’s where he holds the biggest value to teams. I don’t think teams are looking at him to be their bell-cow at this point in virtually any scenario.

I’d expect him to sign with the Miami Dolphins and if he does, Jay Ajayi owners will not be happy. Washington remains a good possibility and they’ve built up a pretty nice offense at this point. Put Foster in a committee and give him pass catching and goal-line responsibilities and he’ll have almost as much fantasy value on efficiency and fresh legs than he did as the featured back on the Texans. I personally don’t buy the New England hype-Dion Lewis is younger, coming off an easier injury to recover from, and under a fairly good contract.

Conclusion: If you haven’t cut Foster yet, hang on and see where this next month takes him. I wouldn’t overpay for him as a handcuff, but I’ve come around on him if he’s in a good situation and used well (10-12 touches a game), he could have Danny Woodhead like PPR fantasy value. If you are holding Ajayi or were hoping that Matt Jones was about to break out this year, get nervous, but wait to see what happens.


Matt Goodwin is entering his third season as a writer for Reality Sports Online and is in year four of his main league. He also contributes for numberFire. He is an avid sports fan from Cleveland, Ohio who would count a championship for a Cleveland major sports team a close second behind getting married to his wife Renee and the births of his children, Jory (6 year old son) and Lainie (18 month old daughter). Matt loves mid 90’s hip-hop, playing pick-up hoops, traveling, Ohio State football and Arizona basketball, watching Glengarry Glen Ross for the millionth time and being outside the few months it doesn’t rain in Seattle where he lives. He can be found on Twitter @mattgoody2 and hopes you continue to read his In the Zone articles.

More Analysis by Matt Goodwin

Running on Empty?

Updated: March 17th 2016

In the Zone

As evident in NFL free agency, the three-down running back is a dying breed and one that has diminishing value for most teams in a league that has morphed into a passing league. Your Reality Sports Online league is probably no different. After all, you left the comfy confines of traditional leagues where you are forced to start two running backs and came to our platform, seeking more dynamic scoring and customizable lineup options.

With that said, the running back position is somewhere you may not want to allocate a large percentage of your $155.3 million in 2016 cap space. If your league is like mine, you may just need to hit on one running back one way or another and then spend your long-term contracts on other positions with more predictability and longevity. In that scenario (especially in PPR leagues), you can get away with someone like Danny Woodhead (who finished 8th in my league’s RB scoring) for cheap production.

Let’s jump in to what’s happened in the 2016 offseason already using Average Years and Average Contract Dollars remaining to assess some scenarios and decisions that our general managers may face in the upcoming months. First though, I’d like to be explicit in saying that while most think that the NFL running back cliff is the age 30 season, I’ve seen studies where the production slip is much sooner than that, so plucking running backs in the Rookie Draft (especially this year when the wide receiver class seems a little shaky and not deep-sorry but I just can’t get excited about someone like Ohio State’s Michael Thomas being any better than a player I’ve seen him compared to-Michael Crabtree).

Basically, you are better taking the risk on a 22-year old on a rookie deal than a player with question marks as some of the players I will dive into have. More importantly, while I don’t watch that much college football (when compared to the NFL), I watched more Ohio State games than any other college team over the past few seasons. Based on that viewing, I see things in rookie runner Ezekiel Elliott that warrant him being the #1 pick in all your rookie drafts, and someone with more upside than Doug Martin types. Elliott is one of the best pass blockers I’ve seen in college footage, has a second level acceleration that is rare, and likes to dole out punishment. He also can catch the ball out of the backfield (even if Ohio State relied more based on their personnel with some gadgetry and wide receiver screens), making him a true three down back. In a win-now scenario with a hulking offensive line and Tony Romo returning, I think the Cowboys taking Elliott at #4 would get them back in the playoff picture immediately, even if that is too high of draft capital to spend on a running back these days.

Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1.3 average years remaining, $15.9m average remaining contract)

While it seemed unlikely at the beginning of the 2015 season, Martin was awarded with a 5 year, $35.75 million deal with $15.0 million guaranteed after a prolific 2015 season. You have to like Martin’s 4.87 yards per carry in 2015, but his line of 288 carries for 1,402 yards and 6 touchdowns was boosted by 14 plays over 20 yards, which is always subject to regression. I really like the team’s signing of J.R. Sweezy from the Seahawks, who recently said how much he loves to run block.

However, Martin is significantly hampered by teammate Charles Sims in the receiving game. Sims had 51 catches to Martin’s 33 and had over 1,000 combined yards from scrimmage.

Assessment: Most Martin owners are in two buckets: 1) fourth-year league players who paid big for Martin following his breakout rookie season and have him for one more year at a super high salary, or 2) owners who took a flier on Martin based on less-productive 2013 and 2014 seasons. If you are in the first group, consider moving Martin in the trade market and if you’re in the second bucket, hold on to him and hope for similar production for the next season or two.

Arian Foster, Free Agent (1.3 average years remaining, $16.6m average remaining contract)

Unfortunately, yours truly faces an offseason decision regarding Foster. I got overzealous and signed him to a two-year deal in last year’s auction trying to get my team over the hump and am facing paying Foster $26.3 million this season or getting 50% of his contract value back by cutting him.

It is well documented that Foster has a lot of things going against him, including his entering his age 30 season and his multitude and history of significant injuries. Nobody questions his work ethic in recovering from them, but the question in fantasy circles is what team will take a chance on Foster, if any, as it appears that Foster is planning on signing with a team later in the free agency period and focusing on recovering from an achilles tear, one of the more difficult injuries to come back from with a small sample size of running backs coming back from them. Note that Demaryius Thomas is one player who successfully came back well from this injury, if you are looking for a glimmer of hope.

I really liked the possibility of Foster reuniting with former coach Gary Kubiak in Denver, but with C.J. Anderson returning to Denver now, that looks moot.

Assessment: There is no need to hurry and cut Foster. If you can somehow package low draft capital to get his full contract off your books, this rookie class may be weak enough to warrant that. I’m not excited about Foster going into a timeshare anywhere (even Seattle) as of now and that or Miami seems like the best scenario he’ll find himself in now that Denver matched Anderson’s offer sheet.

Lamar Miller, Houston Texans (1.5 average years remaining, $19.9m average remaining contract)

With Foster getting cut, the Texans turned to Miller to be their new top runner on a 4 year, $26.0 million deal. For GM’s owning Miller, this should increase his utilization.

Miller doesn’t turn 25 until next month and is a very good receiver out of the backfield as well (47 receptions in 2015). There is no reason that he shouldn’t shine in the Texans offense and head coach Bill O’Brien is certainly not afraid to run the ball frequently.

Assessment: Miller truthers finally will get to see him get the opportunities he was lacking in Miami. While the Texans offensive line is fairly pedestrian, Miller is a special talent with very little competition and should be a trade target of GM’s.

Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (1.6 average years remaining, $37.4m average remaining contract)

At $23.4 million annual average contract, and coming off his second torn ACL, Charles is for the first time finding himself outside of the fantasy elite at the running back position. Both Charcandrick West and bruiser Spencer Ware played well in Charles’ absence. However, the Chiefs are fiercely loyal to their star running back and he’s under a reasonable real-life contract.

Charles turns 30 in December, which doesn’t help matters as well.

Assessment: Overall the Chiefs are trending up as a team and they have doled out big money this offseason to extend tight end Travis Kelce and sign right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. While the Chiefs brass says that Charles is “ahead of schedule”, I’m expecting there to be a more concerted effort to keep him fresh for the playoffs with the production of West and Ware.

While his trade value is low coming off of injury, I’d test the waters to see what other owners may be offering at the very least. If something is attractive enough, consider moving Charles.

Matt Forte, New York Jets (1.4 average years remaining, $26.9m average remaining contract)

Forte figures heavily into the Jets passing game as a premier receiver out of the backfield.

Assessment: Forte’s value is heavily dependent on who is throwing him the ball in Chan Gailey’s offense. I love the move if Ryan Fitzpatrick re-signs with the team, especially given the attention Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker command. If the quarterback is someone along the lines of Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III, you can take Forte down a peg.

An annual average of $19.2 million seems potentially high right now for Forte, but he can remain productive for the 2016 season.

Some of the Rest

In terms of other running back moves, I’m not excited about the timeshare in Jacksonville between newly signed Chris Ivory (1.3 average years, $9.1 million average remaining contract) and T.J. Yeldon. I dislike it more for Yeldon owners as you probably snagged him in your rookie drafts last season and loved how much tote he was getting. For Ivory owners, the price tag and years aren’t much of a concern anyways.

I’m not buying the “coachspeak” about DeMarco Murray and still would shy away from his 1.7 average years and $32.7 million average remaining contract. He may be “fresh” from not getting much work in Philly last year, but I can’t trust his production right now in Tennessee of all places. On the flip side, I’m interested to see what Ryan Mathews can do with the Eagles (1.2 average years and $6.8 million average remaining), as his contract is fairly favorable and he looked good at times last season, averaging over 5.0 yards a carry in spite of having to have groin surgery following the season.


Matt Goodwin is entering his third season as a writer for Reality Sports Online and is in year four of his main league. He also contributes for numberFire. He is an avid sports fan from Cleveland, Ohio who would count a championship for a Cleveland major sports team a close second behind getting married to his wife Renee and the births of his children, Jory (6 year old son) and Lainie (18 month old daughter). Matt loves mid 90’s hip-hop, playing pick-up hoops, traveling, Ohio State football and Arizona basketball, watching Glengarry Glen Ross for the millionth time and being outside the few months it doesn’t rain in Seattle where he lives. He can be found on Twitter @mattgoody2 and hopes you continue to read his In the Zone articles.

More Analysis by Matt Goodwin

Giving Up The Franchise?

Updated: April 21st 2015

A few weeks ago, I wrote a strategy primer Top 5 Offseason Questions that teased the question How Can I Most Effectively Use My Franchise Tag? With the offseason now in full gear and the NFL Draft around the corner, the time to at least start your analysis on your team’s free agents and whether you want to protect one of them is now.

This analysis will take a look at all existing Reality Sports Online (RSO) leagues and show what the average positional contract values are for purposes of calculating what the Franchise Tag amount would be by position. I’ll then analyze the five players in the Top 5 pool and let you know whether I think their juice is worth the squeeze, essentially whether you should pony up and franchise that player in general. Of course, since all league dynamics and scoring systems may be different, which is part of the beauty of RSO being fully customizable, a one-size-fits-all approach to using the franchise tag would be a naive approach to this. So, along the way, I will try to provide some strategy and context to potential franchise tag decisions you face and what the likely ramifications would be if you let someone back into the free-agent pool.

Remember, for your leagues, the value of the franchise tag is the higher of the Top 5 Positional Average from your league or 120% of the 2014 contract and players on expiring deals can be franchise tagged twice at most. Now, let’s jump in.

Quarterbacks

Player Average Salary 2015 Franchise Tag Cost % Cap
Rodgers $22,620,135 $27,144,162 18.9%
Brees $19,939,216 $23,927,060 16.7%
P. Manning $19,249,096 $23,098,915 16.1%
Luck $15,773,949 $18,928,739 13.2%
Brady $12,930,500 $18,102,579 12.6%
Top 5 Average $18,102,579

I touched on this a few weeks ago, but with few exceptions, I really think using a franchise tag on a quarterback is foolish, with few exceptions. First off, to me it is essentially bidding against yourself. What I mean by that is that in a 10-12 team league, every team has a starting quarterback, but there is still significant value beyond the multi-year deals. While Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck are two guys you’d definitely pay the price listed above for, are the others really worth that much more than quarterbacks like Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger at this point? 

The answer is a definitive no and all these quarterbacks based on age scream one year guys. I’d much rather have Romo at his annual $5.5 million average and the extra cap space than have a quarterback that is better, but not enough to justify the franchise tag cost. Additionally, streaming quarterbacks has become en vogue for a lot of different league players, especially in redraft leagues. In a dynasty league, you may think differently than this, but there is a happy medium between rolling the dice on a starter like Matt Cassel and spending $23.1 million on Peyton Manning. 

Second, you really want to game the free-agent market for quarterbacks. If you are in a league where the majority of the teams have a starter locked up, you should be able to get one of the remaining ones of value for cheap. Some owners don’t have the cap space to price enforce and the ones that do may have their limits. For instance, last season my team had a really nice core and the only real starter I needed was a quarterback and 10 of the 12 teams in my league had that need taken care of. I was able to get Russell Wilson on a nice 3 year deal for $26.0 million for someone who ended up being a Top 5 scoring quarterback in my league.

Additionally, some quarterbacks with serious upside potential in good offenses are practically free in some RSO leagues. Count Eli Manning ($2.4 million annual average) and Carson Palmer ($1.8 million annual average) among one year quarterbacks that fit this mold on the super cheap.

Please note that all league dynamics are different. I’m sure some of you have a stacked team that will likely finish top three in your league and are like “Well, Matt, I can franchise Peyton Manning at $23.1 million and wreck this league.” In that case, I would call it a coin flip whether you want to use a high franchise tag price. I still think you could probably do better to get that quarterback back on a one year deal on the open market, but if you are afraid of losing them and your competitive stronghold I’m good with you protecting your quarterback if he’s the missing piece to your championship.

Explicitly, the only quarterbacks who I think are worth the franchise money for 2015 based on the above are Rodgers and Luck. I could debate the Peyton Manning scenario if you are a top three team in your league. At this point, though, Drew Brees is overpriced.

Running Backs

Player Average Salary 2015 Franchise Tag Cost % Cap
McCoy $25,155,474 $30,186,569 21.1%
Peterson $22,951,390 $27,541,668 19.2%
Charles $21,930,732 $26,316,879 18.4%
Forte $18,268,179 $21,921,815 15.3%
Martin $17,707,444 $21,248,933 14.8%
Top 5 Average $21,202,644

The running back position while not valued as much in today’s NFL, is a very dynamic one for RSO owners. A running back that was highly valued just one or two years ago (think Doug Martin) may be in a committee or have lost their starting gig (Montee Ball anyone?) Others who you are potentially considering for your franchise tag may not have even been on your opening day roster last season (C.J. Anderson for one).

First off, the only two running backs from the table above of Top 5 Running Back salaries that are worth their franchise tag cost based on the averages set out above are Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte. I’d gladly pay for focal points on offense and even though Marc Trestman is gone in Chicago, Forte is in the last year of his real NFL deal, so a one year franchise tag feels like the right contract for him.

If you weathered last season of Adrian Peterson and his legal troubles and now he’s off contract for you, you take his $27.5 million of cap space and treat it as found money instead of doubling down on him again. Sure he may be productive, but let that be someone else’s risk. As for Lesean McCoy, I talked about him going to Buffalo extensively in Free Agent Frenzy. $30.2 million is definitely overpaying Shady based on the Buffalo quarterback situation and a less dynamic offense. I’ll chalk Rex Ryan’s goal to run 50 times a game as offseason coachspeak.

However, there are plenty of running backs that you’d have to think about at the $21.2 million average that aren’t on this list. Le’Veon Bell is someone that is currently averaging around $9.9 million and 2.4 years average contract length. Assuming the league discipline he faces results in a suspension of less than 4 games, I’d gladly pay $21.2 million to keep a dual catching and rushing threat like Bell. DeMarco Murray on the Eagles is another situation that I like. Surely his volume will come down from last year and the offensive line in Philly isn’t what he had in Dallas, but Murray certainly would be worth consideration for the franchise tag. I’d probably lean against the move because the team still brought in Ryan Mathews as well and $21.2 million is too high to pay for what may amount to a running back in some form of a rushing timeshare and a third-down back in Darren Sproles in place as well.

Eddie Lacy and Marshawn Lynch are the other two running backs who fit the bill as one year type guys who can produce heavily. Lacy is probably on rookie deals in most leagues, so I doubt he’d be available to use the franchise tag on. Lynch is the ideal franchise back- someone who gets good volume, is a go-to player in the red zone, and plays in pain. Plus, he’s on a one-year NFL deal for all intents and purposes and you wouldn’t want to risk additional RSO years on him. Simply put, pay the man the franchise tag!

I like Arian Foster’s productivity, but his injury history makes me skittish on using the franchise tag on him, especially at $21.2 million. I’d try to get him cheaper in free agency on a one-year deal. C.J. Anderson is probably someone else I’d roll the dice with in free agency just in case a coaching change leads to Anderson not being the man. All accounts are that he will be the lead back, but Denver has a stable of talented running backs and the ones who pass protect for Peyton Manning will get the most run.

Lastly, while Lamar Miller certainly figures to be a trendy pick this year to increase his production, based on his age and skill set, I like him more as a multi-year contract signing as opposed to using the franchise tag on him.

Again, your league dynamics matter. If 7 of the top 10 running back scorers from 2014 are free agents like in my league, I’d strategically use the franchise tag asset elsewhere. Remember, due to their short NFL shelf lives, the window to grab running backs and expect optimal production is from their rookie season through age 26 or 27, even though most experts cite age 30 as when running backs fall off the cliff. So using the franchise tag on a running back may be the perfect stopgap to committing to a potential decline.

Wide Receivers

Player Average Salary 2015 Franchise Tag Cost % Cap
Ca. Johnson $24,748,605 $29,698,326 20.7%
Green $22,938,371 $27,526,046 19.2%
D. Thomas $20,901,796 $25,082,155 17.5%
Ju. Jones $20,626,900 $24,752,280 17.3%
D. Bryant $20,606,394 $24,727,672 17.3%
Top 5 Average $21,964,413

To me, wide receiver is the position that a platform like Reality Sports Online is all about. You want these playmakers locked up as your premium assets, especially as the NFL is a passing league. The highest positional average of $22.0 million reflects that wide receivers are at a premium in RSO leagues. The names in the table above show exactly why as all five of these receivers are as relevant today as when they were originally signed to contracts. They are all worth the franchise tag designation if you have them.

The thing is- so are several wide receivers who aren’t on this list of Top 5 guys. I wouldn’t bat an eyelash franchising the ever consistent Antonio Brown or Jordy Nelson at $22.0 million if they were expiring from my team last season. However, that is probably where I’d draw the line on the franchise tag between those two receivers and the ones in the table.

You certainly could debate tagging receivers like Alshon Jeffery and Randall Cobb. Frankly, I like Jeffery more as a multi-year play and Cobb too for that matter. If you see value in both, you’ll want to ride out their expected production over multiple seasons and not just one. As I mentioned before, I don’t expect Cobb to score 12 touchdowns again as he’s due for some type of red zone regression. I know how valuable he is in creating mismatches and how Rodgers had the best passer rating of any QB-WR combo when he threw to Cobb. $22.0 million is just a lot to pay to a slot receiver and if I’m thinking about that, I might as well have him longer than a year.

As the wide receiver pool is fairly deep and the one that has the least risk in the rookie draft, several elite type wide receivers are locked up on contracts, so if you have any of the nine wide receivers I mentioned on expiring deals, you’d certainly have to think long and hard about what to do with them. At the same time, if you had the unique option of choosing to franchise tag an elite wide receiver or elite running back at similar cap hits, I think you’d have to go with the receiver nine times out of ten because of the scarcity of elite wide receivers not on contract in RSO leagues.

Tight Ends

Player Average Salary 2015 Franchise Tag Cost % Cap
J. Graham $21,297,379 $25,556,855 17.8%
J. Thomas $13,919,621 $16,703,545 11.7%
Gronkowski $13,115,578 $15,738,694 11.0%
Cameron $6,692,963 $12,342,597 8.6%
V. Davis $6,687,446 $12,342,597 8.6%
Top 5 Average $12,342,597

Tight end is a very interesting position for analyzing to use the franchise tag. Your league dynamics will dictate market prices and some leagues may see some seriously depressed prices for tight ends. This means that if you are in the right league, franchising a tight end could be a strategic move that really helps your team.

First, let’s get the easy and obvious out of the way. If you have Rob Gronkowski on a multi-year deal that is expiring (his system wide averages were 2.3 years and $13.1 million per year), spend the $15.8 million (likely the 120% raise category) and franchise tag him. I’m in this exact scenario and practically at the same money and unless Gronk tears his ACL walking down the red carpet at the Entourage movie premiere or breaks his wrist playing beer pong with sorority girls this summer, I’m going to wait out the summer and use the franchise tag on him in August before our league rookie draft.

The thought with Gronk is this- you took a risk on him two years ago when he was coming back from multiple surgeries, so you may have paid less for him than you otherwise would have. You weathered a few injuries and last year he dominated for you. There is no way you let that domination and point differential at the position go when you have a series of two one-year options on him at below market prices. Plus, with Gronk’s injury history, you probably don’t want to commit to him long term anyways.

With respect to the others in the table- Jimmy Graham is someone that has more NFL value in Seattle than fantasy value and at $25.6 million you throw him back into the pond. Julius Thomas’ RSO contract reflects Broncos tight end value and he’s no longer a Bronco. No way are you spending $16.7 million on him. I wouldn’t pay the $12.3 million tag prices for the oft-injured Jordan Cameron or unproductive and unmotivated Vernon Davis.

Further the only other tight end that I’d pay $12.3 million for that hasn’t been mentioned yet is Travis Kelce, who was quietly very good last season and was actually limited in use due to his coming back from microfracture knee surgery. Without the kid gloves on this season, I expect huge things from Kelce. Greg Olsen (1.4 years average, $3.9 million annual average) is coming off a huge season, but I can’t justify more than $8.0 million on him and even that makes me a little nervous.

If your league dynamics are good and franchising a tight end like Owen Daniels or Antonio Gates is an option at between $2.0-$4.0 million, go for it. Otherwise, look to pick up someone in free agency.

Defenses/Special Teams

Player Average Salary 2015 Franchise Tag Cost % Cap
Seahawks $4,458,064 $5,349,677 3.7%
49ers $2,578,016 $3,093,619 2.2%
Panthers $2,347,314 $2,816,777 2.0%
Bengals $1,676,682 $2,524,468 1.8%
Cardinals $1,562,263 $2,524,468 1.8%
Top 5 Average $2,524,468

I’ll admit it: last year I franchised the Seahawks DST. I’d do it again if the market dynamics were right. However, if RSO league averages follow suit, I can’t justify spending $5.4 million on the Seahawks DST for 2015. They simply have too many injuries to start the season in the secondary and that cap figure is too high considering what defenses you can stream that would be effective. You also could probably get an expiring good defense in the free agency auction for less and only the Seahawks and 49ers had multi-year average contracts averaging 1.5 years. This means that almost every defense should be available in your auction unless your league behavior runs counter to the average RSO league.

In fact, the only team in this table I’d use the franchise tag on is potentially the Cardinals at $2.5 million as the 49ers had too many retirements, the Panthers price is based on 2013 success, and the Bengals flat out weren’t good last year. Once you get beyond $3.0 million for a defense you are overpaying for a commoditized position that fluctuates wildly from year to year. Free agency also has plenty of movement that impacts which defenses are good from one year to the next.

League dynamics could make the franchise tag on a defense very compelling, especially if you feel good about your starting lineup and defensive fantasy points are worth a lot in your league. When the only thing between you and league domination is using $1.0-$3.0 million to franchise tag a team like the Houston Texans, make it happen. If your league overprices the skill positions and the only positions you could fathom spending the money on the franchise tag on is a defense or a kicker, it may not be sexy, but you might as well use your franchise tag like an asset.

Kickers

I’m not going to throw in a table because some of the kickers on this list aren’t even NFL starters. However, if you can justify spending between $1.0 million and $1.2 million on a kicker at most and have someone you consider reliable with absolutely no other positions to use the franchise tag on, consider using it on your kicker, because why not? Now, I’m not advocating you bending the rules and trying to franchise tag a kicker you picked up for your playoff run for a pro-rated salary. Most leagues should have a minimum $500,000 contract value and no kicker should be allowed to be franchise tagged for less than the league minimum.

Hopefully this is helpful. My guess is your offseason is just underway, so no need to make any uninformed, rash decisions. You can find me on Twitter @mattgoody2.

More Analysis by Matt Goodwin