Trying to Build a Champion

Updated: April 21st 2015

My favorite league that I participate in is the Matt Waldman/Rookie Scout Portfolio Experts league. Matt was an early adopter of Reality Sports Online, and was kind enough to start this Experts league two years ago when we were just getting off the ground. If you don’t know who Matt is or what the Rookie Scouting Portfolio is, take a quick tour of the site. If you love the NFL, whether you’re a Fantasy person or not, the Rookie Scouting Portfolio is worth the $20. When it comes to Fantasy, I recommend a lot of sites (there are a lot of good ones!), but when it comes to scouting and player evaluation, there are very few I would recommend. I’ve read dozens of player evaluations done by NFL Scouts, and Matt’s stuff is NFL-team caliber. I don’t follow college football as closely as I used to, and Matt’s comprehensive guide actually helps prepare me for the NFL Draft so that I’m as interested in rounds 3-7 as I am rounds 1 and 2.

The league has great Fantasy experts from many different sites:

I took over an immediate rebuilding project after both the Rookie Draft & the first year Free Agency Auction were complete. An Owner had to leave the Free Agency Auction at the midway point because of extenuating circumstances, so I ended up with a half-way assembled team. I made a flurry of pre-season moves and trades (outlined at the time by Matt Waldman here) to try to position myself for the future. Year one was rough, mostly because I ended up overachieving at 5-8, and ended up with the 5th pick in the 2014 Rookie Draft.

Entering the second year of the league, I was mostly a blank slate, returning Alex Smith (traded for) and a couple of above average Wide Receivers with Antonio Brown (traded for), Michael Crabtree (inherited), and Percy Harvin (traded for). I also had Christine Michael (inherited) and Kyle Rudolph (inherited), who at the time, still held some promise.

I had traded my 2nd round pick away, and entered the Rookie Draft planning to draft a Running Back who would get touches. I desperately wanted to select Carlos Hyde fifth overall, and was certain he was still going to be available. Mike MacGregor held two of the first four selections in front of me in the first round, and he already had a ton of depth at RB. Mike Evans went off the board first, Sammy Watkins second, Brandin Cooks third, and of course, MacGregor selected Carlos Hyde with the 4th pick. In retrospect, at #5, I could have adapted on the fly and selected a WR (Kelvin Benjamin, OBJ, or Jordan Matthews), or took a shot on Jeremy Hill (who was projecting to be in a time-share at best), but I didn’t have my crystal ball with me that day, and I took Bishop Sankey. Even with Sankey and no 2nd round selection, I was still able to salvage the draft (in my opinion) landing Lorenzo Taliaferro in the 3rd, De’Anthony Thomas and Dri Archer in the 4th, and Colt Lyerla and Jimmy Garoppolo in the 5th. Entering their sophomore seasons, I’m more excited about Taliaffero, Thomas, and Archer than Sankey.

In the second-season Free Agency Auction (first with me at the helm), I handed multi-year contracts to Nick Foles (4 yrs/$25M), Vernon Davis (2 yrs/$16.5M), Bryce Brown (3 yrs/$10.5M), Anquan Boldin (2 yrs/$9M), Knowshon Moreno (2 yrs/$8.5M), and Miles Austin (3 yrs/$5.5M). I had a handful of notable 1-year deals (LeGarrette Blount, Frank Gore, Carson Palmer) but ended up underachieving with that group, going 4-9.

Now entering year 3 of the league, I have the 2nd pick in the draft, with picks in rounds 1,2, 3, and 5. If I don’t make any trades or cuts, I’ll have about $70M in 2015 Cap Room entering the Free Agency Auction, plus the players below already on my roster. If I believed either player would be worth it, I could Franchise Tag Frank Gore or LeGarrette Blount for the friendly price of $23.7M. Christine Michael is the only player remaining from the roster I inherited two years ago.

PLAYER POS AGE TM EXP Total Guar Yrs 2015 2016

2017

Archer, Dri RB 24 PIT 2016 $1.95M $974.17K 3 $649.44K $688.41K UFA
Austin, Miles WR 31 CLE 2016 $5.5M $2.75M 3 $1.83M $1.94M UFA
Boldin, Anquan WR 35 SF 2015 $9M $4.5M 2 $4.59M UFA
Brown, Antonio WR 27 PIT 2015 $18.5M $12.15M 3 $6.54M UFA
Brown, Bryce RB 24 BUF 2016 $10.5M $5.25M 3 $3.5M $3.71M UFA
Davis, Vernon TE 31 SF 2015 $16.5M $8.25M 2 $8.42M UFA
Foles, Nick QB 26 STL 2017 $25M $12.5M 4 $6M $6.5M $7M
Garoppolo, Jimmy QB 24 NE 2016 $1.8M $899.88K 3 $599.92K $635.92K UFA
Harvin, Percy WR 27 NYJ 2015 $40.5M $26.6M 3 $14.31M UFA
Michael, Christine RB 25 SEA 2015 $10.2M $6.7M 3 $3.6M UFA
Moreno, Knowshon RB 28 MIA 2015 $8.5M $4.25M 2 $4.34M UFA
Sankey, Bishop RB 23 TEN 2016 $14.43M $7.22M 3 $4.81M $5.1M UFA
Taliaferro, Lorenzo RB 24 BAL 2016 $2.46M $1.23M 3 $820.65K $869.89K UFA
Thomas, De’Anthony RB 22 KC 2016 $1.94M $967.8K 3 $645.2K $683.91K UFA

At this moment, the only player I would consider cutting in advance of the season would be Miles Austin. I’d essentially be able to get out from his 2016 salary by releasing him prior to the season (half of his 2015 $1.83M and half of his 2016 $1.94M would accelerate into 2015). I’ll wait and see where he lands, because even if he’s on my roster Week 1, fully guaranteeing his salary for the year, he’s not a big cap hit.

Even though Austin may be the only player I cut, this is not exactly the roster I envisioned I would have after 2 years of rebuilding. While I can certainly put the $70M to good use, there are four teams with even more space than I have. Outside of Antonio Brown, this team has a lot of mediocrity. Percy Harvin and Nick Foles both have some legitimate upside in their new environments, and Dri Archer, Bryce Brown, Christine Michael, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and De’Athony Thomas are all a teammate injury away from Fantasy prominence. At the risk of one of the other franchise Owners reading this and using it against me during trade talks, I can’t say I’m very excited about Vernon Davis or Bishop Sankey, but maybe they’ll surprise me.

I’m guaranteed to land either Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon with the #2 pick, if I so choose. I will probably do so, or I can trade back. Alternatively, if they end up in a non-Fantasy friendly backfield, I’ll have Amari Cooper as a backup plan. I should be able to land either Winston or Mariota at the top of round 2, but will do so knowing I can’t expect any real production in year one.

There are 157 veteran offensive skill positions players whose contracts expired at the conclusion of the 2014 season. Here’s a look at the top 50 Free Agents (sorted by 2014 Salary). Marshawn Lynch (~$24.8M), Peyton Manning (~$19.8M), and DeMarco Murray (~$23.7M) look like the only players likely to receive Franchise Tags. Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, or Sam Bradford are all sleeper QB tag (~$19.8M) candidates. Teams will have between 18 and 24 players already under contract heading into Free Agency, so everyone will be looking to fill 6 to 12 roster spots. There are a handful of potential gems that are not on this top 50 list, but for the most part…this is it. Some of these guys are going to get a lot more than they’re worth – just like what happens in real life.

PLAYER

POS AGE TM RSO TEAM

2014 Salary

Peterson, Adrian RB 30 MIN Jason Wood $36.21
Johnson, Calvin WR 30 DET Matt Waldman $35.45
Charles, Jamaal RB 29 KC Bob Harris $30.86
Rice, Ray RB 28 BAL Jeff Tefertiller $27.80
Foster, Arian RB 29 HOU Matt Waldman $26.01
White, Roddy WR 34 ATL Mike Clay $21.50
Kaepernick, Colin QB 28 SF Evan Silva $20.91
Lynch, Marshawn RB 29 SEA Russell Clay $20.66
Cruz, Victor WR 29 NYG Mike Clay $17.60
Johnson, Andre WR 34 IND Rivers McCown $16.58
Fitzgerald, Larry WR 32 ARI Matt Deutsch $16.07
Manning, Peyton QB 39 DEN Jim Day $16.07
Brees, Drew QB 36 NO Mike Clay $15.30
Murray, DeMarco RB 27 PHI Matt Deutsch $15.30
Jackson, Vincent WR 32 TB Mike MacGregor $15.05
Crabtree, Michael WR 28 SF Matt Papson $14.03
Smith, Torrey WR 26 SF Ryan McDowell $14.03
Miller, Lamar RB 24 MIA Mike MacGregor $12.75
Bowe, Dwayne WR 31 KC Matt Deutsch $12.50
Jennings, Rashad RB 30 NYG Bob Harris $12.50
Wayne, Reggie WR 37 IND Jim Day $12
Johnson, Chris RB 30 NYJ Jim Day $11.50
Gore, Frank RB 32 IND Matt Papson $11
Jennings, Greg WR 32 MIN Mike Clay $11
Garcon, Pierre WR 29 WAS Jeff Tefertiller $10.71
Welker, Wes WR 34 DEN Russell Clay $10.71
Wallace, Mike WR 29 MIA Mike Clay $10.50
Bush, Reggie RB 30 DET Jason Wood $9.44
Jackson, Steven RB 32 ATL Sigmund Bloom $8
Jackson, Fred RB 34 BUF Russell Clay $7.50
Wright, Kendall WR 26 TEN Jim Day $7.14
Ridley, Stevan RB 26 NE Ryan McDowell $6.63
Baldwin, Doug WR 27 SEA Jason Wood $6
Palmer, Carson QB 36 ARI Matt Papson $6
Bradford, Sam QB 28 PHI Sigmund Bloom $5.87
Holmes, Andre WR 27 OAK Mike Clay $5.50
Smith Sr., Steve WR 36 BAL Bob Harris $5.50
Johnson, Stevie WR 29 SF Bob Harris $5.10
Jones-Drew, Maurice RB 30 OAK Matt Deutsch $5
Manning, Eli QB 34 NYG Evan Silva $5
Rudolph, Kyle TE 26 MIN Matt Papson $4.59
Tannehill, Ryan QB 27 MIA Ryan McDowell $4.59
Dalton, Andy QB 28 CIN Bob Harris $4.50
Roethlisberger, Ben QB 33 PIT Sigmund Bloom $4.34
Stewart, Jonathan RB 28 CAR Sigmund Bloom $4.34
McFadden, Darren RB 28 OAK Matt Deutsch $4
Amendola, Danny WR 30 NE Rivers McCown $3.50
Blount, LeGarrette RB 29 NE Matt Papson $3.50
Rivers, Philip QB 34 SD Jason Wood $3.06

Perhaps I was scarred by my real life experiences, but I’m not one to hand-out mega-contracts. As you can see, the multi-year contracts I handed out last year were relatively low dollar amounts. That means I’m not going to be competing (unless I’m helping enforce fair value) for AP, Calvin Johnson, Jamaal Charles, or Arian Foster.

Admittedly, at the moment, it’s hard to see an easy path to being a contender. I have two of the most valuable pieces in the league right: Antonio Brown at only $6.54M, and the 2nd overall pick – which comes with an affordable contract. Sometime here in the near future, I’m going to have to decide if it’s better to sell those pieces and make a run in 2016, or hope guys like Nick Foles, Percy Harvin, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and some Free Agent signings have big years.

What do you guys think? Does this roster have championship hope in it? Let me know on Twitter @RealitySportsMP

Look for more coverage of this league on the Reality Sports Online Football Ops page as well as on Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio.

More Analysis by Matt Papson

Surprising Uprising: The Top Surprises of The Preseason

Updated: August 21st 2014

Two weeks of preseason games have flown by and with that come some surprises that perhaps we weren’t anticipating.  With that in mind, let’s jump right in to players who perhaps were off your radar but now are squarely a focus for your auctions, rookie drafts, and waiver wire. Since Reality Sports Online Chief Operating Officer (and my de facto editor) Stephen Wendell is as into Top 10 lists as David Letterman, this will be in the format of you guessed it, a Top 10 list. For those of you who don’t know Stephen by now from his recent appearance on Bloomberg TV, he is the person in front of the computer when you log on to the Reality Sports Online website.  Kind of like Steinbrenner in Seinfeld where all you see is the back of his head. So, while Stephen is in search of his calzone, let’s get to the “Surprises in the building!”

1.  Justin Hunter Tears It Up vs. the Saints in Preseason Game 2

Yes, I’m talking about the same Justin Hunter who caught 18 balls for 354 yards and 4 TDs as a rookie.  The high 2nd round draft choice in 2013 out of Tennessee managed to have two 100 yard plus games in his rookie season, which basically showed how much of a zero he was in almost every other game.  However, last week vs. the Saints, Hunter had a coming out party vs. the Saints that made fantasy gurus gush about him with 4 catches for 111 yards and 2 TDs (including a 64 yard “footrace” TD with the twos and a 4 yard TD with the first team offense). Those 4 catches displayed all types of different routes and athleticism including a back of the endzone fade, a back shoulder catch, and over the middle breakaway speed. When someone like Mike Clay of Rotoworld proclaims you “this year’s Alshon Jeffery”, folks who haven’t had their auction yet get really excited.  Temper your expectations some as Hunter is still viewed as the #3 wide receiver on the team as coach Ken Whisenhunt mentioned he still needs to work on route depth and discipline on his releases per ESPN, but his physical gifts will make it hard to keep him off the field this year.  He’s essentially a “cheaper version” of his college teammate Cordarrelle Patterson who I talked about at length in my “Whale Watching” article.

2.  Travis Kelce Gets His “Gronk” On

For the owners who grabbed him in last season’s rookie draft, you’ve waited for this moment.  Granted it is preseason, but Travis Kelce, he of the 6’5, 260 pound frame, is doing his best Rob Gronkowski imitation, busting through the seam for two long touchdowns so far and trucking helpless defenders on the way.  He’s still listed behind Anthony Fasano on the depth chart, but that won’t last long given what Kelce can do now that he’s recovered from microfracture knee surgery.  QB Alex Smith hurled 29 TDs to Vernon Davis when they were teammates and given WR1 Dwayne Bowe’s waning concentration, 1 game suspension, and finger issues, the Chiefs need Kelce’s ability to bust the seam to be successful this year.  This guy is a star in the making and I was “this” close to having him in my “More Time For Some Auction” piece, but after all there are a lot of Tight Ends worthy of consideration in 2014.  Kelce has moved up lots of folks boards, including mine.

3.  In Carolina, It’s All About the Benjamin

When he was drafted in the first round, Kelvin Benjamin was cited as somewhat of a project and an unrefined route runner who would almost exclusively be used as a red-zone threat based on his 6’5, 240 pound frame. However, when you watch the tape of the two preseason games Benjamin has played, he’s faked DB’s out of their cleats on several routes and has already found paydirt.  Cam Newton overthrew him Sunday vs. the Chiefs for what certainly would have been a touchdown as he had clear separation from the defense. While he always had 8 TD potential this season based on his size, he’s turning into quite the football player too.  Word is that he and Cam Newton are “inseparable” and Benjamin will see the most time among all the wide receivers as he’s the best blocking wideout already.  I know that receivers like Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans are going higher in rookie drafts, but Benjamin’s situation screams opportunity and his Calvin Johnson like body frame can make him an elite wide receiver.

4.  And J-Stew, Too

Jonathan Stewart looks pretty good in a baseball cap and sweats on the sidelines.  He looks better when he is actually healthy.  He certainly is available in most of your leagues and appears to finally be healthy for the first time in years and is back from his latest injury (an injured hamstring).  He still has plenty of tread on his tires (he’s only 27 years old) and looked good in a 4 carry, 26 yard and 2 touchdown performance on Sunday vs. Kansas City.  Stewart should be available fairly cheap for you and has had some pretty big seasons in the past with 10 plus TDs twice and heavy receptions in 2011.  Remember that Newton is his biggest threat to steal carries and touchdowns, especially in close, although with the ankle surgery he had over the summer, perhaps the running backs will get more totes in close.  The trade of Kenjon Barner to the Eagles last night should signal that the Panthers are confident in their running back situation.

5. Kenny Britt Is Getting Rave Reviews?

The words “leader” and “#1 receiver” are not what you’d think you’d hear in the same sentence as Kenny Britt.  However, in receiver needy St. Louis, the reunion of Britt with Head Coach Jeff Fisher have brought exactly that so far.  While Britt did exit vs. the Packers with a minor shoulder injury, Britt is getting talked up now that he seems finally healthy from a litany of knee injuries.  For those who think Percy Harvin gets hurt a lot, Britt actually is more injury prone.  He’s viewed as the starting X receiver and Sam Bradford is in a critical year to show that he is the franchise quarterback the Rams thought he’d be when they selected him #1 overall.  Britt is still only 25 years old and has the physical tools and size that top WRs typically display.  He’ll be available for bargain basement prices in your auction and while a one year prove it deal may be best, there is plenty of potential upside for this 2014 training camp surprise.

6. Andy Dalton Gets Huge Deal and Is Living Up to it Thus Far

Fresh off a 7 year, $97 million contract extension, several football writers questioned why the Cincinnati Bengals would give Dalton that kind of money as he hasn’t really lead the team to any playoff success and has been an inconsistent NFL quarterback.  Also, with Jay Gruden now leading the Washington Redskins, Hue Jackson has taken over the reins as offensive coordinator.  Jackson is viewed as a run-heavy coordinator based on his prior experiences in Atlanta and Oakland, but he really hasn’t had the offensive talent that the Bengals do, especially at wide receiver as A.J. Green is a Top 5 elite level wide receiver.  Dalton was 8-8 for 144 yards and a TD vs. the New York Jets (who he owns by the way, including Marvin Jones 4 TD performance in 2013) and overall in the preseason is on fire going 11-13 for 215 yards and the aforementioned 43 yard TD to Mohamed Sanu (who’ll have to step up and perform in light of Marvin Jones foot injury).  More importantly, Dalton hasn’t turned the ball over and has shown the same chemistry with Green in preseason action, as the pair have hooked up early and often.

7. You’re My Boy, Blue

Maybe I should have went with the Eiffel 69 song “I’m Blue” instead of the Old School movie reference, but Texans rookie running back Alfred Blue has shown that he can fill in adequately for Arian Foster, who shows all the warning signs of missing significant time this year, even if nobody is explicitly saying it.  Blue had a touchdown with the first teamers vs. Atlanta on Saturday and showed a good average and caught a few balls vs. Arizona.  The team cut veteran Andre Brown for a reason.  Blue is definitely worth a handcuff and maybe a late round rookie pick if you are in a league that drafts more than 3 rounds of rookies.  It is unclear whether he or journeyman Jonathan Grimes is the handcuff to own right now, but keep your eyes peeled as the rookie from LSU figures to be in the mix and when (not if) Foster goes down, you’ll want one of these guys on your roster.

8. Mark Ingram Flashes What Won Him a Heisman

With the Saints prolific passing game, people treat Sean Payton’s yearly overtures that they will be a more balanced team much like the town treated the boy who cried wolf.  Mark Ingram’s 8 carry, 83 yard, 1 TD performance was an eye opener in the first week of the preseason.  Ingram is a free agent at the end of the season and may not stay with the Saints, but he is certainly earning his keep in the preseason.  Ingram even caught a 23 yard TD vs. the Titans in Week 2 and wants to be more involved in the passing game, ostensibly to be on the field more often and keep competition like Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas on the bench.  Currently, Robinson and Ingram are seeing first team run with Thomas in on passing downs.  There are a lot of footballs to go around in New Orleans and you’ve seen this flash before with Ingram in the preseason so buyer beware.  A one year deal isn’t out of the question, but don’t expect weekly consistent startable production out of Ingram unless he does it for a few weeks in a row in the regular season.

9.  Percy Harvin Isn’t Hurt (Yet) and the Seahawks Are Humming

While he wasn’t used much in Week 1 vs. Denver, Percy Harvin highlighted how wide open the Seahawks playbook looks like with him in the lineup.  The formations and options Russell Wilson have seem limitless when defenses have to concern themselves with where Harvin is lined up on the field.  Harvin is a threat for a bubble screen, fly sweep (reverse) and constant motion, which opens up all type of reads for Wilson, all resulting in big plays last Friday night vs. the Chargers.  For more on that and for those who study film, I highly recommend Bucky Brooks recent article on Seahawks formations with video on NFL.com (for those who follow me on Twitter, I did retweet that and do try to pinpoint meaningful football analysis from some of the best writers and football minds around).  Shameless plug aside, Harvin had 4 catches for 31 yards vs. the Chargers and opened up running lanes for Wilson and Robert Turbin, as well as the seam for Tight End Luke Willson.  Harvin will see some time as a kickoff returner also.  He should factor into the running game too on reverses, probably to the tune of 2 a game.  If healthy, he screams fantasy upside.  Simply, Harvin makes the Seahawks offense so much more balanced and dynamic and with his presence (or even as a decoy), the kid gloves are off the uber efficient Wilson, who will be more than a “game manager” for you in the next few fantasy seasons.  Grab Wilson on a multi-year deal if you can, especially if most of the other QBs in the league are spoken for.  As for Harvin, take caution, but if you can get him for value, a 2 year deal seems about right.

10.  I Think I’m Gonna Have to Go With Blake

If you ever watch NBC’s The Voice, you’ll see countless contestants in their southern drawl say “I think I’m gonna have to go with Blaaaake”-Shelton that is.  After seeing what he can do in the preseason, I’m a big fan of another Blake-Bortles.  He is showing Big Ben type ability and has a talented group of wide receivers to target.  The accuracy has been really solid and the decision making and poise has been better than advertised.  Granted his production has been against second and third string defenses (he just got his first practice reps with the ones), but both Bortles and current starter Chad Henne have played very well in the preseason.  In a weak division, that could signal a surprise season for the Jaguars.  As for your rookie draft, take notice of Bortles and target him in the second round if you need a quarterback as he’s looked best among the rookie signal-callers.

More Analysis by Matt Goodwin