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Fri May 29th 2020

Rookie Draft Analysis #4

Analyzing My "Reality Sports Online" Rookie Draft

My fourth rookie draft took place last week in my Reality Sports Online (RSO) league. If you're not part of an RSO league, you really should give it a try. The two things that make RSO leagues challenging and enjoyable are player contracts with a salary cap and free agent auctions. It is a dynasty league like you're used to, with the complexity of managing a salary cap. 

 

You can franchise players and extend contracts, but there is far more churn in rosters year to year because you can only have a certain amount of 1,2,3,4 and 5-year contracts for players. When players are dropped from teams, they enter free agency where they are bid upon in a live auction draft. Every year some outstanding players enter free agency because of their cost. This year, for instance, Amari Cooper, Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones, Leonard Fournette, Melvin Gordon, James Conner, Evan Engram, Zach Ertz, Darren Waller, and Tyler Higbee are all free agents.

 

Finally, rookies (in our league at least) are signed to three-year contracts. Their contracts are automatically accounted for based on where they are drafted. Because of this, our rookie draft board changes quite a bit compared to regular dynasty leagues. Rookies need to prove themselves quickly so that owners can decide whether to extend their contracts. As a result, running backs are drafted a little earlier than wide receivers and tight ends who take more time to break out. First-round picks need to hit it big. Otherwise, owners get strapped to their expensive contracts, so it is more damaging to miss on a first-round pick than it would be in regular dynasty leagues.

 

My good friend, Dave Brown, and I co-manage this team. It's the only league where I have a co-manager, and it has been enjoyable. We won the championship in years one and two, but last year narrowly missed the playoffs mainly due to injuries to Alvin Kamara, Devante Adams, T.Y. Hilton, and Todd Gurley. 

 

It's a basic 12-team, one quarterback, PPR league. There are no kickers and three flex positions. Ten players are in starting line-ups. Rosters are pretty thin, with only 24 players rostered and 3 IR spots. There is blind bidding for players on the waiver wire, but they are only signed to one-year contracts unless owners chose to extend them during the season.

We had difficult financial decisions to make this offseason. We added a franchise tag to Alvin Kamara, which cost us quite a bit. We had to let go of some of the players that carried us to the two Super Bowl wins. We let Aaron Rodgers, T.Y. Hilton, and Robert Woods go in free agency.

 

We finished in 7th place, which meant we had the 6th spot in each round, excluding trades. In an RSO league, we figured that the top-5 running backs would be gone, so we'd take our top wide receiver in round one and the best available player after that, though we did have more needs at wide receiver than we did at running back. With rare exceptions, we don't believe in drafting rookie tight ends in RSO leagues since they take so long to break out, even though we need a tight end.

 

All of that said as context, here is what we did in this year's rookie draft. I won't comment on best values, and biggest reaches like I have in other rookie draft analysis articles because the reasons owners draft players vary significantly in RSO leagues given team needs and salary cap implications.

Round #1

1. Jonathan Taylor

2. Clyde Edwards-Helaire 

3. J.K. Dobbins

4. D'Andre Swift

5. Cam Akers

6. CeeDee Lamb (our pick)

7. Jerry Jeudy

8. Ke'Shawn Vaughn

9. Justin Jefferson

10. Henry Ruggs

11. Michael Pittman

12. Jalen Reagor

  • Our Pick: Dave and I are Cowboy fans, but we're not homers when it comes to making our draft picks. We just see CeeDee as the best player on the board, just as the Cowboys did during the NFL draft. CeeDee has produced at every stage of his career. He has the Rotoviz highest production profile of any receiver in this draft by far. He does come to a crowded wide receiver room with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup but rose to the top before at Oklahoma while playing amongst Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews. We think he will prove himself quickly, allowing us to extend his contract early for a cheaper price if he breaks out quickly. Dave and I saw him tear up our Longhorns for years, especially last year. We're not afraid to take a Sooner. We'll call him a Cowboy now, instead.

Round #2

13. Tee Higgins

14. Denzel Mims

15. Laviska Shenault

16. Joe Burrow

17. Zack Moss

18. Brandon Aiyuk (our pick)

19. Bryan Edwards

20. A.J Dillon

21. Antonio Gibson

22. Chase Claypool

23. Darrynton Evans

24. Anthony McFarland

  • Our Pick: Dave and I both love Brandon Aiyuk and Bryan Edwards. Dave traded up to get Aiyuk in one of our other leagues, and he picked Bryan Edwards right before me in another league we're in together. It would be a tough call between the two in a regular draft, but in an RSP league is became a little easier. With little competition in San Francisco, Aiyuk has a faster track to playing time in his three-year contract and should be a starter from day one, especially since the 49ers traded up to draft him in the first round. We intended to get wide receiver depth in this draft, and landed my #1 and #9 ranked rookie wide receivers.

Round #3

25. Tua Tagovailoa

26. Joshua Kelley

27. Lynn Bowden

28. K.J. Hamler 

29. Van Jefferson

30. Justin Herbert (our pick)

31. Eno Benjamin

32. Josiah Deguara

33. Tyler Johnson

34. DeeJay Dallas

35. Jordan Love

36. Antonio Gandy-Golden

  • Our Pick: We hoped that Joshua Kelley would have fallen to us in round three, especially since we have Austin Ekeler and believe Kelley will beat out Justin Jackson to become the RB-2 in LA and perhaps the goalline back too. We hoped Tua would fall to us as well, but they were the first two picks of round three. We're one of two teams that did not have a quarterback on our roster, but we did not see it as a huge need for our team, given that there are plenty of quarterbacks available for us to purchase during the free agency auction and we've noticed that owners are not willing to bid up quarterbacks. We have the second least amount of salary cap space in this league, so we figured a cheap rookie contract could help us, and think we could acquire Tyrod Taylor very cheaply in the free agent auction and play him until Herbert earns the starting role in LA. We're still confident that we can get a cheap quarterback in free agency since only two teams need a quarterback. The other ten teams will be spending their auction money on different positions. The one-starter positions (quarterback and tight end) are considerably cheaper to buy in RSO leagues.

Round #4

37. Devin Duvernay (our pick) 

38. Adam Trautman

39. Devin Asiasi

40. Cole Kmet 

41. Lamical Perine

42. Jalen Hutz

43. Donovan Peoples-Jones

44. Michael Warren II

45. Albert Okeuegbunam

46. Quintez Cephus (our pick)

47. Gabriel Davis 

48. James Proche (our pick)

  • Our Picks: We added a Sooner in CeeDee Lamb, so we may as well add a fellow Longhorn in Duvernay. He is my #26 ranked rookie, but we acquired him here at pick #37. We were thrilled to get him. Sooners, Marquise Brown, and Mark Andrews are the only proven targets in Baltimore. Duvernay could quickly become the third most targeted player for the Ravens, who do not target running backs. Plus, Marquise Brown is often injured, so Duvernay could get even more targets if Brown is injured. Duvernay was incredibly productive at Texas, he rarely dropped a pass, and he was recruited as a running back, so he has versatile skills. Baltimore is a run-heavy offense, so his upside may be limited, but in the fourth round, we were willing to take a stab on him.
  • During the draft, we traded 4.6 to obtain 4.10 and 4.12. We debated doing so because rookies can clog up rosters in RSO leagues. At the same time, 4th round contracts are very cheap, which means if they break out, you have a steal of a deal, and if you cut them, you don't lose a lot in dead-cap money. Ultimately, we decided to accept the trade offer at the last minute since it would still leave us eight players to add in free agency where we know we need a quarterback and a tight end if not two at each position. The two players at the top of our queue still fell to us in Quintez Cephus and James Proche. Cephus has as high of an upside as anyone picked in this round. He could become the WR-3 in Detroit as early as the middle of the season. He has a different set of skills than Danny Amendola, who currently has that role in Detroit, but that could serve to his advantage if the coaching staff wants a bigger target over the middle. He was a good gamble in and RSO league this late in the draft. Proche has actually ranked ahead of Cephus in my rookie rankings (#29 compared to #36), but he has a harder path to playing time in Baltimore, and in an RSO league, players need to prove themselves faster. We took him here with the last pick of this draft because we like the idea of hedging Duvernay and Proche to see by the end of the 2020 season if one of them has outperformed the other. We can keep the one that does and cut the one that does not without a whole lot of cost to us.

I like what we did in this draft. We added plenty of wide receiver depth with two players at the top who should get plenty of targets as rookies in CeeDee Lamb and Brandon Aiyuk. We drafted three other wide receivers that we can hold and evaluate throughout the year and decide what to do with them next year. Plus, we added a rookie quarterback to give us a little depth behind whomever we purchase in the free agency auction in August.

With eight roster spots left on our team, we know we need at least one quarterback, likely two tight ends and a defense. That's 4-5 players we need to target. We can go cheap at quarterback but need to pay up for tight end or pick a tight end whose upside we like more than others (or one of each). The remaining 3-4 players we add will need to be cheap.

Here is how our team currently looks with $36,676,673 remaining in our salary cap, which is the second least amount, but that will even out quickly when some of the top free agents get picked up at a hefty price in the auction. At least our needs are at the less expensive positions of tight end and quarterback, which is what we planned.

  • Quarterback: Justin Herbert
    • As said before, we plan to add 1-2 quarterbacks in free agency and wait for a cheap one. We can add Tyrod Taylor, too, to get very cheap since teams will not see the need for him as we do.
  • Running Back: Alvin Kamara, Austin Ekeler, Todd Gurley, Phillip Lindsay, and Qadree Ollison.
    • Here is the strength of our team, though the Melvin Gordon signing in Denver hurt Lindsay's value, especially since we have him on an extended contract through 2022. That said, believing the Chargers would not re-sign Gordon, we treaded pick 1.7 in this draft for Austin Ekeler, who has a cheap contract through 2021, and Gordon was signed by Denver a week after we made the trade. It helped and hurt us. Gurley carried us to two Super Bowls and is in the last year of this contract with us, but we like his upside this year and like have Ollison behind him. Kamara is our $41 million franchise player. If he stays healthy this year, we could extend his contact and build our team around him, but he just has one year to prove it. Given that Ekeler, Lindsay, and Ollison are the only running backs we have under contract beyond this year, I'm hopeful that we can trade a wide receiver for a running back with a more extended contract at some point during the season.
  • Wide Receiver: Devante Adams, Terry McLaurin, CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Aiyuk, Robby Anderson, Anthony Miller, Devin Duvernay, James Proche, and Quintez Cephus.
    • Devante Adams was the first player we ever extended in this league, and we have him as the anchor to our passing game through 2022. Terry McLaurin was our 3rd-round rookie steal last year, and we have him on a $1 million contract through 2021, though he could very likely be the player we extend if he improves upon his excellent rookie season. Anthony Miller and Robby Anderson are the only wide receivers whose contracts expire after this year. We feel like they are both poised for a breakout year and could become trade bait or a player we ride into a playoff run before letting them go in free agency. We need two of our rookie wide receivers to hit it big this year to become trade bait for young running backs with longer contracts or just to become a crazy 5-WR team in this PPR league with three flex positions. We'd be happy to shape our team around young wide receivers too.
  • Tight End: O.J. Howard
    • Howard was a bust for us as our first-ever rookie pick. Thankfully we learned our lesson and will not spend draft capital on rookie tight ends any longer. We still chose to keep him on this last year of his awful $4 million contract rather than let him go and eat the deal if no one else picks him up, which is doubtful. There are many top-tight ends available in free agency (Engram, Ertz, Waller, and Higbee) and many high-upside middle-of-the-pack tight ends (Hurst, Doyle, Gronkowski, Jarwin, Ebron, Smith) too. By our estimation, five teams are tight-end-needy, so we will be bidding against five teams to purchase one or two of these ten tight ends. I like our chances of getting a startable tight end in free agency, even with our limited budget.
  • DST
    • Defenses do score a lot in this league's settings, but only two teams kept a defense on their roster. We'll pick up no more than one defense in free agency and pay up for defenses on the waiver wire once volatile defenses show what their value is in the 2020 season.

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