Even though players can’t officially join new organizations until tomorrow at 4:00 PM ET, the “legal tampering period” that began Tuesday brought an avalanche of player news regarding players expected to join new teams tomorrow. With the musical chairs already in motion, we’re going to take a quick look at the major news from the opening wave of player movement through a fantasy lens.
While I would strongly caution remaining on the pessimistic side of players changing scenery through free agency from a small sample look at the wide receiver position, Pro Football Focus’ Scott Barrett doubled down on those initial thoughts and put together a string of information regarding every position as it pertains to the impact free agency has initial fantasy production.
Kirk Cousins to Vikings
Kirk Cousins made the move we all were anticipating him to make, joining the Vikings on a fully-guaranteed $86 million contract over the next three seasons. Cousins is already coming off three consecutive strong fantasy campaigns, finishing as the QB9, QB5 and QB6 in overall scoring at his position over that span. Although he struggled to the finish line last season, his scoring output was perhaps his most impressive considering that he dealt with a supporting cast in constant disarray. He dealt with the annual injury to Jordan Reed, as well as injuries to Chris Thompson and Jamison Crowder, inconsistent play from Josh Doctson in his first real taste of extensive use in the NFL and the free agency bust of Terrelle Pryor. In Minnesota, Cousins will inherit the duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, who ranked 11th and 13th respectively in PPR points per game with Case Keenum as their primary quarterback in 2017. Fond of using his tight end, Cousins also gains Kyle Rudolph, whose 15 touchdowns over the past two seasons rank second amongst all tight ends in the NFL. This was already an offense that ranked eighth in yards (32.6), eighth in scoring rate (41.6 percent) and seventh in touchdown rate (23.1 percent) per drive a year ago, so I don’t want to go wild on projections here, but the upgrade to Cousins will have all of the Minnesota skill players -including the returning presence of Dalvin Cook – selected amongst the top tier starting groups of their positions in fantasy circles this summer with Cousins locked in as another top-10 option at the quarterback position with potential to be higher.
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Allen Robinson to Bears
The most notable wideout available this offseason was Robinson and he was quickly gobbled up the Bears. After missing all but three snaps last season due to a torn ACL, Robinson turns just 25-years old this August and already has a WR6 and WR24 finish on his resume for fantasy purposes. At age 23, he posted an 80/1,400/14 line, joining Isaac Bruce, Randy Moss and Odell Beckham as the only receivers to have a 1,400-yard receiving season with at least a dozen touchdowns in a year before turning 24-years old. His efficiency has been all over the map to start his career, relying on splash plays to carry that gaudy breakout in 2015, but then when those splash plays evaporated in 2016, so did his fantasy stock. In 2015, 37 percent of Robinson’s receptions came on throws 15 yards or further downfield. That mark was just 18 percent in 2016. A big issue for that drop came due to his attachment of Blake Bortles as Robinson’s catchable pass rate also fell for the third straight season. His catchable target rate was all the way down to 56.9 percent in 2016, which was the sixth worst rate for all receivers with 50 or more targets on the season. But one thing Robinson has never been short on is volume, something that shouldn’t appear to be an issue in Chicago. Robinson has averaged 8.1, 9.4 and 9.4 targets per game to start his career and will have little in his path to pushing 25-30 percent of the target volume with the Bears roster. No stranger to volatile quarterback play, Robinson will be at worst a high-volume sporadic contributor playing with second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the upside to regain WR1 output if Trubisky takes off in Matt Nagy’s offense.
The Bears also added Taylor Gabriel to go along with Robinson, but he carries more tactical advantage from a reality stance than one that stands to make a fantasy impact. Gabriel has yet to reach 40 receptions in an NFL season while struggling to shed being a situational player in an offense.
Sammy Watkins to Chiefs
Another receiver with high upside, but with a high range of outcomes is Sammy Watkins. After catching 65 and 60 passes in his first two seasons, Watkins has managed to snare just 67 passes in 23 games played over the past two years. His 2018 was particularly concerning as he was out-targeted and out-played by both Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, two players who are nowhere near the talent spectrum as the core group of pass catchers Watkins will be fighting targets from in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. He’s flashed a major ceiling at times, but Watkins also comes with health risks and has been a volatile producer as he’s been a top-24 scorer in just 19 of 52 career games to this point. Still, Watkins will be 25-years old and will now be a full year plus removed from a second “Jones fracture” surgery that he had last January. The Chiefs are swerving into incorporating an offense that is tailored to the strengths of what Patrick Mahomes worked with in college, something that is a luxury afforded by Kansas City still having all of Mahomes, Hill and Kareem Hunt all on rookie contracts. Watkins has yet to finish higher than WR20 in a season and will be in a fight for targets on a team led by a quarterback with 35 pass attempts in the NFL, but he will unequivocally be the cheapest part of the Kansas City offense outside of Mahomes if you want to make a play on his downside being baked into his cost this summer.
Jimmy Graham to Packers
It feels like it’s been a yearly event for the Packers and fantasy owners to keep chasing the ghost of Jermichael Finley, but here we are again with Graham heading to Green Bay. Turning 32-years old next season, Graham is coming off a 10-touchdown campaign in 2017. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he averaged a career-low 9.1 yards per reception and just 32.5 receiving yards per game, his lowest mark since his rookie season in 2010. To go along with the addition of Graham, the Packers released veteran receiver -who produced like a tight end a year ago- Jordy Nelson. Despite his pedestrian yardage while playing with Rodgers a year ago, Nelson still managed six touchdowns in five games with five of those coming from 10-yards and in, where Graham led the NFL in targets (16) a year ago. Even if he fails to regain his production downfield, Graham can be identical to what he was a year ago – a glorified goal line option – and still make a fantasy impact at a depressed tight end position playing alongside Aaron Rodgers.
Dion Lewis to Titans
Just a week after releasing DeMarco Murray, the Titans added Lewis on a four-year deal, bringing Derrick Henry’s short-lived status as a bellcow back to a halt. Lewis played 16 games in 2017 for the first time in his career on his way to ringing up 180 rushing attempts, besting his career mark of 64 carries set in 2016. Lewis was also effective with those carries, as he ranked third of all back with at least 100 rushing attempts in rate of runs to go for 10 or more yards (13.4 percent). Given his injury history, Lewis’ addition to Tennessee likely means that he and Henry form a combo in which Lewis manages low scoring opportunities but keeps Henry’s receptions totals in a position where it will be hard for Henry to find a stable fantasy floor, leaving him as a boom or bust fantasy option that is dependent on finding the end zone while both are active. Lewis will have a hard time replicating the nine touchdowns he scored in 2017, but Henry was used on just 31.9 percent of the Tennessee passing plays a year ago, while Murray participated on 70.4 percent. Those are snaps that Lewis will surely take the majority of. This move makes Lewis a PPR RB3 with upside if Henry were to miss time and leaves Henry as an RB2 with low reception output.
Paul Richardson to Washington
Washington is adding Paul Richardson to the mix, reportedly on a five-year, $40 million deal. Richardson is coming off a 44/703/6 campaign after catching just 51 passes for 599 yards and two scores over his first three seasons dealing with a plethora of injuries. Richardson also leaves Seattle for a potentially crowded receiving group in Washington. With Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Chris Thompson and sometimes Jordan Reed to contend with for targets, Richardson could very well find himself as the third or lower option in the passing game that is attached to Alex Smith, who has reached 500 pass attempts in a season just twice over 12 years in the league with a high of 508 attempts. Richardson will be a later-round upside pick in the event that targets become more readily available than they are on the surface in this offense.
Case Keenum to Broncos
With Cousins joining the Vikings, Case Keenum was forced to find a new home and he did so quickly, signing a two-year, $36 million deal to join the Broncos. Keenum is coming off a breakout at age 29, passing for 22 touchdowns in 15 games after throwing just 24 touchdowns over his previous 777 pass attempts in the league. His 2017 production could just be a flash in the pan – and the short-term deal doesn’t mean that Denver still won’t select a quarterback with the fifth pick overall this spring- but the Denver offense is run through a shallow passing tree in which Keenum will lean heavily on a pair of receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emanuel Sanders, just as he did a year ago in Minnesota. The downside there is that both Thomas and Sanders are on the downslope of their careers, while Thielen and Diggs were ascending talents. Keenum will be on the radar as a seasonal QB2/weekly streaming option while the starter.
Trey Burton to Bears
Chicago wasn’t done adding to Trubisky’s arsenal with just Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, but also went out and added Burton on a four-year, $32 million deal. The 27-year old tight end has just 63 receptions over his four NFL seasons, but parlayed a 23/238/5 2017 season into a lucrative deal. Burton joins Adam Shaheen – who Chicago selected with the 45th pick last spring- but Matt Nagy used two tight ends on 40.4 percent of his passing plays in 2017 in Kansas City, which ranked fifth in the league. Burton will be the pass catcher of this duo even when both are on the field as he ran a pass route on 55.9 percent of his snaps in 2017 while Shaheen was at just a lowly 28.0 percent mark. Burton will surely set career-marks in 2018 in terms of volume and usage given his contract, but with so much still unknown on the strength of the Chicago passing game as whole, he’ll be an upside TE2 entering the season for fantasy purposes.
Isaiah Crowell to Jets
No running back was more impacted by negative game flow in 2017 than Crowell. He ranked 10th in first half carries (122) in 2017, but fell all the way to 27th in second half rushing opportunities (84) a year ago. That type of game script is something he may find once again in 2018 while his rushing timeshare in New York is also likely to be more pronounced than it was in Cleveland. Crowell accounted for 70.3 percent of the running back carries in Cleveland a year ago and 70.9 percent in 2016. Bilal Powell will be 30-years in October and only has handled feature work in small doses over his career due to surrounding injuries but has 201 and 189 touches over the past two years, 108 more than Duke Johnson had splitting time with Crowell. Crowell will enter the summer as flex option.
Sam Bradford to Cardinals
Although Kirk Cousins got a fully-guaranteed deal, Tom Condon was the real MVP of the day, getting the quarterback starved Cardinals to make a play for Sam Bradford in a deal rumored to be worth nearly $20 million for one season. Bradford is coming off a season with just two starts and has started 16 games just twice in his eight-year career, with the last time occurring in 2012. Due to that consistent run of injuries, Bradford has never finished higher than QB16 for fantasy purposes over the course of his career. Placing Bradford behind an offensive line that allowed 52 sacks (T-30th) a year ago is risky business, but to make matters worse, the Cardinals only have what will be a 35-year old Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson left in the cupboard currently for Bradford to work with.
The Jets also retained Josh McCown on a one-year deal while also adding Teddy Bridgewater on a one-year deal himself. Although the Jets signaled that McCown would be the starter, McCown will be 39-years old entering the season coming off coming off career-highs in starts (13), yards (2,926), touchdowns (18) and completions percentage (67.3 percent). Bridgewater has thrown just two passes since 2015 after suffering a career-threatening knee injury and will be forced to earn further opportunity. The Jets also hold the sixth overall selection in this year’s draft, meaning neither have much safety now on such short deals. McCown was a top-12 scoring quarterback in five of his starts, which will have him stuck in QB2 land for fantasy purposes, but his return would be a positive for second-year breakout Robby Anderson – barring he can stay clear of off-field transgressions. Anderson was the WR8 overall in fantasy through 13 weeks with McCown healthy.
Jonathan Stewart to Giants
Stewart turns 31-years old a week from tomorrow and is reuniting with David Gettleman and Mike Shula in New York. While averaging fewer than 2.0 receptions per game in every year of his career except for one, Stewart is in line to be the plunging back portion of a running back committee on a team that has been one of the worst rushing teams of the past few seasons. Over the past three years, the Giants rank 30th in rushing yards and dead last in rushing touchdowns (17).
Donte Moncrief to Jaguars
Moncrief is joining the Jaguars on a one-year deal. The 25-year old receiver had a promising sophomore campaign, catching 64 passes for 733 yards and six touchdowns, but has managed just 56 catches for 698 yards and nine touchdowns since. Moncrief will have to compete with beating out Dede Westbrook for opportunities as Marqise Lee will reassume his role as the team’s lead wideout and either Keelan Cole – who played all three receive positions as a rookie in injury relief- or Allen Hurns if he is retained occupying the slot role. Odds are that Moncrief’s best bet for opportunity to contribute will be a situational red zone option, which could be thorn for all parties in the Jacksonville passing game.
After announcing the trade of Jarvis Landry, Miami had a hole at their slot receiver position. Landry leaves a cavernous 161 targets on the shelf to go somewhere in this offense. Apparently, the Dolphins weren’t fond on this draft class littered with slot options – nor their depth of Leonte Carroo and Jakeem Grant – as they went out and brought in Wilson on a three-year, $24 million contract as well as Amendola on a two-year deal. Amendola will turn 33-years old during the 2018 season and has been used sparingly in New England in an attempt to preserve his usage. Amendola has played 16 games just twice in nine NFL seasons and his WR43 finish a year ago was the second-highest mark of his career.
Wilson set career-highs in targets (62), receptions (42), yards (554) and touchdowns (three) in 2016. He has slot experience, running 78 percent of his routes in 2016 from the slot per Pro Football Focus as well as 58 percent a year ago. On a yearly basis, Amendola’s deal is near Wilson’s. Neither will match Landry’s share of the offense, but both should be used in unison to carry a portion of the missing opportunity left vacant and both stand to make it hard for either to elevate themselves into a significant fantasy role as the third or fourth option in this offense.
John Brown to Ravens
The Ravens brought in Brown on a one-year prove it deal and the “prove it” portion of that deal will have to come from staying on the field. Brown missed six games in 2017 due to a multitude of muscle strains that may or may not be impacted from the discovery that he has the sickle-cell trait in the 2016 season. At age 27, Brown still posted 14.2 yards per reception, so his deep speed is much needed on an offense that struggled mightily to get the ball downfield in 2017. Joe Flacco completed just 25-of-79 passes (31.6 percent) on throws 15 yards or further downfield a year ago, a mark that ranked 36th of 40 quarterbacks to attempt at least 25 such passes. The Ravens don’t have much wide receiver depth to contend with, but Brown’s health issues paired with the pedestrian output of Flacco leave him as a flyer only for fantasy purposes.
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