The NFL calendar in the off-season over recent years has seen a higher increase in fantasy interest. Dynasty leagues are flourishing like never before. While this may account for a large portion of the interest, regular redraft leaguers are instinctively drawn to the free agency moves too. Getting an early feel for the NFL team transforms can help us build a picture of the coming season and the nuances of the fantasy players in their new environs.
Here's the hard part. Last season when Eric Decker went to the Tennessee Titans, some looked upon him as perhaps a strong fantasy dark horse. It wasn't to be. Decker turned out underused and found himself almost off the fantasy radar in all but the deepest leagues of both standard and PPR.
Examples like this abound. How can we sharpen our evaluation expectations for free agents and their value within the scheme of their new team? I believe the character of a team must always come first and then find the fit. Some furniture looks better in one house and lousy in another.
2018 Free Agency Unleashed
Every year I debate myself over how to best organize the free agent moves in a coherent and easy manner for people involved with fantasy to follow. I have decided to go with sorting by position and group them in a level of importance or fantasy relevance as best I can.
Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
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The biggest of the contracts and probably the safest for the other skill players on the Vikings. Cousins should haul in good fantasy value as a QB1 on his own and easily make it well within the top 10 quarterbacks taken in drafts. There is a possibility he could slightly overbake on the ADPs and go above the rank consensus. Cousins is in the high range anyway, so it's down to the hairs we split in the run up to the season.
As for Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, I would evaluate them as more or less the same with Cousins throwing, but giving a better edge to Thielen of the two. With the return of Dalvin Cook expected, I'm optimistic for higher PPR value for him, or at bare minimum, the same average of 4.0 receptions per game we saw before his injury early in 2017 season.
For me, however, the big fantasy winner here is Kyle Rudolph. Cousins showed some preference for his tight ends in Washington. Although Vernon Davis and Jordan Reed as individuals were nowhere near the top of receiving tight ends, they combined for around 20% team total with 78 receptions. Rudolph, by comparison only hauled in 57 of his 81 targets in 2017.
So I expect Rudolph's usage to increase in 2018 and be the hot TE pickup as a side advantage from the Cousins move to the Vikings.
Case Keenum, Denver Broncos
Second prize for the Broncos who were strongly in the mix for acquiring Kirk Cousins. Keenum, if given a pocket that won't collapse all the time, will give the Broncos at least adequate competitiveness on offense.
This is the whole key. The Broncos pass blocking was terrible in 2017 and even the elite quarterbacks in the league would struggle if they were in that situation. Keenum is a straight away solid QB2 for fantasy and for those who like waiting deep for a quarterback, he could reap a decent ROI.
Again though, beware the risk. The Broncos line really needs improvement and I will follow this closely to see how good the changes are. Watch the draft to see if Broncos go line heavy. If they do, then that will indicate how the Broncos are with the spare parts to simply square up the status quo. The problems stem with tackles and guards because the Broncos obviously feel that C Matt Paradis is solid enough to build around.
As for the skill implications, there are some moves yet to see at this stage. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders remain in place and their values could improve. No matter what, they should be far safer fantasy draftees than in 2017.
Keep your eyes peeled for a possible sleeper tight end to emerge. The Broncos haven't rounded out their offense with a good one since Julius Thomas, so I'd pay some attention on what they are doing in that area this off-season.
Sam Bradford & Mike Glennon, Arizona Cardinals
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Not impressed. At all. And if it stays like this after the draft and into the OTAs, we got problems in fantasy with the Cardinals.
Sam Bradford can never stay healthy and Glennon just doesn't possess the skill to be a fantasy option at all. Worse, the skill players, right down to star running back David Johnson would get a downgrade.
I'm hoping these guys are just camp arming for a rookie the Cards have an eye on. The Eagles are clinging hard (too hard imo) to Nick Foles and he would have fit nicely in Arizona. The Cardinals are therefore stacking up for a quarterback competition of some form and again I suspect a rookie will enter the house.
Not going to evaluate the skill players at this point, but I will say it looks unsteady as of March 2018. If Bradford can stay on the field and play above his value bracket, of which he is quite capable, then there's a chance for the birds to maintain a strong team in the post-Arians period.
Teddy Bridgewater, NY Jets
At some point, the Jets will start Bridgewater who signed just a single year contract. In a sense, he's almost being treated as though he is about to start all over again with a "second" rookie season. McCown as the currently named starter fits the narrative perfectly as the old veteran journeyman ready to give way to the new kid.
This is one of those situations where dynasty fantasy footballers have to think about trade values and so forth. In redraft, there isn't much concern because Bridgewater isn't really up for consideration - in the main at least.
His value does get a boost and I can imagine some interesting dynasty haggling which varies depending on your team needs. That's where Bridgewater's overall value will likely develop from.
Tyrod Taylor, Cleveland Browns
Taylor will provide a bridge for whatever rookie the Browns settle on. I doubt he will start too many games over 2018.
Dion Lewis, Tennessee Titans
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Just when I was celebrating the liberation of Derrick Henry, the Titans do this. It means we're pretty much back to square one with the Titans backfield and a coaching change didn't make a damn bit of difference as to how Tennessee will run the offense. So I ask myself, what was the point of firing Mike Mularkey?
Welp, what am I seeing here? I see a committee that uses both running backs (again) and I see no clear lead back every week. We're really up against it for giving a determination on value for both running backs right now.
We'll have to see what Mike Vrabel has to say during the off-season of where he's going with this offense. Looks like 'stay the course' to me as of now.
Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco 49ers
Here's a real interesting move and I love it. I would say that McKinnon is easily the big winner of the 2018 free agency moves. The way the 49ers and Shanahan are moving forward with this offense, finally gives McKinnon the ball as a the versatile running back he is. Because of a lackluster history in the numbers, he might go under the fantasy radar. The way I feel right now, I'm reaching.
Jerick McKinnon joins his friend Matt Breida on the 49ers. Like Adrian Peterson, Both areeorgia Southern alumni. So this Georgia Southern connection continues to follow him.
Keep McKinnon in your target sights.
Carlos Hyde, Cleveland Browns
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This move gives the Browns some room to give up their first round choice and yet maintain a strong enough backfield without having to draft Saquon Barkley. So this looks like a bargaining manuever to give Barkley to the highest bidder come draft day. Or, they can still draft him - opens up options. That's just me speculating.
On the fantasy front, this move downgrades Carlos Hyde or at best becoming risk/reward. Duke Johnson probably maintains a similar value as 2017, but both remain in a tentative position until we actually see what the Browns do in the draft. As things stand, Hyde is in a similar position to Isaiah Crowell from fantasy standpoint.
Isaiah Crowell, NY Jets
It's a bit of a sideways move for Crowell. The Jets are not much better than the Browns for ground and pound football. That said, Crowell is a very durable running back and with Matt Forte out of the mix, there is some upside for Crowell to flourish in New York.
He'll certainly attract fantasy interest and perhaps has a chance at consistent RB2 fantasy production depending on how Todd Bowles adjusts the RB committee course for 2018 without Forte.
Jonathan Stewart, NY Giants
I think we can safely say that Stewart will become draftable in 2018 as a handcuff. The Giants, with the second draft pick, will try for Saquon Barkley if the Browns don't grab him first. It's possible. The Browns have secured Carlos Hyde after releasing Isaiah Crowell and still have Duke Johnson.
Sammy Watkins, Kansas City Chiefs
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This is a real toughie. With Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce already in the catbird seat, how does Watkins turning up make a difference? Let's not forget about Kareem Hunt's role in the Chiefs passing game either.
Patrick Mahomes as the new starter doesn't help matters because we cannot be certain of the texture this offense takes. He's not Alex Smith, but Andy Reid to me is like a "system" coach. So I will have great difficulty pushing Watkins into even the WR3 levels. Let's face it, he was a second banana with Jared Goff after Robert Woods. I would argue he made Woods and Cooper Kupp stars on the Rams by just being there.
Looking at it from the opposite end; a late round flier just seems too low. I really need to see the chemistry he has with Mahomes throughout the off-season before I can begin settling on where I would rank Sammy Watkins. Beyond that, get some inkling of how Reid sees this offense. The jury will return, but for now Watkins lies somewhere between two wide extremes. No matter what, drafting him is fraught with danger.
Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns
The Browns now have a powerful looking group of receivers with Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon. It's impressive, but where the targets go is another matter. With Tyrod Taylor and a rookie soon joining, it's anyone's guess how this offense unfolds.
I don't think I could dare putting high picks on this group if I was drafting today. Landry will continue with PPR value at some level, but I might put Gordon and Coleman higher for touchdowns. The Browns are rapidly becoming a team with too many mouths to feed.
Ryan Grant, Baltimore Ravens
The depthless Ravens appear to be giving up on Jeremy Maclin, of whom I thought was a poor fit in the first place. Ryan Grant started out in Washington as the number three or four receiver in 2017. His usage gained steadily throughout the season and he ended up as the second receiver (45-573-4) on the Redskins in total yardage behind Jameison Crowder.
He's risen in form, of that there is no doubt. Still, it's kinda weird that the Ravens are passing on better options - unless of course they intend to draft their way out of it. I will say this, Grant I believe fits their scheme as a hard-nosed after the catch runner. Evaluating Grant will be difficult until we see the rest of the pieces.
With former Cardinal John Brown (q.v.) on the other side, it's a strange mix the Ravens are brewing at the moment.
Paul Richardson, Washington Redskins
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I'd prefer perhaps another team for Richardson. The Redskins are just fine as a landing spot in a real football sense I suppose, but for fantasy, I'm less enthused. He made a decent 44-703-6 in 2017, but to improve on that with Alex Smith and the prevailing design of this diverse offense is a big ask. With emergence of Josh Doctson and target heavy Jameison Crowder, it just seems Richardson belongs on a team with just a little more offensive potency. Middle WR3 territory at best.
Danny Amendola, Miami Dolphins
I think we're getting near the end for Danny. 2018 will mark his 10th anniversary in the NFL. His usage in 2017 skyrocketed in New England along with Chris Hogan after the injury to Julian Edelman. The Dolphins are pretty stacked already even after the release of Jarvis Landry. There is a chance for his typical 500+ yards, but from a WR3/4 perspective, what is there to gain outside of deep leagues?
John Brown, Baltimore Ravens
The days of John Brown getting middle round fantasy consideration are long gone. This move doesn't improve his status at all either. I suppose the only upside, if he maintains his health, is that the Ravens are really lacking depth at wide receiver. However, the physical nature of this offense makes Brown a somewhat strange fit and with his frailties - that's not good.
Taylor Gabriel, Chicago Bears
Nice move. Gabriel is an explosive playmaker who unfortunately only had spot start value in Atlanta if Julio Jones or Mohamed Sanu missed time. In depth starved Chicago, Gabriel has a real chance for a lead position. His value will depend on who else enters the mix this off-season, but I do like the start the Bears are making here. 2018 will be Gabriel's 5th season.
Donte Moncrief, Jacksonville Jaguars
I'm not sure what the Jaguars get out of this considering they have enough wide receivers as it is. So I consider this move surplus to requirements. With Marqise Lee, Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole and Allen Hurns already sitting in the scheme, Moncrief has to plenty to compete against. Mark me down as "no thanks" for 2018.
Jimmy Graham, Green Bay Packers
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Intriguing. Although some injuries have crept into the 31 year-old's career in recent times, I still consider his shelf-life more than solid enough to secure high TE1 status. Upside galore too, especially with the release of Jordy Nelson.
As with other tight ends the Packers put pen to contracts with, Aaron Rodgers has a tendency to work them into his offense by degree. So definitely a top fantasy draft choice, but patience may be the key to getting a fantasy reward.
Then again, in Graham's case, they might want to get him heavy involvement from Week 1 considering the slot work about to be available as the receivers shift into other spaces Jordy Nelson vacates.
A great gain for the Pack in both fantasy and real football.
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