Fantasy football: NFL free agency in focus

Fantasy football: NFL free agency in focus

Free Agents

Fantasy football: NFL free agency in focus

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Free agency drastically reshapes the landscape of NFL rosters year after year and, therefore, fantasy football offerings. Individual players are the name of the game in fake football, yet the nature of the this being a team sport means far more than any given free agent’s ability factors into their ultimate value in drafts.

In this piece, we’ll focus on unrestricted free agents only, with the exception of Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown being the biggest name of the trade market. The following writeups will forecast expected value based on the likely landing places. Players are ranked in order of perceived value, regardless of where they sign, which is subject to change based on the actual landing place.

Quarterbacks

(Bill Streicher, USA TODAY Sports)

Nick Foles (Eagles): It seems to be a foregone conclusion he will be a Jacksonville Jaguar in 2019. Working on this presumption, Foles will not be better than a matchup play — and only if the Jags make a noted effort to improve their receiving talent pool.1

Tyrod Taylor (Browns): Taylor’s best chance for a starting spot is Washington. His nature is to protect the ball and move the chains in a methodical way, which fits into how Washington’s entire team is composed: Play quality defense, move the sticks. Taylor has show in his career to be no more likely to offer matchup-driven starts than being worthy of the bench.

Teddy Bridgewater (Saints): There’s a decent change Bridgewater could be re-signed to back up Drew Brees, but the journeyman is in his prime and figures to be champing at the bit to get a better shot at starting. The best guess is he returns to the Saints, but don’t write off the Washington Redskins in the event they cannot find a clear-cut better option for 2019.

Ryan Fitzpatrick (Buccaneers): Every stop of his career, Fitz has a game or two that opens the eyes of fantasy owners. At 36, he’s not going to be signed to start, but there’s a chance he could see the field depending on where he plays.

Running backs

(Charles LeClaire, USA TODAY Sports)

Le’Veon Bell (Steelers): The biggest name on the open market, Bell will have a number of options at his disposal. He also has shown that money matters more than arguably anything else, so any potential suitor will need a pocket full of cash before he even talks to them. Among the likely options, Oakland has the money and the obvious need for a running back. Jon Gruden loves himself a proven veteran, and on the eve of moving to Las Vegas, having a big name is a draw. The New York Jets ($99 million in space) and the Indianapolis Colts ($101.4M) have a more money than all other teams, and they both could upgrade the position — New York more than Indy. San Francisco is an interesting spot for him, and it has the money to spare. Other teams with a need but no money include Philadelphia ($15.5M), Tampa Bay ($10.3M) and Atlanta ($6.9M).

The top dark horse is Houston, despite its GM publicly backing Lamar Miller as its starter as recently as last week. The Texans have a ton of money (fifth most) and could be a player of Bell’s caliber away from being a scary contender. All things considered, after sitting out a year and being 27 years old, Bell may not be the same guy as we’ve seen in Pittsburgh. Injuries are also a huge concern. Nonetheless, he’ll be drafted as an RB1 based on name value.

Tevin Coleman (Falcons): Coleman enters his age-26 season and is coming off of a nine-touchdown season with his career-best five scores factored into the equation. He was hampered by a battered offensive line, mundane play-calling, a pass-first philosophy, injuries, and a time share at various points in his four-year stint with Atlanta. The Eagles, Buffalo, NYJ, Oakland … Houston … so many teams are in play, because it is unlikely Coleman will be signed with the idea of converting him into a feature role.

Mark Ingram (Saints): It appears as though the veteran will re-sign with the Saints, if the price is right. New Orleans doesn’t have a tremendous amount of cap space — the sixth least, in fact — and there’s the obvious relationship for a discounted price. He has RB2 worth in standard leagues but is a better flex in all formats.

C.J. Anderson (Rams): With the news of Todd Gurley suffering from an arthritic knee and Anderson playing so well in his absence, it seems only natural for this couple to reunite in free agency. If not, he has a shot at finding a new home, which should have gamers suspicious of his worth after stops in Denver, Carolina and Oakland looked nothing like his short stay in Los Angeles.

T.J. Yeldon (Jaguars): Much like Murray, Yeldon is rather one-dimensional but instead as a pass-catching back. The right opportunity could make him a PPR flex play on a weekly basis. Those situations are few and far between, so it is more likely Yeldon will be forced to watch the major dominoes fall before he finds a home.

Latavius Murray (Vikings): Murray will find a job in a split backfield and has matchup worth in any system. Given his limited, clearly defined role, Murray could land in a number of cities. He’s more of a “keep an eye on him” type without a home.

Adrian Peterson (Redskins): His 2018 season opened a few eyes and could give Peterson a fair shot at finding a part-time role in free agency. His best bet is returning to Washington to work in tandem with second-year back Derrius Guice (knee). There isn’t a lot of fantasy light at the end of that tunnel for Peterson, however, and he’s merely a late-round fringe choice despite his quality showing last year.

Jay Ajayi (Eagles): Coming off a torn ACL, Ajayi has little leverage entering free agency. His health is the No. 1 factor, and with the exception of a few cases, running backs are usually unproductive in the first season after this injury. The upside is he tore the ligament in Week 5, giving him a better chance of being ready.

Alex Collins (Ravens): After his recent arrest, it is unclear if any team will take a chance on him — and/or if he will be suspended. Collins could be a late-round flier if all of this is sorted out sooner than later.

Others to note: Doug Martin (Raiders), Marshawn Lynch (Raiders), Ameer Abdullah (Vikings), Darren Sproles (Eagles), Spencer Ware (Chiefs), Bilal Powell (Jets), Buck Allen (Ravens)

Wide receivers

(Philip G. Pavely, USA TODAY Sports)

Antonio Brown (Steelers): AB’s services will come down to a team’s willingness to pay the price via trade, absorb his contract, and put up with his antics. The Jets and Cardinals have been ruled out by media reports, joining a few others, which leaves the Raiders as the last team standing in the sweepstakes. Reports from ESPN say the Steelers are asking too much for several teams. Provided it is the Raiders, we’re looking at a decent enough quarterback situation and a defense that will require ample passing to make Brown a midrange WR1 by volume. He’s bound to regress at some point, and it seems likely to be now with all of the changes. Elite, historically great players transcend their surroundings, so he earns the benefit of the doubt for the top spot on a fantasy roster and in Round 1.

Golden Tate (Eagles): On merit alone, Tate has the best track record of free-agent receivers. Entering an age-31 season, the veteran’s options could be limited if his asking price is steep. In the right situation, he has a strong chance of contributing in a meaningful way. There are far too many options for a player of Tate’s pedigree, and money should be a priority for what looks like his last chance at a substantial payday. Baltimore, Indianapolis, Oakland, Carolina, New England, Philly, San Francisco all seem to be closer to likely than not. Tate’s fantasy value should range from a decent PPR WR2 down to an occasional flex play, depending on the landing spot.

John Brown (Ravens): Brown and Lamar Jackson were on different planets in 2018, and the speedy receiver will look for a big payout before he turns 30. Reuniting with Bruce Arians in Tampa Bay seems logical, especially if DeSean Jackson indeed leaves. Indianapolis could be another strong contender, and Oakland shouldn’t be dismissed. Brown has sneaky value in the right situation, but his location will drastically alter this worth. Stay tuned…

Tyrell Williams (Chargers): Oakland has been said to have strong interest in the divisional foe. Williams has shown enough to deserve a long look from plenty of needy teams, and it’s not crazy to think the Chargers will at least make a play to re-sign him. Given Keenan Allen and former first-rounder Mike Williams being on the roster, Tyrell Williams could seek out an easier path to being a leading receiver. He sees himself as a No. 1 and very well could look to prove it on the open market. Indy appears to be all about luring Williams away from the Bolts.

Donte Moncrief (Jaguars): The positive after a rocky ride the last few years is Moncrief enters his age-26 season with considerable experience. He led the Jags in targets but with only 89, and the former Colt stayed on the field for 16 games. The one-year experiment in Jacksonville won’t translate into a huge payday, yet he will have a market. The New York Jets could look to his services, and several other teams are in the mix. He isn’t a real-life No. 1, so his landing spot will dictate Moncrief’s fantasy outlook more so than usual with a player on the move. Think WR3 territory.

Michael Crabtree (Ravens): Baltimore cut the veteran shortly before free agency, and his market should be lively. The well-traveled Crabtree turns 32 early in the 2019 season and will have a bevy of options due to his ability to line up all over the field. There are plenty of receiver-starved clubs, too, so money could be a significant factor. At his age and with Crabtree’s lack of a Super Bowl ring, he’s likely to join a contender. Indianapolis makes sense, as does Houston, Tennessee, Seattle and Dallas. Don’t rule out New England or Philadelphia. He’s a matchup-based WR3 or flex in fantasy, regardless of his new locale.

Randall Cobb (Packers): Cobb enters his age-29 season (seems older, doesn’t he?) and appears to be destined to sign elsewhere with Green Bay having a host of talented, young wideouts. The oft-injured Cobb could be a chain-moving type in Oakland, reuniting with Jordy Nelson. There are just too many possible outcomes to give him a reasonable fantasy assessment, and a player of his skill set is versatile enough to produce a wide range in fantasy outcomes.

Cole Beasley (Cowboys): He’s asking for $20 million in guaranteed money at 30 years old in April, which isn’t insane but it’s teetering on the brink. Beasley’s market may be limited outside of Dallas, and he has a niche role for any team. It might come down to his desire to be paid vs. interest in winning. Indianapolis is probably the best team with the money and need to meet his request. NYJ, Buffalo, Oakland and San Fran have money and need but are far away from being legit threats in the postseason. Beasley is a PPR flex in any best-case scenario.

Adam Humphries (Buccaneers): Humphries peaked at the right time last year, inflating his value on the open market with a 76-816-5 line. This should be his springboard to at least test the market, and given his skill set, the money-to-opportunity relationship should on his shortest list of concerns.

Demaryius Thomas (Texans): On pedigree alone, Thomas is probably the top true free agent. Yet, coming off of an Achilles tear and a lackluster stretch the past three years, Thomas (31) may struggle to find a worthwhile opportunity.

Devin Funchess (Panthers): Funchess has failed to amount to much more than unharnessed potential. Perhaps he proves to be a case of a new environment turning his career around? Don’t hold your breath.

Dez Bryant (Saints): Coming off a torn Achilles, at 30 years old with all of his baggage, Bryant could struggle to find a landing spot.

Jamison Crowder (Redskins): A PPR flier only, and his fantasy worth is trending the wrong direction due to injury concerns.

Others to note: Dontrelle Inman (Colts), Chris Hogan (Patriots), Ryan Grant (Colts), Pierre Garcon (49ers), Phillip Dorsett (Patriots)

Tight ends

(Scott R. Galvin, USA TODAY Sports)

Tyler Eifert (Bengals): Despite his considerable talent, Eifert’s ridiculously extensive injury history will scare off many a teams. The new offense isn’t necessarily the friendliest for tight ends, and he could be interested in finding greener pastures. Chalk him up as another guy whose desire to win will play an oversized role in his fantasy potential. A weak market could force teams to pay up for Eifert.

Jared Cook (Raiders): The 10-year veteran turns 32 for the 2019 season and is coming off of one of his strongest seasons to date. He will test the market, and Detroit is emerging as a contender for Cook’s services. Don’t rule out a return to Oakland, given the available money, his relationship with Derek Carr, and Gruden’s love of elder statesmen. Cincinnati or Houston could be in play, and Cook’s interest in winning a Super Bowl will be a major factor in his upcoming decision.

Jesse James (Steelers): Several teams could show interest in James, even though he isn’t exactly a fantasy force at the position. He has flashed but is far more of a well-rounded tight end than a pass-catching type. There are a few options, and returning to Pittsburgh could be in the cards with a lukewarm market. Given the scarcity in this year’s free-agent pool at his position, James could be overpaid and thrust into a starting role. He has low-end TE1 potential in the right situation.

Dwayne Allen (Patriots): Two seasons after leaving Indy, Allen has been released by the Pats. A once-promising career will need a second reboot in order for him to have fantasy-relevant upside. The Lions could be a strong suitor, and it remains to be see if Allen will be viewed as a No. 1 tight end or just part of a committee by NFL clubs. Miami, Buffalo and Baltimore also have been tied to Allen.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Jaguars): The raw talent exists, although Seferian-Jenkins didn’t capitalize on last year’s opportunity prior to an injury that ended his season. In the right situation, he could be a low-tier fantasy consideration due to a mostly weak pool.

Others of note: Charles Clay (Buffalo), C.J. Uzomah (Bengals), Tyler Kroft (Bengals), Maxx Williams (Ravens)

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