Updated: Monday, April 5, at 4:55 p.m. EDT
Now that NFL free agency is upon us, here is where we’ll run through the fantasy football outlooks for trades, re-signings, midrange players, and tag recipients.
This analysis will be updated as players sign/re-sign in free agency, so be sure to check back regularly.
Signed with new team or traded
- QB Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers
- RB Mike Davis, Atlanta Falcons
- WR Kenny Golladay, New York Giants
- WR Will Fuller, Miami Dolphins
- RB Kenyan Drake, Las Vegas Raiders
- WR Curtis Samuel, Washington Football Team
- WR Marvin Jones Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars
- TE Hunter Henry, New England Patriots
- WR Corey Davis, New York Jets
- TE Jonnu Smith, New England Patriots
- QBs Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff swapped
WR Willie Snead, Las Vegas Raiders: The veteran chain-mover leaves Baltimore after performing adequately as Lamar Jackson’s safety outlet. Derek Carr needs a veteran player of this mold to step up, and the fit makes sense. The Raiders are still trying to get the most out of 2020 first-rounder Henry Ruggs as a deep threat, and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow has been erratic as a possession target. The jury is still out on Bryan Edwards as he enters Year 2, and John Brown comes over from Buffalo as a quasi-deep threat in his own right. Zay Jones was re-signed and has strong support within the organization, although his talent has yet to materialize. Snead is just another warm body, and Vegas has collected its fair share of mediocre talent at the position. It’s tough to envision Snead being a factor in fantasy plans at this point.
WR Sammy Watkins, Baltimore Ravens: The move makes sense for the Ravens as a franchise looking for a veteran presence among a young receiving corps. Furthermore, defenses will have to decide whether to double Watkins or Marquise Brown on vertical routes. Quarterback Lamar Jackson’s scrambling ability can work in Watkins’ favor, since the longer the play is alive, the greater it favors the receiver in his matchup. There will be extra pressure on Watkins to show he can be the guy once again, but he also re-enters Greg Roman’s system, one that produced the receiver’s best fantasy season in 2015. It’s not all roses, though, since injuries dominate the conversation of what gamers should expect from Watkins. He has not finished a full slate since his 2014 rookie season. Consider gambling on him as a WR4 in fantasy, and there’s a puncher’s chance he finishes as a borderline WR2/WR3 when the dust settles.
WR Adam Humphries, Washington Football Team: There’s a hint of potential here for Humphries to produce fantasy-worthy work in 2021. The Washington offense needed a trusty slot receiver, which he has proven to be when on the field, but the glaring concern is whether he can hold up. Humphries played in all 32 games in the two years with Tampa Bay prior to joining Tennessee, and a career-high 105 targets in 2018 has been followed up with only 19 appearances over the past 32 games in the regular season. At best, Humphries is worthy of a late-round gamble in deep PPR leagues.
RB Matt Breida, Buffalo Bills: The former San Francisco and most recently Miami back brings world-class speed to Buffalo’s backfield. The undersized Breida was lightning in a bottle at times for the 49ers, and while he was too often injured, Breida managed to gut it out and play through injury quite a bit. In Miami, despite have the who’s who of nobodies around him, Breida wasn’t able to get it going and struggled to see the field. Miami has been a place where RBs go to retire in recent memory, though it is fair to question how much Breida benefited from Kyle Shanahan’s dynamic rushing system. Buffalo has a talented line and formidable offense around Breida, but he joins Devin Singletary and Zack Moss in what figures to be a game of musical chairs with only two seats. All three backs likely make the roster, and none of them are primed for much relevance in fantasy, barring an unforeseen twist.
RB Tevin Coleman, New York Jets: Coleman joins his former passing game coordinator, Mike LaFleur, in New York. Head coach Robert Saleh was San Francisco’s defensive coordinator during Coleman’s time with the Niners, so there’s a clear connection here. LaFleur becomes the offensive playcaller for Saleh, and it obviously gives Coleman a fast-track opportunity with his new playbook. Look for New York to continue addressing the position, likely via the NFL draft. Coleman’s fantasy utility is clearly based on his touch share, and we won’t have a strong idea of this until the backfield rounds out. For now, he has flex value as his season-long ceiling.
RB Damien Williams, Chicago Bears: The veteran back is best viewed as insurance in case Tarik Cohen (knee) is unable to return to form after tearing an ACL in Week 3 of last season. Williams missed all of 2020 as part of the COVID-19 opt-out policy while his mother fought Stage 4 cancer. He didn’t come from Miami to Kansas City until the year after Matt Nagy became Chicago’s head coach (2018), but there is familiarity with the overarching themes of this offensive system, coordinated by Bill Lazor. Williams also can serve as a change-of-pace and spell for David Montgomery, since the former Chief gives the Bears more ability between the tackles than Cohen offers. Despite entering a mostly positive situation for Williams to succeed, he’ll need to do so with help in order to make his presence felt in fantasy action.
WR Josh Reynolds, Tennessee Titans: Salary-cap constraints, due to COVID-19, and poor financial planning by the front office has left Tennessee in a lurch. Sure, the team added LB Bud Dupree (knee) to a mega deal, which is a different conversation entirely, but the offense is going to be thin with proven talent on the outskirts of the nucleus (Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown). Long story short, that’s how we get to Reynolds joining as the presumed WR2. He offers some deep game to stretch the field, and the former Los Angeles Ram will see single coverage most of the time. There’s upside for production similar to what Corey Davis produced in 2020 (65-984-5). Look for the Titans to draft a receiver and possibly add another cheaper option in free agency to push Reynolds for playing time.
WR DeSean Jackson, Los Angeles Rams: D-Jax will hit a few homers that invariably will be a nightmare to project, and he’s arguably more likely to miss most of the season. There’s no single-season value here for drafters, although he could justify a DFS flier or two in the upcoming year.
RB Phillip Lindsay, Houston Texans: Houston, we have a problem … or a potential one, anyway. Lindsay and Denver couldn’t make things work, so a mutual divorce sent him to the open market. He joins running back David Johnson and fellow incoming RB Mark Ingram. One mustn’t be Ben Matlock to successful argue Ingram and Johnson require an insurance policy. It’s just a strange fit for both Houston and Lindsay, only further complicating the outlook from a fantasy perspective. Something feels like it’s bound to change here in the coming months, so keep a close eye on this trio. Lindsay has flex potential if the Texans give him enough touches, but this defense is awful, so it’s unlikely three backs (or even two) get enough handles to consistently matter. “Yuck” is the nicest four-letter word coming to mind right now to describe this situation.
RB Mike Boone, Denver Broncos: The release of running back Phillip Lindsay paved the way for the former Minnesota Viking to sign a two-year deal. He has the potential to be a fantasy sleeper if something were to happen to Melvin Gordon, but we’ll see Boone receive ample playing time to warrant a selection in drafts. He brings a nimble blend of versatility in the passing game and explosiveness out of the backfield on tosses. Even though the offense will go through Gordon, Boone has a chance to touch the ball around 10 times a game. Barring another addition, say a high-round draft choice, Boone is poised to fly under the radar in casual leagues and should be a handcuff to Gordon. In his own regard, Boone is a No. 4 back with RB3 upside as a change of pace.
WR Breshad Perriman, Detroit Lions: The son of former Lions receiver Brett Perriman, Breshad has a mildly profitable situation ahead. Quarterback Jared Goff is the starter, and he’s definitely an upgrade over what the Jets deployed last year. Perriman will be 28 on Sept. 10, and he still has plenty of speed. With Tampa Bay in 2019, he was a hero of the fantasy postseason. In 2021, provided he escapes injury, Perriman has late-round relevance in most leagues due to a weak Detroit defense and suspect weapons around him.
WR David Moore, Carolina Panthers: The former Seattle Seahawk was good for six touchdown grabs in 2020 as he found favorable single coverage with all of the attention paid to slowing DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. The Panthers have Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore — no slouches, but not the same cover as Moore had running interference for him in Seattle. And the quarterback situation is a massive drop-off from Russell Wilson to Sam Darnold. Moore has just enough potential to be in the conversation of late-round fliers for deep leagues.
WR Keelan Cole, New York Jets: A complementary piece, Cole is coming off a career-best fantasy season with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He made a promising NFL debut in 2017 and mostly disappeared for two seasons before resurfacing a year ago (55-642-5). New York still has to finalize its 2021 quarterback plans. It appears to be rookie No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson at this point. Cole will try to fit in with slot receiver Jamison Crowder, second-year vertical threat Denzel Mims, and fellow newcomer Corey Davis, a chain-moving type. Being a slot receiver more than 64 percent of the snaps in 2020 and more than half of his time the year before, Cole is a nice insurance policy for the oft-dinged Crowder. Expect a setback statistically for Cole, unless he finds his way into a prominent role via injury.
TE Kyle Rudolph, New York Giants: Big Blue has tight end Evan Engram under contract through the end of this season, and as anyone who has paid attention can attest, he’s no stranger to the injury bug. Rudolph has seen his fantasy production dip in four straight seasons, and he makes his way to the G-Men after refusing a lower salary with the Vikes. In New York, he enters Jason Garrett’s offense that helped make tight end Jason Witten a fantasy staple in Dallas. The ceiling is obviously limited for Rudolph based on age, relative talent, and Engram’s presence. Rudolph will have a few games in 2021 in which he pops off, but it should be a nightmare trying to figure out when to play him if Engram is still healthy. Should an injury cost Engram time, Rudolph has low-end TE1 potential with the right matchup.
Update: After officially signing his deal, it was learned Rudolph needs foot surgery but will likely be ready for Week 1.
TE Jared Cook, Los Angeles Chargers: Turning 34 on April 7, the journeyman tight end will replace Hunter Henry (Patriots) as the primary player at his position in LA. The Bolts have an explosive offense — potentially — with weapons at all three levels in the passing game and a second-year quarterback in Justin Herbert to lead the way. Cook served as a complementary weapon for the New Orleans Saints the last two years, being productive in spurts but ultimately finding the end zone 16 times. Among the most athletic tight ends in football, Cook should play an integral part in the intermediate part of the field as defenses focus on keeping Mike Williams from going deep and trying to find a way to contain Keenan Allen. The pass-catching skills from RB Austin Ekeler also have to be accounted for by a defense. Given a lack of a reliable runner near the stripe, Cook is a strong candidate for doubling Henry’s four touchdowns from last year. Don’t be surprised to see another low-volume, high-output stat line from Cook, and he’ll make for an erratic weapon in fantasy lineups because of it.
QB Mitchell Trubisky, Buffalo Bills: Unless something happens to Josh Allen on the injury front, Trubisky will remain in reserve and doesn’t offer even a hint of fantasy appeal. That said, Allen’s mobility and fearlessness as a mobile quarterback opens him up to punishing blows. Trubisky should have a spot on deep-league rosters if he were to find his way into the starting lineup via catastrophe.
TE Gerald Everett, Seattle Seahawks: The former Los Angeles Ram is a versatile veteran who will be reunited with incoming Seahawks offensive coordinator, Shane Waldron. The Rams employed Waldron as a tight ends coach and passing game coordinator during Everett’s tenure. The move to Seattle provides an upgrade at quarterback but not necessarily more playing time. He will be the No. 3 target on any given play, at best, behind DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. That said, Everett can flex into the slot, and David Moore, a free agent himself, was good for six touchdowns behind this explosive duo, so there’s hope for low-end TE1 fantasy results from Everett. The problem is it may be frustrating to play him on a week-to-week basis.
WR A.J. Green, Arizona Cardinals: Green managed to stay on the field for 16 contests a year ago, yet his production fell off of a cliff in terms of per-game metrics. In Green’s defense, he hadn’t played since Week 13 of the 2018 season, which required time to shake the rust, and the quarterback situation in Cincinnati was ugly after Joe Burrow (knee) went down. Green turns 33 at the end of July, and he has completed only two of the past five seasons. Foot and ankle issues have been a recurring theme, and the injuries understandably will have gamers gun-shy about investing. Seeing consistent single coverage can help mitigate the lack targets, but Green had only 104 looks in 2020 as the sort-of, kind-of WR1 for Cincinnati, so the number actually could increase just a smidge. He still will lose a ridiculous amount of targets to DeAndre Hopkins and a hearty figure to Christian Kirk. Green may be overhyped in casual leagues. Don’t feel compelled to spend up for him. Green is a risky WR3 and a more palatable flex/depth addition.
RB Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions: Sticking in the NFC North, the former Green Bay Packer joins head coach Dan Campbell’s roster for the perpetually rebuilding franchise. Detroit is looking to institute a hard-nosed, gritty identity. Gone are the finesse days of Matthew Stafford threading the needle into triple coverage and in ushers a brand of RB-centric football. All of that established, Williams will complement 2020 rookie running back D’Andre Swift to form a dangerous one-two punch. Williams, like Swift, offers versatility, which means offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn can use them interchangeably without altering his playcalling. Williams has been dinged up at times, but he’s a more powerful inside rusher than Swift and is a superb pass protector. Fantasy gamers should be pleased to add either back as an RB3 in 2021 drafts.
WR John Brown, Las Vegas Raiders: Known for his wheels, Brown pairs with 2020 first-round pick Henry Ruggs. Even though Ruggs’ rookie season didn’t go as planned, he’s an exceptional athlete and talent who will invariably benefit from an offseason that should be much closer to normal in 2021. A veteran with a similar skill set in Brown will only help Ruggs, and now defenses have to worry about a pair of blazers uncorking a deep ball. Brown played only nine games last year (33-458-3) in Buffalo and was expendable after rookie Gabriel Davis bloomed. The nearly 28-year-old Brown is a year removed from a 72-1,060-6 line, offering fantasy footballers a decent value buy for depth and flex utility.
WR Emmanuel Sanders, Buffalo Bills: Gone are the days of Sanders being a plug-n-play fantasy option, but he has remained serviceable throughout the past four years. Injuries have been an issue for him, having missed time in five of the past six seasons. His age-34 season should have gamers skeptical of his ability to contribute. The more prominent concern is him being wildly erratic by getting lost in an offense full of weapons. Sanders joins 2020 breakout Stefon Diggs, slot phenom Cole Beasley, and the promising second-year Gabriel Davis. Sanders is nice insurance for Josh Allen if Beasley remains fragile, Davis flounders in an increase role, and/or Diggs suffers an injury. In 2021, Sanders is barely rosterable coming out of a draft, but he could emerge as a valuable WR3 or flex if his role gets a boost.
RB Malcolm Brown, Miami Dolphins: Brown has played for the Rams since 2015, seeing an increase in games played and carries from the previous year each of the past two seasons. He has averaged 4.1 yards or more per tote in two of the past three years, and it’s tough to hold the 3.7 average against him given how poorly LA’s line played in 2019. In Miami, the Dolphins have assembled a backfield full of average dudes. The 5-foot-11, 224-pounder has scored 10 times over his past 170 carries. He’ll fight for a lineup spot with Myles Gaskin and possibly Salvon Ahmed. Gaskin offers more versatility in the passing game, so there could be a productive one-two punch ahead for the Dolphins. In all likelihood, Miami isn’t done adding to the backfield with Matt Breida and DeAndre Washington facing free agency.
QB Tyrod Taylor, Houston Texans: Unless quarterback Deshaun Watson is somehow traded or does not report to the team, injury is the only other way Taylor will see the field. He’s a strong veteran to have in a locker room, but fantasy owners really couldn’t care less about it. There’s no hint of fantasy football appeal here as long as Watson is in town, and it doesn’t become much better of an outlook for Taylor if he is thrust into action.
QB Andy Dalton, Chicago Bears: Meh. Once it was apparent Russell Wilson wasn’t escaping Seattle, Chicago had to make a move for a veteran option, and Dalton happened to be the best available option in a feeble remaining crop. He is reunited with former QBs coach and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, the current playcaller in Chicago. Durability issues are a concern, and the Bears want to run the football. In a city that has never seen a 4,000-yard passer, the game’s evolution makes that figure a prerequisite for starter status. The offensive line needs to improve, but the weapons overall are enough to make Dalton a streamer with the right matchup (think weakest of the weak). He’s not draftable in any conventional setting (16 rostered players, 12 teams or smaller).
QB Jacoby Brissett, Miami Dolphins: There’s no fantasy value here without an injury to starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Brissett brings a veteran presence and can help Tua learn, and he could have a sliver of potential if the second-year quarterback falls to injury.
WR John Ross, New York Giants: A former first-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals, Ross has fallen on hard times of late and was the subject of trade as well as release rumors a year ago. New York offers Ross a chance to hit the reset button and find an offensive system that may better fit his skills. Blessed with ridiculous speed, Ross joins Jason Garrett’s system as a reasonable slot option, and he’s capable of lining up outside. Golden Tate is gone, and Ross could help make up some of those inside targets — also an area we could see more of Sterling Shepard. Durability is an issue for both players, and it would be awfully surprising if this is the end of New York addressing wideouts in 2021’s offseason. Ross would be among the wildest of gambles in fantasy drafts … at least the investment will be scant.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington Football Team: The well-traveled veteran entertained retirement but opted to return for another year. Fitzpatrick agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal with Washington and will presumably enter as the starter but should see competition from Taylor Heinicke. The latter has experience in this offense and was re-signed after he followed the coaching staff over from Carolina. Washington needs to address the receiver position, and the system will focus on a run-based, play-action system. Fitzpatrick, provided he holds off Heinicke, will have spot-start utility but isn’t draftable as more than a backup in most settings.
WR Nelson Agholor, New England Patriots: The former Philadelphia first-round pick in 2015, Agholor flamed out in 2019 and made his way to the Las Vegas Raiders for an impressive one-year stint last season. The USC product generated a career-high 896 yards on a personal-best 18.7 yards-per-reception average, and he tied his previous record of eight touchdown grabs. While not a No. 1 receiver, Agholor is a vertical weapon the Patriots clearly lack, and he proved the Eagles incorrectly used him after switching to the outside in 2020 after previously playing most of his action from the slot. Cam Newton gets a deep threat, in addition to improving the tight end spot with Jonnu Smith’s signing. Agholor should be an inconsistent WR3 or flex in most formats, and his value is higher in standard scoring.
WR Kendrick Bourne, New England Patriots: San Francisco couldn’t afford to re-sign Bourne, and the former undrafted player turned spot starter becomes more appealing for fantasy purposes in New England. There was obviously a need for weaponry. The Pats have now added two receivers with contrasting styles and a downfield tight end to put pieces around Cam Newton. Bourne is a glorified possession receiver, playing faster than he times. The Niners have used him as a reserve the past three years, but injuries have thrust Bourne into a larger role at times. He finished with career highs in receptions (49) and yardage (667). The 6-foot-1, 203-pounder scored a TD every 11 catches in the past three seasons, and that’s with a score per 24.5 grabs a season ago. He’s so-so depth option in PPR leagues with a hint of upside to develop into a WR3 or flex.
RB Mark Ingram, Houston Texans: The 31-year-old inked a one-year, $2.5 million deal in Houston to pair with fellow well-aged runner David Johnson. The duo will create a one-two punch, so long as what we saw from Baltimore making Ingram a healthy scratch late last year wasn’t foreshadowing. Some of that was due to him not playing special teams and the team wanting to get a closer look at rookie J.K. Dobbins. Presuming quarterback Deshaun Watson returns, Ingram still has a dicey outlook. The Texans’ porous defense has so many needs that it’s tough to see the offense being able to consistently run the ball if the other side cannot contain opposing offenses. Ingram needs bulk to make a mark in fantasy lineups, which rarely will be the case, unless he finds regular success around the goal line, consider the veteran merely roster depth or a handcuff to Johnson.
RB Carlos Hyde, Jacksonville Jaguars: Hyde returns for his second sting in Duval County, inking a two-year, $6 million deal. Hyde turns 31 in September and will offer a veteran backup/spell for 2020 breakthrough rookie James Robinson. Hyde is no better than a late-round handcuff for Robinson owners.
RB Devontae Booker, New York Giants: The former Las Vegas Raider and Denver Bronco heads to the NFC as the likely backup to Saquon Barkley (knee). Booker is a decent enough receiver, too, so he could be worked in to spell Barkley, especially early in the season, and the Giants may want to restrict their star back’s touches as he works his way through a return from a knee reconstruction. Booker is merely a handcuff in fantasy leagues.
WR Tyrell Williams, Detroit Lions: Williams didn’t play at all in 2020 after shoulder surgery, and the Las Vegas Raiders parted ways with the veteran after a lone season on the field. Williams is reunited with former head coach Anthony Lynn — now Detroit’s playcaller. The offense will rely on the running game to set up play-action passing, helping Williams do his typical downfield damage. Detroit will add at least one more receiver in free agency or the draft, and Williams isn’t going to be the WR1, but he has a distinct advantage knowing the offense. There’s late-round flier value to be found here.
Note: Tom Brady and Taysom Hill’s extensions are not included. Each player had a year remaining on their existing deals and were not subject to face free agency.
RB Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buccaneers have done just about everything so far to ensure its Super Bowl roster returns unscathed by free agency, and one of the key pieces to the puzzle has finally agreed to return. Fournette was sluggish to get it going at times as he digested a new playbook and acclimated to his new team’s ways, but the former first-rounder was a force down the stretch and helped secure the Lombardi Trophy. In fantasy, he splits time with Ronald Jones and serves as a third-down option for Tom Brady. Fournette’s hands were inconsistent in 2020, so that could be a point of emphasis this offseason. He’s a regular flex option with low-tier RB1 worth some weeks. Depending upon how one constructs a team, his aggregate value should in the RB2/flex range.
UPDATED — WR Demarcus Robinson, Kansas City Chiefs: Robinson returned last year on a one-year deal and posted career highs for receptions (45) and yardage (466), scoring thrice along the way. He filled in admirably for Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill as a viable outlet for Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs will present Robinson more fantasy opportunities since Watkins defected. Unfortunately, the upside for substantial work is quite limited as long as Hill and Travis Kelce are on the field. There’s only draft consideration to be paid Robinson’s direction is if he has a lock on Watkins’ starting spot after what could be a camp battle with Mecole Hardman, and even then it is a flier.
RB James White, New England Patriots: The trusty pass-catching running back saw his role take a downturn last year, and his fantasy results matched. The loss of Tom Brady made a serious dent in White’s ability to contribute to fake teams, and he already was hamstrung by being basically relegated to ownership in PPR leagues to find worthwhile utility. White stands to benefit from quarterback Cam Newton being successful in general. The more Cam can find room to push the ball down the field, the better it is as a whole for White’s role as a checkdown and safety blanket. There’s a good deal of reason to believe through the upgrades around Newton that he’ll improve, and gamers can give White a little more credit in fantasy than they did just a few moments prior to him re-signing. Think of him as being RB4 territory with the likely use of covering bye weeks and injuries.
WR T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts: The long-time WR1 of this team has returned on a one-year, $10 million deal that will give incoming quarterback Carson Wentz a legitimate top target. The Colts have one of the most formidable rushing attacks in the NFL, and being able to create play-action passing mismatches based on this strength only helps Hilton. Injuries will be part and parcel with drafting Hilton in fantasy leagues — if the past few seasons are any indication of the future. He was sluggish to begin his 2020 campaign before rattling off 11.1 or more PPR points in five of the last seven contests. He’ll be 32 in November, but as long as he can remain on the field, Hilton continues to have WR2 potential. Landing him as a third without sacrificing at other key positions drastically mitigates his injury risk.
RB Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks: This actually makes a great deal of sense for both sides: Carson agreed to a two-year, $14.625 million contract. The market is weak for the position, and Carson returns to a familiar setting. Seattle has made an effort to improve the offensive line, and there’s still time to go in that regard. Carson showed some chops as a receiver out of the backfield in 2020, which helps improve his fantasy value. Seattle has several running backs in its stable, and while one of them is bound to spell Carson enough to irk gamers, the veteran back is still a rock-solid RB2, albeit with mild injury concerns.
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers: Just when it seemed as though his time in Pittsburgh had come to a close, Smith-Schuster opted for a one-year, $8 million deal to re-sign. The move is wise from a strategic perspective: The market is down, due to a deep draft class, lower salary cap, and talented free-agent pool, so instead of taking similar money elsewhere and possibly flopping, Smith-Schuster deftly took a slight discount to return to familiar confines. He will get another crack at a huge payday in 2022, entering the market next March at only 25. Ben Roethlisberger returns, and the Steelers will continue to utilize familiar facets of last year’s system, despite making a change at offensive coordinator. Matt Canada’s full-blown system doesn’t fit Big Ben, and the new playcaller is fully aware of it, so we’ll see more running than in 2020 but similar passing concepts to recent seasons. JuJu is a WR2 in most setups.
WR Rashard Higgins, Cleveland Browns: It was touch and go for a while there as to whether Higgins would indeed sign elsewhere in his first exposure to the open market. Cleveland renewed his deal for one year, and unless something goes awry with the rehab of Odell Beckham Jr. (knee), or OBJ is actually traded, Higgins will remain an obscurity for fantasy purposes. He has talent and chemistry with QB Baker Mayfield — at least enough of each to intrigue, anyway. However, this offense runs so few sets out of three- or four-wide that Higgins’ fantasy football value is solely dependent upon ascension in the pecking order.
RB Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts: A torn Achilles tendon prematurely ended Mack’s 2020 season, helping open the door for rookie rusher Jonathan Taylor to excel. As Mack works his way back to form, he likely didn’t find much of a market, and returning to the Colts makes sense for both sides. Indy gets a familiar back with experience in this system. Mack, 25, gets a chance to prove to rest of the league he is healthy, albeit only used in limited fashion, and the Colts also have an insurance policy if something were to happen to Taylor. Mack is a handcuff in deeper leagues.
TE Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Once he confirmed a return to the NFL for 2021, there was zero doubt it would be with Tampa Bay. Gronkowski inked a one-year pact worth up to $10 million, basically matching his deal from 2020. We saw Gronk shake off the rust of a year away and find his stride as the season wore on. It was bound to take time, given the bizarre offseason, his time away, and a new playbook. We’re not going to see a huge uptick in stats in 2021, although he could be more consistent on a weekly basis, which will give gamers more utility. Treat him as a fringe TE1 and select a competent reserve option, since he is no stranger to injuries.
RB Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers: Even when Green Bay declined to place the franchise tag on Jones, he remained in their plans. It didn’t take long, either, with the sides agreeing to a four-year, $48 million contract extension a day ahead of Jones being able to negotiate with other clubs. The detailed structure of the contract is unknown beyond a $13 million signing bonus, but it’s safe to presume this is friendly for the Packers in the short term. Fantasy-wise, not too much will change. It seems unlikely RB Jamaal Williams also returns after a 2020 second-rounder was invested in drafting AJ Dillon. Jones remains an RB1 in fake football drafts.
QB Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints: The Saints opened a few eyes by extending “quarterback” Taysom Hill to a four-year, $140 million extension, but the deal is really a cap maneuver with four voidable years on his deal. Winston returns to battle it out with Hill for the starting job, but the likelihood is we’ll see the former Buccaneer as the primary quarterback who gives way to the gadgetry of Hill a bit more than we did with Drew Brees. Winston was a turnover machine in 2019, but he also is capable of making noise in fantasy. Cutting down the mistakes will be of paramount importance to his fantasy value. He won’t stay on the field long if he’s tossing ducks to opposing defenders. Watch how the situation plays out in the summer, but it’s safe to pencil him in as a borderline QB1 at the moment.
QB Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys: There’s no surprise associated with the four-year, $160 million extension Prescott signed prior to free agency opening. He wasn’t ever going to be allowed to leave the building, as evidenced by a formality of being tagged again. As long as his ankle rehab goes according to plan, this potential No. 1 overall fantasy quarterback has the tools to pick up where he left off.
QB Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers:While it’s technically an extension, Big Ben’s deal was reworked to provide cap relief for the Steelers and keep him in a black-and-yellow uni for one last go of it. Roethlisberger will almost assuredly be without WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Pittsburgh has a new offensive coordinator in Matt Canada, but there’s still enough to like about the situation for Roethlisberger to be in the conversation of a low-tier rotational starter.
QB Cam Newton, New England Patriots: The knee-jerk reaction is to scoff at Newton getting a one-year, $14 million deal to re-sign with the Pats. A closer look should elicit a more measured response. Last year, just about everything worked against Cam finding success. He signed late (June 28), there was no offseason program, the offensive system is intricate, New England lost several key players to the opt-out, the offensive line had to shuffle talent several times, no receivers to speak of, zero tight ends of consequence, an erratic rushing attack, and Newton was returning from foot surgery prior to joining New England. Excuses, you may say … perhaps, but all of those factors are undeniable reality. Newton is finally healthy after three straight offseasons of rehabbing from surgery. Wait to see how the Patriots address wide receiver and tight end concerns, but it’s unwise to entirely dismiss a rebound by Newton.
Update: Newton now has a pair of dynamic tight ends in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, in addition to WR Nelson Agholor coming in as a deep threat. Life is looking up for the former MVP, but he remains a risky fantasy pick, even as a rotational option.
QB Taylor Heinicke, Washington Football Team: The former Panther parlayed an admirable playoff start into a two-year extension in Washington. He knows the system and the brain trust’s nucleus from his time in Carolina. Alex Smith’s release opens the door for Heinicke to compete for a starting job while having the upper hand against a newcomer who won’t be as familiar with the playbook. It’s unlikely, however, Heinicke is the season-long starter for this offense as an incoming rookie or free-agent acquisition will have that momentum on his side.
Update: Ryan Fitzpatrick signed to be the presumed starter, but there will be a competition of sorts this summer. Heinicke is long shot to matter in fantasy leagues.
WR Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: No one paying attention expected the Buccaneers to allow Godwin to walk into free agency. Look for a stronger showing in 2021 after an injury-pocked season a year ago derailed Godwin’s campaign from nearly the onset. He’s a legit WR2 in all settings, but his upside is capped at that position overall with the bevy of talent around him in the passing game. Update: Godwin signed his tender.
WR Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears: It seemed for quite some time that Chicago wouldn’t have the cap space to tag Robinson, but he was indeed slapped with the tender of $17-plus million for 2021. While he would like a long-term deal, and the team may still yet find a way to meet his demands by July 15, Robinson put his John Hancock on the offer sheet. At 27, he still hits free agency in 2022 young enough to get one last shot at a mega deal when teams will have more money to throw around. Long story short, he mostly is quarterback-proof, but Chicago still needs to put a better product on the field. Even with Andy Dalton under center in 2021, A-Rob is a viable PPR WR1 with a hint of downside associated with the Dalton-Nick Foles combo at QB.
- Quarterbacks: Alex Smith
- Running backs: Todd Gurley, Duke Johnson, Brian Hill, Jerick McKinnon, Adrian Peterson, Le’Veon Bell, James Conner, Wayne Gallman
- Wide receivers: Larry Fitzgerald, Golden Tate, Antonio Brown, Damiere Byrd
- Tight ends: Tyler Eifert, Jordan Reed, Trey Burton