Free agency is officially upon us, and the moves have been fast and furious. Many teams are eager to get in on the action and take the first steps toward improving their rosters. There has been a flurry of activity thus far, with many moves having both real life and fantasy implications. Here is a recap of some of the activity with an eye on the fantasy impact these moves will likely have as we officially enter the 2018 NFL league year.
The biggest free agent domino to fall was quarterback Kirk Cousins heading to Minnesota, finally ending his saga with the Washington Redskins. While the move may change the landscape in the NFC, it doesn’t change a lot for Cousins’ fantasy prospects. Cousins has been a top-six fantasy quarterback in each of the last two seasons and should remain in that range next season with weapons like Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen at his disposal.
Cousins, he replaces, well, three now-former Vikings’ quarterbacks. Case Keenum, who garnered some MVP talk with his play in 2017, signed with the Denver Broncos. Keenum finished as the overall QB14 last season and, like Cousins, Keenum’s fantasy value probably will not improve in 2018. Denver and Minnesota share a desire to run the football and play great defense. Keenum will still be an undervalued option in 2018 but is probably best served as a QB streamer in fantasy leagues.
Sam Bradford signed a one-year, $20 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals. Given his injury history, I can’t trust Bradford as a fantasy quarterback in 2018. Larry Fitzgerald might benefit in PPR formats, as Bradford’s quick-hitting style should lead to monster target totals for the future Hall of Famer. There is also the high probability of Arizona targeting a quarterback in next month’s NFL Draft despite the signings of Bradford and Mike Glennon. Even if Bradford enters the regular season as the starter, I would consider him only in two-QB leagues.
Another former Viking, Teddy Bridgewater, has signed with the New York Jets. New York also re-signed incumbent starter Josh McCown and is in the market to draft a quarterback in next month’s draft, making Bridgewater a player to avoid in drafts.
The Cleveland Browns made some noise just prior to the free agent signing period by trading for several players including quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Taylor has gone perennially overlooked in fantasy and will likely be once again in 2018. Taylor has been a top-16 fantasy quarterback in three consecutive seasons, yet figures to be drafted just outside the top 20 in 2018. With weapons like Josh Gordon on the perimeter and Jarvis Landry in the slot, I like Taylor to be a high-end QB2 this season.
Taylor will be replaced in Buffalo by the newly signed A.J. McCarron. McCarron has shown flashes in spot duty but will face a daunting task as Buffalo’s skill players outside of LeSean McCoy leave plenty to be desired. There is also a high probability of Buffalo drafting a quarterback in this year’s draft, which is likely to cap any enthusiasm McCarron believers may have. I do not think McCarron warrants a draft pick in 2018 fantasy drafts.
The fantasy football world was abuzz with the recent news of the release of DeMarco Murray by the Tennessee Titans. Fans clamoring for a Derrick Henry breakout were finally going to get their payoff … until Tennessee went out and signed Dion Lewis to a four-year deal. Unfortunately, this will likely cap the potential production from both running backs. People forget that Lewis was an RB1 in 2017, and a top-five back from the midpoint of the season on. It’s hard to imagine him maintaining that success in Tennessee. Both he and Henry will be productive and should be rostered as starting fantasy running backs, but it is hard to imagine either as more than an RB2 in 2018.
Among Cleveland’s recent additions on offense is the signing of running back Carlos Hyde to replace the recently departed Isaiah Crowell. Hyde joins a new-look Browns offense that suddenly has potentially dynamic playmakers at every skill position. However, I find this move detrimental to Hyde’s 2018 fantasy prospects. I do not foresee Hyde getting the same volume he did in San Francisco. Hyde has averaged 15.9 carries over the last three years as a 49er. During that same timeframe, Crowell averaged just 12.3 carries per game as Cleveland’s lead back. Duke Johnson isn’t going anywhere, and there is also the possibility that Cleveland selects Saquon Barkley in the upcoming NFL Draft. Hyde finished as an RB1 in 2017, but I’m afraid he slips into mid-RB2 territory in 2018.
Jerick McKinnon joins San Francisco to try to fill the void left by Hyde. McKinnon was more of a third-down back in his tenure in Minnesota, and I wouldn’t expect a full workload in San Francisco. However, McKinnon proved last season that he can produce despite sparse volume. McKinnon finished as the overall RB24 despite just 9.4 carries per game. Kyle Shanahan knows how to maximize backfield talent, and McKinnon has elite athleticism and is a difficult matchup in space. I expect a slight uptick in both volume and efficiency from McKinnon this season. I have McKinnon in the 15-20 range among running backs, but his weekly potential is huge.
As for Crowell, he signed a three-year contract the New York Jets. Crowell’s best ability throughout his career has been his availability, as he has remarkably played in all 64 games in his NFL career. However, his on-field production leaves a bit to be desired. Crowell has never had a 1,000-yard rushing season and has finished as a top-20 fantasy running back only once in four seasons as a pro. With Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire still in the fold and with a talented rookie class of running backs about to enter the NFL, it’s hard to consider Crowell more than an RB3 in 2018.
Jonathan Stewart is changing teams for the first time in his career. Stewart signed with the New York Giants. Stewart finished 2017 as an RB2 but is highly unlikely to repeat the feat this season. Stewart is well past his prime. His yards per carry has declined in three straight seasons and is a non-factor in the passing game. If the Giants wind up with Barkley in April’s draft, Stewart will be essentially rendered useless. Stewart should not be rostered as anything more than bench depth in 2018 fantasy leagues.
We already discussed quarterbacks who are on the move, but the quarterback who may benefit most from this week’s free agent activity is Chicago Bears’ signal caller Mitchell Trubisky. The main reason for optimism for Trubisky truthers is the recent signing of star wideout Allen Robinson. Robinson missed the majority of the 2017 season with a torn ACL but was the overall WR4 in 2015 as a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Robinson has that type of ceiling in Chicago as part of a revamped offense. I have Robinson as a low-end WR1 heading into 2018. Fellow free agent Taylor Gabriel joins Chicago, as well, though he figures to have a lesser role. Gabriel broke out in 2016 but failed to repeat that production in 2017. Still, he is worth rostering in the latter stages of drafts. New head coach Matt Nagy will be calling the plays and should put Gabriel’s talents to good use.
As alluded to earlier, Jarvis Landry also has a new home as a result of last week’s trade which has him heading to Cleveland. Landry has averaged over 100 catches and 1,000 yards per season as a pro and has finished as a WR2 in three consecutive seasons. I am not sure if his volume will hold up to previous standards, but Landry remains an upper-echelon wideout, particularly in PPR leagues. Manning the slot in Cleveland’s new offense, Landry should once again find himself squarely in the WR2 range in 2018.
Like Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes is another second-year quarterback who benefited this week as Sammy Watkins has left the Los Angeles Rams to join the Kansas City Chiefs. Watkins joins Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt in a potentially lethal Kansas City offense. Watkins has finished as a WR2 or WR3 in each season in which he has played a majority of his team’s games. However, with so many mouths to feed in Kansas City, Watkins will go hungry at times. I view Watkins as a volatile WR3 for fantasy purposes in 2018 who will likely have more peaks and valleys than most receivers in that range.
Paul Richardson parlayed a breakout season into a $40 million-dollar contract with the Washington Redskins. But was it really a breakout? Richardson finished as the overall WR36 and had exactly one game last season in which he finished as a weekly WR1. I just don’t see the upside with Richardson joining Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson as targets of the newly acquired Alex Smith. Richardson should be rostered in 2018 fantasy leagues but will be on your bench more often than not.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have signed Donte Moncrief to attempt to fill the hole left by Robinson’s departure. Moncrief is an enigma. He finished 2015 as the 32nd ranked fantasy wideout, but he has not reached top-50 status since, bottoming out in 2017 as the overall WR77. As part of a crowded receiving corps in Jacksonville, I am not a believer in Moncrief’s theoretical upside. He is worth a roster spot, but I do not expect him to make much noise in 2018.
Baltimore jumped into the wide receiver waters by signing Ryan Grant and John Brown. Grant should enter 2018 as the Ravens’ No. 1 wideout, but only by default. Grant’s 2017 was even less impressive than Richardson’s, and no Raven wide receiver finished as even a WR3 last season. Grant is best served as bench depth and a bye week fill-in. Brown will make plays from time to time but is not on the fantasy radar at the moment.
Miami signed a couple of wideouts, as well, inking Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola to deals. Both have seen most of their success in the slot, where they will likely team up to fill the void left by Landry’s trade to Cleveland. While they may combine to fill Landry’s shoes, neither has much upside as we move toward the 2018 season. And, barring a miracle, “Playoff Danny” is dead.
There have been no significant wide receiver signings as of yet in Green Bay, but they have inked a deal with Jimmy Graham and released longtime wide receiver, Jordy Nelson. Graham has finished as the overall TE4 in back-to-back seasons. Graham has gone from Drew Brees to Russell Wilson and now to Aaron Rodgers. Not a bad gig if you can get it. Graham has caught double-digit touchdowns four times in his career but has not had a 1,000-yard season since 2013. Graham should be a touchdown magnet once again in 2018 and should once again be selected as a top-five tight end.
In addition to bolstering their wide receiver group, Chicago also signed tight end Trey Burton to a new contract. Burton should have a career year in Matt Nagy’s offense, but it remains to be seen whether that is enough for Burton to be considered a viable starter. I do not normally draft multiple tight ends, so I will likely pass on Burton, but I can see him being a solid pickup or bye week fill-in.