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NFL Best-Ball: Free Agency and What It Means for Fantasy

Player value and draft cost in best-ball leagues is like a snow globe. A microcosm unto itself. NFL free agency is the kid waiting to shake the globe. Players retire, traded, or are cut. Each transaction causes a shift in our perception. An offensive guard retires, how does that affect the team’s running back? A wide receiver is cut, who picks up the vacated targets? One change begets another with varying ramifications.

Let’s look at some of the bigger moves and how the market has responded.

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Wide Receivers

Odell Beckham Jr. (ADP: 17.3 to 11)

Odell’s ADP opened the offseason at 17.3. Breakout performances from other players coupled with recency bias drove Beckham’s price down. At the time, his offensive situation remained unchanged. Eli Manning would still be under center after posting the 27th best QBR in 2018. He posted league average efficiency metrics when given a clean pocket. His age, immobility, and inaccuracy took over when under duress. Odell coming off an injury and into a lackluster run-first committed offense didn’t inspire much confidence. He’s averaged 20.4 PPR points per game since his rookie season. But now, we don’t have to on his talent alone.

Beckham’s best-ball ADP spiked the moment Adam Schefter broke the trade news. His cost had bottomed out in the twenties and now resides at the end of the first round. Opportunity, efficiency, and market share have followed him (along with the media) while with the Giants. Cleveland offers a similar situation with an improved supporting cast. Back with his college teammate, this trade, at worst, stabilizes his value. Jarvis Landry received the greatest target share at 26 percent with an increased aDOT. However, his efficiency drastically dropped indicating his usage is still best out of the slot. Baker Mayfield was fourth in deep ball attempts without a full season. It’s everything the fantasy community wanted for such a talented receiver.

Barring injury, the risk in following the market is reduced. The issue is the hype surrounding the team. It’s possible his price could be pushed further into the first round as excitement mounts. Best-ball is ideal for taking the full-season view of a player, but the associated cost could alter your roster.

Antonio Brown (ADP: 17.6 to 16.5)

Antonio Brown will be 31 and moving to a new team. Neither are indicators of a strong fantasy season. Previous studies on both age and being traded show declines in production. But this is Antonio Brown we’re talking about here. While his cost has dropped, it’s important to understand the mechanics behind it. It has more to do with his quarterback than what we can expect from the All-Pro receiver. Our own Nate Hamilton sets the stage.

Ben Roethlisberger to Derek Carr is a significant drop-off in talent. While Oakland’s offense has leaned towards the pass, no player has received Brown-like volume. The closest comparison is Michael Crabtree in 2016 (145) where Derek Carr finished as QB12. The deep balls to Mr. Big Chest should also diminish. Roethlisberger was #3 in deep-ball attempts in 2018. Carr? 18th. Even if Carr increased these attempts, who would likely receive them? The older receiver with recent knee injuries or the younger, also recently signed, deep threat known for catching deep passes?

Both volume and touchdowns have kept Brown in the first round of best-ball leagues for years. The new offense signals a reduction in both. His talent and on-field skills as a receiver have him appropriately priced, but there aren’t too many reasons to move him forward in the ranks.

Running Backs

Mark Ingram (ADP: 60 to 43)

Mark Ingram has been a Top-20 PPR running back since 2014. His 2018 suspension set back his production, but the addition of Alvin Kamara didn’t have the effect most predicted. An offense led by Drew Brees was capable of supporting two running backs due to their abilities both on the ground and through the air. Ingram’s averaged 56.3 targets per season. While sharing a backfield with one of the most efficient runners in the league, he was still able to produce while carrying a 5th round cost.

The Ravens offer more volume as Ingram enters a backfield with unproven talents like Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon. Baltimore favored the run after Lamar Jackson took over the offense. Passing less than 38 percent of the time, both the quarterback and running backs saw increased usage. While Ingram has passed his prime at age 29, his power style and receiving ability pair nicely with Jackson.

Ingram’s rise in cost carries some risk. Best-ball drafters are essentially trading touchdown opportunity for increased volume. New Orleans was Top 10 in points per game every year Ingram was on the team. Last year they hit a rate of 30.4 PPG. Baltimore? 23.9. That value is even less when you look at the games Jackson started. With a diminished wide receiver group, points will be hard to come by in 2019. Instead of looking for Ingram, it’d be safer to look at the guy that replaced him in New Orleans.

Tevin Coleman (ADP: 72.3 to 69)

Go watch a Coleman highlight video. The clips all highlight his greatest asset: speed. Not agility. Regardless, it’s difficult to make sense of his signing with San Francisco. Despite his poor 2018 performance, his flashes in previous years behind Devonta Freeman always intrigued the fantasy community.

The comparable touchdown totals aided his case. After Freeman exploded onto the scene in 2015, Coleman nearly matched that with 11 of his own in 2016 despite Freeman’s 13 touchdowns. Similar story in 2017 with Freeman missing two games due to a concussion. All the while, Coleman’s success rate hasn’t ranked in the Top 3 since he joined the league. Now he joins a backfield with more agile running backs and a scheme predicated on athleticism.

San Francisco has deep pockets and depth at the position is viewed as more of a football move than fantasy. A $1.55M base salary can’t be viewed as a significant investment guaranteeing an impactful workload. There’s speculation that Jerick McKinnon’s hefty contract could be terminated due to his reduced dead cap hit, but there’s evidence to support the rumor. As of this writing, the only positive working in Coleman’s favor is his knowledge of the offensive system.

Coleman’s signing has already affected the others on the roster from a best-ball perspective. McKinnon and Brieda have both dropped in price as the backfield has become even more crowded. While Kyle Shanahan has indicated he wants to use all 4 running backs, selecting the cheapest minimizes both risk and opportunity cost until more information is provided.

Tight End

Tyler Kroft (ADP: 229 to 227)

Kroft finished as the TE15 in 2017. Tyler Eifert was still dealing with back injuries pushing Kroft onto the field. His 42-404-7 stat line isn’t necessarily impressive for best-ball, but his usage indicates his tactical on-field value. Of his 62 targets that season, 40 percent of them came from the slot. That means even Marvin Lewis was able to scheme the 6’5” plodder into mismatches.

We mock Josh Allen’s accuracy, but it’s clear that Buffalo is building around him. If Brian Daboll and Sean McDermott see him as valuable, best-ball drafters should take notice. His cost is devoid of risk and can be incorporated into ‘3-TE’ builds as necessary.

Tyler Eifert/C.J. Uzomah

Uzomah received a three-year deal while Eifert was signed to a one-year contract. There’s no question about who the better best-ball asset would be. However, for tight ends, availability is sometimes your best ability.

Eifert has 21 touchdowns in 43 games. That sounds great until we remember he was drafted in 2013. Half of his career has been spent in recovery from catastrophic injuries. There are few other active tight-ends who could match his athleticism, but Uzomah became the guy in Eifert’s absence. Eifert received 3 slot targets per game when he started. Uzomah functioned more as a blocker but was ascending to that role towards the end of 2018.

The TE position accounted for 19 percent of Andy Dalton’s touchdowns in 2018. Eifert offers the greatest upside given his cost, but both are worth a flier in ‘3-TE’ builds given the nature of the position.

Chris Allen comes from an analytical background, leveraging his data skills with his multiple years of experience across different formats (e.g. seasonal redraft, DFS, MFL10). His primary focus has been the analysis of weather effects and its impact on games, player output variance, and the validity of the associated narratives. Chris’ writings have been featured on multiple websites including Fantrax, 4for4, and, most recently, Sports Illustrated. Chris can also be heard as co-host on the Dynasty Owners Manual podcast and is a member of the FSWA.

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