March 22, 2022

LOCO FREE AGENCY RECAP

It really was just nine days ago that we woke up with Tom Brady still retired, Deshaun Watson’s future still uncertain and a couple other signal callers not exactly making plans to call a mover.

Davante Adams and Derek Carr, friends from when they were teammates at Fresno State, will have plenty of opportunities to share some laughs after Adams was traded to the Raiders to heat up an ultra-competitive AFC West race.

Then Brady’s “unretirement” news was broken by Adam Schefter during ESPN’s March Madness bracket show. Talk about Madness indeed. Loco is more like it. And everything you’re going to read down below is after Aaron Rodgers came back to the Packers, Russell Wilson started to end interview with “Go Broncs” and someone took Carson Wentz off the Colts’ hands. Yes, the QB position drives this league.

What we have below is a recap of the significant players who have either changed teams or re-signed with their teams, and the fantasy football outlook for the coming season. Mind you, while a fair amount of thought went into where the teams stand today as it pertains to these players, there could be changes to the players’ respective outlooks depending on if other players are drafted or signed to compete with these players for touches.

QUARTERBACK
DESHAUN WATSON (CLE)
This is the deal to shake up the NFL, and was an even bigger domino to fall than when Brady or Rodgers came back. Watson is 26, and is already one of the five best QBs on the planet. His legal issues could still bring with them a suspension (I predict he sits the first 8 games of the 2022 season), but this is a QB who in his last full season threw for 4,823 yards and 33 TDs against 7 INTs. He even ran for 444 yards and 3 TDs. 

Keep in mind, he’s going to be learning a new offense, and one that puts a premium on running the ball. Watson has never played with an RB as good as either Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt, and he’ll be handing off to them plenty this season. The Browns were one of the most balanced offensive teams in the NFL last year, passing the ball 520 times to 485 rush attempts. Keep in mind the 2020 stats shown above were with Watson passing the ball 544 times, so it’s conceivable he could approach those numbers with more receiver talent than Amari Cooper. 

One last caveat: Watson is going from playing in a dome in Houston and the temperate climates of the AFC South, to the sometimes-vicious November/December weather in the AFC North. He has plenty of arm to succeed anywhere, but that won’t be as easy as throwing in the pristine conditions of a dome. 

BAKER MAYFIELD (?)
This is even more fun than a Mexican novela. Back channel chisme says that the Browns thought they needed a more mature QB to lead the team. Mayfield issued a veiled adios statement via social media before issuing a trade demand. It’s all too much. He’s on his way out, and with the Colts getting Matt Ryan it looks like the only teams looking to upgrade at QB are the Seahawks and Panthers. This one is going to be fun, though someone will have to give off the novela death stare when this is all said and done.

MATT RYAN (IND)
I’m with Mina Kimes (https://twitter.com/minakimes/status/1506024963450425349?s=20&t=QVqEz-lmxSIuR-FqUlhQfQ) in that I like this for Ryan. He’s going to a team with an infinitely better O-line and the best RB in the game in Jonathan Taylor. He has a solid WR in Michael Pittman, and there is still a chance that they add another pass catcher. Mo Alie-Cox playing jump ball in the end zone could make him a viable TE option for those waiting to pick that position.

Last year Ryan had just two weekly finishes in the top 10. He is, however, going into a division with two teams in a rebuild – Jacksonville and Houston – and gets to still play home games in a dome. Ryan was #2 on the season in QB pressures, and was sacked 40 times (tied for 5th in the league). Ryan was still #9 in the league with 78.1% of his throws being on target. Carson Wentz was #26 in the league at 73.7%. His PFF passer rating from a clean pocket was 98%, which bodes well for the new QB in Indy. Ryan would be a late-round 2nd QB in super flex leagues and could be a cheap DFS play in home games. 

MITCHELL TRUBISKY (PIT)
One of the great revelations of the offseason came during a recent appearance by Trubisky on the Rich Eisen Show. Trubisky said he doesn’t care whether he’s called Mitch or Mitchell. Whew! Our national debate is over.

The Steelers wanted to get a QB who’s got some mobility, and Trubisky went 68/421/3 on the ground in 2018 for the Bears. He’s had his moments, but really regress in the Matt Nagy offense. And that he was picked in front of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in the 2017 NFL Draft. Trubisky’s best passing season was 2018, finishing 14 games with 3,223-24-12 and a 66.6% completion rate. He was able to support an elite WR season from Allen Robinson in 2019 to the tune of 98-154-1,147-7.

For fantasy, Trubisky is at best a starter in two-QB formats, and occasionally in DFS. How he’ll feed the pass catchers in Pittsburgh is going to be of utmost importance. Diontae Johnson was third in targets in the NFL last year at 169, and he could have a season similar to Robinson’s mentioned above. Chase Claypool is going to be curious. He’s a physical freak, yet he had an inconsistent 2021 season with 59 catches for 860 yards and 2 TDs. He averaged 7 targets per game. Trubisky was tied for 8th with Aaron Rodgers at 8.8 intended air yards per pass in 2018, so he has it in him to take some shots with Claypool. As much as we like Pat Freiermuth, his volume may take a hit because this will be a team that relies more on the running game than with Big Ben. In his last 9 games, Freiermuth was targeted 5 or fewer times on 5 different occasions. I know fans are excited about the “Muuuuth,” but it’s going to be tough to see him having anything more than a back-end TE1 season.

JAMEIS WINSTON (NO)
Now that Watson has made his choice with the Browns, it makes sense that he would return to New Orleans. There’s continuity with the offensive system, even with former HC Sean Payton retired. Also, there is familiarity with the training staff, as he’s coming off that torn ACL. With a healthy Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara still one of the best backs in the game, there are offensive weapons. The Saints could also pull the trigger on a WR in this deep draft. Is that 14-3 TD-INT rate going to continue in the new season? 

MARCUS MARIOTA (ATL)
I wanted to see him go to the Steelers. I’d like to see him get a chance to start for the Falcons, because in the one game he played for an injured Derek Carr in 2020, Mariota showed plenty of juice with his legs as he rushed 9 times for 88 yards. What makes this intriguing is the past relationship with HC Arthur Smith, who was on the staff in Tennessee when the Titans drafted the Heisman Trophy winner in 2015. 

Smith is going to want the mobility for the Falcons because that O-line is rebuilding. What I can see happening is that Mariota is installed as the starter, and the Falcons draft Malik Willis with their first pick. Willis would sit at least part of his first season, if not the entire season, to get acclimated to the NFL. He would then learn from a fellow dual-threat QB. Or the Falcons take one of the multitude of WRs and then see if Desmond Ridder, Sam Howell or Matt Corral is there in the second round. Decisions, decisions.

How will Mariota impact the Falcons’ best weapon, Kyle Pitts? Pitts can look to Mariota’s best season in 2016, when TE Delanie Walker went for 65-102-800-7. The young stud TE will see plenty of defensive attention, so hopefully the front office drafts some pass catchers to keep the kid from being triple teamed.

TEDDY BRIDGEWATER (MIA)
This is clear that Bridgewater didn’t have a starting gig available to him. Backing up Tua Tagovailoa is the best he can do, and hopefully he’s a good mentor to the young gun.

TYROD TAYLOR (NYG)
This makes it clear that the Giants are going with Daniel Jones as their starter. Ironic that Taylor has started each of the past two seasons for different teams, and when he got hurt a rookie took the job over. Jones is no rookie, and is the incumbent starter. Now he needs to stay healthy and produce or he will likely be relegated to Blaine Gabbert status.

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RUNNING BACK
JAMES CONNER (AZ)
He was RB5 last season with 202-752-15 rushing, and 37-39-375-3 pass receiving stats. All his rushing TDs were in the red zone, where he had 42 carries, which was good for 8th in the league. Keep an eye if the Cardinals take a RB in the draft, or sign someone else. Otherwise, it’s Eno Benjamin helping to take up a chunk of the 159 touches that Chase Edmonds left behind. Is Conner going to get 18 total TDs again? Probably not, but he will continue to be the red-zone back in a high-powered offense with Kyler Murray.

CHASE EDMONDS (MIA)
It was interesting that he had 24 and 23 touches, respectively, in Weeks 16-17 when Conner was out. He was the RB37 overall in 12 games, finishing with 116-592-2 rushing and 43-53-311-0 receiving lines. New Dolphins HC Mike McDaniel comes from Mike Shanahan coaching tree that likes to focus on the run, when necessary using a committee. Is he going to be one of the leads of the committee? Probably not, because Myles Gaskin is back and former 49er Raheem Mostert just signed with Miami. When coaches sign former players after jumping to new teams that usually means that player is going to get some work. This has the makings of a headache backfield. 

LEONARD FOURNETTE (TB)
The worst-kept secret of the offseason was that Fournette was returning to the Bucs. Weeks 10-15, Fournette averaged nearly 20 touches per game before he got hurt. And when he came back for the playoff game against the Rams, he was back to 22 touches even though he’d missed four games. Fournette didn’t sign to come into a timeshare on a win-now team. The 84 targets in 14 games is also quite important to his value to potential fantasy drafters. As of now his ECR is RB23 and #55 overall. That is going to go higher as we get closer to redraft season. 

RASHAAD PENNY (SEA)
We’re all going to hype up the five-game finish to the season when Penny exploded for 92-671-6 to help win titles for the many wily fantasy managers who picked him up late in the season. The Seahawks did bring back Chris Carson as well, but given Carson’s injuries the past couple seasons, Penny should get the majority of the rushing load at the start of the season.

CORDARRELLE PATTERSON (ATL)
This one made so much sense. The Falcons need some weapons, because after the Calvin Ridley suspension, it’s really just the Pitts show. I can see another RB and at least one WR coming to Hotlanta via the draft and free agency. The Falcons have to try and bring in some weapons to help Mariota. And let’s not forget the O-line.

J.D. MCKISSIC (WAS)
It felt really good when it looked like Antonio Gibson was going to get a lead caballo role with plenty of work in the passing game. And we heard ad nauseum, again, that Gibson was primarily a pass catcher in college. McKissic is going to be a complementary player in the nation’s capital, as in 11 games last year he was RB49 with a receiving line of 43-53-397-2. That was a downgrade from the 80 catches on 110 targets the previous season. With about a third of the season having McKissic sidelined, Gibson saw 52 targets and caught 42. See, he can do some damage in the passing game. I’m just not ready to make Gibson an RB1 with McKissic back in the fold. Likely a 2nd or 3rd-round pick.

D’ONTA FOREMAN (CAR)
Just a backup for CMC. Does he supplant Chuba Hubbard? I say yes. Still, we’re not hoping for much production with an expected return to health by CMC.

MELVIN GORDON (?)
That he hasn’t re-signed with the Broncos is pretty telling that he won’t be back. 

SONY MICHEL (?)
He had a good stretch toward the end of the season before Cam Akers took over the rushing game in the playoffs. At the latest he signs with a team that didn’t get enough RB help in the draft.

RONALD JONES (?)
I can see him headed to a committee with a back who catches the ball (and pass protects). 

JERICK MCKINNON (?)

He sure looked good at times for the Chiefs in the playoffs. Makes sense to give him another shot.

WIDE RECEIVER
TYREEK HILL (MIA)
This just in, Hill is traded to the Dolphins for 5 draft picks. What? This now makes a pair of All-Pro WRs getting traded from QBs headed to Canton (see the next guy). Does the stud WR make the stud QB? Or does the stud QB make the stud WR? We’re going to find out in South Florida and Sin City.

Hill is one of the freak athletes, blending world-class speed with stop-start and change-of-direction skills that may be even more rare than his speed. His stat line of 111-159-1,239-9 made him the WR6 on the season in PPR scoring. HIs 17.4 Fantasy PPG were 7th in the league. Interesting and a little shocking that while Hill had 5 weeks as a top 5 WR in scoring, he had 8 games where he finished below WR40. And that was all with Patrick Mahomes throwing him the ball, and will Hill come close to those numbers with Tua Tagovailoa throwing him the ball. Tua had an up-and-down season, mostly battling injuries and inconsistency. Being paired with Jaylen Waddle, the Dolphins will have plenty of firepower in 2022. Hill was acquired to be El Hombre, so he’ll be the alpha dog when it comes to targets. If he can make this work, HC Mike McDaniel will add to his growing NFL savant status.


DAVANTE ADAMS (LV)
This is a seismic move almost on a par with either of the top QBs we talked about above. Adams and Aaron Rodgers have had a connection that is bordering on balletic precision. I know that Adams and Derek Carr are besties from their Fresno State, but no one is going to convince me that Adams is going to see 318 targets and catch 238 balls for 2,927 yards. He also caught 29 TDs in 30 games.

Rodgers is an all-time great. Carr is a very good, often underrated QB who threw for 4,804 yards in 2021. The AFC West is an arms race. Those divisional games figure to be epic. Yet Adams has to contend with sharing targets with Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller. Hard to expect the Raiders to share the wealth among Adams and the other two pass catchers. Adams will get his, but I’m taking the under on him to match last year’s 1,553 receiving yards. 

AMARI COOPER (CLE)
Dallas didn’t want to pay Cooper $20M, but the Browns will gladly pay him at age-27 because they gave up significant draft capital for Watson. Unless they find a WR in later picks, Cooper is going to be the clear alpha for one of the best QBs in the NFL in Watson. Last year, Cooper was WR26 in 15 games, putting up a line of 68-104-865-8. He seemed to battle injuries most weeks, so how much they hobbled him on game days we’ll never know. Cooper’s main competition for targets appears to be Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz. The pickings are getting slim on the free agent market. Come back, Jarvis Landry?

CHRISTIAN KIRK (JAX)
OK, let’s get it out of the way. Giving Kirk a four-year deal worth up to $84 million is probably an overpay. It’s not my money, and the Jags probably have to overpay free agents to come to Jacksonville (did you hear there’s no state tax?). And that’s with Trevor Lawrence showing he was all kinds of human last year. 

Still, Kirk was the WR28 with a receiving line of 77-103-982-5. He’s never amassed 1,000 yards receiving in a season in his career. Though in Weeks 14-17, when Deandre Hopkins was hurt and Kirk was the de facto WR1 on the Cardinals, Kirk was the WR13 with 25-36-307-1. 

WRs rarely go from the #2 guy to the top dog in a new location. I’m not expecting 100 catches and 1,200-plus yards with Lawrence taking a major step forward. Even with plenty of talent around him – underwhelming as some might call the WR talent level in Jacksonville – a healthy season should net Kirk a 1,000-yard season with about 80-85 receptions. That could inch him up into the back end of WR2 range. 

ZAY JONES (JAX)
Weeks 15-18 Jones averaged 8-10 targets per game. His 25-35-264-0 line looks pretty good when averaged out to a full season. Let’s not do this here. The Jaguars will have a new offense with an experienced play caller in HC Doug Pederson, which is a good thing. Last year, they threw the ball 604 times as a team, so there are targets to go around. Only Marvin Jones (120 targets last year) and Laviska Shenault (100) remain from 2021, but the new guys should see plenty of work because the organization paid up for them. Follow the money, yet I can only see Zay as a fantasy bench player, occasional starter and maybe DFS bargain play.

D.J. CHARK (DET)
It’s a one-year, prove-it deal for Chark. An old baseball scout once told me that there’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal. Chark played just three games, and was targeted 22 times, catching 7 for 154 yards and 3 TDs. He goes to the Lions right after Amon-Ra St. Brown had his breakout finish to the season. ASB is a slot guy, while Chark will do his work on the outside. Chark is 25, and three years ago he had his Year-2 breakout with 73-118-1,008-8, so the Lions are betting on him bouncing back to that level. Jared Goff has supported multiple 1,000-yard WRs before with the Rams, though just getting Chark back to being a productive receiver would be good. 

RUSSELL GAGE (TB)
Here are Gage’s targets from Week 13 through the end of the regular season: 12, 6, 11, 5, 5, 13. He was the WR13 from that point, with a line of 30-40-374-1. There are going to be plenty of balls flying through the air in Tampa from Brady, who launched 719 pass attempts in 2021. Antonio Brown had 62 targets in 7 games. With Godwin likely starting the season on IR, could Gage be a sneaky value play?

ALLEN ROBINSON (LAR)
That he landed with the Rams is very interesting. That he got a three-year deal for over $15M/per makes it appear that he’s more than just a bounceback candidate. Last year was a lost season with a battle with COVID on top of nagging injuries. And the Bears offense fluctuating between Andy Dalton’s best days behind him and rookie Justin Fields did Robinson no favors. The offseason narrative will be that he’s going to the best QB he’s ever played with in Matthew Stafford, and look what that did for Cooper Kupp last year. Robinson turns 29 this year, and his draft stock will be down. With Robert Woods being moved, that should open up the WR2 spot behind Kupp and the 180 or so targets he’ll see in an offense where Stafford threw 601 times last year. I like Robinson’s chances to see about 120 targets, and going as the WR38 toward the end of the seventh round in current ECR is a good deal. The Rams’ WR room is crowded with Van Jefferson and Tutu Atwell in there as well. 

ROBERT WOODS (TEN)
The Ram fan in me doesn’t like this. Woods is a local guy, went to USC and was a part of the organization’s renaissance from a 2016 flop in the return to LA. Woods was underrated in his first four seasons with the Rams, twice going over 1,000 yards and just missing a third time. He’s also a fierce run blocker, and a team captain. Have I ever said how this game can be cruel? The ACL tear he suffered after 9 games last November could see him still undergoing rehab going into the upcoming season, but landing in Tennessee is a very good spot for him. A.J. Brown was the only Titan WR to surpass 100 targets, and no one else went past 57 on the team. Julio Jones has been released, so there could be some targets coming Woods’ way after his return to health. Look for my interview with Dr. Edwin Porras to talk about the high number of late-season ACL injuries to pass catchers and how that impacts the 2022 season.

JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER (KC)
This is one of my favorite signings of the offseason. When JuJu didn’t have to be the top WR in an offense, he had his best seasons in Pittsburgh. The 111-catch, 1,426-yard season in 2018 with Antonio Brown on the other side will get plenty of mention in the coming months. What I’m focusing on are the 658 passes that flew from the arm of Patrick Mahomes last year. Of those, 293 went to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. With the departure of Byron Pringle, JuJu will insert himself into the offense and become an underneath threat to complement Hill’s otherworldly talents. Yes, he’ll be the third option in the offense, but the floor should be about 100 targets. Coming from Mahomes, I’ll take that. Especially with JuJu currently at WR47, behind the likes of Rashod Bateman, Devante Parker and Michael Gallup. 

JULIO JONES (?)
As mentioned above, he was just released. There is hope for a reunion with Ryan in Indy, where Jones could keep teams from focusing too much attention to Michael Pittman Jr. The concern is the 14 games he missed last year. He’s going to get a one-year, prove-it deal to show that he’s still got it. If he goes to the right offense, he could have some weeks where he’s viable. Need to keep an eye on him.

WILL FULLER (?)
There will be some people calling for him to sign with the Browns, to be reunited with Watson. That would be a dream scenario, as the pair were making beautiful music in 2020 when Fuller was suspended for a PED violation. Hard to imagine any team giving him more than a one-year contract, coming off a lost season when he tallied 8 targets in a pair of games. How many times have we heard, “Can he just stay healthy?”

ODELL BECKHAM JR. (?)
I predict OBJ doesn’t play this year after getting hurt in the Super Bowl. Porras said that this being a re-tear that it could actually help speed up the healing process of the original reconstruction. I can see a two-year deal, similar to in baseball when a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery signs for a couple years with the full knowledge that the first year is just a rehab year. OBJ was really rolling in the title game, and it would be great to see his talents at as close to 100% health again. Salud, OBJ!

TIGHT END

EVAN ENGRAM (JAX)
He was relatively healthy for the first time in a while, playing in 15 games and finishing as the TE23 with a line of 46-73-408-3. Still, if any TE is healthy and doesn’t finish in the top 12 it’s alarming. There were 109 targets that went to the TE position last year in Jacksonville. Yes, we’re expecting an uptick in Lawrence’s play, but there will be plenty of mouths to feed. At this point in the offseason, I just don’t see Engram being enough of a factor so as to be an every-week starter at a very shallow position. 

C.J. UZOMAH (NYJ)
The Jets were a wasteland for the TE position, with Ryan Griffin getting a mere 42 targets to lead the position. Uzomah finished as the TE19 with a line of 49-63-493-5. There was some buzz about his production during weeks 13-17, which included a couple blowup  games for the Bengals. But he only finished as the TE15 during that time span, putting up a line of 19-29-162-0. That was less than 6 targets per game. This is another TE who would need to rely on a Year 2 QB, this one Zach Wilson, to take a big step forward to make him viable. 

O.J. HOWARD (BUF)
Is he just insurance for Dawson Knox? I don’t see him as fantasy relevant.

AUSTIN HOOPER (TEN)
Anthony Firkser led the Titans’ TEs with 43 targets last year. Into this mix goes Hooper, who caught 38 balls for 345 yards and 3 TDs in Cleveland. Hooper at best is the third option for targets in Tennessee, and is a fantasy TE2 at this point. Hard to see him getting enough volume to be more than a weekly flier. 

HAYDEN HURST (CIN)
In an offense where Kyle Pitts became just the second rookie TE to amass 1,000 receiving yards, there wasn’t much left over for Hurst. Going to Cincinnati appears to help, because the high-powered, Joe Burrow-led offense should have balls flying in all sorts of directions. But after the talented WR trio of Chase/Higgins/Boyd and Joe Mixon in line for about 50 targets, there may not be much left for Hurst beyond the TE19 numbers that Uzomah put up last year.

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