Even though players can’t officially join new organizations until tomorrow at 4:00 PM ET, the “legal tampering period” that began Tuesday brought an avalanche of player news regarding players expected to join new teams tomorrow. With the musical chairs already in motion, we’re going to take a quick look at the major news from the opening wave of player movement through a fantasy lens.
While I would strongly caution remaining on the pessimistic side of players changing scenery through free agency from a small sample look at the wide receiver position, Pro Football Focus’ Scott Barrett doubled down on those initial thoughts and put together a string of information regarding every position as it pertains to the impact free agency has initial fantasy production.
Kirk Cousins to Vikings
Kirk Cousins made the move we all were anticipating him to make, joining the Vikings on a fully-guaranteed $86 million contract over the next three seasons. Cousins is already coming off three consecutive strong fantasy campaigns, finishing as the QB9, QB5 and QB6 in overall scoring at his position over that span. Although he struggled to the finish line last season, his scoring output was perhaps his most impressive considering that he dealt with a supporting cast in constant disarray. He dealt with the annual injury to Jordan Reed, as well as injuries to Chris Thompson and Jamison Crowder, inconsistent play from Josh Doctson in his first real taste of extensive use in the NFL and the free agency bust of Terrelle Pryor. In Minnesota, Cousins will inherit the duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, who ranked 11th and 13th respectively in PPR points per game with Case Keenum as their primary quarterback in 2017. Fond of using his tight end, Cousins also gains Kyle Rudolph, whose 15 touchdowns over the past two seasons rank second amongst all tight ends in the NFL. This was already an offense that ranked eighth in yards (32.6), eighth in scoring rate (41.6 percent) and seventh in touchdown rate (23.1 percent) per drive a year ago, so I don’t want to go wild on projections here, but the upgrade to Cousins will have all of the Minnesota skill players -including the returning presence of Dalvin Cook – selected amongst the top tier starting groups of their positions in fantasy circles this summer with Cousins locked in as another top-10 option at the quarterback position with potential to be higher.
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Allen Robinson to Bears
The most notable wideout available this offseason was Robinson and he was quickly gobbled up the Bears. After missing all but three snaps last season due to a torn ACL, Robinson turns just 25-years old this August and already has a WR6 and WR24 finish on his resume for fantasy purposes. At age 23, he posted an 80/1,400/14 line, joining Isaac Bruce, Randy Moss and Odell Beckham as the only receivers to have a 1,400-yard receiving season with at least a dozen touchdowns in a year before turning 24-years old. His efficiency has been all over the map to start his career, relying on splash plays to carry that gaudy breakout in 2015, but then when those splash plays evaporated in 2016, so did his fantasy stock. In 2015, 37 percent of Robinson’s receptions came on throws 15 yards or further downfield. That mark was just 18 percent in 2016. A big issue for that drop came due to his attachment of Blake Bortles as Robinson’s catchable pass rate also fell for the third straight season. His catchable target rate was all the way down to 56.9 percent in 2016, which was the sixth worst rate for all receivers with 50 or more targets on the season. But one thing Robinson has never been short on is volume, something that shouldn’t appear to be an issue in Chicago. Robinson has averaged 8.1, 9.4 and 9.4 targets per game to start his career and will have little in his path to pushing 25-30 percent of the target volume with the Bears roster. No stranger to volatile quarterback play, Robinson will be at worst a high-volume sporadic contributor playing with second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the upside to regain WR1 output if Trubisky takes off in Matt Nagy’s offense.
The Bears also added Taylor Gabriel to go along with Robinson, but he carries more tactical advantage from a reality stance than one that stands to make a fantasy impact. Gabriel has yet to reach 40 receptions in an NFL season while struggling to shed being a situational player in an offense.
Sammy Watkins to Chiefs
Another receiver with high upside, but with a high range of outcomes is Sammy Watkins. After catching 65 and 60 passes in his first two seasons, Watkins has managed to snare just 67 passes in 23 games played over the past two years. His 2018 was particularly concerning as he was out-targeted and out-played by both Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, two players who are nowhere near the talent spectrum as the core group of pass catchers Watkins will be fighting targets from in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. He’s flashed a major ceiling at times, but Watkins also comes with health risks and has been a volatile producer as he’s been a top-24 scorer in just 19 of 52 career games to this point. Still, Watkins will be 25-years old and will now be a full year plus removed from a second “Jones fracture” surgery that he had last January. The Chiefs are swerving into incorporating an offense that is tailored to the strengths of what Patrick Mahomes worked with in college, something that is a luxury afforded by Kansas City still having all of Mahomes, Hill and Kareem Hunt all on rookie contracts. Watkins has yet to finish higher than WR20 in a season and will be in a fight for targets on a team led by a quarterback with 35 pass attempts in the NFL, but he will unequivocally be the cheapest part of the Kansas City offense outside of Mahomes if you want to make a play on his downside being baked into his cost this summer.
Jimmy Graham to Packers
It feels like it’s been a yearly event for the Packers and fantasy owners to keep chasing the ghost of Jermichael Finley, but here we are again with Graham heading to Green Bay. Turning 32-years old next season, Graham is coming off a 10-touchdown campaign in 2017. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he averaged a career-low 9.1 yards per reception and just 32.5 receiving yards per game, his lowest mark since his rookie season in 2010. To go along with the addition of Graham, the Packers released veteran receiver -who produced like a tight end a year ago- Jordy Nelson. Despite his pedestrian yardage while playing with Rodgers a year ago, Nelson still managed six touchdowns in five games with five of those coming from 10-yards and in, where Graham led the NFL in targets (16) a year ago. Even if he fails to regain his production downfield, Graham can be identical to what he was a year ago – a glorified goal line option – and still make a fantasy impact at a depressed tight end position playing alongside Aaron Rodgers.
Dion Lewis to Titans
Just a week after releasing DeMarco Murray, the Titans added Lewis on a four-year deal, bringing Derrick Henry’s short-lived status as a bellcow back to a halt. Lewis played 16 games in 2017 for the first time in his career on his way to ringing up 180 rushing attempts, besting his career mark of 64 carries set in 2016. Lewis was also effective with those carries, as he ranked third of all back with at least 100 rushing attempts in rate of runs to go for 10 or more yards (13.4 percent). Given his injury history, Lewis’ addition to Tennessee likely means that he and Henry form a combo in which Lewis manages low scoring opportunities but keeps Henry’s receptions totals in a position where it will be hard for Henry to find a stable fantasy floor, leaving him as a boom or bust fantasy option that is dependent on finding the end zone while both are active. Lewis will have a hard time replicating the nine touchdowns he scored in 2017, but Henry was used on just 31.9 percent of the Tennessee passing plays a year ago, while Murray participated on 70.4 percent. Those are snaps that Lewis will surely take the majority of. This move makes Lewis a PPR RB3 with upside if Henry were to miss time and leaves Henry as an RB2 with low reception output.
Paul Richardson to Washington
Washington is adding Paul Richardson to the mix, reportedly on a five-year, $40 million deal. Richardson is coming off a 44/703/6 campaign after catching just 51 passes for 599 yards and two scores over his first three seasons dealing with a plethora of injuries. Richardson also leaves Seattle for a potentially crowded receiving group in Washington. With Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Chris Thompson and sometimes Jordan Reed to contend with for targets, Richardson could very well find himself as the third or lower option in the passing game that is attached to Alex Smith, who has reached 500 pass attempts in a season just twice over 12 years in the league with a high of 508 attempts. Richardson will be a later-round upside pick in the event that targets become more readily available than they are on the surface in this offense.