Fantasy Notes on Free Agency
The 2020 free agency was one for the ages and still has a lot of juice left to give. Most of the big news has already come across the ticker (Cam Newton aside) so it's time to dig into the fantasy implications of each move. Major moves are at the top and the smaller moves will be added to the bottom when they happen. If a signing or trade isn't here, it probably doesn't matter from a fantasy context (think Marcus Mariota to the Raiders). Let's get to it.
TB12 to TB
The G.O.A.T himself has reportedly moved on from Boston for sunnier days. While not official yet, all major news-breakers have confirmed that Tom Brady will be a Tampa Bay Buccaneer in 2020. Brady gets a massive upgrade in weaponry with Chris Godwin and Mike Evans but the same can't be said for Tampa's dynamic duo of receivers.
Jameis Winston was a bad quarterback but an all-time fantasy passer. He was the Tom Brady of generating fantasy points for his receivers. Winston's 10.5 intended air yards per target trailed only Matthew Stafford last season. He was hucking it deep and didn't think twice about the will of any defender on any one of his league-high 626 pass attempts. Winston also led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards. Brady may be more efficient but he won't be careless enough to put up the raw stats Winston did. The Brady signing is a massive downgrade for Evans and Godwins' fantasy values.
The Swindle of the Century
Seeing that the world was potentially coming to an end, Bill O'Brien decided to pitch in toward the insanity by trading DeAndre Hopkins for the dead weight that is David Johnson's contract and a second-round pick.
Hopkins' biggest competition for targets in Houston was rarely-healthy Will Fuller and a handful of sub-starter level receivers. Now he has to compete with Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk. Fitzgerald may be on the tail end of his career but he continues to command targets and the entirety of Arizona's slot role. Kirk was on an upward trajectory, catching 25 more balls and 119 more yards in his second season with the Cardinals. Kirk now has no chance of breaking out as a No. 1 option while Hopkins should be expected to see fewer targets.
The other receiving unit involved now features Will Fuller and newly-signed Randall Cobb as their top options. Cobb flamed out as the first receiver while in Green Bay and has slowly lost the athleticism that pushed him to his fantasy peaks many years ago. He's closer to Danny Amendola at this point in his career. Fuller has never played a complete season throughout his four NFL seasons but he has shown mind-bending efficiency when healthy and playing alongside Deshaun Watson. Watson has averaged 10.9 AYA when targeting Fuller compared to 9.2 with Hopkins. Fullers' ceiling is only capped by his health.
Kenyan Drake joined the Cardinals mid-season and immediately became an RB1. He posted 101.8 total yards and a touchdown per game in his eight contests with the team. Now that Johnson is out of the picture and the Cardinals have tagged Drake, it appears to be all systems go for him to set career-highs in 2020.
David Johnson's outlook is not nearly as pristine as Drake's. Over the past three seasons. Johnson has missed 18 games. He's carried the ball 363 times for 1,308 yards in the span, good for 3.6 yards per carry. That number made nearly no improvement as his offense got better last year. At 28, it's possible that Johnson isn't the athlete he once was. O'Brien will give him first crack at the Texans' starting job, so a season similar to Carlos Hyde's 2019 is in the cards.
Todd Gurley Finds a Home in Atlanta
The Rams released Todd Gurley to save $5.5 million in cap space and Atlanta was quick to swoop in and nab the former All-Pro on a one-year deal. This landing spot is ideal for Gurley as there is volume to spare and Matt Ryan has been comfortable peppering his running back with targets in the past.
Atlanta moved on from Devonta Freeman which paved the way for Gurley to handle a lot of touches. Freeman handled 184 carries and 70 targets in 14 games last year. Brian Hill started in his two absences and 24 carries plus seven targets. That brings the starting workload to 208 carries and 77 targets. With Gurley's knees being primarily composed of gelatin these days, he's unlikely to be efficient on these touches. Still, it does give him low-end RB1 upside again, if you can stomach the health risk he brings.
Stefon Diggs to the Bills
Josh Allen is the big beneficiary of this move as his cannon for an arm meshes beautifully with Stefon Diggs' skills. Diggs was 10th in the NFL in average depth of target (15.1) and 3rd in yards per target (12.1). Diggs commanded down-field opportunities and was incredibly efficient on those chances. O'Brien should take notes on surrounding his young passer with weapons that fit the passers' style (or just weapons at all).
Unfortunately for Diggs, the Bills don't pass particularly often or well. The Bills were 21st in attempts per game while Allen's 6.7 yards per attempt mark was 26th among qualified passers.
Diggs does more for Allen as a passer than Allen will be able to do for Diggs as a receiver.
Melvin Gordon Signs with Denver
Melvin Gordon never appeared to be a special player within his position, averaging exactly 4.0 yards per carry in his five seasons with the Chargers. He topped that widely-accepted benchmark of mediocrity (4.0 YPC) just once in a season. He now lands on a Denver offense that was outside the top-20 in yards and points last year.
Gordon also has more competition as he'll be competing with Phillip Lindsay for carries. Lindsay has 416 carries through two seasons with the Broncos.
Gordon is a player who gets what is blocked for him but doesn't have explosive abilities that allow him to transcend his own offense. Add in a fierce competitor for work and he's assured to be drafted higher than he's worth based on his name-value alone.
Austin Hooper Gets the Bag
Austin Hooper set career numbers across the board in 2019:
- 75 receptions
- 787 yards
- 6 touchdowns
He wasn't any different of a player than he had been in the previous three years though. His yards per reception, yards per target, and catch rate were all identical to his career averages. He just saw more volume because the Falcons were a trailing, pass-happy team. The move to Cleveland gives him more competition at tight end with David Njoku on the roster plus Cleveland is unlikely to match Atlanta's league-leading 42.8 attempts per game. The time to sell Hooper is now as it's going to be nearly impossible for him to replicate his 2019 results.
Also, the Njoku dream is over, at least in Cleveland.
Philip Rivers Joins the Colts
Rivers gave off similar vibes to Winston last season. He was third in the NFL with 20 interceptions and had a talented slot and X receiver duo of his own in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. The big difference is that Rivers was plain bad when he was dumping it off whereas Winston would never think of such a cowardly option. Rivers averaged 9.9 adjusted yards per attempt (AYA) when targeting Austin Ekeler. That was his best connection with a Chargers' pass-catcher despite passes farther down field being more efficient when looking at the entire league.
Expect Rivers to do more of the same in Indianapolis. Parris Campbell and Nyeim Hines are both electric playmakers who can take short passes the distance on any given play. They stand to benefit immensely from the Rivers signing. Players like T.Y. Hilton and Zach Pascal are solid avoids in 2020.
New Orleans Finds a WR2
Like most of their WR2s, the Saints are likely to get more out of Emmanuel Sanders than he does from them (at least in a fantasy context). They haven't produced a 1,000-yard season from a non-Michael Thomas receiver since 2016 when Brandin Cooks lined up opposite Thomas.
New Orleans has deployed Ted Ginn and in that role but neither became weekly starters. They each had single-game flashes but the job of New Orleans' second receiver is to clear out space for Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Hold out on drafting Sanders and cash in whenever the Saints play in a high-total game.
Hayden Hurst Joins Gurley
The Falcons loaded their offense up with first-round talent and that includes a top-32 tight end in Hayden Hurst. They sent a second-round selection to Baltimore in exchange for Hurst. The former baseball player was not a good enough receiver to play ahead of Mark Andrews and was similarly out-classed as a blocker by Nick Boyle.
Hurst is serviceable at both but not prolific enough to cut out a significant role. He'll get that chance in Atlanta but he is not the receiver that Austin Hooper was. Hurst will likely settle in as a streaming option at the position.
Teddy Bridgewater Gets a Starting Gig in Carolina
The Panthers brought in a more accurate Kyle Allen with Teddy Bridgewater. The former Saint averaged 6.2 air yards per attempt on his 196 passes while filling in for Drew Brees. That mark was the lowest in the NFL. He's the most cautious passer in the league but he's accurate on those passes. The signing ensures that D.J. Moore will get the chance to improve again in his third season and will help McCaffrey follow up his record-setting 2019.
Curtis Samuel was resigned to running sprints that ended with ducks flying over his head from Allen last year. He'll likely see fewer targets on deep passes but they'll be much more accurate.
Pittsburgh Signs Eric Ebron
Once every few years, Eric Ebron comes out of his hole, doesn't see his own shadow, and blossoms into a TE1. If Ben Roethlisberger returns healthy, 2020 could be one of those seasons. Pittsburgh is one of the pass-happiest offenses when he's Big Ben's under center and Ebron would make a great red zone weapon for the offense
He'll have to beat out Vance McDonald for the starting role but McDonald only posted 273 yards in his second season with the Steelers. If Ebron has the talent to be a TE1 again, passing McDonald will not be the factor that holds him back.