We evaluated every significant fantasy signing and trade in Joe Dolan and Tom Brolley’s positional Free Agency Reviews and in Graham Barfield and Scott Barrett’s in-depth breakdowns on individual signings. Just as important, we need to assess the situations of players that didn’t change teams this off-season. Some players that didn’t change teams either saw their fantasy situations significantly improve or significantly worsen thanks to player movement since the start of the new league year on March 18. Let’s dive in to see which players are looking better and which players are looking worse for fantasy through the first month of the new NFL year.
Players that stayed on their 2019 teams that we’re feeling more optimistic about based on free agency moves and trades this off-season.
Kyler Murray (Ari) — The fantasy hype around Murray was already building for this season and then the Cardinals stole one of the league’s premiere WRs from the Texans to put him in position to be a top-five fantasy QB pick. As a rookie, Murray finished as the QB12 in FPG (17.8) last season despite playing with a debutant NFL head coach in Kliff Kingsbury and an extremely limited cast, featuring Damiere Byrd and KeeSean Johnson. Murray and Kingsbury made adjustments as the 2019 season went along, and they were ready for a big leap even before they netted the dominant Hopkins. Nuk has been a top-five fantasy WR in three straight seasons, and the Cardinals are candidates to add some much-needed offensive line help and another receiver early in the draft. Murray already has a great fantasy floor after he finished second in QB rushing yards/game (34.0) last season, even with a second-half hamstring injury. Now, Murray has the type of receiver who can elevate his passing totals to give him more ceiling performances.
Josh Allen (Buf) — Allen’s cast has incrementally improved in each of his first three seasons, and there’s a good chance his season-long fantasy finishes will improve for the third straight season (?>QB11>QB19). The Bills clearly know the limitations of their franchise QB with his scattershot accuracy. They’ve placed a premium on their WRs creating route separation by adding Stefon Diggs to last year’s free-agent signees of John Brown and Cole Beasley — big, contested-catch WRs need not apply for a job in Buffalo. Allen has yet to complete more than 60% of his passes or top 7.0 YPA in a season, but that could change this season with a formidable trio at WR — second-year TE Dawson Knox might be a gem too. The Bills are also trending toward throwing it more next season after attempting the 21st-most pass attempts/game last season (33.0). OC Brian Daboll used more 11 personnel (three WRs) in the final seven weeks of 2019 than any other team (per Sharp Football Stats) and they started using more tempo. If Allen can keep making improvements as a passer, it’s only going to boost his upside potential since he already has an excellent floor because of his rushing production. He led all QBs in rushing TDs in each of the last two seasons (16), and he finished third in rushing yards/game in 2019 with 31.9. I’m valuing Allen as a mid-range QB1, and he’ll likely be one of the first QBs I’ll consider drafting since I typically wait until at least seven rounds into a draft to take a quarterback.
Baker Mayfield (Cle) — The Browns went all-in to give the #1 overall pick in 2018 every chance to succeed in his third season. Mayfield is getting major reinforcements for the second straight off-season, but the buzz has certainly died down after he crushed his fantasy owners after they drafted him as the QB4 last summer. The Browns added fantasy’s TE3 from last season in Austin Hooper, and they also nabbed the best linemen on the market in former Titans RT Jack Conklin. Conklin and Hooper will help in protection after Mayfield struggled under constant pressure last season, and Hooper will give him another excellent chain-mover in the middle of the field with Jarvis Landry. Mayfield should also feel comfortable in new HC Kevin Stefanski’s play-action-heavy offense. Stefanski’s offense could cut down on the passing volume in this offense, but Mayfield should play at a more efficient level, giving him a chance to bounce back this year as a high-to-mid range QB2 pick.
Gardner Minshew (Jax) — Running QBs, led by Lamar Jackson, dominated fantasy football last season. The top-six fantasy scorers in overall FP at the position each ran for 250+ yards and the top-10 scorers each ran for 180+ yards. Minshew started just 12 games and played in just 14 contests overall or else he may have climbed into the top 10 at the position, thanks in large part to his rushing ability — he finished fifth among QBs in rushing yards/game 24.6. The Jaguars traded away Nick Foles this off-season so Minshew is now the man on what could be a bad Jaguars team. Bookmakers pegged the Jaguars with the lowest win total this season at five, which means Minshew could be throwing and, more importantly, scrambling a lot while playing from behind this season. Don’t sleep on Minshew and his goofy mustache late in drafts this summer. He’s a real threat to crack the top 12 at the position this season if he continues to scramble and if he’s more comfortable as a passer as the entrenched starter.
Jarrett Stidham (NE) — The Patriots look poised to give second-year QB Stidham the first crack at leading the Patriots into a brave new frontier in the post-Tom Brady era. The Patriots let Brady walk to Tampa this off-season and the only competition they brought in for the former Auburn QB was Brian Hoyer, who had two previous stints with the Patriots. Stidham impressed HC Bill Belichick enough last season to give him a shot to lead the offense in 2020. Stidham actually beat out Hoyer for the backup job last summer after he had the best preseason of any rookie QB under Belichick, completing 61/90 passes (67.8%) for 731 yards, four TDs, and one INT. The Patriots know exactly what Hoyer brings to the table at this stage of his career, which is to say very little. Unless the Patriots use a first- or second-round pick on a QB, which they very well could, Stidham should get every chance to play and learn on the job next season, which makes him an option as a third QB in best-ball formats.
Tyrod Taylor (LAC) — The Chargers whiffed on the G.O.A.T. at the start of free agency, and they’re content to go into the season with Taylor as the starting QB while they likely groom a rookie QB behind him. Taylor, who will turn 31 in August, has the best skill players he’s ever had around him, and the Chargers have also significantly upgraded their O-line this off-season. I wouldn’t sleep on Taylor for fantasy purposes this season, even if the Chargers spend a top-10 pick on a QB this spring. He ran for 400+ yards and 4+ TDs in each of his three seasons as a starter with the Bills in 2015-17, which included a pair QB7 finishing in FPG. I’m also expecting Taylor to get more than the three starts he got with the Brown in 2018 before Baker Mayfield took over. Taylor has a better chance to start deeper into the season with a rookie QB taking longer to learn the ropes because of off-season practice schedules potentially getting condensed or canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Taylor is still off the re-draft radar unless you're playing two-QB leagues, but he could be an interesting third QB in the final round or two in best-ball formats.
Christian McCaffrey (Car) — Let’s keep this one short since CMC can’t be moved any higher #1 overall. The Panthers severely needed to upgrade the QB position this off-season, and they did it by signing checkdown artist Teddy Bridgewater, which bodes well for McCaffrey reaching 100+ catches for a third straight season. Bridgewater ranked last in air yards/attempt (6.1) and targeted his running backs on 29% of his throws (second-most) on 196 attempts last season. Alvin Kamara averaged 6.3 catches/game and 7.0 targets/game in four starts with Bridgewater, which was a little better than his averages in 10 starts with Drew Brees last season (5.6, 6.9). The Panthers are also following the Chiefs/Seahawks model by adding even more speed to this offense in Robby Anderson, which could create more room for CMC as a runner and receiver. McCaffrey also won’t be pulling an Ezekiel Elliott this summer and holding out for a new deal after signing a four-year deal worth $16 million/year. McCaffrey hasn’t given any indication that he will hold out, but the direction of the team could give him some pause with longtime vets Cam Newton, Greg Olsen, and Luke Kuechly each leaving town.
Kenyan Drake (Ari) — Kyler Murray wasn’t the only Cardinal to get a huge boost from the DeAndre Hopkins trade. First, the Cardinals made a commitment to Drake by slapping a one-year, $8.5 million transition tag on him to start the off-season — GM Steve Keim also said they’re interested in getting a long-term contract done. The Cardinals then were somehow able to dump on David Johnson and his hefty contract on the Texans for Hopkins, which leaves Drake to potentially be a bellcow back with just Chase Edmonds behind him. Drake excelled in that role for the Cardinals in the final eight games of last season after the Dolphins traded him to Arizona in the middle of the season. He averaged 18.9/101.8/1.0 scrimmage/game in his eight games with the Cardinals, which projects out to 1628 scrimmage yards, 56 catches, and 16 TDs over 16 games — he would’ve tied Aaron Jones as the RB2 in overall FP with 314.8. Drake needs to be in the conversation of mid-range RB1s this summer because he has the potential to be a three-down back in a paced-up offense that’s clearly on the upswing entering 2020.
Nick Chubb (Cle) — In January, Chubb had to be excited to learn he’d be playing under Kevin Stefanski after watching Dalvin Cook dominate on outside zone runs last season. In March, Chubb had to be even more excited after the Browns landed the best tackle on the market in Jack Conklin and TE Austin Hooper, who will help him execute those runs even better than last season. Obviously, the big thorn in Chubb’s upside this season will be the return of Kareem Hunt, but Chubb still had a special season even with Hunt in the fold for the final eight games. Even with shaky offensive tackles last season, he finished behind only Derrick Henry in total rushing yards (1494) and in average yards after first contact (3.77, per PFF). Hunt’s presence is going to knock Chubb into the second round in drafts this summer, but run-blocking improvements could give him a chance to finish near the top of the rushing leaders again.
Darrell Henderson (LAR) — The Rams bit the bullet and cut Todd Gurley this off-season for some cap relief — they’re still on the hook for $20.1 million in dead money. Gurley’s release means that Henderson and Malcolm Brown are the next men up in this backfield, and Henderson is the better bet to emerge as a fantasy difference-maker. The Rams selected him 70th overall last spring, but he saw just 43 touches on 93 snaps as a rookie. Henderson did impress on his extremely limited opportunities, forcing an impressive 11 missed tackles and averaging 3.72 yards after first contact. Gurley leaves behind a lot of work for Henderson and Brown to absorb, including 223 carries, 49 targets, and 12 rushing TDs. Henderson should be much more accustomed to HC Sean McVay’s outside-zone schemes, and it’s pretty clear that the Rams will use more two-TE sets this season after trading away Brandin Cooks. The Rams have one of the better TE tandems in Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, and McVay will give his weak O-line more help by getting Higbee and Everett on the field more together. Unfortunately for Henderson, Brown could be a pain in the butt at the goal line after he converted five of his 10 carries into TDs from inside the 10-yard line last year. GM Les Snead also said in early April that the Rams will use multiple backs with different skill sets next season. Henderson’s fantasy value is still likely to skyrocket as we head into the summer. Be prepared to spend at least a top-60 pick to draft him unless the Rams would use one of their first two picks (52nd and 57th overall) on a running back.
Nyheim Hines (Ind) — I’ve backed Hines each of the last two summers, and he’s left me slightly underwhelmed in each of his first two campaigns. It looks like I’ll be going back to the well once again this summer, and I have a slightly better feeling about him in Year Three because Philip Rivers will be his quarterback. Rivers threw to his RBs more than any other quarterback last season (31.5%), and he even had much better receivers at his disposal in Los Angeles compared to his cast in Indianapolis. Hines is clearly Indy’s preferred passing back with 107 catches the last two seasons compared to Marlon Mack’s 31 catches in that same span. Hines has the potential to be even more active in the passing game than he’s been the last two seasons, but his fantasy relevance will depend on if he takes advantage of his increased opportunities — he’s averaging just 7.0 YPR with two receiving TDs to start his career.
Adam Thielen (Min) — Thielen had an extremely disappointing back half of 2018, but he could be poised to reclaim a spot inside the top eight at the position like he did in both 2017 and 2018. A hamstring injury ravaged the final 10 games of Thielen’s regular season before he finally looked right in two postseason games. He posted 4/52/1 receiving in just four of a possible final 10 regular games before hanging 12/179 in two playoff games. If Thielen can remain healthy this season, he could challenge the likes of Michael Thomas, Davante Adams, and DeAndre Hopkins to be the biggest ball hog in the league. The Vikings traded away his main competition for targets in Stefon Diggs, which opens up a massive 41% air yards share and a 21% target share from last season. Thielen averaged 148.5 targets/season and a 26% target share in 2017-18. It wouldn’t be shocking if he got back to those standards with such a weak cast of receivers around him.
Robert Woods (LAR) — The Rams are transitioning to more sets with Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett on the field this season after they traded Brandin Cooks to the Texans in early April. Woods projects to benefit the most from Cooks’ departure after he thrived and Cooper Kupp struggled at the end of last season when the Rams transitioned to more 12 personnel (two-TE sets). The Rams used 12 personnel 34% of the time in the final five weeks after using the grouping just 14% of the time in the first 12 weeks of the season. During the final five weeks of last season, Woods averaged a healthy 7.8/94.2/.4 receiving/game on 11.8 targets/game and 43.8 routes run/game. Meanwhile, Kupp struggled against perimeter cornerbacks, and he saw his usage dip in the final five weeks of the season, averaging 5.4/56.2/1.0 receiving/game on 6.0 targets/game and 33.0 routes run/game. Woods is also due for a positive touchdown regression after scoring just twice on 139 targets last season, while Kupp should see a negative touchdown regression after scoring 10 TDs on 134 targets. Woods was the only WR to score two or fewer TDs out of 30 players at the position who saw 100+ targets last season. I’ll be targeting Woods ahead of Kupp as a mid-range WR2, but early ADP has Kupp being drafted before Woods.
Calvin Ridley (Atl) — Get ready to pay a premium price to draft Ridley this summer because the hype is going to start building, and for good reason. Ridley is by far the biggest beneficiary from the departures of Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper over the last year. Before missing the final three games of last season with an abdomen injury, Ridley averaged 5.7/82.2/.5 receiving/game on 8.2 targets/game in six games after the Falcons traded Sanu. Hooper bolted for Cleveland in March, leaving behind a generous 18% target share, a 15% air yards share, and a 20% reception share. Ridley averaged 7.3/106.3/.7 receiving/game on 10.7 targets/game in the three weeks that Hooper missed last season — those games overlapped with Sanu leaving for New England. It’s also fair to wonder how much longer Julio Jones can continue to average 10.6 targets/game like he has over the last six seasons. Julio is an absolute freak and he’s yet to show any signs of slowing down, but it’s inevitable that his production is going to start a downslide in the near future. If Julio regresses just a little bit this season, Ridley could explode in his third season with Sanu and Hooper already gone. Ridley is likely to be a fixture in the third round of drafts this summer because of his tantalizing upside.
Allen Robinson (Chi) — It’s fair to wonder if A-Rob would be considered among the elite WRs if he could just get a good quarterback to throw him the rock. I’m not prepared to put Nick Foles in the good QB category, but he’s at least a mild upgrade over Mitchell Trubisky. A-Rob saw a catchable pass just 66.0% of the time last season, and Trubisky owned an adjusted completion percentage of just 71.1% last season (per PFF), which ranked 34th out of 42 passers with 125+ dropbacks. Trubisky’s accuracy issues even became a viral social distancing joke in early April. Foles at least finished in the top half of the group with a 74.2% completion percentage, albeit on just 128 dropbacks. A-Rob still finished as the WR11 last year thanks to an influx of targets late in the season, and he has slightly a higher floor and ceiling this season with Foles under center.
Terry McLaurin (Was) — The Redskins weren’t exactly teeming with receiver depth behind McLaurin, and they’ve added just Cody Latimer and Logan Thomas to the group in free agency. McLaurin stormed onto the scene as a rookie last season, finishing as the WR30 in FPG (13.7) and ranking 14th among WRs in yards/route run (2.05). He now looks poised to be among the league leaders in target share after seeing a 22% share as a rookie last season. Unfortunately, Scary Terry will only be as good as the quarterback play from Dwayne Haskins this season, but at least the second-year QB was at least making incremental progress as last season progressed. Haskins could limit McLaurin’s ceiling potential this season, but McLaurin should have more target stability in this receiving corps.
Jamison Crowder (NYJ) — Crowder is setting up to be PPR gold this season, especially if the Jets elect to draft an offensive tackle at 11th overall instead of a WR like Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, or Henry Ruggs. The Jets let Robby Anderson bolt to the Panthers this off-season, and he left behind a massive 34% air yards share and an 18% target share. The Jets bet on Breshad Perriman to keep up his high-level of play from the end of last season by handing him a one-year deal with $6 million in guaranteed money, but Crowder has a great chance to lead the Jets in receiving again this season. Crowder had an uneven first season with the Jets last year thanks in large part to Sam Darnold’s mononucleosis diagnosis. In the second half of the season, the duo started to show the same chemistry they displayed during the preseason with Crowder topping 18+ FP in five of his final nine contests. The Jets will be bringing in more WR help in the draft, but Crowder is still a strong bet to lead the Jets in receiving for a second straight season. It’s also worth noting that Crowder ran 76.4% of his routes from the slot last season, which means he’ll mostly avoid the AFC East’s gauntlet of CBs in Stephon Gillmore, Tre’Davious White, Byron Jones, and Xavien Howard.
Will Fuller (Hou) — HC/GM Bill O’Brien put a lot of faith in the oft-injured Fuller when he traded away elite WR DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals. The Texans are ready to move ahead with a WR-by-committee approach next season, with Fuller and Brandin Cooks leading the way and Kenny Stills and Randall Cobb also involved. Someone has to step into the 30% target share and the 34% air yards share left behind by Nuk, and I see Fuller as the 1A and Cooks as the 1B entering the summer. Fuller averaged 6.1 targets/game since he broke into the league in 2016 while Hopkins averaged a whopping 10.3 targets/game in that same span. Fuller could see his looks climb into the 7-8 targets/game range this season, which has been a magic number for him in the past. He saw 7+ targets in seven of his 12 games last season (including the playoffs), and he averaged a healthy 6.4/91.4/.4 receiving/game. It should be noted that his monster performance against the Falcons in Week 6 (14/217/3 receiving) did inflate those numbers. No one has ever doubted Fuller’s on-field ability, but his ability to stay on the field has always been in question. He’s averaged 5.5 missed games/season to start his career, and he’s particularly struggled with soft-tissue injuries. I don’t know how Fuller will be valued in drafts this summer because of Cooks’ presence and his extensive injury history. Still, there’s no denying his huge upside with a potential usage bump playing with one of the league’s elite QBs in Deshaun Watson. His upside will be too much pass on if I can grab him as my WR3 after the top-60 picks or so.
Deebo Samuel (SF) — Samuel and mid-season acquisition Emmanuel Sanders basically shared the top WR role for Jimmy Garoppolo in the second half of last season. Sanders bolted to New Orleans to play with Drew Brees this off-season, leaving the second-year WR Samuel to be the #1 WR in San Francisco. The 49ers are strong candidates to use either the 13th or the 31st overall pick on a WR in this year’s draft, but Samuel’s role should only continue to grow like it did during his rookie season. Deebo quickly lived up to the hype as a menace with the rock in his hands, finishing 15th among WRs in yards/route run (2.04). He also led all WRs in rushing yards with 159, and he added 102 rushing yards in three postseason games. Including the playoffs, he saw at least one carry/game in eight straight contests and he averaged 1.9 carries/game in that span, which is a nice little bump to his fantasy production. Samuel’s stock is on the rise entering the summer. He could get as high as a low-end WR2 if the 49ers pass on taking a WR high in the draft, and he’d still be a mid-range WR3 if the 49ers grab one of the first-round stud WRs.
N’Keal Harry (NE) — It feels a little odd to suggest that a receiver is in a better position to succeed with Jarrett Stidham at QB over Tom Brady, but Harry was one player who probably welcomed the change after an extremely disappointing rookie season. The 2019 first-round pick never got on the same page with the G.O.A.T., failing to top 30+ receiving yards in any game over eight contests (playoffs included). The Patriots are going with a youth movement on offense with Stidham at the helm. It makes sense for them to make Neal the focal point of this passing game moving forward with Julian Edelman entering his age-34 season with no Brady for the first time in his career. We’ll see if Harry is ready to be the man in this passing attack, but it’s wise to bet on highly drafted second-year WRs who are projected for huge roles and have been written off after rough rookie years (e.g. D.J. Chark as a sophomore in 2019).
Allen Lazard (GB) — The Packers have been awfully quiet finding Aaron Rodgers receiving help this off-season, which means Lazard could stay in a prominent role. He couldn’t break into the Packers WR rotation through the first five weeks of last season, and he still finished second on the team with 477 receiving yards. Rodgers was unable to support more than one fantasy-viable WR last season, but the 24-year-old Lazard did have a better connection with the veteran QB than the rest of the Packers receiving corps that were not named Davante Adams. Lazard is worth a late-round dart throw since he could have the chance to take another step forward to fantasy relevancy with a full season to play with Rodgers.
Mark Andrews (Bal) — Andrews is a sleeping fantasy giant next season after the Ravens broke up last season’s tight end committee when they traded away Hayden Hurst in March. Andrews played only 44% of the snaps last season —- Nick Boyle played 70% and Hurst saw 42% — but he still finished as the TE5 in FPG (13.8). Andrews also ran just 19.5 routes/game, which paled in comparison to the four players that finished ahead of him in FPG — Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Austin Hooper, and Zach Ertz. On average, those four players ran more than an additional 13 routes/game (32.9) compared to Andrews last season. He dominated on his limited chances, averaging 2.89 yards/route run, which ranked second to only Kittle (3.11) across all positions. Andrews’ usage should be on the rise this year with no viable TE stepping in and taking over Hurst’s vacated 12.9 routes/game, his 9% target share, and his 44% snap share. I was already expecting the Ravens to throw it more than the 29.4 attempts/game they averaged last season (fourth-fewest), so I wouldn’t be surprised if Andrews runs an extra 5-10 routes/game next season. He could see a TD regression after leading all TEs with 10 scores in 2019, but he should make up for it with more consistent snaps and routes this season. Andrews is my TE3 this summer, and he’ll be a major bargain if he’s being drafted outside the top 50.
Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett (LAR) — The Rams led the league in 11-personnel usage (three-WRs) just two short years ago, running the personnel grouping a whopping 90% of the time en route to the Super Bowl in 2018 (per Sharp Stats). After the Rams traded away Brandin Cooks in early April, Sean McVay’s 2020 personnel packages could look more like his friend Kyle Shanahan’s 2019 offense — heavy two-TE sets — than his own offense from just two seasons ago. Just three days before the Rams traded Cooks to the Texans, McVay said he needed to get Everett more opportunities this season. McVay used his first draft pick with the Rams on Everett (44th overall in 2017), and the talented young TE was averaging 3.8/40.6/.2 receiving/game through his first nine games before a knee injury derailed his season. Higbee then stepped up and won plenty of fantasy championships as Everett’s replacement, averaging an absurd 8.6/104.4/.4 receiving/game over the final five weeks of the season. The Rams used 12 personnel (two-TEs) 34% of the time in the final five weeks after using the grouping just 14% of the time in the first 12 weeks of the season. Both Everett (20.7) and Higbee (18.8) each should see a spike up in their routes run/game this season. Higbee and Everett are going to undercut each other’s fantasy production at times this season, but the Rams should have a friendly enough environment for them both to be fantasy relevant. Higbee needs to be drafted as a low-end TE1 after showing top-five fantasy TE potential at the end of last season, and Everett is worth a late-round dart throw since McVay may have designs to get him more involved.
Blake Jarwin (Dal) — Jarwin has a huge opportunity this season after the Cowboys gave him a big raise and they let Jason Witten and Randall Cobb walk this off-season. Witten ate up 75% of the snaps, a 14% target share, and 16% reception share last season, which Jarwin should take a big bite out of. It also doesn’t hurt that Cobb’s 15% target share and 15% reception share are gone from the slot. Jarwin finished seventh in yards/route run (1.82) among 40 TEs with 30+ targets last season, and he’ll bring even more juice to this already potent passing attack with his big-play ability down the seams. The Cowboys already had one of the best offenses last season — they finished first in yards/game (431.5) and first in yards/play (6.5) — and Jarwin has the potential to make this passing game even more lethal. Jarwin has the ability, the opportunity, and the offense to push for low-end TE1 status. He’s going to be one of my favorite upside tight ends to select at the tail end of drafts.
Jace Sternberger (GB) — Sternberger had just one target in six games as a rookie, but his time could be coming as a big-time weapon for Aaron Rodgers. Sternberger missed the first 10 games of the season because of an ankle injury but his role grew in the playoffs when he posted three catches, including a TD, in two games. The Packers moved on from Jimmy Graham this off-season, vacating his 60 targets from 2019. The Packers also whiffed on Austin Hooper in free agency, which means Sternberger is in line for a huge increase in usage next to primary blocking TE Marcedes Lewis. The last time Sternberger had a prominent role, he hung 48/832/10 receiving (17.1 YPR) for Texas A&M against SEC competition. If the Packers hold tight at TE through the draft, Sternberger is going to start gaining some major momentum as a late-round pick this summer.
Irv Smith (Min) — The Vikings dealt away one of their offensive centerpieces in Stefon Diggs to the Bills this off-season, which could create a runway for Smith to take off in his second season. Diggs departure opens up a massive 41% air yards share and a 21% target share from last season. The Vikings aren’t exactly flush with great receiving options behind Adam Thielen, and Smith should see his opportunities rise like they did when Thielen missed time last season. Smith, who will turn 22 in August, averaged just 12.7 routes/game through the first six weeks of the season with Adam Thielen healthy. He saw his routes nearly double (24.8) in their final nine meaningful games with Thielen in and out of the lineup — Irv also ran slightly more routes than Kyle Rudolph (24.2) in that span. Smith played on 60% of the snaps last season with Kevin Stefanski running the show, but new OC Gary Kubiak is expected to continue to run plenty of two-TE sets. Smith will still have to contend with Rudolph, especially in the red zone, but Irv could start to find steady enough targets to consider as a late-round option.
Players that stayed on their 2019 teams that we’re feeling less optimistic about based on free agency moves and trades this off-season.
Deshaun Watson (Hou) — Watson took a punch to the gut when his HC/GM Bill O’Brien sent away franchise wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for a bag of peanuts at the start of the NFL calendar year. Watson has been a top-five fantasy QB in each of his first three seasons, but he'll be playing his first games without Hopkins this fall. From a team-building perspective, O’Brien made another bone-headed trade to acquire Brandin Cooks in early April, but it does give Watson another explosive vertical threat from a fantasy perspective. Watson will be leaning on Will Fuller, Cooks, Kenny Stills, and Randall Cobb to somehow pick up the slack left behind Nuk. Hopkins finished second in the league with a 30% targets share and 11th with 34% air yards share. The one thing that could salvage Watson’s fantasy value is if new OC Tim Kelly proves to be a huge upgrade over the conservative play-calling of Bill O’Brien. Watson led the league with an adjusted completion percentage of 54.1% on passes 20+ yards downfield last season (per PFF), and he’ll now have one of the fastest WR-trios in the league in Fuller (4.33 40-time), Cooks (4.33), and Stills (4.38). Watson should still run enough to keep his fantasy floor relatively safe, but he has a better chance of disappointing this season than ever before in his first season without Nuk.
Kirk Cousins (Min) — The Vikings already had one of the thinnest WR corps in the league before they traded away stud WR Stefon Diggs. Cousins relied on Diggs more than ever before in 2019 with Adam Thielen invisible in the second half of the season because of a hamstring injury. Diggs successfully forced his way out of Minnesota this off-season, leaving behind a massive hole with Diggs taking 30% of the receiving yards and 20% of the receptions with him to Buffalo. The Vikings are currently counting on Olabisi Johnson and Tajae Sharpe to fill the void at WR. They’ll surely be adding reinforcements at WR in the draft, but they won’t be as good as Diggs would have been in 2020. Cousins finished as the QB19 last season even with Diggs in the fold. It’s tough to see him improving on that mark with his current cast in a run-heavy offense.
Jacoby Brissett (Ind) — In one of the worst-kept secrets of the off-season, Rivers and the Colts made it official on a one-year deal at the start of the new NFL year. After signing a two-year, $30 million contract right after Andrew Luck retired in August, Brissett got off to a hot start by throwing for multiple TDs in five of his first six games. However, he suffered an MCL sprain against the Steelers in Week 9, which seemingly sent his season off the rails. With the band breaking up in New England, the Colts are in win-now mode heading into 2020, knocking Brissett completely off the radar in every format heading into this season.
Mitch Trubisky (Chi) — Three years after the Bears traded up to draft Trubisky second overall, the Bears signaled a changing of the guard at quarterback when they traded for Nick Foles in March. The Bears will have a camp competition, but Foles will have to fall completely on his face or Trubisky will have to blow everyone away for the Bears to change course. Trubisky showed some progress as a sophomore in 2018, but he fell back to earth last season. He failed to throw for a TD in 7-of-15 games while averaging a pathetic 6.1 YPA for the season. Trubisky is now completely off the radar in every format unless, out of nowhere, he starts tearing it up this August.
Phillip Lindsay (Den) — The Broncos made it clear they don’t think Lindsay or Royce Freeman were capable of leading this backfield by signing Melvin Gordon to a two-year deal with $13.5 million in guaranteed money. It’s debatable that Lindsay is the better overall back but, as AC/DC once sang, “listen to the money talk.” Lindsay is definitely the better overall runner. Gordon has finished below 4.0 YPC in four of his five seasons while Lindsay is averaging 4.9 YPC in his two-year career. Gordon, though, brings more to the table as a receiver and as a goal-line back, two pivotal areas for fantasy. Gordon has posted 40+ receptions and 8+ rushing TDs in four consecutive seasons, even though he’s missed 11 games in that four-year span. Also, Lindsay will be a restricted free agent next off-season, and GM John Elway said a contract extension has been put on the backburner for now. Lindsay could be looking at just 6-10 touches/game this season, and he’ll be nothing more than a RB4 late in drafts. Meanwhile, Gordon could be a sneaky high/mid-range RB2 option. The fantasy public has a negative perception of Gordon after last year’s holdout and because Austin Ekeler outperformed him, but Gordon could be a money pick because of his bellcow potential.
Ezekiel Elliott (Dal) — The Cowboys gave Zeke $50 million in guaranteed money last September, giving them every reason to run him into the ground the next couple years. Still, Zeke is facing some uncertainties this season. The Cowboys retained OC Kellen Moore but new HC Mike McCarthy will want to get his prints on the offense. RB Tony Pollard is deserving of a much bigger role next season after leading the league in average yards after first contact (4.51) on just 86 carries. And Travis Frederick, one of the best centers in the league, abruptly retired in March at 29 years old after missing the entire 2018 season with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. The Cowboys could roll with Joe Looney in Frederick’s place, who started and struggled as a run blocker for Frederick during the 2018 season. Elliott is still a high-end RB1 because of his elite usage and durability, but he has some potential pitfalls in his way that will keep him from being a slam-dunk pick.
Austin Ekeler (LAC) — This is a slight downgrade for Ekeler since he did have a couple positive developments for him this off-season. Most importantly, Melvin Gordon is no longer in town to take opportunities away from him. The Chargers also could have the best line they’ve had in years, adding Trai Turner and Bryan Bulaga to create a formidable right side of the line. Ekeler had a chance to be a top-15 pick if the Chargers addressed their QB situation, but they instead decided to roll with Tyrod Taylor and likely a rookie QB. Philip Rivers left for Indianapolis this off-season, which is going to hurt Ekeler’s bottom line since Rivers threw to his RBs more than any other quarterback last season (31.5%). Taylor, with his penchant for running, is much more likely to scramble and to have designed runs to take away targets from Ekeler — rookie QBs are also notoriously slow to check it down to RBs. Ekeler is still likely to be a player I’m actively targeting as an RB2 this summer, but I would’ve liked him a little more if the Chargers had targeted a veteran pocket passer in free agency.
Derrius Guice (Was) — Guice has tantalized fantasy owners in limited glimpses of him in his first two seasons, but knee injuries have derailed his career after the Redskins drafted 59th overall in 2018. He’s played in just five of a potential 32 games to start his career, and the new Redskins coaching staff isn’t banking on him to stay healthy this season. Bryce Love will join Guice and Adrian Peterson in this backfield, making his NFL debut after sitting out the entire 2019 season with an ACL injury suffered at Stanford. The Redskins then added Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic in free agency for even more Guice insurance. The Redskins were already going to have one of the worst offenses in the league, and now they have a backfield loaded with capable bodies. Given his likely price as an RB3, I’ll be passing on Guice this summer unless he’s overwhelming his competition in training camp.
James White (NE) — White’s days as a set-it-and-forget-it RB2/flex option are likely over with Tom Brady leaving town. The 28-year-old passing back has little room for error since he’s never topped 100 carries in any of his six seasons, and he has just eight career rushing TDs. White was the only player to finish with fewer than 215 opportunities among RBs that finished inside the top 24 in overall scoring last year. He finished with 162 chances, 55 fewer than the closest player, Melvin Gordon. With essentially a rookie QB in Jarrett Stidham or a washed-up veteran in Brian Hoyer running the offense, White has little chance of coming close to the 109.0 targets/season he’s seen the last two years. The Patriots also still have plenty of mouths to feed in their backfield between Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and potentially Damien Harris. I’ve loved rostering White in recent years for his safe PPR floor, but he’s no longer worth the investment if we can’t bank on steady weekly production.
Keenan Allen (LAC) — Allen has quietly stacked together three consecutive seasons with 16 games, 136+ targets, 97+ catches, 1100+ yards, and six TDs. Not too bad for a guy once labeled as injury-prone after he missed 23 games in 2015-16. Allen’s chances of reaching the heights he’s maintained the last three seasons will be difficult in 2020 with Philip Rivers leaving for Indianapolis. Even if Allen is able to maintain his healthy 25% target share from last season, the quality and quantity of targets will go down with Tyrod Taylor and likely a rookie QB leading the offense. The Chargers attempted the 10th-most passes/game last season (37.3) with Philip Rivers at QB, a rate which is likely to go down this season with their quarterback change and because of their formidable defense after a strong off-season. In Tyrod’s three seasons as a starter with the Bills in 2015-17, Sammy Watkins was the only receiver to top 60+ catches and 650+ receiving yards in a season — he posted 60/1047/9 receiving in 2015. I’m concerned Allen won’t have the stranglehold on the targets he had with Rivers at the helm, and I’m already expecting the overall passing volume to go down a bit. Allen has been a pretty steady low-end WR1 option the last three seasons, but he’s now a WR2 because both his floor and ceiling have been lowered with Rivers gone.
Mike Evans (TB) — The Buccaneers traded their 30-INT quarterback in Jameis Winston for a six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Tom Brady. The Buccaneers going from Winston to Brady is a clear upgrade except when it comes to fantasy. Evans has benefitted from playing with extremely aggressive QBs in Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick the last two seasons. They weren’t afraid to throw INTs when they threw jump balls to Evans and they rarely checked down to RBs out of the backfield. They also played in some serious shootouts because of their reckless playing styles. Meanwhile, Brady has always played within himself in a controlled fashion, especially the older he gets. Winston threw a pass 20+ yards downfield on 15.8% of his attempts last season while Brady did it just 10.1% of the time (per PFF). Brady has thrown fewer INTs over the last four seasons (29) than Winston threw last season (30), and Brady’s old RB James White finished sixth in RB catches last season with 72, a year after he finished third with 87. Evans saw an absolutely silly 138.7 air yards/game last season (1803 air yards overall), but that league-high mark is guaranteed to go down this season. He’s also going to have to contend with Rob Gronkowski for red-zone targets this season, who is averaging a ridiculous 11 TDs per every 16 games in his career. Chris Godwin appears to be in better shape with Brady in the fold, and I’d look toward him over Evans in the second round this summer.
Julian Edelman (NE) — We’re going to find out this season how much Bill Belichick misses Tom Brady (if at all). I think it’s pretty safe to say Edelman is going to be the player who misses Brady the most on the field since they had arguably the best QB-WR chemistry in the league. Over the last six seasons, Edelman owned an excellent per-16-game average of 102/1117/6 receiving on 153 targets. One of his worst four-game stretches in that span came when Brady missed four games because of a suspension to start 2016. Edleman managed 4.8/49.0/0 receiving/game on 6.8 targets/game with Jacoby Brissett. Edelman will now have to go 16 games without Brady this season, and he could have limited opportunities to build a rapport with presumed starting QB Jarrett Stidham. Edelman, who will turn 34 in May, will want to show he isn’t just a product of Brady, but he’s also fighting an uphill battle against time as he enters Year 12.
Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry (Cle) — Both Beckham and Landry are used to dominating targets, but the available targets in Cleveland could be a little harder to find this season. Both Landry (138 targets, 9th) and Beckham (133, 12th) finished inside the top 12 at WR in targets last season, but freshly signed Austin Hooper is going to command his fair share of looks too. He finished third among TEs in targets/game with 7.5 last season. New HC Kevin Stefanski also figures to feature David Njoku, Kareem Hunt, and Nick Chubb in the passing game. The Browns could also see a dip in passing attempts this season if Stefanski runs his offense like he did in Minnesota last season. The Browns ranked 20th in pass attempts/game (33.7) last season while Stefanski’s Vikings offense ranked 30th (29.2). Fantasy expectations for OBJ and Landry need to be lowered a little bit with Hooper and Stefanski’s offense potentially stifling their targets from their 2019 heights.
John Brown (Buf) — The Bills didn’t have a #1 WR on paper before last season, but the perennially underrated Brown stepped up and delivered the goods, finishing as the WR23 with 14.7 FPG. Previously pigeonholed as primarily a deep threat in the past, Brown was shockingly consistent last season, reaching 10+ FP in 13 of his 15 games. Brown finished sixth in air yards share and 12th in targets share (24%), but those marks will be impossible for him to match with Stefon Diggs added to the fold this season. Given Diggs’ pedigree and the assets they traded away for him, he projects to take over Brown’s role as the #1 WR. It’s probably safe to knock a target or two off of Brown’s 7.7 targets/game average from last season. Josh Allen saw his completion percentage rise by six points last year, and he still finished below 60% at 58.8%. Brown’s weekly outcomes are likely to be much more all over the map this season since he’s going to see less volume from an already inaccurate QB.
Christian Kirk (Ari) — Kirk logged quite a boring fantasy campaign as a sophomore last season despite being a popular breakout candidate in Kliff Kingsbury’s first season with the Cardinals. He finished as a solid WR31 in FPG (12.9), but he topped 18+ FP just once in 13 games and all three of his TDs came in the same contest — he posted 10/138/3 receiving against the Buccaneers in Week 10. Kirk was going to get some buzz again this summer in his second season in Kingsbury’s system with another year to develop with Kyler Murray, but the DeAndre Hopkins trade ended that excitement in a hurry. Nuk finished second to Michael Thomas last season with a 30% target share, and he’s finished in first or second in target share in three straight seasons. I’m expecting Hopkins to continue to be a ball hog, meaning won’t come close to his 23% target share and his 8.3 targets/game from last season. Kirk’s ADP this summer with Nuk in the fold, which could potentially open a buy-low opportunity if his price falls into the WR4 territory.
Mecole Hardman (KC) — Hardman, one of the industry’s favorite breakout WR candidates in 2020, had a rough start to his second season. In a bit of a surprise, both Sammy Watkins (contract restructure) and Demarcus Robinson (re-signed) will be back in red and gold next season, which will likely prevent Hardman from becoming a full-time player. That means Watkins’ 90 targets and 79% snap share and Robinson’s 55 targets and 70% shap share won’t be vacated for Hardman to step into this season. On the bright side, with both Watkins and Robinson returning, it could create more of an opportunity to buy Hardman later in drafts. Hardman’s ADP was likely to get out of control if Watkins and/or Robinson left his off-season, but HC Andy Reid should still have big plans to get his speedy second-year WR more involved this season. I’ll be looking to nab Hardman if he begins to fall into the WR5 territory, especially in best-ball drafts where his high-ceiling/low-floor potential is more conducive to the format.
Curtis Samuel (Car) — Samuel will get a quarterback upgrade this season, going from Kyle Allen to Teddy Bridgewater, but he’s going from a QB that couldn’t complete deep passes to a QB that refuses to throw them. Allen finished dead last in adjusted completion percentage (29.6%) on passes 20+ yards downfield (per PFF). Meanwhile, Teddy ranked dead last in air yards/attempt (6.1), and he attempted deep passes at the second-lowest rate (7.1%, 14-of-196), ahead of only Jimmy Garoppolo. It seems unlikely that Samuel develops into a game-changing vertical threat with Teddy at the helm this season, especially after the Panthers signed Robby Anderson. The best hope for Samuel is that creative new OC Joe Brady starts using him like the versatile weapon he was coming out of Ohio State, giving more touches at and behind the line of scrimmage. It also wouldn’t hurt if he starts playing more out of the slot with Anderson and D.J. Moore more likely to stick to the outside.
Darren Waller (Oak) — Waller was my favorite late-round TE pick last season, and he paid off big time by finishing as the TE5 by averaging 13.8 FPG. Unfortunately, I’ll be having just a one-year affair with Waller. His ADP has predictably skyrocketed into the top-75 picks and his competition for targets and snaps has grown much stiffer in 2020. Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock went out of their way to upgrade at TE by signing the ancient Jason Witten. He figures to be a thorn in the side of Waller’s fantasy production, and Waller still has to deal with Foster Moreau, who stole five TDs last season. If Witten and Moreau weren’t enough to contend with, slot WR Hunter Renfrow is perhaps the biggest obstacle for Waller next season. Waller averaged 7.3 catches/game and 8.3 targets/game in the first six weeks last season before averaging 4.6 catches/game and 6.7 targets/game in the final 10 games of the season when Renfrow’s role significantly grew. Waller at least has some major room to grow in the TD department after scoring on just 2.6% of his targets last season (3-of-117 targets). Waller’s TDs should spike upward, but he’s going to have a tough time finishing in the top five among TEs in both air yards (856) and targets (117) once again this season. I’m leaning toward fading Waller at his current price, especially with intriguing late-round options emerging at the position.
Hunter Henry (LAC) — Henry is coming off a career-best season in 2019, despite playing in just 12 games, but it won’t be easy for him to better his TE8 finish from last season in FPG (12.5). Hunter should sit around his 17% target share and 21% air yards share from last season with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Austin Ekeler each back this season. The problem is the quality and the quantity of targets will go down with Tyrod Taylor and likely a rookie QB leading the offense this season. The Chargers also attempted the 10th-most passes/game last season (37.3) with Philip Rivers at QB, a rate which is likely to go down this season with their quarterback change and because of their formidable defense after a strong off-season. Henry is clearly loaded with talent at a young age, but he does have some downside as mid-range TE1. He’s had a clear QB-situation downgrade, HC Anthony Lynn would love to move toward more of a ground-and-pound approach with his defense and QB, and Henry’s durability concerns have to be taken into account.
David Njoku (Cle)— Njoku’s star has really faded since his promising but up-and-down sophomore campaign in 2018. He played in just four games last season because of a wrist injury that landed him on the injured reserve but, even when he returned to the team, Freddie Kitchens made him a healthy scratch in two of their last three games. New GM Andrew Berry then went out and signed Austin Hooper to start free agency, which likely signals that the Browns have no intention of picking up his fifth-year team option. Njoku is arguably loaded with more talent than Hooper, and he’ll be looking to have a strong year and to make some money in free agency next off-season. Even if he does get his career back on track, he might not play enough for it to matter for fantasy. At least mew HC Kevin Stefanski did use the second-most two-TE sets with the Vikings last season behind only the Eagles. Njoku isn’t going to completely disappear in Stefanski’s offense, but he’ll be off the radar for drafts this summer.