2016 Free Agency Winners & Losers: 24 Players You Need to Know About
NFL free agency never really ends, but the bulk of the big names have found their homes for the 2016 season, so it’s a good time to take a look at how free agency has affected the value of players and situations around the league.
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RB Lamar Miller, Texans
Miller finished in the top 10 in back-to-back seasons but he’s been consistently underutilized in the Miami offense. The Texans aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, but Miller signed with Houston so that he’d see consistent touches, and the Texans have a tendency to feed the ball to their RB1 when they have one. He should see plenty of volume in Bill O’Brien’s run-heavy scheme.
RB C.J. Anderson, Broncos
Anderson wasn’t fully healthy heading into the season and struggled at the onset, averaging just 2.69 YPC on 11.4 rushing attempts through the first six weeks of the season. He turned it around in a big way after the Week 7 bye, however, racking up an average of 64.5 yards on 11.6 carries (5.57 YPC) and 0.58 TD over his final 12 games, including the playoffs. Those are mid-level RB1 numbers in standard formats and low-end RB1 numbers in PPR.
Moreover, the Broncos committed to Anderson down the stretch, feeding him 15.6 carries over the final five games. In that span, he averaged 13.7 fantasy points per game in standard leagues (and 15.9 in PPR). Those averages would have been good enough to finish No. 3 in both formats.
Even though he finished strong, playoff numbers don’t count for fantasy, so the fact remains that Anderson burned his owners in 2015. As a result, his ADP is likely to remain depressed heading into 2016 fantasy drafts. But Ronnie Hillman is unlikely to return after a poor finish to last season, so the Denver backfield is one to monitor during the offseason. If Anderson returns as the clear feature back - and it certainly appears that he will - he’s going to be a fantastic value in the 4th round and a solid value in the 3rd.
TE Coby Fleener, Saints
New Orleans is a great landing spot for Fleener after the Colts decided to re-sign Dwayne Allen instead. In the 22 games that Fleener has played over the last three seasons with Allen sidelined, he’s averaged 4.1 catches for 54 yards and 0.45 TDs. Those averages would have been good enough to finish 7th in standard scoring and 6th in PPR in 2015. When only looking at seven such games in the last two seasons, Fleener has averaged 5.4 catches for 82 yards and 0.86 TDs. It doesn't hurt that he hasn't missed a game in the last three years, either. He and Brees should quickly develop a rapport -- the Saints have averaged 14.4 receiving touchdowns by their tight ends over the last five years. There's a lot of upside here.
TE Dwayne Allen, Colts
This signing was a surprise since the Colts were rumored to be set on re-signing Coby Fleener, not Allen. With Fleener landing in New Orleans, Allen is in the TE1 conversation despite his propensity to get injured. He has only averaged 3.4 targets per game in 43 career games, but with Fleener out of the way, that number may double.
There were better potential landing spots, but this is still great news for Green's fantasy stock. With Martavis Bryant suspended for the year, Green will compete to be the second option in the passing game behind Antonio Brown. In 13 career games where Green has seen at least five targets, he's averaged 3.5 catches for 52 yards and 0.38 TDs, which are solid TE1 numbers in both standard and PPR formats. He's not guaranteed at least five targets per game, but the now-retired Heath Miller saw at least five passes come his way in 17 of his last 32 regular season games despite diminishing skills. Green is an ascending player with the speed to threaten the seam and will routinely see single coverage with Brown drawing most of the defensive attention. I fully expect Green to finish in the top 10 in 2016.
WR Mohamed Sanu, Falcons
Sanu averaged 5.5 catches for 96 yards and 0.5 TDs as the Bengals' WR1 in the four games that A.J. Green missed in 2014, but keep in mind that Marvin Jones also missed all of that season with a foot injury. Regardless, Sanu looks like a pretty good fit opposite Julio Jones and will be getting a promotion from the WR3 (with a good tight end) in Cincinnati to the WR2 (with no tight end) in Atlanta. His targets (49) may double.
WRs Golden Tate & Marvin Jones, Lions
Over the last two seasons, in 11 games in which Calvin Johnson was questionable, doubtful or out, Tate averaged 6.6 receptions for 77 yards and 0.73 TD. Fantasy-wise, that’s about what Allen Robinson scored as the No. 6 WR in PPR formats in 2015. It’s also solid WR1 production in standard formats. Tate averaged 5.5 catches for 62 yards and 0.1 TDs (high-end WR3 numbers in PPR) in the other 21 games. Defenses will now be more focused on Tate, so we’re expecting WR2 numbers at this point.
Jones has averaged 3.6 receptions for 48 yards and 0.44 TDs in his last 32 games. The 6'2" Jones has been especially good at catching touchdowns (14 in his last 32 games and a 38% career red zone TD rate), so he'll try to pick up the red zone slack in Detroit now that Megatron is retired. Used inconsistently in Cincinnati, Jones should see plenty of work with the Lions, though we expect he'll play second-fiddle to Tate in terms of total targets. Overall, this is a good landing spot for Jones. Consider him a fantasy WR4 with some upside heading into 2016.
RB DeMarco Murray, Titans
Murray should receive more volume in Tennessee than the 15.8 touches per game he got in Philadelphia. In his final year in Dallas he averaged 28.0 touches per game, and while he’s unlikely to get that excessive of a workload, 280-320 touches is well within reach -- provided he stays healthy. The big question – is he done as a runner? He averaged a paltry 3.6 YPC in 2015 after averaging 4.7 YPC the year before. If we throw out his first two games in Philly, however, he averaged a more respectable 4.0 YPC in his final 13 games.
RB Ryan Mathews & Darren Sproles, Eagles
As it stands, Mathews and Sproles will form a one-two punch for new HC Doug Pederson, who coordinated a fairly run-heavy offense under Andy Reid in Kansas City. The Eagles were reportedly looking to move Mathews, so they may have other plans at the position. However, if the depth chart is relatively unchanged by training camp, both Mathews (in all formats) and Sproles (in PPR) could provide starting-caliber numbers as fantasy backs.
TE Zachary Miller, Bears
Miller was the TE5 over the final nine weeks of the season, and that includes Week 17, which he missed due to injury. He averaged 3.9 catches for 51 yards and 0.63 TDs (on 5.1 targets per game) during that span. In the four games that Martellus Bennett missed, Miller averaged 5.0 catches, 55 yards, and 0.5 TDs on 6.8 targets per game -- solid TE1 numbers in both standard and PPR formats. Miller is 31 years old and has had trouble staying healthy throughout his career, but he'll be a compelling pick in the later rounds now that the Bears have parted ways with Bennett.
TE Jared Cook, Packers
Cook finished as TE28 in 2015 (PPR), but in the four prior seasons, he posted an average ranking of 16.3 at his position. He ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at the Combine back in 2009 and while he's probably lost a step along the way, he can still threaten the seam better than the slow-footed Richard Rodgers. It's not inconceivable that he turns into a fantasy TE1, but the position is deep this year and unless he vastly outplays Rodgers, he's more likely to form a committee with the third-year tight end. Keep in mind that Cook has never played with an elite QB like Aaron Rodgers.
WR Chris Hogan, Patriots
In free agency, the Patriots prioritized the 6’1” Hogan, who posted six catches for 95 yards in his final meeting with New England last season. They also signed Nate Washington, but if Hogan -- who earned the nickname 7-Eleven because he's "always open" -- wins the X-receiver job this summer, he should be able to post 2014 Brandon LaFell-type numbers (74-953-7) in this offense.
RBs T.J. Yeldon & Chris Ivory, Jaguars
Yeldon was shaping up to be something of a sleeper given his rookie year workload and the likelihood that the Jaguars score more rushing touchdowns in 2016 (they only had five rushing TDs compared to 35 passing TDs in 2015) , but the addition of Ivory puts a major dent into Yeldon's upside. The duo will likely form a committee with Ivory more likely to see goal-line work, and it will probably take an injury to make either player a semi-dependable fantasy option.
RB David Cobb, Titans
It appeared that the Titans were poised to give Cobb the chance to grab the RB1 job, but then they made the trade for DeMarco Murray. Murray figures to see the vast majority of the touches for the Titans, so Cobb will likely serve as his primary backup.
RB Matt Forte, Jets
Forte finished as the RB9 in standard (RB7 in PPR) despite missing three games. He's on the wrong side of 30, and his YPC is down over the last couple of years (4.1 in 2015 and 3.9 in 2014 after four straight years at 4.4 or greater), but he's still a very capable runner and is fantastic in the passing game. Unfortunately for Forte, the Jets re-signed Bilal Powell, who is an excellent receiver as well. The team also signed former Saints RB Khiry Robinson, who is a threat to Forte’s workload in the running game, possibly at the goal-line. For what it’s worth, Forte expects to be a three-down back, but it certainly looks like his touches are under pressure.
We knew the Cowboys were likely to add a running back or two this offseason and they eventually signed Alfred Morris. Dallas also re-signed Lance Dunbar who, if healthy, could put a dent in McFadden’s third-down work. However, given his price – DMC is currently going in the 10th round – he's a good value, especially considering the team has already said that it views him as the RB1.
Doug Martin tested free agency, and had he moved on, Sims would have had the chance to carry the load for the Bucs. But Martin is back, so Sims will continue in his change-of-pace/third-down role. As the No. 17 PPR running back in 2015, he’ll still be a nice middle-to-late-round value in that format.
Of all the free agent receivers, I was most interested to see where Matthews would land. He was in the middle of a breakout season (on pace for 67 catches for 1,059 yards and 6.4 TDs) through 11 weeks before suffering a rib injury. Instead of landing in New England with Tom Brady, he finds himself in Tennessee with Marcus Mariota. Matthews could certainly play starter’s snaps for the Titans, but GM Jon Robinson listed both Kendall Wright and Dorial Green-Beckham as the team’s top two receivers after the Matthews signing. I wouldn't be surprised if he's the top fantasy receiver in Tennessee, but he has some work to do.
TEs Ben Watson, Crockett Gillmore & Maxx Williams, Ravens
The Watson signing was something of a surprise given the presence of Gillmore and Williams, but maybe Gillmore’s back/shoulder injury isn’t healing as well as the team had hoped. Watson is the best bet to start, but if Gillmore is healthy, he may get the nod. With two other viable TEs in the fold, Williams will likely find it difficult this season to replicate his 7.0 target per game average from the last three games of 2015.
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