Free Agency Winners & Losers
We’re roughly a week into 2019 NFL free agency and most of the big names are already off the board. Every big move affects both the player’s old team and his new team, and it’s important to look at both sides of the equation as we continue to evaluate and refine the fantasy landscape heading into the 2019 draft season.
James Washington, Steelers
Antonio Brown’s departure frees up 168 targets from last season, and JuJu Smith-Schuster is already a 160-target receiver, so other players are going to have to pick up most of the slack. Enter Washington. The former second-rounder was highly productive in college, racking up 145 catches for 2929 yards and 23 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Oklahoma State. He won the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver in 2017 and was a favorite of #ReceptionPerception creator Matt Harmon as he evaluated last year’s draft class. After a strong preseason—catching seven passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns—Washington had a quiet rookie year, catching just 16 balls for 217 yards and a touchdown on 30 targets, but there wasn’t much room for Washington in the offense with Brown and Smith-Schuster gobbling up 166+ targets apiece. Even though he was playing fifth fiddle in the passing game, Washington still played 55% of the snaps and had two of his best games late in the season, posting 3-65 on four targets against the Patriots in Week 15 and 3-64 on three targets in Week 17 with Brown sidelined. As a receiver who is very likely to see 100+ targets from Roethlisberger in a potent offense, Washington is definitely in the WR3 mix this summer and has the upside to finish in the top 20.
Chris Godwin, Buccaneers
With both DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries out of the way, there are 179 targets up for grabs in Tampa. The most logical player to soak up at least 30-40 of those targets is Godwin. He finished strong in 2017, posting 3-98 on six targets against the Panthers in Week 16 and 7-111-1 on 12 targets against the Saints in Week 17. In the five games as a rookie where he played at least 50% of the snaps, he averaged 4.2 catches for 73 yards and 0.20 touchdowns on 7.2 targets per game. In 2018, he finished the season as the No. 25 receiver despite the fact that he played more than 70% of the snaps in just six games, five of which came with Jackson mostly sidelined from Week 13 to Week 17. Godwin should break out in 2019, but who else will pick up the slack? Justin Watson is a small school receiver with all the measurables, but the Bucs added Breshad Perriman in free agency, so right now those two look poised to compete for WR3 targets.
Mark Ingram, Ravens
I love this signing both for Ingram and for the Ravens. The team gets a proven back who is still on the right side of 30 and hasn’t averaged less than 4.6 YPC in the last four seasons. He’s also a very capable receiver (3.1 receptions per game since 2015) and he’s able to play on all three downs. Even with Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon in the fold, OC Greg Roman’s offense will be run-heavy enough to provide Ingram with the workload necessary to flirt with RB1 value in 2019.
Baker Mayfield, Browns
The arrival of Odell Beckham gives Mayfield one of the best receiving corps in the league. Throw in Mayfield’s splits with Freddie Kitchens calling the plays—282 yards passing and 2.4 touchdowns per game, which was good for the No. 10 per game average over the second half of the season—and it’s clear that the second-year quarterback is poised for a top 10 season, and that might be conservative.
Derek Carr, Raiders
Like Mayfield, the arrival of a bona fide elite WR1 (Antonio Brown) is great for Carr, but is it enough to turn him into a QB1? His career was certainly trending that way after a No. 14 finish in his second season (2015) and a No. 13 finish in (2016). Since then, he has posted back-to-back disappointing finishes (No. 22 and No. 18) in the last two seasons, and there were serious questions about whether Gruden was committed to Carr as his franchise quarterback. It appears now that Gruden will move forward with Carr. Brown’s presence in Pittsburgh served to raise Ben Roethlisberger’s FP/Att by 10.2%, so if Brown sees a similar target share and posts similar per-target production in Oakland, then Carr’s per-attempt production should rise by about the same amount. Assuming the same volume, that sort of rise would have made Carr the No. 15 QB instead of the No. 18 QB in 2018, so a QB1-type season is within reach if Carr exceeds expectations and/or Gruden cranks up his volume. Note: The Raiders also signed Tyrell Williams and cut Jordy Nelson.
Vance McDonald, Steelers
Like James Washington, McDonald is also capable of expanding his role in the Pittsburgh passing offense with Antonio Brown gone. McDonald caught a solid 50 balls (on 73 targets) for 610 yards and four touchdowns, and he even missed Week 1. He finished as the No. 10 tight end in PPR formats and should see a significant increase in playing time now that Jesse James is out of the way. McDonald played on 55% of the snaps last season while James played 50%, so unless the Steelers decide to directly replace James with another player, McDonald’s playing time should surpass 70% with a boatload of targets up for grabs. If he stays healthy and plays starter’s snaps, he’ll finish in the top 10 and has upside from there.
Devin Funchess, Colts
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