Terrelle Pryor, Rex Burkhead and 15 Other Free Agency Winners & Losers
NFL free agency never really ends, but the bulk of the big names have found their homes for the 2017 season, so it’s a good time to take a look at how the free agency period has affected the value of certain players and situations around the league.
TE Martellus Bennett, Packers
When the Packers broke off negotiations with Jared Cook, it looked like Green Bay would be without a dynamic presence at tight end. Not so fast. Ted Thompson was awake and working the phones during free agency. Bennett finished the season as the #10 fantasy tight end, but he was pretty nicked up for most the season, which possibly limited his production. Provided he makes a full recovery from offseason ankle surgery, this is a great pickup for the Packers. Bennett should be a solid fantasy TE1 in 2017.
WR Terrelle Pryor, Redskins
Pryor finished the season as the #21 receiver, though his numbers dipped over the final month of the season. Still, his production in the first 12 games -- 5.2 catches for 71 yards and 0.33 TD, #11 WR -- is very encouraging. I usually shy away from free agent receivers unless they’re seeing a promotion (i.e. more targets) or an upgrade at quarterback. If Kirk Cousins remains in Washington, he’ll see the latter. With all that’s going on in Washington, will Cousins be engaged enough to develop the chemistry necessary for him and Pryor to thrive together?
QB Carson Wentz, Eagles
The Eagles went into free agency determined to improve their WR corps, and did just that by signing Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. These are big upgrades from Dorial Green-Beckham and Nelson Agholor. Wentz now has a legit WR1 (Jeffery), a legit deep threat (Smith), a legit slot receiver (Jordan Matthews) and a solid tight end (Zach Ertz). Oh, and he has Darren Sproles as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. His arrow is definitely pointing up.
QB Jameis Winston, Buccaneers
Signing a receiver with DeSean Jackson’s speed is going to help Winston and the entire Tampa offense, but how much? Well, looking at Kirk Cousins’ splits from 2014 to 2016 with and without Jackson can give us an idea. In 30 games with Jackson, Cousins averaged 294 passing yards and 8.42 YPA. In eight games without Jackson, he averaged just 247 yards and a 7.41 YPA. His fantasy points per game (just from passing) were 11.5% less without Jackson in the lineup. As a quick and dirty estimate, if we add 11.5% to Winston’s per game average of 15.7 PPG, he would average 17.5 fantasy points, which is about what Matthew Stafford averaged as the #7 fantasy quarterback last season.
QB Tom Brady, Patriots
Brady finished the season as the #3 QB on a per game basis, so he doesn’t have much room for improvement. Cooks is a dynamic receiver who has accounted for 162 catches, 2311 yards and 17 touchdowns over the last two seasons. The Patriots will find ways to incorporate Cooks into their already potent offense, and Brady will be the primary beneficiary.
RB Rex Burkhead, Patriots
One of my favorite tactics is to target talented free agent backup RBs when they land in good situations with new teams. It has worked in the past with Michael Turner, Darren Sproles, LaMont Jordan and Chester Taylor, and Burkhead jumps out as a distinct possibility this year. With Giovani Bernard sidelined, Burkhead averaged 10.8 touches for 56 yards (from Week 12 to Week 16) as the change-of-pace back. Then, in Week 17 with Jeremy Hill also out, Burkhead turned in an epic 29-touch, 144-yard, two-touchdown effort against the Ravens. As a junior at Nebraska, Burkhead rushed for 1,357 yards and scored 17 total touchdowns, so he’s no slouch. Don't believe me? Here's what his old coach, Hue Jackson, had to say: "He's very talented. He's going to get his opportunity now, and he's going to flourish. He's a really good player. A really good player. He's very versatile because he's a good runner, a good pass-catcher. He's a good blocker. He brings a lot of different elements to that Football Team." Burkhead is similar in skillset to Dion Lewis and James White, though he's bigger. Even though LeGarrette Blount is 40 lbs heavier, Burkhead should assume some or most of Blount's work on early downs and take over the Patriots’ goal line role.
WR Pierre Garcon, 49ers
Garcon turns 31 in August, but is coming off a season where he caught 79 passes for 1,041 yards and three touchdowns. In fact, he has at least 68 catches in four straight seasons. In San Francisco, he’ll be reunited with his former offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan. In Shanahan’s last year in Washington (2013), Garcon caught 113 passes for 1,346 yards and five scores. He’s four years older now, but should still see heavy volume playing for Shanahan. He’ll be in the mix as a WR3 in PPR formats and is bound to go under-drafted this summer.
TE Jack Doyle, Colts
With Dwayne Allen out of the way, Doyle figures to play starter’s snaps as the Colts’ primary tight end in 2017. Doyle finished with 59 catches for 584 yards and five touchdowns (#13 TE), and played especially well when Dwayne Allen missed Week 7, posting nine catches for 78 yards and a touchdown against the Titans. (Erik Swoope also gets a bump.)
RB Kenneth Dixon, Ravens
Oh, Kenneth. After John Harbaugh said that Dixon could be “one of the top backs in the league,” gushing about his “strength, tackle-breaking ability, and personality,” Dixon was slapped with a four-game suspension (PEDs). The Ravens also signed Danny Woodhead to a three-year deal. Woodhead is an elite pass-catching back and an underrated inside runner, so Dixon’s touches aren’t looking as safe as they did at the start of the offseason.
WRs Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan & Malcolm Mitchell, Patriots
The arrival of Brandin Cooks is going to send shockwaves throughout the Patriot receiving corps. Cooks figures to see 110-plus targets, so he’ll likely take a big bite out of Edelman’s 159 targets from last season. (Keep in mind that Rob Gronkowski was only healthy enough to see 38 targets, so Edelman’s looks were already inflated.) If Edelman remains heavily involved, it’s tough to see much of a role for Hogan or Mitchell.
WR Sterling Shepard, Giants
Shepard saw 105 targets as a rookie, second only to Odell Beckham’s 169 on the Giants’ roster. Victor Cruz and his 72 targets are out of the way, but the Giants signed Brandon Marshall, who seems likely to gobble up 100-plus targets from Eli Manning. This means that Shepard’s looks may drop to the 70-80 range as he replaces Cruz’s role in the offense.
RBs Thomas Rawls & C.J. Prosise, Seahawks
It appears that the newly-signed Eddie Lacy is being penciled in as the starter. Prior to the signing, Rawls and Prosise were poised to compete for the starting job, but now it looks like Rawls will serve as a pure backup while Prosise will play on passing downs and as a change-of-pace back.
WR Jordan Matthews & TE Zach Ertz, Eagles
The addition of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith won’t help Matthews (117 targets) and Ertz (106) from a volume standpoint. The Eagles did give 143 combined targets to Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham, but that will only account for about 70% of Jeffery and Smith’s combined targets. If Carson Wentz’s efficiency increases significantly, it could offset part of the loss in volume for Matthews and Ertz.
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