NFL Free Agency Fantasy Fallout: Quarterbacks and Running Backs
How will Kirk Cousins, Jerick McKinnon and other top free agents fare in their new homes?
There are still a few dominoes left to fall (Terrelle Pryor, DeMarco Murray, Eric Ebron) but, for the most part, we know which NFL free agents have re-signed and which have decided to take their talents elsewhere.
Since we do, it’s now perfectly acceptable to start assessing the fantasy fallout for next season and beyond. After all, as the old saying goes, the early bird gets the worm – and the fantasy football trophy.
To that end, from Kirk Cousins and Sam Bradford to Jerick McKinnon and Dion Lewis, here’s a look at where the top free agent quarterbacks and running backs wound up paired with an educated guess about what sort of fantasy value they’ll offer in their new locale.
So why should you take my word for it? Well, for one thing, I’ll actually tell you how good I am at fantasy football with a straight face. For another, I’ve got a record of 127-76-0 (.626 winning percentage) and four first-place finishes spread across more than a decade of playing fantasy football. I’ve currently got an 881 “Platinum” ranking (95th-98th percentile) and am scary close to making it all the way to the 99th percentile and “Diamond” status. Don’t believe me? HIt me up on Twitter and I’ll prove it.
Sam Bradford, Arizona: Bradford should theoretically offer an upgrade on the parade of mediocre signal-callers the Cardinals rolled out last year – as long as he stays healthy. That’s always the concern with Bradford and, considering he’s only played 38 games over the past five season, it’s a valid one. David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald should be fine, but they are probably the only Cardinals you’ll want to be targeting on draft day.
Kirk Cousins, Minnesota: It’s a huge gamble, but the Vikings are betting Cousins will be able to put them over the top. While that’s far from a safe bet in real life, banking on Cousins to deliver fantasy points – which he was able to do last year while throwing to one of the worst receiving corps in the league in Washington – seems like a solid wager. Now throwing to Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and Dalvin Cook, Cousins has an array of weapons at his disposal and Minnesota’s offense will be engineered to put him in a position to succeed (and justify his massive, guaranteed contract).
Alex Smith, Washington: The Redskins now have a very mediocre quarterback to lead their very mediocre offense. Smith was great last year, at times, but was also playing with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt. Even though the Redskins brought in wide receivers Paul Richardson and Brian Quick, neither player has flashed enough upside to justify considering Smith as anything more than a low-end fantasy quarterback. He’ll be fine, but you can do better.
Case Keenum, Denver: Similar to the situation in Arizona, Keenum coming to the Broncos can only be seen as an improvement. However, unlike with Bradford, the concerns about Keenum are tied to how he’ll fare on the field, not if he’ll simply be healthy enough to get on it each Sunday. Denver does have weapons for Keenum to throw to in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, but it just seems unlikely that the career backup will be able to. Keenum was great last year for the Vikings, but he’s a prime candidate for regression with the Broncos.
AJ McCarron, Buffalo: Whether McCarron is any good or not, the Bills are so devoid of offensive talent outside of running back LeSean McCoy that it likely won’t matter. That said, the Bills will likely be trailing in the majority of their games and need McCarron to throw to keep them competitive. As we saw when he started a playoff game – and nearly won it- for the Bengals, he can do that.
Tyrod Taylor, Cleveland: A below-average passer who’s usually able to save his fantasy value thanks to his legs, Taylor will get the chance to show if he can improve his passing if he has decent players to throw to. It looks like he will as the Browns brought in Jarvis Landry and will be bringing back quality receiving options Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman. Will it be enough to make Taylor a top-15 fantasy QB? That remains to be seen, but we’d actually vote yes.
Dion Lewis, Tennessee: Lewis will cede a ton of touches to bell cow back Derrick Henry, but he should be a good bet for solid value thanks to his elite pass-catching skills and ability to gain chunk yardage. Don’t expect a ton of touchdowns, but Lewis could be a PPR monster and would slot in as a No. 1 option were Henry to miss time.
Carlos Hyde, Cleveland: A solid, but uninspiring option, as a 49er, Hyde should offer similar value as a Brown. Hyde can catch passes – and saw 88 targets last year – but Cleveland already has an elite passing-down back in Duke Johnson which caps the newcomer’s upside. There’s also the fact he’ll have running QB, Tyrod Taylor, potentially snagging some rush opportunities.
Isaiah Crowell, New York Jets: A steady producer for the Browns last year (as much as that was possible given Cleveland’s struggles), Crowell finds himself with a new team but a similar situation. The Jets will run the ball enough for Crowell to have value, but they’ll also probably do it ineffectively enough that he will struggle to have great games week to week. He will be worth owning all year, but probably only worth starting for about half of it.
Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco: By far the most intriguing RB to change teams, McKinnon is being talked up as a major weapon by the coaching staff of the 49ers. Explosive at times during his four years with the Vikings, McKinnon could touch the ball 15-20 times per game in San Francisco. Also, San Fran doesn’t have a ton of proven offensive options (including Jimmy Garoppolo), so McKinnon’s week-to-week floor should be high based on workload alone.
Jeremy Hill, New England: The Patriots backfield is always a quagmire. Temper expectations for Hill, but pay attention to this position battle in training camp and the preseason. If nothing else, Hill figures to get a lot of goal-line work. Of course, that’s only if he makes the roster. The Patriots also brought back Rex Burkhead and he’ll likely provide hit-or-miss value like he did last year.
Jonathan Stewart, New York Giants: Kudos to the Giants for bringing in the veteran back, but this has all the makings of a situation that’ll have more of a real-world impact than a fantasy one. Expect Stewart to get goal-line work and catch some passes, but New York will almost certainly want another player as a starter, possibly draft prospect Penn State Saquon Barkley.
Doug Martin, Oakland: As of now, Marshawn Lynch is still a Raider which certainly caps the amount of value Martin will have. That said, coach Jon Gruden is going to want to make an impression during his first year back with the Raiders so if Lynch isn’t getting the job done, expect the switch to Martin to come sooner rather than later. It’s been a disappointing couple of years for Martin and, if ever wants to earn big money again, he’s going to need to play well this season. If he gets the opportunity, Martin could be a sneaky source of RB1 production.
LeGarrette Blount, Detroit: As he did two years ago for the Patriots and last year for the Eagles, Blount will get what’s blocked for him and not much else. Never a great pass catcher, Blount will probably score his fair share of touchdowns, but good luck predicting when they’ll be. In a best-case scenario, he’s probably not much more than a middling bye-week fill-in option.
Editor’s Note: Look for the wide receiver and tight end edition of “NFL Free Agency Fantasy Fallout” tomorrow.