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Raymond Summerlin

Offseason Low Down

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Best Free Agent Destinations

Monday, March 12, 2018


No period exemplifies the old NFL adage of no offseason better than free agency. For at least a week the sports world is fixated on which free agent lands where, how much they make, and how humorously we can compare their “pittance” of a salary to those of athletes in other sports, some of which have their regular season overshadowed by the NFL’s offseason.

Along with the madness happening in the real league, free agency is an exciting time for fantasy players. Opportunity is the foundation of fantasy success, and there are a bevy of teams bursting at the seams with available targets or carries who will make a splash this spring.

That said, not all opportunity is created equal. The Cardinals could have nearly 250 targets up for grabs despite Larry Fitzgerald putting retirement on hold, but they literally did not have a quarterback under contract until they signed Sam Bradford, who is about as big an injury risk as there is at quarterback. Along with the likelihood Fitzgerald continues to dominate targets, that makes Arizona a less desirable landing spot for a receiver or tight end than it otherwise would have been.

It is not all bad, however. There are still several opportunity-rich destinations where fantasy players would love to see the top runners and receivers land this free agency period.

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Quarterback
Vikings:
The spots after Minnesota are tricky because there are arguably six teams looking for a new starting quarterback, but the Vikings were clearly the cream of the crop even before they landed Kirk Cousins. With a receiver corps topped by Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, a tight end group lead by Kyle Rudolph, and Dalvin Cook in the backfield, Minnesota has as good a cache of weapons as any team in the league and made a great hire with John DeFilippo at offensive coordinator. Cousins, who was already solidly a top-10 quarterback in per-game scoring last year, will be a locked-in QB1. 

Broncos:
While the situation is not as good as he had it in Minnesota, the Broncos also have a pretty good set up for Case Keemun. The offensive line needs work, they need a weapon at tight end, and the backfield could be in flux if C.J. Anderson is traded, but Denver still boast one of the better receiver combinations in the league with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, two players who should bounce back in a big way with Keenum under center.

Honorable Mention:
The first group of honorable mention candidates consists of teams which are looking for a new starter but do not have the best situation. Arizona was discussed in the opening and seemingly already have their short-term starter in Sam Bradford, Buffalo’s receiving corps leaves a lot to be desired, and the Jets do not have many established weapons, especially with Quincy Enunwa returning from injury, Robby Anderson likely to be suspended, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins a free agent. All three spots will likely return immediate fantasy value simply because of opportunity, but the other two are more enticing.

Miami is the poster child for the next group of teams. While they theoretically have a starter in Ryan Tannehill, they seem to be intent on bringing in something more than a backup. Especially with Jarvis Landry traded, the Dolphins are not the greatest landing spot even if Albert Wilson surprises, but there could be an opportunity for a lower-tier free agent to win a starting job. The Jaguars, Giants, Bengals, and Ravens do not seem as close to bailing on their starters as the Dolphins, but each team at the very least needs a backup they can trust if quarterback play is once again an issue.

Finally, the Patriots, Saints, Steelers, and Chargers are set at starter, but all four could use a quarterback-of-the-future type. They are unlikely to find that signal caller in free agency, but it is something to watch.

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Running Back
Patriots:
Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead are headed to free agency, leaving behind 244 carries, 17 touchdowns, and 71 targets, and it would not be surprising if Mike Gillislee followed them out the door, opening up another 104 carries and five scores. Over the last five seasons, Patriots running backs have averaged 21 touchdowns – the league average was 13.2 – with no fewer than 16 over that span. In what could be a much less crowded situation, the running back(s) who lands in New England will carry big-time upside.

49ers:
With Carlos Hyde seemingly on the way out, it is not difficult to make the 49ers’ case as a quality landing spot for a running back. Sure Matt Breida, Joe Williams, and even under-the-radar addition Jeremy McNichols are still on the roster, but they are at best unproven. A big-name addition should be expected to take on most if not all of Hyde’s former role, which netted him 299 touches last season including 88 targets. Those receiving numbers did take a bit of a dive once Jimmy Garoppolo took over, but this is still a high-upside destination for any running back, especially with Kyle Shanahan at the helm.

Browns:
Liking the Browns as a landing spot almost requires forgetting they are the Browns, but they should be a quality destination for free agent running backs. Isaiah Crowell’s 234 touches are headed out the door, the coaching staff seems morally opposed to using Duke Johnson as more than a complementary back, and the offensive line is quality. Le’Veon Bell certainly played a role in this decision, but new OC Todd Haley also oversaw a Steelers offense which heavily utilized its top back both in the running game and passing game. Especially if they can land a competent quarterback, Cleveland’s backfield could surprise.

Bucs:
Tampa’s offensive line is not good enough to consider them an elite option, but the opportunity is undeniable. Doug Martin has already been cut, and Charles Sims is all but certain to leave in free agency. Those moves open up 203 touches in the backfield even without taking anything away from Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers, who the Bucs should be happy to place in a smaller role. Efficiency and scoring opportunities could be a concern, but the touches should be there.

Colts:
Marlon Mack is waiting in the wings – along with Matt Jones and fantasy Siren Christine Michael, for whatever that is worth – but the Colts still should be looking for a starter with Frank Gore leaving in free agency. Mack was not close to good enough as a rookie to be handed the starting job, one which carried a big load last season. Gore touched the ball 290 times including 25 times inside the red zone for an offense which finished 30th in total scoring. That was under a different coaching staff, but Eagles backs averaged over 450 touches during Frank Reich’s two seasons there and the backfield averaged almost 475 touches during his two seasons with the Chargers. Indy’s offense should improve assuming Andrew Luck returns healthy, and touches are there for the taking.

Honorable Mention:
The Panthers were the last team out of the top group. After cutting Jonathan Stewart, they need a big-back complement for Christian McCaffrey, but Stewart would have barely topped 200 carries last season even if he played all 16 games, McCaffrey should take on a bigger role moving forward, and no back is going to be a prolific touchdown scorer with Cam Newton at quarterback. Carolina could end up being an overvalued destination in the minds of the fantasy public.

The Giants, Lions, Seahawks, and Jets are all teams with a clear need at running back, but it is difficult to get excited about a runner landing in any of those spots. The Giants have a full rebuild on their hands along the offensive line, the Jets have almost as many issues along their front and will bring back Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire, and the Seahawks match a terrible line with a convoluted free agent situation which includes two restricted free agents – Mike Davis and Thomas Rawls. The Lions actually have the makings of a solid line, but the running game is apparently shrouded by a curse by which Maggy the Frog would be impressed. All four destinations are interesting, but they all come with a word of caution.

It is tough to say how good a destination Denver is for a free agent running back because C.J. Anderson’s future remains undecided. Even if Anderson is traded, it is likely Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson remain involved, creating something of a timeshare. That is the best-case scenario for whoever ends up in Miami, but it seems more likely Kenyan Drake operates as the clear starter. Finally, Derrick Henry is going to be the workhorse in Tennessee, but they are going to need someone behind him with DeMarco Murray gone.


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Raymond Summerlin is a football writer for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter at @RMSummerlin.
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