As we approach the start of the new league year and free agency, I am hyperalert, looking for any circumstances that may hint towards sleepers in my dynasty leagues. These are some of my favorite acquisitions right now, whose current situation might make them affordable ... but not for long.
At most points in the 2019 NFL season, it felt like the 49ers were playing Whack-A-Mole with their running back corps. As soon as one went down, another popped up almost instantaneously. Now, the 49ers find themselves in an interesting position at a crossroads between available cap space and production.
Since being drafted in 2015, Mostert has found himself on five different rosters within the NFL, but only shined on one. In a muddy and confusing backfield, Mostert managed to explode for 5.64 yards per carry in 2018 - ranked first among all RBs who played 25% of team snaps or more.
Though he's just another mouth to feed in San Francisco for now, the backfield has an opportunity to clear out in 2020. After Tevin Coleman followed his former offensive coordinator out west in free agency, many hoped he had found the perfect scheme to highlight his versatility in the run game. We were mistaken. Though he showed some flashes, he lacked the consistency we'd hope for with his price tag.
In Mostert's two games without Coleman in 2019, we saw him average 115 scrimmage yards and 16 PPR points per game. Coleman is due $4.9 million in 2020 while carrying no dead cap - an easy cut or trade for a rushing offense that remains efficient without him. Fewer scrimmage yards, fewer touchdowns, fewer yards after contact per attempt, fewer avoided tackles... The further down the list we get, the harder his contract is to justify.
The 49ers OL finished 2019 as PFF's fourth most highly graded run-blocking unit. Regardless of who they play behind the line, we are bound to see success. Why shouldn't San Francisco save some cash? #MostertSZN
Mecole Hardman was the new hotness in the 2019 off-season after news broke of a potential suspension for Tyreek Hill. He climbed rookie dynasty draft boards, at times going in the first round, and yet somehow the sentiment is that his 2019 season was ... disappointing. His metrics, however, tell a much different story. While everyone is hyping A.J. Brown, they're sleeping on another soon-to-be-sophomore who has the potential for lots of opportunity in 2020 at a much lower acquisition cost.
Even though he was the fifth receiving option for the Chiefs, he got off to a hot start. Among all wideouts with at least 30 targets in 2019, Hardman ranked first in passer rating while targeted (153.9), yards per reception (20.7), yards after the catch per reception (11.5), and fantasy points per target (2.77). Hardman ran a 4.33 at the 2019 NFL Combine, and it showed in his ability to make splash plays, whether on offense or special teams.
The kicker? Sammy Watkins is due to cost the Chiefs $21,000,000 in 2020 - literally, the highest cap hit among all wide receivers in the coming season. The problem is that his production hasn't quite matched the price tag. In 2019, Watkins accounted for just 12.7% of the Chiefs' yards per game and 0.76% of the team's scoring per game -- all while consuming 17.9% of their target share per game. It's important to note the importance of evaluating Watkins on a per-game basis; he hasn't played a full season since his rookie year in 2014. It's hard to imagine him returning to the team in 2020, which should free up opportunities both outside and in the slot as he leaves behind 90 targets.
Hardman was outshined by a talented rookie class in 2019, but 2020 is bound to be the redemption tour. Between his metrics on the field and the opportunity to be the WR2 for Patrick Mahomes, he's bound to be a late-round steal - as long as we can keep his value a secret.
It's not much of a reach to think that Tyler Higbee could win you a championship in 2020. He already won you a championship in 2019 - and he did it so quietly. Weeks 13 through 16, AKA your fantasy football post-season, Higbee was the TE1. If you locked up this former wideout before his four consecutive 100-yard games, congratulations on your title.
Higbee saw the bulk of his offensive snaps and involvement in the passing game once Gerald Everett suffered a knee injury in Week 12. In the five weeks following, he totaled 438 yards on 43 targets. Higbee amassed this production with an average depth of target of just 7.63 yards, ranking 34th deepest among TEs who played 25% or more of team offensive snaps in that period. Simply put, he created plays.
As if his breakout season wasn't enough ammo, let's discuss the near-perfect situation he finds himself in for 2020. Fantasy football managers should feel pretty confident in his role, particularly in regards to draft capital, or lack thereof. The incoming draft class is not robust with tight ends, and that's putting it kindly. Even if it was, the Rams traded away their first and fifth-round picks, making their Day Two picks critical hits. It would be hard to justify drafting a tight end in this class with what they've got.
Gerald Everett is undoubtedly the biggest threat to Higbee's opportunity, particularly given his second-round draft pedigree. When the time came to test that theory in Week 16 with Everett fresh off the injury report, Higbee continued to shine. He balled in those final two games for 188 yards and a score, while Everett saw just four offensive snaps. It's not as hard to understand why. Higbee was much more involved as a blocker, taking a total of 391 snaps to Everett's 176. He graded more highly in both pass and run blocking with PFF too.
There's another soon-to-be-sophomore wideout flying under the radar. He has the potential to make strides in the coming season to provide late-round value, but there are a few too many question marks to be confident just yet. Hunter Renfrow was drafted in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the former Oakland Raiders. He put together an impressive rookie campaign, totaling 605 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
In the year with Derek Carr at quarterback and a true WR1 with the Raiders, Renfrow managed a respectable rookie season. He ranked 11th among all wideouts with 50 or more targets in yards per route run with 2.09 while posting 6.37 yards after the catch per reception.
Renfrow gets a "dart throw" tag for a few reasons. His uncertainty at the quarterback position, coupled with the potential fallout of the adjustment to Las Vegas, makes him a bit more of a question mark. Even if he doesn't hold much value for redraft leagues in 2020, he's certainly worth the acquisition in dynasty leagues.
Free Agency Updates
Robby Anderson expressed Tuesday that he would be interested in a long-term deal with the Jets. He's previously stated that he wouldn't be willing to take a hometown discount, but considering that the Jets are projected for the 11th most cap space in 2020, they might be able to swing the deal he's hoping for. ... Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday that the Titans are looking to sign Ryan Tannehill to a long-term deal. With the franchise tag deadline having been moved back to Monday, this gives them just a bit more time before needing to make a designation. ... Emmanuel Sanders refuted a report Monday that the 49ers had offered him a deal worth $5-6 million less than asking price. "No offer has been sent, and no talks have been made." Sanders is 32 years old and will very likely become a free agent on March 18. ... Dak Prescott has declined two long-term deals with the Cowboys, one of which would have reportedly granted him an average of $33 million per year. Dallas also needs to find room in the budget to sign Amari Cooper, virtually guaranteeing one of these guys is doomed for the franchise tag ahead of Monday's deadline.
Want an updated list of 2020 Free Agents? Check out Nick Mensio's 2020 NFL Free Agent Tracker, sorted by position and updated with contract information as it piles in.