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Free Agency Update

2020 NFL Free Agency: Fantasy Winners & Losers

by Hayden Winks
Updated On: March 19, 2020, 5:41 pm ET

Brady to the Bucs

Like many oldies, Tom Brady is moving to Florida to enjoy the warm sun and relaxed taxes, but Brady also gets the benefit of playing with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, two difference makers the GOAT lacked in New England last year. It’s hard to project a complete resurrection from Brady as a 43-year-old, but a statistical bounceback, to some extent, is likely given the talent around him. If there’s an issue here, it’s how Brady’s arm strength fits into the Bucs 2019 offense:

WinstonVsBrady

This graph shows that Jameis Winston is doing his job #FlatteningTheCurve. Yay Jameis! It also shows that in 2019, a higher percentage of Winston’s completed passes traveled beyond 10 yards of the line of scrimmage compared to Brady, who mostly spent his time dinking-and-dunking in the 0-8 yard range. In fact, Brady was 26th in average passing distance. Because coach Bruce Arians’ offense historically has been dependent on a vertical attack, either Brady will have to show us that he’s got a lot more gas in the tank or Arians will have to make adjustments. My bet is on the two meeting in the middle. 

WinstonVsBrady2

Between Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, I’m slightly more concerned with Evans’ fit with Brady. Last year, Evans not only had the highest average depth of target (15.3 aDOT) among receivers with 100 targets, but he also led all players with 8.7 PPR points per game on “deep targets”. I’d project that total to take a hit with Flameis no longer going full send in Tampa, although it’s probably best to not completely overreact. As Lord Reebs points out, Brady was effective on deep passes to Brandin Cooks in 2017, and as I point out in the chart above (shoutout me), Brady completed a higher percentage of his 20-40 yard passes compared to Winston last year. In all, I’ll gladly scoop up Evans as a low-end WR1 in drafts, and feel comfortable projecting Godwin for 90% of his last year’s production because he wins where Brady has primarily targeted in recent years: underneath (10.8 aDOT). 

 

Diggs Traded to the Bills

The only fantasy winner for the Bills in this blockbuster trade is Josh Allen, who now should be anchored inside top-12 quarterback rankings. John Brown and Cole Beasley should both see fewer targets than they did in 2019 -- the front office added a 94-target alpha receiver to a team that only has 74 unaccounted targets from last season -- and Stefon Diggs’ efficiency is bound to negatively regress in a big way. Last year in a dome with an accurate passing Kirk Cousins as his quarterback, Diggs averaged 12.0 YPT and was (by far) the league’s most efficient receiver on deep targets, per my “Deep Threat Model”. I was worried Diggs was going to be overdrafted for these two reasons alone, and now I’m worried about his quarterback getting him the ball on target (see below). At first glance, I’m tempted to call Diggs a low-end WR2, Brown a WR4, and Beasley a WR6 in 12-team leagues. 

AllenVsCousins

As for Minnesota, we can obviously downgrade Business of Football Hall of Famer Kirk Cousins in fantasy, and upgrade the rest of the offense. Cousins is a decent starter but is still a “sum of his parts” player, and he just lost one of the most efficient targets in the whole NFL as I mentioned in the paragraph above. Adam Thielen will take on a chunk of Diggs’ 94 leftover targets, but the Vikings will be searching for a No. 2 receiver this offseason -- I’m guessing they go after one of these stud rookies within the first two rounds. Whoever that is will be fantasy relevant. Then we have the tight ends (Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith) and running backs (Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison) who all receive slight bumps with Diggs’ departure. In total, I project the offense like this: Cousins QB2, Thielen low-end WR1, Cook RB1, Mattison RB4, Rudolph TE2, Smith TE2. I have a feeling I’ll be snagging a lot of Irv Smith in the double-digit rounds this summer.

 

Hopkins Traded to the Cardinals

Ian Hartitz did a deep dive on Arizona’s offense here if you want to read the pessimistic outlook of all involved, but my quick thoughts are: Hell yes. For DeAndre Hopkins, this is a somewhat lateral move in terms of expected quarterback play in 2020, but he will be going from an offense 14th in situation-neutral pace to one that was fourth. I will be confidently drafting Hopkins in the back half of Round 1 in fantasy drafts and hopefully be pairing him with my prospect model’s highest-ranked NFL prospect ever, Kyler Murray, later in drafts. If there’s hype I’m buying into early in the offseason, it’s the Cardinals Offense with Murray and Kliff Kingsbury getting months to iron out the wrinkles of last year’s inconsistent, but captivating, offense. 

Of course, not everyone is a winner with the trade. Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald, and Andy Isabella all need to be downgraded, and I already wasn’t touching Fitz with a 10-foot pole after he averaged 42 yards over his last 14 games. My first-glance target projections for the Cardinals Offense are: Hopkins 11, Kirk 7, Fitzgerald 5, and Isabella 4, but I’d definitely rather draft Isabella in the late rounds over the old timer. 

 

Cowboys Keep Dak and Amari

I can nitpick some of the deals the Cowboys handed out -- Dak Prescott and Byron Jones should have a long-term deal, not Ezekiel Elliott -- but they at least return all of their main offensive weapons in 2020. We can assume this offense will be a top-five unit again, and there’s really no reason to move off Dak as a top-six QB1, Amari as a top-12 WR1, Gallup as a top-24 WR2, and Zeke as a top-four RB1. It’s a pretty straight-forward team to project, although Randall Cobb and Jason Witten combine to leave behind 166 targets. If there’s a sleeper to inherit a few dozen more looks, it’s fourth-year TE Blake Jarwin, who just secured a new deal. Jarwin has averaged 8.7 YPT in his career, flashed on down the seam targets, and offers 85th percentile burst for the position. He’s one of my first-glance tight end sleepers.

 

Rivers to the Colts

It's not an apples to apples comparison given the differences between their pass-catchers, but even in a down year, Philip Rivers’ yards per attempt average (7.8) last year was in a tier above Jacoby Brissett (6.6). Is Rivers a massive upgrade on Brissett? Probably not, but it’s enough for me to slightly upgrade the Colts’ skill-position players.

RiversVsBrissett

As the chart shows, Rivers attempted more deep passes compared to Brissett last year, which is great news for T.Y. Hilton’s 2020 fantasy outlook. Hilton regressed mightily with Brissett under center for two reasons: 1) his average depth of target dropped down to 10.2 yards because Brissett was too reserved, and 2) he was a bottom-10 receiver on deep targets per my “Deep Target Model” because of Brissett’s underwhelming deep ball. Even if Rivers’ 37-year-old deep ball is dusty enough to give you allergies, I’d still argue Rivers is an improvement over Brissett for Hilton on expected deep ball attempts alone. Sign me up for Hilton as a WR2/3 in fantasy drafts.

 

Titans Keep Tannehill, Henry but Lose Others

The big news in Tennessee is keeping these two guys around, but they did lose some secondary pieces this offseason. Most importantly, the Titans will be replacing run-mauling RT Jack Conklin with replacement-level vet Dennis Kelly, but the absences of Dion Lewis (54 carries and 32 targets) and Delanie Walker (31 targets) will have ripple effects as well. With Mini Me out of the way, Henry should have a career-year as a receiver out of the backfield, which should help offset run-efficiency regression as he comes off a career-high 5.1 yards per carry. But the underrated winner this offseason for the Titans is TE Jonnu Smith, who averaged 10.0 YPT in 2019 and now has a near full-time role with Walker departing. Smith will be an intriguing TE2 in fantasy drafts once the dust settles.

 

Bridgewater to the Panthers

The real-life implications going from Kyle Allen to Teddy Bridgewater are grander than the fantasy ones. Neither Allen nor Bridgewater will do much damage with the deep ball, just for two totally different reasons -- Allen tries but can’t complete deep passes, and Bridgewater can complete deep passes but doesn’t try. I’m not expecting Bridgewater to be anything more than a QB2 streamer in favorable home matchups, but the signing has some ripple effects on the Panthers’ skill-position players.

BridgewaterVsAllen

As you can see above, Bridgewater loves to check the ball down underneath. In fact, he had the shallowest average depth of pass attempt (6.2) last year. That will limit the upside of an offense, but it will allow Christian McCaffrey to eat as a receiver. He just may break his own single-season NFL record for most receptions as a running back (116) this upcoming year. Bridgewater’s presence is also welcomed by D.J. Moore (11.1 aDOT) but doesn’t figure to help Curtis Samuel (15.3 aDOT), who was the least-efficient deep ball receiver in the league last year. I’ll gobble up Moore as a borderline WR1/2. I’m now on the fence with Samuel as the WR44 overall in early fantasy drafts when I thought I was going to be a buyer.

 

Green Gets the Franchise Tag

This was an expected move, but I’m still wondering if Green will actually show up and play without a long-term deal. He has leverage with the Bengals assuredly wanting to make incoming rookie QB Joe Burrow happy, so I’m hoping the two parties can iron out an extension well before September. If that does happen, Cincy becomes an underrated NFL offense, although there will be mouths to feed and an offensive line that needs development. The Bengals only have 64 available targets from 2019, so Tyler Boyd’s (9.25 targets per game) and Auden Tate’s (6.67) team share of looks will be cut when Green enters the three-WR lineup. For now, I’ll call Green a WR3/4, Boyd a WR4, Tate a WR6, Mixon a RB1/2, and Burrow a low-end QB2.