Even though players could’t officially join new organizations until Wednesday, March 13 at 4 p.m. ET, the legal tampering period that began Monday afternoon brought an avalanche of player news regarding players expected to officially join new teams for the 2019 season. Let's take a quick look at the major news from free agency thus far through a fantasy lens.
While free agency is always an exciting period of the NFL offseason for fans and fantasy players, the fantasy ramifications for players changing organizations is always a bit oversold. For running backs and wide receivers (the fantasy positions we covet the most), pursuing expensive fantasy options that have changed teams in the offseason has hardly yielded major fantasy return. Since 2013, we’ve seen just 14 running backs with an average draft position among the top-24 backs that were headed to new offensive climates. Just seven of those players ended up returning top-24 end of season value. Of that same group, only DeMarco Murray in 2015 and Lamar Miller in 2016 ended up being top-12 draft picks the following season, with both finishing below their required draft capital.
The wide receiver position has fared much worse. Over the past decade, we’ve had 40 different wide receivers with ADP among the top-36 wideouts that offseason. Of that group, just 12 scored more PPR fantasy points per game than the year prior for their new clubs with just 10 of those receivers finishing the season higher than their respective ADP was among the position heading into the season.
Of course, every situation should be handled separately and not just thrown under a pessimistic umbrella solely from a player changing teams. There are still fantasy dominoes to initially cover prior to the draft that we will keep updating throughout the opening of the signing period as the signings are announced. Since the Antonio Brown trade was so huge in of itself, there’s a separate, full-detailed breakdown here. The same can be said the trade of Odell Beckham. The fallout from the Beckham trade has it's own detailed post here.
Le’Veon Bell to Jets
After sitting out the entire 2018 season, Bell is moving on New York. While his game plan to hold out the entire previous season can be questioned, his future workload will surely not after becoming the second-highest paid running back in the league behind Todd Gurley. The Jets offensive line created an average of 1.14 yards before contact for their running backs in 2018, which ranked 27th in the league, but by breaking the bank on Bell, they undoubtedly will force-feed him touches, which can circumvent the scenario where Bell maintains pedestrian efficiency marks per touch. As evidence of the last time we seen Bell on the field, league-leading volume trumps any dip in efficiency. In 2017, Bell's 4.0 yards per carry and 7.7 yards per catch were the second-lowest career marks in each category, but he more than made up for the losses per touch with sheer volume. To start his career, Bell has ranked first (27.1 touches), first (28.0), first (22.8), second (23.3) and fourth (22.2) in touches per game in the NFL. Aided by that immense workload, the 27-year old Bell has ranked first or second in yards from scrimmage per game in each of the past four seasons he’s played.
The one slight knock on Bell is that he’s played 16 games just once over his five seasons in the league, but he never finished lower than ninth in PPR points per game at the running back position in any of those seasons while finishing second, first, fourth and first in that category over his past four seasons played. Averaging 19.8 rushes and 5.0 receptions per game for his career, Bell instantly regains first-round value in fantasy drafts based on his receiving ability and the overall projectable mass of his workload.
Mark Ingram to Ravens
After spending his first eight seasons with the Saints, Ingram joins a Ravens backfield that he can immediately take over. A part-time player for the majority of his tenure in New Orleans, Ingram should inherently push career-highs in terms of overall opportunity with only Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon currently on board to threaten his workload. Ingram has had more than 255 touches in just one season with a career-high of 288 touches in 2017. Ingram- who will turn 30-years old in December- is coming off a season in which he ranked just 28th in PPR points per game (11.9 points), but also received just 13.3 touches per game, his fewest in a season since 2013. Prior to that, he had ranked in the top-15 in points per game in each of the previous four seasons while averaging 17.8 touches per game. A solid pass catcher out of the backfield despite having the archetype as an early down grinder, Ingram caught 50, 46 and 58 passes over the 2015-2017 seasons prior to being phased out of that part of the Saints Offense a year ago. While there is a downgrade in leaving the Saints Offense – a team that has ranked first or second in collective backfield points in each of the past seven seasons- the transition to Baltimore is a best-case landing spot for him. Outside of marginal competition on the roster, the Ravens really featured their backfield once turning their offense over to Lamar Jackson. In the seven regular-season games with Jackson under center to close the year, the Ravens backfield averaged 30 touches for 168.1 yards from scrimmage per game. Over that span, they largely leaned on a one-note, undrafted rookie in Gus Edwards. There are a few potential hiccups here. One being Lamar Jackson only threw to running backs 25 times total over those seven starts and Jackson himself cut into some of the money touches, scoring four of the eight team rushing touchdowns over that span and handling 12 of the 22 team rushing attempts inside of the 10-yard line in those games. Still, joining Jackson, Greg Roman’s strong rushing history, and the lackluster threat of competition in this backfield, Ingram is firmly in RB2 territory moving to Baltimore.
Tevin Coleman to 49ers
Coleman is reunited with Kyle Shanahan, who was with the Falcons when the organization made Coleman the 73rd overall selection in the 2015 draft. Over his four seasons in Atlanta, Coleman’s rushing attempts, touches and yards from scrimmage rose every season, but he could never overcome being part of a timeshare. The same held true in 2018 when Devonta Freeman went down a year ago after appearing in just two games. With just Ito Smith to contend with, Coleman still managed to average just 12.9 touches per game with Freeman inactive. He was effective in spurts on a small workload, but posted uneven production as he was held under 80 yards from scrimmage in nine of those games with fewer than 60 yards from scrimmage in seven of those games. The good news is that despite consistently sharing yearly workloads, Coleman has still found his way to being fantasy relevant. Over the past three seasons since his rookie season, Coleman has been the RB26 or higher in PPR points per game, but the bad news there is that he’s dropped in those rankings each year, finishing as the RB13, RB25 and RB26 in points per game those seasons. Of course, Coleman's highest-scoring fantasy season came playing under Shanahan in 2016, but Coleman's fantasy juice that season was largely built on touchdown production while playing in one of the league's best offenses in NFL history, which is tougher to predict. In that 2013 season, Coleman scored 11 touchdowns on just 11.5 touches per game. There's definite upside here, but also a few negative points.
Part of the bad news is that Coleman enters what initially will be a crowded backfield on just a two-year contract reportedly worth just $10M. The 49ers already have Jerick McKinnon - who missed all of 2018 with a torn ACL - and Matt Breida on their roster and had no issues running out a continuous timeshare a year ago. There could be some clarity resolved relatively soon as McKinnon’s $3.7M 2019 base salary become s guaranteed on April 1. That’s not much money at all, but with all three backs lacking significant special teams experience, that may make this an opportunity for San Francisco to just move forward with just Coleman and Breida while letting Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. battle for the third spot. That’s merely me spewing speculation at this point, however. To cut to the chase, this is a muddle situation right now, but we do know that both Coleman and Breida are locks to be in the mix next season. As of now, this is a situation to monitor over the next few weeks prior to April 1 in the hopes that Coleman can be a true RB2 over being just a FLEX-worthy option.
Nick Foles to Jaguars
After posting a 10-3 overall record in 13 relief starts for the Eagles over the past two seasons, Foles is now “Big Check” Nick after agreeing to a four-year contract with the Jaguars, reportedly worth $50M guaranteed. Expected to sign with the Jaguars all along once free agency opened, Foles is reunited with former quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, who is taking over as the Jacksonville offensive coordinator. Although Foles will forever go down in Philadelphia lore for his incredible Super Bowl LII performance, he was hardly an impact player for fantasy purposes while filling in for Carson Wentz over the past two seasons. In his seven regular-season starts with the Eagles (disregarding his Week 17 start in 2017 when he threw just 11 passes), Foles finished in the top-half of weekly quarterback scoring just twice, throwing two or fewer touchdown passes in five of those games.
Foles also leaves a team anchored by Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery alongside Nelson Agholor for a receiving unit in Jacksonville that currently is made up of Dede Westbrook, D.J. Chark, Marqise Lee, Keelan Cole with not pass-catching back or tangible fantasy tight end currently in place. While Foles is a potential passing upgrade over Blake Bortles, it’s hard to see anyone on this current roster getting a huge bump here. Westbrook remains the most intriguing piece as he made strides in his second season and his production came in similar areas of the field in which Agholor's did with Foles under center.
After catching 27 passes as a rookie in 2017, the 4th-round pick snagged 66 passes a year ago, with 58 of those receptions coming from the slot, which ranked fourth in the NFL. Lee has never been heavily used in the slot during his career, so his return doesn't pose a major threat to Westbrook continuing to hold down those duties. Of course Alshon Jeffery missed a chunk of time while Foles was under center in Philadelphia, but Agholor accounted for 19.8% of Foles' pass attempts. Westbrook is still only in WR4-FLEX land among the position, but he's the best-looking option here at minimum by default.
For fantasy purposes, Foles is only a streaming option in all formats. He himself may not even be a better fantasy option than Bortles was since Bortles added so much rushing equity. For all Bortles’ shortcomings throwing the football, he managed to average 45.1 fantasy rushing points on 56.2 rushing attempts per season. Foles did have a solid rushing season (57 carries for 221 yards) under Chip Kelly in 2013 but has rushed just 104 yards over 28 starts since. That could mean that we the Jaguars backfield catch more passes this season as a result of the departure of Bortles’ scrambling. While they still may add a pass-catching back to compliment Leonard Fournette, Fournette has quietly averaged 2.8 receptions per game in each of his first two seasons. If he can remain on the field for an entire season, it’s not unfathomable to see Fournette push past 50 receptions in a season.
DeSean Jackson to Eagles
It wasn’t a free agent signing, but the Buccaneers trading Jackson back to the place where he began his career has an impact on a number of fantasy pieces.
Starting with Jackson himself, he goes to a place where he can play more snaps and see more targets than he did a year ago. Jackson averaged just 28.4 routes run per game a year ago as he shared passing-game opportunities behind Mike Evans with Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries. Although Jackson will never be a player that will command a plethora targets in an offense, he will be a full-time player as a flanker in an Eagles Offense alongside Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor.
Jackson will turn 33-years old in December this season and his 12.6 PPR points per game in 2018 were his highest total since the 2014 season. That said, he still remains a better option in Best Ball formats given his weekly volatility than a wideout you’re going to target in leagues in which you have to correctly predict his high points. He also has played a completely full season just once in 11 seasons and that season came back in 2013. But his addition does increase the potential for Carson Wentz to have a strong bounce back this upcoming season. Every quarterback that Jackson has played with outside of Jameis Winston in 2017 has had better numbers with Jackson in the lineup than without. The Eagles sorely missed a downfield option a year ago as they tallied just four touchdown passes in 2018 on passes that traveled 15-yards or further downfield after having 12 such touchdown passes in 2017. Wentz has opened the offseason with an early ADP in Draft leagues as the QB15, which stands to be a value.
Furthermore, Jackson’s -as well as Adam Humphries- departure from Tampa Bay opens the doors for Chris Godwin to finally become a full-time player in his third NFL season. Godwin caught 59-of-95 targets a year ago for 842 yards and seven touchdowns at age 22. Godwin has already been a fantasy darling the past two seasons, so look for the affection his already strong contingency has shown to only blossom now that he has a runway to easily push past 100 targets this season.
Adam Humphries to Titans
Also leaving Tampa Bay, Humphries agreed to contract with the Titans for a reported four-years and a total of $36M. The 26-year old is coming off a career season in which he reeled in 76-of-105 targets for 816 yards and five touchdowns. His receptions and receiving yardage has risen in each of year of the past three seasons, but it’s hard to see Humphries being more of a FLEX option in PPR formats moving into the Tennessee offense.
For one, Humphries’ overall volume was aided by the Bucs averaging a robust 39.1 pass attempts per game (fourth in the league). Over Marcus Mariota’s first four NFL seasons, the Titans have ranked 31st (27.3 pass attempts per game in 2018), 28th (31.3 on 2017), 28th (31.5 in 2016) and 21st (34.4 in 2016). On top of the overall team volume loss, the Titans have just 28 vacated targets (6.6 percent of their team total) from 2018, the third-lowest rate in the league. It’s hard to stock much belief that Humphries will be able to continue his trend of yearly improvement heading into 2019.
While Chris Godwin warrants all the excitement that he will surely get, don’t discount the losses of Jackson and Humphries propelling last season’s 5th-round pick Justin Watson from carving out a role in the Tampa Bay passing game. Jackson and Humphries combined to account for 28.7 percent of the targets, 28.6 percent or the receptions and 29.6 percent of the receiving yards for the Bucs in 2018, totals that Godwin himself won’t solely devour on top of his own share of the 2018 passing game. At 6’3” and 215 pounds, Watson was an athletic and production monster at Pennsylvania. While he doesn’t have much standalone value in redraft formats at the time, Watson is someone that should be rostered in all Dynasty leagues and someone to keep a pulse on during the offseason.