2018 NFL Free Agency Fantasy Football Preview: Top Available, Rumored Interest and Best Landing Spots - Roto Street Journal
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2018 NFL Free Agency Fantasy Football Preview: Top Available, Rumored Interest and Best Landing Spots

Free agency is underway! Check out our live blog to see all signings and fantasy football implications.

Fantasy Football addicts, rejoice! Free Agency has arrived, and our lives again have (shreds) of meaning. As of now, the Franchise Tag deadline has officially passed, and 2018’s crop of Free Agents are final. Below, The Wolf dives into the 10 Most Important Free Agency Storylines that Fantasy Football owners need to monitor.

The below list will include the crucial players to track, rumored interested teams, as well as their ideal landing spots, purely from a fantasy football lens:

Quarterbacks

From delivering the mail to the pass-catchers accurately, to opening up running lanes for the RBs as a legitimate threat, QBs impact every other aspect of an offense. Thus, we open with the position, where 2018’s market is shockingly deep.

This, of course, is highlighted by:

Tier 1

1) Kirk Cousins

Who is he? With a strong and accurate arm, magnetic leadership qualities, and strong durability, Cousins has all the makings of a potential franchise QB. Though I question if he’ll ever win a Super Bowl, Cousins’ three year stats since taking over for RGIII have been prolific — on par even with Aaron Rodgers.  Simply put, QBs of this caliber, and at this age (29) never become this readily available, and he’s about to become the richest player in NFL history.  

Rumored Interest – Vikings, Jets, Broncos, Cardinals: Cousins will have no shortage of suitors, but his list has apparently been whittled down to the Vikings, Jets, Broncos, and Cardinals. Most recently, the Vikings have emerged as a front runner, with a rumored willingness to shell out a three-year, fully guaranteed deal upwards of $90 million. The Jets (huh?) apparently are in second place, as Cousins has an affinity for their new OC Jeremy Bates. 

Ideal Fantasy Football Fit- Vikings: Luckily, the most interested team (Minnesota) is also, by far, the ideal fantasy spot for Cousins. He’d land with an immense weapons cabinet, consisting of the always-open Adam Thielen, the “flashes-of-elite” Stefon Diggs, a dangerously explosive receiving back in Dalvin Cook, and the massive seam-stretcher in Kyle Rudolph. While Case Keenum may be underrated, he’s no Cousins, and he produced QB1 outputs for lengthy stretches with this supporting cast.

Additionally, new OC and former Eagles QB Coach John DeFilippo has quickly garnered a reputation as a QB-Whisperer after his incredible work with Carson Wentz and Nick Foles in 2017. Not that Cousins’ game leaves a ton to be desired, but if DeFilippo can squeeze historic postseason runs out of Foles, he certainly could take Cousins to another level. As Foles detailed:

“Coach Flip, he’s a grinder,” Foles said Monday. “Barely sleeps. Fundamentals, giving us the game plan, giving us all our checks, extremely detailed. I’m grateful for him. He’s done an amazing job this year.”

Runner Up – Broncos: There’s always appeal to throwing to Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. Still, this line is weak, and Bill Musgrave is an entirely underwhelming play caller who heavily emphasized the run once he took over for Mike McCoy.  The Browns are surprisingly intriguing, with Josh Gordon to throw to and an elite line to remain upright, but Cousins has already reportedly crossed them off his list.

Tier 2

2) Case Keenum

Who is he?  Keenum is college football’s all-time leader in passing, and while he might be undersized, you don’t achieve this without an accurate and decently strong arm — Houston’s spread system notwithstanding. Keenum also flashed upside with the Texans, along with shoddy decision making, and thus had never been afforded a real opportunity until 2017 (don’t tell me a Jeff Fisher offense is a real chance). The reduced turnovers and improved patience were flashed with the Vikings, and while Keenum benefited from a fantastic system and set up, he’s proven capable of being a capable starter who can buoy the value of his surrounding pieces.

Rumored Interest – Broncos and Jets: The Broncos have reportedly settled on Keenum as their “Plan B” should they miss on Cousins. The Jets noted similar plans.

Ideal Fantasy Football Fit – Browns:  Obviously, a return to Minnesota would be ideal for Keenum, but let’s assume they land Cousins. Even though the Broncos may have a better weapons cabinet, I’m going with the Browns here.

For one, Keenum is at his best in a play-action heavy scheme, posting a 111.8 rating on play-action throws and 92.8 on throws without play-action. In terms of yards per attempt, his number dropped from a tremendous 8.6 yards per throw on play-action, to sub-par 6.9 YPA on non-play-action throws. Thus, the Browns would be an intriguing fit, as Todd Haley historically fed a workhorse has to establish the deep ball downfield. When his head’s on straight, few get open down field better than Gordon.

More importantly, the Browns offensive line is loaded. Keenum is smaller, and struggles with people in his face. He’ll be afforded a far cleaner pocket in Cleveland than behind Denver’s pathetic unit. Yes, Keenum has the athleticism to roll out and can make throws on the bootlegs. Still, the line and Gordon’s presence make the Browns an ideal spot. 

3) Teddy Bridgewater

Who is he? Bridgewater hasn’t completed a pass since 2015, in which he followed up a decent 13 rookie games with an equally decent 3,231 yard, 14 TD, 9 INT season. Prior to 2016, Bridgewater suffered a gruesome dislocated knee and torn ACL on a non-contact play in practice which required over a year of rehab and training. He returned to health in 2017 and was reportedly “throwing the ball better” than ever before; unfortunately, his job had been stolen by Keenum.

Bridgewater is an excellent competitor, insatiable worker, and extreme student of the game, making him easy to root for. His arm strength is limited, but Bridgewater reads defenses well and drops the ball in accurately on timing routes. His football IQ and passion are his two greatest strengths, balancing out his smaller frame and fragility.

Rumored Interest – Jets & “Handful” of Others: Teddy is ready to prove he’s fully healthy and still a capable starter in this league, and rumors suggest he’ll get his shot. During the combine, Adam Schefter tweeted “at least a handful of teams” had starters interest in Bridgewater, and the Jets likely have him as a Plan B should they lose out on Cousins.

Ideal Fantasy Football FitBridgewater could thrive with the Cardinals, who’ll be operating Mike McCoy‘s screen-heavy, dink-and-dunk rhythm passing offense. This would be ideal, considering Bridgewater’s arm talents fit these concepts like a glove. Moreover, McCoy is known for a lengthy, complex playbook, and Bridgewater is one of the few quarterbacks cerebral enough to execute this to perfecton. He could dominate with dump-offs to David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. From just a weather standpoint, Bridgewater has historically struggled in the cold, and would greatly benefit from the dome atmosphere of Arizona.

Other QBs of Note

As mentioned in the drop, QBs are often crucial in determining fantasy value for the products around them. The fact that, even beyond Cousins, Keenum, and possibly Bridgewater, three other potential starters might emerge from this class is historic, even if just “veteran stopgaps.” Here’s a quick run through the list:

  • Josh McCown: The oft-injured journeyman was putting up career highs with the Jets last season, and was even Fantasy’s QB8 prior to his season-ending broken hand. He flashed a willingness to push the ball deep, and had particularly strong chemistry with speedster Robby Anderson. The Jets are reportedly open to bringing McCown back if they whiff on Cousins, and the interest is mutual, as McCown has openly expressed his desire to return. He could be a quality QB2 if Anderson avoids a suspension and Quincy Enunwa returns to full health. From a single-season perspective, McCown offers a higher floor than Bridgewater ahead of him.
  • AJ McCarron: The Alabama star and longtime Andy Dalton backup is often linked to the Browns, thanks to his past history with Hue Jackson as his offensive coordinator during his only NFL starting experience. He’d enter a juicy location, but has yet to prove he’s more than a stopgap on the NFL field. Still, his accuracy improvement would be welcomed for Josh Gordon and the other pieces.
  • Sam Bradford: Show me health before I care too much. Still, Bradford has an extensive and decently accomplished starting history in the NFL, and would be a worthy veteran bridge to a project QB. He’ll likely land an incentive-laden, “prove it” type deal.

Running Backs

Tier 1

1) Carlos Hyde

Who is he? Hyde is a bruising runner who really flashed his versatility in 2017. After playing in a power-based scheme his whole career, a slimmed-down Hyde made a smooth transition into Kyle Shanahan’s Zone Blocking Scheme, while also flashing surprising receiving ability with 59 receptions (6th most among RBs). Despite an “injury prone” label, Hyde played all 16 games in 2017, and has been available for 29 of his last 32. He handled nearly 300 touches last year, and is built to shoulder a team’s rushing load, with newfound three-down potential.

Rumored Interest – 49ers Return, Raiders, Colts:  49ers GM John Lynch indicated the team has long been in talks with Hyde, but that the two sides haven’t come to an agreement and a deal does not appear imminent. Surprisingly, Hyde hasn’t been linked much elsewhere, but some dots have been connected. ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez mentions the Raiders as a strong suitor if Marshawn Lynch retires, while LaDanian Tomlinson sees the Colts as a very viable spot.

Ideal Fantasy Football Fit The Patriots would be the “ideal” spot, given how many TD opportunities are generated in a Tom Brady offense. However, they never pay up for a runner, making this an unrealistic pipe dream.

Thus, a 49ers return has to be at the top of the “Value Holes” list. Despite starting Brian Hoyer and CJ Beathard for the majority of 2017, the 49ers still ranked 12th in total yardage, ahead of Seattle, while also generating the 7th most rushing TDs (15). Hyde proved a very adept fit in Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme, and greatly benefited from his coach’s reliance on RBs in the pass game. Another season of refinement, with ideally an improved line, should yield greater results from Hyde’s RB8 finish last year.

If not the 49ers, the Raiders do make perfect sense should Lynch retire. Even if Hyde can operate in a zone scheme, he is still best at power rushing. The Raiders have an absolutely mauling line of power blockers, who could operate gaps Hyde’s never seen on an NFL field before. His receiving usage would likely take a hit, as Jon Gruden has typically used a third down specialist, but Hyde would have a real shot at his first 1,000 yard rushing season and 10+ TDs in this fantastic set up.

2) Dion Lewis

Who is he? Lewis plays like a mini Le’Veon Bell, with insane patience for his blockers and fantastic vision and burst once the lanes are established. While Lewis’ small frame has made him a major injury liability, he also is able to get behind his blockers extremely well, while possessing elite shiftiness both in space and inside the hole. Lewis also carries surprising power and tackle-breaking ability for his small frame, and is a fantastic pass catcher. Simply put, he does it all when on the field, and can be the engine of an offense when he holds up.

Rumored Interest – Uh… pretty much everyone? According to Pro Football Talk, Lewis will be pursued by as many as six or seven teams, citing the Jets, Texans, 49ers, Raiders, and Colts as interested parties. Meanwhile, the Boston Herald reports the Patriots obviously would like to re-sign their guy, but could struggle to meet his three year, $18 million asking price.

Ideal Fantasy Football Fit With his aforementioned patience and vision, in addition to his elite receiving ability, Lewis would be a glove like fit in Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme. Lewis would also likely be in line for 15-18 touches a week, allowing him to ideally sustain health but still generate high-end production due to his efficiency. The line is still lackluster, but the team will ideally target this in free agency.

Tier 2

3) Jerick McKinnon

Who is he? A freak athlete, McKinnon led the combine in all running back categories in 2014:

He’s developed into an excellent receiving back, and thrived in the role last year after Dalvin Cook went down. McKinnon is far better in space than traffic, despite excellent strength for his size. He often finds open grass, and can outrun most who take poor pursuit angles. McKinnon played a variety of positions in college, including quarterback and defensive back, and as such he’s still only ascending as a strict running back.

Rumored Interest: McKinnon hasn’t been linked to many squads, but the most common connection has been the Titans. The fit makes sense, as running back screens are a huge part of new OC Matt LeFluer‘s game, and Tennessee lacks a clear pass-catching back (assuming Murray is gone). The Giants are often mentioned given McKinnon’s familiarity with new HC Pat Shurmur.

Ideal Landing Spot: McKinnon is reportedly seeking a featured back role, but is unlikely to land one. Thus, his ideal fit would be as a clear cut third-down back in a 60/40 timeshare. The Titans do feel like an ideal fantasy fit, as McKinnon could carve out a consistent receiving role under a coordinator who excels at getting his backs in space. The Raiders would also present a fantastic opportunity, as Jon Gruden‘s RBs have absorbed 30% of his team’s total target share, on average. He’d have a real shot at 70+ receptions in either destination, thus being a major PPR force.

4) Rex Burkhead 

Who is he? Extremely versatile yet not exceptional anywhere, Burkhead presents as a “jack of all trades” type of back. He is a powerful runner with a strong lower half, making him surprisingly effective in short yardage situations despite a smaller build. Burkhead also excels in space and running routes out of the backfield. While he may lack long speed and shiftiness, Burkhead constantly moves forward and is a source of positive offense.

Rumored Interest: No specific teams have been identified, but NESN’s Doug Kyed reports Burkhead’s market will be competitive. The asking price may be over $3mil per year, which would likely price Burkhead out of New England’s plans.

Ideal Fantasy Football FitBurkhead’s ideal fantasy spot would be remaining in the exact same spot. He ripped off 8 TDs in only 10 games, and his versatility was a fantastic fit for a New England offense that loves to be unpredictable. Even more volume would be up for grabs should Lewis depart as expected, and a Patriots reunion would give Burkhead a very real shot at RB1 value.

5) Isaiah Crowell 

Who is he? Crowell has displayed strong vision, especially at the second level of the defense, yet rarely flashes anything that “wows.” He’s sturdy at nearly 230 pounds, but doesn’t break nearly as many tackles as you’d hope for at this size. Still, he can hold up to a workhorse treatment, and bring some oomph to a committee.

Rumored Interest: Much like most of 2018’s backs, Crowell has no strong links yet — only that the Browns will likely move forward without him. Lions beat writers have been the most consistent with dot connecting, which makes sense as the team has lacked a back with size and power for quite some time.

Ideal “Value Hole” Landing Spot: The Lions present the most realistic landing spot with immense TD upside. Their line is pathetic, but Matthew Stafford is well above average at QB, maintaining time of possession and keeping plenty of scoring chances alive for his backs. With Detroit lacking any semblance of a power back, Crowell could stumble into double-digit TDs here. The Buccaneers also represent a juicy opening upon releasing Doug Martin. Koetter typically uses a committee, and Crowell would slide into his “power” complement quite well with his strong vision and underrated pass-catching skills.

Other Names to track: Doug Martin, Orleans Darkwa, Jeremy Hill, LeGarrette Blount, Alfred Morris, Jonathan Stewart

Plenty of intriguing Wide Receivers and Tight Ends are available to round out a pass-catching. Read on to find out more!

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