Impact of Players Changing Teams: NFC (Fantasy Football)
Each of the NFL’s 32 franchises has different views on player evaluation, roster construction, and salary cap management. Some teams are known to annually be aggressive in free agency, while others almost always choose to avoid targeting expensive veterans and instead choose to build through the draft.
Regardless of those competitive ideals, the salary cap is the ultimate equalizer and assures that each NFL team will have a fair amount of roster turnover each season. Some players are cut due to age or declining skills, others due to the arrival of a better or cheaper replacement, and some due to injuries.
Many of the players released annually never play again, but for those veterans lucky enough to find work with a new franchise, it’s important to evaluate their potential role and impact with their new team. After looking at the new faces in new places for the AFC, it’s now time to look at players that landed on new teams in the NFC and what kind of fantasy football impact we can expect for the 2018 season.
Kirk Cousins (MIN)
In three seasons as the full-time starter in Washington, Cousins averaged 4,392 passing yards and 27 touchdown tosses per season, with four additional scores annually via the run. Those numbers were good enough to rank as the QB8, QB5, and QB6 from 2015-2017. Cousins will turn 30 just before the season starts, so he’s still in his prime and moves on to a Minnesota with a much better supporting cast. We talked about how deep the quarterback position is on a recent episode of the FantasyPros Podcast, and Cousins is primed to once again be a top-10 fantasy signal-caller and an excellent value that can be targeted relatively late in most fantasy drafts.
Alex Smith (WAS)
After putting up the best numbers of his career for Kansas City in 2017, Smith was dealt to Washington so that the Chiefs could move forward with Patrick Mahomes. Smith ended up signing a five-year, $111 million deal with the Redskins, who let a younger and better quarterback, Kirk Cousins, walk. The Redskins have some talent, but the supporting cast isn’t as good as Kansas City’s, and I don’t envision Smith replicating his 2017 numbers.
Smith is a solid quarterback who avoids turnovers by rarely challenging defenders, instead relying on safe, underneath throws. It remains to be seen how Smith will fit Jay Gruden’s offense, which makes the 34-year-old veteran a risky bet to finish with QB1 numbers this season.
Sam Bradford (ARI)
Bradford signed a two-year, $40 million deal with the Cardinals before Arizona trading up to nab Josh Rosen with the No. 10 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Bradford has a well-chronicled and lengthy injury history, but is also one of the most accurate passers in football and is capable of being a solid streaming option. That said, Rosen’s presence all but assures that Bradford is viewed as the short-term solution in Arizona, and in fact could be beaten out in the preseason by the rookie, according to new head coach Steve Wilks. Fantasy footballers should look at Bradford as a decent QB2 option with weekly QB1 upside, but a player that can’t be trusted as a season-long starter.
Jerick McKinnon (SF)
McKinnon was the premier running back to hit free agency this season and cashed in with a four-year, $30 million deal with San Francisco, making McKinnon the league’s second-highest paid running back this season. The 49ers ended last season with a lot of momentum and McKinnon looks like an excellent fit in a Kyle Shanahan offense that heavily features its running backs as receivers. McKinnon is unproven as a 200-plus carry runner but has been terrific as a pass-catcher, and there is already talks of him hauling in 70-plus catches in 2018. As long as he stays healthy, McKinnon should contend for RB1 numbers in PPR leagues and should be a reliable target in the third or fourth round.
C.J. Anderson (CAR)
Coming off of his first 1,000-yard campaign, Anderson moves into a role that resulted in Jonathan Stewart averaging 13 carries-per-game and commanding 29 red-zone rushing attempts in 2017. Anderson, 27, is a better runner at this point that Stewart, and is far more effective in the passing game, so he should have a fairly significant role for the Panthers, including as a short-yardage runner. Of course, QB Cam Newton will run for plenty of touchdowns himself, but Anderson can be a weekly flex play, even splitting carries with Christian McCaffrey.
LeGarrette Blount (DET)
Blount offers next to nothing as a pass-catcher, but can be a useful option with first- and second-down carries as well as a reliable option in short-yardage. Theo Riddick is still there as a change-of-pace option, and rookie Kerryon Johnson looks like a good bet to have a substantial role, maybe even leading the Detroit backfield in touches. Blount quietly commanded 173 carries with Philadelphia last season, but he’s unlikely to see that many totes with Detroit. That said, he’s worth a late-round stab as a low-risk RB4/5 with weekly touchdown upside.
Jonathan Stewart (NYG)
Stewart has familiarity with the new regime in New York, but will be little more than a change-of-pace, short-yardage specialist with the Giants now that the club used the No. 2 pick on Saquon Barkley. Stewart, 31, has seen his yards-per-carry numbers dip in four straight seasons and has become a liability as a receiver, so he’s unlikely to exceed 150 touches as long as Barkley remains healthy. At this point of his career, Stewart is merely a TD-dependent, end-of-the-bench type of player.
Tavon Austin (DAL)
Sean McVay began using Tavon Austin as a ball-carrier more last season, and that’s the role that the Cowboys seemingly had in mind when they traded for the former first-rounder. There’s no way that Austin will be getting more than a handful of weekly carries as long as Ezekiel Elliott is in the backfield, but Austin can be an interesting chess piece type of player that has the potential to rack up a lot of targets with a Dallas offense that is desperate for pass-catchers.
Allen Robinson (CHI)
The Bears revamped their entire group of pass-catchers, starting with signing the top free-agent wideout of the 2018 class to a three-year, $42 million contract. Robinson was injured in Week 1 last year, but has showcased WR1 skills and will be the top target for an innovative offense that new head coach Matt Nagy is expected to roll out in Chicago. Robinson should be looking at 120-plus targets in this offense, and that’s going to put him in a good position to challenge for WR1 numbers this season.
Brandin Cooks (LAR)
This is the second-consecutive offseason in which Cooks was traded for a first-round pick. While Cooks didn’t put up prolific numbers with New England’s versatile offense, he did surpass 1,000 receiving yards for the third-straight season and scored seven touchdowns en route to a WR15 finish in PPR leagues. Cooks dropped to 65 receptions but should be in a good position to rebound in a Rams offense that led the NFL with 29.9 points-per-game. Cooks has dipped according to the results of early ADP figures, making him a solid value in the fourth or fifth round.
Paul Richardson (WAS)
Richardson signed a big money deal with Washington after a procuring six touchdowns last season in Seattle, but it will be hard for him to generate that TD-rate with the Redskins. Not only is Washington taking a slight step back with Alex Smith under center, but Jay Gruden is also expected to put a lot more emphasis on the running game with Derrius Guice and a healthy Chris Thompson in the backfield.
Before his breakout 44/703/6 campaign in 2017, Richardson had never hit 300 receiving yards or scored more than a single touchdown in Seattle. While he’s a tad risky, Richardson isn’t being targeted all that high in fantasy drafts, so he’s not a bad target in the mid-to-late rounds.
Allen Hurns (DAL)
Hurns walks into a good position with Dallas, who is lacking proven pass-catchers and has a ton of abandoned targets. After his tremendous 2015 season, Hurns hasn’t done much, which resulted in him getting cut by the Jaguars. Hurns missed 11 games over the past two seasons and failed to catch even 40 balls, and his fantasy value has dropped off so severely that he’s going undrafted in a large number of leagues. If he can sew down the WR1 or WR2 job in Dallas — which shouldn’t be all that challenging — Hurns could be an excellent, late-round draft target.
Mike Wallace (PHI)
Wallace is an upgrade over Torrey Smith as the outside receiver opposite of Alshon Jeffery, but will have a hard time commanding consistent weekly targets in a loaded Eagles attack. In the end, he’ll probably end the season with respectable, top-50 wideout numbers, but he’ll be hard to rely on week-to-week.
Taylor Gabriel (CHI)
It’s hard to believe that Gabriel got a $26 million contract this offseason. That said, the Bears are expected to have an aggressive, fast-paced offense, so Gabriel could be put in a favorable position to have a fairly sizable role and target share. He’s a solid late-round target in drafts with some upside and minimal risk.
Torrey Smith (CAR)
Lacking a deep threat, the Panthers acquired Smith from Philadelphia to add an over-the-top element needed in a Norv Turner offense. It’s been a while since Smith has been a productive fantasy player and it’s unlikely that he’ll be anything more than a boom-or-bust weekly play as a part of Carolina’s diverse offense.
Kendall Wright (MIN)
Wright has the potential to be a solid sleeper this season, but early indications are that the Vikings are giving Laquon Treadwell every opportunity to win Minnesota’s slot role. I think Wright is the better player here and will eventually win that job, which could lead to a sizable number of targets from QB Kirk Cousins.
Brandon Marshall (SEA)
A boom-or-bust pick, Marshall walks into a really good spot in Seattle. Overall, the Seahawks lost just under 41 percent of their targets in free agency this offseason, including WR Paul Richardson and TE Jimmy Graham, who combined to catch 14 of QB Russell Wilson’s 22 red-zone touchdowns. At 6-5, Marshall has been a solid red-zone threat throughout his career, but also looked washed up last year with the Giants. At this point, Marshall’s ADP is so low, that there’s no risk involved with taking him using the final pick of your draft.
Jimmy Graham (GB)
Graham led the NFL in both red-zone targets (26) and touchdowns (10) in 2017 and is in a far superior situation in 2018 with QB Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. The problem is that Graham only averaged 9.1 yards-per-catch, by far the lowest number of his career and had five games with single-digit receiving yards. Also, Rodgers is far more likely to spread the ball around and rely less on Graham than Wilson tended to last season. He’s still a top-10 fantasy tight end, but one that’s likely to be overvalued in drafts.
Trey Burton (CHI)
No longer in the shadow of Zach Ertz, Burton gets his chance to play full-time in Chicago’s revamped offense. Burton only got 31 targets last season but managed to catch five touchdowns. Now set to play the ‘Travis Kelce role’ in Matt Nagy’s offense, Burton is a solid target on draft day for those that miss out of the early run of elite fantasy tight ends.
Ben Watson (NO)
One of my favorite late-round sleepers, Watson is going undrafted in most leagues and can easily be plucked off the waivers in dynasty formats. Watson was, very quietly, a TE1 last season in Baltimore, hauling in 61 of 79 targets for 522 yards and four touchdowns. Watson caught more passes last season than Jimmy Graham and Kyle Rudolph and moved into a far better situation with Drew Brees in New Orleans.
These two played together with the Saints in 2015, and Watson caught 74 balls for 825 yards and six scores. We can’t expect those type of numbers again from the 37-year-old Watson, but he’s got a good shot at surpassing 75 targets.