Dynasty League Free Agency Preview: QB & TE (Fantasy Football)
It’s that time of year in the fantasy football world: the offseason. For those playing seasonal leagues, it’s your time to check out and forget about football for a while, but for dynasty league diehards, the offseason is arguably the best — and most important — part of the year for fantasy football. In addition to the annual rookie draft, most leagues allow roster moves in some way, whether that be trades, adds/drops, or something else such as a dispersal draft. In the NFL, the same is true — players will be on the move whether via trade, release, or free agency, and changing teams can drastically impact a player’s value in fantasy football. 2018 was a banner year for NFL free agency, and for fantasy football value alike.
In addition to some very fantasy-relevant RBs and an excellent crop of free agent WRs changing teams, there were some strong QBs and interesting TEs on the move. Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo both cashed in with big contracts, Drew Brees re-signed with the Saints, and Case Keenum made himself viable in two-QB leagues with job security in Denver. As tight ends go, former touchdown-machine Jimmy Graham teamed up with Aaron Rodgers, Eric Ebron revitalized his still-young career with the Colts, Trey Burton became a fantasy darling with the Bears, and I thought Austin Seferian-Jenkins would be a thing with the Jaguars (maybe next year). So, what can dynasty leaguers expect in 2019 from this year’s free agent corps? We’ll look at QBs and TEs this week.
2019 is a pretty uninspiring year for fantasy purposes at the quarterback position, as there are precisely zero signal-callers who started a majority of their team’s games in 2018 on the market. That said, there are a few names that still carry value in dynasty leagues, mostly in superflex or two-QB formats. So what does the future hold for these players, and as a fantasy owner, should you be hoping they re-sign with their current team or relocate?
Tyrod Taylor (CLE)
One season removed from finishing as the QB16 (Weeks 1-16 scoring) while playing only 14 games, Taylor found himself in a revamped Browns offense. The Browns featured his new competitor Baker Mayfield, the number one overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, as well as new faces at running back and wide receiver, and a second-year tight end drafted in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. All signs were pointing toward an offensive resurgence in Cleveland, led by Taylor, who was on a one-year contract, presumably to serve as a bridge to the future of the franchise, Mayfield.
However, the season played out quite differently, as Taylor started only three games and finished only two. His abysmal Week 1 performance featured a sub-40% completion rate, under 200 yards passing, and under 5.0 yards per pass attempt, which are all very poor. Bolstered by 77 rushing yards and a touchdown, Taylor finished as the QB6 in Week 1 scoring, though, so things looked good for fantasy purposes. His second outing was better passing the ball with a completion rate over 70%, 246 yards passing on over 8.0 yards per pass attempt (a strong number), but only 26 rushing yards, propelling him to an underwhelming QB24 finish on the week. After completely bombing in Week 3 against the Jets and being pulled mid-game, Taylor only threw one pass the rest of the season.
However, looking back to his last full season (in Buffalo), Taylor demonstrated that he is more than competent as a starter. Passing the ball, he ranked near the middle of the pack in major efficiency statistics, including yards per attempt, true completion percentage (factoring out drops and throwaways), passer rating, and QBR. His cheat code for fantasy football, however, is that he ranked third among quarterbacks in rushing attempts and rushing yards, and scored four touchdowns on the ground.
Nothing in 2018 indicated that Taylor lost his rushing ability, so it’s safe to assume he will remain a solid dual-threat option, returning unexciting but usable fantasy performances. For dynasty owners, hold tight until Taylor lands this offseason, but it’s obviously best for him to leave Cleveland. If Taylor lands with a team that does not have an entrenched starter (e.g., Dolphins, Broncos, Jaguars, Giants), he could deliver QB2 value and have usable weeks as a streamer or bye-week filler in 2019. With so much uncertainty, best not to buy before he lands, though.
Josh McCown (NYJ)
After starting 13 games in 2017, McCown ceded the starting job immediately in 2018 to the number three overall pick in the draft, Sam Darnold, who is the youngest quarterback in the league. McCown played three games this season in relief of Darnold who missed time with an injury. In those three weeks, he finished with under five fantasy points twice, despite attempting over 30 passes in both of those games. His only decent performance took 45 pass attempts against the Patriots in Week 12, where he still only totaled 276 yards and 1 touchdown, on 6.1 yards per pass attempt. McCown finished as the QB21 that week thanks to 25 rushing yards. McCown did finish just outside the QB1 range in points per game in 2017, but the small sample presented in 2018 looked less encouraging, and it’s probably time to cut bait with the veteran, who will turn 40 this year. McCown’s value lies as a mentor to a young quarterback like Darnold at this point.
Teddy Bridgewater (NO)
It’s hard not to root for Bridgewater after his comeback story was completed this season, with him suiting up and being activated in an emotional moment for the young (still only 26 years old) quarterback. With very little to go on in the last few years, it’s hard to evaluate Bridgewater’s fantasy potential in 2019 and beyond. He attempted 23 passes, throwing for 115 yards (5.3 yards per attempt, not great), and threw one touchdown in 2018.
Bridgewater also rushed 11 times for five yards according to the books, but most of that total was on kneel downs. Bridgewater’s only real action came in Week 17, where essentially all of his 2018 production came. In Bridgewater’s two seasons with Minnesota, he attempted over 400 passes both years, threw for around 3,000 yards each time, and 14 touchdowns both seasons. More importantly, his efficiency numbers were solid, at 7.2 and 7.3 yards per attempt in 2014 and 2015, respectively. His passer rating was between 85 and 90 both years, with a QBR between 54 and 58 each season as well (not bad). Bridgewater ran for 403 yards and four touchdowns in that span, which isn’t jaw-dropping but is a nice bonus in fantasy. Since Bridgewater has not played much in the last three seasons, could there be a better place for him to land than back in New Orleans as the heir to Drew Brees? I would contend not, so dynasty owners in deep leagues or formats that allow more than one starting QB should be hoping for the Saints to bring Bridgewater back long-term. In shallower leagues (~25 man rosters) with only one starting quarterback, it’s safe to cut Bridgewater for a safer option or a rookie with upside.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (TB)
The biggest question surrounding Fitzpatrick is whether his 2018 magic was his own making, or propelled by a strong supporting cast. Fitzpatrick, who played eight games for the Buccaneers this season, ranked number one in the league in completed air yards per attempt and deep-ball completion percentage. He also found himself in the top five at the position in adjusted yards per attempt (factoring in touchdowns and interceptions), play-action completion percentage, and completion percentage under pressure.
In fantasy points per game, Fitzpatrick ended the year as the fifth-highest scoring quarterback, which is impressive (and better than Jameis Winston in all of the above categories). For comparison, Fitzpatrick’s numbers were all drastically lower in his six-game span in 2017. Unfortunately for anyone riding FitzMagic in dynasty formats, though, Winston is still on contract in Tampa Bay, and Fitzpatrick is not. It seems unlikely that Fitzpatrick will stay put, so the best hope is that he lands with a team facing an uncertain quarterback situation (e.g., if Miami moves on from Ryan Tannehill or Eli Manning retires). By most accounts, the rookie quarterback crop isn’t particularly strong, so Fitzpatrick could also find himself as a fill-in to a team who drafts a young signal-caller this year. Fitzpatrick will almost certainly either find himself in a backup role, or starting in one of the above cases on a team that does not feature Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate. The outlook for Fitzpatrick is not particularly rosy in 2019, and he should be on the chopping block, or close to it, except in deep leagues (30+ man rosters) or leagues that start more than one quarterback.
Robert Griffin III (BAL)
To get the obvious out of the way, Lamar Jackson will be starting for the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1 of 2019, so Robert Griffin must find a new team to hold any value for fantasy purposes. Like Bridgewater, we have little to go on in terms of evaluating Griffin’s recent performance, as he played in two games in 2018 with no meaningful action, and zero games in 2017. We have to go back to 2016, where Griffin played in Week 1, and Weeks 14-17. In his five games, Griffin topped 200 yards passing just once (Week 17), and threw two total touchdowns, which both came in Week 17 against the Steelers, too.
Thanks to his rushing ability, Griffin delivered over 18 fantasy points twice, and never less than 10 fantasy points. He averaged just under 40 rushing yards per game and scored two touchdowns on the ground in that stretch. Just like Tyrod Taylor, Griffin has the ability to provide fantasy value as a QB2, streamer, or bye-week filler, but only if he lands a starting job, which seems unlikely at best. The best-case scenario for Griffin in my mind is for him to land with a team featuring an aging quarterback (e.g., PIT, NE, NYG, LAC), where he could get a chance to take over when the veteran retires. Keep in mind, Griffin is still only 28 years old, so he should have several years of football left if he can stay healthy. As is the case with most of this list, Griffin need not be rostered in standard size leagues (~25 man roster), one quarterback formats, but in the right landing spot, could provide some hope for future value.
At tight end, the group of free agents is more interesting, but only marginally so. Only two free agents at the position topped 40 receptions (one being C.J. Uzomah after stepping in due to injury), four topped 400 receiving yards (only one of those surpassed 450), and no one in the group scored more than six touchdowns in 2018, despite 17 of them playing 15 or 16 games in the season. Fear not, though, as there are still some players in the group who carry value in dynasty leagues.
Jared Cook (OAK)
Fresh off a season where Cook played every game and finished as the TE5 (he was also the lone free agent TE over 50 receptions, 450 yards, and three touchdowns), it feels like he’s not getting enough love. The near-32-year-old racked up 101 targets, a 19% share of pass attempts by Derek Carr. His target share further increased in the red zone and in the end zone, propelling Cook to six touchdowns on the year, ranking fourth among TEs. Cook ranked fourth at the position in yards as well, with 896 of them (349 coming after the catch).
Cook’s efficiency was strong as well, with over 13 yards per reception, and receptions on 68 out of a possible 82 catchable targets. Even Cook’s air yards (total distance traveled in the air by all targets) totaled seventh-best among TEs, despite Derek Carr ranking only 18th-best among QBs in air yards on all pass attempts. Nothing about Jared Cook’s 2018 season is unsustainable heading into 2019, especially if the Raiders opt to re-sign him. Since Oakland doesn’t have another strong receiving TE, an obvious plan at WR, or a strong satellite RB, Cook should continue to vacuum up targets if he remains with the Raiders, which is probably best-case scenario for him. It should not come as a surprise to anyone if Cook finishes in the TE1 cohort again next season in a Raiders uniform. If your primary plan at TE is one of the young rising stars such as David Njoku or Dallas Goedert, Cook could serve as a perfect stopgap option until the younger TE hits his stride.
Tyler Eifert (CIN)
After appearing in 15 games in his rookie campaign in 2013, Eifert has totaled only 14 appearances and four starts in the past three seasons. Eifert is intriguing when he plays, as he has had stretches of fantasy brilliance, but his lack of contribution recently makes it hard for Cincinnati (or any other team) to justify shelling out for the 28-year-old or making him part of their plans in a starting capacity. Eifert was solid in his limited work in 2018, seeing 19 targets and catching 15 of them at a pace of 11.9 yards per reception. At such a small sample it doesn’t make much sense to project out over a full season, but Eifert still looked the part of a threat in the passing game. It’s a risky proposition to be buying Eifert at this point unless he’s essentially free, and if you own him, you might as well hold until he lands with a new team (or doesn’t land at all), since the trade market will be lukewarm at best.
Ricky Seals-Jones (ERFA) (ARI)
As an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA), Seals-Jones will almost certainly end up back in Arizona, which is a good landing spot for a receiving tight end. After a quasi-late-breakout in his 2017 rookie season, Seals-Jones played in 15 games (sitting out Week 17), logged almost 60% of Arizona’s offensive snaps, and was targeted 70 times for almost five targets per game.
While he didn’t produce much on those targets, part of the inefficiency can be attributed to inconsistent quarterback play, as rookie QB Josh Rosen was spotty at best in his first season. Seals-Jones saw 70 targets this season, catching 34 of the 45 catchable targets thrown his way, which isn’t terrible. He did have five drops out of those 11 catchable incompletions, though, which is not ideal.
However, the young TE has plenty of room to grow alongside his inexperienced quarterback, and Arizona is the perfect place for Seals-Jones to see plenty of playing time and usage, as Arizona’s primary weapon in the passing game, Larry Fitzgerald, can’t possibly play forever (or can he?). Outside of the future Hall-of-Fame WR, Seals-Jones’ current target competition features rookie WR Christian Kirk, as well as Chad Williams, J.J. Nelson, and Jermaine Gresham, and the running backs — one of the thinnest depth charts in the NFL at this point. This offseason is the time to buy Seals-Jones on the cheap (or pick him up for free if he’s available).
Jesse James (PIT)
While the fantasy community will largely be focused on Vance McDonald as far as Pittsburgh Steelers TEs go, James offers a lot of positives as he heads to free agency. James played just over half of the offensive snaps and was targeted only 39 times in 15 games. However, the 6’7″ frame makes him an enticing red zone weapon, and James scored twice on 30 receptions (almost exactly the same rate as Zach Ertz and just below his career rate). James is much more than a red zone option, however, as he tallied over 14 yards per reception and just shy of 11 yards per target, which can be attributed in part to 201 yards after the catch on 423 receiving yards (a higher rate of YAC than Travis Kelce). James is athletic enough to create extra yards, but also has great hands, catching 30 of his 33 catchable targets, with only two drops.
Ben Roethlisberger had a 117.8 passer rating when targeting James, the third-best mark in the league in 2018 for a QB to TE pairing. There is a lot to like with James if he can land on a team in need of a receiving tight end. James is not even 25 years old, so he still has likely not reached him prime years. The optimal buying window for James is after he lands in a positive situation since his value could still be non-existent in 2019.
Demetrius Harris (KC)
As a basketball player in college at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, Harris entered the league as an undrafted free agent (UDFA). He has seen very little work with the Chiefs since that time, so this is a speculative addition to the list for those in deeper leagues. Harris is another 6’7″ beast, much like Jesse James, and ran a 4.57-second 40-yard dash, which is very impressive for his size.
As a college basketball player, Harris most likely has strong athleticism marks *for his size* in other areas as well, particularly vertical jump and agility, though he did not attend the NFL Combine for obvious reasons, nor did his school have an NFL Pro Day, since they don’t even have a football team. Harris is 27 years old, so he is in the prime of his career, and with great speed and *likely* strong athleticism across the board, Harris could make a splash on a TE-needy team. If he gets the opportunity, Harris’ size and athleticism open the door for lots of fantasy potential.
Efficiency metrics courtesy of Player Profiler.