Dynasty Sells Post Free Agency (2021 Fantasy Football)
It’s a common rule of thumb in the financial sector that you should look to buy a stock when it’s low and sell while it’s high. Many dynasty managers use that adage as a blueprint for how to manage their dynasty rosters during the offseason. However, sometimes it makes sense to sell a player while his value is low before it bottoms out. Conversely, it may also be in your best interests to buy a player whose value has risen if there is still a chance to acquire him before that value peaks.
If you believe in the Wall Street approach, then you might find some of the players listed on my Post-Free Agency Dynasty Buy column to be players you are looking to sell instead in an effort to capitalize on their rise in perceived value. A more balanced approach based on individual team needs and roster construction, one in which you acquire some players whose stock has fallen and others who have seen a bump in value, is what I typically advocate. The process for buying and selling players in dynasty should never be binary. Some of the players I will list here are young, high-quality dynasty assets with ascending value that can fetch a far greater profit than what was originally paid. Others have significant red flags that portend to their value seeing a precipitous drop in the near future.
With that, here are some players I would be looking to sell in dynasty leagues now that free agency is mostly over.
Cam Newton (QB – NE)
Cam Newton appeared cooked in 2020. Watching the Patriots’ offense felt like torture as Newton struggled to hit even short outs, the ball bouncing off the grass as injuries seemed to ravage his arm strength. Nonetheless, the team invested heavily in free agency in an effort to remedy its offensive woes, and New England surprisingly resigned Cam Newton for 2021. Last year taught us that Cam is no longer capable of supporting an offense on his own. Newton’s 12 rushing TDs were the most he’s had since 2015 and the second-highest of his career, and his 592 yards on the ground were the second-most he’s produced since 2015 as well. However, his 2.2 TD% and 177.1 Yds/G were both career lows. Newton threw for a paltry 2,657 yards with just eight passing TDs on a career-low 242 attempts, and the rushing numbers were the only thing keeping him from being waiver-wire fodder in virtually every league format.
Many will blame Newton’s lack of production through the air on a pitiful supporting cast. While that certainly didn’t help, most of New England’s free-agent additions, especially the multi-year deals to tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, seem to signal the team is setting up its roster to support a rookie quarterback rather than resurrect Newton’s career. More likely, Newton will serve as a veteran placeholder in 2021. The time to sell might be now while he still has a starting job.
Kyler Murray (QB – ARI)
The Arizona Cardinals wisely went big this offseason an effort to win now while their franchise QB plays on his rookie deal, loading up on defense in free agency, adding A.J. Green to play the “Z” receiver across from DeAndre Hopkins, and solidifying the OL by trading for C Rodney Hudson. However, Murray’s smaller stature (5’10”, 207 lbs) still makes him a risk at the position, and his exceptional rushing stats continue to be what bolsters his fantasy value (819 yards, 11 TDs in 2020). Murray has thrown the ball more than 500 times in both of the last two seasons, but he still has yet to eclipse more than 26 touchdowns or 4,000 yards through the air. Consider that Russell Wilson, a player Murray is often compared to in both fantasy and real-life, threw 40 TDs last year.
Murray will undoubtedly play at a high level in 2021, and he should still absolutely produce QB1 numbers. However, if you have quarterback depth, selling Murray now might fetch you enough pieces and/or draft picks to completely transform your dynasty roster. Lamar Jackson was viewed as a too-2 dynasty quarterback heading into 2020, but his limitations as a passer saw his stock drop despite rushing for over 1,000 yards and seven TDs again. Murray is a better thrower of the football than Jackson, but any injury that hampers his rushing ability could severely impact his production on the field.
Chase Edmonds (RB -ARI)
The Cardinals let Kenyan Drake sign with the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason, and the team has publicly said they’re comfortable moving forward with Chase Edmonds as their lead back in 2021. Edmonds has flashed in limited action, but the fact remains that his size (5’9″, 210 lbs) still makes him ideally suited as a committee back or passing-down specialist. He’s not a three-down back, and his team knows it. The team could easily add a rusher in the draft on Day 1 or 2. In fact, most draftniks expect the team to do exactly that if they want to make a Super Bowl run this year.
Steve Keim: Chase Edmonds has shown ability, we'll continue monitoring running backs. https://t.co/6Kf4Ubk4uu
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) March 23, 2021
Edmonds has produced enough in a limited sample size that somebody in your league probably believes he will run with the job in 2021 and thrive as a three-down back. I think he’s a perfect Zero RB target, but his value will drop precipitously the moment Arizona brings in another back to challenge him. Selling now while his value is high makes the most sense right now unless your dynasty roster is starved for running back depth. Even then, you may be able to flip Edmonds for two committee backs who could each end up producing as many fantasy points as he does in 2021.
David Montgomery (RB – CHI)
David Montgomery turned in arguably the greatest return on investment of any running back drafted last year in redraft, save perhaps for James Robinson who was largely a waiver wire addition in most leagues. For dynasty purposes, 2020 might go down as Montgomery’s best career season. His 1,070 yards on 247 carries do not scream elite (4.3 YPC), but his 438 yards on 54 catches made Montgomery one of the few every-down bell cows in football last year. There’s probably no chance that happens if Tarik Cohen in Week 3, as Cohen had already racked up nine targets through two and a half games. Had Cohen not injured himself, Montgomery likely finishes with somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 total yards, not 1,500, placing him somewhere in the low-end RB2 territory that most expected him to finish.
The Bears paid Andy Dalton to be their QB this season. He’s not the player he once was, but he certainly represents an upgrade over Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky. The team also signed Damien Williams, adding another capable pass-catcher along with Cohen to the running back room. Thus, it’s hard to see the team leaning on Montgomery to move the chains quite as much as they did last season. Montgomery deserves credit for turning his volume into production, but this might be the last time he’s valued as an RB1 by anyone in the dynasty community again.
Josh Jacobs (RB – LVR) and Kenyan Drake (RB – LVR)
Unlike a move to sell Edmonds while his value is high, selling Jacobs now might net you a return that is greater than if you waited and his value drops even lower. The Raiders surprised everyone when they signed Kenyan Drake this offseason. While many expected the team might add some running back depth, nobody expected them to sign a player of Drake’s caliber, especially for the money they did.
Last season, among RBs with 100+ touches, Josh Jacobs ranked 46th in fantasy points per touch. The 3 names right ahead of him? Devontae Booker, Brian Hill, Kalen Ballage. Jacobs is volume & TD dependent. This is an absolute killer for his FF value. 11 mil guaranteed is telling. https://t.co/sDcAS4bD8u
— Matthew Berry (@MatthewBerryTMR) March 18, 2021
Jacobs managers and truthers can still hang their hat on Drake’s comments that HC Jon Gruden will use him more as a joker in the offense, deploying him “in a multitude of ways as a receiver,” thus keeping Jacobs fresh and more efficient. This would seem to suggest that Jacobs’ role as the lead ball carrier is safe, and while that may be true, it’s very likely the two will split time, and that would be damaging for the value of a volume-dependent runner like Jacobs.
As a rusher, I think Jacobs has talent, but it’s hard to see how either of these backs have a path to RB1 numbers moving forward, with each cannibalizing the production of the other. If you have Jacobs, your best bet might be to hold for now, but selling him is also prudent if the return is a young receiver with upside or valuable draft capital in what looks like a loaded class.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR – PIT)
JuJu Smith-Schuster proved last season that he cannot thrive as a perimeter alpha on the outside. After finishing with 1,426 yards on 111 catches opposite Antonio Brown in 2018, JuJu struggled mightily to lead the way on his own in 2019, and he only finished with 831 yards in the same number of games in 2020. His Y/Tgt dropped to a career-low 6.5 last season, and most of his fantasy production came on his nine TDs, which led all slot receivers in football last year.
JuJu Smith-Schuster ran the shortest routes of any WR last season (min. 300 routes), with an average route depth of 8.3 yards.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) March 19, 2021
With such a low aDOT (average depth of target), dynasty managers will be hoping aging Ben Roethlisberger continues to target Smith-Schuster close to the line of scrimmage because he won’t be winning on the outside with Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool starting on the perimeter. Pittsburgh’s young receivers both figure to take steps forward next year, and JuJu’s value will most likely be tied to touchdowns again. The lack of a market for his services that led to resigning with Pittsburgh should serve as yet another warning sign. Now is the time to move him if the return is right.
Tee Higgins (WR – CIN)
Stick with me here. Not every dynasty “sell” needs to be a player with declining value. Higgins was a late first, early second-round pick in most rookie drafts last year, mostly due to his lack of elite athleticism and speed and questions about his ability to separate at the next level. For many skeptics, he profiled as a bigger-bodied, jump ball artist similar to Mike Williams, a player with whom Higgins shares nearly identical athletic metrics.
Williams isn’t that dynamic, and he does not create enough separation to fit with any quarterback, needing an aggressive passer who will feed him the ball in contested situations. However, Higgins demonstrated last year that he could win with technique, physicality, and length, en route to breaking Cris Collinsworth’s franchise rookie record for receiving. He’s a more complete receiver than Williams.
So, why would anyone sell Higgins now? Sometimes, the best time to sell is if we’re already looking at peak value. Despite having Higgins and Tyler Boyd, the Bengals still offered Kenny Golladay a competitive one-year offer, and many mocks have the team potentially taking star quarterback Joe Burrow‘s former college teammate, Ja’Marr Chase, or Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, in the first round. After losing Burrow to a devastating injury in 2020, it’s borderline lunacy for Cincinnati not to draft OT Penei Sewell to protect their franchise QB, yet we cannot assume they will do this. With Burrow injured, Higgins saw an ungodly 34.3% target share from backup QB Ryan Finley. If Cincinnati adds an elite pass-catcher like Chase or Pitts to the fold, it’s hard to see Higgins still average eight targets per game like he did over his final eight games of 2020. Moreover, all but two of those games were without Burrow under center.
I’ve seen some dynasty managers actually comparing Higgins to D.K. Metcalf as a player who will be worth twice as much a year from now. Higgins is nowhere close to Metcalf in terms of athleticism, talent, speed, or size (Metcalf outweighs him by roughly 15 lbs). I like Higgins; he’s talented. But if someone is that high on Higgins in your league, sell him now while his value may be at its highest.
Justin Jefferson (WR – MIN)
Again, hear me out on this. How certain can we be that Justin Jefferson will repeat his historic debut? The Vikings will remain a team committed to the run under HC Mike Zimmer, and Dalvin Cook is still going to eat. Furthermore, 2021 may be Kirk Cousins’ last year in Minnesota when you consider he will count as $41 million against the salary cap the next year. If the Vikings do not advance far into the playoffs this year, would it surprise anyone if the team cut Cousins to shed his cap hit? Next, consider how quickly wideouts like D.J. Moore, Chris Godwin, and JuJu Smith-Schuster went from being touted as THE future WR1 in dynasty to losing significant chunks of value when the team context around them changed.
Like with Higgins, this is less about Jefferson being able to continue producing at a high level and more about questioning whether we’ve already witnessed him achieve peak value given his age and historic output in his first season as a pro. If you can flip a dollar for a dollar-fifty, or even two, isn’t that something worth heavy consideration? A shrewd dynasty manager would say yes. In a recent trade negotiation involving Jefferson, his manager wanted me to send an early first-rounder, plus an additional first-rounder, both in this upcoming draft, and Brandon Aiyuk in return. Jefferson averaged 16.9 PPR fantasy points per game as a rookie. Aiyuk averaged 15.4.
Since Week 3,
Justin Jefferson: 19th in XFP (13.8), 7th in FPG (18.5)
Brandon Aiyuk: 8th in XFP (16.0), 12th in FPG (17.1)
Since Week 7,
Justin Jefferson: 18th in XFP (14.4), 14th in FPG (16.5)
Brandon Aiyuk: 3rd in XFP (19.6), 3rd in FPG (20.5)
*Week 15 excluded
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) December 20, 2020
There was no chance I was going to pay that price, but if someone actually gives you two first-rounders (or even one) in this draft plus a receiver like Aiyuk, you can make a healthy profit.
Sterling Shepard (WR – NYG) and Darius Slayton (WR – NYG)
The aforementioned Kenny Golladay eschewed the Bengals’ one-year offer in favor of a multi-year deal with the New York Giants. His addition will force Sterline Shepard and Darius Slayton into complementary roles. Neither receiver was anything more than a WR3 before Golladay’s arrival, so they’re little more than bench depth, or best ball dart throws at this point. Saquon Barkley’s return, Kyle Rudolph joining Evan Engram in the red zone, and Golladay will almost certainly kill both receivers’ target share next season. Shepard always had believers in PPR leagues, and Slayton had many fantasy managers hoping he’d emerge as a weekly WR2 last year. If you can get a third-round rookie pick for either, doing so now and rolling the dice again on a strong WR class is a wise move.
Denzel Mims (WR – NYJ) and Corey Davis (WR – NYJ)
The Jets will probably take Zach Wilson with the second overall pick this April, but new OC Mike LaFleur figures to run a similar run-first scheme as Kyle Shanahan, and new HC Robert Saleh is a defensive-mind. It’s no surprise that Corey Davis’ best season happened last year with A.J. Brown emerging as the Titans’ WR1, drawing the attention of the defense’s best cover corner and safety help. Davis has more truthers than most wide receivers who never broke out or broke out very late, given his stellar prospect pedigree coming out of college. Those same believers likely will not accept the context that led to his breakout in 2020. Use that to your advantage and sell him now to anyone who thinks he will post WR1 numbers in New York with Wilson under center.
As for Denzel Mims, the Jets added veterans in Davis and Keelan Cole, and unlike the many rookie wideouts who thrived last year, Mims mustered just 357 yards on 23 catches his first year in the league. Then there is this: Since 2009, there have been 154 Senior Bowl WR invites, but in total, that group has produced just eight top-24 fantasy seasons. Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool was the only senior receiver to do so from last year’s vaunted class that was elevated by a slew of early declares, and Claypool converted to WR from tight end.
Hunter Henry (TE – NE)
Speaking of tight ends, many were hoping this tight end free-agent class, highlighted by Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, would see both pass-catchers land in favorable spots. That seemed to be the case when Jonnu Smith signed with New England and rumors circulated Los Angeles may keep Henry with Justin Herbert. However, most of Hunter Henry’s upside (and likely Smith’s as well) was dashed when he signed with New England as well. While we can’t blame either player for taking the money the Patriots offered them, it’s hard to see Henry demanding the same amount of targets on a run-first team that has Smith on the field at the same time. Smith is the more athletic and younger of the two, and he signed the bigger deal. He might be the better bet to lead the pair in yards, while Henry figures to catch more balls in a move-the-chains role. They’ll probably eat into each other’s red zone target share.
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