Dynasty Risers & Fallers in Free Agency (2022 Fantasy Football)
We are just barely into the new NFL league year, and it’s already been a wild ride. We’ve had big trades, an unretirement, some very surprising free agency signings, hurt feelings, burned bridges, and there’s undoubtedly more to come. Aside from the television-esque drama, as dynasty-format fantasy football managers, these moves affect our rosters and call us to action. Some players are improving their situation, some are downgrading, and the verdict is still out for some. Figuring out what all these moves mean for your rosters is key to having a successful campaign in 2022.
Ever since the Chicago Bears traded up to the second overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft to select quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, he’s been one of the more polarizing players in the league. Some people love him and think he didn’t get a fair shake in head coach Matt Nagy’s offense. On the other hand, some are in the camp that believes that what we saw in his days with the Bears is his ceiling in the NFL. You have to agree that Trubisky getting a new start in a talented Pittsburgh offense is an intriguing development no matter what side you’re on.
Trubisky’s rookie campaign was lackluster. He finished the season as the overall QB31 in 12 starts and had as many touchdowns (seven) as interceptions. However, 2018 saw him have a promising breakout. Behind an improved offense that included a productive Tarik Cohen, newly acquired wide receiver Allen Robinson, and tight end Trey Burton, Trubisky finished the season as the overall QB15. He increased his efficiency in the passing game, but he also showed the world that he was a capable running quarterback, turning 68 carries into 421 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Unfortunately, due to injuries and an inability to replicate the efficiency he showed in 2018, Trubisky could not repeat that performance in Chicago and found himself the back-up to Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen in 2021.
Fortunately for him, 2022 is a new year, and a new chance to prove his worth as a starter in the NFL, and Pittsburgh is the perfect situation for him to show what he can do. For the first time in his career, he is with a stable, mostly well-run organization. The level of talent surrounding him is unlike anything he ever had in Chicago. With a solid run game behind Najee Harris, he should have more time in the pocket to find Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and Pat Freiermuth. It’s not out of the question that Mitchell Trubisky could have a solid QB1 level season with the Steelers.
After a flood of signings to start free agency, including Allen Robinson to the Los Angeles Chargers and JuJu Smith-Schuster to Kansas City, it’s surprising to see Jarvis Landry floating around on the market, unsigned. I understand 2021 wasn’t his best season. Instead, it was statistically his career-worst campaign. Due to injury and general ineptitude in Cleveland, Landry saw career lows in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. Fortunately, after four seasons with the Browns organization, he is moving on to hopefully greener pastures.
Regardless of what you think Landry’s career arc will be, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks 2022 will be as big of a disappointment. Since entering the league in 2014, he has been a wide receiver with three PPR WR1 finishes, two PPR WR2 finishes, and only one season outside of WR3 territory (2021). While we don’t know where he will land, it’s fair to assume he will be given, at worst, WR2 volume on any team he signs with. Should he stay healthy, it’s not crazy to think we could see a solid mid-WR2 season from Landry this upcoming season.
The best part about his situation is the cost to acquire him in dynasty. The uncertainty has driven his acquisition price well below his actual value. That will likely change once he signs and the season gets closer, so the time to kick the tires on getting him rostered is now. The chances are good that a 2022 late second-round rookie pick will suffice. If you would prefer to hold your picks, try dangling a veteran player with less upside, such as Russell Gage, Curtis Samuel, or Myles Gaskin. One of those vets could also get you a late-round 2022 rookie pick back to further bolster your squad.
To say Rashaad Penny has been a disappointment in his first four seasons would be an understatement. Expectations were high when he made his debut in 2018, yet Penny has never managed to finish higher than overall PPR RB58 heading into 2021. As the season began, we were in for more of the same, with Penny missing seven of the Seahawks’ first 11 games and being a non-factor in the four games he was active. However, week 13 saw Penny activated from IR (Injured Reserve), and Week 14 saw the breakout we had all been waiting for, in which he turned 16 carries and one target into 138 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. In an impressive turn, Penny finished the season as the overall RB1 from Week 13 on.
Having finally seen what Penny can do when given the lion’s share of carries, the idea of him signing somewhere that would make him a feature back had many dynasty managers salivating. Could we finally get the elite running back we all knew he could be? Unfortunately, unless Seattle trades away Chris Carson or injuries yet again plague their backfield, it appears Penny will again be splitting carries in 2022. As of now, it seems Carson will be ready to start the season after having neck surgery. If he is healthy and ready to go, he will likely get the majority of carries. Should Seattle decide to ride with Drew Lock at quarterback, Penny could have some value as an RB3/Flex in a run-heavy offense, but his ceiling is limited as long as he’s in Seattle.
In an offseason where nothing seems to make sense, add the Cleveland Browns’ surprising release of Austin Hooper to the list. Most analysts, myself included, assumed the Browns would let tight end David Njoku move on in free agency, handing the reigns in Cleveland to Hooper and third-year tight end Harrison Bryant. Given that he managed an overall PPR TE24 season splitting time with Njoku and Bryant, hopes were high. It seemed plausible that he could return to his 2018-19 production in Atlanta that saw him as the overall PPR TE6 in consecutive seasons.
The reality of what happened has far less exciting fantasy implications moving forward. The Browns gave Njoku the franchise tag and released Hooper, who has since signed with the Tennessee Titans. The Browns have since acquired quarterback Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans and added wide receiver Amari Cooper in a trade with the Dallas Cowboys. Cleveland is rising, and Hopper is on the outside looking in. He went from a potential boom situation to an offense in Tennessee that only gave tight ends a 20.7 percent target share in 2021, down from almost 30 percent in 2020. In contrast, the Browns have consistently targeted tight ends right around 30 percent of the time in the last two seasons.
Tennessee may very well go back to a higher tight end target share in 2022 with the addition of Hooper, but I wouldn’t bank on it. The move away from tight end usage started in the back half of 2020, as anyone who had Jonnu Smith rostered will attest to. The team also re-signed veteran tight end Geoff Swaim and traded for wide receiver Robert Woods. Swaim, who saw a decent amount of red zone targets, will get significant snaps due to his exceptional blocking skills. While Woods is unlikely to start the season on the active roster, he also figures to make a significant impact in the offense once healthy. So will there be much left in the way of targets for Hooper in Tennessee? That remains to be seen, but it seems like a risky bet at this point.
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