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2024 NFL Free Agency Primer: Wide Receivers (Fantasy Football)

2024 NFL Free Agency Primer: Wide Receivers (Fantasy Football)

After hitting on QBs and RBs already, let’s shift our focus to wide receivers in the 2024 NFL Free Agency Primer for Fantasy Football. Just as with the other positions, free agency significantly impacts team dynamics and shapes the landscape for Super Bowl contenders. Free agency also plays a critical role in how teams approach the 2024 NFL Draft.

Below, I’ll highlight the most noteworthy impending free-agent wide receivers and provide insights for fantasy players in redraft leagues, best ball leagues, and dynasty leagues. And although they are not free agents, the players listed at the very bottom could become salary-cut casualties/trade candidates during the 2024 offseason, thus joining the discussion.

2024 NFL Draft Guide

2024 NFL Wide Receiver Free Agency Primer

Tee Higgins

The top of the 2024 WR free agent class is headlined by Tee Higgins, but he may not even hit the open market. The latest reports from the Athletic are that Higgins will be placed on the franchise tag, making him a Bengal for at least one more season. Higgins has officially gotten the tag from the Bengals, but a tag-and-trade scenario cannot be completely ruled out.

Higgins recorded 42 receptions from 76 targets, covering 656 yards with a notable average of 15.6 yards per reception. Demonstrating his big-play ability, Higgins had 14 receptions of 20+ yards to go along with a team-high 37% air yards share (17th) on just an 18% target share in 2023. He scored 5 touchdowns. Playing in 12 games, Higgins accumulated 116.6 fantasy points, averaging 9.7 points per game (WR40).

But he dealt with injuries throughout the season and failed to finish as a fantasy WR2 for the first time in the last three seasons. A down year might have hurt his market and potential chance at a lucrative long-term contract on the open market.

Regardless, 2023 stands out as a complete outlier for the 25-year-old WR. The command of air yards shows that Higgins is still a dominant downfield receiver, as are the 4 games where he scored 20-plus fantasy points.

Higgins also flashed efficient yards after the catch ability, finishing with his best YAC/reception mark (5.6) to date, despite a career-high aDOT. Look for him to be back in the WR2 conversation should he sign his franchise tag tenure to remain a Bengal.

The other spots that make sense for Higgins if he does not sign the tag – or he is tagged and traded – include Carolina, Jacksonville and Tennessee. His betting odds are -500 to be Bengal next season, per DraftKings Sportsbook. These early odds have since been removed from the sportsbooks.

Mike Evans

Mike Evans ranked as the WR4 in 2023, averaging 14.4 points per game as the WR8. He caught 76 passes for over 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Evans saw over 2,200 air yards (No. 1 among all players) through the season’s entirety commanding a 25% air yards share and a whopping 41% air yards share (8th).

He will be an FA in 2024, with potential landing spots, including back in Tampa Bay or in Carolina with some of his former coaching staff.

Even at age 30, Evans showed zero signs of slowing down in the post-Tom Brady area. Goes to show that if you see enough air yards, there’s enough of a reason to believe production will follow. Brady must have left him the fountain of youth… considering Evans posted the best YAC/reception EVER in his career in 2023.

Evans’ second-shortest odds are listed at him to be a Texan (+320), followed by the Chiefs (+450) and Panthers (+1500).

Michael Pittman Jr.

Michael Pittman Jr. proved his alpha status all year long in the Colts offense with 109 receptions (7th) on 156 targets, accumulating over 1,100 yards. Like his teammate Josh Downs, he had bad TD production with only four TDs. Even so, in 16 games, he racked up nearly 200 fantasy points (WR15 overall), which averages out to 12.2 points per game as the WR19.

Pittman commanded nearly 1300 air yards (33% air yards share), with a 30% target share to boot, the 4th-highest among all WRs. Pittman comes with a super-high floor that could be further unlocked with better TD variance in 2024 should Anthony Richardson take this offense a step further in Year 2. Pittman had the red-zone targets with fewer red-zone TDs scored among all WRs last season.

I expect Pittman to re-sign with the Colts, given their 5th-available salary cap space.

Calvin Ridley

Ridley’s 2023 season deserves a deep dive. It’s as bizarre as they come.

Ridley secured a pivotal role in the Jaguars’ offense, catching 76 passes on 136 targets for 1,016 yards, averaging 13.4 yards per reception. Nearly 1,800 air yards on a 22.5% target share and 36% air yards share. He scored 8 touchdowns, highlighting his red-zone effectiveness (3rd in red-zone targets).

Across 17 games, he totaled 191.9 fantasy points, averaging 11.3 points per game, making him a solid WR2 in fantasy formats. WR17 overall but WR26 in points per game.

But anybody who rostered Ridley knew this was a roller coaster season for a player who had missed so much time before this year. He and Trevor Lawrence were constantly not on the same page. Especially in high-leverage situations.

Ridley led the entire NFL in end zone targets (24). He was the WR10 in expected fantasy points per game. But he never fully took advantage of his elite opportunities to churn out a fantasy WR1 season, even though it was there for the taking.

When he and Christian Kirk were both healthy Weeks 1-12, Kirk was the target leader (21% vs 20%), while Ridley was the primary downfield threat. However, his fantasy points per game were the same at 11.3 versus Kirk’s 11-point average.

There’s no doubt that rhetoric around Ridley will be negative heading into 2024 after the human hype piece failed to deliver. But the only reason Ridley “busted” was because he was getting impossible expectations placed on him for a player who hadn’t played since 2021. He showed enough “good” in my estimate to acknowledge that the talent is still there and that we, as a drafting community, may have just been a year too early on Ridley. He won’t turn 30 until late December. I’d buy the dip. Assuming he returns to the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent.

If the Jaguars re-sign Ridley, the 2024 3rd-rounder they sent to Atlanta will escalate to a second-round pick in this year’s draft.

His QB and GM have been vocal about ‘wanting’ to keep Ridley in the building. Given the gambling suspension and inconsistent play in 2023, hard to imagine Ridley getting any better deals – especially long-term – from an outside party. Think he knows he still has a lot to prove.

Marquise Brown

The 2024 free agent had a year to forget in 2023.

He struggled with bad Cardinals quarterback play before Kyler Murray returned to the starting lineup as the WR21 overall and as the WR34 in points per game (10.2). But after Murray returned, the Cardinals WR still didn’t produce. 5.8 points per game in three full, healthy games before ultimately missing the remainder of the season due to injuries.

Overall, Brown hauled in 51 receptions on 101 targets, accumulating 574 yards at an average of 11.3 yards per catch. He found the end zone four times during the season.

He scored 109.2 points over the season, averaging 7.8 points per game (53rd) in 13 games played. The lack of production was shocking, considering Brown posted nearly 1,200 air yards, a 25% target share, and 39% air yards share with the 16th-highest weighted opportunity rating.

After flaming out with his old college QB, it will be interesting to see how the market feels about Brown, especially with injuries riddling his production the last two seasons.

If Tampa Bay loses Mike Evans, Brown reuniting with Baker Mayfield (former Sooner teammates back in 2017) makes sense. KC loves speed WRs, so Brown could also be a fit there.

The Chargers also desperately need speed at WR, and Brown has ties to the new OC in Los Angeles, Greg Roman, from their time spent in Baltimore.

Gabe Davis

Gabriel Davis did not play in the final two games of the Bills’ season. The 2024 free agent will hit the open market in a relatively weak WR free agent class, which will likely create the demand for the extremely boom-or-bust WR. He finished the season as the WR40 in total points, averaging 8.2 points per game as the WR50. Davis posted 5 games with 20-plus fantasy points in 2023 to go along with 7 TDs and 1,200 air yards (30th), but he also went completely catch less in four of his last 8 games played. Even if he goes to a new team where he can improve on his 2023 15% target share (85th), Davis’ body of work as a boom-or-bust player will be hard to knock. One could argue that with a step back in potential QB play, his spiked weeks might also not be nearly as big, even if he is slightly more consistent on a week-to-week basis.

The Giants are a logical landing spot -given their need for WR and his relationship with former Bills coaches there – as is Cleveland. Ken Dorsey is the new OC for the Browns and oversaw Davis’ entire career in Buffalo.

The Jaguars might be the most logical landing spot if they don’t retain Calvin Ridley. Their WR coach, Chad Hall, was with Buffalo as their WRs coach during Davis’ first three seasons in the NFL.

Darnell Mooney

Mooney is coming off a horrible and injury-plagued season, but I can’t help but think he is going to be a STEAL in a very bad WR free agent class on a new team. The Bears drafted Tyler Scott in the 2023 draft to be Mooney’s replacement in 2024. Mooney finished the season 10th in yards after the catch per reception (6.0) despite entering the year coming off a late November broken ankle injury.

Don’t rule out Mooney landing in KC as a potential destination.

Matt Nagy was head coach of the Bears from 2018-2021. He coached Mooney during his stint with Chicago in Mooney’s first two seasons after drafting him in the 5th round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

Mooney shined his brightest from 2021-2022 in the NFL with a 27% target share. He has shown the ability to command targets at a high level, and the 26-year-old can surely make some noise should he land on a relatively weak WR depth chart.

I say that because the Titans could be another prime spot for Mooney to land after they hired former Bears WR coach Tyke Tolbert as their new WR coach for 2024 under new head coach Brian Callahan.

2024 Dynasty Fantasy Football Guide

Curtis Samuel

Curtis Samuel finished the 2023 season as the WR44 overall, averaging 7.9 fantasy points per game as the WR52 in points per game (7.9). Par for the course when it comes to Samuel, who always seems to string together consecutive weeks of production before seeing his numbers drop off because of injury.

His receiving numbers were nearly identical to his 2020 campaign, albeit he was more efficient as the Commanders’ primary slot WR. Unfortunately, he was barely used as a rusher, with only seven carries compared to 38 in 2022. Entering his age 28 season, Samuel has never finished higher than WR25 at any point during his career, regulating him to WR4 fantasy status regardless of any new landing spot. He will have his fair share of productive weeks but nothing to move the needle as a fantasy game-changer.

Potential landing spots for Samuel include Las Vegas (reunite with Scott Turner), Buffalo (reunite with Joe Brady), Cleveland (reunite with Ken Dorsey) and Detroit (reunite with Jim Hostler, a former Panthers WR coach and senior offensive assistant for the Commanders).

I think the Lions’ landing spot makes a lot of sense, given the lack of reliable WR depth the team has behind Amon-Ra St. Brown.

The Bears and Dolphins also make some sense as well.

Odell Beckham Jr.

The Cowboys, Bills and Jets were heavily rumored to have Odell Beckham Jr. on their radar last season before he ultimately signed a deal with the Ravens.

Based on how each of the team’s WR rooms played out behind their respective alphas, makes sense they would be in the market to add another dynamic pass-catcher.

Beckham just turned 31 years old and did not live up to his contract expectations as a Raven in 2023. WR63 overall, averaging 6.4 fantasy points per game (WR67).

However, he still had his moments averaging 1.8 yards per route run – identical to his averages during his time spent in Cleveland from 2019-2020.

Top-30 WR in PFF receiving grade with a top-3 ADOT among WRs as a primary deep threat in the Ravens’ offense.

And once OBJ got his sea legs under him – after Week 8 – he started to show out more and more. 18th in yards per route run (2.3). He’s not completely washed and still can provide some fantasy juice in a favorable offensive environment.

Tyler Boyd

Both the Titans and the Eagles could use Tyler Boyd as a depth target in the slot. Akin to what we have seen from Robert Woods as an older veteran. That’s not a ringing endorsement for fantasy football, but Boyd is only 29 years old (30 in November).

Boyd had 67 receptions on 98 targets in 2023, totaling 667 receiving yards at an average of 10 yards per catch, with a long catch of 64 yards. Boyd found the end zone twice. Over 17 games, Boyd earned 112.3 fantasy points, averaging 6.6 points per game as the WR64 in points per game.

He will be a nice real-life depth piece for a new team in 2024 and possibly provide some early in-season production as he turns 30 years old. Wouldn’t be awful to see him land in Tennessee as a solid check-down option for Will Levis.

Targets will be easier to come by for Boyd when he is not fending off the likes of Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins in the starting lineup. Boyd has not finished worse than WR50 since 2018, with 5 top-36 finishes.

D.J. Chark Jr.

The 27-year-old is hitting free agency (again) after playing an ancillary role with the Panthers in 2023.

Chark caught a long pass that was initially ruled a TD in Week 18, but it was overturned to a fumble through the end zone. Woof. He is a free agent in 2024 and will likely land on a new team as a complimentary deep threat who misses games with injuries.

Chark was the WR58 overall in 2023, averaging 6.5 points per game (65th). He led the Panthers in TDs (5) and posted over 1,000 air yards on a team-high 31% air yards share (33rd). No player had more air yards with fewer targets (66) than Chark despite two missed games.

Better in best ball? You better believe it.

Honorable Mentions (Age)

Potential Salary Cut Candidates

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