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Top 10 Most Important Players of the Offseason (2024 Fantasy Football)

Top 10 Most Important Players of the Offseason (2024 Fantasy Football)

It always astounds me how quickly the NFL cycle moves from the conclusion of the season into the offseason. The NFL Combine is less than a week away, which means free agency is right around the corner, followed by non-stop draft speculation leading into the draft itself.

But while the key dates and events of the NFL offseason remain the same, the cast is always changing. And this year’s cast of characters could make for an awfully dramatic offseason. Here are the 10 most important players to keep an eye on during the offseason for fantasy football purposes.

Top 10 Most Important Offseason Players for Fantasy Football

10. Kirk Cousins (QB – MIN)

I’m pretty intrigued to see where Kirk Cousins lands this offseason. The most likely scenario is a short-term contract with the Vikings, especially after he torn his Achilles last season. But reports are the Vikings won’t give Cousins a fully-guaranteed deal, which opens up the possibility of him leaving Minnesota.

The problem is some of the most QB-needy teams are already expected to find their quarterback of the future via the draft. But we could see teams like Atlanta or Denver pursue Cousins as a stop-gap option. And you could argue both teams are a competent QB away from being playoff contenders. Cousins remains a likely low-end QB1 wherever he winds up, assuming his recovery goes as planned.

9. Calvin Ridley (WR – JAX)

I considered Michael Pittman for this list but anticipate he’ll re-sign with Indianapolis. That makes Ridley one of the more intriguing wide receivers who could hit the open market. Ridley’s return season was a truly a mixed bag as his brilliant moments were often outweighed by disappearing acts and dropped passes. Plus, Ridley is already 29 years old, although he most likely doesn’t have the mileage of a typical receiver entering his 30s. The Jaguars will likely re-sign Ridley, as they’d be rather thin on the outside without him. But either way, Ridley is probably an untrustworthy, boom-or-bust WR2.

8. Derrick Henry (RB – TEN)

Derrick Henry’s incredible Titans career is most likely over and it’ll be interesting to see what his market looks like. Those bullish on Henry could argue he’s the perfect power running back for a contender seeking one more impact player. Those bearish would argue Henry’s best days are behind him now and the mileage he’s put on his tires at just 30 years old will eventually come back to bite him and the team who signs him. However, Henry has defied the injury odds to this point. If he lands somewhere with an established quarterback and offensive line, his fantasy value could still be relatively high.

7. Austin Ekeler (RB – LAC)

A lot went wrong for Austin Ekeler last season. The Chargers’ offensive line hardly gave him any room to run. But it also looked like Ekeler had potentially lost a step in what was another injury-impacted season. The question heading into this offseason is whether the Chargers, or another suitor, still view Ekeler as a three-down back, or as more of a weapon in the passing game. Ekeler’s only 28 but it feels like the peak of his fantasy powers might be behind him. He almost certainly won’t be getting drafted in the first round of fantasy drafts unless his landing spot shows a massive commitment to featuring him.

6. Tony Pollard (RB – DAL)

Tony Pollard might’ve been the most disappointing player in fantasy relative to the hype he was garnering in the summer. His first year as Dallas’ featured back was a bit of a bust, as his efficiency and big-play ability both regressed. Pollard still finished the year as the RB15 in half-PPR formats but anyone who had him knows the ride wasn’t pretty. After playing the 2023 season on the franchise tag, it’ll be interesting to see what Dallas does with Pollard this offseason. But he likely won’t be more than an RB2 in drafts, regardless of where he winds up.

5. Josh Jacobs (RB – LV)

Not many running backs have been as productive when healthy as Josh Jacobs over the last couple of seasons. But injuries cost Jacobs four games in 2023 and the Raiders appear ready to move on. Jacobs is only 26 years old, although he’s only managed to play one full season in five professional campaigns. The market for Jacobs will be fascinating. He’s easily the No. 2 free agent RB next to someone we’ll get to a bit later. But how much does the league value a productive RB in his mid-20s? My expectation is Jacobs will be more coveted on the open market than the running backs listed before him. That still could only mean a three-year deal with little guaranteed money. Depending on situation, view Jacobs as a mid-second round pick in fantasy leagues.

4. Mike Evans (WR – TB)

The run on running backs stops momentarily with Mike Evans. Many matchmakers are already linking Evans to the Kansas City Chiefs, which would be an incredible landing spot. But I’d have to guess that any team interested in Evans likely has an established quarterback and are looking to make a Super Bowl run. The point is, Evans should land somewhere appealing. Any team that gets him will get an aging but still wildly productive receiver with big-play and red-zone ability. Evans is practically a lock for double-digit touchdowns when he’s healthy. He just put up 1,255 yards and 13 touchdowns with Baker Mayfield throwing him the ball. Evans wound up being a steal in drafts last season because of the negative sentiment surrounding the Buccaneers’ offense. This year, Evans could actually be overvalued if he lands with a team like Kansas City.

3. Tee Higgins (WR – CIN)

Tee Higgins is a fascinating case. Maybe that fascination has him too high on this board. But I’m really curious to see where Higgins lands this offseason. The talent is evident. The production has been there. But Higgins couldn’t have entered free agency with less momentum. Injuries to himself and Joe Burrow resulted in a stat line of 42-656-5. The prevailing question with Higgins is whether he’s a true WR1 if he’s taken out of the Cincinnati Bengals ecosystem, where he clearly benefitted from having Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase by his side. Barring a re-signing, Higgins’ situation will likely worsen on his new team. Again, it’s a fascinating situation. The Bengals are probably better off with him but probably won’t pay Higgins what he wants. Yet, I’m not sure Higgins will thrive somewhere else on his own. Higgins’ fantasy value is incredibly volatile at the moment.

2. Saquon Barkley (RB – NYG)

Saquon Barkley is the king of making lemonade out of lemons. He missed three games, but avoided a major injury. He overcame miserable quarterback play and a hapless offensive line. Yet, he still managed to put up more than 1,100 total yards and 10 touchdowns. For Barkley’s sake, I hope he gets out of New York and isn’t slapped with the franchise tag. He’s 27 years old but he’s arguably the league’s best all-around running back when healthy. He deserves better and so do fantasy owners.

1. Justin Fields (QB – CHI)

The offseason will most likely be defined by what the Bears do with Justin Fields. It’s a relatively shallow free agent QB class and there are major questions outside the top three QBs in the NFL Draft. That makes Fields an interesting option for a team looking for a blend of experience and upside. Fields still has some development ahead of him, as he still struggles with his progressions and accuracy. However, we’ve seen just how dynamic of a fantasy option Fields can be when things are going right. If he ends up in an offense predicated on quick decisions and scheming receivers open, we could see Fields take the leap he has yet to take in Chicago on a more consistent basis.

Assessing Fields’ fantasy value in February is nearly impossible. But I suspect he’ll be traded closer to the draft, which will give us a better idea of what his ceiling could be.

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