Fantasy Football Winners and Losers: NFL Free Agency


Photo courtesy of Robert Robinson

Written by: Alexander Amir


It has been exactly one week since the NFL’s legal tampering period began, and right from the start we experienced some drastic power shifts in the league. Some of 2018’s worst offenses added star skill-position players to their roster, and teams like the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns are starting to look like completely different organizations. As usual, the Patriots signed virtually nobody of note, while the Packers shelled out big bucks to big names. But what concerns us today is how fantasy football has been impacted. Players who had huge 2018 seasons may be due for a down year after this week’s transactions, while some of last season’s busts may be primed for a 2019 boom. Let’s take a look at some winners and losers that have been impacted by the releases, signings, and trades of this past week:


Winners

Baker Mayfield, QB (CLE)

This is an easy one. With the additions of Odell Beckham Jr. and Kareem Hunt the Browns offense is an absolute juggernaut, and not just because of the talent those two players possess. The OBJ trade now lets Jarvis Landry operate more from the slot (he took 59.3% of snaps there in 2018) and also relegates Antonio Callaway to the deep threat role that he’s suited to. Kareem Hunt offers plenty of opportunity for creative play-calling with Nick Chubb in the backfield (when he returns from suspension). Add in tight end David Njoku entering his 3rd season, and Mayfield has an absurd amount of weapons surrounding him. I am expecting him to be a top 10 QB this season.


Derek Carr, QB (OAK)

Like Mayfield, Carr benefits from the addition of arguably the best wide receiver in the league. Antonio Brown's impact does not need to be explained, but I also really like the other moves that the Raiders have made. While they may have overpaid for Trent Brown they now have a true franchise left tackle to keep Carr upright. They also signed Tyrell Williams, who will offer an explosive element in the passing game that the team was lacking. Since they have addressed the wide receiver position in free agency, I expect them to target a running back early in the draft, which would help keep pressure off of Carr even further. He’s a candidate to improve his numbers all around simply due to an influx of talent.


Mark Ingram, RB (BAL)

The 8 year Saint was signed by Baltimore, putting him on the most run-heavy offense in the NFL. Lamar Jackson still does not seem like a threat to throw, but his legs keep defenses honest to the point that Ravens running backs thrive. No-name running back Gus Edwards averaged almost 100 yards per game once Jackson took over at QB. Ingram also goes from being the clear #2 running back on New Orleans to the #1 in Baltimore. Even if he cedes some snaps to Edwards, he will see a clear uptick in usage and production.


David Johnson, RB (ARI)

DJ quietly finished as the #10 running back in fantasy last year but did so inefficiently, posting just 3.6 yards per carry and 7 touchdowns. The Cardinals made it a big point to improve their offensive line this offseason, acquiring 3 new starters in Max Garcia, J.R. Sweezy, and Marcus Gilbert. Josh Rosen should take a step forward in year 2 with this improved line as well, easing the pressure on Johnson. I expect a bounce back year with some big games in 2019.


James Washington, WR (PIT)

This is a departure from the mainstream names, but I think Washington is a deep sleeper candidate for the Steelers. Antonio Brown is gone, which means Juju Smith-Schuster becomes the clear #1 threat in the passing game. I firmly believe that Juju’s success last season was tied to AB, who was such a game-changer that all of the defensive attention went to him. Now, each receiver moves up a peg. Juju becomes the double-covered man, which leaves Washington to operate relatively freely. Target him late in rounds, because he has immense upside.


San Francisco 49ers D/ST

Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander, and Jason Verrett all have the potential to be game-changers on this San Francisco defense. Ford had a breakout season and will look to build his pass-rushing prowess. Alexander had tackling troubles but is an athletic linebacker who is always in position to make plays. Verrett has an extensive injury history but has shown that he is an excellent talent when healthy. Looking forward to April, the Niners are virtually a lock to add either Quinnen Williams or NIck Bosa to their already impressive front 7. Keep this defense in mind as you plan for the season.


Losers

Ben Roethlisberger, QB (PIT)

Losing the best wide receiver AND the best running back in the NFL in one offseason has to hurt. Ben finished as the 3rd best QB in fantasy this year thanks to some gaudy yardage numbers. But it’s real hard to replace Antonio Brown’s talent, and he won’t have the juggernaut that is Le’Veon Bell to pick up the slack. He still has a couple strong players around him in Juju and James Connor, but you have to think that Ben will take a step back in his age 37 season.


Saquon Barkley, RB (NYG)

Barring a miracle draft from GM Dave Gettleman in which he finds both a QB and WR that can start and make a difference right away, defenses will be stacking the box against Saquon Barkley all of next season. As it is, Barkley struggled to find running lanes last year and picked up a lot of his fantasy points on single breakaway runs or garbage time minutes. Yes, the Giants offensive line is improved and Golden Tate joined the wide receiver room. But without OBJ and with Eli Manning STILL, inexplicably starting at QB, Barkley is the only thing defenses need to worry about.


Nick Chubb, RB (CLE)

With Kareem Hunt suspended for the first 8 games of the season, Chubb will certainly get his fair share of playing time. What worries me is that when Hunt comes back, he will have been eased into action right as the fantasy playoffs roll around. Until I see what that backfield looks like I would be worried to keep Chubb beyond week 10 or so. I also think the Browns will become more pass-heavy with the presence of Odell.


Juju Smith-Schuster, WR (PIT)

You probably get where I’m going with this after reading James Washington and Ben Roethlisberger above, but I’ll repeat it one more time. Antonio Brown took defenders away from Juju, which left him open to exploit 1-on-1 matchups. Now Juju will be the one that is double covered, putting a damper on his numbers.


Golden Tate, WR (NYG)

Tate undoubtedly signed with the Giants for the money, because he sure won’t get the ball much in New York. Eli Manning is just inept at this point, and even if the Giants draft a QB it seems as though Manning will at least start the season. Without another capable wide receiver to take eyes away from Tate in the passing game, I wouldn’t consider him anything more than a WR4.