This was not a particularly exciting free agency period when it came to fantasy football.
The wide receiver class is what the kids would call “mid” – they will stop saying that now that I have – the tight end group is worse, and the heat was taken out of the running back class when Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Tony Pollard all landed the franchise tag.
That is not to say there were no impactful moves.
We have quarterbacks who “intend” to play elsewhere, trades, touchdown-dependent running backs changing teams, and a situation that will create the mother of all risk-reward propositions. (For the love of all that is holy, please stay healthy, Rashaad Penny.)
With the moves mostly over, it is time to look at how they will affect the fantasy landscape continuing with running backs.
New York Giants Acquire Darren Waller
The Giants still have questions at receiver, but they made a splash by trading the No. 100 overall pick for Darren Waller.
Since topping 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, Waller has played 20 total games the last two years, posting an 83-1,053-5 line over that span.
He is also older than it might seem. He did not break out until his age-27 season and will turn 31 in September.
Waller has not been at his 2020 level over the last two seasons, but he was still an above-average receiving threat who was asked to and did make more plays down the field. His average catch came 11 yards downfield last season, easily the highest mark of his career.
Given the Giants have roughly 300 slot receivers, they could also look to use him the same way while keeping him on the field for nearly every snap, something the Raiders were not interested in doing last season.
Age and health are concerns, but it is so difficult to find real upside outside of the top couple of tight ends.
Waller still managed a TE7 per game finish last year as something of a part-time player, especially late in the season. He has the upside for a lot more if the Giants make him a focal point of the passing game.
Dalton Schultz Moves Down to Houston
Dalton Schultz is in a similar position as Waller in that the Texans have a lackluster group at receiver and he has a good history of production.
He has never hit the highs that Waller did a couple of seasons ago, though, and does not offer much downfield. Only 30% of his targets over the last three seasons have been more than 10 yards down the field.
Schultz needs volume and touchdown opportunities to score fantasy points.
He could get the first if he becomes the focal point of the passing offense – although the Texans’ new coaching staff may want a run-heavy attack – but the second part of that equation is questionable even if Houston’s offense improves.
Even so, his current TE11 ADP in early Underdog drafts seems fair.
Irv Smith Lands With Cincinnati Bengals
The depth chart situation for Irv Smith could not be much better. The Bengals lost Hayden Hurst in free agency, and the tight ends left on the roster have a combined 19 career receptions.
On the other hand, the Bengals were 30th in the league in tight end target rate last season (16.3%) and have one of the best receiver trios in the league.
Also, Smith never lived up to his draft promise as a receiver in Minnesota. His career 1.12 yards per route run would have ranked 32nd among qualifying tight ends last season.
Finally, this is an outstanding tight end draft class, and the Bengals do not have a ton of other needs to fill. It would not be a surprise if they add a rookie to this room.
Smith could be a streaming option in a high-powered offense just like Hurst was last year, but the draft could put a dent in his fantasy value.
Patriots Sign Mike Gesicki
Free from an offense that did not have a place for him, Mike Gesicki signed a one-year, $9 million contract with the Patriots.
It is notable new OC Bill O’Brien recruited Gesicki to Penn State, and that connection probably played some role in him landing in New England.
The Patriots traded away Jonnu Smith, but the other member of their big-money tight end duo, Hunter Henry, remains on the roster.
That actually may be good news for Gesicki, who can play more as a receiver while Henry handles the in-line snaps.
New England’s offense is a good bet to improve now that they have a real offensive coordinator, they need receiving threats, and Gesicki is just a year removed from a 70-catch season. He makes some sense as a late-round dice roll.
Carolina Panthers Give Hayden Hurst Three-Year Contract
The theme here is tight ends joining teams with questionable receiver situations.
It is not surprising the Panthers spent at the position, but it is surprising they gave Hayden Hurst a three-year deal that includes $13 million guaranteed.
Entering his age-30 season, Hurst has never really flashed high-end receiving upside – his 56-571-6 line with the Falcons in 2020 is his career best – and has been one of the least efficient tight ends from a yards per route run perspective.
Even if he gets a lot of routes, he has not proven to be a consistent target earner. It is tough to see him as anything more than a streaming option.
Additional Fantasy Thoughts
In Atlanta, Jonnu Smith will reunite with Arthur Smith, the coach that got the most out of him as a receiver. That most topped out in 2020 with 41 catches for 448 yards and eight touchdowns, one fewer than he has scored in his other five seasons combined. It is tough to see him suddenly becoming a fantasy contributor on a team that also has Kyle Pitts.
The Raiders replaced Waller with Austin Hooper and O.J. Howard, two less than exciting receiving options. Sharing time in an offense with Davante Adams and Jakobi Meyers, it is unlikely either player returns consistent fantasy value.
Robert Tonyan has not been a fantasy factor since his miraculous 11-touchdown season in 2020, and that is unlikely to change as the No. 2 behind Cole Kmet in Chicago.