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 wide receivers.
Wide Receiver Trade Market
Several trades have already happened, but there are still rumors floating around about some big-name receivers.
The biggest is DeAndre Hopkins, who appears certain to leave the Cardinals at some point this offseason. Whether that is by trade remains up in the air.
Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reports some teams believe Arizona will cut Hopkins, which could be why they have struggled to move the receiver. The Bills and Chiefs are reportedly the most interested.
Kansas City is the most interesting landing spot from a fantasy perspective given their lack of a true No. 1 receiver, but Hopkins would have to compete with Travis Kelce for targets.
The Bills might not look as good on the surface with Stefon Diggs in the No. 1 spot, but Gabe Davis ran 668 mostly inefficient routes and was targeted 93 times last season. There is room in Buffalo’s offense for Hopkins, and he showed last year he still has gas left in the tank.
While it would be a shock if Hopkins remains with the Cardinals, the situation in Denver is a little murkier.
Both Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton have been brought up in trade rumors this offseason, but Sean Payton unequivocally said the Broncos are “not trading those two players.”
ESPN’s Dan Graziano, however, reports Denver is not “hanging up the phone when teams call them about” Jeudy and Sutton.
Denver has a lot of money invested in Sutton and Tim Patrick, and Jeudy is heading into the final cheap year of his rookie deal assuming his fifth-year option is picked up. They also have a quarterback coming off the worst season of his career and invested a ton in the offensive line this offseason.
It probably makes sense for them to spend a little less on receivers to help the rest of the roster, but they can wait to make that decision until next offseason.
Bears Acquire D.J. Moore
Chicago received two firsts including No. 9 overall, two seconds, AND D.J. Moore for the No. 1 overall pick in what looks like a great bit of business.
This was a down free agent group, and it is expected to be a down rookie class of receivers. This move gives the Bears the No. 1 receiver they desperately need as well as several premium picks and allows them to avoid overspending on a lesser talent in free agency. A great deal.
Given the quarterbacks he worked with in Carolina, Moore’s production to this point in his career has been amazing.
He averaged over 1,000 yards per season for an offense that was 30th in EPA per dropback during his tenure. That the Panthers managed to be that bad with Moore and Christian McCaffrey is truly astounding.
The Bears, unfortunately, were not that much better than the Panthers passing the ball last season.
He was great as a runner, but Justin Fields finished 28th in on-target pass percentage and 36th in completion rate over expected among qualifying quarterbacks in 2022.
Fields can point to a lack of weapons and constant pressure, some of which was self-inflicted, but he unquestionably needs to improve as a passer.
Fields was an accurate passer in college, so it would not be a surprise if he grows in that area. If he does, it will offer Moore the best quarterback play he has seen in the league.
If he does not, Moore will once again face a questionable quarterback situation in an offense that should lean heavily toward the run.
The Bears also have three other decent pass-catching options, something that will limit his upside even in the best-case scenario.
This is a great real-life move by the Bears. It might end up being just a lateral fantasy move for Moore.
Dallas Cowboys Trade for Brandin Cooks
If we could harness the joy Brandin Cooks must have felt when he was finally traded away from the Texans, we could power the entire Dallas metroplex for three years.
Leaving a team that is not even trying to win for a team that will try as hard as they can but still not win must have been a great feeling.
Amazingly, Cooks finished top 20 in PFF’s yards per route run over his first two years with the Texans before falling back to 39th last season.
His average separation per target last season was right around his career average, so his dip likely had more to do with the offense and general apathy.
Cooks will fill a vital role in Dallas’ offense. The combo of Noah Brown and Michael Gallup was simply not good enough in the No. 2 spot, and the Cowboys let Dalton Schultz walk in free agency, ironically to the Texans.
Dallas currently ranks 7th with 203 available targets. Mike McCarthy may want to “run the damn ball,” but the Cowboys have that many available targets despite finishing 19th in passing attempts last year.
Amari Cooper averaged seven targets per game during his last year with the Cowboys, and there might be more room in the passing game now.
While betting on an aging receiver changing teams is always a risk, there is a clear path to 120 targets here for a player who has consistently produced WR2 value throughout his career.
Odell Beckham Signs With Baltimore Ravens
Things were not looking great when Nelson Agholor was the only receiver addition of note for the Ravens, but that changed when Odell Beckham signed a one-year deal worth “up to” $18 million.
Promisingly for Baltimore, Lamar Jackson posted a screenshot of him and Beckham on FaceTime shortly after the deal was announced.
Despite the excitement about the signing, it is fair to question what the Ravens are actually getting from Beckham.
He had a magical run with the Rams in the 2021 playoffs, catching 21 passes for 288 yards and two scores, but his yards per route run was a dismal 1.3 in the regular season that year (78th) and was actually worse with the Rams.
All of that was before he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during the Super Bowl, the same ACL he tore with the Browns in 2020.
Now 30 with two knee injuries and years removed from his glory days with the Giants, it is not a sure thing Beckham comes in and establishes himself as the clear No. 1 the Ravens need.
Especially if it prompts Jackson to return, signing Beckham makes the Ravens better, but expectations should be tempered.
Jakobi Meyers Lands With Las Vegas Raiders
Jakobi Meyers was one of the first receiver dominos to fall when he signed a three-year, $33 million contract with the Raiders. It is an interesting signing for a couple of reasons.
First, signing Meyers to replace Mack Hollins, Austin Hooper and O.J. Howard to replace Darren Waller, and Jimmy Garoppolo to replace Derek Carr suggests the Raiders plan to throw it near the line of scrimmage a little more.
Carr had the fourth-highest average depth of target among qualifying quarterbacks last year at 9.1.
Garoppolo was 25th last year and has posted an aDOT below 7.5 each of the last four seasons.
Those short areas of the field are also where Meyers does his damage. Around 55% of his targets in New England came less than 10 yards down the field.
Second, it raises questions about Hunter Renfrow’s role and perhaps even his place on the team. Meyers has traditionally lined up in the slot around 60% of the time, and Renfrow has usually been higher than that.
The Raiders do have a good number of available targets (191, ninth-most), and Meyers has been an efficient receiver throughout his career.
He is not stealing targets from Davante Adams, though, and earned 15 total targets inside the 10 in four seasons with the Patriots. From a fantasy perspective, it is tough to get excited about Meyers.
JuJu Smith-Schuster Signs With New England Patriots
He did not produce an exciting fantasy season, but JuJu Smith-Schuster had a fine one-year run with the Chiefs that ended with a Super Bowl ring.
Smith-Schuster posted his highest yards per route run since 2018 and once again was able to create after the catch while playing out wide on a career-high percentage of his snaps.
He was not 2018 JuJu, but he was solid enough.
He also looks like a great fit with a Patriots offense that lost Meyers. Smith-Schuster works in similar spots on the field and should be able to win in similar ways.
Of course, that role netted Meyers a WR29 points per game finish last season, and that was even with him scoring six touchdowns, essentially a miracle for Meyers.
Smith-Schuster has been a low-upside fantasy play as of late – he has scored more than 20 fantasy points three times in the last two seasons – and is now joining a much worse passing offense.
He is the type of player that will finish higher than his ADP as long as he stays healthy but will not be on a ton of winning teams.
New York Jets Add Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman
Aaron Rodgers still is not a New York Jet, but the team is getting ready for his arrival.
First, they brought in long-time teammate Allen Lazard. Then they signed Mecole Hardman. Finally, they sent Elijah Moore packing, and it would not be a surprise if Corey Davis is soon to follow.
This receiver group will look much different in 2023.
The most important member of that group, Garrett Wilson remains clearly atop the depth chart…or at least it would be a disaster if he is not the clear WR1.
There are also some volume concerns with this offense. Rodgers has averaged around 33 attempts per game over the last three seasons and is getting back the OC that oversaw two of those campaigns.
Especially if Rodgers feeds Wilson the same way he did Davante Adams in Green Bay, there is not going to be a ton of volume or fantasy points available for Lazard and Hardman.
Elijah Moore Traded to Cleveland Browns
The Elijah Moore deal is interesting. The Browns got him for relatively little draft compensation – their move down equates to at best an early Day 3 pick – and he was a pretty good receiver in a bad situation as a rookie.
There are two concerns about his fantasy value in Cleveland, though.
The first is volume. Cleveland remained one of the more run-heavy offenses in the league even after Deshaun Watson returned, Amari Cooper is established as the clear No. 1, David Njoku just set a career-high for targets per game, and Donovan People-Jones established himself as a reliable secondary option.
The second is Watson, who struggled after returning last season. It is not a surprise he struggled given how much time he missed, but it is impossible to overlook how bad he was.
Watson finished 25th among 30 qualifying quarterbacks in EPA per play over the final six games and 24th with a 3.3% completion rate under expected.
Moore appears to have talent, but even if Watson returns to something similar to where he was in Houston, will the volume be there for him to be a fantasy contributor?
Barring an injury, the answer is probably no, making him more of a bet on talent later in fantasy drafts.
Carolina Panthers Bolster Receiver Corps with D.J. Chark and Adam Thielen
The Panthers had to add receiver help after trading away D.J. Moore, and they landed on D.J. Chark and Adam Thielen in free agency.
They might add another receiver in the draft, but they have just three picks in the top 100, and one of those will be a quarterback. Chark and Thielen could be it.
Thielen has been clearly declining for the last couple of years, and that fall-off looked considerably sharper last season when he posted easily the worst yards per route run of his career (1.08).
He might be able to brute force his way to fantasy production on volume and touchdown luck alone like a late-career Michael Crabtree, but that is a shaky fantasy argument.
Chark is more interesting.
It is a bit concerning he had issues last season with the same ankle he fractured in 2021 and is now headed for offseason surgery. He is expected to be ready well before training camp, however, and returned from his ankle injury to post a 23-404-2 line for the Lions over the final eight games.
He also averaged 13.5 fantasy points per game for the Jaguars in the two seasons prior to his injury.
If betting on a Panthers receiver, Chark is the ticket I want.
Additional Fantasy Thoughts
Houston gave Robert Woods a decent chunk of guaranteed money ($10 million), which suggests they expect him to bounce back from a down season. They also signed Noah Brown, John Metchie is expected to be back, and Nico Collins is entering year three. I suspect the Texans will be relatively run-heavy next season, but this will be a below-average group unless Collins takes a step forward or Metchie makes a splash.
It might not matter if the Bills make a splashy trade or draft pick, but Deonte Harty is an interesting below-the-radar signing. He did not play much last year, but he flashed as a downfield playmaker in 2021, something the Bills could use. He might not get enough volume to really be fantasy viable, but it will be interesting to see how he is used.
Indy lost Parris Campbell to the Giants, but they re-signed Ashton Dulin and added Isaiah McKenzie. McKenzie is the best stylistic fit for Campbell’s role but struggled to produce in Buffalo. None of it will matter if the Colts cannot find a quarterback.
Campbell was not New York’s only move. They brought back Isaiah Hodgins, Sterling Shepard, and Darius Slayton. They also added Jamison Crowder and Jeff Smith. Despite all those bodies, receiver still looks like a need even if Hodgins is able to build on his finish to last season, especially with Wan’Dale Robinson returning from a torn ACL.
Mack Hollins had some big games last season, but signing with the run-heavy Falcons kills whatever fantasy value he had.
Marvin Jones returned home to the Lions on a one-year contract. He appears to be in his decline phase, and the Lions have Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams atop the depth chart.