We have been covering all of the major free agent signings and trades that have gone down to open the new NFL season. While the major signings are getting their own individual posts, I still want to put together some fantasy thoughts on the smaller, more ancillary moves that have gone down.
I will continue to add to this as more players sign with new organizations. For more information on these moves and the defensive, offensive line, and other NFL transactions going down over the start of the new season, check out our 2021 NFL Free Agency and Trade Analysis section and find fantasy breakdowns of the larger signings on the primary 2021 fantasy hub.
Corey Davis Joins the Jets
Davis never lived up to the No. 5 Draft selection the Titans used on him in 2017, but Davis did close out his tenure in Tennessee on a strong note. Coming off a 2019 season in which he caught 43-of-601 targets for 601 yards and two touchdowns, Davis caught 65-of-92 targets for 984 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games, setting career highs in catch rate (70.7%), yards per reception (15.1 yards), touchdowns, receptions (4.6) and yards per game (70.3). Among all NFL wideouts last season, Davis was fifth in yards per route run (2.58 yards).
After struggling to start his career, Davis was at his best playing next to another strong wideout and not asked to carry a passing game. All five of Davis’s 100-yard games last season came with A.J. Brown in the lineup. Davis archetypes best as a WR2 to me, so this destination to New York with no true alpha target is an open book.
On one hand, there are plenty of opportunities that can be had with a depth chart consisting of just Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims at the top, but also a situation where Davis is asked to play above his station on the other hand.
His 2020 surge not only came when he was not asked to carry the passing game, but also attached to a hyper-efficient offense and quarterback in general, which is a question in New York with the quarterback position still up in the air on whether or not the Jets will use the No. 2 pick on another rookie quarterback and move on from Sam Darnold or not.
Despite the breakout Davis had a year ago and in a better environment, there still were low points as Davis had fewer than 40 yards in six of his 14 games played. Davis showed he still has upside, but is still more of a WR3/WR4 option for fantasy heading into the 2021 season.
Kenyan Drake Moves on to Las Vegas
After backup Devontae Booker signed with the Giants earlier in free agency, the Raiders went and brought in Drake to fill and improve on that void behind Josh Jacobs. In the 15 games that Jacobs played a year ago, other Raider running backs averaged 9.1 touches per game (6.6 rushes and 2.5 receptions).
A career committee back with stints of being bell cow prior to last season, Drake set career-highs a year ago with 955 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 264 touches, but his 4.1 yards per touch were a career-low while his receiving role evaporated down to 1.7 receptions per game.
The 27-year-old back is rumored to be thought of as a “joker” and receiving compliment to Jacobs, but Drake has left a lot of meat on the bone as a receiver over the course of his career. Drake averaged 0.89 yards per route run with Arizona in 2019, which ranked 35th at running back per Pro Football Focus. He then came back last season and dropped down to 0.55 yards per route, which ranked 54th out of 58 backs that qualified and was below that of both Booker and Jalen Richard, as well as Jacobs himself. Drake has a season in 2018 in which he ranked 13th in yards per route run among backs (1.42), but also was 51-of-55 qualifiers in the same area in 2017 (0.91). Drake does cap the overall upside of Jacobs, but is more of a handcuff himself than someone that has standalone value.
Jacobs improved on his receiving game usage in 2020 (33-238) but was still largely a one-note producer with 77.2% of his fantasy points stemming solely from rushing, that is hard to see moving much while Drake could command a few more touches than those 9.1 opportunities per game Jacobs shared a year ago. Jacobs is still an RB2 that is reliant on rushing and scoring prowess to carry his lines. In his games with a touchdown, Jacobs is averaging 23.0 points per game as opposed to 9.9 per game when he fails to reach the end zone.
James Conner Lands in Arizona
With Drake leaving Arizona, that opened a void to add a running back to work with Chase Edmonds. Edmonds has gotten three opportunities to be a feature back in three seasons, with games of 31, nine, and 28 touches in those games for 150, 13, and 88 yards. But every time the Cardinals have turned to Edmonds as a workhorse have come out of full necessity while he has almost immediately been banged up afterwards. By signing Conner, this allows Edmonds to remain in a role he was already effective while also being able to pinch-hit if Conner continues to struggle with staying on the field.
After Conner’s 2018 breakout in which he tallied 1,470 yards and 13 touchdowns, Conner has posted 1,651 yards and 13 touchdowns combined over the past two seasons. After averaging 4.2 receptions per game in 2018, Conner has seen his receptions per game dip to 3.4 and 2.7 per game the past two seasons. Conner has yet to play a full NFL season and should not be expected to carry a backfield, but this is a solid landing spot offensively with scoring chances.
Marvin Jones Heads to Jacksonville
At age 30, Jones appeared in all 16 games for the first time since 2017, securing 76-of-115 targets for 978 yards and nine touchdowns. Jones showed there are still ceiling moments in his range of outcomes with four top-five scoring weeks, but also his volatility, having 11 other weeks as the WR35 or lower. Jones just turned 31 on March 12, but has always shared scoring upside with nine receiving touchdowns in three of his past four seasons. Reuniting with Darrell Bevell, who was the offensive coordinator the Lions the previous two seasons, Jones shares a very similar overlap in usage to D.J. Chark, who this new regime does not have any current ties to. Add in the likelihood of Jones playing with Trevor Lawrence, he remains a boom-or-bust WR4.
Buffalo Adds Emmanuel Sanders
After releasing John Brown last week, the Bills brought in Sanders on a 1-year, $6M deal to add their receiving corps. Last year with New Orleans, Sanders showed that he can still be productive, but it all came out of necessity when Michael Thomas was off of the field. In seven games with Thomas inactive, Sanders caught 40 passes for 511 yards and two scores on 22.9% of the team targets. In his seven other games with Thomas active, Sanders only managed a 21-215-3 line on 13.2% of the team targets. Sanders just turned 34-years-old March 17. The real question is Sanders going to halt the development and playing time of Gabriel Davis, who turned in a productive season.
Davis caught 35-of-62 targets for 599 yards (17.1 Y/R) and seven touchdowns. In 12 games played with John Brown active, Davis averaged just 2.9 targets per game with two or fewer receptions in nine of those games, but ran a pass route on 289 of 298 team dropbacks with Brown inactive.
The Patriots Sign Nelson Agholor
Signed as a one-year flyer by the Raiders a year ago, Agholor rejuvenated his career, catching 48 passes for 896 yards and eight touchdowns. Agholor began his career in Philadelphia as a first-round pick in 2015 and the Eagles gave him two seasons playing outside where he struggled, catching just 59 passes for 648 yards and three touchdowns combined. The Eagles then moved Agholor to the slot for 68.6% of his routes the next three seasons in which he found more success having seasons of 62-768-8 and 64-736-4 before fizzling out in 2019 with a 39-363-3 season.
The Raiders then moved Agholor back outside last season for 67% of his routes where he thrived. With a career-high 15.7-yard average depth of target, Agholor’s 18.7 yards per catch were a career-high while he produced the fourth-most points in the league on throws over 15 yards downfield (108.3).
Whether Agholor’s 2020 season was a revolution or just an anomaly remains a question, he joins a passing game that outright struggled in New England a year ago. As we discussed with the Jonnu Smith signing, New England was tied for the last in the league with 12 passing touchdowns and averaged just 6.6 yards per pass attempt, which was 26th. Downfield, New England had just 66 completions on throws over 15 yards, which was tied for the fewest in the league, but despite their team struggles altogether, Cam Newton was actually solid pushing the ball downfield when they did throw deep.
Newton completed 52.7% (29-of-55) of his passes on throws over 15 yards downfield, which was fifth among all quarterbacks with 50 or more such attempts on the season, but just two of those passes went for touchdowns. Agholor was going to be due significant touchdown regression per grab after a 16.7% touchdown rate in 2020 and is more of an all-or-nothing WR4/WR5 option in the move to the Patriots.
The Raiders Bring in John Brown
After losing Nelson Agholor, the Raiders swooped in an added John Brown to replace that vacancy. With the Bills acquiring Stefon Diggs and playing through multiple injuries in 2020, Brown’s 4.8 receptions and 70.7 yards per game in 2019 fell down to 3.7 catches and 50.9 yards per game. Brown will turn 31-years-old this April and has played a full 16 games in just one of his seven seasons to date, but has still shown upside to more than adequately fill the role that Agholor left behind and had success in a year ago when he can be on the field. The Raiders assumedly want to see what they can squeeze out of Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards in year two and will give those second-year players opportunity, but Brown has still turned in WR3 or better scoring weeks in 16-of-24 games over the past two seasons when given opportunities himself. If either or both second-year wideout is not ready to make a significant step forward, Brown is an upside-based bench WR.
Kendrick Bourne Signs with the Patriots
When your leading players in targets a year ago were Jakobi Meyers (81 targets) and Damiere Byrd (77), you are not going to rest on just adding Nelson Agholor to the roster. After signing Agholor, the Patriots also brought in Kendrick Bourne on a three-year deal worth up to $22.5M.
This one is interesting because Bourne is an undrafted, four-year player with the 49ers whose career-best marks in a season are 49 receptions, 667 yards from a year ago, and five touchdown receptions in 2019. I also do not see what Bourne gives the Patriots from what Jakobi Meyers was already giving them, but the additions of both Agholor and Bourne all but put N’Keal Harry breaking out next to zero while with New England and the potential that the Patriots could be moving on from Julian Edelman, who will be turning 35-years-old this May and can save the team $3.4M still if released.
Jameis Winston Returns to New Orleans
Signing a one-year deal, Winston is expected to be the frontrunner to lead the Saints in 2021, but the team will also let Taysom Hill compete for the job after Hill restructured his deal just days prior to bringing Winston back.
The last time that Winston was a full starter in 2019, he led the league in passing yards (5,109) and was second in touchdown passes (33), orbiting a league-worst 30 interceptions. When Drew Brees went down mid-season last year, Winston got the immediate call in relief, but in going 6-of-10 with multiple turnover-worthy plays, the Saints then turned the next four starts without Brees over to Hill.
Hill was serviceable as a spot starter for a four-game stretch, but still has a ton of question marks as a full-time passer. But for fantasy, Hill scored 24.4, 17.5, 23.6, and 18.9 in his starts, which is definitely appealing. We also know that even if the team goes in another direction as the starter, that Hill will still be involved in sub-packages and near the goal line.
Hill’s presence and ability to still be a part of things even if Winston is the starter is a thorn in Winston fully re-emerging as a potential QB1 option while the Saints are unlikely to be as free-wheeling as those Buccaneers offenses Winston led, leaving him as an upside QB2 option with Hill.
Ryan Fitzpatrick Joins the Football Team
Fitzpatrick joins his ninth NFL franchise, getting an opportunity to head into 2021 as the starting quarterback for Washington ahead of Taylor Heinicke. Fitzpatrick will turn 39 years old this November, coming off a career-high 68.5% completion rate and 7.8 yards per pass attempt, which was good for his third-highest mark of his career.
When he has been on the field, Fitzpatrick has turned in fantasy points, averaging 20.1 fantasy points per game over his past 18 starts. In Washington, this is arguably the best offensive line and defense that Fitzpatrick has been attached to in several years. Washington still has limited offensive weaponry that they need to build up, but as Fitzpatrick has shown over his career, he is a talent elevator for fantasy production due to his hyper-aggressive nature.
Sure, Fitz has had the luxury of throwing to Stevie Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Mike Evans, and DeSean Jackson and kept those players productive, but also has gotten a lot out of guys like David Nelson, Kendall Wright, Quincy Enunwa, and helped DeVante Parker break out. For Terry McLaurin, Logan Thomas, and whoever Washington adds this offseason, Fitzpatrick breathes some extra excitement into the offense that has not existed the past two seasons.
Andy Dalton Signs with the Bears
Signing a 1-year deal for $10M, Dalton appears to be in line to be the Bears starting quarterback for the 2021 season. Dalton will turn 34-years-old in October of the season, coming off completing 64.9% of his passes with 6.5 yards per pass attempt with the Cowboys last season. In nine starts for Dallas, Dalton averaged 14.9 fantasy points per game with an average scoring week as the QB19, posting one QB1 scoring week over those starts. Trading a completely superior set of skill players for Chicago, Dalton is a lower-end QB2 and streamer.
Jamaal Williams is the RB2 for the Lions
Through four seasons, Williams has yet to rush for 600 yards in a season or clear 178 touches, but he has been a proven back that can play an ancillary role, contribute in the passing game, and handle opportunity when needed in relief should D’Andre Swift miss any time for the Lions. Williams has caught at least 25 passes in every season of his career, and in the four games that Aaron Jones has missed over the past three seasons, Williams has turned that open opportunity into three top-10 scoring fantasy weeks.
While Williams is still a complimentary piece on a team we are anticipating to not win many games, leaving him as a handcuff with next to no standalone value, him leaving Green Bay does give Aaron Jones more of a runway for more receiving work. Williams was still running a pass route on 35% of the Green Bay dropbacks in 2020. In three games without Williams active a year ago, Jones ran a pass route on 60.7% of the team dropbacks compared to 50.7% in the other weeks sharing two-minute situations and passing work.
A.J. Green Heads to Arizona
The Cardinals added A.J. Green on a 1-year deal after the veteran wideout set career-lows with 2.9 receptions and 32.7 yards per game in 2020 despite receiving 104 targets in 2020. We can use “targets” loosely here as just 49.5% of his looks were deemed catchable, the lowest rate among all wideouts that received 30 or more targets a year ago, but Green also shares some of that burden as all of the other Cincinnati wideouts had a 71.1% catchable target rate. On throws over 15 yards downfield, Green reeled in just 6-of-37 of those targets (16.2%) while all other Bengals options caught 27-of-70 targets (38.6%). From Joe Burrow, he and Green connected on just 3-of-27 of those passes (11.1%) while he was 21-of-47 targeting anyone else with them (44.6%). Turning 33-years-old this July, Green is a Hail Mary signing and fantasy option, but a role change could improve his dismal 2020 production.
Gerald Everett Switches Sides to Seattle
Selected 44th overall in the 2017 draft, Everett has shared time and targets alongside Tyler Higbee and never had a chance to truly break out. Though four years in the NFL, Everett has had his targets, receptions, and yardage climb in every season, but has capped out with a season-high of just 62 targets. Hitting free agency, Everett is joining the Division rival Seahawks and getting paired with Russell Wilson. New Seattle offensive coordinator Shane Waldron was the Rams tight ends coach in 2017 when Everett was drafted and the passing game coordinator over the 2018-2020 seasons. Seattle is also no stranger to Everett’s upside as the best game of his career (7-136-0 on 11 targets) came in Seattle Week 5 of the 2019 season.
Everett is a big time upgrade over what Seattle had at the position a year ago and Everett himself gets a quarterback upgrade in Russell Wilson. This moves Everett into a deep bucket of upside-based TE2 options that crack into TE1 status while also elevating Higbee. The pros for Higbee as an upside TE2 are that he has shown he is capable of a high ceiling as the TE1 in overall fantasy points the final four weeks of that season with Everett limited to close the 2019 season.
Mike Davis Is the RB1 in Atlanta… for now
Atlanta brought in Davis on a modest two-year deal. With Todd Gurley and Brian Hill unrestricted free agents and Ito Smith and Quadree Ollison not providing much in their NFL samples, Davis is the default RB1 on the Atlanta depth chart as it stands in late March. Davis accrued 1,015 yards and eight touchdowns last season in relief of Christian McCaffrey in 2020. Only three backs caught more passes than the 59 receptions had a year ago. Davis showed he was capable of being a back that can accumulate production if fed touches, but still was not a player that was turning in high efficiency or showed much fantasy merit outside of volume.
The 28-year-old back this season managed three straight top-10 scoring weeks over his first three games post-McCaffrey injury on 21, 21, and 25 touches for 91, 111, and 149 total yards, but then Davis quickly faded to a volume-based FLEX play. Over his next nine games with McCaffrey inactive, Davis had five weeks as an RB3 or lower with two RB1 scoring weeks, reaching 80 yards from scrimmage in just one of those games. Despite racking up 224 touches in total, Davis managed just 3.9 yards per carry and just 6.3 yards per reception on those touches.
The Falcons are a team we should believe will be in the mix to pursue another back in the draft or over the remainder of the offseason, but they were in a similar spot a year when giving Gurley a low-leverage contract and did not add any significant competition to the mix. For now, Davis is a depth-chart RB1 in the same vein as a Myles Gaskin-type, with fragility pending the moves Atlanta makes over the course of the remainder of the offseason.
Jared Cook Joins the Chargers
After losing Hunter Henry early in free agency, the Chargers added Cook to the fold in part of replacing him on a 1-year, $6M deal. Cook will turn 34-years-old this April coming off a 37-504-7 campaign in 2020 in 15 games played. After never posting a season with more six touchdowns, Cook caught nine and seven scores over the past two seasons while compiling 15.1 yards per catch. Hunter Henry averaged a career-low 6.6 yards per target and caught a career-low 64.5% of those targets despite Justin Herbert’s impressive rookie campaign while in the apex of his career. While Cook will continue to be a boom-or-bust TE2, this really dampens the potential breakout for Donald Parham. The 6’8”, 237-poound tight end will only be 24-years-old this August while playing 80.7% (2-45-0) and 52.1% (3-37-1) in the final two games of the season with Henry sidelined.
DeSean Jackson Returns back to California with the Rams
Jackson will turn 35-years-old this December, but provides a much needed role to the Rams passing game. Even with the acquisition of Matthew Stafford, the Rams had a ton of overlap in pass catchers that strictly operate near the line of scrimmage and on the intermediate levels. Jackson has not played a full season since 2014 and has appeared in just eight games over the previous two seasons, but he offers weekly upside as a bench fill in and Best Ball WR depth while he is active. Although he does come with injury baggage and is not expected to be a major factor in commanding a huge target share, Jackson’s addition does prevent a problem for the year-two breakout of Van Jefferson, who shares a positional overlap with Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. As a rookie, Jefferson’s best moments came when Kupp was off of the field.
Titans Add Josh Reynolds to a Depleted Pass-Catching Corps
A fourth-round pick in 2017, Reynolds never was able to elevate to a primary target in the Rams offense over the course of his rookie contract, but is coming off his best season in the NFL in 2020. After 11, 29, and 21 receptions through his first three seasons, Reynolds posted a 52-618-2 line in 2020. Joining a Tennessee roster that has had exits from Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith, Reynolds can find targets if Tennessee does not add major competition in the draft and is a bench-flyer in early offseason drafts.
Tyrod Taylor to Texans as Watson Insurance?
The Texans added Tyrod Taylor on a 1-year deal that could be one part insurance should Deshaun Watson end up holding out should the relationship between the Texans and their star quarterback reach a stalemate, he is outright traded, or Watson’s off-field allegations escalate even further. In all of those events, Taylor can also serve as a, early-season starter, backup and mentor to a young quarterback should Watson be traded for a high draft pick in this class and more.