The 2016 off-season has seen a lot of moves and big name free agents find new homes so far. After a very active day one (you can find my quick thoughts on the fantasy impact of NFL free agency day one here), there have still been some moves that fantasy owners need to keep their eyes on. Here are my thoughts on the fantasy impact of NFL free agency: part two.
Fantasy Impact of NFL Free Agency: Part Two
Running back C.J. Anderson will rejoin the Denver Broncos in 2016. Anderson signed an offer sheet with the Miami Dolphins on Thursday, March 10th, for four years, $18 million. Because Anderson was a restricted free agent, Denver had the option to match the offer sheet signed by Miami by March 15th. The Broncos chose to retain Anderson, who struggled for most of 2015 and shared carries with Ronnie Hillman. However, Anderson did out-carry Hillman 54-32 in the playoffs, and 23-5 in the Super Bowl. I think his fantasy value would have been a little higher in Miami. Nevertheless, I think the top 20 would be a generous ranking for Anderson in 2016 simply for the fact that he likely splits carries again. However, due to the possibility that Anderson takes a larger share of the workload, he does have some middle-round upside.
Khiry Robinson & Bilal Powell
Running backs Khiry Robinson and Bilal Powell have agreed to terms with the New York Jets. Robinson agreed to join the New York Jets on a one year, $1.175 million deal. Fellow running back Bilal Powell agreed to stay in New York on a three year, $11.25 million deal. This is not good news for any Jets back, especially Matt Forte, who was signed by the Jets on Wednesday (and may or may not be in my Way Too Early Top 10 Fantasy Running Backs for 2016). Forte will certainly lead the backfield in touches, but the presence of Robinson and Powell certainly caps his ceiling. Robinson showed flashes of ability in his time in New Orleans, including this year, before suffering a broken leg. Powell is a quality pass catching back, but is more limited than Robinson and Forte. Robinson would be the best handcuff to Forte, but in the event of a Forte injury, I think Robinson and Powell would split action.
Former Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu signed with the Atlanta Falcons for $32.5 million over five years. This is a big deal for Sanu, who has been less than productive in his career. Sanu’s career high in receiving yards came in 2014 when he recorded 790 yards, which he followed up with only 394 yards in 2015. The Falcons were undoubtedly looking to add some depth at receiver after recently cutting Roddy White. Sanu will likely slide into the second slot on the depth chart behind Julio Jones. No Falcon receiver was fantasy relevant outside of Jones last year, and I don’t foresee Sanu being a fantasy factor this season either.
Rishard Matthews signed with the Tennessee Titans on a three-year, $15 million deal after a four-year stint in Miami. Matthews had his most successful season in Miami in 2015, when he caught 43 passes for 662 yards and four touchdowns in 11 games. I’m skeptical of Matthews’ fantasy potential in 2016 mostly because volume will be an issue. The Titans were 21st in passing attempts per game, and in the 11 games that starting quarterback Marcus Mariota threw at least 13 passes, the Titans averaged 8.6 different pass catchers being targeted at least once. It is unknown whether or not that number will be similar in 2016, but it illustrates that Mariota likes to distribute the ball to many pass catchers. Matthews will be in immediate competition for targets with tight end Delanie Walker and fellow receivers Dorial Green-Beckham and Kendall Wright. Nevertheless, because he has talent and the Titans offense appears to be more high-powered than in 2015, Matthews may be worth a late-round flier.
Mike Wallace signed with the Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday for $11.5 million over two years. Wallace was quite disappointing in his lone season in Minnesota, gathering only 39 receptions for 473 yards, both career-lows. Wallace just didn’t seem to be a fit in Minnesota’s run heavy offense. Wallace was formerly one of the top deep threats in the league, averaging 15.2 yards per catch in his career. Wallace will join a Ravens squad that led the league in pass attempts last season, and suddenly appears to have a few more weapons around quarterback Joe Flacco. Veteran Steve Smith is returning for yet another NFL season, Breshad Perriman will finally be healthy enough to suit up, and the Ravens just signed tight end Benjamin Watson (late-round flier, at best). Wallace has the potential to be fantasy relevant, but it will be hard to predict what his production will look like in 2016. I see Wallace as a late round pick, with upside.
Tight end Ladarius Green signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers on a four-year, $20 million deal. In San Diego, Green had been the backup to future Hall-of-Famer, Antonio Gates, and is brought in by the Steelers to replace long time Steeler Heath Miller who retired. Green’s fantasy prospects are interesting given Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense and the high snap count posted by Miller in past seasons. Green has been above average in his career. In fact, he was graded as a better receiver than Miller by Pro Football Focus last season. At a tough position like tight end where there are so few consistent options, Green is now on the fantasy radar.
Tight end Martellus Bennett was traded to the New England Patriots on Wednesday. Chicago sent Bennett and a sixth round pick for New England’s fourth rounder in 2016. From a football standpoint, I like this trade from both sides. Chicago gets $5 million off of their books and moves up in the draft, and New England gets another weapon to put around Tom Brady. I think this doesn’t really change Bennett’s fantasy stock, though. He is usually among the first five to 10 tight ends off the board in drafts, and I don’t think that changes. He will share targets with Rob Gronkowski, but I think that the fact that he’s a member of an elite offense makes him a much safer play than most fantasy tight ends, which is typically a very thin position. I think this also improves the stock of the new starting tight end for the Bears, Zach Miller. Miller was used in a limited role last year, but his 12.9 yards per reception was fourth among tight ends last season. Also, Miller is actually rated as a much better receiver than Bennett by Pro Football Focus. I see a top ten draft value among tight ends for Bennett and a top 15 value in Miller.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez was traded from the Philadelphia Eagles to the Denver Broncos for a conditional seventh round pick. Sanchez was brought in to add depth at quarterback for the Broncos after Brock Osweiler signed with the Houston Texans last week. Sanchez will likely compete for the starting job with a quarterback that the Broncos will add at a later date, but I think this move gives the other Denver fantasy options some security. If Sanchez were named the starter in Denver, he wouldn’t have any fantasy value himself; however, he would be a serviceable quarterback that can distribute the ball to the likes of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders and allow them to maintain fantasy value. Sanchez will not need to be drafted in all leagues.