The NFL free agency carousel is almost done spinning, so it time to take a look at the overall impact for fantasy football. Which players gained? Which players lost? With the NFL Draft just 26 days until the NFL Draft, let’s do a fantasy football roundup and summarize the residual fantasy effects of the biggest signings so far in 2021.
2021 NFL Free Agency Fantasy Football Roundup
NFL Free Agency: Biggest Fantasy Impact
Washington was in scramble mode after releasing Dwayne Haskins in late December, and 2020 Comeback Player of the Year Alex Smith in March. Holding the 19th pick in this year’s draft, Washington had two options at quarterback: trade up or find a veteran who can build off last year’s playoff berth. Fitzpatrick was the best available option and brings an exciting fantasy option with 16 years of NFL experience.
He automatically provides excitement for Terry McLaurin, having posted great numbers with players such as DeVante Parker, Mike Evans, Brandon Marshall, and Eric Decker in recent years. McLaurin’s 87 receptions (15th among wide receivers) and 1318 receiving yards (17th) were overshadowed by only four total touchdowns (48th). Having a risk-taker in Fitzpatrick is a substantial quarterback improvement over last year’s subpar performances. Fitzpatrick gets an additional receiving weapon in former Carolina speedster Curtis Samuel, with superior pass-catching backs in Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic. Throw in serviceable tight end Logan Thomas, and this Washington offense now looks very fantasy friendly.
Is it possible Aaron Jones is more highly coveted now, than at this time last year? Jones exits this NFL free agency period with one fewer positional foe, with Jamaal Williams now in Detroit. With a contract that places him among the league’s highest-paid running backs, his touch volume floor is now guaranteed. Teammate AJ Dillon will only siphon rushing touches, projecting an increase in Jones’s 46 receptions and 347 receiving yards. Could Dillion inherit some of the 20 rushes Jones saw inside the 10-yard line? Absolutely. But as an elite pass blocker with the trust of 37-year old Aaron Rodgers, Jones should see career-highs in receptions and total yards.
Cam Newton’s 2020 season is unfairly dismissed by fantasy players. Newton produced the overall QB6 and QB2 performances to start the season, and then drastically underperformed after testing positive for COVID in early October. He admitted that effects of the virus lingered for weeks, and New England’s subpar supporting cast was a major obstacle to consistent weekly fantasy production. The Patriots made a big off-season splash with offensive upgrades Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne. If Newton’s pre-COVID form is the more accurate version of the 31-year old signal caller, this could be the quarterback value of the 2021 NFL free agency period.
One of the few wide receivers in NFL free agency to secure a long-term deal, Golladay should have a positive domino effect on the Giants entire receiving core. Darius Slayton now returns to a more comfortable deep threat WR2 which Sterling Shepard can dominate the short to intermediate area of the field. While questions remain regarding Daniel Jones’s effectiveness, he is now bolstered by a superior supporting cast that includes the return of All-Pro halfback Saquon Barkley (ACL surgery). If the Giants offensive line continues to improve, Golladay can headline a sneaky good fantasy passing attack.
Fantasy owners can no longer doubt the Seahawks commitment to Carson. With a myriad of options in the backfield including Rashaad Penny, Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas and Alex Collins, Seattle chose to give the 26-year old Carson a two-year deal with $5.5 million guaranteed. Carson’s streak of two consecutive seasons of 1100-plus rushing yards was interrupted by a mid-foot sprain that cost him four games. However, his three consecutive seasons of nine touchdowns secures a low-end RB1 projection in Seattle’s run-heavy offense.
Jones reunites with ex-Lions offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell. While the effectiveness of likely first overall pick Trevor Lawrence is unknown, the projected negative game script is certainly beneficial. Jones played 16 games for the first time since the 2017 season, resulting in the 11th-most receiving yards (1398) and ninth-most touchdowns (nine). After a disappointing third year for incumbent WR1 DJ Chark, Jones could see a higher than expected target share. In Jacksonville, Laviska Shenault and Collin Johnson provide depth, and should suppress Jones’ ADP enough to make him a nice late-round redraft value.
Fournette had a sporadic regular season fantasy impact as he battled injuries and touch competition with Ronald Jones. However, Fournette was clearly the top option in the Buccaneers Super Bowl run, averaging 112 total yards, 4.5 receptions, and one touchdown per game in the playoffs. Tampa Bay’s entire offensive line should return intact, leaving Fournette as the potential lead running back on an explosive offense. By simple resigning with the same team, Fournette is a sneaky RB winner during 2021 NFL free agency.
Secondary Fantasy Impact
The rumors were that Baltimore turned to Watkins after failing to entice larger name wide receivers to join their run-heavy offense. Always shrouded with injury concerns, Watkins has failed to play a full 16 games since his 2014 rookie season. His 4.43 speed makes him dangerous, but is he simply a redundant asset alongside diminutive speedster Marquise Brown? Watkins ranked fifth among all wide receivers in target separation per PlayerProfiler, but he is leaving a Kansas City team that ranked seventh with 40.8 pass players per game. A pick of Sammy Watkins in 2021 is based on speculative high-efficiency in a low volume offense.
The former long-time Cincinnati Bengal (and one-year Cowboy) will enter training camp with the edge over journeyman Nick Foles for starting quarterback duties in Chicago. With GM Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy in a “win or else” season, Dalton will be given every chance to guide Chicago into the playoffs. He has a decent stable of weapons with wide receivers Allen Robinson, promising second-year speedster Darnell Mooney, and slot man Anthony Miller. With red zone specialist Jimmy Graham and second-year athlete Cole Kmet at tight end, Dalton has a chance to serve as a bye week replacement in favorable matchups.
Smith-Schuster returned to Pittsburgh on a one-year deal, hoping a big season with 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger can serve as a foundation to a long-term contract. The development of wideouts Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool relegated him to slot receiver, producing 97 receptions (seventh) but only 831 receiving yards (36th). The hope is that new offensive coordinator Matt Canada can leverage his relationship with Ben Roethlisberger to return Smith-Schuster back to his 2018 form.
Team: New Orleans Saints
Contract: One year, $5.5 million
Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill? It’s hard to see Winston earning the Week 1 nod after Hill started all four games in Drew Brees’ absence. If Winston gets the nod, he will be in an ideal fantasy offense. But until that happens, weapons such as Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas remain tethered to the two-way versatility of Hill.
Team: Atlanta Falcons
Contract: Two years, $5.5 million
Mike Davis is one of the potential big winners in free agency, landing with an explosive Atlanta offense. His only current competition consists of uninspiring veterans Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison. Former backs Todd Gurley and Brian Hill remain free agents, but a two-year deal for Davis speaks very favorably. New head coach Arthur Smith featured Tennessee All-Pro Derrick Henry prominently in his time as offensive coordinator in Tennessee. While Davis does not have nearly the skill set of Henry, his fantasy stock will be quite high if Atlanta avoids drafting a running back in the NFL Draft. Davis ranked fourth at the position with 59 receptions, despite only seeing a starter’s workload in 13 games. You are looking at an elite late-round RB target for Zero RB fantasy zealots.
Team: Miami Dolphins
Contract: One year, $10.6 million
Just how much of Will Fuller’s production was a result of the PEDs? The sixth-year wideout will have a chance to answer that question on one-year “prove it deal” from Miami. He will be suspended for the first game of the 2021 season, and will need to develop chemistry with second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Fuller will compete for targets with DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, and tight end Mike Gesicki. Whether he can regain the magic of last season, when he caught a touchdown in six consecutive games, remains to be seen.
Speculative Fantasy Impact
Team: Seattle Seahawks
Contract: One year, $6 million
Seattle lost starter Greg Olsen to retirement and Jacob Hollister in free agency to Buffalo. With elite metrics across the board, the 26-year old Everett could translate to a late-round TE favorite in redraft leagues. He should see the majority of tight end passing game targets, even with the continued presence of Will Dissly. Everett’s talent is unquestioned, but can he generate consistent production?
Team: Houston Texans
Contract: One year, $6 million
Taylor could inherit a strong fantasy role if Deshaun Watson starts the season suspended due to his off-field legal issues (or just refuses to play). There is a familiarity between new head coach David Culley, who served as Taylor’s quarterback coach in 2017 at Buffalo. Wide receivers Brandin Cooks, Keke Coutee, and Randall Cobb join with running backs David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, and Mark Ingram as thought-provoking fantasy weapons in the event Taylor gets the starting nod.
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
Contract: Two years, $6 million
Hyde reunites with his former college coach and should actually be a positive sign for James Robinson zealots. The addition of Hyde should reduce the chance the Jaguars add a running back in this year’s draft. At 30-years old, Hyde can provide short yardage and goal line work, but has minimal passing game impact. This signing could solidify a high fantasy floor for Robinson, who is coming off the No. 1 overall opportunity share at the position (PlayerProfiler).
Team: Los Angeles Chargers
Contract: One year, $6 million
The 34-year Cook is simply a transitional signing with the loss of Hunter Henry to New England. The athletic veteran produced six games of overall TE10 production or better in New Orleans, including the overall TE8 performance in Week 6. He joins another explosive offense with the Chargers, and will need to compete with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and running back Austin Ekeler for targets. Even with the team’s tight end position, he will compete with athletic 23-year old Donald Parham who caught three touchdowns as a rookie in 2020.
Team: Buffalo Bills
Contract: One year, $1.12 million
One of my favorite, under-the-radar signings of NFL free agency. At 6-foot-3, 239 lbs, Hollister 4.69 speed and above-average burst and agility make him a unique target for Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen. Starting tight end saw his snap share drop from 70.9% in 2019 to just 60.3% last season. Hollister has a connection with Allen from his Wyoming days, and his 89.3% true catch rate far (ninth-best among tight ends) exceeds Knox’s 77.4% (38th-best) from last season (PlayerProfiler).
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