Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: 25 players whose stock is on the rise after staying home in free agency

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman (11) celebrates a touchdown during the second half of the game Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. Indianapolis Colts Visit The San Francisco 49ers For Nfl Week 7 At Levi S Stadium In Santa Clara Calif Sunday Oct 24 2021

Free agency is a fun time of the year. No actual football is being played, but a generation of Madden fiends seems more than happy to spend a month out of the year almost purely on player movement. Free-agent signings, trades, and retirements alike: NFL free agency is a yearly circus that regularly helps shift the balance of power across the league.

Of course, players changing teams hasn’t historically been great for the fantasy football business. This is true regardless of position: it’s generally good practice to stay away from players changing teams when their original squad 1.) is choosing to let them walk, and 2.) couldn’t even fetch a trade.

Don’t hate the player in fantasy football, hate the average draft position (ADP); just realize more noise and traveling in March is probably a net negative compared to players who simply spend the offseason healing and further immersing themselves in the same offense.

What follows are 25 players whose stock is on the rise after staying home in free agency. Not every player was even a free agent in the first place, but various moves by their front office have made them a winner in projected fantasy points nonetheless. These guys aren’t in the green just yet: The NFL Draft will throw more competition into depth charts across the league. Still, we’re about two full months into the offseason, and so far the following players (listed in no particular order) are in a better spot than when their 2021 campaign ended.

Buffalo Bills WR Gabriel Davis and RB Devin Singletary

Davis has 18 receiving touchdowns in 37 career games (including playoffs). The only players with more during this span are Davante Adams (31), Mike Evans (31), Tyreek Hill (26), Travis Kelce (26), Cooper Kupp (25), D.K. Metcalf (24), Adam Thielen (24), and teammate Stefon Diggs (20). Only Marquez Valdes-Scantling (18.9) has averaged more yards per reception than Davis (17.6) among 83 wide receivers with at least 100 targets during this time.

The Bills' fourth-round pick of the 2020 NFL Draft has largely done nothing other than ball out with his opportunities through two seasons. Still just 23 years old, it's possible we haven't even seen the best of Davis just yet. The only problem over the years has been the presence of an obvious No. 2 outside receiver in the form of John Brown or Emmanuel Sanders, who have limited Davis to playing fewer than 75% of the offense's snaps in 68% of his career games.

Fast forward to the present day and the Bills have done nothing to replace Sanders. Instead, Cole Beasley was given his walking papers, and the team signed career slot maven Jamison Crowder to presumably split time with Isaiah McKenzie on the inside. This *should* help Davis receive triple-digit targets for the first time in his career, a mark which would assuredly lead to more consistent fantasy-friendly goodness with Josh Allen leading the charge.

And then there’s Singletary, who was truly one of the league’s better rushers last season in terms of missed tackles forced and yards after contact per carry.

The Bills scrapped their committee backfield after their weather-induced 14-10 loss to the Patriots. This resulted in Singletary posting some elite fantasy goodness while playing a true three-down role down the stretch:

  • Week 14: 4-52-0 rushing, 6-37-0 receiving, 82% snaps, PPR RB_
  • Week 15: 22-86-1 rushing, 1-10-0 receiving, 93% snaps, RB_
  • Week 16: 12-39-1 rushing, 5-39-0 receiving, 68% snaps RB_
  • Week 17: 23-110-2 rushing, 0-0-0 receiving, 80% snaps, RB_
  • Week 18: 19-88-1 rushing, 2-24-1 receiving, 76% snaps, RB_
  • Wild Card: 16-81-2 rushing, 3-13-0 receiving, 86% snaps
  • Divisional Round: 10-26-1 rushing, 4-25-0 receiving, 100% snaps

Mobile quarterbacks tend to make life tough for their running backs in fantasy land, and Buffalo is no exception with Allen (somehow) ranking 10th in the league with 31 rushing touchdowns since entering the league in 2018.

Still, Singletary is capable of overcoming Allen’s vulture-like tendencies near the goal line with this sort of every-down role. The addition of Duke Johnson — The U’s all-time leading rusher — is hardly a needle move, particularly after the team lost No. 3 RB Matt Breida in free agency anyway.

Singletary will be a prime mid-round target if he remains priced as an RB2 despite his potential for legit RB1 volume. Of course, he needs to make it through the draft without the Bills adding major competition (looking at you Breece Hall). The lack of a top-three-round pick devoted to the position would be music to the ears of Singletary’s present and future fantasy managers.

New York Jets RB Michael Carter

Many were hesitant to crown Carter as the next big thing in fantasy land as a rookie due to his fourth-round draft capital, but that didn't stop the Jets from handing him 183 touches in 14 games. Credit to Carter for converting that usage into 964 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns despite working inside of the league's 28th-ranked scoring offense.

Still, it was the manner in which Carter went about picking up his production that was especially impressive: He was objectively awesome in 2021, finding himself in the same jumble as Nick Chubb and college teammate Javonte Williams when it comes to the league’s best running backs in yards after contact and missed tackles forced per carry.

Injuries prevented Carter from soaring too high in Year 1, but he still worked as the overall PPR RB29 and finished inside the week’s top-24 scorers on six separate occasions.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the season: The Jets showed that they're willing to feature Carter as a true three-down back. He played at least 70% of the offense's snaps on three separate occasions and racked up at least 15 combined carries and targets in six of his 12 non-injury induced contests.

The Jets' only notable offseason move at the position has been re-signing Tevin Coleman. It’d sure make sense if they decide to tip their toes into the day two water at the position in the draft, but then again they settled on Carter last season when the position was in an even worse state. 

Chase volume over talent at running back; Carter might just represent one of the rare instances of a young running back having plenty of both.

Cleveland Browns TE David Njoku

All three Browns tight ends played 16 games last season. Austin Hooper played at least 75% of the offense's snaps in three games, Njoku once, and Harrison Bryant zero. Two-tight end committees are tough to figure out in fantasy land; three is nothing short of a nightmare.

Luckily, Njoku is now seemingly the favorite child after the Browns chose to franchise tag him and release Hooper. Throw in the massive upgrade under center courtesy of Deshaun Watson, and Njoku could be looking at the biggest target total of his career combined with more efficiency and scoring upside than ever.

Of course, it’s not a given that Stefanski will ever fully go away from keeping multiple tight ends heavily involved. The wide receiver room isn’t exactly overflowing with proven receivers aside from Amari Cooper as well as(to lesser extents) Donovan Peoples-Jones and Jakeem Grant, while Bryant has flashed enough in his own right to potentially warrant a 1.B role aside Njoku.

Njoku has totaled just 82 targets in 29 games since the Browns hired Stefanski. And yet, the 25-year-old talent looks poised to have the biggest role of his career while playing with his best quarterback by a mile. The potential for Bryant and a tight end to be named later to split the workload is certainly possible; either way, Njoku is firmly on the upside TE2 map after spending the better part of the last two seasons off the fantasy grid.

Indianapolis Colts WR Michael Pittman, WR Parris Campbell, and TE Mo Alie-Cox

Pittman gets a rather nice bump as Matt Ryan’s new No. 1 pass-game option. The rising third-year talent has flashed during his short career. Seriously, the ceiling looks like the roof if he can combine a legit high-end target total with even something close to great quarterback play one of these years.

Nobody is saying Pittman is the next Julio Jones; just realize even a down 2021 from Ryan — with little help from his offensive line or wide receivers — still produced better marks in yards per attempt (7.1 vs. 6.9) and PFF passing grade (78.0 vs. 71.9) and adjusted completion rate (76.1% vs. 72.3%) over Wentz.

Pittman has been locked in as the offense’s No. 1 pass-game option for quite some time, but suddenly Campbell profiles as the clear-cut No. 2 wide receiver with T.Y. Hilton and Zach Pascal out of the picture. An unfortunate string of injuries has led to Campbell playing just 15 games during his first three years in the league, but the 24-year-old former second-round pick is dynamic with the ball in his hands and even started to show off some advanced downfield route-running in 2021.

Both Pittman and Campbell have upgraded at quarterback and watched fellow target competition leave the picture. The same is also true for nominal starting tight end Alie-Cox with longtime staple Jack Doyle now retired. Similar to Njoku: Alie-Cox figures to still lose some snaps to 2021 fourth-round pick Kylen Granson, but at the moment the three-TE committee seems to have shrunk to two, and the Colts have pinpointed MAC as their preferred player courtesy of a three-year, $18 million contract.

This Colts offense still figures to flow through Jonathan Taylor as much as possible; just realize the upgrade under center with Ryan, combined with condensed pecking orders at wide receiver and tight end alike, could help produce more consistent pass-game options than we’ve been used to seeing in Indianapolis.

Kansas City Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire

CEH’s career hasn’t exactly started off the way Chiefs nation would have hoped, primarily due to a lack of pass-game opportunity. The entire allure of using a first-round pick on Edwards-Helaire seemed to be his tantalizing ability as a receiver out of the backfield, but in 2021 he averaged just 2.3 targets per game. CEH's status as the RB29 in PPR points per game was actually somewhat impressive considering he ranked 39th in expected PPR points per game.

Historically, one target is equal to about 2.7 rush attempts in terms of expected fantasy points; running backs that catch passes have a massive leg up on their competition in full-PPR scoring. Unfortunately, CEH regularly lost pass-down work to Darrel Williams and Jerick McKinnon last season, and Patrick Mahomes was obviously focusing first and foremost on the likes of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce anyway.

Fast forward to today: Williams and McKinnon both remain free agents, and Hill is now employed by the Dolphins. This leaves CEH as the backfield’s clear No. 1 option in the passing game, a role which could suddenly result in a best-case scenario of triple-digit targets thanks to the absence of Hill.

Perhaps Ronald Jones winds up leading the way on early downs, but he’s the absolute best-case addition in terms of avoiding more competition in the passing game. People forget RoJo once caught a touchdown before agreeing with the (incorrect) referee who said he dropped it.

Edwards-Helaire has posted a rather pedestrian 55-426-3 receiving line in 23 career regular-season games; at the moment that looks like a solid guess at his floor for 2022 inside of this new-look Chiefs offense.

The entire Denver Broncos offense

Adding Russell Wilson to the equation is good news for literally every person that lives in Denver, specifically the city’s professional football players:

  • Javonte Williams: Suddenly has double-digit touchdown upside in what figures to be a much-improved version of the Broncos offense; this group hasn’t ranked higher than 19th in scoring offense since 2014. Melvin Gordon remains a free agent, and the reality that he hasn’t been signed this late into the offseason indicates that Williams will likely be leaned on as the more-clear No. 1 option regardless of the veteran’s final status.
  • Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and K.J. Hamler: Both Sutton and Patrick are the sort of big-body outside receivers seemingly made in a lab to reel in Wilson’s patented moon balls. Jeudy’s route-running ability is already in the same stratosphere as Doug Baldwin, which is truly saying something. Hamler is coming back from injury and might be the odd man out; either way, the acquisition of Wilson should be seen as nothing but a massive positive for the entire group.
  • Albert Okwuegbunam: Sending Noah Fant in the trade sure looks like a good sign that the artist known as Albert O is the Broncos’ tight end of the present and future. Explosive with the ball in his hands, Okwuegbunam profiles as a fantasy-friendly receiving-first tight end; the question is whether or not the Broncos decide to roll with the rising third-year talent as their every-down starter, or if they’ll add to the position in the draft and utilize more of a committee. 

Williams already provided solid enough RB2 production for most of 2021; now the ceiling is the roof for the second-year talent in 2022.

Broncos wide receivers ranked 23rd in combined receiving yards and 31st in touchdowns last season. Sutton put up a few big performances, but more times than not wasn’t getting much of a chance to cash in on his copious air yards. Jeudy should be closer to 100% in 2022 and already has flashed the sort of tantalizing route-running ability to think a third-year breakout could be on the way. Patrick deserves the nod ahead of Hamler after cashing in on a long-term contract, but the latter field-stretcher’s elite speed will assuredly still be a part of this offense if healthy enough to suit up. Wilson has played with a lot of great receivers, but there’s a chance that the Broncos collectively give him the best weapons of his career. Perhaps volume will be a bit too split up to yield any truly remarkable seasons; either way expect all parties involved to see a nice efficiency bump.

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup and TE Dalton Schultz

Gallup posted a season-long 66-1,107-6 receiving line the last time he worked as the Cowboys' No. 2 wide receiver in 2019 and flashed enough during the previous two seasons to believe that even bigger things could be on the way with a proper workload. The Cowboys’ willingness to 1.) lock him down long-term, and 2.) trade Amari Cooper to the Browns, indicates that the recovery from a torn ACL can’t be too big of a concern.

The rise of CeeDee Lamb will likely prevent Gallup from ascending too high, but he’s suddenly the clear-cut No. 2 pass-game option in the league’s reigning No. 1 scoring offense. That’s objectively good news for his present and future fantasy managers; Gallup is the exact sort of upside WR3/WR4 to target in fantasy land thanks to their ADP being a far closer reflection of their floor as opposed to their ceiling.

A similar sentiment is true for Schultz: We’ve seen him put up big numbers in this offense before, and now the Cowboys have committed to him financially while departing with his direct competition. Schultz’s franchise tag doesn’t quite signal a true long-term commitment form the Cowboys, but their decision to part ways with Blake Jarwin indicates there won’t be much competition at the position.

Just six tight ends average at least 12 PPR points per game last season:

Schultz shouldn’t be confused with essentially all of the above tight ends in terms of pure athletic or receiving talent; good thing fantasy football doesn’t reward style points.

Minnesota Vikings TE Irv Smith

Smith’s first two seasons were largely irrelevant in fantasy land because he split snaps and targets alike with Kyle Rudolph. Then he missed all of 2021 with a torn meniscus. New head coach Kevin O'Connell was comfortable giving Tyler Higbee a near every-down role with the Rams; the ceiling is the moon for Smith (still just 23 years old) as this offense’s undisputed No. 1 tight end with both Rudolph and 2021 starter Tyler Conklin out of the picture.

Seriously: Smith was impressive as hell with his limited opportunities during the first two seasons of his career.

A young tight end looking at the first full-time starting role of his career in a passing game potentially ascending and only equipped with two wide receivers certain to work ahead of him in the pecking order, is that something you might be interested in?

Chicago Bears WR Darnell Mooney, TE Cole Kmet, and RB David Montgomery

The following key offensive contributors are no longer with the Bears:

The ideal fantasy football target is a talented player poised to see a large workload inside of a great offense. While the latter point might be tough for any member of the Bears to achieve in 2022, condensed high-end volume for each of Mooney, Kmet and Montgomery look more possible than ever with Chicago essentially fading free agency as a time to restock their skill-position rooms.

A new offense and inevitable competition added through the draft don’t guarantee any of these guys featured roles ahead of 2022; just realize so far, so good for each of their projected volumes. The same point is true for backup RB Khalil Herbert, who looks like one of fantasy’s best handcuffs *and* has the potential to supply some FLEX value should new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy decide to embrace more of a committee system.

Detroit Lions WR Amon-Ra St. Brown

The Lions made three key moves to their wide receiver room this offseason:

Each player projects to spend the majority of their time on the outside of the formation, meaning St. Brown should continue to soak up the majority of the position’s snaps from the fantasy-friendly confines of the slot.

Furthermore, it seems more likely by the day that Jared Goff will be the primary starting quarterback in Detroit for another year. His conservative style is perfect for enabling a high-volume slot maven like St. Brown. Overall, Goff’s average target depth of 6.8 yards was the league's third-lowest mark among 44 qualified quarterbacks last season. Nobody had a lower percentage of their passes thrown short of the first down sticks (34.2%).

Yes, much of St. Brown’s production came with D’Andre Swift and T.J. Hockenson banged up last season. Also yes, rookie receivers that were as good as St. Brown historically don’t turn back into pumpkins in future seasons, and the Lions to this point haven’t gone too far out of their way to make any real meaningful competition to the room.

Fantasy managers will certainly be buying St. Brown closer to his ceiling than his floor compared to 2021; just realize he’s (again) shaping up as the offense’s rather undisputed No. 1 pass-game option and is likely to be priced alongside wide receivers with far more direct competition for targets.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette

Only Derrick Henry, Jonathan Taylor, and Austin Ekeler averaged more PPR points per game than Fournette last season. This wasn't a fluke: Only Henry, Najee Harris, and Alvin Kamara had more expected PPR points per game. Fournette might not remind you of Ekeler or Christian McCaffrey in terms of pure receiving ability, but at the end of the day only six running backs averaged at least four receptions per game in 2021:

The Buccaneers paid Fournette the sort of money to feel good about his role even expanding next season. Ronald Jones is out of the picture while re-signing Giovani Bernard is hardly a massive problem given the ex-Bengals scatback's inability to carve out much of a consistent role in 2021.

Fournette is the workhorse running back in the league’s reigning No. 2-ranked scoring offense that will once again be led by immobile GOAT Tom Brady. You only need two hands to count the number of fantasy players to draft ahead of Fournette in 2022.

Arizona Cardinals RB James Conner and WR Rondale Moore

Conner suddenly looks like a legit workhorse entering 2022. Conner’s overall PPR RB5 finish was aided by Chase Edmonds missing time with a high-ankle sprain; good thing Edmonds is now a member of the Dolphins.

Either way, the ex-Steelers back proved to be more than just a short-yardage specialist, turning in some truly exceptional performances on his way to racking up 19 touchdowns in 16 games. Health has usually been the biggest issue for Conner; he’s proved capable of working across all three downs throughout his career. A return to Arizona alongside Edmonds taking his talents elsewhere was always the most-ideal scenario: Conner is truly deserving of top-10 treatment at the position in fantasy land assuming the Cardinals don’t make any other big moves at the position in the draft.

And then there’s Moore, who has already gotten some lovely offseason coach speak from head coach Kliff Kingsbury. These comments differ from last season when Kingsbury noted from the beginning that Moore would be working behind both DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green

Moore was the offense’s expected No. 5 option in the pass game behind Hopkins, Green, Christian Kirk and Zach Ertz when everyone was healthy last season. Now he looks cemented as the No. 2 wide receiver behind only Nuk with both AJG and Kirk out of the picture. Hell, even losing Chase Edmonds could be a positive if it results in more backfield touches for Moore.

Early-ADP still projects Moore in the WR4/WR5 range despite suddenly having a rather gaudy touch ceiling in an offense that still figures to be plenty competitive thanks to Kyler Murray’s status as a wizard. Moore stands out as arguably my single-favorite late-round pick at the moment due to the reality that he’s being priced far closer to his floor than his ceiling based on his projected 2022 role.

Atlanta Falcons RB Cordarrelle Patterson

History tells us that chasing elderly running backs in fantasy land isn’t a good idea, but Patterson’s lack of career-long usage does make him a possible exception to the rule. Going back to Atlanta was always the best-case scenario since they’re, you know, the only team to ever actually unleash C-Patt on offense. This man just went for 1,154 total yards after finishing with just 1,025 combined receiving and rushing yards in the previous three seasons combined. Patterson scored 11 touchdowns this season, which is how many he scored in 2014-2020. 

Perhaps the Falcons add another running back to the equation in the early rounds of the draft, but if not C-Patt again should be the backfield’s focal point with only Mike Davis, Damien Williams, and Quadree Ollison as primary competition. Atlanta didn’t sign up to pay Patterson eight figures in order to not give him the ball, and plenty of fantasy-friendly targets should continue to be on the table without Calvin Ridley (suspension) or Russell Gage in the picture.

Expecting another season flirting with true RB1 (or WR1) production is probably wishful thinking; just realize Patterson is again set up for triple-digit carries and something not too far off in the target department. He’s a bargain if his present ADP as a low-end RB3 remains in an offense with essentially nowhere else to go with the ball (with all due respect to Kyle Pitts).

Seattle Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny

Penny was truly awesome down the stretch in 2021. Don’t believe me? Watch the film.

Nobody averaged more yards per carry (6.3) or yards after contact per carry (4.5) than Penny among 50 running backs with at least 100 carries last season. The problems are clear: Penny has played in just 37 of a potential 65 regular-season games since entering the league in 2018. He hasn't looked out of place as a pass-catcher but ultimately has never caught even 10 passes in a season. He's played more than 50% of the offense's snaps just four times across his entire professional career.

And yet: The Seahawks handed Penny 17, 13, 17, 27, and 23 touches down the stretch in 2021. Even a full return to health from Chris Carson likely wouldn’t prevent this ever run-first offense from feeding Penny the rock upwards of 15 times per game, particularly after head coach Pete Carroll went on record in stating Penny will receive the first shot in the backfield.

Penny projects as fantasy’s cheapest featured back if the injury gods can look the other way for a few months. The Seattle offense doesn’t figure to boast the same sort of touchdown upside as usual, but look no further than the likes of 2020 James Robinson and 2021 Najee Harris to see how absurd volume can help elevate a running back inside of an average-to-bad offense.

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