Fantasy Football: Bargain bin trade targets for dynasty rebuilders and contenders

2MAHY6G New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) celebrates a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Sep. 11, 2022, in Atlanta. The New Orleans Saints won 27-26. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

  • Handcuffs with room to grow: Jerome Ford and Zamir White are both stuck behind RB1s but have the talent and potential opportunities to stoke their value moving forward.
  • Don’t discount the veterans: Michael Thomas and James Conner have established fantasy resumes that could provide massive returns on investment in 2023.
  • Get in while you can: Isaiah Likely and Rashid Shaheed made waves after little heraldry as rookies with big performances in 2022. Opportunity exists for 2023, but the future could be even brighter.
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Trading in dynasty leagues is the primary way to build a team beyond the startup draft and annual rookie drafts. Swinging for the fences and offloading assets for an elite league winner, or likewise selling an elite asset for a bevy of picks and youth, is a bonafide strategy that can shift the balance of a league in the present and near future, but longtime dynasty managers know that depth can be just as essential as the big names on a squad. Not every trade has to be a blockbuster, so identifying talent that can assist in your ultimate goals, whether long-term or short-term, can be a pivotal strategy that is often underutilized by dynasty managers.

Contending teams often ship off future picks for players that can help them win now while rebuilding teams may be a bit more close-to-the-vest with their future picks because the hit rate of those mid-round picks can make or break a squad’s potential in a few years’ time. Nonetheless, trading a third-rounder for a young asset does not have to be a one-for-one swap because players' values constantly shift, allowing managers to buy low and flip when the time is right.

Below are several players to target in both categories as contenders look to maximize output as soon as possible while rebuilding teams can target players that have the potential to elevate their value. 


RB James ConnerArizona Cardinals

With the organizational overhaul the Cardinals have dealt with this offseason, it is easy to overlook James Conner, especially in dynasty formats. Despite the tribulations faced by Arizona during 2022, Conner still snuck out a top 20 RB finish, posting 0.88 fantasy points per touch supplemented by 46 receptions and eight total touchdowns. This offseason saw no major additions to the backfield, and with Corey Clement, Keaontay Ingram and Emari Demercado rounding out the running back room, it is doubtful that Conner sees any major drop in usage. His future beyond 2023 is certainly in question but for contending teams, a second-round pick for a player with easy RB2 upside seems like a no-brainer.

WR Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

Once at the top of the dynasty WR hierarchy, Thomas struggled to stay on the field the last two seasons, cratering his value as he enters his eighth season in the league. With Derek Carr now helming the QB position and a budding star in Chris Olave opposite him, “MT” has the potential to produce well beyond his perceived value provided he can stay on the field. Expecting anywhere near his prior usage (140-plus targets from 2017-2019) is a tough ask, but TD upside (nine-plus TDs in three of his first four seasons) is reasonable. There is certainly risk in trading for an oft-injured 30-year-old receiver, but for a late-second-rounder, this is a swing that could pay massive dividends for those looking for WR or FLEX depth.

RB Rashaad PennyPhiladelphia Eagles

Another oft-injured asset, Penny landed in an appealing situation for fantasy purposes. His four-plus yards after contact per attempt and over 50% breakaway percentage over the last two seasons (albeit in limited time) both attest to how effective he can be with average offensive line play, so slotting him behind a top-three run-blocking OL in Philadelphia alongside one of the best rushing QBs in the league in Jalen Hurts provides him with an alluring ceiling. Competition exists in the form of D’Andre Swift and Kenneth Gainwell, but Penny is a different type of back. For a mid-to-late-second-rounder, you could do much worse for RB help.

TE Tyler HigbeeLos Angeles Rams

While 2022 was more or less a mess for the Rams, Higbee was a bright spot for fantasy purposes, slotting in quietly at TE7 after posting career highs in targets (104) and receptions (72) while exceeding his fantasy output from the previous two seasons. Cooper Kupp and Matthew Stafford return to the fold for 2023, but the Rams did little else to alleviate the deficit of talent at the WR and TE positions. Expect Higbee’s usage to remain in the same ballpark, while positive regression in efficiency categories (career-low 2.11 fantasy points per touch in 2023) could offset any loss in targets. For a team with a need for instant impact at TE, a third-rounder for Higbee could provide massive return on investment. 

RB Jerick McKinnon, Kansas City Chiefs

The journeyman RB found a home in 2022 in Kansas City, serving as a solid receiving outlet out of the backfield for Patrick Mahomes as a complement to Isiah Pacheco. Seemingly out of nowhere, Jerick McKinnon had legitimate league-winning upside as a waiver wire pickup, finishing as the RB20 overall and posting the highest fantasy points per touch among true RBs in the league at 1.53 while his 55 receptions ranked inside the top 10. For a player who can likely be acquired for next to naught, McKinnon embodies the bargain bin strategy with upside to produce as a top-30 RB again for 2023.

WR Richie JamesKansas City Chiefs

The second Chief to make an appearance, James is likely not a name that will knock anyone’s socks off or break the bank after coming over from the New York Giants. However, the shifty receiver is one of the best separators in the league with 76 of his 82 targets (including no plays) in 2022 charted as “open” while his 1.65 yards per route run ranked well above league average as well. The 2023 Chiefs WR rotation is deep but largely unsettled, and James can be acquired essentially for free in the majority of leagues. A true gamble, he may not have the ceiling of others on this list, but you can certainly do worse with a lottery ticket than a fantastic route runner attached to one of the best QBs in the league.


RB Zamir WhiteLas Vegas Raiders

A popular sleeper name among dynasty circles last season, White was drafted in the fourth round of the 2022 draft and appeared to be in line to be the primary backup to Josh Jacobs off the bat. This did not quite come to fruition in his rookie season, but he did look solid in limited touches, seeing just 17 carries, which included three runs of 10-plus yards and 80% of his yards coming after contact, flashing the contact balance he possessed at Georgia. Now five-plus years removed from his ACL tears and facing Ameer Abdullah and Brandon Bolden as the other backups, this could certainly change for 2023 and beyond, especially because Jacobs, Abdullah and Bolden are free agents after this season, leaving an opportunity for White to seize a role alongside whomever the Raiders bring in next offseason. 

RB Jerome FordCleveland Browns

Similar to White, Ford is directly blocked by an established RB1 in Nick Chubb but with Kareem Hunt no longer in the picture and little competition behind him outside 2021 sixth-rounder Demetric Felton, who has almost nine times the number of snaps lined up as a receiver (170) as in the backfield (19) in his two-year career. Ford, a fifth-round pick in 2022, received just two carries this past season on 13 snaps, but his 19 carries in the preseason were encouraging following his breakout 2021 season at Cincinnati during which he posted an 87.8 rushing grade and scored 17 TDs on the ground. Early reports out of camp are positive, and Ford should have a role this season and moving forward. If you’re a rebuilding team with surplus second- and third-rounders, consider moving one for either Ford or White depending on how the owner in your league feels about them.  

WR Jalen NailorMinnesota Vikings

Playing just 31 snaps in 2022 as a sixth-round pick, Nailor likely was not on many people’s radar heading into the 2023 preseason. Nailor fought through some injuries in his college career, including a hand injury that cost him the last four games of 2021, but showcased big play ability with 2.83 yards per route run and 10.5 yards after the catch per reception in eight games that season. Heading into 2023, Nailor seems to find himself above K.J. Osborne (85 targets in 2022) as the Vikings WR3 behind Justin Jefferson and 24th overall selection Jordan Addison while T.J. Hockenson certainly factors in as well. While chances he makes significant noise this season are slim, even in an increased role, Nailor can likely be acquired for next to nothing at the moment, and he may even be on some waiver wires, making him a lottery ticket who could certainly pay off down the road.

WR Rashid ShaheedNew Orleans Saints

Heading into his second season with the Saints, the undrafted WR out of Weber State quite literally exploded onto the scene in Week 6 with a 44-yard touchdown run against the Cincinnati Bengals followed by a 53-yard TD catch against the Arizona Cardinals the next week. From that point, Shaheed steadily worked himself into a larger role, averaging 7.5 targets per game from Week 12 onward while still putting up some impressive highlights. He finished 2022 with 2.59 yards per route run, which was behind only Tyreek Hill, Justin Jefferson and Jaylen Waddle among wide receivers, and also ranked inside the top 20 WRs in fantasy points per touch at 3.14. Efficiency regression is definitely possible, but in a receiver room that does not inspire much confidence outside Chris Olave and Michael Thomas (when healthy), usage should continue to increase and offset some of this. Shaheed’s price point may vary wildly from league to league, but a pair of third-rounders or a late-second for a young ascending player is a price point you have to feel good about.

TE Isaiah LikelyBaltimore Ravens

Likely announced his presence to the NFL world as early as the second preseason game, catching eight balls for 100 yards and a TD against the Cardinals, but carried that momentum into his limited opportunities in the regular season, capitalizing whenever Mark Andrews missed time including a six-catch, 77-yard and one-touchdown performance in Week 8 when Andrews went down early in the game as well as an eight-catch, 103-yard performance in Week 18 in Cincinnati. Greg Roman's departure may mean the offense runs less through the tight end position while added competition in Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers (among others) potentially limits Likely’s immediate ceiling except in cases where Andrews misses time. He certainly has die-hard fans out there, and the manager in your league who has him may be reluctant at best to move him, but Likely is a perfect candidate to dramatically increase his value in the future.

WR Terrace Marshall Jr.Carolina Panthers

After being selected in the second round in 2021, Marshall found himself in Matt Rhule’s doghouse for much of his rookie campaign and even spilling into 2022, as he saw just six snaps through the first four weeks. After stepping into a larger role, “TMJ” produced solidly amidst poor offensive performances and QB play from the Panthers, finishing second overall behind Jaylen Waddle in yards per reception at 17.5 and 11th overall in fantasy points per touch at 2.96 (both among WRs who played 50% of their team’s snaps) as well as seeing an encouraging six end zone targets in his last 10 games. New additions in Adam Thielen, D.J. Chark, and rookie second-rounder Jonathan Mingo represent competition for targets, but at 23 years old, Marshall has a lot of room to grow and is attached to a young, talented QB through next season. He can likely be acquired for a third-rounder but has the potential to exceed this valuation starting this season.


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