Fantasy News & Analysis

Hartitz: Post-Free Agency Fantasy Football Takeaways for all 32 NFL Teams

Nov 15, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) during the third quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency escalated quickly last week with over a billion of non-Bitcoin American dollars being guaranteed to a total of 215 players as of Monday morning. Yes, some teams spent far more than others. Also yes, some teams didn’t need to spend as much as others.

Regardless of whether or not you liked every signing: Money has and will continue to talk when it comes down to playing time in the NFL. Free agency is arguably more impactful than the draft when it comes to immediate next-year playing time. As PFF’s Mike Renner so eloquently tweeted: “Free agency is for need, the draft is for value.”

I went through every NFL roster before free agency to determine each team’s top-three needs and also recorded a 32-for-32 series of offseason previews on The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast. Now everything is different; we need to catch up on what every offense now looks like ahead of the 2021 season. This will help us mightily over the next few weeks as we 1) find out where the rookies are going, and 2) attempt to predict which veterans will take a leap forward in 2021.

What follows is a breakdown of every team’s projected 1) starting QB, 2) lead RB in total touches, 3) most-targeted WR, and 4) most-targeted TE. Clearly the majority these will be obvious; the key notes section will feature the key analysis on teams that have fairly evenly split backfields and passing games. Check out my Fantasy Football Free Agency Tracker for specific thoughts on every fantasy-relevant free agent’s fit with their new teams.

ARZ | ATL | BLT | BUF | CAR | CIN | CHI | CLE | DEN | DAL | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC | LVR | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WFT

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Starting QB: Kyler Murray

No. 1 RB: Chase Edmonds and if this sticks it’ll be huge people

No. 1 WR: DeAndre Hopkins as much as the team’s social media account wants to make you think A.J .Green will have a massive role

No. 1 TE: Maxx Williams in what should be a four-WR heavy attack

Main free agency takeaway: Don’t 1) sleep on the potential for Edmonds to take over, and 2) be afraid to be ageist and fade AJG

Key notes: The Cardinals have said all the right things when it comes to Green’s standing in the 2021 offense, but c’mon people. Prime AJG was truly a monster; whatever we saw last season was truly one of the worst receivers in the league:

  • PFF receiving grade: 67.1 (No. 63 among 84 qualified WRs)
  • Yards per route run: 1.02 (No. 79)
  • Yards after the catch per reception: 1.8 (No. 84)
  • Yards per reception: 11.1 (tied for No. 62)

All in all, Green put up five (!!!) goose-egg performances and was regularly outplayed by his teammates. The longtime stud receiver truly looked like a shell of himself after missing the entire 2019 season due to an ankle injury.

Some have pointed to the fact that Green caught just three of his 24 targets thrown at least 20 yards downfield as a sign that he was held back by Joe Burrow. Well, he was considered open or wide open on just one of those targets. That 0.4% open or wide open rate on targets thrown 20-plus yards downfield ranked 64th among 70 receivers with at least 10 such targets last season. Murray has a stronger arm than Burrow and graded out far better as a deep-ball passer; just realize the eye test and advanced metrics alike paint a pretty clear picture that AJG, not Burrow, was the primary culprit for their inefficiency in 2020.

The other big move was the departure of Kenyan Drake to the Raiders (lol). The biggest winner here is Edmonds by a landslide. Coach Kliff Kingsbury stated before free agency that they view Edmonds as a true three-down back, and he was treated as such when Drake missed time in 2021. Arizona becomes arguably the marquee spot to watch in fantasyland when it comes to additional RB moves, as refraining from adding to the group could leave Edmonds as a borderline RB1 thanks to projected volume alone.

We’ve only seen Edmonds function as the Cardinals’ lead back twice, but the workload was marvelous:

  • 2019 Week 7: 27-126-3 rushing, 2-24-0 receiving, 94% snaps
  • 2020 Week 9: 25-70-0 rushing, 3-18-0 receiving, 96% snaps

This is a fluid situation; somebody will be added. Still, Edmonds is now the frontrunner for lead back duties and a bargain at his present ADP if his role even moderately resembles our two-game sample. Dual-threat QBs aren’t always great for their RB’s fantasy business, but Edmonds’ potential workload is absolutely wild, and the presence of Murray as well as ex-Raiders C Rodney Hudson should continue to produce wide rushing lanes.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Starting QB: Matt Ryan

No. 1 RB: Mike Davis, which is actually incredibly exciting

No. 1 WR: Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are both WR1s that just so happen to both have a falcon on their helmet

No. 1 TE: Hayden Hurst

Main free agency takeaway: There are few better situations in the league for a high-end rookie RB to enter

Key notes: This was my dream landing spot for Davis in my free agency preview because:

“Someone needs to be the recipient of coach Arthur Smith’s fantasy-friendly backfield, and the cap-strapped Falcons could do worse than Davis, who racked up 226 total yards and a score in two combined matchups against the Panthers’ NFC South rival in 2020.”

Davis made life bearable for Christian McCaffrey fantasy investors if they were lucky enough to properly handcuff the reigning 2019 fantasy MVP. All the sixth-year journeyman RB did in 15 games of action is rack up 1,015 total yards from scrimmage with eight trips to the end zone. Davis achieved all of this in style, leaving countless defenders grasping for air along the way.

In Weeks 1-16, only Dalvin Cook (78), Derrick Henry (67) and David Montgomery (67) racked up more total forced missed tackles than Davis (65). Only Nick Chubb (0.31) had a higher rate of broken tackles per touch than Davis (0.29) among 65 players with 100 total touches.

There’s always a chance the Falcons draft a high-end RB that leaves Davis as a clear backup. Still, functioning as this offense’s lead three-down back is firmly in the veteran’s range of outcomes as well, making him a great zero-RB target in the middle rounds after the more locked-in 20 or so backs are off the board.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Starting QB: Lamar Jackson

No. 1 RB: J.K. Dobbins with far more Gus Edwards involvement than fantasy football managers would prefer

No. 1 WR: Marquise Brown

No. 1 TE: Mark Andrews

Main free agency takeaway: The refusal to invest in real weapons around Jackson is good news for everyone except the 2019 MVP

Key notes: The Ravens rank dead last in 2021 dollars devoted to the offense by nearly $10 million. They’re reportedly making a push to land Sammy Watkins, which would help because Watkins is a solid receiver, but it’s also clearly a step below the sort of help that fellow young QBs Kyler Murray (DeAndre Hopkins), Baker Mayfield (Odell Beckham) and Josh Allen (Stefon Diggs) have recently received.

Ultimately, Jackson is enough of a cheat code as a rusher to continue to function as a high-end fantasy asset regardless of whether or not progression as a passer comes in 2021.

We should again expect to see the offense’s rushing work split up fairly evenly between Jackson, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. The departure of Mark Ingram is good news for the chances of this backfield shrinking to two, but the present disparity in average draft position between Dobbins and Edwards is far too high. Both players are extremely talented:

The answer to Dobbins or Edwards in fantasy could very well be: both. Still, Dobbins is the one being priced far closer to his ceiling; take advantage of this by going all in on Edwards in the later rounds.

The lack of incoming competition is probably best news for Marquise Brown, who ended 2020 on an absolute tear:

  • Week 12: 4 receptions-85 yards-1 TD
  • Week 13: 5-39-1
  • Week 14: 2-50-1
  • Week 15: 6-98-0
  • Week 16: 4-25-1
  • Week 17: 5-41-2
  • Wild Card: 7-109-0
  • Divisional Round: 4-87-0

It’s tough to expect this sort of consistency over 16 games, but at a minimum the artist known as Hollywood is a boom-or-bust WR3 that likely will fall more than he should in drafts due to his underwhelming first 60% of last season.

Mark Andrews was the TE4 in PPR points per game in 2020 and sure looks like a good candidate to do so again in 2021. He deserves to be the first player at the position off the board after Travis Kelce, Darren Waller and George Kittle; just realize there’s a large tier dropoff from No. 3 to No. 4.

BUFFALO BILLS

Starting QB: Josh Allen

No. 1 RB: Zack Moss in one of the league’s least fantasy-friendly backfields 

No. 1 WR: Stefon Diggs

No. 1 TE: Dawson Knox

Main free agency takeaway: This should again be one of the league’s best offenses; just realize Diggs is the No. 1 pass-game option, and everything else is crowded

Key notes: We know Allen and the reigning No. 2 scoring offense are plenty capable of putting up big-time numbers again in 2021. Still, things are awfully muddled outside of Diggs’ status as the undisputed alpha in the passing game.

We’re tentatively looking at another two-back committee in Buffalo featuring Devin Singletary and Moss. Both backs are fine; the problem is that Allen hasn’t enabled fantasy-friendly RBs due to his penchant for 1) chucking the rock downfield, and 2) taking off on his own near the goal line. This doesn’t mean you should ignore every RB involved in this offense, but the addition of another high-ish end draft pick would likely produce an even more crowded version of this already-limited situation.

The addition of Emmanuel Sanders is good news for Allen. Anyone who wants to call Sanders washed hasn’t been watching football in recent years. He was a better ball away from scoring the go-ahead TD late in the Super Bowl all the way back in 2020, and the fact that he managed to go for 61-726-5 in 14 games last season is impressive considering he was working with Drew Brees’ noodle arm and whatever the hell Taysom Hill is.

Of course, this isn’t great for Gabriel Davis, who was expected to function as the Bills’ clear-cut No. 2 outside WR after John Brown was released last week. This is suddenly a crowded group considering Cole Beasley has seen 106 and 107 targets over the past two seasons.

The good news for everyone involved is that this is truly a fantasy-friendly offense. Allen ranked eighth in overall dropbacks last season and second with at least four wide receivers on the field. The reigning No. 2 scoring offense clearly is capable of enabling more than one high-end fantasy receiver; it’s just more unclear than ever who that will be.

Our best-case scenario for the Bills offense was clear-cut three-WR formations featuring Diggs, Davis and Beasley. Now we should expect Sanders and Davis to rotate, making Beasley the No. 2 target in fantasyland based on opportunity alone. The Bills’ stud slot WR is worthy of low-end WR3 consideration thanks to his advanced floor, while Diggs should continue to be drafted among fantasy’s top-five players at his position. Davis is the primary loser here; treat both him and Sanders as boom-or-bust WR4 options until we have any sort of confidence that one or the other has the edge in playing time.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Starting QB: Teddy Bridgewater, although it’d sure be a lot cooler if it was someone else

No. 1 RB: Christian McCaffrey

No. 1 WR: Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore are both WR1s that just so happen to have a panther on their helmet

No. 1 TE: Ian Thomas and Dan Arnold should split snaps in an offense that isn’t expected to utilize the position too much

Main free agency takeaway: All systems go for CMC and the team’s returning top two receivers entering Year 2 in Joe Brady’s A+ scheme

Key notes: Things are more condensed than usual after Curtis Samuel took his talents to Washington. This could produce larger workloads for both Anderson and Moore, who should each be treated as top-24 fantasy assets even if the Panthers fail to make a meaningful upgrade under center.

The addition of another high-end receiver might not be such a bad thing for Anderson and Moore. We already saw them perform just fine with Samuel soaking up 97 targets in 2020 anyway, and surrounding Bridgewater with more weapons might be what he needs to improve his efficiency.

Of course, Moore and Anderson largely didn’t have to deal with McCaffrey last season. This is a low-key crowded passing game because not many offenses have a RB looking at a triple-digit target workload. Remember: McCaffrey averaged more fantasy points per game in 2020 than he did in 2019. Continue to lock in the millennial version of LaDainian Tomlinson as fantasy football’s No. 1 overall selection.

CHICAGO BEARS

Starting QB: Andy Dalton, lol

No. 1 RB: David Montgomery with Tarik Cohen getting loads of targets

No. 1 WR: Allen Robinson deserves better

No. 1 TE: Cole Kmet

Main free agency takeaway: We’re grasping at straws here, people

Key notes: Dalton struggled mightily out of the gate after Dak Prescott was lost for the season, but he did improve as the year went on and led the offense to at least 30 points in four of his final seven starts. Still, any command that Dalton might’ve had over the offense didn’t exactly lead to bunches of fantasy points:

  • Week 6: fantasy QB22
  • Week 7: QB27
  • Week 11: QB14
  • Week 12: QB22
  • Week 13: QB18
  • Week 14: QB21
  • Week 15: QB18
  • Week 16: QB4
  • Week 17: QB25

Keep in mind that Dalton was working with a far better group of skill-position weapons with the Cowboys compared to what he’ll be dealing with in Chicago. Of course, Allen Robinson is a stud, but he’s unhappy with the franchise tag, and there simply aren’t many proven assets elsewhere. Darnell Mooney flashed some solid field-stretching ability as a rookie; just realize this is anyone’s idea of a below-average receiving group even with A-Rob involved.

Dalton has always been a sum-of-his-parts QB, and right now the sum of his parts is fairly brutal at receiver and on the offensive line alike. A-Rob has dealt with worse; he’s still a top-10 fantasy receiver regardless of whether or not he still has a bear on his helmet come September. It’s probably wise to mostly fade this offense otherwise. Credit to Montgomery for truly balling for large portions of 2020; the problem is Cohen is fully expected to get back to stealing the backfield’s fantasy-friendly targets. Late-round darts on Mooney and Kmet are fine; this just isn’t an offense that people should be actively looking to target in fantasy land.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Starting QB: Joe Burrow

No. 1 RB: Joe Mixon with more Giovani Bernard involvement than fantasy managers would prefer

No. 1 WR: Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins are each set up for bunches of targets

No. 1 TE: C.J. Uzomah

Main free agency takeaway: This could be a condensed, fairly prolific, offense if major additions aren’t made in the early rounds of the draft

Key notes: The departure of A.J. Green elevates Auden Tate to a starting spot in three-WR sets for the moment. I love it; Tate catches anything thrown in his general vicinity and is far better than the haters make him out to be. Separation issues be damned: The 24-year-old WR can make some plays.

Of course, it seems more likely than not that the Bengals utilize a high-end pick at WR or TE. This isn’t bad news for Higgins or Boyd; they could use a more-effective teammate to help elevate the overall offense after AJG was routinely shut down throughout the 2020 season. Both should be treated as top-30 players at the position in fantasy drafts of all shapes and sizes. Tate has a real chance of emerging as a dangerous red-zone threat and potential upside fantasy WR4 if no serious additions are made.

This same sentiment is true at TE for Uzomah, who posted 4-45-0 and 4-42-1 receiving lines in his 1.5 games of action last season. The Bengals have been linked to Kyle Pitts in some mock drafts, but historically most rookies at the position struggle to make an immediate impact. Assuming Uzomah can (again) beat out Drew Sample, he’s a prime late-round TE value going completely under the radar at the moment.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Starting QB: Baker Mayfield

No. 1 RB: Nick Chubb and to juuust a slightly less extent Kareem Hunt

No. 1 WR: Odell Beckham with a heavy complement of Jarvis Landry

No. 1 TE: Austin Hooper in a committee

Main free agency takeaway: Few overall units enter 2021 with the sort of continuity that the Browns possess

Key notes: Basically every 2020 offensive contributor is back for the 20201 Browns. The Browns’ fairytale season ended in the Divisional Round, but Mayfield certainly looked the part of a true franchise QB for most of the season. PFF’s No. 7 QB in passing grade among 44 signal-callers with at least 100 dropbacks including playoffs, Mayfield overcame the early-season loss of Beckham with flying colors and regularly put the team in a position to win.

Note that we shouldn’t misinterpret this as the Browns offense being *better* without OBJ. The more likely scenario is that Mayfield was simply more willing to work within the confines of the offense without feeling like he needed to force feed an individual player. Overall, Mayfield targeted his first read on just 58% of his dropbacks in 22 games with Beckham over the past two seasons compared to 63% without. Only Aaron Rodgers posted a better PFF passing grade than Mayfield when targeting the first read after Week 7. It’s tough to stop Mayfield when he identifies an open receiver in rhythm; just realize the best version of this Browns offense would consist of this mindset *with* a coverage-shifting talent like Beckham making things even easier for the passing game’s complementary other options.

As PFF_Sam eloquently put in his 2021 breakout candidate piece: “Cleveland’s offense has actually been significantly better without Beckham on the field than with him. While many consider the logical conclusion to that being for Beckham to get traded away, I’m instead going to say that a coach as good as Kevin Stefanski can figure out how to mesh one of the game’s most talented players with an offense that cooks on gas in his absence.”

I’m buying OBJ at value across the fantasy industry and continuing to fire up Chubb as a weekly top-10 option. Things are a bit too crowded in this run-first offense for my liking elsewhere, as the likes of Mayfield, Hunt and even Landry aren’t offering the same sort of discounts we were seeing in 2020.

DALLAS COWBOYS

Starting QB: Dak Prescott

No. 1 RB: Ezekiel Elliott even though we’d all love more Tony Pollard

No. 1 WR: Amari Cooper even though CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup should ball, too

No. 1 TE: Blake Jarwin

Main free agency takeaway: The future is officially in Dak’s hands

Key notes: Only the Browns have more 2021 dollars devoted to their offense than the Cowboys. The ceiling is the roof for pretty much everyone involved as long as Dak stays healthy:

  • Prescott: QB4 in Weeks 1-5
  • Elliott: RB3
  • Cooper: WR8
  • Lamb: WR11
  • Gallup: WR33
  • Dalton Schultz: TE12

The only real question is whether or not Jarwin will return to a starting job after Schultz performed admirably in his absence. A committee situation of sorts seems likely; there are better late-round options out there.

Perhaps the biggest free agency takeaway from the Cowboys was the fact they declined to add any sort of real substance to their generally-atrocious defense. Expect plenty of shootouts at Cowboys games again in 2021; don’t be afraid to target anybody and everybody involved in this potential top-five offense.

DENVER BRONCOS

Starting QB: Drew Lock

No. 1 RB: Melvin Gordon and maybe, just maybe, Mike Boone

No. 1 WR: Courtland Sutton with plenty of Jerry Jeudy, too

No. 1 TE: Noah Fant

Main free agency takeaway: The Broncos believe in Lock more than you

Key notes: The decision to not add any sort of real QB competition (yet) is great news for Lock, who has at least flashed the ability to make some truly high-level throws. Lowlights aside: Lock put together a pretty dope mixtape of big-time throws in 2020.

All in all, Lock ranked fifth in big-time throw rate (6.8%) behind only Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes. The problem is that he ranked 35th in turnover-worthy rate (4.5%).

The pieces are in place for Lock to take a third-year leap; it just remains to be seen if he has it in him. The likes of Sutton and Jeudy are best treated as upside WR3 types with this passing game’s pecking order far from established. Fant might be the most likely player to boom with a return to good health; he joins Dallas Goedert as my favorite non-top-three TE1s to target in fantasy land.

The backfield is where things get tricky. There’s possibly some discontent going on between the Broncos and Melvin Gordon, who didn’t exactly dominate in 2020 before popping up in the news for a late-season DUI charge. It seems unlikely new signee Mike Boone takes over this backfield, but weekly touches might not be a pipe dream with Phillip Lindsay now a member of the Texans. This offense has been missing an explosive element in the run game, and Boone regularly made the most out of his (rare) opportunities with the Vikings. Overall, Boone’s average of 3.5 yards after contact per carry is tied for the sixth-highest mark among 121 RBs with at least 50 carries over the past three seasons. There are worse end of the draft targets in best-ball land than the Broncos’ new theoretical three-down RB.

DETROIT LIONS

Starting QB: Jared Goff

No. 1 RB: D’Andre Swift and hopefully not too much Jamaal Williams

No. 1 WR: Honestly who knows (please Breshad Perriman)

No. 1 TE: T.J. Hockenson

Main free agency takeaway: I’m here for biting kneecaps metaphors but this team is going to be awful in 2021

Key notes: Williams is truly a solid RB who is underrated in the fantasy community purely because of frustration stemming from Aaron Jones not getting enough touches. Now D’Andre Swift managers can partake in the tilt, as Williams is capable of stealing work on all three downs depending on how new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn wants to do things.

Ultimately, I believe in Swift. The 2020 second-round pick was electric as both a rusher and receiver as a rookie, regularly making defenders look silly in space. Swift was the better player by virtually any metric in the run and pass game last season; Lynn has already said he views him as a three-down back.

Swift had 114 carries and 46 receptions last season; he might just have the skill to double those totals while maintaining above-average efficiency. Still, Williams is the type of do-it-all backup that can make a habit of finding a bit more playing time than most would expect — just ask all the A-aron truthers out there. Williams is fun as hell to watch play sometimes — he’s just had the pleasure of playing with one of the position’s more talented players. However, we knew the Lions were going to add another player to this backfield; a veteran backup making $3.5 million annually isn’t exactly the worst-case scenario when it comes to newfound competition for Swift.

There isn’t a lot to like about the 2021 Lions offense other than Swift and TE T.J. Hockenson at the moment. The presence of a new coaching staff warrants some cause for concern in regards to Swift’s chances of obtaining a three-down workload, but we’ve seen Lynn lean on the likes of LeSean McCoy, Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler to great success over the years. Continue to treat Swift as a high-end RB2 despite the potential for this team to be all kinds of bad. The potential for Swift’s versatility to garner a true three-down role remains exciting; I’m still leaning toward buying into higher-floor receivers in the second and third rounds of fantasy drafts. Williams is nothing more than an uber-late-round pick that could annoyingly steal goal-line touches and third-down work.

The only other key note is Perriman. This was arguably Perriman’s best landing spot in terms of pure projected volume. I’d anticipate him leading the way in this unproven offense over the likes of Tyrell Williams and others; the Lions’ WR room is truly the most shallow group in the league at the moment. Don’t sleep on Perriman; he’s performed well with each of the Browns, Buccaneers and Jets since leaving the Ravens. We saw some great moments in 2020, particularly when Joe Flacco replaced injured slot-feeder extraordinaire Sam Darnold. I plan on attacking Perriman in the later rounds of fantasy drafts of all shapes and sizes throughout the offseason.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Starting QB: Aaron Rodgers

No. 1 RB: Aaron Jones and hopefully just A.J. Dillon

No. 1 WR: Davante Adams

No. 1 TE: Robert Tonyan

Main free agency takeaway: This organization hates to have fun in March and I remain personally offended they didn’t sign Curtis Samuel

Key notes: Don’t expect this passing game to look any different in 2021. Adams has a legit chance to finish with a target total that starts with a two if healthy for 16 games, while Marquez Valdes-Scantling is a best-ball drafter’s late round wet dream due to his notorious boom-or-bust ways.

Obviously the huge move was re-signing Jones. Yes, devoting large sums of money to running backs is frowned upon due to the NFL’s salary cap. Also yes, there’s an argument to be had that A-aron deserves to be in consideration as one of the league’s single best RBs:

  • PFF rushing grade: 90.8 (tied for No. 3 among 52 RBs with 300-plus carries since 2017) 
  • Missed tackles forced per attempt: 0.19 (No. 14)
  • Yards per carry: 5.2 (tied for No. 1)
  • Yards after contact per attempt: 3.2 (tied for No. 9)
  • Percentage of carries to go for a first down or TD: 25.9% (No. 5)
  • PFF receiving grade: 81.1 (No. 13 among 43 RBs with  100-plus targets since 2017) 
  • Yards per reception: 8.1 (No. 17)
  • Yards per route run: 1.21 (tied for No. 27)

Jones’ receiving ability might not look all that spectacular at first glance, although his ability to at times dominate when treated as a true receiver has been particularly fun to watch over the years. Overall, only Austin Ekeler and Nyheim Hines have averaged more yards per route run when lined up in the slot or out wide than Jones since 2017.

The 26-year-old back averaged a career-high 3.5 yards after contact per attempt in 2020 and doesn’t seem to be on the verge of falling off a cliff athletically. Be careful before putting too much faith in any second-contract back, but Jones’ reassertion into the league’s No. 1 scoring offense makes him an upside RB1 in fantasy land despite our continued desire for him to receive a season-long touch total starting with a three. Don’t be surprised if Dillon sees plenty of early-down work and emerges as a game-script dependent RB3; just keep an eye on the draft to make sure we don’t see a third back added to the mix.

HOUSTON TEXANS

Starting QB: Deshaun Watson pending trade and legal issues

No. 1 RB: The three-headed committee from fantasy football hell: David Johnson, Mark Ingram and Phillip Lindsay

No. 1 WR: Brandin Cooks

No. 1 TE: Jordan Akins

Main free agency takeaway: The amount of inconsequential, shallow, pedantic and generally ridiculous signings that this team made during this free agency cycle was startling. This team represents the reddest of red flags when it comes to “who to avoid investing your money in” this season.

Key notes: I want nothing to do with this entire team at the moment. Cooks is literally the only guy that’s even somewhat enticing, although the off-the-field issues surrounding Watson could leave the veteran receiver with easily the worst QB play of his career. Fantasy drafts that result in zero Texans being on your team should be viewed as a win.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Starting QB: Carson Wentz

No. 1 RB: Jonathan Taylor except not nearly as clearly as most would hope

No. 1 WR: Michael Pittman as long as Wentz isn’t pissed about him refusing to give up No. 11

No. 1 TE: Jack Doyle and less Mo Alie-Cox than we’d hope

Main free agency takeaway: This team wants to content and believes Wentz can do so; realize that trying to win a Super Bowl isn’t a one-to-one goal with feeding a No. 1 RB 300-plus touches

Key notes: Yes, Wentz was borderline atrocious for the majority of the 2020 season. Also yes, he was hardly afforded much help between the Eagles’ banged-up offensive line and underwhelming receiving core. The former No. 2 overall pick surprisingly wasn’t a complete disaster in fantasyland, as Wentz averaged a cool 23 rushing yards per game and found his way into the end zone on five separate occasions as a rusher.

Of course, we shouldn’t count on Wentz’s dual-threat talents continuing to carry him in 2021, but at least he enters a familiar offense with a great offensive line. Michael Pittman and Parris Campbell are fine, and the team is reportedly hosting Sammy Watkins for a visit. Part of the reason why Wentz was so effective in 2017 was the presence of two solid field-stretching talents in Torrey Smith and (healthy) Mack Hollins; injuries to the likes of Mike Wallace, Hollins and DeSean Jackson made it difficult for the Eagles to consistently threaten defenses deep in the following years.

Wentz shouldn’t be prioritized in single-QB fantasy leagues. He’s also not a prime target in two-QB leagues as he enters a run-first offense that isn’t exactly overflowing with skill-position talent. The good news is Reich and the Colts’ offensive line presents Wentz with a great opportunity to get back to his 2017 form. The bad news is that it’s been three-plus years and counting since we’ve seen that player.

Even if Wentz remains suspect, both Pittman and Parris Campbell are shaping up as values at their depressed ADPs. We don’t know how the targets are going to shake out; that’s why every pass-catcher in this offense is being priced closer to their floor than their ceiling. Consider prioritizing Pittman in drafts when you find yourself loading up on RBs in the early rounds.

And then we have Marlon Mack, who started for the Colts in Week 1 and converted seven touches into 56 yards before tearing his Achilles and missing the remainder of the season. It remains to be seen just how close he’ll be to 100% in 2021, but his return isn’t great news for Taylor and Nyheim Hines fantasy managers. We’re already seeing reporters and Colts GM Chris Ballard alike talk about how the organization loves all of its backs. Taylor *should* be the unquestioned starter after dominating during the final month and a half of the season, although he only cracked the 60% snap threshold on three occasions all year.

We already knew Taylor would lose pass-down work to Hines; now we could see Mack function as a legit third cog in this committee backfield, at least early in the season in an attempt to keep JT fresh. Obviously, having multiple RBs capable of handling the load is a great problem in real life football, but it’s a problem in fantasyland when you have to commit a first-round pick to Taylor in order to obtain his services. He seems like a better bet to finish the season with 250 touches as opposed to 300; I find myself taking the best WR or TE available after the first three backs (McCaffrey, Cook, Henry) are off the board in best-ball drafts at the moment.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Starting QB: Trevor Lawrence (I mean come on)

No. 1 RB: James Robinson assuming Urban Meyer isn’t still in love with Carlos Hyde

No. 1 WR: D.J. Chark and *fingers crossed* plenty of Laviska Shenault

No. 1 TE: Gun to my head: James O’Shaughnessy

Main free agency takeaway: We’re all in on James RB1son in 2021 as long as this situation holds tight

Key notes: There are plenty of unknowns in this Jaguars offense, and Marvin Jones’ contract isn’t the sort of deal that guarantees a high-end role. We should still expect Chark and Shenault to lead the way in terms of targets, while it wouldn’t be surprising to see Urban Meyer and company continue to address the WR and TE positions during the rest of free agency and throughout the draft.

The history of receivers changing teams on the wrong side of 30 isn’t great. Jones also doesn’t exactly enter an uncrowded offense, and life with (an extremely talented) rookie QB could be at least a little rocky to start. Every player is a value at the right price, and credit to Jones for at least moving to an offense he should pick up quickly based on his past with OC Darrell Bevell. Still, don’t expect Jones to put up a career year and flirt with his usual allotment of triple-digit targets. I’m inclined to treat him as a low-ceiling WR5 until proven otherwise.

And then we have the addition of Carlos Hyde. Even if Robinson is a better player than Hyde in every facet of the game of football in the year 2021, he didn’t score 35 touchdowns in 21 games with Urban Meyer calling plays back in 2012-2013. The millennial Frank Gore at this point, Hyde is absolutely a threat to the three-down role that made the artist known as RB1son an international fantasy superstar last season.

It’s very possible the Jaguars add another back in the draft that will be an even larger issue than Hyde when it comes to Robinson’s fantasy value. I’m treating Robinson as a mid-tier RB2 that is best avoided if you can help it. It’s still hard to rank more than 15 or so RBs ahead of him, but I’ll take the more guaranteed volume from a high-end No. 1 WR in the early rounds of a draft. Drafting one-dimensional grinders like Hyde that don’t have a cemented workload isn’t advised in fantasy drafts of all shapes and sizes.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Starting QB: Patrick Mahomes

No. 1 RB: Clyde Edwards-Helaire post-hype rebound?

No. 1 WR: Tyreek Hill

No. 1 TE: Travis Kelce

Main free agency takeaway: The release of Damien Williams and lack of a legit addition at WR are great news for CEH and Mecole Hardman

Key notes: There isn’t much more to say about Mahomes, Hill and Kelce; you could rank them as your preseason fantasy QB1, WR1 and TE1 without catching much, if any, grief.

The real question is CEH, who is seemingly entrenched as the starter now that Dame is out of town. The rookie wasn’t bad in 2020; the larger problem was just 54 targets in 13 games and some bad luck near the goal line. Expect Edwards-Helaire to lead the way in rushing by a large margin, although Darrel Williams should again see far more pass-down work than fantasy managers would prefer. I’m not prioritizing CEH in drafts unless he falls outside of the top-20 options at the position.

The potential screaming value here is Hardman. The 23-year-old receiver has flashed some tantalizing speed and big-play ability but has lacked consistent volume with Hill and Kelce entrenched as the top two options in this offense. The good news is that the expected departures of both Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson frees up 114 targets, seemingly leaving Hardman in three-WR sets. We can’t guarantee the No. 2 WR role; Byron Pringle is still there and the draft will probably produce more competition. However, Hardman ranks third in yards per target among all WRs with at least 100 targets over the past two seasons; buy the discount on efficient players in great offenses that are set for a potential volume boom.

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS

Starting QB: Derek Carr

No. 1 RB: Josh Jacobs and for whatever reason Kenyan Drake, plus probably Jalen Richard, and don’t forget this offensive line is now a major question mark

No. 1 WR: You’d like to think Henry Ruggs III

No. 1 TE: Darren Waller

Main free agency takeaway: I’m generally avoiding everyone except Waller due to the Raiders deciding to 1) muddle this backfield, and 2) do whatever the hell they did with the O-line

Key notes: Let’s take a look at how the Raiders have ranked in spending on the offensive line in recent history:

  • 2015: No. 2 in dollars spent on the O-line
  • 2016: No. 1
  • 2017: No. 1
  • 2018: No. 4
  • 2019: No. 5
  • 2020: No. 1
  • 2021: No. 31

Not great, Bob. There are times when Carr truly looks like a fantastic QB, but these usually don’t occur when he faces quick pressure. Overall, Carr has posted the league’s 24th-ranked PFF passing grade when pressured in fewer than 2.5 seconds. His 28th-ranked average target depth in these situations represents the reality that the veteran QB tends to experience some tunnel vision and often hopes to get the ball out of his hands as soon as possible when the pocket quickly breaks down.

Perhaps the Raiders manage to address the group through the draft and manage to still field an above-average unit. The problem is the backfield and receiving rooms alike are more crowded than ever. Waller is the only certainty in this offense in fantasy. I’m inclined to fade pretty much everyone else outside of Ruggs and John Brown in the later rounds of drafts.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Starting QB: Justin Herbert

No. 1 RB: Austin Ekeler

No. 1 WR: Keenan Allen

No. 1 TE: Jared Cook (sorry, Donald Parham truthers)

Main free agency takeaway: This team is fooking loaded on paper, people

Key notes: There’s little reason to not expect each of Herbert, Ekeler and Allen to function as top-12 producers at their position. A more healthy version of Mike Williams could produce a fourth higher-end talent, although things could again be fairly spread out between Williams, Jalen Guyton and Tyron Johnson when Herbert decides to air things out deep.

The Chargers could join the Raiders as an offense undone by their ineptitude across the offensive line, so we’ll need to keep an eye on how they address Herbert’s protection during the draft. Still, we have far more guaranteed volume with Ekeler and Allen compared to the various committee systems in Las Vegas. This is an offense to buy in fantasy land, not avoid.

The only issue is that the potential breakout of Donald Parham should be put on hold. It was always iffy to assume Parham had the skill set to function as a true starting TE, and that pipe dream should probably be laid to bed after Cook reunited with ex-Saints QB coach and now-Chargers OC, Joe Lombardi. I’m not saying to invest in the soon-to-be 34-year-old TE; expect a not-so fantasy-friendly committee system here.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Starting QB: Matthew Stafford

No. 1 RB: Cam Akers

No. 1 WR: Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp

No. 1 TE: Tyler Higbee Comeback Szn

Main free agency takeaway: I’m a believer in Stafford > Goff, and the lack of serious additions represents major bumps for each incumbent starter

Key notes: Stafford turned in 11-5 and 9-7 records during his only two seasons with a scoring defense ranked higher than 15th in 12 seasons with the Lions. His performance hasn’t consistently been elite, but the surrounding cast has been clearly suspect, to put it nicely. The 2019 season produced the best year of Stafford’s career in pretty much any efficiency metric, while 2020’s drop-off can at least somewhat be attributed to No. 1 WR Kenny Golladay being healthy enough to suit up for just four and a half games.

We already know that Stafford has a bazooka attached to his right shoulder, but there’s a case to be made that the 33-year-old’s ceiling remains untapped. The Rams have consistently utilized a more QB-friendly offense since Sean McVay took over in 2017:

  • Play-action rate: Rams No. 1; Lions No. 27
  • Pressure rate: Rams No. 12; Lions No. 15
  • Screen rate: Rams No. 7; Lions No. 14
  • Drop rate: Rams No. 2; Lions No. 13
  • Shift/motion rate: Rams No. 7; Lions No. 27

There’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about everyone involved in this Rams offense. Stafford shouldn’t be prioritized as a true high-end fantasy asset due to his lack of a rushing floor, but he’s worthy of low-end upside QB1 treatment.

The main two players to target in fantasy land are Akers and Higbee. The sort of three-down role Akers was seeing at the end of 2020 is rare. Sean McVay’s starting RB had at least 60% of the offense’s snaps in 48 of 52 games during the 2017-2019 seasons, so don’t be surprised if 2020’s committee system was an exception rather than a sign of things to come. Higbee is now a fraction of the cost he was this time last year, and the departure of Gerald Everett cements him as the Rams’ clear-cut starting TE.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Starting QB: Tua Tagovailoa

No. 1 RB: Myles Gaskin for meow

No. 1 WR: DeVante Parker and Will Fuller V are one of the more underrated one-two punches at the position

No. 1 TE: Mike Gesicki

Main free agency takeaway: I’m proud of the Dolphins for getting Tua arguably the league’s premier field-stretching WR

Key notes: The main two factors that left such a sour taste in everyone’s mouth in regards to the Tua experience were 1) Ryan Fitzpatrick being the better player, and 2) the Dolphins’ injury-riddled receiving room. Obviously, every QB deals with drops, but Tua was one of just eight signal-callers to have a drop rate of at least 6% among 44 qualified passers.

 

It’s easy to see how having Fuller’s field-stretching speed in the fold can immediately elevate an entire offense. Deshaun Watson has averaged 8.8 yards per attempt vs. 7.6 and 26.1 fantasy points per game vs. 23.1 with Fuller compared to without since 2017, while DeAndre Hopkins was also far better in the fantasy points (20.3 vs. 18.9) and TDs (0.81 vs. 0.43) per game departments with the Texans’ speedster even though he had more targets per game without.

Everyone involved in the Dolphins offense is better with Fuller on the field. He’ll be active in Week 2 after serving the final game of his six-game suspension, and he’s fully expected to start opposite Parker in two-WR sets. It remains to be seen how the target totals will shake out; just don’t underestimate what Fuller can do if Tua takes a step forward. The PPR WR8 in fantasyland before getting suspended, Fuller is a legit No. 1 WR who can take a passing game from good to great in a hurry. Parker and Fuller are each being priced far closer to their floors than their ceilings at the moment.

Everyone was surprised when Miami made it through the 2020 draft without adding a serious resource to their backfield. Here we are again in 2021, and all they’ve added is Malcolm Brown, who projects as more of a jack-of-all-trades backup than featured workhorse.

The big potential winner is Gaskin, who functioned as a legit three-down back when healthy last season. Gaskin caught at least three passes in all but one game last season and would be one of the best values in fantasy in terms of low-cost volume if this situation holds steady.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Starting QB: Kirk Cousins

No. 1 RB: Dalvin Cook

No. 1 WR: Justin Jefferson just a bit ahead of Adam Thielen

No. 1 TE: Irv Smith Jr., and I can’t overstate how exciting this is

Main free agency takeaway: This offense remains loaded and the least of the Vikings’ problems

Key notes: Things are condensed in Minnesota. Cook remains the clear-cut No. 2 RB in fantasy, while Jefferson and Thielen should both see in excess of 100 targets in one of the league’s perennially most efficient passing attacks. Throw in the reality that this defense doesn’t look great (again) on paper, and the Vikings remain one of the more sure-thing offenses in fantasy land.

Smith is the big potential winner here. Don’t freak out — Jefferson, Thielen and maybe even Cook should each see more targets than the Vikings’ starting TE. Still, Smith has shown enough versatility to line up out wide and in the slot during his short career, and the lack of a locked-in No. 3 WR could lead to him seeing more fantasy-friendly targets than your usual inline TE. I’m all in with targeting Smith as a low-end TE2 dart at the end of drafts but don’t get crazy and draft him as a top-10 option in this run-first offense.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Starting QB: Cam Newton, and I love it

No. 1 RB: Flip a coin

No. 1 WR: Nelson Agholor if money really talks

No. 1 TE: Free agency MVPs Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry

Main free agency takeaway: Bill Belichick and company are at the very least trying their damndest to contend in 2021

Key notes: Whether or not you think the Patriots spent too much in free agency, this offense is in a far better place in 2021 than 2020. Newton has actually good receivers and tight ends at his disposal meow, so don’t be surprised if he takes a legit step forward as a passer. Most of the concern for Newton entering the season stemmed from the idea that he wouldn’t be the same sort of athlete. This concern was largely vanquished throughout the season, and the reality that Newton had to deal with both an abbreviated offseason as well as COVID throws more fuel on the “maybe Cam still has it” fire.

Basically, 2020 didn’t give us enough evidence that Newton is ready to be a team’s long-term solution under center again. However, it also didn’t provide enough evidence to the contrary. Newton finished the season with a higher PFF passing grade than the likes of Alex Smith, Teddy Bridgewater, Jimmy Garoppolo, Carson Wentz and Mitchell Trubisky. Obviously, these signal-callers shouldn’t be confused with high-end talents at this point in their respective careers, and neither should Newton ahead of next season. Still, it’s hard to disagree with Newton’s own assertion that “there aren’t 32 quarterbacks better than me.”

Cam is shaking up as arguably *the* prime late-round QB option thanks to his fantasy-friendly dual-threat ways and expected improvement in the passing game. I’m inclined to avoid this offense otherwise. Basically, every position group has the look of a committee. The history of multiple tight ends balling out in the same offense isn’t rich. In fact, only the 2011 Patriots (Rob Gronkowski TE1, Aaron Hernandez TE3) and 2019 Eagles (Zach Ertz TE4, Dallas Goedert TE10) have enabled multiple top-12 fantasy TEs over the past decade. Smith and Henry certainly boast the sort of talent to become the third such pairing, but they face an uphill battle considering they lack the same sort of 1) continuity, and 2) high-end passing volume, as the previous winners.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Starting QB: I’m begging you, Sean Payton. Give us Jameis Winston 

No. 1 RB: Alvin Kamara

No. 1 WR: Michael Thomas

No. 1 TE: Adam Trautman

Main free agency takeaway: I remain skeptical about Taysom Hill’s potential to win this QB battle. Why go through re-signing Winston after having a full season to evaluate? 

Key notes: Winston is a fearless gunslinger equally capable of throwing a horrendous pick-six or pinpoint dart through tight coverage on any given play. Mr. 33-for-30 ranked dead last in turnover-worthy plays (39) in 2019 but fourth in big-time throws (30) the last time we saw him under center for an extended period.

To be fair to Winston, we saw Carson Palmer and Andrew Luck have similar issues with limiting mistakes in coach Bruce Arians’ “no risk it, no biscuit” attack. Winston has regularly ranked near the top of the league in average target depth. It makes sense that he’s had a lower floor than most signal-callers due to the reality that he’s regularly attempted higher-difficulty throws.

The problem: Style points don’t matter in the NFL. Noodle-arm and Checkdown Charlie jokes are fun, but realize the idea that taking easy yards underneath is a weak move doesn’t hold up when (Herm Edwards voice) you play to win the game. Ultimately, the key for Winston with his next opportunity is to find a happy medium between 1) playing within the confines of his offense, and 2) attempting to create magic with his bazooka of a right arm.

The Saints have been intent on spreading the idea that Hill will have a real chance to win this job, but c’mon people. Winston allows this offense to take their production to another level, and his presently reduced ADP should be taken advantage of in fantasy drafts of all shapes and sizes. We fully expect Winston to win this competition, and if/when he does, the man will be anyone’s idea of a top-12-projected player at the position.

Winston is a prime late-round QB option who carries a true top-five ceiling if he manages to start 16 games in 2021. Hill would be a higher-floor QB1 if he manages to win the job. This is your yearly reminder that one doesn’t need to be a good real-life QB to function as a great fantasy signal-caller. I’ve heard worse ideas than drafting both players late in best-ball drafts to ensure you have the Saints’ QB1. The fantasy stock of everyone else involved will be better with Winston than Hill, but the latter QB could be a legit top-five option if he wins the job thanks to the absurd rushing upside at hand. For Kamara’s sake: Please be Jameis.

NEW YORK GIANTS

Starting QB: Daniel Jones

No. 1 RB: Saquon Barkley

No. 1 WR: Kenny Golladay… how about that

No. 1 TE: Evan Engram

Main free agency takeaway: The pieces are in place for Jones to take a leap forward

Key notes: Jones has a new BFF. The artist known as Babytron posted 70-1,063-5 and 65-1,190-11 receiving lines in 2018-2019 before being limited to just five games in 2020. When healthy, Golladay combines enough size (6-foot-4, 213-pounds) and speed (4.5-second 40-yard dash) to give any corner in the league problems.

Concerns over Golladay’s separation ability are probably overblown considering his demonstrated high-end contested-catch ability. Overall, he joins Michael Thomas, Chris Godwin and Stefon Diggs as the only wide receivers to catch at least 60% of their contested targets since 2017 among 81 qualified players. Nobody has a higher PFF receiving grade than Golladay (96.8) on contested targets since he entered the league.

Receivers capable of getting consistently open are incredibly valuable; just realize Golladay is a rare breed capable of turning 50/50 balls into 60/40 propositions with stunning regularity. It’d make sense if the 27-year-old talent doesn’t age incredibly with this sort of skill set, but for meow, he’s anybody’s idea of a high-end talent on the outside.

The fit with Jones might just be crazy enough to work. Jones joined Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr and Russell Wilson as the only QBs with a PFF passing grade of at least 96.0 when throwing at least 20 yards downfield last season. He is also PFF’s ninth-highest-graded passer when targeting a receiver in tight coverage over the past two seasons.

It’s bad news for Darius Slayton, who should be the clear-cut No. 3 WR in this offense moving forward. Sterling Shepard should be able to cause some problems for defenses out of the slot; Golladay's presence could be a net positive if the reduced volume is met with enhanced efficiency. Perhaps the contract is a little steep, but all in all it’s a good day to be a New York Giants fan.

ACL injuries suck, but it’s still basically impossible to name five backs you’d want ahead of Barkley.

NEW YORK JETS

Starting QB: Sam Darnold for the moment

No. 1 RB: Ty Johnson

No. 1 WR: Corey Davis

No. 1 TE: Chris Herndon, who is my pick for the next great post-Gase breakout

Main free agency takeaway: The Jets join the Falcons and Steelers as arguably the top three backfields that can most easily be taken over

Key notes: This situation still feels awfully fluid. Davis does deserve credit for his work in 2020 and has earned upside WR3 treatment with the Jets in fantasyland. The presence of Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder isn’t ideal, but it’s also not exactly the stiffest competition. Ultimately, Davis’ gaudy contract figures to earn him the lion's share of opportunities in the passing game; there are only a few other offenses in the league where he’d be more established as the overall No. 1 WR. Things will continue to be tough for everyone involved for however long Sam Darnold is under center, but Davis could be a serious value at a likely low ADP in pre-draft best-ball contests if someone like Zach Wilson winds up making their way to the Big Apple.

Johnson and Herndon are my best late-round darts of the group thanks to their respective potential to handle full-time starting jobs; just realize this is more of an educated guess than confident prediction due to the 1) new coaching staff, and 2) likelihood that both positions are addressed in the draft.

Please don’t feel like you need to target this offense in fantasy drafts of all shapes and sizes this offseason.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Starting QB: Jalen Hurts

No. 1 RB: Miles Sanders

No. 1 WR: Jalen Reagor

No. 1 TE: Dallas Goedert after Zach Ertz is inevitably traded

Main free agency takeaway: The decision to trade Carson Wentz should lead to Hurts starting and racking up fantasy-friendly rushing attempts; just realize as a whole this offense looks futile on paper

Key notes: Sanders was a major winner in free agency considering the Eagles didn’t go out of their way to find an early-down complement. This isn’t to suggest that Sanders can’t play on all three-downs; the NFL is just a committee league and we always need to monitor the progression of backfields, particularly when a new coaching staff arrives. We can tentatively continue to lock in Sanders as a legit RB1 based on his expected featured workload.

As for Hurts? We’re looking at a legit fantasy QB1. Perhaps the Eagles add another option under center; just realize the demonstrated dual-threat nature of Hurts’ game is about as fantasy-friendly as we could hope for. The man largely did nothing other than ball the hell out from a fantasy perspective in his three complete starts, posting overall fantasy QB10, QB1 and QB16 finishes.

I’m also a fan of targeting Reagor and Goedert at what might just be their lowest cost for the foreseeable future. The expected departure of Ertz leaves this offense with basically zero proven target hogs, making their projected No. 1 WR and No. 1 TEs bargains at their present cost.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Starting QB: Ben Roethlisberger after he pulled a Chet Steadman and begged for one more year

No. 1 RB: Benny Snell Jr., but c’mon, that can’t really happen, right?

No. 1 WR: Diontae Johnson in an offense featuring three WRs getting triple-digit targets

No. 1 TE: Eric Ebron

Main free agency takeaway: The need for a three-down RB remains glaring, while this passing game *should* consist of enough volume to continue to enable three fantasy-viable WRs

Key notes: JuJu Smith-Schuster turned down more money from other suitors in order to stay with the Steelers. From a production standpoint, he made the right decision; there likely isn’t another offense in the league willing to feed him the sort of 128-target workload that he saw in 2020.

Smith-Schuster is one of just 11 WRs in NFL history with at least 3,500 receiving yards before turning 25; clearly the man is capable of achieving great things at the professional level. He’s shown the ability to operate as one of the league’s most productive receivers; the (literal) million-dollar question is whether or not that same player is around these days.

Ultimately, volume is king in fantasyland, and JuJu has plenty of it. Treat him as the definition of a volume-based low-end WR2 right alongside Diontae Johnson. The biggest loser of this ordeal might just be Chase Claypool, who will assuredly be a starter in three-WR sets but will now likely have to be a part of a big-three at the position instead of a big-two. Of course, we already saw Johnson rack up 144 targets in 15 games that included plenty of shortened performances impacted by injuries. Continue to treat Johnson as the No. 1 WR in Pittsburgh; just realize all three of their studs at the position deserve to be ranked among fantasy’s top-36 players at the position.

It seems incredibly unlikely Snell is the Week 1 starter, and even if he is, a committee would be likely. There might not be a better situation in the NFL for a rookie back to enter and produce from Day 1.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Starting QB: Jimmy Garoppolo

No. 1 RB: Raheem Mostert, who is so, so fast

No. 1 WR: The answer to Deebo Samuel vs. Brandon Aiyuk is both

No. 1 TE: George Kittle

Main free agency takeaway: This is one of the more undervalued offenses in fantasy football considering their average draft positions and likelihood that Kyle Shanahan continues to orchestrate one of the league’s better-schemed units

Key notes: The lack of a real addition at RB is fantastic news for Mostert, who has been my preferred zero-RB target in early best-ball drafts. Jeff Wilson Jr. is also a value as long as he remains priced outside of the top-30 or so backs in fantasy. The fact of the matter is that basically any RB attached to a coach with the last name Shanahan has been great for business over the years; don’t be afraid to throw darts at both players while their costs remain far closer to their floors than ceilings.

Obviously we’d prefer an upgrade under center, but each of Kittle, Aiyuk and Samuel might have defined enough roles to make it work. We’ve already seen Kittle thrive with pretty much anybody under center; Aiyuk is the alpha No. 1 outside WR this offense has been looking for; and Deebo has the sort of low-aDOT role that makes him more immune to poor QB play than most.

Right now everyone other than Kittle is available in the middle rounds of drafts. These RBs and WRs offer a fantasy-friendly combination of proven 1) talent, and 2) A+ scheme. Don’t be afraid to leave your drafts with multiple 49ers skill-position talents.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Starting QB: Russell Wilson (don’t get crazy on us, Pete)

No. 1 RB: Chris Carson

No. 1 WR: D.K. Metcalf with a strong dash of Tyler Lockett

No. 1 TE: Gerald Everett and probably more Will Dissly than anyone would prefer

Main free agency takeaway: The usual suspects should continue to put up fantasy-friendly numbers considering this defense looks incredibly meh at the moment

Key notes: Carson played just 12 games in 2020 and has battled injuries throughout his career. This is mostly due to the reality that the 26-year-old talent treats every play like his last, running, jumping and generally steam-rolling would-be tacklers with shocking regularity. Overall, only Nick Chubb (4) and Derrick Henry (4) have averaged more yards after contact per attempt than Carson (3.4) since he entered the league in 2017.

Still, at least for 2021, we need to treat Carson as a legit top-12 back in fantasy football. We’ve also seen Carson function as a productive pass-down back, posting a career 101-775-7 receiving line. His seven career drops aren’t egregious, and he’s totaled just four career fumbles outside of his infamous butterfinger-induced 2019 campaign that featured the ball hitting the turf on seven separate occasions. Carson has dealt with ankle, foot, knee and hip injuries over the years. The man has largely done nothing except ball the hell out when healthy over the years; just realize history tells us that this archetype typically ages poorly.

The Seahawks’ defense remains a problem; look at their second half opponents from 2020 before telling me they truly turned a corner. Russ might have to cook even though Pete Carroll would rather he not; each of D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett should be weekly upside WR2 types (at worst) inside of what figures to again be a top-10 scoring offense. Everett is a perfectly fine late-round TE dart; just realize Dissly will likely make it a committee of sorts for however long he can stay healthy. I’d rather gamble a late-round pick on Tyler Higbee.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Starting QB: Tom Brady

No. 1 RB: Ronald Jones

No. 1 WR: Mike Evans in another fairly evenly split attack

No. 1 TE: Don’t be surprised if a healthy-version of O.J. Howard leads the way

Main free agency takeaway: The boys are back in town; just realize TB12 and company are more concerned with winning than getting any single person high-end volume.

Key notes: We’ll see where Leonard Fournette winds up signing. His departure could open up a larger role for RoJo, although the potential addition of James White and someone else in the draft could muddle things. Ultimately, this offense should be slinging the rock, and we have more than a few examples of Jones not being the sort of back you’d prefer to have on the field on pass downs.

The return of Chris Godwin should continue to make life fairly “difficult” for TB12’s big-two receivers. Brady generally refrained from force-feeding either of his top two receivers. Obviously the real-life results of this decision were great, but in fantasyland the lack of consistent targets were troublesome. Overall, Godwin had at least eight targets in just six games in 2020 after having 10 such contests last season in two fewer games. Evans had more games with fewer than five targets in 2020 (7) than he did in 2014-2019 (5) combined.

Godwin and Evans were the WR15 and WR16 in PPR per game in 2020. Both are legit No. 1 WRs that are putting up WR2 production due to their lack of relative high-end volume. Antonio Brown taking his talents elsewhere would help both in 2021, but even then we should keep overall target expectations in check as long as TB12 is (rightfully) more worried about winning Super Bowls than putting up absurd regular season passing numbers.

Don’t discount Scotty Miller as a potential boom-or-bust WR3 if AB does wind up signing somewhere else. The self-proclaimed fastest player in the league has flashed high-end efficiency and could be in line for a major volume boost 1) without Brown involved, and 2) if he relegates Tyler Johnson to the bench.

TENNESSEE TITANS

Starting QB: Ryan Tannehill

No. 1 RB: Derrick Henry

No. 1 WR: It’s always A.J. Brown WR1 szn

No. 1 TE: Anthony Firkser

Main free agency takeaway: There’s a non-zero chance Henry and AJB could lead the NFL in carries and targets

Key notes: Henry is my overall RB3 ahead of 2021, and Brown my WR2. Replacing Corey Davis with Josh Reynolds is probably a downgrade, but it might not bring bad overall results if it means Brown will now be force-fed targets. Ultimately, the Titans continue to boast a bad defense and explosive offense; target their two workhorses with reckless abandon in fantasy. 

WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM

Starting QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick

No. 1 RB: Antonio Gibson with hopefully less J.D. McKissic than last year

No. 1 WR: The D.C. Buckeyes: Terry McLaurin and plenty of Curtis Samuel, too

No. 1 TE: Logan Thomas

Main free agency takeaway: The 2021 WFT looks pretty, pretty, pretty similar to the 2019 49ers in terms of having a 1) good enough offense, and 2) dominant defense led by a plethora of first-round defensive linemen

Key notes: Gibson would be a top-five RB with the CMC role that we saw Ron Rivera and OC Scott Turnover oversee back in their Carolina days; unfortunately we need to treat him as more of a borderline RB1 as long as McKissic figures to continue to see more of the pass-down work.

The good news is that this offense should generally be much improved in 2021. Yes, Fitzpatrick is a bit of a boom-or-bust QB. Also yes, we’ve seen way more of the former than the later in recent years. He was fantasy’s overall QB2 in Weeks 7-17 upon receiving the full-time job in 2019 and the QB8 in Weeks 1-6 in 2020 before “losing” the job to Tua Tagovailoa. Fitzpatrick was anyone’s idea of an above-average QB and made arguably the single best throw of the season:

  • PFF passing grade: 72.7 (No. 21 among 44 qualified QBs)
  • Yards per attempt: 7.8 (tied for No. 9)
  • Adjusted completion rate: 78.2% (No. 12)
  • QB Rating: 95.6 (No. 20)

In general, Fitpatrick’s signing is great news for everyone involved in the Washington offense. The ceiling is the roof for Terry McLaurin considering the fantasy success of Fitzpatrick’s No. 1 WR over the years. Overall, his No. 1 WR has posted target totals of 128, 128, 137, 134, 141, 146, 148 and 173 in his eight seasons with double-digit starts. McLaurin F1 WR1 szn is alive and well; treat him as such in fantasy drafts this instant.

And then we have Samuel. The explosive WR/RB hybrid has the sort of versatility to warrant the Twitter hype. Throw in the reality that the 24-year-old talent enters a Washington offense that is already well aware of his skills thanks to OC Scott Turner’s history with his new playmaker, and it’s easy to pencil him in as a top-30 fantasy option at WR. Samuel has shown the ability to work as an effective rusher and receiver while lining up just about anywhere. This hasn’t translated to a ton of consistent production thus far, but this could also be chalked up to life in a crowded passing game with a combination of injured and erratic QBs under center.

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