Fantasy football: One fact for 50 key free agents

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) celebrates his touchdown during the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

  • Style points don’t count in fantasy land: Jimmy Garoppolo led the NFL in yards per attempt during his time with the San Francisco 49ers.
  • Size matters: Tony Pollard led all NFL running backs in average touchdown distance among 39 players with at least five scores last season.
  • Good JuJu?: Don’t let recent social media atrocities distract from the fact that JuJu Smith-Schuster posted elite numbers in both yards after the catch per reception and yards after the catch per reception above expectation.
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

The NFL offseason is alive and cooking, although real high-octane player movement is still a few weeks away. With that said, should fantasy managers decline a crash course on the potential available free agents ahead of the 2023 season? Did we give up after Pearl Harbor was bombed? 

That’s what I thought. What follows is a fact (sometimes two!) on 50 key free agents in order to get our feet wet with this season’s class ahead of March. Players are listed in no particular order — it’s a great day to be great.

Quarterback (10)

  • Lamar Jackson: 27.7 fantasy points per game in 2019 is the single-season NFL record at the position.
  • Daniel Jones: He averaged 7.1 fantasy points per game from only rushing production last season, only trailing Justin Fields (10.8), Jalen Hurts (10.3), Lamar Jackson (7.9) and Josh Allen (7.4).
  • Derek Carr: His career positional finishes in fantasy points per game among all quarterbacks with at least eight starts: QB20 (in 2022), QB18, QB18, QB23, QB25, QB20, QB10 (2016), QB18 and QB26.
  • Jimmy Garoppolo: He unironically leads the NFL in yards per attempt (8.3) with the San Francisco 49ers among 61 quarterbacks with at least 500 dropbacks since 2017.
  • Geno Smith: He managed to post top-10 numbers in yards per attempt (7.5, No. 9), adjusted completion rate (77.8%, No. 6), passer rating (100.9, No. 5) and PFF passing grade (76.1, No. 9) despite second-half dropoff.
  • Andy Dalton: The “Red Rocket” finished 2022 as PFF’s fifth-highest graded passer thanks in large part to his pedestrian 2.3% turnover-worthy play rate – the fifth-lowest mark in the league.
  • Jacoby Brissett: He was easily the best version of himself in 2022 yet ranked as just the QB20 with 15.3 fantasy points per game in Weeks 1-12 before Deshaun Watson returned from suspension.
  • Baker Mayfield: Last top-10 fantasy finish was Week 14, 2020.
  • Taylor Heinicke: He joined Zach Wilson as the only two quarterbacks with a sub-50.0 PFF passing grade among 41 qualified signal-callers with at least 150 dropbacks in 2022.
  • Teddy Bridgewater: Small-sample size be damned: Bridgewater’s average of 8.4 yards per attempt trailed only Tua Tagovailoa (8.6) among all quarterbacks with at least 90 dropbacks last season.

Running back (16)

  • Saquon Barkley: His fantasy points per game from purely receiving production have been in a steady decline for years: 2018 (11.7 PPR points per game from only receiving production), 2019 (8.3), 2020 (6), 2021 (6.1) and 2022 (5.7)
  • Josh Jacobs: He finished alongside to Nick Chubb and Dameon Pierce as arguably the NFL’s top-three rushers in terms of missed tackles forced and yards after contact per carry.

  • Tony Pollard: In 2022, 39 running backs scored at least five touchdowns, but none averaged more yards gained per score than Pollard (25.1) — teammate Ezekiel Elliott (3.6) ranked 37th.
  • Jamaal Williams: He ranked 31st among 39 running backs with at least five touchdowns in terms of average distance traveled, as all but three of his 15 scores came from inside the five-yard line in 2022.
  • Kareem Hunt: The Cleveland Browns RB finished inside the position’s top-five and top-15 running backs in missed tackles forced per carry and yards after contact per rush attempt, respectively, in four of five seasons between 2017 and 2021. 2022 ranks: 40th in missed tackles forced per carry, 38th in yards after contact per rush attempt.
  • Devin Singletary: He averaged a respectable 1,030.5 total yards and five scores across four seasons with the Buffalo Bills. Sneaky-solid elusiveness helped Singletary average a whopping 0.22 missed tackles forced per carry during this stretch – tied for the fourth-highest mark at the position among 56 qualified backs.
  • David Montgomery: He has been especially solid in passing situations since entering the league in 2019: 78.7 PFF rushing grade (No. 42 among 105 qualified backs), 71.3 receiving grade (No. 26) and 71.7 pass-blocking grade (No. 11).
  • Miles Sanders: The Penn State product ranked dead last in yards per route run (0.29) and PFF receiving grade (35.5) among 47 running backs with at least 25 targets in 2022. Sanders is 72nd among 85 qualified backs in yards per route (0.88) run since entering the league in 2019.
  • Damien Harris: He was just one-of-19 running backs who scored 15 touchdowns in a single season over the last 10 years. Harris has played in 38-of-66 games since entering the league in 2019.
  • Rashaad Penny: The San Diego State product joins Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry as the only three running backs averaging at least three PPR fantasy points above expectation over the past three seasons.
  • Raheem Mostert: He owns the top-two fastest plays among all ball carriers since 2017 (Next-Gen Stats).

  • Jeff Wilson: He struggled to hold up in pass-first situations, ranking 37th in both PFF pass blocking grade (36.9) and receiving grade (50.6) among 47 qualified backs.
  • Jerick McKinnon: Las year, 82% of total PPR fantasy points came from purely receiving production. The next-closest running back was Leonard Fournette (63%) among the position’s top-36 backs in per-game scoring.
  • Samaje Perine: He vastly out-performed Joe Mixon in yards per carry (4.4 vs. 3.9), yards after contact per carry (3.3 vs. 2.8) and missed tackles forced per carry (0.19 vs. 0.13) with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2020-2022. Perine peeled off PPR RB2, RB10 and RB4 finishes in Weeks 11 to 13 with Mixon sidelined last season.
  • D’Onta Foreman: He worked as the PPR RB25 and RB23 upon filling in as the primary back in place of Derrick Henry in 2021 and Christian McCaffrey in 2022.
  • Alexander Mattison: He has posted PPR RB47, RB4, RB7, RB6, RB8 and RB13 finishes in six chances to work as the Minnesota Vikings’ lead back with Dalvin Cook sidelined since 2020.

Wide receiver (16)

  • Michael Thomas: The New Orleans Saints receiver posted PPR WR8, WR18 and WR47 finishes in his only three games of 2022. The NFL’s all-time single-season reception leader deserves credit for scoring in style over A.J. Terrell and in front of long-time nemesis Carlton Davis.
  • Odell Beckham Jr.: The former first-rounder averaged an 4.2-52.3-0.6 receiving line in 11 full games with the Los Angeles Rams – good for a 71-889-11 receiving line and13.4 PPR points per game in a 17-game season-long projection, which would have ranked inside the position’s top-30 wide receivers in 2022.
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster: He deserves credit for ranking seventh among 80 qualified wide receivers in yards after the catch per reception (5.9) during his first season in Kansas City. The production wasn’t overly fluky, as JuJu ranked sixth in yards after the catch above expectation (Next-Gen Stats).
  • Allen Lazard: Single-season highs in receptions (60) and receiving yards (788) coincided with Lazard demanding a target on a career-high 20.1% of his routes in 2022. His previous best mark was just 17.4% back in 2020.
  • Jakobi Meyers: His six trips to the end zone were four more than he managed in 2019, 2020 and 2021 combined. The long-time New England Patriots slot maven has posted top-40 numbers in PFF receiving grade (80.9, No. 38) and targets per route run (21.4%, No. 35) among 129 wide receivers with 100-plus targets since 2019.
  • D.J. Chark: 6-foot-3, 199-pounds with 4.34 speed: Chark’s 16.7 yards per reception ranked fifth among 80 qualified players at the position in 2022. 

  • Mack Hollins: His numbers in 2022 (57-690-4) stack up well with what he achieved in 2017-2021 combined (56-750-6). That said, Hollins ranked low in yards per route run (1.14, No. 68) and PFF receiving grade (61.4, No. 79) among 89 qualified wide receivers).
  • Parris Campbell: The Ohio State product played in all 17 games last season after suiting up just 15 times in 2019-2021 combined. Campbell still possessed all sorts of elite speed and managed to post three top-12 finishes in the span of five weeks before the Colts’ constant turnover under center and overall incompetence really set in.
  • Darius Slayton: He has 48-740-8, 50-751-3 and 46-724-2 receiving lines to his name after four seasons in the NFL. This past season was easily Slayton’s most-efficient effort on his way to averaging 1.79 yards per route run – tied for the 29th-highest mark among 80 qualified players at the position.
  • Mecole Hardman: He turns 25 years old in March and needs to prove capable of being more than a speedy gadget: 36% of Hardman’s career receptions and 26% of his receiving yards have come on targets behind the line of scrimmage (both top-five marks among 125 qualified wide receivers.
  • Demarcus Robinson: He showed off some rather filthy double-moves in the preseason before averaging a career-low 9.5 yards per reception – the fourth-lowest mark among 80 wide receivers with at least 50 targets last season.
  • Richie James: He has caught at least five passes and/or gained 50-plus receiving yards in all but one of his 10 career games with more than five targets. He’s also really good at doing backflips.
  • Nelson Agholor: He turns 30 years old in May, as dropping baby memes has overshadowed the fact that Agholor did twice put forward some pretty solid fantasy production in 2017 with the Philadelphia Eagles (PPR WR23) and in 2020 with the Las Vegas Raiders (WR34).
  • Jarvis Landry: The former LSU Tiger turned 30 years old in November. Landry has played just 12 and nine games over the past two seasons after missing just one total contest from 2014-2020. His 2.5 yards after the catch per reception was easily a career-low and ranked 109th among 118 wide receivers with at least 25 targets in 2022.
  • Sterling Shepard: Injuries have limited the 30-year-old veteran to just 10, 12, seven and three games over the last four years, but Shepard has always demanded targets when healthy and ranks 22nd in targets per route run (22.7%) among 129 wide receivers with at least 100 targets since the New York Giants drafted Daniel Jones in 2019.
  • Jamison Crowder: He has six seasons to his name with 50-plus receptions, but turns 30 years old in June and has missed time due to hamstring, calf, groin and ankle injuries since 2020.

Tight end (8)

  • Evan Engram: His bounce-back campaign featured career-best marks in receptions (73) and receiving yards (766) while he was only one of seven players at the position to catch at least 15 passes that gained 15-plus yards. Heck, Engram was only charged with three drops – he racked up 12 drops during his final two seasons with the Giants.
  • Dalton Schultz: The former Stanford Cardinal ranks 14th in yards per route run and 19th in percentage of routes to be considered open or wide open by PFF over the last two seasons. Schultz’s elite fantasy numbers haven’t been backed by the same level of underlying efficiency.
  • Mike Gesicki: He averaged just 0.82 yards per route run when lined up in the slot or out wide last season – tied for the second-lowesr mark among 32 qualified tight ends. Gesicki was far better when lined up inline (1.68, No. 18), but that role could continue to be problematic to secure considering his history of usually playing wide receiver and status as the position’s 93rd-highest graded run blocker among 96 tight ends with at least 500 snaps played over the last three seasons.
  • Foster Moreau: He has occasionally boomed with Darren Waller unavailable over the years but ultimately ranks poorly in both PFF receiving grade (71.1, No. 22), yards per route run (1.25, No. 27) and especially targets per route run (14.1%, No. 44) among 47 tight ends with at least 100 targets since Moreau entered the league in 2019.
  • Robert Tonyan: Only Dawson Knox (26.8%) has been more touchdown dependent than Tonyan (26.3%) when it comes to percentage of PPR fantasy points to come purely from finding the end zone over the past three seasons.
  • Hayden Hurst: He posted decent enough per-game finishes in 2022 (PPR TE18) and 2020 (TE15) in his only two seasons as his offense’s featured tight end. Hurst deserves some slack for losing career position battles to Mark Andrews and Kyle Pitts.
  • Austin Hooper: He has served in multi-TE committees since breaking out with the Atlanta Falcons in 2019. Hooper is still only 28 years old and did average a respectable 1.39 yards per route run in 2022 – tied for the 11th-highest mark at the position, ahead of Dalton Schultz (1.38) and Gerald Everett (1.24).
  • Irv Smith Jr.: He has played in just eight games over the past two seasons due to knee, thumb and ankle injuries. The 24-year-old talent posted just one finish inside the position’s top-12 options in Weeks 1-8 before the Vikings traded for T.J. Hockenson.

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