I meant THANK. GOODNESS.
Seriously, what would we be doing without NFL free agency? It’s obviously an unprecedented time in recent memory in our country. We are being told to stay home and practice social distancing (as we should be. Be smart and safe, my digital friend) and we are adjusting to a completely new way of living. It’s natural to feel this increased pressure on ourselves and our families, as we simply try to do our best to survive in a scary time. And as such, for us sports fans, the distractions are few and far between.
So when I say thank goodness for NFL free agency, I mean it. THANK. GOODNESS!
With almost no live sports being played, we at least have something to talk about in the sports world. And when I say something, I mean plenty.
What an intense free-agency period and it’s not even over yet. As of this writing, Jameis Winston, Robby Anderson, Devonta Freeman, Breshad Perriman, Delanie Walker and others have yet to find new teams. There’s certainly a better-than-average chance Cam Newton will be playing for a new team in 2020, and other surprises will surely drop.
As a result, Field Yates and I have recorded two Fantasy Focus 06010 podcasts during the past week to break down all the movement. And if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you’ve seen me do video reactions to many of these signings from a variety of weird locations as I practice stay-at-home social distancing. I have also updated my 2020 PPR rankings, and will continue to do so throughout the offseason. Finally, of course, there’s been so much movement that there’s more than enough to do the very first Love/Hate of the 2020 NFL season.
Understand that for this specific column, “Love” and “Hate” refer to how I feel about each player’s new fantasy value. When someone changes teams, it opens up (or diminishes) opportunity for any number of players, not just the player on the move. So a “Love” player is someone whose fantasy value has gone up, a “Hate” is someone whose fantasy value has dropped. And some players, like DeAndre Hopkins, aren’t even listed here, as I feel his fantasy value (a top-five WR) stays the same with the move from Houston to Arizona. So these are only the players whose fantasy value has changed one way or the other. Are you with me? Good. Thanks as always to The Stat-a-pillar from The Fantasy Show on ESPN+, Damian Dabrowski, and “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe of the Fantasy Focus 06010 for their help at various points in this column. Here we go:
2020 quarterbacks I love following free agency/trades
Kyler Murray, Cardinals: You had me at “DeAndre Hopkins.” Last year’s QB11 on a points-per-game basis was already set for a bump entering his second season, along with expected good health for Christian Kirk and hopefully more help from Andy Isabella. And now he adds DeAndre Hopkins? Over the past five seasons, Hopkins has averaged — averaged, mind you — 101 catches for 1,318 yards and nine TDs. Aside from simply being one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, there are two areas Hopkins should immediately help with: stretching the field and off-schedule throws.
Last season, Murray ranked 23rd in percentage of passes that were thrown deep (18.1%). The Cardinals got very little out of the deep ball. Meanwhile, since 2017, Hopkins is tied for second among WRs in deep TD receptions (only Tyreek Hill has more). Additionally, Murray was just 27th in passer rating out of the pocket and 21st in TD% out of the pocket last season, despite being fourth in out-of-the-pocket pass attempts. Since 2018, Hopkins is tied with Tyler Lockett for the most TD receptions when his QB is out of the pocket. A question that will come up a lot this offseason is “Who is this year’s Lamar Jackson?” Murray will likely go too high in drafts to be the value Jackson was last year, but he has the best chance to be the answer to that question.
Josh Allen, Bills: Murray’s not the only mobile, fantasy-friendly QB to add a deep threat this offseason. The acquisition of Stefon Diggs now puts Buffalo on the short list of best pass-catching groups in the NFL. Allen was last season’s QB10 on a points-per-game basis and now has John Brown out wide on one side, Cole Beasley in the slot, a nice pass-catching RB in Devin Singletary and, of course, Diggs on the other side. You know about Allen’s rushing ability, but for his career he’s also averaging 9.4 air yards per pass attempt (second-most among QBs in that span). Dude loves to chuck it deep. And now his team adds one of the best deep threats in the NFL. Diggs is one of only four WRs in the NFL with at least 800 yards receiving and six touchdowns in each of the past three seasons, and last season he was top 10 in the NFL in air yards per target, yards per game and fantasy points off deep passes. I doubt he will be jumping onto a folding table in the parking lot, but Bills fans and Josh Allen’s fantasy managers are going to love him regardless.
Tom Brady, Buccaneers: If you’re shocked that TB12 is suiting up for the Pewter and Red, you clearly didn’t read my NFL combine piece from March 3, where I had Tampa Bay as the first choice for Brady. (Of course, I also said I didn’t think the Colts would sign Philip Rivers, so … shrug emoji.) Anyway, once you get past the shock that Brady will play for someone different, it’s easy to see why this is a significant fantasy upgrade for last season’s QB16 on a points-per-game basis. Having Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate gives him one of the best four-player receiving corps he’s had in his long career. Add to that a fantasy-friendly coach in Bruce Arians who loves to throw (the Bucs were sixth in pass percentage last season) and this is a big uptick for Brady. Don’t discount 81-year-old legend Tom Moore being on staff, either. Moore, you may be aware, worked magic with Peyton Manning for many years. I don’t buy the talk that Brady can’t throw deep and won’t be a fit for Arians’ offense. You don’t sign Brady and then not tailor the offense to what he does well. Remember, 35-year-old Carson Palmer was QB5 under Arians in 2015. Arians and Moore will get the most out of Brady, who will be as determined as ever to have a huge season in 2020.
Others receiving votes: Nothing changed in Dallas, but for Dak Prescott (last year’s QB3 in points per game), that’s a good thing. His re-signing, along with Amari Cooper coming back (Dak averages 3.5 more points per game and 79 more yards passing per game with Cooper as opposed to without) and the same offensive coordinator, keeps Prescott as a top-10 option. … Same for Ryan Tannehill, who gets re-signed along with Derrick Henry in Tennessee. The continuation of the offense is good for Tannehill, who sneakily was QB9 last season on a points-per-game basis. … The trade of Nick Foles to Chicago is good news for Gardner Minshew II. As a rookie who was just trying to find his way onto the field, Minshew quietly had at least 16 points in eight of 12 starts in 2019. Minshew is more mobile than he gets credit for — he had at least 27 rushing yards in eight of 12 starts — and he will benefit from knowing he is the guy entering camp and from the pass-first mentality of new QB coach Ben McAdoo and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. … New Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski will be an offensive upgrade for Baker Mayfield this year, as will new tight end Austin Hooper, an improved offensive line (right tackle Jack Conklin was a very nice signing) and being able to bring back Kareem Hunt, who was such a factor in the pass game out of the backfield last season. … We will see if he gets to keep the job and if so, whether it lasts the whole season, but as of this writing, the starting QB for the Los Angeles Chargers is Tyrod Taylor. The Bolts have some very nice pass-catching weapons (Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler, for starters) and we know Tyrod can run. He’ll be a fantasy factor as long as he has the job.
2020 quarterbacks I hate following free agency/trades
Deshaun Watson, Texans: When you lose DeAndre Hopkins and you replace him with … (checks notes) Randall Cobb, you make the hate list. It’s a draft deep with top-tier wide receiver prospects, so I’m sure the Texans are not done at the position, but still. Whomever they get is a downgrade from Hopkins. Will Fuller V has shown flashes when he has stayed healthy, Kenny Stills has had moments as well and Cobb is a decent player, not to mention the Texans have a nice pass-catching running back in David Johnson, but this is still a massive hit. Even with Hopkins last season, Watson had seven games with zero or one passing touchdowns, and for his career, when throwing to Hopkins, Watson averages a 3.57 TDs per INT. When he throws to all other receivers, he has a 2.09 TD/INT ratio. Watson still has his rushing to help him and is still a top-10 QB, but he’s no longer the top-three guy he was.
Kirk Cousins, Vikings: Last year’s QB18 on a points-per-game basis, Cousins is in similar boat as Watson. The Vikings will likely add a wide receiver in the draft or perhaps in free agency, but whoever that player is, he’s unlikely to be as good as Stefon Diggs. And unlike Watson, Cousins doesn’t get a ton of fantasy points with his legs. (Last year was his lowest rushing total since 2015.) When Cousins threw to Diggs in 2019, he averaged 17.9 yards per completion and 12.2 YPA. To all other receivers in 2019, it was 10.2 yards per completion and 7.5 YPA. Now, you can dink and dunk your way to being fantasy-relevant, but Cousins was just 24th in pass attempts per game last season on a team that wants to continue to be run-heavy. Diggs was happy to move on, but those of us who are Kirk Cousins fans were not.
Mitchell Trubisky, Bears: What once seemed like a promising fantasy player has gone completely the other way, and now there’s a decent chance he’s not the starter anymore. The Bears traded for Nick Foles, who is both expensive and a Super Bowl champion. Trubisky was already a tough fantasy sell this year after scoring 10 or fewer fantasy points in eight of 15 games last season. He failed to throw a TD pass in nearly half of his games (seven of 15). The addition of Foles means Trubisky won’t even be drafted this year, except possibly in the deepest of leagues (and even then, only if the Bears declare him the starter).
2020 running backs I love following free agency/trades
Kenyan Drake, Cardinals: The trade of David Johnson to Houston means the starting RB gig in Arizona is officially Drake’s, which is a good thing because once Drake came to Arizona he was nothing short of fantastic. Once he joined the Cardinals in Week 9, Drake averaged 18.9 touches per game, 101.8 scrimmage yards per game, scored 8 TDs (tied for third among all players in that span) and was the third-best running back in fantasy (19.9 points per game). Drake is a good pass-catcher — his 4.9 targets per game in Arizona was 10th among RBs — and he will be put to more use as DeAndre Hopkins will stretch the field and open up even more underneath for dump-offs to Drake.
David Johnson, Texans: Shockingly buried on the depth chart behind Drake for the second half of last season, Johnson was set free in a deal to Houston that may have caused those in the NFL to scratch their heads, but had fantasy managers rejoicing for DJ. Johnson is a very good pass-catcher (he had 36 receptions in the first six games last season and his 52.5 receiving yards per game in that span was second among running backs) and he will now be the focal point of the Texans’ offense. With DeAndre Hopkins gone, Deshaun Watson will be looking for weapons. Consider that last season, even with Hopkins, Watson completed 54 passes to Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson (if that was one player, it would have ranked ninth among RBs). In fact — this is loosey-goosey math, but it’s March, so go with it — if you combined Duke Johnson and Hyde from last season, that player would have been RB5. David Johnson is better than both Hyde and Duke Johnson and will have more opportunities than both guys last season. DJ is a low-end RB1 for me right now.
Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson, Rams: We will see if the Rams add anyone else, but as of now, these two will be the starting running backs in Sean McVay’s offense and that, my friends, is a very fantasy-friendly place to be. With Todd Gurley II leaving, 16.9 touches per game and the third-most red zone carries in the NFL last season are now up for grabs. Gurley had 14 total touchdowns last season behind a bad offensive line, and I expect the Rams’ offense to be better this season. Brown looked the part in limited time last season, including five TDs on just 15 red zone touches. Meanwhile, Henderson could be the real star here. He was loved by McVay out of college, after gaining 1,909 rushing yards (second most in the country) at Memphis in 2018. Henderson averaged an impressive 5.96 yards per carry after first contact that season. He’s fast, elusive and could be special. Both guys see a big increase in value.
Others receiving votes: It’s hard to say Austin Ekeler could improve that much because he was so awesome last season, but with no Melvin Gordon last season, Ekeler was a top-five fantasy running back and should be an early pick in fantasy drafts this year now that Gordon is in Denver. … Don’t look now, but I’m writing something nice about Le’Veon Bell. Wait, what? Oh yeah. Make no mistake, he’s still one of my least-favorite players in the NFL, but you know what? The Jets have improved their offensive line by adding former Denver center Connor McGovern, former Seattle tackle George Fant and bringing back Alex Lewis. Bell had just four total TDs on 311 touches last season, so he’s due for better TD luck this season in what should be a better offense with Sam Darnold healthy. … With Stefon Diggs stretching the field and no Frank Gore (team-high 37% of red zone rushes last season) around to take carries away, Devin Singletary is in line for a strong second season. … We will see if the Dolphins bring in another running back, and the offense is still a work in progress, but at the moment Jordan Howard gets a bump up in value. It’s a worse offense but more work for a guy who, since he came into the NFL, is third in carries, third in rushing yards and seventh in rushing touchdowns.
2020 running backs I hate following free agency/trades
Devonta Freeman, free agent: It’s hard to have fantasy value when you don’t have a team. Wherever Freeman winds up, though, it’s hard to think it’ll be a better situation than he had in Atlanta, where he got 17.4 touches per game. He’s likely headed to a committee situation — and that’s if he can stay healthy. Freeman has missed 18 games the past three seasons.
Melvin Gordon, Broncos: Gordon has averaged less than four yards per carry in four of his five NFL seasons, so he has always needed volume and touchdowns for his fantasy value. The touchdowns should still come in Denver. The Broncos have a solid offensive line and you don’t bring in Gordon (23 total touchdowns in his past 24 games) to not give him the ball in close. My concern is that this is going to be a slower-paced and less-potent offense than he had with the Chargers. Last season, Gordon got 17 touches per game, which he turned into RB14 in terms of points per game. But even if you assume Royce Freeman goes to another team (as of this writing he is still on the Broncos), Freeman and Phillip Lindsay averaged 27 touches per game last season. I’m not sure I see Lindsay (who averaged 17 touches per game) suddenly going down to 10 per game. Gordon will score enough to be fine, but for me, he went from a borderline RB1 in a good offense to a middle-of-the-pack, lower-end RB2 in Denver.
2020 pass-catchers I love following free agency/trades
Adam Thielen, Vikings: Thielen dealt with injuries last season, but still was one of the best wide receivers in football and now, with Stefon Diggs in Buffalo, he should get an incredible target share from Kirk Cousins. The Vikings will draft or add someone, but make no mistake, the passing offense for Minnesota this season will run through Adam Thielen. During the past three seasons, Thielen has been targeted on 25.1% of his routes when Diggs is off the field. And for his career, when Thielen gets at least nine targets, he averages 22.8 fantasy points per game. (Last season, Michael Thomas was the only WR to average more than 20 points per game). Party on.
Calvin Ridley, Falcons: While I like the Hayden Hurst trade for both Hurst and the Falcons (more on that in a bit), I don’t see Hurst seeing the 96 targets in 13 games that Austin Hooper did last season. There are more targets available and I expect a lot of them to go to Ridley. For his career, he has eight career games with at least eight targets. In those games, he has 56 catches, 822 yards and nine TDs, or 24.2 PPG (Michael Thomas was WR1 last season at 23.4 PPG). Ridley scored in seven of those eight games and went over 70 yards in all of them.
Jack Doyle, Colts: As you’ll see in a bit, this is actually going to be a really good year for late-round tight ends, with Doyle likely at the head of that group. Eric Ebron has moved on from Indy (going to Pittsburgh) and while I know the Colts like Mo Alie-Cox, Doyle will be the starting tight end for new Colts QB Philip Rivers. I’m not saying Doyle is Antonio Gates or even Hunter Henry, but still. For the past five seasons (2015-19), Rivers when targeting the TE is fourth in total fantasy points (322.4) and has led the NFL with 104 red zone pass attempts to TEs. Going from Jacoby Brissett to Rivers and losing Ebron are two big upgrades for Doyle, who will have low-end TE1 appeal but won’t cost you like one on draft day.
Will Fuller V, Texans: With DeAndre Hopkins in Arizona, he’s now the No. 1 WR on a team that will throw in 2020. And we know he has great talent. Among WRs with 100-plus catches since 2017 (there are 67 of them), Fuller ranks seventh in fantasy points per catch at 3.24. And in his past 16 games with at least seven targets, he has 87 catches, 1,192 yards and eight TDs (259.9 fantasy points). That would’ve been WR7 last season (ahead of Julian Edelman, just behind Keenan Allen). The issue, of course, is health, as he not only misses lots of time, but he often leaves games early, which is only, like, the third-most frustrating thing in the universe. Fantasy value for Fuller is significantly up, it just depends on how lucky you feel.
Others receiving votes: Amari Cooper coming back to Dallas and the Cowboys also bringing back Dak Prescott is great for Cooper. Since joining the Cowboys, he is the fifth-best WR in fantasy. … Getting out from behind Mark Andrews and going to Atlanta really boosts Hayden Hurst‘s value in a significant way. A talented pass-catcher, Hurst should be a trendy sleeper at TE playing for a Falcons team that was top 10 in tight end targets last season and tied for sixth in tight end red zone targets. … With Delanie Walker being released by the Titans, Jonnu Smith has a chance to be a fantasy factor this season. For his career, Smith has 11 career games with at least three catches and averages 10.9 PPG in those games. It may not seem like much, but 10.9 PPG for 16 games is 174.4 points, which would have been TE7 in 2019. … Two more late-round tight end sleepers saw a nice increase in value. With Greg Olsen going to Seattle, Ian Thomas gets a starting gig. Thomas has eight career games with five or more targets. In those games, he’s averaged 11.1 PPG. … And this is more speculation, but with Stefon Diggs moving on, I could see Minnesota going to more two-tight end sets and that means more work for Irv Smith Jr. In 2019, a league-high 57.7% of Minnesota’s pass attempts came out of multiple-TE formations (league average was 21.5%). Smith has to compete with Kyle Rudolph, but Diggs leaving opens up about eight targets per game.
2020 pass-catchers I hate following free agency/trades
John Brown, Bills: Brown was WR24 on a points-per-game basis last season and was actually 13th in target share among wide receivers. However, the Bills were 25th in pass percentage last season and now with Stefon Diggs in house and Josh Allen entering his third season, maybe they pass more, but the identity of this team is still very likely to be run-first, especially with Allen’s rushing ability. Diggs will command a healthy target share, so with less volume headed Brown’s way, Brown feels like a better real-life NFL player than fantasy asset in 2020. He’s more of a WR3/WR4, top-35ish type, rather than the borderline top-20 guy he was last season.
Julian Edelman, Patriots: Whomever the starting QB for the Patriots is this year (and as of this writing, it’s looking like either Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham), that person is not Tom Brady. And that’s bad news for Edelman, whose connection with Brady is well-documented. Edelman was fifth in target share last season and sixth among WRs in receptions per game. Since the start of 2018, Edelman is top three in the NFL among WRs in red zone receptions, red zone targets and red zone receiving yards. Will the new QB look for Edelman as often when the Patriots are in close and will they score as much? I’m saying no to all of that.
Christian Kirk, Cardinals: Kirk is a talented player, who was poised to be a trendy sleeper once again this year before DeAndre Hopkins showed up. But with Hopkins now around and Larry Fitzgerald coming back for another season, I worry about Kirk getting enough looks. Hopkins was second in target share (28.8%), third in receptions per game and fourth in targets per game last season, and I don’t see his role changing that much. Meanwhile, Kirk had five games last season with fewer than seven targets. In those games, he had zero touchdowns and averaged just 5.6 fantasy points per game and just over 20 yards per game.
Emmanuel Sanders, Saints: Sanders joining the Saints is another good NFL move, but it’s hard to see consistent fantasy value here as long as Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara are healthy (not to mention Jared Cook). Last season, Saints WRs not named Michael Thomas combined for just 93 targets and 56 receptions in 16 games. That’s a measly 5.8 targets and 3.5 receptions per game. And that’s for all of them. After Thomas, the next two most-targeted New Orleans WRs were Ted Ginn (3.5 per game) and Tre’Quan Smith (2.3). Sanders will be over-drafted because of his name, but given all the other weapons in New Orleans, it’s hard to imagine Sanders being a consistent fantasy option.
Jimmy Graham, Bears: In a word — blah. Last year, Graham was TE32 on points-per game basis (not a typo, 32), and he had only one game with more than four catches and only three games with more than 50 yards. And that was with Aaron Rodgers. Whether it’s Nick Foles or Mitchell Trubisky, I think it’s safe to say neither are as good as Drew Brees, Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers. So Graham, who has seen his targets and receptions decline in each of the past four seasons, now gets to play with the worst quarterback of his NFL career. Someone will draft him because of his name. Just make sure it’s not you.
Matthew Berry — the Talented Mr. Roto — wants you to stay home and stay safe!