Fantasy Destinations for the Top-10 2018 NFL Free Agents
NFL Free Agency Impacts the Draft
My favorite fantasy football article I wrote last year was my Fantasy Destinations for the Top-10 2017 NFL Free Agents. These weren’t predictions so much as wishes. Not “where do I believe these players will play, so much as “what would be the dream scenario for these free agents?”
One of the players on my list, Martellus Bennett, landed on his dream team. This could mean BIG things for him this season. The others all either stayed put or moved on to destinations that aren’t quite as juicy as the ones I daydreamed about.
So here we are again, just in time for the 2017 NFL season to begin, just laying around daydreaming. But also… scheming. I know there is a chance one or more of these guys will find new teams in 2018. When making a mock draft, I have to consider that their current teams might have a big hole to fill. This goes in to our very early draft prep.
Also, taking a look at this free agent class, there is a LOT more talent and upside than there was in last year’s class. 2018 is is going to be a wild offseason in the NFL.
Fantasy Destinations for the Top-10 2018 NFL Free Agents
He owned the top spot in this last year, and he owns it again this year. I wonder if he actually has a greater chance of moving on next season, as this franchise tag situation might leave a bad taste in his mouth. The Steelers won’t have much cap space next season, and after franchising Bell this year, might want to spend what money they do have luring in a new QB to replace the retired Roethlisberger. So where does that leave Le’Veon? Where would he ideally go? What if he decided on an NBA-style Super Team and joined the Packers? The Pack is currently deploying a RB who used to be a WR. What if they went for broke and brought in one of the best receiving backs in the league? You thought Bell faced non-stacked fronts in Pittsburgh? Imagine what he would do playing with Rodgers…
Possibly the most talented WR in the free agent class, Robinson has been pretty productive even with Bortles throwing him the ball. You’ve seen the videos, you know he wants to leave town (or at least have a different QB brought in) but we also have to accept that the Jags have the 5th lowest amount of cap space next year, and might not be able to afford him, even with the franchise tag. Literally, any team but the Jets would be an upgrade for Robinson’s value… but his ideal situation has to be Indianapolis. The Colts drafted Donte Moncrief to be their big WR and end zone threat, but his inability to stay healthy has hampered his ability to take the next step in this offense. And he is a free agent next season. Robinson, with his size and jump ball ability, would be the perfect WR to pair with Hilton and amass buckets of fantasy points.
I admit, the odds of Brees going anywhere seem slim right now. But if the Saints have as bad a season as I think they might, then the Saints might not feel like the best way to fix their team is to have Brees play out his final years for a rebuilding franchise. The ole Tag and Trade could come into play. But whether he is traded or he walks in free agency, what could be a more poetic landing spot than the Texans? Yes, I know they just traded up to draft Deshaun Watson. But the previous year they paid $500 million for Brock Osweiler, and the next year he was off the team. The Texans have shown a willingness to cut their losses early if a QB situation isn’t working out. If Watson struggles, this team could bring in a 2-year bridge to give him more time. But let’s also think about Brees, the man. He was the face of post-Katrina hope for the city of New Orleans. What better man to bring in to a city still ravaged by the biblical amount of rain dumped on it by Harvey? The Texans have plenty of offensive weapons for Brees to utilize… and imagine the motivation Brees will have, playing with a city’s hopes all on his shoulders again. He could be the first QB to throw a 6,000 yard season in NFL history.
When I wished for Le’Veon to join the Raiders last season, I would have never guessed that it would be my own beloved Beast Mode who will be running behind that O-line in 2017. That is exactly why free agency is so fun. But there’s a great chance they will still be looking for a bell cow in 2018, and they wouldn’t have to look too far to find their man in Carlos Hyde. Everyone seems worried about Hyde’s fit with Shanahan and his zone scheme, which would not be a concern for him in Oakland. The Raiders fed upright runner Latavius Murray a bunch of red zone touches last year, and he turned them into a good amount of fantasy points. One has to assume that Lynch will get similar looks this year. But as far as straight-ahead smashing through the line, neither of them move with as much force through the line as Hyde.
Terrelle Pryor Sr.
I am a little bit torn on Pryor. I like to fancy myself a fan of the finer points of WR play. Setting up a DB and breaking open with sudden route running, like Doug Baldwin and Antonio Brown, is what I look for in a star receiver. I don’t typically fall for the height/speed freaks at the position, because none of that matters if you can’t gain separation. That said… Pryor is 6’5″ 235 and ran a 4.4 40. That is as close a physical profile to Calvin Johnson as the league has seen. He is not anywhere near as good as Calvin at route running or even catching the ball. Yet. The improvement he’s shown in just one year at the position has been amazing. I think… I think I’m falling for him. And right now he is in a pretty good spot, paired with a good deep ball QB in Cousins, a poor defense, and little running game. But with Cousins possibly moving on next year, where should we hope Pryor lands? Wherever Cousins lands! Pryor is just learning the position. He needs some stability. Considering he will possibly have a new head coach and OC next season, the best thing we can hope for is to enjoy some continuity at the QB position.
So Cousins and Pryor should go to be a team with a lot of cap space. With a head coach and/or OC who will be given a long leash, and with experience working with a deep-passing QB and a physical marvel at WR. Kyle Shanahan, you get your QB back, and a nice mini-Julio in Pryor as well! If they end up losing Hyde in free agency next year, I imagine they could be interested in bringing in Cousins and Pryor, then drafting someone like Barkley or Guice in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and have an instantly-electric offense down by the Bay.
I assume Tom Brady will be the starting QB for the Patriots in 2018. I think it’s a safe assumption. If it is the case, I think it would be very hard for the Pats to keep Garoppolo. So where would his stock enjoy the greatest lift? Where there are weapons on offense and a strong defense, and the team seems to be a good QB away from being a fantasy bonanza? How about in New York? No, of course not the Jets! The Giants. If Eli struggles this year like he did last year, we have to expect the Giants to bring someone in to replace him. Any QB that has weapons like ODB, Marshall, Engram, and Shepard is an instant fantasy consideration. Making that QB Garoppolo, who isn’t on the downside of his career, only brings that much more excitement.
Of course I do not want or expect Graham to leave next season. But he is a free agent, and the Seahawks have shown they are aggressive in both bringing in players, and letting them leave. So if they do, in a surprise move, let Graham walk… where do we fantasy managers want him to land? I say Baltimore. There aren’t very many QBs who love to target the TE more than Flacco, and there aren’t many teams with fewer established pass catchers on the roster than the Ravens. Graham could step into this situation and immediately become the #1 receiver on the pass happiest team in the league, who places extra emphasis on the TE position.
Here we are again playing matchmaker with Jeffery. Last year we wanted to send him Detroit to fill the Calvin Johnson role, but the Lions instead opted to not have a dominant #1 receiver, and spread the ball out to a bunch of different guys. Different strokes, I guess. So he has this one year as a rental in Philly. But then what? Thinking more about his strengths and weaknesses, he will never win with nifty footwork or precise route running. You just chuck the ball up and let him come down with it. So a player with his skill set is actually more valuable on a messy, cold, outdoor field, rather than a zippy turf track. He should be an alpha dog wherever he lands, and benefit from Safeties having to creep up into the box to stop the run game. How about going to KC as a #1 WR there? Tyreek can continue to abuse LBs at and near the line of scrimmage, while Alshon is the intermediate and deep threat that opens everything up for him. Giving Mahomes and his monster arm a big target like Alshon would change everything in Kansas City.
The opposite of Jeffery, Landry will be best on a turf field, and will excel if he goes to a team with one (or two) vertical threats that will open up the underneath stuff for Landry. Just take a second, and think about where Juice might turn into an instant fantasy star. You with me? Good. Julian Edelman is going to be 32 years old and coming off a destroyed knee, while playing at a position that requires quick cuts. Landry feels disrespected (or he should) by the Dolphins, and can go to the division rival Pats and tear his former team up twice a year. With Cooks, Gronk, and Hogan abusing defenses in the mid- and deep-levels of the field, Landry will just destroy things underneath. Brady-to-Landry, above and beyond Cooks and Gronk, would be unfair. And as long as there are enough passes to go around, mouth-watering for Landry owners.
If Eifert stays healthy this year, he will be very sought after in free agency next year. Much like Graham though, I expect him to stay put. But if he does end up moving to a new team, the place we all want him to land has to be Atlanta. Pairing Matt Ryan with a red zone target like Eifert would have to vault him into a top-3 TE option, and I don’t think many people would be too afraid of Austin Hooper taking meaningful snaps away from him. Not that Hooper is bad… just that Eifert can be really really good. If he stays healthy.
The final player on this list, what Crowell needs is a good team. That’s all. It’s hard to be a fantasy monster at RB when your team is always playing from behind. So let’s narrow this list of 32 teams down to one who is a really good team, with a decent O-line, who wants their RB to feast. There are only two teams that fit that description well enough for me, but one stands clearly above the others. The Philadelphia Eagles. That O-line is considered one of the 5 best in the league. The defense is good enough to keep them in all their games. And based on what I’ve seen from Wentz so far, I have to believe that the Eagles will want to focus on establishing a strong run game first and foremost to cover up for his shortcomings. Yes, right now in my 2018 NFL Mock Draft I have the Eagles adding a powerful force at RB… but Crowell owners should hope I am wrong, and that he moves to Philly and instantly becomes a low end RB1 for 2018.
*BONUS* Two Players Whose Value Will Skyrocket After Free Agency
I even think Parker will end up being a decent option this year, with the arrival of Cutler and his propensity for throwing jump balls. It’s looking like the Dolphins want to open things up down the field in order to make space for Ajayi and the running game. But next year, after the departure of Landry, an even bigger opportunity will open up for Parker, as Landry and his 136 targets per year walk out the door. DeVante can then step in and not only be the team’s leading receiver, but to dominate the market share of targets as well. And while Julius Thomas is not a free agent next season, his salary is high enough, and the cost of dumping him would be low enough, that it would make sense to cut their losses one year early. That leaves even more targets, especially in the red zone, for Parker to gobble up. He could be an A.J. Green or Michael Thomas-level WR1 this time next season.
It’s no secret, I loved Samaje Perine coming into the 2017 NFL Draft. That said, I’ll admit it, he has not looked good at all in the preseason. He will not end up starting this year. And Rob Kelley, the team’s starter, is not a free agent next year. So why do I have Perine here? Because I expect the Skins to lose their top QB and their top WR in free agency next year, not to mention their pass catching back Chris Thompson. The O-line will still be good, so this running game is going to need to carry the team during the transition to a new QB. And while Kelley has been the one to make fewer mistakes in the preseason (winning himself the starting job) I think raw talent is going to win out in the long run. Kelley is not the kind of player who can carry a team on his back. Perine is. An investment in him this season might not pay any dividends at all… but you’ll want to exit the season with him on your roster, because for keeper leagues, he could be a 2nd round pick in 2018 fantasy drafts.
photo: Getty Images