With the NFL Scouting Combine this passed weekend, the next event on the NFL calendar is free agency. The 2018 offseason gifts us one of the most talent-rich free agent classes of recent memory. This is not a prediction piece, but more so a thought exercise into a best-case scenario of landing spots for this exciting crop of free agent wide receivers.
Landing spot: Chicago Bears
One of the more shocking and mind-boggling decisions of recent memory, the Jaguars have decided to not only keep Blake Bortles, but let their top WR, Allen Robinson test the free agent market. The thought of Robinson catching passes from someone other than Bortles is exhilarating. While Robinson missed essentially all of 2017 with a torn ACL, early expectations are he should be 100-percent going into the 2018 season.
Commanding back-to-back 150 target seasons in 2015 and 2016 Allen Robinson has proven himself as a true No.1 WR who can do it all from being a deep option (17.5 yards per reception in 2015), red zone threat, catching 23 of 40 red zone targets between 2015 and 2016 in addition to 20 total touchdowns in that time span.
With Chicago garnering some early buzz to be the bounce-back team of 2018, a la the 2017 Rams, they first need to put pieces around their young franchise QB Mitch Trubisky. Restricted free agent Cameron Meredith is coming of a major knee injury. 2015 first round pick Kevin White has been active in only 5 of 48 games. Locking in Allen Robinson as the team’s primary receiver is the first step in the process.
Landing spot: Indianapolis Colts
The 2017 season was an absolute riddle for Jarvis Landry. A short-target funnel— just 3.1 (No.101) completed Air Yards per target— Landry led the NFL with 112 receptions, yet failed to crest 1,000 yards, posting 987 (No.15), a feat which had yet to be accomplished by a wide receiver. Adding further to his outlier season, Landry finished No.1 with 18 red zone receptions, and No. 3 with a 9 touchdowns, nearly doubling his previous career high.
The Dolphins can ill-afford to pay the near 16 million dollar franchise tag number to the slot receiver and need to facilitate a trade. Indianapolis makes for an intriguing destination, given the team’s projected salary cap space (over $70 million via OverTheCap.com), Jarvis Landry’s success based on a need be fed a high target share, and the lack of offensive weapons— outside of T.Y. Hilton— for
Jacoby Brissett Andrew Luck, evidenced by a -8.96 (No.32) Supporting Cast Efficiency.
Pairing Jarvis Landry and T. Y. Hilton together would monopolize the majority of the targets in Indianapolis. This would bode well for both players’ fantasy value as they win in different areas of the football field. Andrew Luck, if healthy and in his prime, would be fully capable of supporting two top-24 receivers.
Landing spot: San Francisco 49ers
With expectations high for a healthy Sammy Watkins last summer, things hit a speed bump as he was traded mid-August to the Rams. Watkins was afforded less time to learn a new offense and develop a rapport with quarterback Jared Goff, limiting him to more of a role player in the league’s No.1 scoring offense.
Although he was fourth on the Rams with 70 (No.59) targets, Sammy Watkins was their most efficient wide receiver on a per-target basis. Watkins achieved 2.09 (No.7) fantasy points per target, and his +23.8 (No.8) Production Premium, and +22.9-percent (No.11) Target Premium bested both Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.
Poised to be a free agent, Watkins and the San Francisco 49ers make a great pairing. A team flush with salary cap space and in need of a true No.1 receiver to pair with franchise QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Watkins has shown outstanding efficiency when healthy going back to his breakout 2015 campaign. The appeal of Watkins reaching his elite potential as the top option in the 49ers high volume passing offense is mouth-watering.
Landing spot: Baltimore Ravens
While Jordan Matthews enthusiasts would certainly not view him being tethered to Joe Flacco as a “dream scenario”, this landing spot is all about opportunity. With Jeremy Maclin a rumored cut candidate, and Mike Wallace a free agent, Baltimore will look to retool their wide receiver depth chart via free agency and the NFL Draft.
Hampered by an ankle injury he played through in 2016, Matthews 2017 season never got off the ground. He was traded mid-August to the Bills and immediately suffered a chest injury, losing valuable practice time to learn a new offense. Subsequent thumb and knee injuries cut his season short. Matthews underwent offseason surgery on both his left knee and right ankle.
One of the most productive receivers in this free agent class, Jordan Matthews is a top bounce-back candidate for 2018, regardless of the destination. Having played for two teams, under three head coaches, and catching passes from five different quarterbacks, Matthews is now free to choose his ideal — and most importantly, stable— situation.
Landing spot: Seattle Seahawks
Donte Moncrief has been an enigma throughout his career. Flashing his tantalizing athletic upside his rookie and sophomore seasons, before a myriad of injuries limited him in 2016. He took a big step back in production, but settled in as the league’s best red zone producers. 2017 was another down year, as Moncrief saw a career-low 47 targets (No.89), once again offering little after the catch. The red zone production that buoyed his 2016 season was nowhere to be found.
Check out Donte Moncrief on the Updated PlayerProfiler Dynasty Rankings:
Most likely opting for a “prove-it” deal in free agency, a change of scenery would seem to benefit Donte Moncrief. The Seahawks — short on salary cap space at this time — could look to him as an appealing low cost option. Paul Richardson is set to leave via free agency, Amara Darboh is a deep sleeper for 2018, although it’s too early to project what type of target share he would see after a quiet rookie season. Moncrief would give the Seahawks a big-bodied target opposite Tyler Lockett, who can take on a share of the red zone target share left behind by free agent TE Jimmy Graham.
Landing spot: Atlanta Falcons
A forgotten man amongst the elite wide receiver draft class of 2014, Paul Richardson flashed the athleticism and upside that made him a second round pick with numerous highlight-reel catches in the 2016 NFL Playoffs. A deep sleeper entering 2017 and finally fully healthy, Richardson became a full time starter for the Seahawks. Commanding an 80-percent snap share, he experienced a mini-breakout in 2017, setting career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns.
Primarily a deep threat, Paul Richardson ranked No.24 in Target Distance seeing 15.6 air yards per target and finished No.6 with 587 completed Air Yards. He also received positive grades in Player Profiler’s advanced efficiency metrics, most notably a +19.1 (No.11) Production Premium. QB Russell Wilson’s passer rating when targeting Richardson was 104.3 (No.11).
As laid out by the great Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) on the Sonic Truth Podcast, Atlanta would be the ideal destination for Paul Richardson. The team will not be retaining Taylor Gabriel , and Richardson would be a clear upgrade. Mohamed Sanu profiles best in the slot and received a 44.6-percent (No.15) Slot rate in 2017. With his elite 4.40 (93rd percentile) speed, and playing indoors opposite of Julio Jones who commands double teams, the thought of Richardson on the Falcons is extremely exciting.
Landing spot: Green Bay Packers
A small-school mega producer at Pittsburg State, John Brown followed up a promising rookie campaign with a breakout 2015 season. Since then, Brown has been hampered by recurring hamstring injuries caused by a sickle-cell trait. Brown hits the free agent market, still in his prime at 27-years old, most likely having to settle for a short term, “prove it” type of contract.
If proven healthy, John Brown could be a free agent steal for a team like the Green Bay Packers who are not usually big players in free agency. Brown and his 4.34 (98th percentile) speed and field-stretching ability would be a welcomed addition to the Packers offense, as the combined deep ball attempts of quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Brett Hundley in 2017 (55) were ranked in the bottom-third of the league. With Randall Cobb rumored to be a salary cap casualty, Brown’s presence on the outside across from Davante Adams would allow the soon-to-be 33-year old Jordy Nelson to transition into the slot.