Free agency saw plenty of player movement. Davante Adams is a Raider! Russell Wilson is a Bronco! Marcus Mariota is a Falcon? Now, not every move made has wide-ranging fantasy football implications. But there were plenty of trades, signings, cuts, etc. that did. Some players and teams had their fantasy value take a hit, while plenty of others saw their value rise compared to a month ago. Things could change with the NFL Draft, but for now, here are a few winners from the free agency period that are especially worth talking about.
Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
Here are some Derek Carr stats from last year: he finished No. 5 among qualified quarterbacks with 4,804 passing yards and 5,071 Air Yards (5,071). Only Tom Brady, Justin Herbert, Matthew Stafford, and Patrick Mahomes had more yards than Carr last season. He also finished No. 5 with 626 pass attempts and 77 Deep Ball Attempts. He ranked No. 7 with 7.7 yards per attempt and a 73.4-percent True Completion Percentage. Carr also finished No. 10 with 86 red zone attempts, but only finished with 23 passing touchdowns. Only 3.7-percent of his attempts resulted in a touchdown, lower than the league average of around four or five percent.
Carr was great last season and now gets Davante Adams to throw the ball to. He doesn’t have much room to improve upon last season’s numbers save for the touchdown department. Adams surely will help there; he’s caught at least double-digit touchdowns in every season but one since 2016. Touchdowns aren’t a sticky stat, and it isn’t as sure a bet that Adams reaches that mark again this season without Aaron Rodgers and a mighty cast of weapons around him. But he should help Carr exceed the 30-touchdown mark for the second time in his career and the first since 2015. He finished as the QB14 in fantasy last season but should improve upon it with the best receiver in the NFL at his disposal and a loaded division with shootout potential. There will be many startable quarterback options this season. Carr is firmly entrenched as one.
Chase Edmonds, Miami Dolphins
The Arizona Cardinals re-signing James Conner to a three-year $21 million contract had wide-ranging implications. With Chase Edmonds also slated to become a free agent, the Cardinals chose Conner over Edmonds, who then elected to take his talents to South Beach as a result. /
That is not the choice I would’ve made. Edmonds is the far-more efficient runner. Last season, Edmonds averaged 4.7 (No. 9) True Yards Per Carry, 5.7 (No. 7) yards per touch, and 1.65 (No. 9) yards per route run. Conner did lap him in yards per route run at 2.29 (No. 4), but lagged way behind as a runner with a 3.6 (No. 62) True Yards Per Carry average and 4.7 (No. 27) yards per touch.
In the four instances his partner in the backfield didn’t play, Edmonds has racked up 305 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Adding 142 yards through the air on 18 receptions and 22 targets. He’s not a running back who should be getting 20-plus carries a game. But he certainly can handle more than the 10.65 carries per game he’s been bestowed the last two seasons.
He’s already one of the best receivers out of the backfield and will get the opportunity to showcase more of that skillset this season in a revamped Miami offense that saw them acquire Terron Armstead and Tyreek Hill. Miami’s offensive line should hold up better than the last two seasons while plenty of space should be created underneath as defenses have to deal with both Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. The Dolphins offense will improve as a whole, and Edmonds looks like a big beneficiary.
Eno Benjamin, Arizona Cardinals
Meanwhile, in the desert, someone has to fill in for Chase Edmonds. Maybe that is James Conner; he did average 5.2 targets per game in the five games Edmonds missed last season between Weeks 9-14. But, Conner has as lengthy a laundry list of injuries as any running back in the NFL. He’s only missed 11 games over the past three seasons, but there have been a few more where Conner has left early in a game to never return. Edmonds leaves 116 carries and 53 targets on his way out of the door. Conner will take some, but not all of it. Who will take the rest?
That leads us to Eno Benjamin, the Cardinals’ newest backup assuming they don’t find one in the draft. Edmonds’ role was sizable even in split duty; only twice in the 12 games he played did he register fewer than four targets, and three times did he fail to accumulate at least 10 touches. Benjamin can absolutely replicate the role Edmonds left behind. In the two seasons Benjamin got burn at Arizona State, he ran for 2,725 yards on 553 carries. He brought in 77 receptions for 610 yards as well. He scored 30 touchdowns. His 36.2-percent (85th-percentile) College Dominator Rating and 15.6-percent (95th-percentile) College Target Share are exceptional.
With Christian Kirk and A.J. Green‘s 195 targets out the door in addition to Edmonds’ 53 and Kyler Murray‘s tendency to check down to his running backs, it isn’t hard to see Benjamin crack a role in Arizona’s backfield, especially if the Cardinals don’t draft another running back. And if Conner were to miss time again, Benjamin would be an absolute RB2 with upside for more. He is one of the higher upside handcuffs in fantasy at the moment.
CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
The instant the Cowboys traded Amari Cooper and let Cedrick Wilson walk in free agency, 165 targets walked out the door. Michael Gallup tore his ACL in Week 17 of the 2021 season. He will likely play at some point in the 2022 season but with how late the injury was suffered, it wouldn’t surprise if he were to start the season on the PUP list or not play to his standard. The Cowboys have only signed James Washington to address their receiver exodus, though they could address the issue at the 2022 NFL Draft.
Nonetheless, all the signs point to third-year receiver CeeDee Lamb firmly establishing himself as the new alpha in Dallas. Many hoped that leap would happen last season. While that did not happen, Lamb’s sophomore season featured plenty of good. In an NFL that loves to get it’s primary playmakers in space, Lamb excelled in that regard, finishing with 396 (No. 20) yards after the catch. He finished in the top 25 in numerous categories, including targets (125; No. 24), routes run (529; No. 19), Completed Air Yards (727; No. 19), yards per target (9; No. 21), yards per route run (2.12; No. 17), and Expected Points Added (1.9; No. 3).
He did all that with an already healthy number of targets. With the pieces that the Cowboys have already lost or may not have to begin the season, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how the first-round receiver playing for the fifth-happiest passing offense in the NFL could work himself into one of the heaviest workloads in the NFL. Lamb looks like a breakout top ten fantasy receiver waiting to happen; the only question is how high can he go.
Braxton Berrios, New York Jets
In the nine games starting slot receiver Jamison Crowder has missed over the last two seasons, Braxton Berrios has managed to accumulate 49 receptions on 69 targets. Those 49 receptions went for 444 yards and two touchdowns. He scored two additional times, one on the ground and another via a kick return. Extrapolated over a 17-game season, those numbers come out to roughly 130 targets, 92 receptions, 838 yards and six touchdowns. That comes out to 165.8 points in half PPR formats, where Berrios would’ve finished as the WR30 and sandwiched in between Adam Thielen and Devonta Smith. On a per-game basis, Berrios wasn’t far off; he would’ve finished as the WR39.
When given an opportunity, Berrios has proven he’s a good NFL receiver. The numbers back it up too. His 17.4-percent Hog Rate (targets per snap) finished No. 11 at the position last season. It isn’t easy to receive targets, but he did so once given the chance. He’ll have plenty of more chances too now that Crowder is in Buffalo. He’s in line to be the Jets’ starting slot receiver this season barring the Jets don’t bring in the extra noteworthy receiver they are reportedly seeking. But if that doesn’t happen, the Zach Wilson-Braxton Berrios bromance will bring Berrios more than serviceable fantasy value.
Gerald Everett, Los Angeles Chargers
The Seattle Seahawks, Gerald Everett‘s team last season, threw the ball 495 times, the second-fewest in the NFL. The Los Angeles Chargers, Everett’s new team this season, tossed the rock 674 times, the third-most in the NFL. Jared Cook, the Chargers’ tight end last season, left a ton of meat on the bone in his starting role. Cook finished last season in the top 15 among tight ends in many statistics. These include routes run (423; No. 9), targets (83; No. 14), Air Yards Share (14.5-percent; No. 14), and average target distance (8.2; No. 9). The most notable is Unrealized Air Yards, where his 324 such yards finished No. 8 at the position. Justin Herbert gift-wrapped Cook a top-10 fantasy season at the tight-end, but he was not up to par (he finished as the TE15 in half PPR leagues and TE18 in full PPR formats).
Another statistic Cook was not up to snuff was Catch Rate. His was 57.8-percent; No. 36 among tight ends. Everett’s was 76.2-percent; No. 6 among tight ends. Everett also edged out Cook in yards per target (7.6 for Everett; 6.8 for Cook). He walks into as good a situation as any tight end could ask for. Herbert gave Cook every chance to finish as a starting fantasy tight end, but Cook, at the end of his career, couldn’t hold up his end. Everett is an 86th-percentile athlete at tight end in the prime of his career. For those who like to wait on a tight end like me, Everett is my favorite option. Many have waited for a true breakout; it’s coming this season.
Irv Smith, Minnesota Vikings
Remember when Irv Smith was the new hotness and everyone’s favorite breakout target last offseason? Well, he proceeded to get hurt and miss the rest of the season. Tyler Conklin filled in and proceeded to deliver a TE16 finish. Even if Smith were healthy last season, Conklin would’ve sapped some of his work. But, Conklin dipped to the Big Apple this offseason, leaving Smith firmly in line for the primary tight end role. Conklin finished last season with 87 (No. 12) targets, a 81.3-percent (No. 9) Snap Share, and 427 (No. 7) routes run.
The Vikings traded for former Jet Chris Herndon to help fill Smith’s void, but he only registered seven targets all season. The tight end job is all Smith’s and it’s one that yields fantasy relevance. Remember, he ended 2020 strong, which included a 4-4-63-1 and 9-6-53-2 performance. He’s going to be a popular breakout option again, but without as much buzz as there was a year ago despite his circumstances being even better than they were last year.