Every year, NFL free agency has a massive impact on the world of fantasy football and 2021 is no exception. Here, we’ll go over each major skill-position transactions (for the players who changed teams) and how it affects each newly-signed player and their respective teammates.
Giants sign WR Kenny Golladay
Likely the most valuable free agent wide receiver, Kenny Golladay followed up his fantastic WR9 season in 2019 with an injury-plagued 2020 campaign that only saw him play five games. Still, Golladay managed to be on pace for a 64/1,082/7 line which helped catapult him to the top of the free agency class.
Golladay joins a crowded pass-catching corps in New York, where he is joined by Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, and Saquon Barkley. This would all be fine if they weren’t fighting for production from the dubious duo of OC Jason Garrett and QB Daniel Jones, who combined to throw for the 4th fewest yards and fewest touchdowns in the NFL last year.
The money indicates that Golladay will get the alpha WR1 treatment, but many concerns remain. It will be very difficult for Golladay to approach his touchdown percentage from 2019 (most receiving TDs in the NFL on the 29th-most receptions), and he will have more target competition on a team with a worse coaching staff and quarterback play.
Going on 28 years old in November, Golladay is likely a sell-high in dynasty leagues – assuming you can still receive good value for him. However, his past production and likely role in the Giants offense still warrants him a low-end WR2 in fantasy leagues.
Raiders sign RB Kenyan Drake
After a 2nd-half explosion in 2019, Kenyan Drake was selected in the 2nd round of 2020 fantasy drafts. He didn’t entirely disappoint en route to an RB15 finish and saw a career-high 239 carries, but the rest of his statistics were troubling. He had his lowest yards per carry (4.0) of his career (previous low was 4.5), and fewest targets/catches/receiving yards since his rookie season. His 31 targets and 25/137/0 receiving line was a far cry from the two seasons before that, where he averaged 51.5 catches, 411 yards with five total receiving touchdowns.
Now fully established as a role player, Drake is expected to be the clear backup and change-of-pace option to Josh Jacobs. He’ll likely take over the role Devontae Booker vacated, and will only have value if Jacobs gets hurt – something that has been a frequent issue during his short NFL career.
He’ll possibly be worth selected in the late rounds of drafts as a semi-intriguing Zero RB candidate. However things could get really dicey for fantasy value if Jalen Richard is still involved.
Dolphins sign WR Will Fuller
Will Fuller answered all questions about his ability to be a team’s top wideout last season. While finally staying healthy, he balled to the tune of a 53/879/8 line in a mere 11 games before being suspended the rest of the season for PED violations. Fuller’s 17.2 PPR points per game were 8th best in the NFL – ahead of more ballyhooed starts like D.K. Metcalf and Justin Jefferson.
Tua Tagovailoa had plenty of success with the deep ball at Alabama and will have no excuses for failure while throwing to DeVante Parker – who figures to have a reduced fantasy impact – and Fuller with a revamped offensive line.
His one-year deal worth over $10 million puts him squarely in play for another contract-year explosion. The landing spot is excellent for targets but questionable for quarterback play. Fuller should be confidently drafted as a high-end WR3 in this summer’s fantasy drafts due to his elite upside. Parker and Fuller should keep defenses honest – but will Tua evolve enough to help them finish as top-25 wide receivers? His 181.4 passing yards per game as a rookie leave something to be desired and reason for hesitation in 2021.
Patriots sign TEs Jonnu Smith & Hunter Henry
In what seems to be a yearning for the brief-yet-spectacular dominance of mismatch machines Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, Bill Belichick quickly signed the top two tight ends on the market. Based purely on their roles last year, Hunter Henry will likely be featured as the main chain-mover between the 20s (8th among 2020 TEs with 60 receptions) while Smith will continue to be a menace in the red-zone (T-4th among 2020 TEs with 8 TDs).
If the Patriots had only signed one, they would likely slot in as a top-8 fantasy tight end immediately – however, they both cannot be considered more than low-end TE1s with major volume concerns. Cam Newton is back to lead an offense that finished 31st in the NFL in pass attempts (27.5 per game), dead last in passing touchdowns (12), and 3rd in rushing attempts (31.4 per game). The complete dearth of weapons in 2020 for New England and Newton’s history of supporting an elite fantasy TE (Greg Olsen) could bring those numbers closer to the league mean for 2021, however.
The Patriots signings point to a desire to implement a run-heavy offense that can complete short passes to versatile tight ends while executing on play action. The issue is, there’s likely not enough volume for either to be consistently reliable while the other is on the field. If the Patriots move away from Cam Newton, there may be more reason for optimism.
One could argue that this will only make Travis Kelce and George Kittle even more valuable in 2021, as two previous possible high-end TE1 candidates in Smith (last year’s TE16) and Henry (TE12) will be hard-pressed to exceed 2020’s production. It’s also not great news for the Dynasty viability of recent draft picks Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi.
Patriots sign WR Nelson Agholor
Basically left for dead after a (to put it kindly) up-and-down tenure with the Eagles, Nelson Agholor resurrected his career with a WR33 finish as Derek Carr’s de-facto WR1 after a slew of injuries. Despite a mere 82 targets (T-48th in the NFL), he was a surprisingly effective deep-threat with 896 yards and eight touchdowns.
Still only 27 years old, he’ll likely slot in as the Patriots immediate WR1 who can play in the slot and outside, and relegate Jakobi Meyers back to a low-volume role. 2020 will likely prove to be the most productive year of Agholor’s career in such a low-volume passing attack (see above), but they gave him more money than the Jets gave Corey Davis so that’s one reason for optimism.
It is a searing indictment on the Patriots newest draft-bust WR N’Keal Harry, who is already rumored to be dealt.
Washington Football Team signs WR Curtis Samuel
Seemingly more of a thorn-in-the-side of D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson owners than an outright fantasy asset in 2020, you may not realize 2020’s WR23 Samuel actually outscored Moore (WR25) and approached Anderson (WR20) as the most productive wideout in Carolina. This was on the strength of 77 receptions and a whopping 41/200/2 rushing line – all league-leading numbers for wide receivers with over 25 targets.
Samuel will only be 26 when the season starts and will immediately slide in as Washington’s WR2 behind college teammate Terry McLaurin. With gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick now the likely starter, there is serious fantasy potential for both receivers, as Fitzpatrick has supported multiple fantasy-relevant WRs on multiple teams during his NFL journey. Samuel’s landing spot is arguably the best of all the free agent wide receivers. He will be safe to draft as a WR3 with WR2 upside in 2021, as Scott Turner will have no trouble manufacturing touches for his new toy.
Rams sign WR DeSean Jackson
Going on age 34, DeSean Jackson’s days of standalone fantasy relevance have come and gone. He’s played eight total games the past two years combined, and last played in 15+ contests in 2016. Jackson and Sean McVay have a strong history together from their days in Washington, however, and Jackson still has the deep speed to threaten defenses over the top. It’s good news for Matthew Stafford’s fantasy value.
This signing is great news for Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, as Jackson is not going to command significant targets – but will keep the opposing defense honest. Kupp and Woods might even see more targets with the absence of Josh Reynolds and Gerald Everett, and with the Rams likely to pass more now that they have a QB in Matthew Stafford that Sean McVay actually trusts.
Washington Football Team signs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Ryan Fitzpatrick will “compete” with late-2020 darling Taylor Heinicke, but will likely make double-digit starts in 2021 for up-and-coming OC Scott Turner. This can only be interpreted as good news for budding superstar Terry McLaurin, who has eclipsed 2,000 receiving yards in his first two seasons despite catching passes from the likes of Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen.
Ryan Fitzpatrick No. 1 WR target totals in his eight seasons with 10+ starts:
T.J. Houshmandzadeh: 137
Stevie Johnson: 148, 141, 134
Andre Johnson: 146
Brandon Marshall: 173, 128
DeVante Parker: 128
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) March 16, 2021
Fitzpatrick has shown an ability to at least play to the level of his supporting cast and feed playmakers. With McLaurin, 2020 rookie star Antonio Gibson, 2020’s TE4 Logan Thomas and new acquisition Curtis Samuel, Fitzpatrick is going to fill the stat sheet and be a frequent QB1 streamer in good matchups.
Cardinals sign WR A.J. Green
Despite the “big” name, A.J. Green is simply washed after multiple lower-leg injuries over the past few seasons, ranking dead last among WRs in yards per target and catch percentage and having 0 yards in four of his final eight games.
Although Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim believes Green “has a lot left in the tank”, the analytics say the opposite. He averaged a meager 1.7 yards of separation per target, tied for worst among all receivers.
He’d be lucky to finish 3rd on the team in targets with DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk gobbling up the majority of the looks. The soon-to-be 33 year-old Green is not worth rostering in redraft formats.
Raiders sign WR John Brown
Turning 31 in April, John Brown is coming off of a 72-1,060-6 line in 2019, and a respectable 33/458/3 line in only nine 2020 games. He’ll likely take over Nelson Agholor’s deep-threat role which produced a WR33 finish last year, but likely won’t be reliable in fantasy leagues unless an injury strikes target hog Darren Waller.
Lions sign RB Jamaal Williams
Jamaal Williams has notoriously been more of a nuisance to Aaron Jones owners than an outright fantasy asset. But he has shown real production when called upon for feature-back duties (965 rushing yards, 70 catches, nine total TDs since 2019).
His signing is troublesome on the surface for D’Andre Swift, but this indictment doesn’t necessarily hold up to more intense scrutiny. On a Jared Goff-run offense now without Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay, there is a major touch vacuum that will be filled both by Swift and Williams. In addition, it may be evidence the the Lions won’t bring in another running back.
Swift – whose path to 280 touches remains very much intact – should be treated as a borderline RB1, while Williams will be an unexciting yet possibly fruitful Zero-RB selection who should approach RB3/4 value. One injury to Swift would thrust him into an every-week fantasy starter.
Bills sign WR Emmanuel Sanders
Replacing John Brown, Sanders will still struggle for meaningful volume behind mega-WR1 Stefon Diggs and reliable WR2 Cole Beasley. His presence is more of a negative to the promising young Gabriel Davis, but this effect is reduced by the fact that the Bills are amongst the league-leaders in four-WR sets. Sanders can be ignored on draft day, but his presence is a plus for Josh Allen. If Davis sees a significant decrease in price, there may be a buying opportunity.
Jaguars sign WR Marvin Jones
Still one of the league’s upper-echelon deep threats, Marvin Jones’ path to fantasy excellence was not a surprise in 2020. Functioning as the Lions’ WR1 most of the season, he put up top-end WR1 stats when Golladay missed significant time last year.
Jones will be 31 years old, and this signing dampens both his and D.J. Chark’s outlooks as they catch passes from an (admittedly elite) rookie QB. Chark remains a solid bounce-back candidate, and Jones’s signing should further reduce his price after a lost 2020 season. Savvy drafters will happily take the discount, while Jones should flirt with boom/bust WR3 numbers.
Bears sign QB Andy Dalton
A competent QB who has only gone as far as his supporting cast, offensive line and coaching would take him, Dalton predictably struggled behind a makeshift offensive line while replacing Dak Prescott. Finishing 33rd in fantasy points per game on a roughly 3,000-yard/20-touchdown pace, Dalton at least kept Amari Cooper afloat as a WR2.
Ultimately, Dalton won’t prove to be a significant upgrade on Trubisky or Foles but should do enough to keep Allen Robinson in the WR1 conversation.
Jets sign WR Corey Davis
In an uber-late breakout, Davis finished as the WR29 despite seeing the 42nd most targets in the NFL. However, elite coaching, excellent QB play, and reduced defensive attention behind an alpha WR1 (A.J. Brown) cannot be ignored.
None of those can be considered even close to a given in New York, and target competition could be greater than expected with Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims in line for significant roles. Ultimately, something in the ballpark of his 65/984/5 line would be at the higher end of his range of outcomes, making him a likely flex option during bye weeks.
Jaguars sign RB Carlos Hyde
This signing is more about the Jaguars’ belief in James Robinson, last year’s surprise RB7. Carlos Hyde will play a similar role in Jacksonville as he did behind Chris Carson – a spot starter if injury strikes who otherwise will not threaten an incumbent’s bell-cow status. Hyde’s presence is the perfect signing in that he’s good enough to be the only true backup to Robinson, but will not get in the way of a potential 300-touch season for Robinson. This is assuming that the Jaguars don’t target a running back in the NFL draft.
Dolphins sign RB Malcolm Brown
The classic coach’s pet, Malcolm Brown is a slightly better version of Peyton Barber. The Rams backfield will now officially pass over to Cam Akers, who should be a top-24 selection in this summer’s upcoming drafts. Brown leaves behind a significant 101 carries and 34 targets.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins remain a prime candidate to draft an early RB in April’s draft. The Brown signing will actually be great news for the fantasy-relevance of that rookie, as Brown will provide far less competition than if the Dolphins signed someone like Jamaal Williams. This free agent’s fantasy impact is more about what Brown won’t be.