NFL Free Agency Winners and Losers (Fantasy Football)
The dust has settled (mostly) on the 2023 Free Agency window as a lot of the big name fantasy football stars are signed to their new teams. Some hit the open market and will move on while others are back with their team either via the Franchise Tag or a new deal. With each signing, there’s a trickle-down effect on team needs for the NFL Draft as well as a fantasy football outlook for the 2023 season and beyond. Below, we’ll take a look at the biggest winners and losers of free agency.
If you’re looking for a more detailed breakdown on every big signing, be sure to check out the most recent episode of The Fantasy Footballers Podcast where Andy, Mike and Jason give their takes and discuss all the news!
Jones re-signed a lucrative four-year deal to stay with the G-Men as their franchise QB for the foreseeable future. We saw what Brian Daboll did in year one with a WR depth chart that consisted of future XFL stars. Now, Jones gets a nice bag of money, another year in Daboll’s system, and plenty of weapons at his disposal.
Isaiah Hodgins was a nice player for New York last season, averaging 6.4 targets per game from Weeks 12-17 (healthy scratch in Week 18) before adding an 8/105/1 stat line in the Wild Card Round against the Vikings. He’s back in the fold on a one-year deal as is Sterling Shepard, who joins explosive rookie Wan’Dale Robinson in their recovery from a torn ACL. I’m burying the lead, though. TE Darren Waller was acquired from the Raiders for a 3rd round pick, giving Jones a legit weapon in the receiving game. Waller’s 2022 season was ruined by a lingering hamstring issue, but from 2019-2021, the Wallerus averaged 70 yards per game and an elite 25.7% targets per route run mark. He does come with risk as he turns 31 in this fall, but his addition should mean good things for the Giants’ offense as a whole including Daniel Jones. Oh yeah, have you heard some guy named Saquon Barkley is also back for 2023?
Pollard is back in Dallas on a fully guaranteed one-year deal after the team decided to use the Franchise Tag on their former 4th round pick. Subsequently, Dallas decided to move on from Ezekiel Elliott, designating him as a post-June 1 cut candidate. As it stands, the Cowboys depth chart reads: Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle, Malik Davis. There’s a good chance the Cowboys add another back to the roster, but it looks like Pollard is set to explode this season as the lead back with Zeke out of the picture.
Last season, Pollard averaged 13.7 touches per game after averaging just 10.1 the year prior. In his career when Zeke has missed time, Pollard has shined, albeit in a small sample. In three starts sans Elliott, Pollard’s weekly fantasy finishes are RB1, RB3, and RB7. Among RBs who logged 100+ carries a season ago, Pollard’s 5.2 yards per carry ranked fifth-best, and his 3.76 yards after contact per attempt ranked second in the NFL. The long-term outlook on Pollard is a bit up in the air as a future 26-year-old free agent RB in 2024, but for 2023, the runway is cleared for a Pollard takeoff. Pollard will look to build on his RB7 finish from a year ago.
David Montgomery has averaged 289 opportunities per year since he entered the NFL back in 2019, opening up a ton of opportunities in the Chicago backfield. Enter Khalil Herbert as the de facto RB1 with Monty now in Detroit. Herbert actually performed better than Montgomery in multiple efficiency metrics a year ago including yards per carry, yards after contact per attempt, and a number of 10+ yard runs despite logging 72 fewer carries than Montgomery. One knock on Herbert is that he’s never been a prolific pass catcher, and historically, RBs on teams with a rushing QB tend to see fewer targets. Assuming Justin Fields remains prolific as a runner, there will be fewer targets available for Herbert. In addition, the team signed pass-catching specialist Travis Homer to a 2-year deal. Homer led Seattle’s backfield in route participation on 3rd down the last two seasons.
Right now, Herbert looks like one of the biggest winners in free agency given how the depth chart looks today, but fantasy managers must be aware that Chicago currently has five picks inside the top 103 picks in the 2023 NFL Draft. It’s certainly possible they’re not done adding to the position. Savvy dynasty managers may want to consider selling now while his perceived value appears to be at an all-time high.
Penny feels like the cat that’s gotten too many lives in the NFL. By now, we know the story with Penny – his injury history is a major concern, but whenever he’s been on the field, he’s been explosive and productive. From a real-life NFL perspective, this is a great signing for the Eagles as Penny is due just $600K in guaranteed money. From a fantasy perspective, Penny now lands on one of the NFL’s best offenses with an offensive line that ranked fifth in PFF’s run-blocking grade and sixth in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards metric. Penny was hyper-efficient a year ago, averaging 6.1 yards per carry while leading the NFL in yards after contact per attempt (min. 50 carries).
The concern, of course, is that Jalen Hurts might be the team’s true RB1 at the goal line, and last season, Philly ranked bottom five in target share to the RB position as a whole. We’ll see what Philly does in the NFL Draft, but as it stands, it looks like Penny is the leader in the clubhouse to assume the Miles Sanders role…if he can stay healthy that is.
Say what you want about Derek Carr, but one area where he excels is passing down the field. Now, I know what you’re thinking – Derek Carr doesn’t throw down the field very often. It’s simply not true, at least recently. In 2021, only Tom Brady attempted more 20+ yard passes than Carr, and in 2022, he ranked fourth in the NFL in 20+ yard attempts. And when he does throw it deep, he’s been one of the league’s most efficient deep ball throwers, ranking third in the NFL in EPA per attempt on such throws over the last three seasons. He’s also top 10 in success rate on 20+ yard throws according to Warren Sharp. Why do I bring this up? Chris Olave, ladies, and gentleman.
Passes thrown 20+ yards:
Jimmy G vs Rodgers vs Carr pic.twitter.com/Ttg6uN8S1C
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) March 13, 2023
Olave was really impressive as a rookie. According to J.J. Zachiarison, there’ve been over 110 rookie wide receiver seasons since 2011 when the wideout saw 50+ targets. Chris Olave’s rookie season yards per route run rate (2.42) ranked fifth-best among that group, behind only Odell Beckham, AJ Brown, Justin Jefferson, and Ja’Marr Chase. His targets per route run rate were fourth-best.
Olave now goes from some combination of Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton to Derek Carr. No Carr isn’t Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes, but this is a QB upgrade, and Olave is entering year two when we tend to see WRs explode for fantasy.
The Patriots traded Jonnu Smith to the Falcons in exchange for a bag of Doritos, aka a 7th-round pick. Henry’s fantasy outlook is largely dependent on TD production, just like every TE not named Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, or T.J. Hockenson. That said, this transaction is at least beneficial for Henry’s opportunity in New England.
Both Henry and Jonnu were signed to lucrative contracts in free agency back in 2021. In two seasons together in New England, Henry has played four games without Smith. In those four games, he averages 4.8 receptions, 46.3 receiving yards, and 0.5 TDs per game. For context, in 30 games where they shared the field, Henry only averaged 2.4 receptions and 30.9 receiving yards per game. We shouldn’t expect Henry to all of a sudden turn into a top-three option, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Henry beat his current TE26 best ball ADP.
Welp! The days of fantasy managers thinking D’Andre Swift would turn into a weekly RB1 with a 20-25 touch upside are probably over, at least in 2023. We saw how the Lions utilized Swift last season in a full-blown RBBC, ceding work not only to Jamaal Williams at the goal but also to the likes of Justin Jackson and Craig Reynolds. Of course, an injury may have played a role in that as Swift dealt with lingering shoulder and ankle issues for most of the year.
But if you follow the money and the team’s transactions, it doesn’t paint a rosy picture for the former 2nd round pick. Jamaal Williams signed in New Orleans, and the team replaced him with David Montgomery on a 3-year deal, including $11 million guaranteed. This $11 million in guaranteed money is the fifth-most guaranteed of any free agent running back since 2020 – in other words, they’re likely going to use him, and use him a lot. Swift should continue to get the majority of targets in the backfield, but Montgomery seems like a safe bet to inherit the Jamaal Williams role and that means Swift’s TD equity in 2023 takes a massive hit. Swift is entering the final year on his rookie deal and is an impending free agent in 2024.
If you’ve been holding Alexander Mattison in dynasty for the last few years waiting for him to hit free agency, this has to feel like a letdown. There was hope that maybe he could land a deal with a new NFL team as their starter, but alas, he’s back in Minnesota making less than James Robinson, who was borderline out of the league last season after being benched in New York.
Now, I will add – this situation could change on a dime if the Vikings end up moving on from Dalvin Cook, but as it stands, Cook remains on the roster, and that means Mattison’s fantasy value is strictly as a backup. Minnesota can save $5.9 million by cutting Cook, so we’ll have to see how they handle their finances and their RB depth chart. We still like Mattison and his talent, and whenever Dalvin Cook has been out, he’s shined as a fantasy star, but as long as Dalvin is there, Mattison isn’t anything more than a spot start in fantasy. In six career games where Dalvin has missed and Mattison has gotten the start, he’s averaged 23.3 attempts per game, 92.5 rushing yards per game and he’s found the end zone five times.
Financially, I’m happy for Jakobi. He got a three-year deal and is set to make a lot of money over the next few years out in Las Vegas. From a fantasy perspective, however, this feels like a big L for Jakobi’s outlook, at least when you consider what could have happened. He goes from potentially landing as a top option for an offense to playing across from one of the NFL’s best WRs over the last decade, Davante Adams.
Adams’ target share by season since 2018: 29% > 31% > 34% > 32% > 32%. Last season, he showed zero signs of slowing down despite turning 30 years old and switching QBs. Adams’ 2.45 yards per route run rate ranked sixth-best among all wideouts who saw 50+ targets a season ago, and he was targeted on 27.2% of his routes, one of the best marks in football. Out in Las Vegas, it’s his world, and we’re just living in it. Meyers will have some usable weeks here and there, but he faces some stiff target competition from Adams while Hunter Renfrow is also no slouch at earning targets out of the slot, either. When you think about the range of outcomes for Meyers leaving New England, this landing spot feels pretty uninspiring for his upside.
Chicago pulled off a great trade last week, sending the #1 overall pick in this year’s draft to Carolina for a package of picks and D.J. Moore. For some reason, Chicago gave away the 32nd overall pick in the draft for Claypool when they acquired him from the Steelers, where he had been falling out of favor. Last season in Chicago with Darnell Mooney missing multiple weeks to end the year due to an ankle injury, Claypool only logged one game where he played more than 70% of the snaps and that came in a meaningless Week 18 game when the Bears sat Justin Fields.
Now granted, it’s tough for WRs to adjust to a new scheme and offensive environment when they change teams mid-season so I don’t want to completely drag Claypool through the mud, but when you consider he was battling guys like Velus Jones, N’Keal Harry, and Equanimeous St. Brown for playing time, it’s a #bad look for the former 2nd rounder. Claypool is still oozing with athleticism, but his yards per route run mark since he entered the NFL is concerning with that metric dropping from 2.00 as a rookie to 1.71 in 2021 to 1.07 last season. Maybe a full offseason with Chicago will do him some good, but he’s now competing for targets with not only D.J. Moore but also a healthy Darnell Mooney and an emerging pass-catching TE in Cole Kmet.
Looking for more on 2023 free agency? Be sure to check out the 2023 UDK+, which features the Dynasty Pass, including our Team Opportunity Report, Free Agency Tracker and Dynasty Trade Targets.