Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Should I Avoid WRs Changing Teams?
Long gone are the days of loyalty in the NFL. Fans have become accustomed to the process, where-in players are often changing teams during the free-agency process. While in-season trades are not as common in the NFL as they are in other sports, off-season trades do often transpire.
Throughout the history of fantasy football, drafting a player moving to a new team has always carried a stigma of expected upside or a dramatic downgrade of their prospects. There is a lot that goes into changing teams for a player, both personally and professionally. Personally, it typically involves moving to a new City and State, uprooting your family in a cross-country move. Professionally, players must learn new playbooks and the associated language, systems and schemes, and build new rapport with new teammates.
Of course, every player handles this differently. Are they a student of the game, who can quickly adapt to a new team? Are they moving closer to, or further away from, their childhood home? Changing climate regions? All these and thousands of other things can impact how a player adjusts to their new team.
One of the things that comes up each season is how a player will perform for a new team in their first year. Often, you will hear generalities such as; never draft a WR playing for a new team. But is this an actionable piece of advice? Can this blanket statement be applied to all players?
For this article, I am not going to list out the raw stats of every historical player to change teams. What I have done is compiled a list of all the players who have changed teams since the 2014-2015 season and a handful of earlier seasons where applicable, focused on Free Agent signings and off-season trades. When viewed at a macro level, you start to see trends for different buckets of similar players with similar results. There are always outliers, but it was surprising to see a semblance of consistency in the results. With that stated, I’m going to break down the specific buckets that I believe most closely resemble the player arch-types that most closely match the profile of the 2020 Free Agent/Trade Class.
Most importantly, the outlooks presented are not to be taken as a projection of the player’s 2020 season. The goal is to be a guiding point for you to dig deeper into specific players if you find yourself higher or lower on them than the general consensus rankings as we head into draft season this summer.
2020 Free Agent/Traded WRs[lptw_table id=”163259″ style=”default”]
The Player Archetypes
The Stud in their Prime (2020 Class: DeAndre Hopkins)
Overall, it’s been rare to see a true stud WR change teams in their prime. In most cases, a player like this is a supreme talent that can succeed in even the most daunting scenarios. The best comparable players for DeAndre Hopkins’ 2020 season are Brandon Marshall and Odell Beckham. Brandon Marshall made multiple moves in the prime of his career. In 2009, Marshall had a studly WR1 season in Denver consistent with his previous season going over 100 receptions, 1100+ yards and, at the time, career-high 10 TD receptions. He was then traded to the Dolphins for the 2010 season. It was not as strong, playing 14 games with just 86 receptions, 1,104 yards, and only 3 TDs. He would post similar numbers in 2011 before moving to Chicago in 2012, where he had a monster first season. That first season with the Bears saw him post career highs in receptions (118), yards (1,508), and to that point, a career-high 11 TDs. Marshall’s third and final year in Chicago was plagued with injuries, where he posted career lows. The 2015 season saw a resurgent Marshall post near-career highs in his first season with the New York Jets; 109 receptions, 1,502 yards, and a career-best 14 TDs.
Similarly, Odell Beckham was a perennial stud WR in the prime of his career when he left the Giants after the 2018 season. His first season in Cleveland was less than stellar, posting a disappointing to fantasy owners 74 receptions for 1,035 yards and just 4 TDs. Where Marshall and Beckham saw dips in their production in the first season after being traded to their first new team, Marshall twice showed the ability to be a true stud in the first year with a new team later in his career with the Bears and Jets. Additionally, Marshall saw his first change after just four seasons with the Broncos, and Beckham moved after five seasons with the Giants. DeAndre Hopkins is a seasoned veteran, heading into his 8th season in the league.
The move to Arizona puts Hopkins in a system that carries an expectation greater than their output in 2019. For all the talk of their pace of play, the Cardinals ran just 1.5 more plays per game than the Texans and averaged just .5 pass attempts more per game. Rookie Kyler Murray also had a lower completion percentage than the established Deshaun Watson. With the Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, young up-and-coming Christian Kirk, and a plethora of WRs drafted in 2019, it likely that Hopkins could see a similar dip in production in year one with his new team, just like Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall’s move to the Dolphins.
High Hopes, Shown Flashes (2020 Class: Stefon Diggs)
There was a point in time where Stefon Diggs was a highly rated dynasty WR with high expectations for many years of high-end productivity. After a breakout season in 2018, posting 102 receptions, 1,021 yards, and 9 TDs, Diggs was at peak value. A disappointing 2019 season and trade to the Bills for 2020 has really damped the expectations for Diggs. Digging (bad-pun intended) through the data, Diggs has some rather interesting player comps that should carry a bit of hope. Players who had a similar rise before changing teams and continued long-term success include Mike Wallace, DeSean Jackson, Marvin Jones, and Allen Robinson. Both Wallace and Jackson are more physically similar to Diggs, and while Jones and Robinson are bigger WRs, their career trajectories prior to the change in teams were all similar.
Overall, each of the players who profile similar to Diggs was able to post successful seasons, albeit slightly lower than their stats from their first team. The move to Buffalo may be a net positive for Diggs in the target department, where the Bills averaged four more passing attempts per game compared to the Vikings in 2019. It’s also unlikely that Diggs’ new running mate, John Brown, will command the target share that Diggs former teammate, Adam Thielen, did. While Diggs may see an increase in his target volume, his efficiency and catch rate may suffer, moving from Kirk Cousins 3rd ranked completion percentage in 2019 (68.8%), to Josh Allen’s league-worst 58.2% completion rate.
The Frequent Flyer (2020 Class: Brandin Cooks)
Brandin Cooks is just 26 years old but will find himself on his 4th team heading into his 7th season in the league. At this point in his career, Cooks is most comparable to…himself. His move to the Patriots after three seasons as a Saint was a success, although his receptions and yardage stats saw slight dips compared to his previous season. His move to the Rams in 2018 saw him post an increase in receptions and yards, with a slight downtick in TDs. After a 2019 season plagued with injuries, the Rams traded Cooks to the Texans, who had just traded away perennial stud DeAndre Hopkins.
It appears Cooks was brought in to be the top WR option for the team. As highlighted in the DeAndre Hopkins section, Brandon Marshall, while a completely different type of WR physically when compared to Cooks, was able to post consistent stats throughout his career with multiple teams, just like Cooks has done thus far. It’s fair to expect Cooks to be ranked a little lower in 2020 drafts after a career-worst 2019 season and being on a new team. However, he is now stepping into a target-rich opportunity with a very good young QB in his prime, with minimal competition to lead the team in targets.
The Boom/Bust Guy (2020 Class: Robby Anderson)
Through four seasons in the NFL, Robby Anderson might have one of the most inconsistent game logs you’ll see. There have been flashes, like his career-best 2017 season, but Anderson is best known as a player whose weekly floor and ceiling couldn’t be further apart. There have been multiple players with a similar profile to Anderson’s deep-threat, up-and-down performances. Players like Tyrell Williams, Ted Ginn, John Brown, Kenny Britt, and Kenny Stills all present similar profiles. These players all continued to produce the inconsistent results they did with their previous teams. These players profile as filling a specific role in the game plan, which can get derailed by game-flow, leading to their inconsistent results.
With the WR room already filled with up-and-coming alpha-WR DJ Moore, another specialty-type player in Curtis Samuel, and tied to an uncertain QB situation, it’s unlikely that Robby Anderson will suddenly become a consistent fantasy contributor in 2020.
The Back 9 (2020 Class: Emmanuel Sanders, Randall Cobb)
As once successful players creep past the prime of their careers, it’s common for them to have large contracts while their performances begin to dip and no longer justify the contract price. These players become the target of trades or cap-casualties. Players in this group find themselves regularly changing teams in the “Back 9” of their careers. Both Emmanuel Sanders and Randall Cobb were once high-end fantasy producers, but are finding themselves on new teams in both 2019 and 2020. The hype may be there for both Sanders and Cobb as owners clamber for the glory days of borderline WR1 production. Both of these players simply do not have the same juice they used to have. There will absolutely be weeks where we will see “the player we used to know”, but just as often we are looking at a player whose career is much more likely to be over than it is to return to their prime form. Historically, Sanders and Cobb fit two different profiles of players in this study. On one side, we have the “fading possession WR” who still has a couple of years of NFL value, but little fantasy value, remaining. The profiles of players like Adam Humphries, Cole Beasley, or Danny Amendola come to mind. These players were once target magnets, but no longer possess the break-away speed needed to turn a 2-yard reception into a 20 yard gain. For fantasy owners, you’ll end up with a lot of roster clogging 4 rec for 20-yard games. Similarly, if the end is truly near, the comps are players such as Jeremy Maclin’s final years as a Chief and Raven, Andre Johnson’s stint with the Colts and Titans, and the end-of-career Brandon Marshall with the Jets and Seahawks.
For Sanders, the move to the Saints presents an enticing opportunity to again play with a future Hall of Fame QB in Drew Brees. Unfortunately, Sanders will likely be no higher than 4th in the passing depth chart, behind Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and Jared Cook.
Randall Cobb finds himself in an odd position with the Texans seeing so many changes at the WR position. The newly acquired Brandin Cooks, profiled above, projects to be the top WR on the team while the oft-injured Will Fuller holds the position with the most chemistry on the team. Cobb’s role is likely more in line with the role he played for the Cowboys than his target vacuum role with the Packers.
The Flash-in-the-pan (2020 Class: Devin Funchess, Geronimo Allison)
There is a myriad of examples of a player who flashed production in a perfect storm scenario but went on to be a complete fantasy dud on new teams. Additionally, these players rarely make a fantasy impact and wash out of the league within a season or two. Players like Brian Hartline, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, and even Funchess’ former teammate, Kelvin Benjamin all fit this profile.
Oddly enough, Funchess finds himself sliding into the spot vacated by Allison with the Packers. Funchess is moving onto his third team after a season lost to injury with the Colts. It’s expected that the Packers will address the WR position in the 2020 NFL Draft, leaving Funchess to fight for a part-time role in the offense.
Allison moves into a very crowded Lions passing game, which is likely to prevent him from seeing any fantasy relevance in draft season, checking-in behind Kenny Golliday, Marvin Jones, and second-year TE TJ Hockenson.
The First Round, Never-Was (Nelson Agholor, Breshad Perriman, Phillip Dorsett)
Typically, first-round NFL draft capital gives players a longer leash to showcase the talent that earned them a first-round selection. The list of first-round WR busts is long and littered with names that oozed talent and made fantasy owners drool over the prospect of league-winning performances, only to be let down. After the rookie WR explosion from the historic 2014 draft class, NFL and fantasy GMs alike were chomping at the bit to draft the next great WR. Even at the time, each of these players, Agholor (pick 20), Perriman (pick 26), and Dorsett (pick 29), were all considered reaches when their names were called in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Agholor became the bane of many Eagles fans for his infamous drops. He was even trolled by a disgruntled Eagles fan who, during an interview after a fire rescue where a child was “thrown from the window”, which he caught “unlike Agholor”. OUCH. Moving west to Las Vegas, Agholor steps into a wide-open WR room for the Raiders, although they are likely to at least add one WR in the early rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Breshad Perriman was lauded for being a “reach for the speed” draft pick in the same vein as the Raiders selection of Darrius Heyward-Bey in the first round of the 2009 draft. Perriman would fail to produce any semblance of fantasy production with Ravens, often due to injuries. While he did find a modicum of flex viability with the Buccaneers in 2019, similar to Heyward-Bey as a Steeler, the production is often too sporadic to trust in fantasy lineups. Perriman’s move to the Jets fills the recently vacated boom/bust profile left behind by Robby Anderson.
Lastly, Phillip Dorsett was a non-contributor for his first team, the Colts, before being shipped to the Patriots in a pre-season trade. If you tracked the fantasy add/drop count for Dorsett during his tenure in New England, you’d likely see him added and dropped by multiple teams in every league through the seasons. Through all that, there was little fantasy production to show for it. His history profiles to another Patriot acquisition that had much higher expectations than actual value; Chris Hogan. Hogan then flamed out with the Panthers behind two higher-profile WRs on a low volume passing offense. Similarly, Dorsett moves to a Seahawks team with one of the league’s lowest passing volumes and two established WRs in Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf. Dorsett is again unlikely to be a fantasy contributor.
History shows that WRs changing teams are more likely to see a dip in their production than to have a breakout season. Another surprising observation was how often players fell out of the league within 2-3 years of changing teams. It’s unlikely that players like DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs, and Brandin Cooks will wash out of the league by the 2022 season, it would not shock anyone if all the other players on this years team-changer list are out of the NFL within 2-3 season. While the NFL is a much different game than it was just a few years ago, the trends seem consistent; it’s a good fantasy draft practice to avoid drafting WRs that have changed teams.