With the first several waves of free agency in the rearview mirror, the NFL of today already looks vastly different than it did a week ago. Players are set to earn millions, only to see this money eventually disappear when teams realize they bought a fugazi. They’ll be replaced by that season’s wave of shiny new things, and so the world turns. But in the here and now, free agency has changed the fantasy landscape, including at wide receiver.
ALLEN ROBINSON SIGNS WITH CHICAGO
Robinson joins Mitchell Trubisky, Cameron Meredith, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton in a rebuilding offense under the leadership of new head coach Matt Nagy. The Bears ranked 32nd in passing attempts per game (29.6) and 31st in passing yards (175.7) as former coach John Fox showed little interest in developing the new face of the franchise.
The team could not afford to miss out on a talent like Robinson. Kendall Wright was the only Bears WR to have 50 or more receptions. It remains to be seen if Meredith, who missed last season due to a knee injury, will return as the same player who broke out during the 2016 season. Former first-round pick Kevin White has seen his career derailed by injuries. After playing in only five regular-season games through three seasons, his outlook is up in the air. No WR currently on the roster has the statistical body of work of Robinson.
Even with Blake Bortles throwing him the ball, Robinson was an elite deep threat across the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He led the NFL with 4,219 air yards over that span, posting an 80-1440-14 line in 2015 with plus efficiency (2.8 reFPOE per game) before Bortles’ 2016 implosion brought him back to earth. Robinson’s 2017 season was cut short due to an ACL injury on the third offensive play of the season opener, but the early-season injury provided more time to recover. It came as a surprise that the Jaguars allowed him to enter the market at 24 years of age.
The Bears would like to see Trubisky progress in his second season like Jared Goff did last year with the Rams. Based on Nagy’s deployment of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce with the Chiefs, Robinson should see north of 100 targets. Although there’s risk involved in moving to an offense with an unproven QB and novice head coach, there’s a lot more upside in Chicago than with the inaccurate Bortles in a low-volume passing offense. This improved ceiling led our dynasty experts to upgrade Robinson’s ranking after the move.
SAMMY WATKINS SIGNS WITH KANSAS CITY
Is Watkins’ production and injury history worth $30 million guaranteed? The Chiefs seemed to think so as Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach made it a priority to surround Patrick Mahomes with an additional receiving weapon. Watkins’ ability to attack defenses vertically is a good fit for the cannon-armed Mahomes. Defensive coordinators will have to make a choice on whether to take away Watkins or Tyreek Hill.
The downside for Watkins in Kansas City from a fantasy perspective comes down to the target volume. Hill (21 percent) and Travis Kelce (25) both earn a large target share in the offense, and Kareem Hunt (12) is also very involved from the RB position.
Watkins will be drafted as a WR2, but fantasy owners could again see the WR3 volume that derailed his 2017 season with the Rams. Reid’s new toy is a better fit in best ball, where his deep-target and TD-fueled production will be handsomely rewarded.
PAUL RICHARDSON SIGNS WITH WASHINGTON
Richardson’s five-year, $40 million contract was a substantial chunk of change for a player with such a limited track record.
Injuries have hampered Richardson’s career up to this point, but that all changed last season. He played in all 16 games finishing with 80 targets, 44 receptions, 703 receiving yards, and six TDs. Richardson provides new quarterback Alex Smith another weapon that can be used to stretch the field. Initially, this seems like a poor fit as Smith had been solid but unimpressive on 550 deep targets from 2005 to 2016. He improved in this area last season.
We perhaps shouldn’t expect Smith to sustain such a jump – he added more than 9.0 AYA on targets to the deep left and deep right – but he was also less efficient in the shorter areas than in previous seasons. Richardson’s presence should help him retain some of the explosive numbers while the Washington offense bolsters his efficiency on shorter throws. The presence of Richardson will also help Jamison Crowder, Jordan Reed, and Chris Thompson. All three of these players generally run a high percentage of their routes over the middle of the field with Josh Doctson running more vertical routes.
Of course, the depth chart starts to get a little more crowded if Reed can stay healthy and/or Doctson takes the next step. Can head coach Jay Gruden’s offense provide enough targets to feed all of these receivers? If he believes in his new signal-caller, the answer may be yes.
Landing in Washington and tied to Alex Smith isn’t the perfect scenario for Richardson, but it’s not a bad one either. The soon to be 26-year-old should find plenty of targets over the next several seasons.
DONTE MONCRIEF SIGNS WITH JACKSONVILLE
Moncrief is coming off back-to-back subpar seasons after a promising 2015.
Did you know that the Jaguars committed more to Moncrief and Marqise Lee than it would have cost to franchise Robinson? He is only 24 years old, but has an uphill battle to find fantasy relevancy in Jacksonville. Moncrief is one of many WRs who will be fighting for targets in the Jaguars run-heavy offense. The team led the league in rushing attempts per game with 33.1 and rushing yards per game with 141.2.
Although Hurns has subsequently been released, the Jaguars also signed tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins who will be used as a blocker and as a passing outlet for Bortles. Moncrief needs a number of dominoes to fall in order to be fantasy relevant in Jacksonville, one of the worst locations to rehab his already flagging dynasty value.
JORDY NELSON SIGNS WITH OAKLAND
After an impressive bounceback season in 2016, Nelson’s athleticism appeared to wane in a 2017 campaign where he struggled with both Aaron Rodgers and Brett Hundley under center. Nelson will have his work cut out to replace the impressive production of Michael Crabtree, and he’ll have to do it while learning Jon Gruden’s scheme and building rapport with Derek Carr.
Production at the WR position tends to decline at 30 years old, with the wheels falling off at 33. Nelson will be 33 by the time the NFL season begins, but Gruden has a history of getting peak statistical production from older WRs.
Before you write off 33yo Jordy Nelson, you should know Gruden has an extensive history of getting big production from “Old” Elite WRs. pic.twitter.com/iX93hmdcb6— Jacob Rickrode (@ClutchFantasy) March 16, 2018
Nelson will have an opportunity to be productive for fantasy owners in Oakland, although Gruden has publicly stated that Amari Cooper will be the focal point of the offense. Follow Nelson’s ADP carefully, as he should put up points in 2018 and may end up undervalued.
MICHAEL CRABTREE SIGNS WITH BALTIMORE
The Ravens averaged 189.4 passing yards per game (29th) and only scored 20 passing TDs (23rd) last season. Upgrading their receiving corps was an obvious priority. After an unimpressive start that included the John Brown signing and Ryan Grant saga, the team landed Michael Crabtree. While locker room lawyering and yardage inefficiency led to his release in Oakland, the man can score TDs. Only DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham, and Doug Baldwin have scored more TDs than his 25 since the beginning of 2015.
Crabtree will have to deal with a lower-volume passing offense – the Ravens averaged 28.8 rushing attempts (7th) and 116 rushing yards (10th) per game – but his contract suggests he will be the focal point of the team’s passing game. He’ll also have to overcome the poor play of Joe Flacco.
Crabtree, who turns 31 in September, had the second-fewest receiving yards in his career (618) and the second worst average yards per catch (10.7) last season, but the potential for a TD-heavy campaign leaves him with bounceback appeal in Baltimore.
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