The start of NFL free agency is when fantasy football players begin to get a little excited about the upcoming season. When players change teams, their fantasy value can rise - or fall. We have already looked at some of the major tight ends and quarterbacks who have changed teams, and here we look at running backs and wide receivers.
The 2017 fantasy football season is still about five months away and the NFL Draft is a month away. It may be a little early to start thinking about draft day, but it's not too early to think about what a player's value might be. These are players on new teams; is their value higher or lower than last year?
Latavius Murray, Minnesota Vikings
With Adrian Peterson out of Minnesota, the Vikings were looking for a back that could fill a lead role. They experimented with Jerick McKinnon last year, but he isn't able to be the primary back. Murray is capable of filling that role, but it's not going to be an easy task. The Vikings have had problems with their offensive line, which was evident throughout the season even when Peterson was getting the carries.
Murray is in his fourth season in the NFL. Last year, he had 788 rushing yards in 14 games and a career-high 12 touchdowns. He added 33 receptions for 264 yards as well. He did run for more than 1,000 yards in 2015, and has the potential to hit that again in 2017. He's a RB2 with some good games and some stinkers in the mix.
Eddie Lacy, Seattle Seahawks
By signing a one-year deal for the Seahawks, Lacy has the opportunity to show that he can be a true NFL ball carrier. He is reportedly still dealing with weight concerns, and the Seahawks are hopeful he can lose about 20 pounds before the start of the season. If he can lose the weight and focus on his game, he can be a solid RB1. However, recent seasons have shown that even when given the chances and opportunity, he has struggled.
Lacy was quite productive in his first two seasons in the league, rushing for more than 1,100 yards in each. He also had 20 rushing touchdowns during that span and was a factor in the receiving game. But since then his production has steadily declined and he’s scored just five total touchdowns in the past two seasons combined (and none of those were last year). It seems the Seahawks still think Lacy has plenty left in the tank, but they also have Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise to help in the backfield.
Danny Woodhead, Baltimore Ravens
One of the first running backs to be signed in free agency was Woodhead. He had his 2016 season cut short when he tore his ACL in Week 2. In 2014, he also broke his leg/ankle in Week 3. He came back from that injury and is on track to return in time for the start of the 2017 season.
The Ravens certainly hope so with Kenneth Dixon suspended for four games. Whether that was the reason for signing Woodhead or not, it looks like Woodhead will get the chance to show what he can do, and then both backs will have a role for the rest of the season, assuming health. Woodhead is a pass-catching back and has RB2 value in PPR formats.
Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots
In Week 17, Burkhead had 27 carries for 119 yards and two touchdowns. In Weeks 1 through 16, he had 47 carries for 225 yards and no touchdowns. It’s a small sample size, but the Patriots apparently saw enough to sign the 2013 sixth-round pick. Based on what New England is set to pay him, it appears as if Burkhead will challenge Dion Lewis for the No. 1 spot on the RB depth chart.
But as everyone knows, it’s hard to peg exactly what it means to be the Patriots’ lead running back. Burkhead will likely have a role on special teams as well, which helps his value in leagues that reward return yards. He can catch passes out of the backfield, but it’s too early to know how New England will employ its new running back, and if that will remain consistent throughout the year. Burkhead is someone to keep an eye on and he could end up flying a little under the radar depending on how the preseason plays out.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles signed not only Jeffery but also Torrey Smith. The pair joins Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz to round out a nice receiving corps for Carson Wentz. Jeffery has had issues with staying on the field, whether it’s due to his health or other circumstances. In 2016, he did play in 12 games while he was suspended by the league for the other four. But he dealt with injuries most of the season, and managed just 52 receptions for 821 yards and two touchdowns for Chicago.
The Eagles are going to have a lot of pass catchers, and Wentz throws the ball a lot, which is a good combination. He threw 602 passes in 2016, which was only eight fewer than Aaron Rodgers. With a high-powered passing game, Wentz has the potential to be a sneaky QB sleeper in 2017. Jeffery, with a one-year, prove-it contract, will be drafted as a WR2 but may have WR1 value by the end of the season.
Brandin Cooks, New England Patriots
The Patriots added Cooks to their roster in what was one of the more surprising moves this offseason. The Super Bowl champions didn’t lack for pass catchers in the first place with Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan the holdovers and acquiring former Indianapolis tight end Dwayne Allen through a separate trade. There’s also running backs Dion Lewis, James White and new addition Rex Burkhead, each of whom is capable as a receiver out of the backfield.
Even with the Patriots throwing more than they have in the past (Tom Brady attempted 432 passes in 12 games), there are only so many targets to go around. Cooks had to fight for targets in New Orleans, but his role with the Saints was a little more defined than it is at this point with New England. Cooks can be the deep threat this Patriots offense has been missing, but that could lead to some big games paired with some less appealing outings, similar to DeSean Jackson’s situation in Tampa Bay. Cooks is a WR2 but predicting his success on a week-to-week basis will be next to impossible. Those who draft him better prepare themselves for a roller-coaster season.
Brandon Marshall, WR, New York Giants
Even though 2016 was a rough season for Marshall, he should improve this fall. His talent is still there, and with a better quarterback, Marshall should re-gain solid WR2 value. Odell Beckham Jr. will still be the No. 1 wide receiver for the Giants. However, Marshall will leapfrog over Sterling Shepard as the No. 2.
In 2016, Marshall had a career-low 59 receptions for 788 yards and just three touchdowns, his fewest since 2010. But some of the reason for this could be attributed to the absence of Eric Decker. Beckham’s (and Shepard’s to a degree) presence alone should help open up things for Marshall. In particular Marshall could become a favorite red-zone target of Eli Manning’s because of his size.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Another signing that will benefit both the quarterback and the player is Jackson joining the Buccaneers. Jameis Winston has a big arm and gains a legitimate, downfield threat in Jackson. Even with Mike Evans and tight end Cameron Brate around, Winston should have little trouble working Jackson into his progressions.
Evans’ status as the clear-cut No. 1 target, however, does make Jackson somewhat of a boom-or-bust fantasy option. He’ll have his fair share of 100-yard games to go along with a few outings where he doesn’t do that much on the stat sheet. Take last year when Jackson had five 100-yard games with the Redskins, but also had seven in which he finished with 51 or fewer yards. Jackson is a WR3 whose presence also boosts Winston’s and Evans’ fantasy outlooks slightly.
Terrelle Pryor, Washington Redskins
When the Redskins let DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon leave in free agency, they had a fairly significant hole to fill at wide receiver. Pryor put together a solid season in Cleveland, especially considering the revolving door at quarterback, and he decided to join the Redskins in hopes of establishing his value as a free agent next offseason.
No doubt one of the reasons Pryor signed with Washington was the presence of Kirk Cousins, so as long as he stays, Pryor is shaping up to be a solid WR2 with upside. Other than tight end Jordan Reed, who has had health issues, the Redskins don’t have a proven pass catcher, so Pryor should at least open the season as the No. 1 wide receiver. Pryor’s versatility could mean involvement in the running game as well, but it’s best to view him as a WR2 and not a versatile offensive weapon along the lines of a Ty Montgomery or Tyreek Hill.
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.