Chris Martini (@Martini269)
I want to win. I want the leg up on my opponents at all times; whether that’s knowing a signing five minutes before my league mates for transaction purposes, or endlessly studying game film and analytics in order to find the next sleeper or break out.
It is all for the greater good, it is all for the right to prove your superiority in every league and to reap the rewards of fantasy title belts wrapped around your waist, multiple championship rings on each hand, and cash to spend on customized mugs with your winning team’s roster on it. Everyone wants to win!
Free agency is now upon us and a lot has happened in the last few weeks. Signings such as Kirk Cousins to the Minnesota Vikings and Jimmy Graham to the Green Bay Packers have raised a lot of questions. Are these new destinations good for their 2018 outlook, should we be moving these players up or down our ranking boards? Well, let’s dive right into it and find out which players came out as winners that should be targeted and which players are free agent losers.
Michael Crabtree, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Michael Crabtree, formerly of the Oakland Raiders has now signed on with the Baltimore Ravens on a three-year deal. This pick is plain and simple, opportunity and red zone presence for the new clear-cut WR1 in Baltimore. There are roughly 309 targets available with the departures of Mike Wallace (92), Benjamin Watson (79), Jeremy Maclin (72), Danny Woodhead (39), and Michael Campanaro (27). That is mouthwatering.
Ravens were 11th in the NFL in attempted passes and with no threat on the roster, all signs point up for the primary option in the passing game. The Ravens did also sign John Brown, but with his sickle cell issue still not under control and being inconsistent in 2017 having no games overs 65 yards, no receiver on the roster poses a legitimate threat to Crabtree’s road to fantasy success.
Many of the targets going Crabtree’s way will come in the red zone, which makes his fantasy outlook that much sweeter. Crabtree is known for his dominance in the red zone; compiling 25 touchdowns in the last 46 games (54%) and ranking second in red zone target share at or inside the 20 yard line, ninth in targets inside the 10 yard line (37.9% of team targets), and second in end zone target share. Crabtree won’t miss a beat this year in Baltimore, as the Ravens were ninth in point per game last year.
This 10-year veteran is a competitor with strong hands and toughness, and will easily be Joe Flacco’s favorite weapon in a weaponless offense in 2018.
Way Too Early Projection: 1,025 Receiving Yards 9 Touchdowns
Jerick McKinnon, RB, San Francisco 49ers
Jerick McKinnon, formerly of the Vikings, agreed to a four-year, $30 million contract with the 49ers. Mckinnon is still entering the prime of his career at 25 going on 26, and could not have landed in a more perfect spot. He is penciled in as the lead back and joins the Kyle Shanahan regime with Jimmy Garoppolo under center. This signing shows that the 49ers have great confidence in him as he’s expected to assume the Devonta Freeman role in 49ers Coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
This role managed a stat line of 1,079 rushing yards along with 462 receiving yards and 13 total touchdowns for Freeman back in 2016. Mckinnon is a quick player with great agility and footwork, an athletic freak who lit up the NFL combine back in 2014. He had multiple top performances at the 2014 combine, which included 32 reps of 225 lbs on the bench press and a time of 4.41 in the 40-yard dash.
The determination and drive are there as well; at McKinnons introductory press conference, he said, “Ever since I’ve been in the league, I’ve been a third down back. That’s the tag that’s been placed on me. I’m ready to exceed those expectations”. Exceed those expectations he shall, with over 220 carries available now with the departure of Carlos Hyde in free agency. Add in the fact that 49ers ran the third most times inside the five-yard line last year, and it seems to me that McKinnon’s outlook in the rushing and touchdown department are very intriguing.
Now we shift our focus to the receiving aspect. McKinnon will be heavily involved in the passing game, and over 50 receptions should be expected from this year’s breakout candidate. With the Vikings, McKinnon averaged 41 receptions his last two years in a shared backfield. He has always been an issue for teams because of his ability to separate himself from linebackers and safeties, making him an every down weapon.
When you combine McKinnon’s great pass catching and open field ability with Shanahan’s offensive genius and schemes, the sky’s the limit. Be ready, McKinnon will put the league on notice this year. Target with confidence and a smug smile.
Way Too Early Projection: 1400 Total Yards 9 Total Touchdowns
Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears
Last, but certainly not least we have Allen Robinson, formerly of the Jaguars, who agreed to a three-year, $42 million contract with the Chicago Bears. This 24-year-old playmaker will be under an exciting coaching staff in head coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Matt Nagy was the Offensive Coordinator and play caller for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017, and played a key role in Alex Smith, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt’s successful fantasy lines.
Mark Helfrich, former Head Coach of The University of Oregon from 2013-2016, is well known for his schemes and incredibly fast-paced offense. Helfrich also served four years as Offensive Coordinator for The Ducks under then head coach Chip Kelly from 2009-2012, where his offense ranked highly in numerous offensive categories. Although Kelly got all the credit, Helfrich had a lot of involvement in the game planning, scripting, and input on what plays were called.
With this coaching staff scheming and calling plays for Robinson, he will be able to make the most out of every target. The opportunity he has this upcoming year enamors me, he will immediately step into the lead wide receiver role and become the focal point in the new and improved Bears attack. The role players will also play a part in Robinson’s success this year, as they have speedy Taylor Gabriel to stretch the field, and Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen to keep the defenses honest.
Roughly, 50% of the Bears targets, which equates to around 213 targets are freed up from the turnover that is the offseason. I expect this prototypical wide receiver at 6’3 210 lbs to easily become one of the top targeted players in 2017, and produce as a surefire WR1. He has already shown that he can do it, with his 1,400 yards and 14 touchdown year in 2015.
Opportunity and talent, combined with the offensive play calling from Matt Nagy, all the stars seem to be aligning for Robinson. Fire him up as a top 12 fantasy wide receiver for the 2018 year.
Way Too Early Projection: 1,200 Receiving Yards 9 Touchdowns
Other Notable Winners: Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings; Jimmy Graham, TE, Green Bay Packers
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Detroit Lions
LeGarrette Blount, formerly of the Eagles signed a one year contract with the Detroit Lions. When it comes to the Lions running back situation, it’s murky at best. The 31-year-old Blount joins an already crowded backfield that includes Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah, Tion Green, Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner. Not to mention, it’s possible Lions are looking to add another running back, either through The NFL Draft or free agency, where they have had visits with DeMarco Murray and other running backs this offseason.
Can you say too many mouths to feed? Detroit Lions ran 37.04% of the time in 2017, which ranked 31st in the league. It is safe to say, Detroit Lions are a pass-first team, which is Riddick’s area of expertise and far from Blount’s, with his whopping six receptions in 2017. We want our fantasy running backs to have success through the air, that’s what makes Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley elite. Gurley had 64 receptions and Bell had 85 receptions last year, while Blount has 21 receptions total in the last three years, and 54 receptions in his 10-year career.
The Lions stable of running backs will eat into each other’s rushing productivity this year as Lions ranked 31st in total team carries and tied in last in total team carries in 2016. Blount has found fantasy relevance in the past by averaging 212 carries the last three years. Lions RB Riddick had the most carries at 165 last year. Riddick is still on the team. With limited touches and multiple power backs on the team, Blount will find it hard to find that same production. Add in that the Lions are competing in a division with the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, and now even the Chicago Bears. Also the Lions will have to put up points to stay in games. If the Lions are going to play keep up in the points department, then they will need a versatile back on the field. With all that said, I’m looking elsewhere for my running back for the 2018 year, and I suggest you do too.
Way Too Early Projection: 550 total yards 5 Touchdowns
Jarvis Landry, WR, Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns acquired Jarvis Landry from the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a fourth and seventh round pick. Landry signed his franchise tender with the Dolphins, so he is under contract for the 2018 year only.
This is a disappointing landing spot when it comes to Landry’s fantasy outlook for the 2018 year. What has made Landry so great in past years has been the volume. The last three years he has averaged 152 targets, including 160 last year which ranked fourth in the NFL. He also led the league in receptions with 112 in 2017 and ranked eighth and fourth respectively in 2016 and 2015.
That is all fine and dandy, however, Landry joins a new team in the Browns with pass catching weapons on the roster in Josh Gordon, David Njoku, Corey Coleman and Duke Johnson, along with Ricardo Lewis and Rashard Higgins who have shown flashes of their own. Also, keep in mind that all the Browns wide receivers combined for only 134 receptions and seven receiving touchdowns in total last year. Throw in that new Browns quarterback Tyrod Taylor has only averaged 412 attempts in his three years with the Buffalo Bills. I just cannot see Landry coming close to his averages in targets and receptions, which will end up hurting his fantasy numbers via receiving yards and receptions, for those in PPR leagues.
When it comes to the touchdown department Landry is not a safe bet to get over five touchdowns this year, despite his outlier year in 2017 with nine touchdowns. Landry is not known for being a touchdown scorer, his career average prior to 2017 was 4.3 touchdowns, and he never surpassed five in his entire career prior to 2017.
Combine this with the fact that Cleveland ranked dead last in points per game in 2017, and touchdown regression is sure to come Landry’s way for the 2018 year. Throw in learning a new system and playing with a new quarterback that has to learn a new system as well, and you can count me out on Jarvis Landry for the 2018 year.
Way Too Early Projection: 750 Receiving Yards 3 Touchdowns
Carlos Hyde, RB, Cleveland Browns
I know, I know another Brown, I’m really kicking them while their down, right? However, I think we all are hearing the hype that’s surrounding the Browns new acquisitions and everyone seems to be rushing to push these guys up their ranking boards for the new year. I’m just saying slow down, let’s think about this.
First off, I want my fantasy running backs to be durable; I do not want an unreliable or injury prone player on my roster. It carries too much risk. This is where I worry about Carlos Hyde and his history of injuries along with his fumbling issues. Can he hold up? Can we count on him?
Not only has he had six fumbles in the last two seasons, but he also has only one full season under his belt since entering the league in 2014. He’s suffered injuries that include a pair of concussions as well as issues with his shoulder, back, both knees, ankle, and foot. Let’s not forget he tore his MCL at the end of 2016 and only averaged a pedestrian 3.9 yards per carry after that in 2017.
I don’t foresee his yards per carry improving behind an offensive line that ranked 28th in rushing yards before contact when rushing behind the right side of the offensive line. The left side of the offensive line was strong in 2017, however, their future hall of fame left tackle, Joe Thomas just announced his retirement.
Yikes, well the receiving game should benefit Hyde, right? Wrong! Where my guy Jerick McKinnon excels in the receiving game, Hyde does not, and will not with the Browns. The receiving game is not Hydes game, he won’t be able to contribute significantly in that area, not only because he was top 10 in drops last year, but also because they have Duke Johnson.
Johnson is the Browns established passing downs back that had 74 receptions in 2017. Johnson’s great pass catching ability keeps him on the field during the majority of the Browns passing downs as well as when they are trailing. Be mindful the Browns have won only one game in the last 32 with Hue Jackson under the helm, so it’s safe to say Johnson will be stealing a lot of snaps from Hyde, which in turn hurts his fantasy production.
Touchdowns and rushing attempts inside the red zone will also put Hyde’s fantasy production at risk, as mobile quarterback Tyrod Taylor ranked second out of all NFL quarterbacks in both a rushing percentage inside the 20 at 25.8% and a rushing percentage inside the 10 at 29.7%. He also ranked fourth in rushing percentage inside the five-yard line at 23.8% last year.
Furthermore, he has averaged 4.6 rushing touchdowns and 525 rushing yards in his three-year stint with Buffalo. Touchdowns will be hard to come by. Oh and by the way, who says the Browns won’t use a draft pick on Saquon Barkley or another running back in this year’s NFL draft? I wouldn’t rule that out completely, would you?
It’s safe to say, I will not own any Carlos Hyde shares in 2018.
Way Too Early Projection: 800 total yards 4 Touchdowns
Other Notable Losers: Alex Smith, QB, Washington Redskins; Isaiah Crowell, RB, New York Jets; Doug Martin, RB, Oakland Raiders