Pre-emptive Free Agent Buys

By Sam Lane (@FFStompy)

Imagine, if you will, that you have the chance to buy former Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon before he signed as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers this offseason. McKinnon was coming off of a season in 2016 where he lost a significant snap share to Matt Asiata and averaged 3.4 yards per carry.

The Vikings signed former Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray to a three-year, $15M contract in the 2017 offseason. In the 2017 NFL draft, the Vikings traded up in the second round to draft Florida State running back Dalvin Cook.

McKinnon’s value was depressed entering the 2017 offseason. According, created by Addison Hayes (@amazehayes_), McKinnon’s 2017 startup average draft position (ADP) was the lowest of his career at 174. Good for the 55th running back off the board.

Since then, McKinnon finished as RB17 in 2017. He finished the most productive year of his career with nearly 1000 yards from scrimmage and five total touchdowns. In the 2018 offseason, McKinnon signed a four-year, $30M contract with the 49ers. The 49ers then proceeded to not draft a running back, seemingly guaranteeing a significant snap share for McKinnon.

As evidenced by the above graph, McKinnon’s average startup ADP has jumped 100 spots from 2017 to 2018 and is currently 74th overall, 27th overall running back. Looking a little more closely, McKinnon’s ADP has jumped from 200th overall pre-2017 season to 104th pre-2018 free agency to 50th post-2018 draft.

I put out a poll via Twitter to gauge McKinnon’s worth in dynasty fantasy football. Currently, dynasty twitter thinks McKinnon is a mid-1st round rookie pick. At this time last year, you would be hardpressed to find someone who would give you a late-2nd rounder. Quite the value boost.

We all want to find the next Jerick McKinnon. The goal of this article is to give you a headstart. These are some of 2019 free agents that could see a boost in value this time next year.

Tevin Coleman

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It seem’s like all dynasty owners and their mothers know that Atlanta Falcon’s running back Tevin Coleman is a free agent next season. But I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss Coleman in this article.

Coleman has finished as RB22 and RB20 the last two seasons. All while serving as Atlanta’s “back-up” running back and receiving 49 and 132 fewer touches than the starting running back Devonta Freeman. Over Coleman’s career, he has averaged 4.3 yards per carry and 12.2 yards per catch.

Over the past two seasons, Coleman has averaged 934 yards from scrimmage. He has scored 19 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He has been very successful in his career to date and could succeed as a lead back.

As I said, everyone knows about Coleman free agent in 2019. This was all but guaranteed when the Falcons drafted running back Ito Smith a year after extending Devonta Freeman for five years. Because people are trying to find the next McKinnon, this has driven up Coleman’s value. A poll conducted on twitter seems to suggest that Coleman’s value is already high.

While Coleman isn’t really a “buy low”, he can still gain value depending on where he signs. There are some prime landings spots opening up next season. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell also becomes a free agent next season. Bell will command a lot more money than Coleman and likely won’t re-sign with the Steelers.

While Coleman is not nearly as talented as Bell, the Steelers’ offense uses the running back as much as any offense in the league. In 2017, Bell was given 406 touches, 373 touches in 2014, and 336 in 2016. If Coleman signed as the lead back for the Steelers, he could become one of the top running backs in the league. This would surely increase his value.

An interesting thought is Coleman signing with the 49ers. Though McKinnon signed a four-year deal, most of his guaranteed money is in the first year, and he can be cut and only cost $1.5M in dead cap money in 2019 if things didn’t work out in 2018. If McKinnon were cut and Coleman signed with the 49ers, he would be back with his former offensive coordinator from 2016, Kyle Shanahan.

Under Shanahan, Coleman had the best season of his career with nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 8 touchdowns. Starting running backs under Shanahan as a head coach and offensive coordinator have finished as a fantasy RB1 (top-12) five times and RB2 (top-24) seven times in 10 seasons.

Coleman is the best running back currently scheduled to be a free agent next season. As it is unlikely the Falcons want to pay two running backs large sums of money, Coleman will likely end up somewhere other than Atlanta. There are some intriguing landing spots that Coleman could become a fantasy RB1. While he already has a high value, he could become much more valuable next offseason, ala Jerick McKinnon.

Tyrell Williams

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Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Tyrell Williams went undrafted in 2015. The Chargers offered and Williams signed a second-round tender in the 2018 offseason. This means that the Chargers valued Williams enough to make teams give them a second-round draft pick if they signed him. Williams went from undrafted to a second-round value because he has had a productive career to date.

In his sophomore season in 2016, Williams took over as the Chargers top receiver after Keenan Allen went down with a torn ACL in week 1. He finished the season with 69 receptions for 1,059 yards and 7 touchdowns, a WR2 in fantasy.

Williams 2017 wasn’t nearly as prolific on a traditional numbers standpoint. With Keenan Allen back, Williams was only able to produce 728 yards and 4 touchdowns on 43 receptions.  However, he was very efficient. According to playerprofiler, Williams finished third overall in production premium. Production premium compares the outcome of a given play to league-average in a variety game scripts.

Positive values mean that a player is more efficient than the average. Williams also finished fourth in yards per target, 12th in QBR when targeted, ninth in target separation, and 12th in fantasy points per target.

Despite his productivity, owners are still undervaluing Williams. According to DLF ADP, Williams is being taken 164th overall, 73rd wide receiver. A poll conducted on Twitter shows that Williams is valued as a mid to late second-round rookie pick, with a significant percentage of votes also valuing him as a third-round pick or later.  This is even after Hunter Henry’s ACL tear.

A late second or even third-round pick is more than worth it to acquire Williams for this season, as he has proven to be a productive fantasy wide receiver. It is also worth to buy Williams now for the potential that a team signs him as a free agent in 2019 to be their WR1. Even if he was signed as a WR2, he has shown that he can be efficient with his targets and be productive in fantasy football.

Spencer Ware

Kansas City Chiefs running back Spencer Ware, like Williams, has demonstrated the ability to take on a full workload.  In 2016, Jamaal Charles never fully recovered from an ACL tear in 2015. Charles suffered a setback after playing in only three games, requiring surgery on his meniscus. Thus, Ware was thrust into the lead back role.

In 14 games in 2016, Ware produced 921 yards and 3 touchdowns on 214 carries, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. He also caught 33 balls on 42 targets for 447 yards and 2 touchdowns, finishing as fantasy RB15. While Ware is not Le’Veon Bell or David Johnson, he did demonstrate the ability to shoulder a lead back workload and was effective in the passing game. In the 2017 preseason, a torn \PCL ended Ware’s season.

Ware turns 27 in November. Mike Tagliere (@MikeTagliereNFL) wrote an article on the age of decline of running backs. He found that running backs start to decline at the age of 26 and fall off of a cliff after 28.

On the other hand, Ware only has 289 carries in his career, having lost two seasons to injury. Joseph Juan (@FF_Scientist) wrote on running backs falling off of a 1,800 carry cliff. After 1,800 carries, running backs’ average rushing yard per season starts to decline. The rushing net expected points (NEP) also falls off. NEP, created by numberFire, is defined as the number of points an average team would be expected to score in a situation.

So, while Ware is past the age of decline and nearing the age cliff for running backs, he doesn’t have nearly the amount of carries that one would expect from a 27-year-old. While buying Ware is a risk, he might be worth the bet at his current value.

Like the players above, I conducted a poll on Twitter to gauge his value.  According to the poll, Ware is worth a random third-round rookie pick or less.

This is a very low value for Ware. Third and fourth-round rookie picks have a low hit rate when it comes to finishing top-24 in their respective positions. Even if he does not recapture his 2016 season, buying ware at his current price is more than worth it for the possibility that he signs with a team that will give him a significant workload.

Quincy Enunwa

New York Jets wide receiver is my favorite player on this list. He is also my favorite sleeper for the 2018 season. I wrote an article about Enunwa and other young, buy low wide receivers here.

Enunwa is a buy low for 2018 and for his pending free agency. Coming off of a lost 2017 due to a neck injury, Enunwa has seemingly been forgotten.  Currently, Enunwa is worth at most a late second round rookie pick. More than likely a third rounder will suffice to acquire him.

Owners seem to have forgotten Enunwa’s semi-breakout season in 2016. He finished as the Jets’ best wide receiver, despite receiving 23 fewer targets than Brandon Marshall. Enunwa caught 58 balls for 857 yards and 4 touchdowns on 105 targets, all with arguably the worst starting quarterback situation in the league.

Enunwa will presumably be replacing Jermaine Kearse, who finished with a similar stat line to Enunwa’s in 2016. Enunwa will also have to compete for targets with 2017 breakout Robby Anderson. With Enunwa lost for 2017, Anderson was able to finish the season with 941 yards and 7 touchdowns. Anderson had a run in with the law in the offseason,  his second incident in less than a year.  While the charges were dropped, he still faces a misdemeanor and possible disciplinary action under the league’s personal conduct policy.

The Jets also signed Terrelle Pryor in the offseason. Pryor is coming off of a terrible season with the Washington Redskins in which he underwent ankle surgery. He seems to have suffered another ankle injury this offseason. Pryor is not a lock to make the team, as he sits behind Enunwa, Anderson, and Kearse on the depth chart.

Enunwa could see an increase in value before he hits free agency if he produces in 2018. Owners should be acquiring him now as a sleeper for 2018. His pending free agency is an added bonus. Enunwa’s value could jump if he signs with a team that gives him more opportunities.


Everyone is searching for the next McKinnon. The four players listed in the article are 2019 free agents that have shown to be productive players in the past. They should be acquired now as they are relatively cheap, except for Coleman. All could see a jump in value depending on where they sign in 2019 free agency. Sacrifice a second or even third round rookie pick and reap the potential rewards.


For more tips and analysis, follow Sam on twitter @FFStompy.  Read other awesome articles that will help you win your leagues here. Listen to the guys talk about news, analysis, and strategy on the podcast, and follow the show on twitter @F3pod.

Started playing fantasy football with my dad 15 years ago. Still have no idea what I am doing. Just trying to pass on any analysis I can to help you win.