Editor’s note: This column will be updated throughout the early portion of the free-agent signing period, so come back often to see the latest analysis.
The long-rumored connection between the Vikings and Cousins came to fruition on Tuesday, when the two sides agreed to a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract, per Adam Schefter. Cousins joins Minnesota following six seasons in Washington. Initially the backup to Robert Griffin III, Cousins took over as the full-time starter in 2015 and has posted three consecutive top-eight fantasy seasons. Cousins has ranked no lower than 12th in pass attempts, eighth in completions, 10th in yards, 13th in touchdowns, 10th in completion percentage and 11th in yards per attempt each of the past three seasons. He also added 13 touchdowns with his legs during the span, which trailed only Cam Newton (21) and Tyrod Taylor (14).
Cousins put together a strong 2017 season despite struggling to connect with top wide receivers Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder and Terrelle Pryor Sr. and dealing with injuries to standouts Jordan Reed and Chris Thompson. His supporting cast in Minnesota will be significantly better. Wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs were both top-20 fantasy wide receivers last season and combined to handle 46 percent of the team’s targets. Cousins will also have second-year Dalvin Cook in the backfield and Kyle Rudolph at tight end. Minnesota additionally has one of the league’s best defenses, which might limit Cousins’ second-half pass attempts but should shorten the field and allow more scoring opportunities.
At worst, Cousins is a solid quarterback with a good group of assets in Minnesota. The Vikings’ offense ranked ninth in the NFL in touchdowns per game (2.4) last season and should only be better with Cousins stepping in for Case Keenum. Cousins is a strong bet for another top-10 fantasy campaign, and he has top-five upside.
Early 16-game projection: 365-of-561 for 4,335 yards, 27 TDs, 14 INTs; 47 carries, 136 yards, 2 TDs
The Raiders shook up their wide receiver room Thursday when they cut loose top receiver Michael Crabtree and replaced him with Jordy Nelson.
Nelson spent the first 10 seasons of his career with the Packers after the team selected him in the second round of the 2008 draft. Nelson wasn’t a full-time player until 2013 but went on to finish top 10 at his position in receiving yards three of the next four years. Nelson seemed well on his way to another huge season last year, but his production fell off a cliff (to put it kindly) when Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone in Week 6. Nelson exited Week 6 as fantasy’s No. 6 scoring wide receiver (teammate Davante Adams was fifth), but ranked 82nd from that point forward (Adams missed two games but was still 20th). The massive drop in production raises serious questions as to whether or not Nelson is still an effective player at age 33 and if he can succeed without Rodgers throwing to him.
The good news for Nelson is that the Raiders are seriously lacking in terms of competition for targets. Amari Cooper is expected to be the go-to guy in the passing game, but the likes of Seth Roberts, Cordarrelle Patterson and Jared Cook are the primary names Nelson has to compete with as the roster stands. It’s possible Oakland adds offensive playmakers via free agency or the draft, but the new regime under coach Jon Gruden seems committed to the run. Oakland has already added Doug Martin to back up Marshawn Lynch, as well as two blocking tight ends (Lee Smith, Derek Carrier) and a second fullback (Keith Smith). Quite simply, the Raiders do not look like a team likely to produce a ton through the air or score a lot of points. Nelson’s talent level and what will likely be a generous target share are enough to keep him in the flex (if not WR3) mix, but he’s a risky investment anywhere other than the middle portion of your 2018 fantasy draft.
Early 16-game projection: 116 targets, 75 receptions, 885 yards, 6 touchdowns
RB Carlos Hyde to Cleveland Browns
The Browns’ backfield has been simple to sort out in recent years: Isaiah Crowell on early downs and short yardage, Duke Johnson Jr. in passing situations. Moving forward, it shouldn’t be much different. On Wednesday, the Browns agreed to sign Hyde, who provides the team with an upgrade on Crowell, who is expected to sign with the New York Jets.
Hyde was a second-round pick by the 49ers back in 2014. He has operated as San Francisco’s lead back, when healthy, each of the past three seasons. “When healthy” has been key for Hyde, as he missed 14 games during his first three seasons before appearing in all 16 affairs last year. Hyde enjoyed the most efficient season of his career in 2015 when he averaged 4.6 yards per carry (2.1 after contact).
Running less from the shotgun and seeing more in-box defenders last year, Hyde’s YPC dipped to 3.9 (1.8 YAC), but his volume as both a rusher and receiver increased. Hyde ranked 11th at the position with 240 carries and fifth in targets with 87. Hyde was extremely busy near the goal line, ranking second in the NFL in both OTD (12.6) and carries inside the opponent’s 5-yard line (16). He hit a career high with eight rushing touchdowns after scoring nine all-purpose touchdowns in 2016.
In Cleveland, Hyde is a good bet to dominate the carries, but figures to see a dramatic drop in targets. Whereas Hyde saw 87 targets last season, Crowell posted totals of 49 and 42 over the past two seasons. With Johnson (93 targets last year) and now Jarvis Landry in the mix, Hyde simply won’t be needed in the passing game as often as he was in San Francisco. He’s best viewed as a fringe RB2 option in 12-team leagues, whereas Johnson — a good bet for a slight dip in targets as the result of an improved supporting cast and regression-to-the-mean in the touchdown department — is a safer RB2 option in PPR.
Early 16-game projections:
Duke Johnson Jr.: 106 carries, 442 yards, 3 touchdowns; 59 receptions, 512 yards, 1 touchdown
Carlos Hyde: 224 carries, 892 yards, 7 touchdowns; 23 receptions, 152 yards, 1 touchdown
The Ravens’ wide receiver room is going to look quite different in 2018. Jeremy Maclin is gone and Michael Campanaro and Mike Wallace are still unsigned, while Crabtree, John Brown and DeVier Posey were added to the mix. Crabtree is not only the team’s clear top wide receiver, but he’s by far Joe Flacco‘s top target. Other than the aforementioned Brown and Posey, the likes of Chris Moore, Breshad Perriman, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams and the team’s running backs are currently positioned to compete for significant snaps this year.
That’s the long way of saying that Crabtree — who ranked eighth among wide receivers in targets (388) and fifth in touchdowns (25) during his three years with Oakland — currently has a clear path to a gigantic target share in 2018. Crabtree has averaged a target share of at least 21 percent during all nine of his NFL seasons, including 25 percent each season with the Raiders (excluding weeks he was hobbled by injury).
Crabtree makes his hay as a possession receiver, and that shows up statistically. He’s ranked near the bottom of the position in aDOT, YPR and RAC throughout most of his career but has made up for it in recent years with huge target numbers, especially near the goal line. Crabtree has racked up at least 15 end zone targets each of the past three seasons. His total of 50 during that span trails only DeAndre Hopkins (59) and Mike Evans (54) in the entire NFL.
Baltimore’s offense has ranked well below average in touchdowns four of the past five years and converted to a run-first offense in 2017. Neither of those things figure to change this season, which limits Crabtree’s fantasy upside, but he’s still going to see enough volume and scoring opportunities to produce WR3 numbers.
Early 16-game projection: 135 targets, 81 receptions, 867 yards, 6 touchdowns
When the Titans released lead back DeMarco Murray, it appeared 2016 second-round pick Derrick Henry was finally positioned for feature back duties. Instead, the team again clouded the backfield by adding one of the top backs available in free agency.
Lewis, a fifth-round pick in 2011, struggled to make an impact because of injuries and a lack of opportunity with the Eagles and Browns, but finally exploded onto the NFL scene with New England in 2015. Lewis took his game to a new level last year, setting career highs in carries (180), scrimmage yards (1,110) and offensive touchdowns (nine). A terrific weapon as a receiver, Lewis also caught all but three of his 35 targets. Though he was only on the field for 385 snaps, Lewis finished as fantasy’s No. 13 scoring running back and ranked fourth in fantasy points per snap. Over the past three seasons, Lewis ranks fourth in the NFL in both yards per carry (4.82) and yards after contact per attempt (2.33) among 63 backs with 200-plus carries during the span.
The elephant in the room with Lewis is his durability, as he has appeared in only 54 of a possible 112 regular-season games during his seven-year career. He has never been on the field for more than 36 percent of his team’s snaps in a single season, though he was active for all 19 of New England’s games last year.
In Tennessee, 5-foot-8, 195-pound Lewis will be the lightning to 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry’s thunder. Both backs figure to play significant roles, with Henry leading the charge on early downs and short yardage, including the goal line, and Lewis playing a significant change-of-pace role with primary passing-game duties. The committee is sure to limit the upside of both backs, but with many NFL teams going the same direction, it’s possible both Henry and Lewis will be starting fantasy options (think Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman).
Early 16-game projections:
Derrick Henry: 220 carries, 946 yards, 7 touchdowns; 24 receptions, 219 yards, 1 touchdown
Dion Lewis: 124 carries, 550 yards, 3 touchdowns; 47 receptions, 380 yards, 2 touchdowns
The 49ers needed a replacement for lead back Carlos Hyde, and former Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon was looking for a destination where he’d be “the guy.” Consider both sides satisfied after reportedly agreeing to a four-year, $30 million contract on Wednesday.
Though 5-foot-9, 212-pound McKinnon is a bit smaller than Hyde — and not quite as effective a runner — he’s an elite athlete and a better receiver (which isn’t saying much in this case). McKinnon has never exceeded 159 carries in a season (2016), and he’s averaging 3.59 yards per carry, including 1.50 after contact, on 309 carries over the past two seasons. Those efficiency rates rank last and second-to-last, respectively, among 22 backs with 300-plus carries over the past two years. McKinnon’s receiving volume has been terrific during the two-year span, but his efficiency there also has been weak. Since 2016, he’s ninth at the position with 121 targets, but his 7.2 yards per reception ranks 25th among 30 backs with 75-plus targets during the two seasons.
Those numbers should be somewhat alarming after the team just made McKinnon one of the five highest-paid backs in the NFL. Of course, volume is what wins in fantasy football, and McKinnon’s paycheck suggests he’ll be the unquestioned lead back come Week 1. He’ll need to fend off second-year back Matt Breida and Joe Williams, and the team could still add an impact back during the April draft. There’s reason to worry about McKinnon’s efficiency issues and the fact that he likely has a lower carry ceiling than most, but he’s currently positioned for a role that would allow him back-end RB2 production.
Early 16-game projection: 186 carries, 754 yards, 7 touchdowns, 51 receptions, 397 yards, 1 touchdown
The Bears entered the offseason with one of the league’s worst wide receiver groups, but they changed the narrative quickly by signing Robinson to a reported three-year, $42 million contract.
Robinson missed all of last season with a torn ACL but previously showed his massive upside with 80 receptions on 148 targets for 1,400 yards and a position-high 14 touchdowns in 2015. Robinson was fantasy’s No. 6 wide receiver in what was his second NFL season. He did a significant portion of his damage deep downfield, as his 15.3 average depth of target (aDOT) was seventh-highest and his 17.5 yards per reception (YPR) sixth-highest at the position. Robinson’s hefty touchdown total was fueled by 19 end zone targets (fourth-most) and a 10.7 OTD (third).
That data is important as we try to understand why Robinson’s production fell so far in 2016 despite his seeing more targets (149). Robinson was limited to 73 receptions for 883 yards and six touchdowns. He ranked second at the position in pass routes (665), sixth in targets, fifth in end zone targets (16) and sixth in OTD (8.2) but finished 25th in fantasy points. Robinson’s aDOT fell to 13.3, his YPR to 12.1, his catch rate from 54 percent to 49 percent and his run after the catch (RAC) from 4.4 to 2.8, while the rate of balls directed at him that were off-target jumped from 23 percent to 28 percent.
The big difference? A massive drop in production on the deep ball. On balls thrown 20-plus yards down field in 2015, Blake Bortles connected with Robinson on 15 of 43 targets for 591 yards and two touchdowns. In 2016, Robinson caught one of 24 targets for 24 yards and no scores. We talk often about statistical regression to the mean, but that’s an all-timer of an overcorrection.
One thing Robinson was never short on in Jacksonville was target volume. He enjoyed 8.0 targets per game as a rookie, 9.25 in 2015 and 9.31 in 2016. Considering Chicago’s underwhelming group of pass-catchers, it’s fair to assume that Robinson will handle nearly one-quarter of the targets in 2018. That would be enough to allow him strong fantasy production in what will likely be a pass-first offense under new head coach Matt Nagy. Nagy, of course, comes from the Andy Reid coaching tree, and Kansas City operated a pass-first offense during the two seasons Nagy served as offensive coordinator (2016-17).
The big X factor for Robinson’s production will be second-year QB Mitchell Trubisky. The 2017 second overall pick showed well despite a poor supporting cast and an ultra-conservative, uncreative offense as a rookie. He was effective overall and, perhaps more importantly as Robinson is concerned, did well throwing the deep ball (10-of-29 for 323 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions).
As long as Trubisky is solid under center, Robinson’s inevitable high-end volume should allow him solid WR2 numbers with room for more.
Early 16-game projection: 141 targets, 75 receptions, 1,053 yards, 7 TDs
The Packers entered free agency as one of the league’s neediest teams at tight end. The void is filled after the team signed Graham to a three-year contract. The Packers also released WR Jordy Nelson, which only adds to the likelihood that Graham will handle a significant offensive role.
As Graham’s fantasy value is debated in upcoming months, expect to hear a lot of chatter about the Packers’ not using the tight end much in the passing game. Ignore it. Aaron Rodgers has played eight full seasons in the past decade, and Green Bay tight ends rank 22nd in receptions but seventh in touchdowns and 17th in fantasy points. That’s with the likes of Jermichael Finley, Richard Rodgers, Donald Lee, Andrew Quarless and Jared Cook soaking up many of the snaps.
Graham is now 31 years old and fresh off a season in which he paced all non-running backs in OTD (10.3) and all tight ends with 10 touchdown receptions. He finished fourth at the position in pass routes and has finished top-10 in routes, targets and receptions in six of the past seven years. In fact, Graham has played in all 16 regular-season games four of the past five years, with the only exception being the 2015 season in which he tore his Achilles. Graham settled in as a short-area option (7.7 aDOT) last season, which limited him to an extremely low 5.5 yards per target (third-lowest at the position).
Graham might not stack up with the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz in the target or reception department, but he’s one of the game’s most-utilized weapons near the goal line and will be working with the league’s best quarterback. Even a slight dip from the 18 percent target share he enjoyed each of the past two seasons would easily allow him his ninth consecutive top-12 fantasy campaign.
Early 16-game projection: 86 targets, 56 receptions, 665 yards, 8 TDs
The Chiefs are in the midst of a bit of an overhaul, and their latest move on the offensive side of the ball was the reported signing of Watkins to a three-year, $48 million contract.
As with Robinson above, who agreed to sign with the Bears, Watkins’ best season was 2015, when he caught 60 of 93 targets for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns with the Bills. The 2014 fourth overall pick finished 20th among wide receivers in fantasy points in only 13 games and seemed to be well on his way to joining the league’s elite wide receiver class in 2016. Instead, Watkins missed half the season with a foot injury, and his extrapolated 16-game stat line of 96 targets, 56 receptions, 860 yards and 4 touchdowns was massively disappointing. The Bills traded Watkins to the Rams last offseason, and he settled in as the team’s No. 3 wide receiver behind Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. The Rams paced the NFL in three-plus wide receiver sets when passing (92 percent), so Watkins was on the field for a hefty 88 percent of the team’s pass plays when active. That wasn’t enough to generate much volume, as he was limited to a career-low 14 percent target share (he averaged 25 percent in Buffalo). The result was 39 receptions on 67 targets for 593 yards and eight touchdowns. The inflated touchdown total allowed Watkins a 41st-place finish in fantasy points, but his 4.2 OTD and six end-zone targets suggest that it was a fluky number.
Watkins is only 24 years old and an extremely talented player with major upside, but he has several road blocks to success in Kansas City. The first is competition for a large target share in an offense that needs to support Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt, the latter of whom Reid said he plans to throw to more in 2018 and beyond. Watkins should improve on the 4.5 targets per game that he saw in Los Angeles but likely not to the extent that you’d expect from a player once viewed as a franchise player.
The Chiefs also changed from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, which is probably good news for field-stretching Watkins, as Mahomes is less conservative and has a bigger arm. Of course, we knew Smith was a solid, efficient passer, whereas Mahomes has one NFL game under his belt and is a relative unknown. If the 2017 first-round pick proves to be the real deal, Watkins will benefit.
Finally, there is the durability question mark. Watkins rested in Week 17 last season but otherwise appeared in every game for the Rams. Prior to that, he missed 11 of his previous 21 games (as well as preseason games) due to glute, calf, ankle and foot injuries. This will raise questions about his ability to play a full season, but it shouldn’t be overly concerning after he held up well in 2017.
Assuming Watkins winds up third for targets in a low-volume but pass-first Kansas City offense, Watkins is best viewed as a flex option with some upside in the event that Mahomes explodes onto the fantasy scene.
Early 16-game projection: 116 targets, 64 receptions, 946 yards, 6 TDs
Denver was expected to be heavily involved in the Kirk Cousins market but instead made an early splash by reportedly signing Keenum as its new starting quarterback. Keenum has a short résumé of NFL success but is surely an upgrade over the mess that was Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler last season.
Keenum has been in the league since 2013 but had attempted only 777 passes in 26 games prior to taking over for injured Sam Bradford as Minnesota’s starter last season. He exploded for a career season, completing 68 percent of his 481 regular-season attempts for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Keenum’s completion percentage trailed only that of Drew Brees (72 percent) for best in the league, and he was charted as off-target 14 percent of the time, which was third-best (behind Brees and Carson Palmer). Keenum finished 14th at the position in fantasy points, including eighth in the 14 weeks when he was on the field for at least 90 percent of the pass plays. For all intents and purposes, Keenum was a fringe QB1 option.
He benefited from a good supporting cast in Minnesota that included Adam Thielen (138 targets, 27 percent share) and Stefon Diggs (117 targets in 14 games, 22 percent share). Thielen finished the season as fantasy’s No. 9 wide receiver, and Diggs was 19th despite missing two games. That bodes well for Keenum’s top two weapons in Denver, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas has handled a target share of at least 23 percent each of the past seven years, including 26 percent in 2017. Sanders missed four games last season but has averaged a share of at least 23 percent each of his four seasons in Denver. Like Thielen and Diggs, Thomas and Sanders handle a gigantic piece of the target pie, and the duo is sure to benefit from the quarterback upgrade.
Keenum’s inconsistent production over the years and short résumé mean we can’t assume that Denver’s offense will come anywhere close to what it was in the Peyton Manning era — or even to where Minnesota’s offense was last season — but it’s fairly safe to assume that it will be better than last year’s unit, which averaged just 1.7 touchdowns per game (26th).
Keenum should be viewed as a back-end QB2 target with streaming appeal when the matchup is right. Thomas has finished 16th or better at wide receiver each of the past six seasons and makes for a solid WR2 option in 2018. Sanders finished no worse than 21st at the position in his first three years with Denver prior to last year’s injury-shortened campaign. His return to health and the addition of Keenum move him back into the WR3 mix. For the time being, 2017 draft picks WR Carlos Henderson and TE Jake Butt should be viewed as late-round sleepers. Both missed their entire rookie seasons due to injury but will compete for significant playing time in 2018.
Early 16-game projections:
Case Keenum: 370-of-590 for 4,126 yards, 22 TDs, 12 INTs; 40 carries, 143 yards, 1 TD
Demaryius Thomas: 150 targets, 92 receptions, 1,076 yards, 6 TDs
Emmanuel Sanders: 133 targets, 77 receptions, 1,005 yards, 6 TDs
The Bills had a hole at quarterback after agreeing to trade Tyrod Taylor to the Browns last week. They took the first step toward filling it on Wednesday when they signed A.J. McCarron to a two-year, $10 million contract.
McCarron spent the first four years of his career with the Bengals after they selected him in the fifth round of the 2014 draft. Including one playoff appearance, he’s attempted only 174 passes in his career, completing 109 (63 percent) for 1,132 yards (6.5 YPA), 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. That’s certainly not terrible, but it’s also not enough to justify taking a fifth-round pick who has barely played and was buried behind Andy Dalton for four years and making him your starter. That said, McCarron is a good bet to face competition from a first-round rookie and possibly even second-year Nathan Peterman for the team’s Week 1 starting job.
In the meantime, McCarron is not a particularly attractive fantasy asset. The Bills ran the league’s third run-heaviest offense last year, and that’s unlikely to change with LeSean McCoy in the backfield and a less sturdy situation at quarterback. At least for the time being, McCarron’s top options are McCoy, Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Andre Holmes and Charles Clay. There’s some talent there, sure, but it’s an inferior group to a majority of the NFL. McCarron is barely worth considering as a QB2.
Early 16-game projection: 320-of-527, 3,449 yards, 16 touchdowns, 11 interceptions
The Redskins’ offense will have a new look in 2018 after changing from Kirk Cousins to Alex Smith at quarterback and with the addition of Richardson. A second-round pick by Seattle back in 2014, Richardson was reportedly signed to a five-year, $40 million contract.
It’s a terrific comeback story for a player who tore his left ACL in 2012 and during the 2014 playoffs before suffering a season-ending hamstring injury in 2015. Richardson had been a part-time player prior to seeing the field on 76 percent of the Seahawks’ offensive snaps last season. He set career highs in targets (80), receptions (44), yardage (703) and touchdowns (six). A force deep down the field, Richardson’s 14.9 average depth of target was ninth in the league last season.
Richardson figures to step in as Washington’s No. 3 wide receiver behind Josh Doctson and slot man Jamison Crowder. With RB Chris Thompson and tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis also in the mix for targets, Richardson is unlikely to see a consistently high target share. He’s best viewed as a late-round pick and depth for your bench.
Early 16-game projection: 70 targets, 43 receptions, 598 yards, 3 TDs
The Dolphins’ bizarre roster purge has included the likes of Jay Ajayi, Ndamukong Suh and Jarvis Landry. That has opened up cap space and, more importantly, offensive touches, which allowed the team to sign Wilson to a reported three-year, $24 million contract.
It’s a nice payday for a player who hit career highs in targets (61), receptions (42), yards (554) and touchdowns (three) with the Kansas City Chiefs last season. Wilson has never handled more than a 13 percent target share or been on the field for more than 68 percent of his team’s snaps (both highs came in 2015), and his best fantasy season was last year’s 59th-place finish.
Undersized at 5-foot-9, Wilson ran 63 percent of his routes from the slot last season, though he did play outside more often earlier in his career. His 6.4-yard aDOT the past two seasons is sixth-lowest among 85 wide receivers with 100-plus targets during the span. Interestingly, it’s slightly higher than the 6.3 mark of Landry, who is the man Wilson figures to replace as Miami’s primary slot man. Landry soaked up 9.5 targets per game in that role the past three years, and though Wilson is unlikely to match anything close to that, his hefty paycheck should assure him a significant workload. Miami had a third wide receiver on the field for 87 percent of pass plays last season, which was behind only the Los Angeles Rams (92 percent) for highest in the league.
Wilson is best viewed as a fringe flex option in PPR leagues and should be downgraded in non-PPR formats. The team’s move from Landry to Wilson should lead to a slight uptick in targets for DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills. Parker is a WR3 and Stills a flex.
Early 16-game projections:
Albert Wilson: 94 targets, 61 receptions, 709 yards, 4 TDs
DeVante Parker: 116 targets, 72 receptions, 927 yards, 6 TDs
Kenny Stills: 105 targets, 60 receptions, 902 yards, 5 TDs
The Bears continued their offensive overhaul on Tuesday by agreeing to sign former Eagles TE Trey Burton to a reported four-year, $32 million contract. Burton spent the first four seasons of his career as a situational receiving specialist behind Zach Ertz and Brent Celek in Philadelphia. His most productive receiving season was 2016, when he caught 37 of 60 targets for 327 yards and one touchdown, though his best fantasy season came last year, when he posted a 31-23-248-5 line.
Burton’s 9.8-yard average depth of target was seventh at the position in 2017. He never exceeded 29 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps in a single season but will surely play a much larger role in Chicago after signing such a lucrative deal.
In fact, he won’t have to improve much on his 10 percent target share from 2016 in order to become fantasy relevant.
Targets shouldn’t be hard for Burton to find in an offense with many question marks behind newcomer Allen Robinson. The likes of WR Cameron Meredith (restricted free agent), newly signed WR Taylor Gabriel, WR Kevin White, RB Tarik Cohen and fellow TE Adam Shaheen will be in the mix, but it’s likely that Burton settles in no lower than third or fourth in line. The sizable role in a pass-first offense on the upswing is enough to get Burton into the TE2 mix, and he has back-end TE1 upside.
Early 16-game projection: 82 targets, 55 receptions, 579 yards, 4 TDs
Another team has filled its void at quarterback. The Cardinals have signed Bradford to a reported one-year, $20 million contract. Bradford, who has appeared in 80 games over the past eight years with the Rams, Eagles and Vikings, replaces retired Carson Palmer.
Bradford appeared in only two games due to injury last season and has managed a 16-game season only twice in his career (2010 and 2012). Bradford plays a super-conservative game, as shown by his 7.3 career average depth of throw, which is higher than only that of Alex Smith among passers with 600-plus attempts since 2010. As a result, Bradford hasn’t managed much fantasy production; his best finish was 16th in 2012.
At least as the roster stands now, it isn’t a landing spot likely to boost Bradford into anything more than a backup option in fantasy. The Cardinals’ offense is one of the worst in the league on paper. David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald supply Bradford with very good short-area targets, but past that, the likes of J.J. Nelson, Chad Williams, Jermaine Gresham (who is recovering from a torn Achilles) and Ricky Seals-Jones are currently positioned for big roles. The Cardinals also need work on the offensive line.
With Bradford on a one-year deal and no other quarterbacks on the roster, it’s safe to assume that the team will target one of this year’s top rookie passers. That means Bradford is unlikely to be assured 16 starts, even if he stays healthy, which further devalues him in fantasy. He’s worth no more than a late-round flier in deeper leagues.
Early 16-game projection: 389-of-598, 4,149 yards, 24 TDs, 10 INTs
Other notable moves
• Bill Belichick loves his backfield committees, and he added a piece to the 2018 version in the form of ex-Bengals RB Jeremy Hill on Friday. Hill was a second-round pick in 2014 and ran for 2,873 yards on 704 carries during four years with Cincinnati. Hill was a star out of the gate, averaging 5.1 yards per carry (2.3 YAC) and scoring nine touchdowns on 222 rookie-season carries. Though his volume held up the following two seasons (445 carries and 20 touchdowns), his efficiency plummeted (3.7 YPC, 1.5 YAC). Hill lost his job to rookie Joe Mixon last year and was limited to 37 uneventful carries in seven games. Hill is only 25 years old and anything seems to go in Belichick’s offenses, so the landing spot certainly supplies him with some fantasy appeal. He’ll need to fend off Rex Burkhead, James White and Mike Gillislee for work, however, so he’s best viewed as a late-round flier.
• The Jaguars reportedly re-signed WR Marqise Lee to a four-year extension. With Allen Robinson off to Chicago, Lee slides back in as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver. He’ll face competition for targets from Dede Westbrook, Allen Hurns (cut candidate), Keelan Cole and newly signed Donte Moncrief (see below), but he shouldn’t have much trouble matching the 6.7 targets per game that he has averaged the past two years. Lee finished 41st among wide receivers in fantasy points in 2016 and 40th in 2017. Durability is a concern — he has held up for a 16-game regular season once in his career — but Lee’s role should allow him to flirt with flex numbers again in 2018.
• The Jets signed QB Josh McCown to a one-year contract extension. McCown started the team’s first 13 games last season and sat 13th in fantasy points prior to going down with an injury in Week 14. The 38-year-old is a strong bet to open the season under center, but assuming the Jets spend an early first-round pick on a quarterback, McCown figures to simply be keeping the seat warm. McCown exceeded even the loftiest expectations last season, but the Jets’ roster is in rough shape, leaving him as no more than a back-end QB2 and occasional streaming option.
• The Bears continued to be busy by signing WR Taylor Gabriel to a four-year contract. Following an underwhelming stint in Cleveland, Gabriel rejuvenated his career with Atlanta the past two years. His best season was 2016, when he was limited to 236 pass routes, but he still managed 36 receptions for 588 yards and six touchdowns. Gabriel has never been more than a situational player and, at 5-foot-8, 167 pounds, that doesn’t figure to change in Chicago. He’s likely to settle in as the third receiver, assuming Cameron Meredith is back opposite newcomer Allen Robinson. Kevin White is also in the mix. Gabriel is barely worth considering in most season-long drafts.
• The Jaguars upgraded their wide receiver depth by signing WR Donte Moncrief. A third-round pick in 2014, Moncrief appeared in all 16 games during his first two NFL seasons, posting a career-best 64-catch, 733-yard, 6-touchdown line in 2015. That allowed him a 36th-place fantasy finish, but it was all downhill from there. Moncrief has missed 11 games the past two years, totaling 56 receptions for 698 yards and nine scores during the span. Moncrief is still only 24 years old, so this is a nice boom/bust signing by the Jaguars. He’ll compete with Marqise Lee, Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole and possibly Allen Hurns (cut candidate) for work. That’s a lot of bodies, but Moncrief has the talent to rise to the top. He’s worthy of a late-round pick.
• The Jacksonville Jaguars signed guard Andrew Norwell. The former Panther was one of the most coveted free agents in this year’s class and gives the team a big upgrade over incumbent Patrick Omameh. Norwell’s addition will provide additional protection for Blake Bortles and help open larger running lanes for Leonard Fournette, who is best viewed as a second-round target in 2018 fantasy leagues.
• The San Francisco 49ers signed interior offensive lineman Weston Richburg. Richburg was solid during his years as the Giants center and will help solidify a 49ers offensive line that includes projected starters Joe Staley, Laken Tomlinson, Daniel Kilgore and Trent Brown. With 2016 first-round pick Joshua Garnett expected back from injury as well, this is shaping up to be one of the league’s better units. That will help keep new franchise QB Jimmy Garoppolo upright and add to the efficiency of the team’s eventual lead back.
• The Dolphins reportedly will sign WR Danny Amendola to a two-year contract. Amendola finds himself in a similar position to where he was in New England, stuck without a clear path to targets. DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills are the team’s top-two receivers, with Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant and Amendola in the mix to help replace Jarvis Landry. Amendola has never finished a season better than 43rd at the position in fantasy points, and he’s unlikely to improve on that mark as a 32-year-old situational receiver in a below-average offense. He’s no more than a late-round flier in deep PPR leagues.
• The Giants are set to sign long-time Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart. The connection here is obvious, as ex-Panthers GM Dave Gettleman and ex-Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula now hold the same positions in New York. Stewart figures to reprise his role as nothing more than an early-down “innings eater” with some value at the goal line. Stewart hasn’t appeared in 16 games since 2011 but has ranked top-20 among running backs in carries each of the past three seasons. Since 2015, he ranks 10th at the position in carries, 14th in rushing yards (2,493), ninth in rushing touchdowns (21), fifth in rushing OTD (24.3) and third in carries inside the opponents’ 5-yard line (38). A nonfactor as a receiver, Stewart ranks 65th at the position, with 53 targets during the span. At least for now, he’s the favorite for lead back duties come Week 1, but New York is unlikely to be done at the position. Wayne Gallman and potentially Paul Perkins are in the mix, and Shane Vereen or Orleans Darkwa could be back. The team also could select a rookie from this year’s deep class during April’s draft. Stewart might end up on the RB2 radar in deeper non-PPR leagues, but he has minimal upside.
• The Jets are expected to sign RB Isaiah Crowell to a three-year contract. Crowell went undrafted in 2014 and spent the first four seasons of his career as Cleveland’s primary early-down and short-yardage back. Crowell has finished top-25 at the position in carries and rushing yards each of the past three seasons. He has also contributed more than you probably realized as a receiver, ranking top-30 at the position in targets each of the past two seasons. Only 20 backs have seen more targets during the span, and new teammate Bilal Powell — often viewed as a standout pass-catcher — has seen only 13 more targets than Crowell the past two seasons. The 25-year-old back figures to join Powell to form a leading duo of backs with second-year Elijah McGuire also in the mix. It’s a fantasy headache, especially in an offense unlikely to be very good, which leaves the two veteran backs as nothing more than fringe flex options.
• The Ravens entered free agency as one of the league’s neediest teams at wide receiver. They made a move to improve the position on Tuesday when they agreed to sign former Cardinals WR John Brown. The 2014 third-round pick was a downfield playmaker at times for Arizona but struggles with injuries, including the discovery that he carries the sickle-cell trait, cost him seven games and a lot of missed practice time over the past two years. Brown’s best season was a 65-catch, 1,003-yard, 7-touchdown campaign in 2015. He finished 25th at the position in fantasy points. In two seasons since, Brown has 60 receptions for 816 yards and five scores. He’s only 27 years old, and playing time shouldn’t be an issue with the likes of Jeremy Maclin, Chris Moore and Breshad Perriman around him on the depth chart. Brown’s upside is enough to make him a viable late-round flier in 2018 fantasy drafts.
• The Jets revamped their quarterback room on Tuesday by adding both Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown to the mix. McCown has reportedly been assured starting duties, but there’s no doubt the Jets will need to be looking further down the road, so Bridgewater and/or a potential selection in April’s draft will be nipping at the 38-year-old’s heels all season long. Bridgewater was Minnesota’s first-round pick back in 2014. Following promising 2014 and 2015 seasons, he seemingly was on the verge of a third-year breakout prior to suffering a devastating injury in practice that almost cost him his left leg. Bridgewater figures to make some starts this season, but unless the matchup is great, he’s unlikely to be one of the best 12 options at the position. He’s only worth holding in dynasty leagues.
• In what was one of the more stunning developments of free agency, wide receiver Ryan Grant — a former Redskins reserve — landed a reported four-year, $29 million contract. A fifth-round pick back in 2015, Grant totaled 68 targets during his first three seasons before “breaking out” for 45 receptions on 64 targets for 573 yards and four touchdowns last season. He was fantasy’s No. 54 scoring wide receiver. Grant primarily operated as a short-area target. His 9.6-yard average depth of target ranked 64th out of 84 qualified receivers, and his 70 percent catch rate ranked 13th. Grant is best suited as no more than a No. 3 receiver and currently sits behind Jeremy Maclin and John Brown on the depth chart. His low ceiling makes him an unappealing fantasy asset.
• The Bengals re-signed TE Tyler Eifert to a one-year contract. The 2013 first-round pick has been a force when healthy, but that hasn’t been often enough throughout his five-year career. Eifert has never appeared in a full 16-game regular season, managing to play only 39 of a possible 80 games since he entered the league. That includes fewer than three games two of the past four years. As noted, Eifert is good when active, which means he still belongs on the fantasy radar. He missed three games in 2015, but still led tight ends in the league with 13 touchdowns. He missed eight games in 2016, but scored five touchdowns and ranked seventh at the position in fantasy points per game. Eifert’s durability is obviously a major concern, but if he appears to be healthy and ready to roll for Week 1, he has enough upside to warrant a late-round flier.
• The Raiders added veteran RB Doug Martin to the mix on Thursday. The former Buc figures to slide in behind Lynch and ahead of DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard on the depth chart. To say Martin has had his ups and downs would be an understatement. During the two years he appeared in all 16 of Tampa Bay’s regular season games (2012, 2015), he ranked in the top three at the position in both touches and scrimmage yards, and ranked top 11 in offensive touchdowns. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry over the two seasons and was a top-four fantasy back both years. On the other hand, Martin missed at least five games (total of 28) during each of his other four campaigns. He failed to post a fantasy season better than 54th and averaged a miserable 3.3 YPC. In fact, over the past two years, Martin’s 2.9 YPC is worst among the 70 backs with more than 110 carries. New Raiders coach Jon Gruden said he wants to “throw the game back to 1998,” and he seems to be backing that up. The team has signed a pair of blocking tight ends in Derek Carrier and Lee Smith, as well as a second fullback in Keith Smith to compete with Jamize Olawale. Even in an offense seemingly being built around the run, Martin, who is now 29 years old, is unlikely to return to fantasy stardom. He’ll be a pedestrian handcuff option, at best, in 2018.
• The Jaguars signed TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins to a two-year contract. Tampa Bay’s 2014 second-round pick showed flashes of his play-making ability during 18 games with the team, but struggles with alcoholism and weight allowed him only 45 catches in three seasons prior to being waived in 2016. The Jets scooped him up, and Seferian-Jenkins spent the next offseason getting his life under control, losing 25 pounds during the process. After serving a two-game suspension last year, Seferian-Jenkins posted a career year with 50 receptions for 357 yards and three touchdowns. Tight ends haven’t been particularly fantasy relevant during the Blake Bortles era in Jacksonville, but a lack of receiving talent at the position has been the primary culprit. From 2015-16, Julius Thomas caught 76 balls and scored nine touchdowns during 21 games with the team. Jacksonville operates a run-first offense and is one of the league’s shakiest teams at quarterback. Plus, Seferian-Jenkins will need to fend off Marcedes Lewis for snaps. The 25-year-old is best viewed as a back-end TE2.
Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, fiancée Brittany Matthews expecting first child
The year 2020 keeps getting better for Patrick Mahomes.
The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and Brittany Matthews, his fiancée, announced on social media Tuesday that they will soon be having a baby. The couple has been together for years and recently became engaged.
Mahomes’ year got off to a great start in January, when he led the Chiefs to their first appearance in the Super Bowl in 50 years. Mahomes then was the MVP of Super Bowl LIV as the Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 on Feb. 2.
Mahomes, 25, received the richest contract in U.S. team sports history over the summer when he signed a 10-year extension that could pay him almost $500 million. Mahomes, who grew up in baseball clubhouses going to games with his dad, Pat Mahomes — a major league pitcher for 11 seasons — bought into the ownership group of the Kansas City Royals in July.
Shortly before the start of the season, the quarterback received his Super Bowl championship ring and became engaged on the same day.
How an Australian girl with autism forged a bond with Philadelphia Eagles
Peter Dinoris and his family live in Brisbane, Australia, some 9,500 miles — or close to a half-world away — from Philadelphia. Yet they are massive Philadelphia Eagles fans. How could they not be? The Eagles play in the city where the breakthrough happened, and champion a cause that couldn’t hit closer to home.
Like many tourists, Dinoris wanted to run the “Rocky” steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with his daughter, Leah, and son, William, when they first came to town eight years ago. William is a big fan of boxing as well as the iconic “Rocky” movies, so the touristy trip to Philly made sense while mom, Brenda, was in Ohio attending a conference centered on autism.
So Peter booked a private tour that wound through the streets where fictional character Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone) roamed in the movie. The tour culminated at the art museum. Peter warned the tour guide the outing might be short-lived. Leah, 8 years old at the time, has severe autism. Previous stops on their trip to the United States did not go well without Brenda.
Leah was in the midst of a three-year period where looking into her father’s eyes or simply hearing his voice sent her into extreme meltdowns. She would hit her head against walls or onto floors. That meant when Peter got home from work, he couldn’t talk until Leah was in bed.
“William, my younger son, that poor kid, didn’t hear me speak for three years unless we were out without her,” Peter said. “It was a very difficult time.”
But Leah loved the tour and instantly took to Philadelphia. With the day going so well, Peter decided to run up the steps while carrying her — Leah facing outward, of course, so there would be no eye contact — and she laughed and joyfully kicked her legs the whole way. When they got to the top, Peter took a chance and turned Leah around.
She kissed him.
“And she doesn’t give kisses,” Peter said. “I was crying, staring at the city.
“I thought: ‘We’re going to have a relationship. Things will change.’ I actually felt like a dad at that moment, which was a really deep, deep feeling.”
A big NFL fan, it was only natural to adopt the Eagles as his own. As fate would have it, his new favorite team created the Eagles Autism Challenge in 2018 — a biking/5K/sensory walk fundraising event — and the Eagles Autism Foundation in 2019, which has helped raise more than $9 million for autism research and care.
The Dinoris family has become one of its top donors through grassroots efforts in Australia, where they have called on local celebrities, sent hundreds of emails and have even purchased billboards to help spread the word. The family raised about $24,000 for this year’s Autism Challenge, which originally was scheduled for May before being moved to Sept. 26. They had planned to visit from Australia to participate in the festivities, but like many things, it was held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Eagles still managed to raise more than $3 million for autism research and care through this year’s event, thanks to donors from 14 countries, nearly 3,000 virtual participants and 284 fundraising teams.
“So the Eagles, what they’re doing is raising substantial funds to get the research out there. When Leah was diagnosed back in those days, there was very little information around for autism, but now there’s substantial amounts. And the research is getting quite technical now and it’s improving the understanding of the children with autism. People’s acceptance of them as well is very important — understanding and just loving them rather than being scared of them. So it’s helped a long way not only for our family, but just for the community in general.”
For Eagles chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie, the cause is personal. His younger brother, Peter, is autistic. Growing up, Peter was non-verbal so he and Jeffrey bonded through music, spending hours in the pool listening to Bob Dylan and the Beatles. Things changed when Peter suddenly began communicating his emotions through typing when he was in his 30s, revealing an ocean of thoughts and feelings that until then had been below the surface.
Stories like Lurie’s and the ones shared by the Dinoris family are not unusual; in fact, they are becoming increasingly more common. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 54 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder, up from 1 in 150 in 2000.
“There are so many individuals around the world who share the same experiences as Peter and his family. I am one, as it has been part of my family’s journey for over 60 years,” Lurie said. “Being so close to it personally, you empathize with the Dinorises and with so many others who cope with the unique challenges that autism presents on a day-to-day basis. Leah is a wonderful daughter, sister and friend who brings great joy to everyone around her. As a community of supporters, we need to continue our mission of turning autism awareness into action for individuals like Leah and families everywhere.”
Peter’s relationship with Leah, now 16, has shifted dramatically since that initial trip to Philadelphia. Leah has only a handful of words, but two of them are “dad’s girl.” Peter called her “my best friend.” She is a music fanatic, so Peter wrote a song about her titled “The Dizer,” which is Leah’s nickname. He convinced local artist Nik Phillips to compose and record the song, which actually made it onto Australia’s Top 100 list, Peter said.
“We’re very close now. She won’t leave the house without me,” he said. “She won’t leave me alone now, which is the opposite, but I prefer this much better.”
The research into non-verbal communication has helped remove barriers. Leah has learned to use cards and an iPad to express her wants and needs. Instead of trying to guess what she is thinking, the Dinoris family now knows.
One thing that comes across clearly: Leah loves football. Peter’s son is a Dallas Cowboys fan, creating a division rivalry under their own roof, but Leah roots for the Eagles alongside her dad.
“She gets excited. We watched the Super Bowl [in 2018] together. She was very happy with that,” Peter said with a laugh.
The family has returned to Philadelphia twice since the breakthrough on the “Rocky” steps in 2012 and on each occasion, the city has had a relaxing effect on her.
Leah has gotten to the point developmentally where the family feels she would be able to handle a walk with other people around, so they’re very much looking forward to a return trip to participate in the Eagles Autism Challenge when circumstances allow.
“We still kept pushing to raise funds because that’s the most important bit,” he said, “and hopefully we’ll make it one year.”
Detroit Lions to roll with veteran Adrian Peterson as lead running back
Adrian Peterson had more snaps, rushes and yards than the rest of the Detroit Lions running backs combined Sunday. And based on what his offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Tuesday, it looks like the 35-year-old future Hall of Famer might end up being the lead back for the club for the immediate future as well.
Peterson played 40 snaps in the Lions’ 26-23 victory against Arizona on Sunday, getting 22 carries for 75 yards along with one catch for 10 yards. That followed two weeks of a committee approach between Peterson, Kerryon Johnson and D’Andre Swift.
“It’s not anything that those guys are or aren’t doing,” Bevell said. “We’re just trying to, again, accentuate their positives and put them in positions to be successful. You saw Swift. His plays were a little bit down. We want to keep those up and get him more involved. The one play he catches, he has a nice catch-and-run, looks fast, looks explosive.
“It’s just continuing to manage those guys and putting them in the best situations.”
Those situations come with Peterson atop the depth chart. Detroit signed Peterson after he was released by Washington on Sept. 4. He said he had a opportunities to go to a couple of teams in the league, but he chose the Lions because of an opportunity to play again with Bevell, who was his offensive coordinator at the start of his career in Minnesota.
So far, Peterson has averaged 4.9 yards per carry (43 attempts, 209 yards). Johnson has averaged 3.4 yards (18 attempts, 62 yards), while rookie Swift is averaging 2.5 yards (8 attempts, 20 yards).
Bevell did praise Johnson on Sunday, calling him the “player of the game” due to his pass protection pickup and the small nuances that led to Jesse James’ touchdown reception. But it appears Johnson, who has been Detroit’s lead back when healthy the past two seasons, might not touch the ball as much as he has in the past.
The question now might be whether or not the Lions have to manage Peterson’s workload. He’s already played in 167 career games, carried the ball 3,079 times for 14,425 rushing yards. Plus, he’s at an age where most running backs are retired or playing a much less significant role.
“I’ve told you, this guy is a freak of nature now. I don’t know where that wall is or where he’s going to hit it. The guy is always asking for more,” Bevell said. “He is in great shape. He takes care of his body. He does all those little things to set himself up for that success.
“I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but he wants [the ball], we want him to have it and we’ll just keep continuing to go there and spell him with Kerryon, spell him with Swift and kind of go from there.”
Running backs coach Kyle Caskey said he and Peterson have an open line of communication about his reps and if he needs rest. Caskey said any management, for now, is “a during the week thing,” and on game day they are going to play the game.
“He’ll tell me,” Caskey said. “That’s your answer right there. He’ll tell me when he’s had enough or when he needs a break. He’s communicated well with me since he’s been here. I don’t think it’s anything that I personally need to do to watch him.
“He will tell when he’s feeling whatever you want to call it. He is that way. He’s not scared to tell me anything, so it’s really good. It’s a really good coach-player relationship we have with everything.”
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