NFL free agency opens up officially when the new league year begins on March 9. If you read the first edition of this article, you'll note that both Le'Veon Bell and Kirk Cousins have been moved to a new section at the bottom. That's because as free agency evolves and players are signed/tagged (as was the case with Bell/Cousins), I'll be updating this list. We'll do specific write-ups when big-name players change teams, but the list below gives you a quick synopsis of which fantasy players could be seeking a new home in the early parts of 2017. These movements can have a big impact, as we saw last year. Lamar Miller's move to Houston rocketed him up fantasy draft boards, though his performance didn't meet expectations. It also set the stage for Jay Ajayi's eventual emergence for the Dolphins. In essence, free agency is the first big domino to fall this offseason in setting the field for the 2017 fantasy season. So study up and watch the league moves closely in the coming weeks. Your 2017 fantasy championship campaign starts now.
There's no doubting Alshon Jeffery's talent, as the star wideout amassed 174 receptions, 2,554 yards, and 17 touchdowns from 2013 to 2014. However, an injury-plagued past two seasons -- exacerbated by a four-game PED suspension in 2016 -- leave Jeffery in a bit of a pickle in terms of his free agent value. The Bears could offer him an extension, exercise a second franchise tag on him ... or let him hit the open market. For fantasy purposes, a fresh start (with a good quarterback) could be ideal, but Jeffery has been productive throughout his career in Chicago. Of course, if he hangs around the Windy City, the quarterback situation there will need to be monitored as well to appropriately assess Jeffery's fantasy stock (Jay Cutlercould be gone while Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer are impending free agents). With Jeffery and Marquess Wilson set to be free agents, expect the Bears to make some kind of move at the position, whether that be keeping one of their current starters or adding someone else.
'Member Josh Gordon? I member. His return and impact on the Browns offense was one of the 2016 offseason's most over-discussed topics in fantasy circles. Yet, when another potential violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy caused Gordon to admit himself to rehab, Terrelle Pryor was forced into the No. 1 duties ... and surprised us all. In his first full year as a wide receiver (converting from quarterback) Pryor amassed 77 receptions, 1,007 yards and four touchdowns while playing with the Browns' medley of mediocre quarterbacks. The team could pay up for Pryor, especially after they viewed him as too valuable to trade during the season. The uber-athletic combo of Corey Coleman and Pryor would be a nice way to welcome a rookie quarterback or Jimmy Garoppolo to Cleveland, but Pryor could also be a difference-maker for a team closing in on contender status that needs a wideout (Tampa Bay? Tennessee?). Pyror's landing spot, and recovery from offseason finger surgery, will have a lot to do with his fantasy value later this year.
Having just turned 30 this past December, DeSean Jackson could be in line for another decent contract. Whether that comes from Washington, where he has said he'd like to stay, or somewhere else remains to be seen. DJax still can fly, as he was tied for the second-most receptions of 40-plus yards last year with five, and Kirk Cousins missed him on several others, too. Despite public perception, Jackson has been solid in Washington, finishing as the WR18 and WR26 in 2014 and 2016, respectively. He led the league in yards per reception in each of those years, too, among qualified receivers. However, a fresh start in another offense with fewer mouths to feed could be good for Jackson. Either way, he'll likely be a volatile WR3 heading into fantasy drafts next season.
While the Raiders brass have expressed a desire to keep Latavius Murray in the silver and black, it's looking increasingly unlikely that they actually do. With big contracts coming down the pipeline for Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, it doesn't make sense to pay up for a running back, especially with such a well-regardedincoming rookie class. Fantasy-wise, Murray has put up back-to-back top-12 fantasy seasons, though his effort this year was aided by 12 rushing touchdowns. As a bigger back, Murray does well with short-yardage and goal-line situations (he converted nine of his 17 attempts inside the 5-yard line into touchdowns), and there are plenty of teams who could be in need of his services. Even if he lands in some sort of committee, which he endured in 2016, Murray will still be on the RB2 radar as long as he isn't in a truly pitiful offense.
LeGarrette Blount enjoyed a career year in 2016, setting new career-highs in rushing attempts (299), rushing yards (1,161), and rushing touchdowns (18 -- a league-high as well). Blount is now 30, but has less wear on his tires than most backs his age. While he did lose playing time down the stretch to Dion Lewis and James White (because he has skillets for hands), Blount remains a force at and around the goal line; 14 of his 18 touchdowns came from inside the 5-yard line off of 29 attempts. Blount's best fantasy fit is still in New England, where he's found the most success during his career. Landing elsewhere -- on a less potent offense -- would diminish his value immensely. Blount thrives on a team like the Patriots with oodles of scoring opportunities.
I've been wrestling with where to slot Adrian Peterson after Minnesota declined to pick up his 2017 option, making him a free agent when the league year begins on March 9. On the one hand, Peterson is a generational talent who just two years ago led the league in rushing attempts (327), rushing yards (1,485) and rushing touchdowns (11). On the other, he'll be a 32-year-old back with nearly 2,500 career carries coming off his second major knee surgery in the last five years. If Peterson lands in the right offense, he'll likely be a high-end RB2. However, this will be a situation worth digging into more, as the history of fantasy success among aging running backs is not tilting in Peterson's favor, thought most of those backs weren't physical freaks like Peterson.
I might flip on how I have Peterson and Jamaal Charles ranked as soon as I hit publish, but for now this is where I have them. Charles won't turn 31 until the end of December, but was essentially unable to play in 2016 because he never fully recovered from ACL surgery in 2015. He tried his best to return to action, but eventually landed on IR and required another surgery to clean up his meniscus. There's injury risk with Charles, but the dual-threat reward could be massive and he wants to go to a contender, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. That would hopefully land him with a potent offense, maximizing his fantasy upside.
The Packers rarely sign veterans in free agency, so it was noteworthy last offseason when general manager Ted Thompson inked the much-maligned Jared Cook to a one-year "prove it" deal. Even though Cook missed six games with a bad ankle sprain, I think it's safe to say he proved his worth in the Packers offense:
Now, this isn't to suggest Cook made Aaron Rodgers or anything crazy like that. Rather, it speaks to the effectiveness of a seam-stretching tight end in Mike McCarthy's offense. Let's not forget this offense was at its most lethal in the past when Jermichael Finley was still in the green and gold. After the run Rodgers and Cook put together in the postseason (32 targets, 18 catches, 229 yards, two touchdowns in three games), Cook will be a sleeper at the tight end position if he stays with the team. If he moves to another offense, the Jared Cook dream fades away, possibly forever.
Tight end was such a disaster last year that Martellus Bennett finished as the TE7 despite posting fewer than five fantasy points in nine of 16 games. Still, Bennett proved he has some juice left in the tank and can be a difference-maker at the position. A new home might be more attractive for Bennett in a fantasy sense, but if the Patriots keep the Black Unicorn around as Rob Gronkowski insurance there's still reason for optimism. Gronk and Bennett played seven games together in 2016 and posted very similar stat lines:
Gronk: 30 targets, 22 receptions, 484 yards, three touchdowns
Bennett: 31 targets, 24 receptions, 288 yards, three touchdowns
It's been a wild ride through the first four years of Eddie Lacy's pro career. The 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year followed up that campaign with 1,566 total yards and 13 total touchdowns, before injuries and weight issues derailed his next two seasons. Lacy's 2015 was a quiet disaster, but he showed signs of life in 2016 (despite continued weight battles), taking 14.08 percent of his carries for 10-plus yards, and 5.63 percent for 20-plus while averaging 5.1 yards per carry (the highest total of his career). Granted, that was on just 71 carries and he failed to score a touchdown in five games before landing on injured reserve. When healthy and in-shape, an argument can be made for Lacy to be among the 10 or 12 best backs in the league. But we haven't seen that Lacy in nearly three years now. It's possible he returns to the Packers on a team-friendly deal, but his fitness will be more important to his fantasy outlook than whatever team he lands on.
11. Kenny Britt, WR, Los Angeles Rams: Britt notched his first career 1,000-yard season in 2016 while catching passes from Jared Goff, yet it seems the team might let Britt walk in free agency. Britt's size, age (turns 29 in September), and raw talent could make him a prime target for a wide receiver-needy team, and keep in him fantasy sleeper discussions.
12. Pierre Garcon, WR, Washington Redskins: While touchdowns were hard to come by for Garcon in 2016, he quietly was a PPR-stud with four-plus catches in every game save two. In the three years since his breakout 2013 campaign (113-1,346-5) Garcon averaged 73 catches, 857 yards, and four touchdowns, or roughly 110 standard fantasy points. As long as he doesn't travel to a team suffering from poor quarterback play, Garcon should slot in as a WR3-4 again in 2017, with WR2 upside in PPR.
13. Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers: Those who scoff at Kap's ranking on this list weren't paying attention last year. Kaepernick played some good football at times, but most importantly he racked up fantasy points at a surprising clip. From Week 6 to Week 16, he was the 10th highest scoring signal-caller in all of fantasy football, with six top-10 performances and only one outside the top 20 (that snow-covered disaster in Chicago). Kaepernick's legs give him an advantage in fantasy, and he made a handful of impressive throws last year, too. Whether he stays in San Francisco on a new deal or gets a fresh start elsewhere, he'll have late-round appeal for those waiting on a quarterback.
14. Rex Burkhead, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: It might surprise some to see Burkhead so high on this list, but the 26-year-old career backup shined when given the chance to play late in 2016. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry versus just 3.7 for Bernard and 3.8 for Hill, while also catching 85 percent of his targets (17 of 20) for 145 yards. Young, versatile, and relatively fresh, Burkhead could become a dynamic part of a committee backfield and fantasy relevant on the right team. Hopefully NFL general managers were paying as much attention to his 26.4 fantasy point outing in Week 17 as DFS players were.
15. Danny Woodhead, RB, San Diego Chargers: Woodhead is a tough puzzle to solve in free agency. On the one hand, he finished as the RB11 in standard scoring in 2015 -- his last full season. On the other, he's a 32-year-old undersized running back who has suffered two season-ending injuries in his last three seasons (fractured ankle - 2014, torn ACL - 2016). Woodhead will likely land with a team as a complementary committee back, with low-end standard fantasy value and flex/RB2 appeal in PPR.
16. Kenny Stills, WR, Miami Dolphins: Adam Gase talked up Stills all offseason and then delivered on his praise in-season, as Stills enjoyed a career year in Miami. He hauled in 42 receptions for 726 yards and nine touchdowns (career-high), while moving all over the field and being deployed as more than just a deep threat (though he was still good there). Stills might price himself out of Miami (especially since he'll turn 25 in April), which isn't necessarily a bad thing fantasy-wise. He found a lot of success with Gase and the Dolphins, but the team is deep at wide receiver with Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Leonte Carroo all in tow. A repeat performance could be an uphill battle in 2017 if he stays in South Florida.
17. Torrey Smith, WR, San Francisco 49ers: I could probably have Torrey Smith even higher, given that he's just 28, coming out of a dreadful situation, and received glowing reviews from top wide receiver evaluator Matt Harmon last year. However, Smith hasn't crossed even 800 receiving yards since 2013, and isn't a true No. 1 wide receiver. He could make a big fantasy impact in the right situation, but I'm going to let his free agency period play out before getting too excited.
18. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Much was made of the backfield tandem of Doug Martin and Charles Sims this past offseason, but Jacquizz Rodgers ended up being the best of the bunch. He led the team in rushing yards and yards per carry, but wore down quickly after the team forced 82 touches on his 5-foot-7, 190-pound frame in a three-game span. Rodgers could be a nice role player in the right offense, or see an expanded workload in Tampa Bay if he re-signs and the team parts ways with Martin this offseason, as some expect they might.
19. Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Carolina Panthers: It's not outrageous to say Ted Ginn was the best wide receiver on the Panthers last year. The team needed his speed to counter the lumbering Kelvin Benjamin (still recovering from his torn ACL) and Devin Funchess. Ginn's best fantasy value likely remains in Carolina, but he's a better best ball pick than standard-league option regardless of where he lands.
20. Christine Michael, RB, Green Bay Packers:Christine Michael was cut by the Seahawks in November (and later signed with the Packers), but in his first seven games he averaged 11.7 fantasy points per game, with four double-digit outings and two with 20-plus points. Still fresh with minimal career carries, Michael could be intriguing in a good offense (like Green Bay, for instance) that could put his shot-out-of-a-cannon running style to use.
21. Rashad Jennings, RB, New York Giants:Rashad Jennings might find free agency tough as a soon-to-be 32-year-old running back who has never had a 1,000-yard season. His 3.86 yards per carry average since 2014 is also the lowest in the NFL in that span (min. 500 carries). He'll have low-end committee value at best.
22. Robert Woods, WR, Buffalo Bills: Woods played well at points throughout the 2017 season, but injuries everywhere in Buffalo kept him from gaining too much momentum. A change of scenery could offer Woods a fresh start and some more fantasy value.
23. Kamar Aiken, WR, Baltimore Ravens: The Fantasy Stronghold LOVED Aiken heading into last year, but Steve Smith's speedy recovery kept Aiken on the sidelines more than we expected. He proved in 2015 he can succeed in fantasy with volume. Given Smith's retirement, the Ravens might be wise to keep Aiken around.
24. Brandon LaFell, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: LaFell finished as the WR33 in standard scoring, but nearly 50 percent of his production came in the six games without A.J. Green. He'll be a fringe WR3-4 at best, regardless of where he signs next year.
25. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings finally started using Patterson more as a wideout in 2017, but on a limited basis because of ever-present route-running deficiencies. It'd be great to see CPat get the Tyreek Hill treatment as a runner/receiver somewhere, but whether any team is willing to give him that chance remains to be seen.
26. Marquess Wilson, WR, Chicago Bears: Wilson started the season on the IR boomerang with a broken foot, and only played in three games before he re-broke the same foot and landed on IR again. If the Bears lose Jeffery in free agency, they can probably re-sign Wilson on the cheap, giving him some fantasy value.
27. Matt Asiata, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Asiata isn't going to dominate any highlight tapes, but he's a goal-line back with soft hands. Injuries will likely put him into focus in 2017, regardless of what team he's on.
28. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Williams has been the NFL's best backup running back for a few years now. It'd be great to see him stay in Pittsburgh just in case Le'Veon Bell gets hurt again, but his age and usage might finally be catching up to him.
29. Brian Quick, WR, Los Angeles Rams: Quick was an ascending player before a shoulder injury threatened his career. Perhaps he can complete a late-career renaissance with a new team.
30. Darren McFadden, RB, Dallas Cowboys McFadden makes sense as a low-priced backup for Ezekiel Elliott. He'll be fantasy handcuff material wherever he lands.
Other names to keep an eye on
» Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals
» Anquan Boldin, WR, Detroit Lions
» Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys
» Michael Floyd, WR, New England Patriots
» Russell Shepard, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
» Cecil Shorts, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
» Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans
» Mike Glennon, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
» Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, New York Jets
» Brian Hoyer, QB, Chicago Bears
» Matt Barkley, QB, Chicago Bears
» Ryan Griffin, TE, Houston Texans
» James Starks, RB, free agent
» Tim Hightower, RB, New Orleans Saints
» Denard Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
» Victor Cruz, WR, free agent
» Andre Holmes, WR, Oakland Raiders
» Brice Butler, WR, Dallas Cowboys
» Andre Holmes, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Players tagged, signed or extended (original analysis included):
Le'Veon Bell leading this list is kind of a formality, as the Steelers have already announced they'll be using the franchise tag on their star running back. Of course, as we saw last year in the strange Josh Norman saga, that doesn't always mean it's a done deal. Still, all signs point to Bell once again being a Steeler in 2017 and commanding a top-three fantasy draft pick (assuming there are no setbacks from his potential groin surgery) .
Since becoming the unquestioned starter under center in Washington, Kirk Cousins has led the team to a 17-14-1 record (sixth-most #QBwinz since 2015), while racking up personal (and fantasy) stats. In the past two years Cousins has scored the sixth-most fantasy points while accumulating the fourth-most passing yards (9,083), third-highest completion percentage (68.32), and 12th-most touchdown passes (54). The top brass in Washington fully expect Cousins to be back in 2017, but there are rumors the 49ers and newly-minted head coach Kyle Shanahan could make a run at Mr. "You Like That" as well. Cousins is a name to watch in free agency as he's proven to be a strong fantasy player in his own right who can also lift up others around him in the passing game. Ideally he'd stay in Washington with an established offense that has playmakers in place, but Shanahan has worked wonders before so it's not like landing in the Bay Area would be a fantasy death sentence for Cousins.
UPDATE: Marshall signs with the Giants. Read our full analysis HERE. -- 14. Brandon Marshall, WR, New York Jets: In the midst of a rebuild, the Jets cut No. 1 wide receiver Brandon Marshall in a salaray cap-saving move. However, the move also comes on the heels of a season where Marshall battled injuries and ineffective quarterback play en route to a disappointing 788-yard, two-touchdown season. So far, the 32-year-old Marshall has been linked to the Patriots, Giants and Ravens. Fantasy-wise, the Ravens would be a great fit as they're in need of a chain-moving possession receiver after losing Steve Smith Sr. to retirement. There would be concerns with Marshall in 2017 on a middling offense, but if paired with a quarterback of Joe Flacco's caliber, he could become a bargain. He's only two years removed from a 1,500-yard, 14-touchdown season with the Jets.
UPDATE: Colts re-sign Doyle -- 18. Jack Doyle, TE, Indianapolis Colts: This was going to be Dwayne Allen's year to break out in fantasy with Coby Fleener gone. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for that meddling Jack Doyle. Kidding aside, Doyle emerged out of relative obscurity to fill in as one of Andrew Luck's most reliable pass-catchers while everyone else intermittently battled some sort of injury. Doyle turns 27 in May and could be in line for a nice new contract. At 6-foot-5, he proved fully capable of using his size to his advantage as a blocker and pass-catcher. If he stays in Indy, he'll be a low-end or steaming tight end option. But if he lands a more prominent role elsewhere, he could be among the position's top sleeper candidates.