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2020 Rookie Opportunity Series – Post Free Agency

Opportunity is key to a player’s success in the NFL. Now that free agency has mostly concluded, @FF_MarvinE re-evaluates the opportunity landscape for incoming rookies.

Recipe for Rookie Success

What factors drive a successful rookie season? A rookie’s success in the NFL and for fantasy football is heavily reliant on three things: talent, draft equity or team investment, and having the opportunity to succeed. In short, the recipe for fantasy success is:

Talent + Draft Capital + Opportunity = Fantasy Production

In my previous article, we identified some of the ideal landing spots that might provide a rookie with immediate fantasy success. However, as with everything in the NFL, the landscape can change very quickly. Now that free agency is officially underway, and several players have already committed to their former or new teams, the number of rookie opportunities has changed. Let’s revisit each position’s initial list of ideal landing spots and free agents, and then review how NFL free agency has either positively or negatively affected the total number of rookie opportunities.

Running Back Opportunities

draftwire.usatoday.com

Criteria for an ideal Running Back landing spot:

  • Team does not have a lead Running Back
  • Team’s Running Backs are not high draft capital investments
  • Team’s lead Running Back is a Free Agent
  • Team’s lead Running Back is a trade target or cut candidate

Below is a quick overview of teams previously on my list, but have since been removed:

  • Atlanta Falcons: Devonta Freeman was released, but was immediately replaced by Todd Gurley, who signed a one year deal with the Falcons
  • Arizona Cardinals: Johnson was traded to Houston, and Kenyan Drake re-signed with Arizona
  • Houston Texans: David Johnson was traded to Houston and is, for now, the lead RB
  • Los Angeles Chargers: Austin Ekeler re-signs with the Chargers on a 4 year deal
  • Tennessee Titans: Derrick Henry was franchise tagged by the Titans

After removing the teams above, and adding new teams with immediate RB1 opportunity, here is an updated list:

  1. San Francisco 49ers: Currently still a Running Back By Committee with no clear lead RB. If they use one of their two 1st round picks on an RB, I believe that he will lead this group
  2. Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs are rumored to want an upgrade at RB; they did not sign or trade for any players at the position
  3. Miami Dolphins: Despite the Jordan Howard signing, his contract suggests he is not the long-term option. They could still use a lead RB.
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: With no free agent moves to date, they still need a lead RB
  5. Washington Redskins: They signed Peyton Barber. However, he is not the future at that position. They could still use a healthy difference-maker at RB
  6. New York Jets: Le’Veon Bell was rumored to be a potential trade candidate
  7. Los Angeles Rams: Todd Gurley was released. Darrell Henderson (2019 3rd round pick) is the obvious candidate to lead this RB group, though there are some concerns. Even with Gurley and Brown struggling in 2019, he was unable to crack the rotation permanently. If they draft a 2nd or 3rd round RB, with how talented this class is, I believe he leads this backfield.

Now, let’s review the free agents that are no longer available:

  • Melvin Gordon: signed a 2 year deal with the Denver Broncos*
  • Derrick Henry: franchise tagged by the Tennessee Titans
  • Kenyan Drake: signed a 1 year tender with the Arizona Cardinals
  • Austin Ekeler: signed a 4 year deal with the Los Angeles Chargers
  • David Johnson: traded to the Houston Texans

*One positive aspect coming out of the Melvin Gordon signing is that the Broncos were not initially on my list as an ideal rooking landing spot due to their already crowded RB room. This does not bode well for Phillip Lindsay or Royce Freeman, but it does add a rookie opportunity since I assumed Melvin Gordon would sign with one of the teams above.

After removing the players above, here is an updated list of available impact free agents or trade targets:

  1. Le’Veon Bell (Trade Target)
  2. Devonta Freeman (Free Agent)

7 Opportunities – 2 Available Veteran RBs = 
5 Rookie RB1 Opportunities

Wide Receiver Opportunities

pff.com/news

Criteria for an ideal WR1 landing spot:

  • Team does not have a lead Wide Receiver
  • Team has a clear path to targets

Criteria for an ideal WR2 landing spot:

  • Team already has a lead Wide Receiver
  • Team can sustain a WR2 based on QB situation and type of offense
  • Team averaged at least 225+ receiving yards per game in 2019

Below is a quick overview of teams previously on my WR1 opportunity list, but have since been removed:

  • Buffalo Bills: The Bills acquired Stefon Diggs via trade
  • Dallas Cowboys: Amari Cooper was re-signed to a 5 year deal

After removing the teams above, and adding new teams with WR1 opportunity, here is an updated list:

  1. New York Giants: No free agent moves to date; there is still room for a lead WR
  2. New York Jets: They signed Breshad Perriman, who does not profile as a lead WR
  3. Las Vegas Raiders: Tyrell Williams is not a lead WR; neither is newly signed WR Nelson Agholor.
  4. Philadelphia Eagles: Alshon Jeffery is not the WR1 he once was and has struggled with injuries
  5. Washington Redskins: Per reports, Washington tried to sign Amari Cooper. The team believes they could use a lead WR. Could they turn to the draft for an upgrade?
  6. Houston Texans*: The Texans traded away DeAndre Hopkins to a team not on my initial list (Arizona Cardinals), freeing up a potential WR1 opportunity for a rookie.

Below is a quick overview of teams previously on my WR2 opportunity list, but have since been removed:

  • New Orleans Saints: They signed Emmanuel Sanders to a 2 year deal

After removing the teams above, and adding new teams with WR2 opportunity, here is an updated list:

  1. Detroit Lions: They have Golladay, but Marvin Jones has missed 10 games since 2018
  2. Green Bay Packers: Despite adding Devin Funchess, they could still use an upgrade at WR
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers*: Juju Smith-Schuster needs a consistent running mate
  4. Minnesota Vikings: Diggs was traded to the Bills. They are a slight outlier because they averaged less than 225 passing yds/game (220), but we’ve seen Minnesota sustain two top 24 WRs in the past

*The Steelers are the clear outlier to my criteria because they averaged 186 yards per game in 2019; however, Big Ben has averaged 259.4 yards per game in his career. His return will not only help Juju, but also the WR2 that emerges on that team.

Now, let’s review the free agents that are no longer available:

  • Amari Cooper: Signed a long-term deal with the Cowboys
  • Emmanuel Sanders: Signed a 2 year deal with the Saints
  • Robby Anderson: Signed a 2 year deal with the Panthers
  • Sammy Watkins: Signed a 1 year, restructured deal to remain with the Chiefs

After removing the players above, here is an updated list of available impact free agents or trade targets:

  1. Curtis Samuel (qualifies as WR2): With the Robby Anderson signing, there are rumors of Samuel being available via trade

6 WR1 Opportunities – 0 Available Veteran WR1s =
6 Rookie WR1 Opportunities

4 WR2 Opportunities – 1 Available Veteran WR2s =
3 Rookie WR2 Opportunities

Tight End Opportunities

SI.com

Caveat: This analysis is slightly different since some teams are less dependent on the Tight End position. In addition, for fantasy football, most leagues only have one Tight End slot, which makes the top 12 at the position that much more valuable. As a result, we will first attempt to identify the teams that can sustain a TE1, and then determine if any of those teams need a lead TE.

Criteria for an ideal TE landing spot:

  • In 2019, the team’s TE1 was projected to account for at least 60% of the team’s total TE targets (over a 16 game pace)
  • Team’s lead TE in 2019 was on pace to exceed 104.2 half PPR points, which is the average TE12 score since 2015

Below are the teams that can sustain a TE1:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs
  2. Baltimore Ravens
  3. San Francisco 49ers
  4. Philadelphia Eagles
  5. Atlanta Falcons
  6. New York Giants
  7. Las Vegas Raiders
  8. New Orleans Saints
  9. Los Angeles Chargers
  10. Jacksonville Jaguars
  11. Carolina Panthers
  12. Los Angeles Rams

Honorable Mention:

  1. The New England Patriots did not meet the criteria listed above after they moved away from the TE offense in 2019. This can be attributed to Gronk retiring and the lack of TE talent on the roster.

Below is a quick overview of teams previously on my TE opportunity list, but have since been removed:

  • Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons have traded for Hayden Hurst
  • Los Angeles Chargers: Hunter Henry was franchise tagged by the Chargers
  • Jacksonville Jaguars: Tyler Eifert was signed to a 2 year deal
  • Carolina Panthers*: Olsen has signed elsewhere; Ian Thomas is now the lead TE

*I am choosing to leave the Carolina Panthers off the list. Doing more research on Ian Thomas, in games where he’s played at least 60% of the offensive snaps over his 2-year career, he averaged 7.7 half PPR points per game. That would have ranked as 9th best among all TEs in 2019. In addition, I also ran a poll among the fantasy twitter community (see below). It seems 86.8% of those that voted feel confident that Ian Thomas can indeed be a lead TE even if CAR drafted a rookie.

After removing the teams above, here is an updated list of teams with TE1 opportunity:

  1. New England Patriots: If they do sign a TE free agent or rookie, they will most likely revert back to a TE heavy offense

Now, let’s review the free agents that are no longer available:

  • Eric Ebron: Signed a 2 year deal with the Steelers
  • Austin Hooper: Signed a 4 year deal with the Browns
  • Hunter Henry: Franchise tagged by the Chargers
  • Hayden Hurt: Traded to the Atlanta Falcons

There are no new impact free agents or trade targets to add to the list; therefore:

1 TE1 Opportunity – 0 Available Veteran TEs =
1 Rookie TE1 Opportunity

Quarterback Opportunities

fox8live.com

Criteria for an ideal QB landing spot:

  • Team does not have a clear QB1 option
  • Team’s current QB is a free agent or trade target
  • Team has a top tier Wide Receiver
  • Team has established second receiving option (WR2, RB or TE)

Below is a quick overview of teams previously on my QB opportunity list, but have since been removed:

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs signed Tom Brady to a 1 year deal
  • Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott was franchise tagged, and Cooper was re-signed
  • Indianapolis Colts: Philip Rivers was signed to a 1 year deal
  • Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton was released; Teddy Bridgewater was signed to a 3 year deal
  • Chicago Bears: The Bears traded for Nick Foles to challenge Trubisky for QB1 duties
  • Tennessee Titans: The Titans re-signed Tannehill, and franchise tagged Derrick Henry

After removing the teams above, here is an updated list of teams with QB opportunity:

Below are the teams with clear QB Opportunity:

  1. Los Angeles Chargers: Austin Ekeler and Hunter Henry are returning. They have Tyrod Taylor, though he may not be the long-term answer
  2. Cincinnati Bengals: With AJ Green returning, this is an ideal rookie QB landing spot

Below are the teams that are one or two draft or free agency moves away from becoming an ideal QB landing spot:

  1. New England Patriots: If they reload their offense, they could be an ideal landing spot
  2. Miami Dolphins: With plenty of draft capital, they should become an ideal landing spot
  3. Las Vegas Raiders: They still need a WR1; is Derek Carr a trade candidate?

Now, let’s review the free agents that are no longer available:

  • Dak Prescott: Franchise tagged by the Cowboys
  • Tom Brady: Signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 
  • Philip Rivers: Signed with the Indianapolis Colts
  • Ryan Tannehill: Signed with the Tennessee Titans
  • Teddy Bridgewater: Signed with the Carolina Panthers
  • Taysom Hill: Received a 1st round tender by the Saints, meaning he will likely stay

After removing the players above, here is an updated list of available free agents or trade targets:

  1. Jameis Winston (free agent)
  2. Cam Newton (free agent)
  3. Andy Dalton (trade candidate)
  4. Derek Carr (trade candidate)

5 QB Opportunities – 4 Available Veteran QBs =
1 Rookie QB Opportunity

Caveats: For the sake of this article, I will assume that both Jameis Winston and Cam Newton are still impact free agents that can take the starting job if given the opportunity. However, based on his 2019 performance, Andy Dalton is most likely no longer considered a long-term QB option for several teams. If he is traded to a new team that also drafts a rookie QB, I could see the rookie eventually taking over as the QB1, while Dalton is relegated to the bench. In addition, it is also possible he stays with the Bengals, who are likely to draft and start Joe Burrow. If we take that into account:

5 QB Opportunities – 4 Veteran QBs + 1 Non-Impact Vet =
2 Rookie QB Opportunities

Conclusion and Rookie Dynasty Draft Impact

After reviewing the first few weeks of free agency and re-evaluating potential rookie opportunities at each position, how can we translate this information to your respective rookie dynasty drafts? Let’s take a look at the expert consensus rankings (ECR) on Dynasty Nerds to determine where you need to draft in your dynasty leagues.

Running Backs

  • Net Opportunity: 5 RB1 Opportunities
  • ECR: Going into April, Dynasty Nerds has Clyde Edwards-Helaire as the RB5 at 7th overall

Dynasty Draft Impact: Based on ECR rankings, a rookie RB with immediate starter opportunity may fall all the way down to the 7th pick. However, there is never a guarantee that the teams listed above will draft one of the top RBs in this class. To acquire an RB that lands in one of the ideal spots, I would recommend securing a top 5 rookie pick (assuming Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb are drafted early) to land a potential lead RB for your dynasty team.

Wide Receiver

  • Net Opportunity: 6 WR1 and 3 WR2 Opportunities
  • ECR: Going into April, Dynasty Nerds has 9 Wide Receivers going in the top 16

Dynasty Draft Impact: In a one QB league, assuming the top 5 RBs are drafted based on ECR, a top 10 pick should land you a rookie with lead WR opportunity. If you need a potential elite difference-maker for your roster, I would secure a top 4 pick to draft either Jeudy or Lamb. If you only need a WR2 or flex receiver, a late 1st or early 2nd round pick should suffice.

Tight Ends

  • Net Opportunity: 1 TE1 Opportunity
  • ECR: Going into April, Dynasty Nerds has the first TE at 26th overall

Dynasty Draft Impact: The Tight End landscape remains very crowded, going into the NFL draft. Also, rookie TE’s are not known for contributing immediately. If you need a TE1, I would secure a mid to low 2nd round pick to draft the TE that lands in an ideal spot. However, the better solution might be packaging your 2020 2nd round pick to land a “buy low target” such as Jonnu Smith, Ian Thomas, or Dawson Knox, who could contribute to your team immediately.

Quarterbacks

  • Net Opportunity: 1~2 Quarterback Opportunities
  • ECR: Going into April, Dynasty Nerds has two QBs going in the top 18

Dynasty Draft Impact: With the Panthers committing long-term to Bridgewater, and the Bears trading for Nick Foles (not on my initial list of trade targets/free agents), the list of QB opportunities has shrunk. Depending on the QB landscape in your dynasty league, it is possible that a mid 2nd round pick will net you Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa. However, if you are struggling to fill that QB slot in your lineup, I would use an early 2nd round pick, especially if several teams are vying for a top dynasty QB. In a SuperFlex league, you will most likely need a top 2 or 3 pick to land either Burrow or Tua.

Final Thoughts

Now that the free agency madness has mostly concluded, we have a better idea of rookie opportunities going into the NFL draft. However, keep in mind that these are only projections, and the NFL can be highly unpredictable. Possibly a trade or an injury could shake up the opportunity landscape once again. And despite a team’s need for improvement at a specific position, there is never a guarantee that they will use high draft capital to address the issue.

In the end, opportunity is not the only driver for rookie success. If a player’s talent does not translate to the NFL, landing in an ideal situation will not always yield fantasy production. However, identifying rookies that have a blend of talent, draft equity, and opportunity might be the tiebreaker that helps you decide between two rookie prospects in the middle of your rookie drafts. Our next off-season milestone will be the NFL Draft, which as of today, is still scheduled for April 23-25. Stay tuned for more coverage on @DynastyNerds as we approach the NFL draft.

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