The start of the 2021 league year begins next week (March 17), and with it will no doubt come a bevy of players signings, releases, and maybe even some high-profile trades (Deshaun Watson?). But before that happens, NFL teams decided whether to retain free agents via the franchise tag or let them walk into the free-agent market.
While many of us live in the fantasy world and have high hopes for best-case scenarios that would reward us with oodles of offensive success, we have to look at things from a real-football perspective. So, now that the franchise tags have all been applied, let's take a look at the effects those decisions will have on fantasy leagues.
1. Dak Prescott: The Cowboys and Prescott have agreed on a four-year, $160 million contract, including $126 million guaranteed and a no-trade clause. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Cowboys still tagged Prescott as a "procedural matter," but regardless he'll remain in Dallas. Barring any setbacks in his return from a gruesome leg injury, Prescott should be considered a potential top-five fantasy quarterback in 2021.
Update: Prescott re-signed with the Cowboys
2. Aaron Jones: Jones has finished as a top-five fantasy running back in each of the last two seasons, and he’ll be just 26 when next season starts. The Packers didn't tag him, but instead signed him to a four-year, $48 million deal. The move keeps him among the top-15 fantasy backs in 2021, but it hurts the ceiling of A.J. Dillon. Jamaal Williams, a free agent, is unlikely to be back in Green Bay.
Update: Jones re-signed with the Packers
3. Allen Robinson: Robinson has been a top-10 fantasy wideout in each of the last two seasons, which is quite an accomplishment considering the Bears' quarterbacks. With little depth at the position, Chicago made the smart move and placed the franchise tag on its stud receiver. Now the question is, who'll be his quarterback next season?
Update: Robinson tagged by Bears
4. Chris Godwin: Godwin’s best fantasy landing spot would not have been Tampa Bay, as the team has a lot of mouths to feed on the offensive side of the football. However, the Buccaneers would have been unwise to let go of a young wide receiver who averaged seven targets a game in Tom Brady’s first season with the team. He’ll remain a No. 2 fantasy wideout, but Godwin’s ceiling will have a statistical cap next season.
Update: Godwin tagged by Buccaneers
5. Kenny Golladay: Injuries caused Golladay’s value to slide last season, but he should be 100% and ready to roll for the 2021 campaign. Surprisingly, the Lions decided not to tag him despite the fact that Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola are also free agents. Now slated to hit the open market, Golladay will have no shortage of suitors as a young, talented No. 1 wideout. This move could also signal that the Lions will target a wide receiver with the seventh overall pick in the NFL draft. Maybe Jaylen Waddle?
Prediction: Golladay signs with the Dolphins, Eagles, Jaguars, Jets or Patriots
6. Will Fuller: Fuller was on pace to produce a monster 2020 campaign before the NFL suspended him for a violation of the league’s PED rules. In his 11 games, Fuller ranked seventh among wide receivers in fantasy points per game (17.2 PPG) and was on pace to produce nearly 1,300 yards. The Texans decided not to tag Fuller, but the Houston Chronicle reports the team would like to re-sign him. Whether or not that happens with the whole Deshaun Watson situation remains to be seen, however.
Prediction: Fuller re-signs with the Texans or signs with the Jets, Packers or Raiders
7. JuJu Smith-Schuster: Smith-Schuster finished 16th in fantasy points at wideout this past season, and his 19.6% target share ranked second on the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger's restructured contract opened up $15 million in cap space, but the team still has Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, and decided to let JuJu walk. The young wideout will no doubt garner a lot of interest on the 2021 free-agent market.
Prediction: Smith-Schuster signs with the Chargers, Jets, Patriots or Raiders
8. Chris Carson: Carson missed four games this past season, but he still finished as the RB19 while averaging nearly 16 fantasy points per game. The Seahawks want to have a great focus on the rushing attack next season, but the rushing attack won’t include Carson as the team didn't tag him. He’ll be 26 when next season starts, and Carson should have no shortage of suitors. I’d expect him to remain a No. 2 fantasy runner.
Prediction: Carson signs with the Bills, Dolphins, Falcons or Jets
9. James Conner: Conner is coming off a forgettable 2020 season, as he ranked a mere 27th in fantasy points among running backs while missing three games due to injuries. A fresh start could be a good thing for Conner, and the Steelers have both Benny Snell Jr. and Anthony McFarland waiting in the wings. The Pittsburgh product will be just 26 when next season begins, and a change of scenery would be beneficial.
Prediction: Conner signs with the Bills, Dolphins, Jets or Seahawks
10. Kenyan Drake: Drake finished 16th in fantasy points among runners last season, mostly on the strength of a strong second half. His versatile skill set makes him a good fit for what the Cardinals do on the offensive side, and he’s better off as the lead option in a committee situation than taking on a true featured role. Coach Kliff Kingsbury has talked up Chase Edmonds, but I’m not sure he’ll be a top NFL running back.
Prediction: Drake re-signs with the Cardinals or signs with the Falcons or Jaguars
11. Jameis Winston: Winston was all but invisible in the stat sheets last season with a mere one pass while playing behind Drew Brees and Taysom Hill. There have been many rumors about the Saints wanting to keep him and put him atop the depth chart, ahead of Hill. In fact, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport said Winston would be "in the driver's seat." If he remains with the Saints, he'll be an interesting late-round selection.
Prediction: Winston re-signs with the Saints
12. Curtis Samuel: Samuel had a slow start to last season, averaging 4.6 targets and 8.7 fantasy points over the first six weeks. Over his final 10 games, however, Samuel averaged 7.4 targets and 16.9 points. That was good enough for him to rank 12th in that time. The Panthers still have D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, so I think Samuel walks.
Prediction: Samuel signs with Washington or Jets
13. Hunter Henry: Henry finished last season ranked 12th in fantasy points among tight ends (10.6 points per game). He also ranked sixth in targets per game (6.6) among tight ends. The Chargers decided not to tag him, though, so Henry will be the top free-agent player at his position this offseason. Regardless of where he lands, Henry is almost guaranteed to remain a starting tight end in most fantasy leagues.
Prediction: Henry signs with the Colts, Jaguars or Patriots
14. Antonio Brown: Brown didn't put up elite fantasy totals as he did for most of his NFL career in Pittsburgh, but he did score 13-plus points in five of his last six games, including the playoffs. He stayed out of trouble during his time with the Bucs, and I’m not sure he’d want to play anywhere but Tampa Bay and with his pal Tom Brady.
Prediction: Brown re-signs with the Buccaneers
15. Marvin Jones Jr.: Jones had an under-the-radar solid season for fantasy managers in 2020, finishing 18th in points among wideouts. Of course, a big part of that success came in the absence of an injured Kenny Golladay. Jones is as good as gone with the Lions adding veteran Tyrell Williams, so he’ll be in a different uniform next season.
Prediction: Jones signs with the Dolphins, Washington or Packers
16. Corey Davis: Davis is coming off his best statistical season, posting personal bests in yards, touchdowns and fantasy points. Still, Titans general manager Jon Robison has indicated Davis is no lock to return to the team. He’d have more fantasy value if viewed as a potential No. 1 wideout somewhere else, and Davis wasn't franchise tagged.
Prediction: Davis signs with Washington, the Packers, Patriots, or Ravens
17. Leonard Fournette: Fournette finished an uninspiring 35th in fantasy points among running backs during the regular season, but he was an absolute postseason baller as “Playoff Lenny” was born. Bucs coach Bruce Arians said the team almost cut him last December, however, so he might not be back for a back-to-back attempt in 2021.
Prediction: Fournette re-signs with the Buccaneers or signs with the Bills or Dolphins
18. T.Y. Hilton: Hilton ranked an unimpressive 42nd in fantasy points among wideouts in 2020, but he ranked ninth during a torrid, late-season stretch starting in Week 13. He's lost a step at the age of 31, but Hilton still has enough juice to make an impact as a No. 2 wideout in any offense. At this point, he's no lock to remain with the Colts.
Prediction: Hilton re-signs with the Colts or signs with the Jaguars, Packers, or Patriots
19. Jonnu Smith: Smith found the end zone eight times last season, but he failed to rank in the top 15 in fantasy points among tight ends. That should change in 2021, as his move to New England is a good one from a fantasy perspective. The Patriots lack for playmaking pass catchers, so Smith will no doubt emerge into a popular option for Cam Newton. An athletic, talented player who ranked in the top five in red-zone targets last season, Smith is now in the conversation as a No. 1 fantasy tight end.
Update: Smith signed with the Patriots
20. Cam Newton: Newton finished last season with a mere eight touchdown passes, but he didn’t have a lot of help in the passing game in New England. His rushing totals kept him fantasy relevant, but the former superstar is certainly on the downside of his career in terms of statistical success. He’ll be a bridge quarterback for the Patriots at best in 2021, and his draft stock will be limited to that of a late-round selection.
Update: Newton re-signed with the Patriots
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for all of the latest breaking fantasy football news and the best analysis in the business!