There’s a flurry of moves in free agency and the trade market every NFL offseason, but this year felt more active and significant than most. How often do two quarterbacks who threw for at least 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns the previous season change teams? How about the three big-name receivers—all of whom will be 25 years old this season—one with a 14-touchdown season to his name, and another who has had three straight years with at least 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns? And how frequently does one of the era’s best tight ends team up with one of the greatest quarterbacks while both are still near the height of their abilities? Here’s how these moves are expected to impact the 2018 fantasy football landscape.
Alex Smith, QB, Redskins
After leading the Chiefs to two straight AFC West titles and three consecutive playoff seasons as the pillar of the best offense in the Andy Reid era, Smith was shipped to the Redskins during Super Bowl week. Smith won’t be surrounded by the same level of talent as he was in Kansas City, but Smith and Washington head coach Jay Gruden seem to be an ideal fit for one another. Having Derrius Guice and Chris Thompson in the Redskins’ backfield should free up Smith, helping Gruden use the QB’s mobility to the team’s advantage. If Smith’s going to be a consistent fantasy starter, though, he’ll need Jordan Reed to stay healthy, or at least one of Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson or Paul Richardson to jump a level. Smith looks more like a QB2 than a QB1 this season.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Vikings
Despite throwing for 13,176 yards—averaging 7.8 yards per attempt—and 81 touchdowns in three years as the starter in Washington, Cousins never seemed to have the organization’s full support. The quarterback emerged as the big prize of free agency, signing with the Vikings almost immediately when free agency opened. Cousins is one of five quarterbacks to throw for at least 4,000 yards in all of the last three seasons, and the only one to finish as a top-five fantasy scorer the last two years. This season, he joins a Minnesota team with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, arguably the best receiver tandem in the league, and a strong rushing attack led by Dalvin Cook, who’s returning from an ACL tear. A third straight top-five season is in play.
Allen Robinson, WR, Bears
Robinson gives QB Mitchell Trubisky something he lacked in his rookie season with Chicago: a go-to receiver. Robinson, however, is still working his way back from a season-ending ACL tear suffered in the Jaguars’ 2017 season-opening game. He hasn’t played particularly well since 2015, when he caught 80 passes for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. He can be that brand of receiver for the Bears and have legitimate WR1 upside if his knee proves healthy. If his recovery drags, however, he could be one of the most overpriced players on draft day.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Rams
Cooks, who is playing for his third team in three years after the Patriots traded him to the Rams for first- and sixth-round draft picks, is staring down a wide range of outcomes in Los Angeles. He’s the most talented receiver on the team, and it’s exciting to consider what a play-designer like Sean McVay could draw up for a player with Cooks’s skill set. At the same time, the Rams were wildly successful with a balanced approach among Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Sammy Watkins last year, and it was actually Watkins, the X receiver, who got the least opportunity. On top of that, Todd Gurley is a high-volume back who dominates the team’s offense in the red zone. Cooks is going to have some monster games in this offense, but Los Angeles’s wealth of options could make him less consistent from week to week than he has been in the past.
Jarvis Landry, WR, Browns
Landry said goodbye this offseason to the only NFL home he has known, signing with Cleveland after four years in Miami. No matter his team context or quarterback, he’s always going to be a polarizing fantasy player. Landry is a catch machine, hauling in 400 passes during his time with the Dolphins, including a career-high 112 last year. At the same time, he doesn’t make big plays down the field, which hurts his touchdowns and limits his fantasy upside. No matter if Tyrod Taylor or Baker Mayfield starts more games for the Browns this season, Landry is a strong bet to lead the team in targets. But he needs red-zone targets to find the end zone, and with Josh Gordon, David Njoku and the three-headed backfield in Cleveland, he may not get very many. He has WR1 potential in full PPR leagues, but fantasy owners in all formats shouldn’t count on him as anything more than a mid-level WR2.
Michael Crabtree, WR, Ravens
Crabtree made boring value an art form during his three years in Oakland, hitting the 85-catch mark twice, topping 1,000 yards once and scoring 25 touchdowns as a Raider. The only players with more receiving touchdowns in that time were Antonio Brown, Doug Baldwin, DeAndre Hopkins and Odell Beckham Jr. And yet, no one ever seemed excited to take him in fantasy drafts. Now that he’s teamed up with Joe Flacco in Baltimore, 120-plus targets and a role as the go-to pass-catcher in the red zone feels like his floor. Crabtree may be boring in fantasy terms, but he already looks like a great bargain this season.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Chiefs
Watkins is on his third team in five NFL seasons—something that seemed unthinkable back when the Bills picked him No. 4 overall in the 2014 draft. He has as realistic chance to break out as he has ever had, though, joining what could be an explosive offense in Kansas City. Watkins, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt comprise one of the best groups of skill-position talent in the league. It’s all up to Patrick Mahomes to justify the belief the Chiefs’ braintrust has in him. Andy Reid will likely use Watkins in a more versatile way than Sean McVay and the Rams did last year, deploying him all over the field to create as many mismatches as possible. There is reason to be concerned about Kelce stealing red-zone looks and Hill siphoning off deep balls, two areas where Watkins can excel, but the good about his team context significantly outweighs the bad. Given the discount based largely on last year’s performance, Watkins stands as a great mid-round target this season.
Jerick McKinnon, RB, 49ers
McKinnon spent years as a catch-first, change-of-pace back in Minnesota, and he’ll get his first shot at something resembling a starter’s workload this season after signing with the 49ers. McKinnon is a great fit for Kyle Shanahan’s style of offense—just compare highlights of the 2016 Falcons and McKinnon’s career reel. There is legitimate question, though, as to whether he can handle starter’s touches for a full season. His career high in touches is 202, set in 2016, and he has averaged just 3.59 yards per carry the last two seasons. McKinnin could bring a significant reward here, but his late-second-round ADP ignores the obvious risk.
C.J. Anderson, RB, Panthers
In less-than-ideal conditions in Denver last year, Anderson ran for 1,007 yards on 245 carries, caught 28 passes for 224 yards and scored four touchdowns. He won’t get nearly the share of the backfield work this year with Christian McCaffrey a key presence on Carolina’s offense, but there’s a clear path to 200 touches and goal-line work for the new Panther. That formula would almost certainly add up to another useful fantasy season, especially with Cam Newton occupying as much attention as he does on the ground, opening holes for his backs. Anderson is one of the most intriguing mid-round players on the board this season.
Dion Lewis, RB, Titans
Lewis was a legitimate league-winner last year, totaling 781 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns in the season’s final eight weeks. Signing with the Titans in the offseason throws his role into some debate. Derrick Henry is expected to have more touches this season than he did in his first two years, but the Tennessee wouldn’t have made the investment in Lewis if the team only wanted him to play a limited slate. Lewis is the team’s best pass-catching back, but can he match the 180 carries he got with the Patriots last year? It’s hard to have much confidence in that, which could significantly curb his fantasy value.
Carlos Hyde, RB, Browns
For a brief time this offseason, it looked like Hyde was going to have the opportunity to star in his home state. The Cincinnati-born, OSU-bred back signed with the Browns, seemingly forming a dangerous 1-2 punch with Duke Johnson. But Cleveland shut down that idea when it drafted Nick Chubb in the second round of this year’s draft. Hyde will likely still have an important role in the offense from a real-life perspective, but it’s hard to get excited about him from a fantasy perspective. With Chubb and Johnson sharing the backfield, and Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Corey Coleman and David Njoku legitimizing the Browns passing attack, there just may not be enough touches for any Cleveland back to make a big difference in the fantasy game.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Packers
Looking for a semi-sleeper to lead the league in receiving touchdowns? How about Graham, who will instantly become a favorite of Aaron Rodgers in the red zone. Graham can’t do everything he did when he was in his prime in New Orleans, but he was a monster for Russell Wilson near the goal line last season, with seven of his touchdowns coming from inside the five-yard line. The ones that didn’t measured six, 11 and 18 yards. I’d still bet on Davante Adams getting a plurality of the red-zone looks that previously went to Jordy Nelson, but Rodgers and Graham could be a nightmare for defenses with their backs against their goal line.