NFL free agency officially starts March 14, but there will be no lack of speculation or predictions on where players will wind up between now and then. While the fantasy values of many players may change in the offseason, it’s a guessing game at this point. Some players will wind up on teams where their value will rise; while for others a change of scenery will impact their fantasy outlook in a negative way.
Typically the players whose fantasy value changes the most during the offseason, at least before the draft, are either free agents (due to the change in teams) or those returning from injury. It’s always hard to gauge how a player will perform in the season after returning from a significant injury. Sometimes these players return strong. But just as often, these players can’t seem to recover from their injuries to perform at their original level. With these factors in mind here are some names to keep an eye on as business is about to pick up in the NFL.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Free Agent
The biggest name in free agency is Cousins (above, right). There is plenty of speculation where he will end up – Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos or some other team. In each of the past three seasons, Cousins has thrown for more than 4,000 yards and at least 29 touchdowns. Cousins will be just 30 years old when Week 1 rolls around. He’s going to get paid and he’s going to help a team next season. He needs a team with solid receivers, and if he can find that (Vikings check that box; Jets do not), he will be a QB1 for fantasy purposes.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
Watson, somehow, was not the Week 1 starter for the Texans. But as soon as he took over the job, he was great for both the team and fantasy owners. Left undrafted in most re-draft leagues, Watson had the makings of being the stud that would bring fantasy owners a championship. Those plans were rudely interrupted when he tore his ACL in practice prior to Week 9. The reports are that Watson’s rehab has been going well. He also has a history with this type of injury, as he recovered quickly from a torn ACL (other knee) when he was in college. Optimistically, fantasy owners can hope to get Watson penciled in as their Week 1 QB1.
David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
In most leagues, Johnson was the first overall pick. If he wasn’t No. 1, he was in the top three. Those fantasy owners got one game from their RB1 before he got hurt. It was fantasy heartbreak, but the good news is that Johnson has been deemed healthy and will be fine for 2018. He’s 26 years old and essentially had a year of rest. Having a quarterback that will keep defenses from stacking the box against him will help, but Johnson is good enough as a pass catcher to still be a no-brainer RB1. Owners might be hesitant to draft him No. 1 overall again, but he should certainly be in the top group of running backs off the board.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Another running back with a question mark at quarterback is Cook. The rookie showed promise in the four games that he played, but it is a small sample size on the professional level. Cook tore his ACL in Week 4 and had surgery in October. The timeline does have him being ready for training camp, which will be what fantasy owners should be looking at. He’s a risky RB2 at this point, as fantasy owners don’t know how he’ll bounce back.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Free Agent
Clearly the Tennessee Titans believe in Derrick Henry, as they released Murray (right) after just two seasons with the team. He'll hit free agency as one of the top running backs on the market. Murray is 30 years old and still has the ability to be a viable running back in the league. He's not going to be an every-down back, but he certainly can work in a committee. He struggled with injury in 2017, but if he lands on a team that just needs a complement, he would be a good fit. Murray has RB3 value with potential RB2 value depending on the team.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
Searching for a long-term contract, ODB may find himself sitting out of the preseason. It’s too early to tell, but the star of the Giants may hold out in order to get paid. While he should get that contract, injuries have been an issue. In 2014, his season didn’t start in Week 1 because of injury. He played four games in 2017 before suffering a broken ankle that required surgery. He had also missed Week 1 because of an ankle injury and was dealing with finger issues as well throughout the four weeks he played. His value is still sky high, but fantasy owners need to be wary of time missed because of injury.
Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots
Fantasy owners may have forgotten about Edelman and his 98 receptions for 1,106 yards in 2016 because he didn’t play a snap this past season. He tore his ACL in the preseason and should be on track to return for 2018. While the Patriots didn’t necessarily miss him, they will definitely welcome him back with open arms. As Tom Brady gets older, he will be looking for the shorter passes to the slot, which is where Edelman excels. In PPR formats, Edelman will have WR2 value, assuming he is ready to play in Week 1.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Free Agent
In his four years in the league, Watkins has been on two different teams and hasn’t put together a WR1 season for either. Plagued by injuries, he’s only played all 16 games once (2014). In 2015, it looked like he was on a track to be an elite receiver. He posted a 1,000-yard season (his only one) and he had nine touchdowns. He nearly matched that with the Los Angeles Rams last season with eight. However, the Rams neglected to assign the franchise tag to Watkins. He will be a free agent, and it’s not any guarantee that he’ll be back with the Rams. Where he lands will determine his value, but he’ll be hard to trust as anything higher than a WR3.
Allen Robinson, WR, Free Agent
After a lost 2017 season, Robinson is a free agent. He tore his ACL in Week 1 and missed the rest of the season. He was not tagged and will see what free agency has in store for him. In 2015, Robinson was one of the NFL’s most productive receivers with 1,400 receiving yards and six touchdowns, but those numbers dipped dramatically the following year to 883 and two. Robinson hasn’t really proven himself, but he also hasn’t been on a team with a quarterback that could consistently get him the ball. His landing spot will determine if he is a WR2 or WR3 in 2018.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Free Agent
As a free agent, Graham is the best tight end on the market. He can be a touchdown machine (16 in 2013) and he is a huge red zone threat. However, the Seahawks didn’t utilize him as well as they could. But he still caught 10 TD passes in 2017. If Graham can find a team that will get the ball to him in the end zone, he will be a top-tier tight end. He’s still a TE1, but his value will be determined by the team that signs him.
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.