While some NFL players are still changing teams, most of the free agency madness has subsided. While things certainly will continue to change after the draft, for the most part, the fantasy value of players is clear. For some, a change in scenery is a fantasy value upgrade. For others, their value decreases. It should be pointed out that a fantasy value decrease does not necessarily mean a real-life value decrease. However, here we look at five players whose fantasy value should increase in 2018.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings
After some debate on where he’d land, Cousins signed a three-year, fully guaranteed contract for $84 million to join the Minnesota Vikings. He enters into an offensive system with solid pass catchers already established in Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph. The Vikings will have a run game with Dalvin Cook as well, and the team, from an NFL perspective, will be a solid contender for the playoffs and a potential Super Bowl run. From a fantasy perspective, typically teams that do well in the real game have players that do well in the fantasy game. Cousins, coming off three seasons with at least 4,000 passing yards and 25 touchdowns, should excel and should be drafted as a QB1.
Jerick McKinnon, RB, San Francisco 49ers
In his four years in the NFL, McKinnon (above, right) has not exceeded 570 rushing yards or three rushing touchdowns. He hasn’t hit 1,000 total yards in a season. However, the 49ers have signed him for four years, and seem to want him to be their every-down back. In Minnesota, McKinnon was never given the opportunity to be an every-down back. He was a backup for Adrian Peterson and Dalvin Cook. But McKinnon has said his chances well, particularly in 2016 following an injury to Peterson. Even with more opportunities, McKinnon wasn’t able to distance himself from Matt Asiata, which was one of the reasons why the Vikings signed Latavius Murray in free agency and then drafted Cook in the second round last year. Perhaps the 49ers see something in him. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has worked magic with running backs before, especially those that can catch passes. The move is an upgrade, but McKinnon remains a low RB2 for now.
Michael Crabtree, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Desperately needing a wide receiver, the Ravens added Crabtree to the roster. The other wide receivers on the team include John Brown (another free-agent pickup formerly with Arizona) and oft-injured Breshad Perriman. Joe Flacco has not been throwing the ball downfield as much and has seen his production decline in the process. In 2016, he completed 436 passes for 4,317 yards. Last year, those numbers dropped to 352 and 3,141. However, he also hasn’t had great receiving options. Stepping out of Amari Cooper’s shadow, Crabtree will be the No. 1 receiver in Baltimore. This doesn’t grant him WR1 status, but it should produce better numbers than last year. He’s a low WR2 with upside.
Allen Hurns, WR, Dallas Cowboys
While the Cowboys’ offense will literally run through Ezekiel Elliot, Hurns should be in line for plenty of work. Dez Bryant’s release leaves Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and an aging Jason Witten as Hurns’ primary competition for targets. Hurns had a breakout season in Jacksonville in 2015, with 1,031 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. While he can play in the slot, he also can play outside. Last season, he missed six games with a high ankle sprain, but if he can stay healthy, he has the opportunity to be a high WR2 as Dak Prescott’s new favorite target.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Green Bay Packers
The knock against Graham is that he’s 31 years old. He did suffer the torn patellar tendon in 2015, but did not miss any games in ’16 or last year. However, as remarkable as his recovery was from that injury, he still didn’t look like the player he was before it. Perhaps that was a function of playing for the Seahawks, rather than the Saints. Seattle is more of a run-first team. Green Bay is more like the Saints, in that the Packers lean to the pass. Working with Aaron Rodgers is an upgrade, although Green Bay historically has not utilized the tight end position as well as other teams. On the other hand, the Packers haven’t had a tight end like Graham before. He’s a TE1 based on potential.