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The 2022 NFL season has officially begun, even though free agency has unofficially begun for several days now. This part of the year is commonly referred to as the "business season," where teams re-calculate their salary caps and re-shape their rosters in hopes of being competitive in the football season ahead. It ultimately ends in the days after the NFL Draft, which will come your way in a little more than a month.

Believe it or not, this time of year matters a lot to serious Fantasy managers. Folks who pay attention now won't have to bother asking questions later. If you know who's playing where and what the expectations are, you'll be able to begin forming thoughts on who you'll target in your Fantasy drafts, and who you'll let other people take. Thus, there is an inherent advantage in paying attention to the NFL's roster-changing.

With that in mind, let's pop some Gatorade bottles to celebrate this new year and dig into the biggest free-agency moves made so far. And perhaps no place is more appropriate to begin than in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers are replacing a former first-round quarterback with another ... and, yeah, that's probably the nicest way I could describe that change. 

Temper expectations with Diontae

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When it became known that Mitchell Trubisky would sign with the Steelers, wide receiver Diontae Johnson became a fairly polarizing player. Johnson is coming off a career year, reeling in 107 passes for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns and finishing with 16.7 PPR points per game (ninth-best among receivers), all with an old Ben Roethlisberger firing away at him.

It's reasonable to think that Trubisky is an upgrade from the 2021 version of Roethlisberger, but in several ways, his career stats aren't as good as what the 2021 league averages at quarterback were. 

  • Big Ben's 2021: 64.5% completion rate, 6.2 yards per attempt 3.6% TD rate, 1.7% INT rate, 6.70 air yards per throw, 11.5% of passes thrown deep (20-plus yards), a touchdown every 27.5 pass attempts
  • Trubisky 2017-2020: 64% completion rate, 6.7 yards per attempt, 4.1% TD rate, 2.3% INT rate, 8.14 air yards per throw, 12.2% of passes thrown deep (20-plus yards), a touchdown every 24.6 pass attempts
  • Average QB numbers 2021: 64.8% completion rate, 7.1 yards per attempt, 4.5% TD rate, 2.4% INT rate, 7.74 air yards per throw, 11.5% of passes thrown deep (20-plus yards), a touchdown every 22.3 pass attempts

There's one other huge issue: Roethlisberger earned his iconic rep in Pittsburgh and as a result, the offense has been pass-happy for years, including a 63.1% pass rate in 2021 (third-highest in football). It remains to be seen if the Steelers continue that trend with Trubisky ... or any rookie quarterback they draft. 

Johnson had the eighth-highest target share among receivers last year with 25.9%. Any target drain for Johnson or the Steelers overall will obviously impact their pass-game production. Remember, Johnson is known for lining up wide and making plays after the catch. In that way, he's sort of different than Allen Robinson, who lined up in the slot more frequently than Johnson and was saturated with targets in Chicago from Trubisky (27.5% target share from Trubisky in 2019-20). 

Johnson is a small loser of Fantasy value, but he's not toast. He simply shouldn't be counted on to match his 2021 numbers. A safer expectation is somewhere in between last year and what he did in 2020 -- an 88-923-7 stat line on 144 targets. It wouldn't be surprising if Johnson worked his way to around 1,030 yards and six scores on 90 grabs, which is on par with the numbers Brandin Cooks had in 2021. That was strong enough to finish as the 20th-ranked PPR receiver based on total points. 

Naturally, things can change for Johnson depending on how the Steelers move forward at quarterback, but for now, I'd hesitate to take him until 35th overall in PPR leagues and about 10 picks later in non-PPR. 

More Free Agency winners and losers 

LOSER: Chase Claypool

Claypool registered as a 2021 bust by virtue of his 10.6 PPR-per-game average. If he's asked to run longer routes, which he did plenty of in 2021, he'll have to deal with those longer, uglier throws from Trubisky. It feels like Claypool needs too many things to break his way in order to rebound. He's a third-year receiver I can't feel good recommending until Round 8 at the earliest.  

NEUTRAL: Pat Freiermuth

Freiermuth became a Fantasy darling because Roethlisberger kept calling his number in the red zone. Only 30% of his overall PPR points came from his yardage, so like Johnson, any drop-off in targets and touchdowns for Freiermuth from Trubisky will sting. Luckily, the cumulative target rate of Trubisky's tight ends in Chicago was 25%. There's no argument about beginning the season with Freiermuth as a touchdown-or-bust tight end.


WINNER: Trevor Lawrence

It looks like the Jaguars will attempt to stretch opposing defenses with an array of athletic pass-catchers. The moves, while expensive, were definitely needed after Lawrence had to make things work with slower, less-agile receivers for much of 2021. He led the NFL in unrealized Air Yards with 1,087, 204 more Air Yards than the next-highest passer. There's incredible breakout potential that's flying under the radar given the depth at the position and the breakout QB candidates in San Francisco and Chicago. 

NEUTRAL: Christian Kirk

Ignore the contract Kirk is about to get. The reason why Jacksonville was so hot to chase after him was because Kirk can separate from defenders on longer routes. He averaged 3.3 yards of separation according to NFL NextGen Stats, tied for 35th-best among everyone in the league including Deebo Samuel, Chris Godwin and Brandin Cooks. He also has plenty of experience lining up all over the field. With 11.7 PPR points per game last season, Kirk finished 35th in points per game. That's probably a fair expectation of where he'll wrap 2022. 


Engram's only a winner because he should resurface as a late-round tight-end streaming candidate. The guy is way more of a receiver than a tight end and figures to be a mismatch piece in the Jaguars offense. Watch him wind up in the slot to try and take advantage of matchups. If the Jaguars' early-season schedule is favorable, Engram can be considered with a pick around 150th overall. 

Other losers: Zay Jones, Laviska Shenault, Dan Arnold, Marvin Jones, Laquon Treadwell, Jamal Agnew


NEUTRAL FOR NOW: Chase Edmonds

Edmonds' 2021 numbers were limited by him missing five games -- he would have had a career year otherwise. His 11.0 PPR per-game average finished among the top-30 at running back. Edmonds has been most effective as a passing-downs running back, a role he should immediately get in the Dolphins run game. New Miami coach Mike McDaniel figures to employ multiple backs, just as he's done for years working with Kyle Shanahan. That will continue to cap Edmonds as a 13.3 touch-per-game player who doesn't get a lot of short-yardage touchdown chances (five last year, six in his career, one career rushing touchdown inside of 5 yards). He's a No. 3 running back no matter the format but will be more popular in PPR worlds. Whoever the Dolphins use as a running-downs back shouldn't lose too much work to Edmonds. 


An interesting signing, Wilson popped on the scene for the Cowboys late last year as a primary slot receiver who had enough speed to beat defenders. There are shades of Deebo Samuel to his game in that he is a motion receiver with quick-twitch agility, but he also botched plenty of contested catches and even had a drop on a jet sweep. He's tall, but lean, and fast and shifty but not physical. At a minimum, Wilson should be another easy short-area target for Tua Tagovailoa and might contend for as many as 50 receptions with a handful of explosive plays. He's a bench option to begin the season, making him worth a late pick. I like him as a late flier in Best Ball formats.  

NEUTRAL: Jaylen Waddle

Don't sweat the addition of two usable pass-catchers in Miami; they figured to add at least one running back who could catch and another receiver anyway. If anything, the addition of Wilson frees up Waddle to work more as an outside receiver, where his efficiency should spike. Waddle averaged 12.9 yards per catch when lined up wide last season with 10 explosive plays. He remains one of my favorite breakout players for 2022. 

Other losers: Myles Gaskin, Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker, Duke Johnson

Tampa Bay

LOSER*: Russell Gage

Let me be clear here: Gage loses Fantasy value assuming Chris Godwin comes back from his torn ACL by October. If Godwin is delayed in his recovery, then Gage is a huge Fantasy winner. Sometimes these weird signings foreshadow bad news and thus make sense later on -- hopefully that's not happening here. Gage, like Godwin, is capable of putting up numbers while lining up anywhere -- in his 12 games without Calvin Ridley, he had a 29-384-2 stat line from out wide and 28-291-1 from the slot. He's a pretty good separator with route-running technique, not so much with speed, but his physicality gives him an edge. Nonetheless, I fear Gage won't get a lot of targets once Godwin's back in the saddle and will get overdrafted because of who he's catching passes from. I don't mind the idea of targeting Gage in Round 8 in PPR (at least a round later in non-PPR), especially if you wait on drafting wideouts. 

Other losers: Not really a loser, but the signing does make me a little worried about Godwin's status. 


LOSER: D.J. Chark

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It's kind of telling how the Jaguars shoveled cash straight into Christian Kirk and Zay Jones' bank accounts without doing the same for a player they knew in Chark. Now the speedy receiver will try to ball out in the Lions' not-so-up-tempo offense. Despite passing on 59.6% of their snaps, Detroit was dead-last in average depth of throw (6.36 yards) and dialed up passes of 15-plus Air Yards an average of 5.4 times per game (third-lowest behind the Falcons and Titans). You shouldn't be surprised considering that Jared Goff is still the Lions quarterback. That meshes poorly with Chark's quick-strike speed and suspect hands. I wouldn't feel good about rostering Chark unless he came aboard with a late-round Fantasy pick. Could this change if the Lions get aggressive at quarterback in the draft? Maybe by a little bit. 

Other losers: Amon-Ra St. Brown and T.J. Hockenson by a tad, Josh Reynolds


WINNER: James Conner

It's not really fair to point out Conner's six games without Edmonds and say "See?! He averaged 25.1 PPR points per game without him! That's what he's capable of doing in 2022!" What's likely is that the Cardinals will add another running back who will at minimum handle passing-downs work and at maximum carry a skill-set similar to Conner's and rotate the two. Unless that running back is some incredible talent, Conner still locks in as a sure-fire No. 2 Fantasy rusher whose downside is mostly tied to his health. That's no small thing -- Conner missed two games last year, three the year before that -- and six the year before THAT. He's never played a full season. The positive? When he is playing this year, he'll do so with an offense that not only knows how to use him but trusts him completely in the red-zone, where all 15 of his rushing touchdowns happened including nine from two-yards or closer. Expect him to get taken between 25th and 35th overall. 

WINNER: Rondale Moore

The Cardinals have a depth problem at receiver. DeAndre Hopkins will be back but Kirk sold out for Jacksonville and A.J. Green doesn't seem like a return candidate. That leaves Moore as not only the front-runner for the slot role, but also to be second or third on the team in targets. Moore's rookie year was a mixed bag -- while he led the entire NFL in average yards of separation (5.7), he also was dead-last among receivers in average depth of target (1.4). Guess what? Moore can run routes further downfield and still use his incredible speed to separate. There's all sorts of upside here as long as Moore ascends in training camp. He's one of my favorite mid-round picks as long as the Cardinals don't make huge receiver splashes.