So, who's left? According to CBS Sports' Free Agency top-100 tracker, the top offensive players left unsigned are: Kenny Golladay, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Will Fuller, Sammy Watkins, Kenyan Drake, T.Y. Hilton, Chris Carson, James White, James Conner, Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette and Jared Cook. So, some pretty big names, especially at wide receiver.
It's clearly a buyer's market at wide receiver, which explains why so many in-their-prime playmakers are still out there. Golladay, Smith-Schuster and Fuller especially should be must-start Fantasy players if they land in the right spots, but the longer they hang out in free agency, the less likely it seems they'll find that ideal home.
Of course, there's no shortage of teams with a need at wide receiver: Miami, New England, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Indianapolis, Houston, Jacksonville, Washington, New York Giants, Philadelphia, Detroit and New Orleans could all use at least a reliable No. 2, and any of Golladay, Smith-Schuster or Fuller could conceivably be a No. 1 in more than a few of those spots.
So, we'll just have to remain patient. Catch up on the news from yesterday below, and make sure you're subscribed to the Fantasy Football Today podcast to get our reactions to all the big moves in the coming days. But first, I take a look at what Curtis Samuel's signing with Washington means, and then I'm going to take a look at some of the running back situations that have grown a little more crowded in recent days, to figure out whether you should be concerned about the starter's Fantasy value.
Curtis Samuel joins new-look Washington offense
Washington was linked to Curtis Samuel early on in the free agency process, and the fit seemed natural given Washington's need for more playmakers in the offense, so it's good to see them make it work. Samuel signed a three-year deal with the Football Team Wednesday, and he'll join Ryan Fitzpatrick in a much more exciting version of the Washington offense. Dare I say, this offense might actually be a problem for opposing defenses in 2021. And that's very good news for Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin, the two incumbent studs.
How does the addition of another wide receiver help McLaurin? Well, it doesn't, necessarily, though he should make it harder for opposing defenses to focus on him. It's the addition of Fitzpatrick that figures to be a boon for McLaurin, who saw his average depth of target collapse in 2020, from 14.0 to 9.7 yards per target. He was still excellent, of course, but his touchdowns fell from seven to four despite 41 more targets. Fitzpatrick should help in that regard, because we know he's willing to let plays develop down the field and he's willing to take those shots, where Alex Smith too often simply dumped the ball off to the nearest running back.
For as bad as Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen were, McLaurin was quite a bit better with them under center than he was with Smith, who threw just 7.5 targets per game his way -- he had more than that in seven of nine games started by someone besides Smith. Fitzpatrick should help maximize McLaurin's value, and he should do the same thing for Samuel.
Samuel has long been an intriguing talent who never quite found the right role in the Panthers offense until 2020. The Panthers embraced Samuel's unique skills as a rusher, lining him up in the backfield regularly, as he rushed for 200 yards on 41 carries with two touchdowns. He also had his best season as a pass catcher, though don't think he's just a short-area option after he succeeded in that role last season. Because Samuel had been held back by poor QB play before then.
Especially in 2019, where Samuel was wide open down the field countless times but saw too many targets sail over his head or fall short, forcing him into a tough contested catch. He was among the leaders in air yards that season, averaging 14.6 per target, and with even competent QB play, he would've already had his breakout before 2020.
Washington threw the ball 601 times in 2020 and averaged just 6.3 yards per attempt with 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Say what you want about Fitzpatrick, but if you give him 600 pass attempts, I guarantee you he's gonna have a lot more than 16 touchdowns and 3,796 yards. We saw him thrive in Tampa's offense, but even with the Dolphins -- who had less receiving talent than Washington now does -- he averaged 7.3 yards per attempt with a 4.3% touchdown rate.
I'm not projecting Fitzpatrick to throw the ball 600 times, and I'm not expecting this Washington offense to be elite, or anything. But it should be much better in 2021 than it was last season, and that should lift everyone up, and that includes Antonio Gibson, who I've got ranked 13th in PPR and 12th in non-PPR. He showed last season he can be an effective rusher who had no trouble getting the job done near the goal line, and I would expect him to see a bigger role in the passing game after the converted wide receiver was out-targeted by J.D. McKissic 110-44. The overall share of targets going to running backs should fall without the crown prince of dumpoffs under center, but Gibson's share should only increase.
I've also got McLaurin ranked 12th in PPR scoring, while Samuel comes in at 26th. Logan Thomas is TE7, too, so this could be a very good offense for Fantasy. And to think, it's all because they signed a journeyman QB who used to be a punchline. Ryan Fitzpatrick: Fantasy savior?
SportsLine's optimal bracket beat almost 90% of CBS Sports Bracket Challenge players over the past two years. This year, it is calling for more upsets. A few of notes in the South Region:
- No. 14 Colgate takes down No. 3 Arkansas in the first round.
- No. 10 Virginia Tech beats No. 7 Florida.
- No. 9 Wisconsin pulls the slight upset over No. 8 North Carolina.
After simulating the tournament 10,000 times, the model's bracket also has identified one region where the No. 2 seed wins and the Nos. 10 and 13 seeds pull off stunners in the first round. Plus, you should join the Fantasy Football Today bracket challenge group to put your skills to the test for a chance to win a spot in the FFT listeners' league for the 2021 season.
Assessing the impact of new RB
So far, we haven't really seen any running backs added to teams who are expected to be starters for their new squads, though Chris Carson and Leonard Fournette are lurking in free agency as potential options. However, just because the backs who have signed are all backups doesn't mean they won't have an impact.
What we're primarily worried about, of course, is the impact they may have on the established starters in their new backfields. We saw some concern pop up in Fantasy circles following Jamaal Williams' signing in Detroit, and we saw a bit more after Marlon Mack's return to Indianapolis. Every touch that doesn't go to someone like D'Andre Swift or Jonathan Taylor might as well be wasted in those backfields, so now we have to figure out if there's any reason to be concerned.
Let's go through each spot, taking a quick look at the concern levels. Nobody in this group really saw a significant decline in value as a result of their new backfield mates, but that doesn't mean there's nothing there:
- Lamar Miller to WAS -- Miller hasn't received a carry in a game since 2018, and now he'll be a 30-year-old who hasn't been an impact player in seven seasons. If he gets more than 40 carries, consider it a significant upset -- Miller didn't even appear in a game after signing with Washington in December.
- Mark Ingram to HOU -- The concern here for David Johnson would be if the Texans signed a pass-catching specialist, but that isn't Ingram. I would be surprised if Ingram got much more than the 77 carries Duke Johnson got last season if David Johnson stays healthy. He's still a boring low-end No. 2 RB, though it's hard to buy in even at that price until we know how the Deshaun Watson situation will shake out.
- Devontae Booker to NYG -- Booker makes sense as a backup to Saquon Barkley, and maybe he'll get some extra work early on as Barkley is getting his feet back under him after knee surgery. But Barkley is going to be the engine of this offense, so Booker will likely only spell him for a series or two per game. He's more like an insurance policy.
- Jamaal Williams to DET -- I've got Williams down for 111 carries and 66 targets, and I still have Swift as a top 10 running back. The Lions should lean heavily on their running backs on the ground and in the air given their lack of other options, so there's still plenty of room for Swift to be a Fantasy star, especially if they tilt his touches more to the passing game.
- Marlon Mack to IND -- A ruptured Achilles is a tough injury to come back from, but Mack is only 25, and he's very familiar with this offense as their lead back from 2018 and 2019. Taylor should remain the lead back, but Nyhiem Hines will also have a healthy role, so if Mack even gets to, say, 90 carries, Taylor starts to take a hit. The good news is, Mack likely won't be much of a factor in the passing game, so there's still a lot of room for Taylor to grow in that regard, though we didn't see too much of that even as his role grew. I suspect I'll be lower on Taylor than the consensus, and it'll come down to how much work he gets in the passing game, not whether Mack is the third-string RB.
A little worrying
- Malcolm Brown to MIA -- If all the Dolphins do is add Brown, I'll have Myles Gaskin as a No. 2 back with upside. My concern is that Brown will be more like the No. 3 back and the Dolphins will bring in either a No. 1 or a 1a to challenge Gaskin for playing time in the draft. The thing he has going for him is that the Dolphins basically used him exclusively when he was healthy. At least last season, they trusted him as a legit No. 1.
- Carlos Hyde to JAC -- Similar to Miami, I'm not concerned about what Hyde will take away from James Robinson, because he's a non-factor in the passing game and a pretty middling rusher to boot. The concern is still that the Jags will find a back to challenge Robinson for the No. 1 spot or challenge him for targets.
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News and notes
- The Raiders signed John Brown -- Brown agreed to a one-year deal worth $3.75 million, with another $1.75 million in incentives, which is ... a shockingly small amount. That makes it hard to understand why the Bills didn't bring him back. Maybe he didn't want to return, preferring a spot like Las Vegas where he could conceivably be the No. 1 WR? He'll be behind Darren Waller in the hierarchy either way, and this team hasn't been a great place for wide receivers in the Jon Gruden-era, with Jordy Nelson's 88 targets in 2018 representing the largest number anyone has seen. Maybe Brown changes that, but more likely, he's a distant second in targets to Waller and is just a bench depth option for Fantasy.
- The Bills signed Emmanuel Sanders -- And there's the Brown replacement in Buffalo. Except, at this point in their careers, Brown is probably better than Sanders, who had 726 yards in 14 games, just turned 34, and hasn't averaged more than 51.9 yards per game since 2018. Can he help the Bills offense? Sure. But even in a high-powered passing attack like this one, don't expect him to have much Fantasy appeal. The biggest impact here is the risk that it blocks Gabriel Davis from having the opportunity to break out, which would be sad.
- The Cardinals signed A.J. Green -- It's a big name, but I'm not sure this should move the needle at all for Fantasy. Green is 32 and looked fully washed up last season -- he averaged 5.0 yards per target, while the rest of the Bengals receivers were at 7.6 last season. And this offense still has some work to do to get to the point where you can feel confident in a No. 2 WR being productive. I'll probably be avoiding Green in 2021 drafts.
- The Seahawks signed Gerald Everett -- Everett has had some intriguing flashes in Los Angeles, but I'm not much more excited about him in Seattle than I was in L.A. We'll see if Russell Wilson sticks around, but this is a low-volume pass offense with two excellent wide receivers, so there probably isn't much room for more than about 75 targets for Everett.
- The Browns re-signed Rashard Higgins -- I kind of wanted to see what Higgins could do in a new offense, because he's an excellent athlete who has averaged 10.8 yards per target or better in his past two seasons with 50-plus targets. Unfortunately, he'll be a No. 3 WR in a low-volume pass offense in Cleveland, so there isn't much reason to get excited here.
- The Titans re-signed Anthony Firkser -- Firkser actually has a pretty good opportunity to take a step forward here, with the Titans losing both Jonnu Smith and Corey Davis in free agency. They'll probably try to add another WR at some point this offseason, but right now, Firkser looks like the No. 2 option behind A.J. Brown. He's not a great athlete, and the production profile so far is pretty underwhelming, but he could be a top 12 tight end if he could get to, say, 90 targets.