The Fantasy Football Impact From Day 1 of Free Agency

Donald Brown is now a Sand Diego Charger. Wait, what?

Patiently waiting for the NFL’s free agency period to begin, I went to Twitter to find the latest rumors spreading around the league. But then I couldn’t. Twitter was down, and my panic was up.

Fortunately the social media site got things going prior to the 4:00 PM free agency start – what would NFL fans and analysts have done without Adarn Schefter posing as the ESPN NFL Insider at the start of the league’s new year?

As soon as the clocked turned four, NFL Twitter timelines blew up. Michael Johnson became a Buc, Lamarr Houston signed with Chicago and Karlos Dansby joined Donte Whitner in Cleveland. The constant news continued into the night, culminating with an Aqib Talib signing in Denver. For a lot of money.

Many of the key moves yesterday happened on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the secondary – cornerbacks got paid. But some offensive movement occurred as well, which means the fantasy football landscape shifted. While many of the big ticket offensive names are still out there ready to be signed, let’s take a look at a handful of guys that found new contracts during the first day of free agency.

The Giants Get a Coughlin Back

If you want a more in-depth breakdown of the Rashad Jennings signing in New York, take a look at a quick reaction piece I wrote on him yesterday. In essence, the signing for the Giants made sense. Yeah, their offensive line is pretty bad (awful?), but their running back situation wasn’t much better a season ago. In fact, David Wilson had one of the worst low-volume seasons our numbers have ever seen, while Andre Brown plodded his way to one of the lowest Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) scores among all NFL backs.

Jennings is very underrated, and actually has a couple of top-10 Rushing NEP seasons under his belt. He doesn’t fumble, is mostly reliable and can pass protect. He’s perfect for Tom Coughlin.

We’ll see where Jennings’ average draft position lands him, but be prepared to see a large divide in opinion with the soon-to-be 29-year-old back. Many were burned by David Wilson last year, and some of those same people still want Wilson to be a 200-plus carry guy. I’m thinking more along the lines of Jennings being the lead runner, with Wilson seeing 150 or so attempts throughout the season, if healthy. Clearly we’ll know more as the offseason progresses.

Toby Gerhart Moves to Jacksonville

Gerhart moving to Jacksonville feels a little Michael Turner-esque. Like Turner, he’s a 230-plus pound back who plays a bruising style of ball. And, like Turner, he played the first four years of his career behind a future Hall of Fame runner. The difference, more than likely, is that Turner was simply a better runner, but time will tell.

Gerhart’s advanced metrics have fluctuated throughout his career. He has a -6.90 Rushing NEP in total, good for a -0.02 per rush mark. That may mean nothing to you, but I’d argue you’d like to see a total around zero for a guy who doesn't see the bulk of his team’s carries. For comparison, Michael Turner compiled a 21.09 Rushing NEP score over his four years with San Diego, playing far above expectation in a backup role.

The ex-Viking did, however, have his best season of his career last year. On 36 carries, Gerhart added 9.61 points for the Vikings with a Success Rate (percentage of rushes that contributed positively towards a player’s NEP) of 52.78%. His volume was at a career low though, meaning one big run – like the 41-yard touchdown he had against the Ravens in Week 16 – can skew things a bit.

From a fantasy standpoint, Gerhart should be valuable if he becomes a volume runner. I wouldn’t get overly excited about his upside given what he’s done efficiency-wise throughout his brief career, but sure, he could end up being an RB2 if things go right.

Darren McFadden Set to Disappoint Again

In typical Raiders fashion, the team got rid of the better player (Jennings), retaining the bad one (McFadden). I’m not sure if there are any more believers out there in McFadden’s ability to stay healthy, so I’ll keep this brief: in fantasy football, it’s probably safe to stay far away from him.

Over McFadden’s six-year career, he’s had three completely miserable seasons in terms of Rushing NEP. And by completely miserable, I’m talking bottom 10 running back performance in the league.

The fact that Rashad Jennings was so good behind the same offensive line in Oakland last year is telling. DMC will have this one-year contract to prove his worth, but in fantasy football, he’s nothing more than a mid-draft selection.

Tennessee Snags McCluster

Dexter McCluster is a “name drop” player. True NFL enthusiasts know who he is, and understand his versatile role in the league. But casual fans love to drop his name in conversation, as if he’s this every-year sleeper in fantasy, prime to break out.

I saw two interesting types of reactions to this signing yesterday. The first was that this would impact Kendall Wright’s status as a possession receiver. No – I wouldn’t believe that at all.

The second was that, under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt, Dexter McCluster will be 2014’s Danny Woodhead. I’d like that idea more if McCluster didn’t weight 170 pounds, but I think the general idea is there.

He can run the ball, catch it out of the backfield and play in the slot. He actually did see over 110 carries in his second season with the Chiefs, and wasn’t all that ineffective with the ball in his hands, playing just a little below expectation. However, in his other three seasons combined, McCluster’s carried the ball a total of 38 times.

He could hold late-round PPR value next season, especially when we see how the team plans to use him. Shonn Greene will more than likely be an early-down runner for the team, while McCluster finds himself on the field during passing downs.

Brandon Myers is a Buccaneer

Tampa Bay made an interesting move in signing Brandon Myers yesterday, as the team seemed to have a decent future with tight end Tim Wright in the offense. It'd be an understandable move if Myers was a blocking tight end, but he's not - they basically went after a more experienced, less athletic version of Wright.

Not only is Wright younger, but he was better last season. With the same amount of targets (76), Wright caught more passes, had a better Reception NEP, and far outperformed Myers in terms of Target Net Expected Points. And he did it with a rookie quarterback throwing him passes.

In what was a cheap move to get depth, the Myers signing probably ruined any sort of fantasy tight end potential in Tampa Bay. And honestly, this could be a sign that Wright's new coaching staff doesn't believe in him. That's not good news for his dynasty owners.

Donald Brown Loses an Opportunity

The difference between Donald Brown and Trent Richardson in Indianapolis last season was like the difference between a fresh fruit smoothie and expired yogurt. While Donald Brown was one of the most effective runners in terms of Rushing NEP in the entire NFL, Trent Richardson was falling over before defenders even touched him.

Brown finally lived up to his first-round expectations - I guess better late than never, right? - and was easily the Colts best runner last year. Well, maybe he was completely aware of his (potential lack of) ability, signing a three-year deal in a crowded backfield in San Diego. There goes his fantasy value.

That leaves Ahmad Bradshaw, who signed a new deal with the Colts yesterday, Trent Richardson and Vick Ballard in the Colts backfield. Raise your hand if you just got out of your seat jumping for joy. Anyone? Thought so.

Donald Brown will more than likely become what Ronnie Brown was for the Chargers a year ago, perhaps a version with more upside. In the end, he could dig into some of Ryan Mathews' and Danny Woodhead's numbers, making the running back situation in San Diego less desirable in fantasy than it was prior to the start of free agency.