Fantasy Football: 8 Under-the-Radar Free Agent Winners and Losers
When a free agent lands on a new team, our natural reaction as fantasy football enthusiasts is to analyze that player's new situation. And there's nothing wrong with that -- we need to understand how Le'Veon Bell's move impacts his scoring potential, or what Golden Tate's volume could look like in the Giants' offense.
But the changes that these signings bring goes well beyond the individual players who are getting new deals. There's a domino effect. Sometimes, a free agent's deal can make winners and losers out of players that weren't initially top of mind.
Sometimes the winners and losers that stem from free agency fly a little under the radar.
Lamar Miller, RB, Houston Texans
One of the teams that was linked to Le'Veon Bell prior to free agency was the Houston Texans and, as you know, they didn't get him. They actually didn't sign any running back. And that's big news for Lamar Miller, who now only needs to survive the draft in order to have his starting role back in 2019.
Miller is usually an afterthought for fantasy managers, but in 14 games last year, he managed to capture almost 45% of Houston's total rushing attempts, giving him the 18th-best rushing share in football. He was just one of 14 running backs to reach 200 attempts, and of those players, only Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, and Derrick Henry outperformed their teammates by a higher yards per carry margin than Miller did against his.
It wouldn't be surprising to see the Texans get a running back in the draft, but it's a win for Miller to compete against a potential rookie (and possibly D'Onta Foreman) as opposed to an established workhorse on a pricier deal.
Damien Williams, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
How you view Damien Williams' fantasy worth after the Chiefs signed Carlos Hyde depends on where your expectations were when free agency began. If you weren't expecting Kansas City to add a veteran running back -- or a somewhat established back in general -- then you're probably a little less bullish on Williams today than you were a few weeks ago.
But, really, the signing of Carlos Hyde may have been exactly what Williams needed to maintain higher-end fantasy value.
The Chiefs needed running backs. At the very least, they needed bodies who play the position. That means they could've gone out and signed a weaker, less-established back than Hyde, sure. But that would've brought a higher chance that they spend significant equity on a running back in April's draft.
Essentially, Carlos Hyde may be the perfect player for Damien Williams: he's not an elite runner who's going to be locked-in as the team's starter, but he's also not so bad to the point where the Chiefs would feel the need to force an earlier draft selection on the position.
So this is more about logic than anything else. Williams will lose some work to Hyde, but depending on where your head was at coming into free agency, that was bound to happen. Yet, Hyde's a running back who's now been on three teams in two seasons, and in 2018, he was outperformed by his running back teammates in numberFire's Success Rate metric in both Cleveland and Jacksonville. He's more than likely not going to push Williams into the number-two spot on the depth chart. And all the while, Williams now may not have to beat out an earlier-round running back selection.
All of this could go south for Williams in just a month and a half, but as of now, Damien Williams is a free agency winner.
Vance McDonald, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers
Antonio Brown will leave behind at least 25% of Pittsburgh's targets with his departure to Oakland, but McDonald also lost some competition at tight end in Jesse James, who signed with Detroit. James saw his target share dip to under 7% in 2018 thanks to McDonald's emergence, but according to Pro Football Focus, he still ranked 22nd in routes run at the tight end position. McDonald was 12th. Considering the Steelers were the most pass-heavy team in the NFL, there's room to grow there.
With question marks at receiver outside of JuJu Smith-Schuster, McDonald has an opportunity to have a big 2019.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
There was plenty of talk around Latavius Murray returning to the Vikings before teams could start signing free agents, but that didn't happen. He's now a New Orleans Saint, leaving Dalvin Cook with inexperience behind him on the depth chart. And with less competition, Cook should see more opportunity.
Cook was banged up last year, but even when he returned from injury in Week 9, he wasn't seeing elite rushing share numbers in the Minnesota backfield. From Week 9 through the end of the season, Cook was given a little over 66% of the Vikings' running back carries, when high-end backs across the league will often see an 80% mark. Perhaps more importantly, during this time, Murray out-attempted Cook at the goal line three to two.
The receiving numbers were always there for Cook, but with Murray out of the picture, he'll have more rushing upside.
Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans
Among relevant wide receivers last year, Humphries ranked sixth in percentage of snaps played from the slot. That's according to Pro Football Focus. Humphries saw 81 of his 103 targets from that area of the field, and he finished with the fifth-most slot yards in football.
He's a slot receiver. This can't be disputed.
And that's an issue for Davis. The slot is a place to create mismatches, and Tennessee used him there at times last year. About 30% of his snaps came from the slot, but 33.8% of his receiving yards and 3 of his 4 touchdowns stemmed from that area of the field. With Humphries there, we may see Davis' slot opportunity decrease.
This is on top of the fact that there's a new receiver demanding targets in what's likely to be another run-heavy offense. So Davis' near 26% target share from 2018 is likely to drop, too.
Derrius Guice, RB, Washington Redskins
Usually we don't care if a team signs an almost 34-year-old running back to a new deal. But when that 34-year-old is Adrian Peterson, we have to pay attention.
At the very least, the thought was that Derrius Guice would head into the 2019 season with a firm hold as Washington's early-down back. That can still happen, but with Peterson in the mix, it's likely he loses some of that work. Either that, or Guice's recovery from injury isn't going as well as we'd hope, which is far worse.
Whatever the case, this Peterson move certainly doesn't help Guice's cause. Peterson finished 2018 with the fifth-most attempts in the NFL, accounting for over 60% of Washington's team rushes. The team likes him, and the team used him. With Chris Thompson not hitting free agency until next season, that means Guice's receiving upside likely won't be there, either.
It's tough to say Guice did anything but lose fantasy value due to the Peterson move.
Zay Jones, WR, Buffalo Bills
Cole Beasley was third in the NFL in percentage of snaps played from the slot last season, and over 91% of his receiving yards came when he played there. All three of his touchdowns did, too.
With that role likely to be his in Buffalo, Zay Jones -- not unlike the Corey Davis situation -- won't play as much there. And, last season, 48.3% of Jones' snaps were from the slot, and he caught 25 of his 39 targets (64.1% catch rate) when lined up in that area of the field. When lined up elsewhere? A 49.2% catch rate.
Maybe you weren't feeling Jones this season, but this move definitely hurts his upside.
Quincy Enunwa, WR, New York Jets
The same that was said about Corey Davis and Zay Jones applies to Quincy Enunwa. The Jets signed Jamison Crowder, who's primarily been a slot receiver in the NFL. In 2018, he ranked 13th among relevant wideouts in percentage of snaps played from the slot, and he's finished in the top 20 each year he's been in the league.
You may recall Enunwa's strong start last season, where he saw over 29% of New York's attempts through the first four weeks of the season. Over that period, Enunwa averaged 13.7 PPR points per game while scoring no fewer than 9.7 points in any contest. From Week 5 through the end of the season, Enunwa scored more than 5.2 fantasy points just once.
Why'd that happen, you ask? The Jets stopped using him in the slot.
From Weeks 1 through 4, 69% (nice) of Enunwa's snaps came from the slot. Through the rest of the season, that number fell to 35%. Jermaine Kearse became the primary slot man.
That's the issue with Crowder being in New York. Enunwa won't have the luxury he had during the first quarter of last season, which will likely lower his overall target share.