The dust of free agency is settling and its time to take stock of the fantasy landscape. For an in-depth analysis of some of the biggest moves, check out articles on Leveon Bell (RB, NYJ), Odell Beckham Jr. (WR, CLV), and Desean Jackson (WR, PHI). While these big names garnered most of the attention, there were dozens of other signings with fantasy implications. Let’s take a closer look at the stock of some players whose value have increased since last week.
Aaron Jones (24 years old, RB, Packers)
While not a free agent, it is hard to view this free agency period as anything but a win for Aaron Jones and his dynasty owners. He is one step closer to securing the backfield as a starter with the Packers not signing a free agent running back. As detailed here, I am a believer in Jones and had this to say about him “On limited opportunities (50% of snaps), he was 23rd in rushing yards, 4th in yards per carry, and 24th in fantasy points per game (14.3) for the season. When his snaps increased after their bye, he averaged 19.97 points per game until he was injured in week 15. This projects to 320 points for the season, good for a 6th place RB finish.”
The Packers were dead last in rushing percentage (32.46%) and rushing plays per game (20.8) in 2018. The new coach, Matt Lafleur, has shown a propensity to run the ball in his time as OC in Tennessee and comes from a coaching tree of successful rushing schemes (e.g. McVay, Shanahan). Rodgers and company will still lead one of the top passing attacks, but an increase in rushing attempts should lead to more opportunities for Jones and others behind an offensive line that has ranked 3rd and 2nd in blocking efficiency the past two seasons.
Devin Funchess (24 years old, WR, Colts)
The Colts made the surprising move of signing Funchess to a one year, $10MM (with incentives to earn up to $13MM) deal early in the legal tampering period.
Given this contract, Funchess will most likely step immediately into an outside starting receiver role opposite TY Hilton (WR). Funchess comes in as a big body (6’4”, 232lbs) who can play a role as a possession receiver and red zone threat. The primary — and potentially sole — benefit for this signing appears to be the opportunity. He is stepping into one of the prized receiver spots of this offseason. And while there was collective disappointment that he was the player signed, the role cannot be ignored.
I am not so sure though. At first glance, the 2nd wide receiver on the Colts seems like a coveted spot. But the Colts targeted wide receivers only 53.3% of passes in 2018, with no receiver other than Hilton receiving more than 72 targets. Eric Ebron had 110 targets, while the tight end group as a whole combined for 169 targets even with Jack Doyle sidelined for 10 games. Nyheim Hines (RB) added 81 targets out of the backfield. Also, their promising rookie receiver, Deon Cain (WR), will be returning in 2019 after being lost to a preseason ACL tear. This all leads to serious question marks about how many targets will be available for Funchess. And for those who suggest WR targets will increase with better receivers, keep in mind that Frank Reich comes from the Doug Pederson (Eagles) coaching tree. The Eagles ranked last in WR target percentage in 2018.
Now if we are questioning the number of targets he will receive, the next logical step is to see if he will make the most of the targets he gets. His best season was 2017, which included 63 receptions on 112 targets for 840 yards and 8 TDs. He has averaged a 50% catch rate for his career and led the league in drops last year with 11 (on 58 catchable targets!). His saving grace is catching over 50% of his red zone targets and having an above average contested catch rate (52% past two seasons). All this leads me to conclude that Funchess will be reliant on TDs to be a fantasy option. Andrew Luck will project to throw 35-45 TDs in 2019, giving Funchess an opportunity to score 6-10 TDs and be fantasy relevant. But his targets, receptions, and yardage may be limited. This will cap his upside and give him a low floor for any given week.
Donte Moncrief (25 years old, WR, Steelers)
Speaking of Colts receivers, Donte Moncrief has signed a two year deal with the Steelers after a one year stint on the Jaguars in 2018. Moncrief has a lengthy history of being a trendy name in dynasty. His value spiked heading into the 2016 season after a breakout campaign the year before with the Colts (105 targets, 64 receptions, 733 yards, 6 TDs). He then had two disappointing seasons marred with injuries (both to himself and Andrew Luck) that led to the team parting ways.
He now signs with a team that has had 168 targets depart with Antonio Brown’s (WR) trade to the Raiders. At 6’2” and 220lbs with a 4.4 second 40 yard dash time, Moncrief seems like a logical fit as an outside receiver for the team. If they maintain Juju Smith-Schuster’s (WR) role-playing in the slot (56.6% in 2018), Moncrief could be in line to play the vast majority of snaps. Moncrief tied for 26th in air yards (1,104) this past season on 90 targets and was 36th in yards per reception. He has the ability to stretch the field with Juju working underneath out of the slot. Of course, there are still many unknowns and it is too early to project targets or role, but the Steelers were 4th in the league last year using 1-1 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) personnel at 68%. This means that both Moncrief and James Washington (WR) could have sizeable snap counts and target opportunity.
The Steelers are expected to draft a receiver in this upcoming deep class, which may change the landscape for the team. If this does happen, a buying window may open if Moncrief owners become discouraged about his prospects. Rookie receivers rarely play a significant role and the Steelers tend to be content allowing them to develop behind more veteran players (Juju being the exception). Moncrief will be 26 years old entering this season and may have yet to enter his prime. He is the WR58 in Fantasypros dynasty rankings, and while this will increase with this signing, there is still ample room for value to be gained.
Data courtesy of pro-football-reference.com, footballoutsiders.com, playerprofiler.com, and sharpfootballstats.com