7 Low-Key Free Agency Winners
There are still a handful of notable names hanging around (Melvin Gordon, Sony Michel, Odell Beckham, Will Fuller, Julio Jones, Jarvis Landry). But the bulk of free agency is behind us.
Whose fantasy stock got a boost amid the wheeling and dealing? You don’t need me to tell you that Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton look better with QB Russell Wilson. Or that JuJu Smith-Schuster gained value signing with the Chiefs.
But here are 7 under-the-radar names who look more appealing now than they did a few weeks ago:
Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Browns
Peoples-Jones’ 11.55 yards per target over the last 2 seasons ranks 2nd among 136 WRs with 50+ targets. And he did that despite catching passes from Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum.
He’ll be catching passes from Deshaun Watson for all or part of 2022, depending on whether the NFL levies a suspension. In case you forgot, Watson is awesome. His career 8.58 adjusted yards per pass attempt ranks 2nd all-time among all QBs with 1,000+ career attempts – behind only Patrick Mahomes and just ahead of Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson.
The Browns swung a deal for Amari Cooper, who will be the team’s #1 WR. But Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper, Rashard Higgins and Odell Beckham, who are all gone now, combined for 229 targets last year. So there’s plenty of room for Peoples-Jones to carve out a significant role in what will be a much-improved passing game.
Tim Patrick, WR, Broncos
OK, so Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton got boosts with Denver’s trade for QB Russell Wilson. But don’t forget about Patrick.
He’s coming off a nice 2021, tallying a 53-734-5 line and ranking ahead of both Jeudy and Sutton in Pro Football Focus receiving grade. Patrick also bested Sutton in yards per route run.
Patrick will most likely finish 3rd among Broncos WRs in targets this season, but the gap between him and the other 2 might not be as big as you think. Denver figures to run a bunch of 3-WR sets after trading away TE Noah Fant, so Patrick will be on the field plenty.
With a huge QB upgrade from Teddy Bridgewater/Drew Lock to Wilson, Patrick has a shot to set new career highs across the board in 2022.
James Washington, WR, Cowboys
The departures of WRs Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson leave the Cowboys without 25.5% of last year’s targets. WR Michael Gallup, who garnered 9.8% of Dallas’ targets in just 9 games last year, is iffy for the start of the 2022 season after his January ACL tear.
That presents a big opportunity for Washington, who left Pittsburgh for Dallas in free agency. The 2018 2nd-rounder posted a 44-735-3 line in his 2nd NFL season. He’s been quieter the last 2 years, losing a top-3 spot on the Steelers’ depth chart. But Washington’s downfield game was simply a bad fit with decrepit Ben Roethlisberger.
That won’t be the case in Dallas, where QB Dak Prescott has ranked top 12 in Pro Football Focus passing grade and adjusted completion rate on passes of 20+ yards in 3 straight seasons. He attempted the 6th most deep balls in both of his last 2 healthy seasons.
Washington is in for an increased role in a much better passing game in 2022. Highlight him as a late-round target in best-ball drafts.
Jamison Crowder, WR, Bills
Crowder looks like a 1-for-1 replacement for Cole Beasley in Buffalo. Beasley played 74%, 87% and 88% of his snaps in the slot for the Bills the last 3 years. Crowder has been in the slot for over 70% of his snaps in all 7 of his NFL seasons.
The Bills also brought WR Isaiah McKenzie back this offseason, but he’s yet to top 30 catches across 5 NFL campaigns. Even after his big 11-catch game vs. the Patriots late last year, he didn’t play more than 34% of the offensive snaps in any of Buffalo’s final 4 games.
So Crowder is the odds-on favorite for primary slot duties this season. What does that mean for his fantasy value? Beasley finished 34th, 27th and 41st among WRs in PPR points in his 3 years as a Bill. That first season came without Stefon Diggs. But, on top of Beasley’s departure, Buffalo also lost Emmanuel Sanders and his 72 targets from a year ago.
There’s upside for Crowder to reach triple-digit targets this season – and he’ll be in easily the best passing game he’s ever played in.
Antoine Wesley, WR, Cardinals
With Christian Kirk off to Jacksonville and 33-year-old A.J. Green still unsigned, Wesley is currently slotted into Arizona’s starting lineup (alongside DeAndre Hopkins and Rondale Moore).
Wesley played a significant role in the 7 games Hopkins missed last season, totaling 29 targets, 18 catches, 201 yards and 3 scores. He went undrafted back in 2019 but brought some intrigue as a prospect coming out of Texas Tech.
We’ll see what the draft brings to Arizona’s WR room, but keep Wesley’s name in mind late in fantasy drafts.
Cole Kmet, TE, Bears
The Bears have done a whole lot of nothing in free agency. They lost WR Allen Robinson, as expected, and only added WRs Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown to Darnell Mooney and Dazz Newsome.
The draft? The Bears don’t pick until the 2nd round, so any rookie they add won’t be a great bet to claim a big target share out of the gate.
That’s good news for Kmet’s volume. He saw 17.2% of Chicago’s targets last season and tied for 8th among all TEs with 93 targets. He might top those marks in 2022 by default.
I don’t think Kmet is particularly talented – he ranked 25th in Pro Football Focus receiving grade among 35 qualifying TEs last year – but volume trumps all in fantasy football.
Hayden Hurst, TE, Bengals
This former 1st-round pick inked a 1-year, $3.5 million deal with the Bengals on the first week of free agency. That sets him up for lead duties on 1 of the league’s top passing games, with TE Drew Sample as the top competition.
Hurst, of course, will be battling for targets with WRs Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. But C.J. Uzomah averaged nearly 4 targets per game as Cincinnati’s lead TE last year to finish 19th among TEs in PPR points.
Hurst could top that mark, if only because the Bengals figure to pass more this year than last. Their pass rate spiked late last season – a trend likely to roll over into 2022. And they ranked just 25th in offensive snaps per game – a mark likely to climb this year.
Don’t bank on Hurst getting enough volume for reliable weekly TE1 production. But he’s a nice TE2 target in best-ball drafts that should provide a handful of spike weeks.