By Amol Nadkarni
Every offseason, all 32 NFL teams look to strengthen their teams through free agency. Every move is calculated and the teams always have a unique plan on how to use their new signing. This article will look at the fantasy prospects of some of the more established players in the league, as they look to make an immediate impact on their new teams.
Alfred Morris – Early in free agency, Alfred Morris signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys. Immediately, it looked like he would at the very least be competing for the starting running back position. It was an ideal situation, as he would be able to run behind one of the league’s best offensive lines and really only had to beat out Darren McFadden, something the three-time 1,000 yard rusher is more than capable of doing. Then came the 2016 NFL Draft and the Cowboys with the 4th overall pick, selected Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. Suddenly, Morris was relegated to the permanent number two (or even number three) back role. The Cowboys may use a committee approach, but Elliott will almost certainly see more of the field than Morris and McFadden. You don’t draft a running back that high just to have him seat on the bench. Elliott is a workhorse. The problem for Morris in a committee approach is that he is a one-dimensional back, who does not excel at catching the ball out of the backfield. There goes his third down role. Morris will most likely occasionally spell Elliott on early downs, while McFadden will serve that third down role (on the rare occasion that Elliot is not in). Before the Elliot pick, Morris could have been a quality low-end RB2 or flex but now he should just be seen as Elliott’s handcuff.
Ladarius Green – Every year in San Diego, Ladarius Green was supposed to break out and evolve into a top-tier tight end and every year that never happened. In 2015, he had his “best” season totaling 37 receptions for 429 yards and four touchdowns, but a tight end with his speed, athleticism and physical traits is surely capable of putting up better numbers than that. Part of the reason he has not reached his massive potential is that he has always been in the shadow of all-time great Antonio Gates. This offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers went all out to sign Green, signing him to a four-year, $24 million contract. That contract alone suggests that the Steelers have big plans for him in their already explosive offense and he will immediately slot in as the starting tight end for the black and gold, replacing the recently retired Heath Miller. Green is a prime candidate for a real breakout season. With the suspension of Martavis Bryant, he is instantly Big Ben’s number two option and he can be a nightmare matchup for opposing linebackers. Green has the potential to join that next wave of young elite tight ends and he is in the best situation to do so, as he is the clear cut TE1 in Pittsburgh.
Mohamed Sanu – In Cincinnati, Mohamed Sanu showed that he can be a very good receiver. He was a great compliment to A.J. Green in Cincy and filled in admirably as the number one when Green went down with an injury two seasons ago. Sanu is a tall and physical receiver, who is in the upper echelon of number two wide outs. With Roddy White in full decline, Atlanta opted to not re-sign the long-time Falcon and instead signed Sanu to a five year, 32.5 million contract. That contract alone suggests that Sanu will lineup across from Julio Jones and will be a big part of the offense. Sanu is a high-end WR3 or flex, and he should have plenty of opportunities to make plays, as coverage will always prioritize Jones. In the past, Sanu has shown he can produce as a number two and in Atlanta he will do the same.
Robert Griffin III – Once seen as the face of the Redskins franchise, RG3 now finds himself battling for the starting quarterback position on arguably the worst team in the league, in Cleveland. His two year, $15 million contract does not guarantee that he will be the starter, but he really just needs to beat out veteran Josh McCown, which he is capable of doing. In addition, Browns head coach Hue Jackson has raved about RG3 throughout the offseason and it does say a lot that the Browns opted not to draft a quarterback in this year’s draft, even though they were in prime position to get Jared Goff or Carson Wentz. RG3 will likely win the job, but fantasy wise he a bottom-tier quarterback option due to the situation he is in. Like in Washington, the Browns offense will have to be tailored specifically to his running abilities, as he is not a true pocket passer. Furthermore, the Browns don’t’ really have many options for him to throw to, outside of Gary Barnidge (who just underwent sports hernia surgery) and Corey Coleman (who is a rookie and wide receivers take time to adapt to the pro game, especially ones out of Baylor’s air raid attack). In sum, let someone else draft RG3.
Brock Osweiler – Former Arizona State Sun Devil Brock Osweiler was the highest profile free agent quarterback on the market this offseason. Osweiler played an important role in the Broncos championship last season, as he filled in admirably for the injured Peyton Manning, finishing the season with an impressive 5-2 win-loss record. His brief time as a starter made him a hot commodity in the offseason, with both Denver and Houston vying for his signature. Eventually he signed a four year, $72 million contract with Houston, instantly becoming the franchise quarterback for the Texans. With such a small sample size, it is hard to tell how good Osweiler really is. He is a tall quarterback, who is also mobile which is intriguing. From a fantasy perspective, Osweiler enters a situation where he has one of the best wide receivers in the league in DeAndre Hopkins to throw to. He is an interesting streaming option and based off his play could be a high-end QB2 or low-end QB1.
Travis Benjamin – Despite the horrific quarterback play in Cleveland last season, Benjamin managed to have by far his best season as a pro. That earned him a nice four year, $24 million contract with the San Diego Chargers and now instead of Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel throwing him the ball he will have the far superior Philip Rivers. Benjamin is one of those sleeper candidates who could serve as a very solid WR3 or flex throughout the season. Expect him to be used heavily this season and he should flourish (at least initially), with coverage focused more towards Keenan Allen.
Marvin Jones – Like Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones showed his worth in Cincinnati and his performances for the Bengals earned him a nice five year, $40 million contract with the Lions. The sudden retirement of Calvin Johnson forced Detroit to move fast in finding his “replacement”. Jones will be an interesting play in fantasy next season. Golden Tate is not truly a number one wide receiver and the contract Jones was offered suggests that the Lions might see him as someone who can be that go-to receiver for Matthew Stafford. At 6’2″ Jones is not the imposing figure that Johnson was, but he does compliment well with the much smaller Tate. Jones is one of those players that could be had in the late rounds and has tremendous upside. He might start off as a flex play but he has the potential to be a WR2 if he shows that he can hit the ground running with the Lions. He is definitely a sleeper to keep in mind during the draft.
Lamar Miller – In his four seasons in Miami, Lamar Miller was used as a feature back but the numbers he put up just did not match that title. After all, he only managed to top 1,000 yards once and that was in 2014. However, in the offseason the Houston Texans felt that Miller was just the back they needed to replace the departed Arian Foster and awarded him a four year, $26 million contract. Miller will likely go somewhere within the first three rounds of drafts, but really that is a risk. Sure he is the unquestioned starter, but his history says he is not a top back. Furthermore, the Texans finished as one of the worst run blocking teams in 2015 and they will have to improve leaps and bounds to block for a less talented back than Foster. Miller represents a low-end RB2, with not much upside. He will be drafted higher than he should be, but you would be doing your team a favor by staying away from him until the sixth or seventh rounds.
Matt Forte – When the Bears opted not to re-sign Matt Forte, it came as a very big surprise to the league. Forte is an all-time great Bear and one of the most dynamic double threat backs in the modern era. The Jets pounced on the opportunity to sign Forte, giving him a three year, $12 million contract to be their starting running back. Many will say that Forte is in decline and although he had statistically his worst season in 2015, he still is a top back. With the Jets, he will be able to work with an offensive coordinator in Chan Gailey who has a proven track record of using running backs in creative and effective ways. In fact, Gailey stated that he will tailor the offense around Forte’s unique dual threat abilities. Expect Forte to be heavily involved in the passing and screen games. Expect a solid if not Pro Bowl season from the former Tulane man.
Coby Fleener – The Coby Fleener experiment in Indianapolis never really worked out. One would have thought that Fleener, who excelled with QB Andrew Luck at Stanford, would continue to connect with him in the pros. Instead, TE Dwayne Allen proved to be the more productive tight end in the Colts’ attack and when it came time to make a decision of who to keep, Allen was given a new contract and Fleener was sent packing. Fleener ended up with New Orleans, signing a 5 year, $36 million contract. Those contract numbers suggest that Fleener will have a starting role in the Saints offense and with QB Drew Brees throwing him the ball, he could revive his somewhat stalled career. However, it should be noted that Luck (who Fleener had familiarity with for many years in both college and pros) is an elite quarterback and Fleener still could not become the elite tight end many projected him to be coming out of college. Brees is another top-end quarterback but it still remains to be seen if Fleener just could not connect with Luck or if he is just better suited for the college game. Reports out of Saints OTAs and minicamp state that Brees believes Fleener “gets it”, so he is worth monitoring but he should be merely a priority waiver pick up rather than be drafted.