While we wait to see where the new crop of rookies will land after the NFL Draft, there’s time to assess what was a very busy NFL free agency season. Big-name receivers like Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, Sammy Watkins, and Michael Crabtree will all have new homes in 2018. Here’s how their fantasy values could be affected by their new surroundings.
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Allen Robinson (Jacksonville to Chicago)
After a breakout 2015 campaign in which he accumulated more than 1,400 yards, Allen Robinson regressed horrifically in 2016 despite seeing similar target numbers, eventually finishing as the WR24 despite being a consensus first-round fantasy draft pick.
Robinson’s 2017 season ended in Week 1 when he tore his ACL, scarring many fantasy owners after back-to-back disappointing seasons. The Jaguars let Robinson walk in free agency and he landed in Chicago, one of the league’s burgeoning young offenses alongside Mitchell Trubisky and newly hired head coach Matt Nagy.
During Robinson’s breakout 2015 season, he mainly relied on the deep ball for his fantasy production, as he led the league in yards on passes that were more than 20 yards down the field. Now he joins a Bears offense that projects to be more pass-happy in year two of Trubisky’s NFL career. Nagy, formerly the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs, was one of the driving forces behind Kansas City’s offensive explosion in 2017, an underrated aspect of which was getting Alex Smith — essentially the dictionary definition of game manager — to set a career high in average depth of target (aDOT) while chucking bombs to Tyreek Hill.
Obviously, Hill and Robinson have different skill sets: Hill is a pure speedster who can burn an unsuspecting cornerback at any given time, while Robinson is a technician who relies on a rare combination of size and skill to outplay opposing defensive backs. Still, both make their money on splash plays, and Nagy was the OC for an offense that utilized Hill beautifully. While much of the credit for that goes to Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, don’t discredit the work of the man Reid called “the best head coaching candidate” he’s ever had.
Additionally, the quarterback change from Blake Bortles to Trubisky is a positive one for Robinson in terms of efficiency. According to PlayerProfiler.com, Bortles had the fourth-most “danger throws” of all qualified QBs in 2017, meaning he put the ball in danger of being intercepted the fourth-most last year. Bortles managed to do that despite posting an aDOT of just 7.6, meaning he put the ball in danger a lot despite most of his passes being near the line of scrimmage. Although Trubisky was rather uninspiring in his rookie campaign, he managed the best overall grade of all rookie quarterbacks according to Pro Football Focus, even beating out Deshaun Watson (PFF later noted that Watson would have had a higher grade if not for the game in which he subbed out Tom Savage mid-game).
Trubisky had a satisfactory rookie season despite his best receivers being Kendall Wright, Dontrelle Inman, and Tre McBride. Now the Bears offense has been completely revamped, bringing in Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton alongside Nagy. Many are touting the Bears as the NFL’s next breakout team, the “2018 Los Angeles Rams”, and the parallels are obvious: new offensively minded head coach, new toys at the wide receiver position, and a second-year quarterback who was highly touted coming out of college.
While “2018 Los Angeles Rams” is probably a stretch, the Bears should take a step forward efficiency-wise in 2018, and that can only bode well for Robinson. However, what is gained in efficiency from Jacksonville to Chicago could be lost in volume. Robinson had back-to-back 151 target seasons as a Jaguar, but there is more competition for touches and likely less passing volume as a whole in the 2018 Bears offense compared to the 2015 or 2016 Jacksonville offense.
For starters, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen spearhead a thunder-and-lightning running back duo that squashes any tandem Robinson had in Jacksonville, meaning the overall passing volume will not be what it was with the 2015 and 2016 Jags (both the 2015 and 2016 Jags had over 600 total pass attempts). And, although Robinson is the clear No. 1 receiver in Chicago, Gabriel, Burton, Cohen, and second-year tight end Adam Shaheen will not completely disappear in the passing game. The drop in volume for Robinson will not be drastic, as he’s still the clear No. 1 option in Chicago’s passing attack which gives him a floor of around 120 targets.
Robinson’s target volume may fall slightly in Chicago from years past, but an uptick in efficiency should balance out what’s lost in volume. Fantasy owners should expect Robinson to find a middle ground between his breakout 2015 and letdown 2016.
Bottom Line: The move from the Jaguars to the Bears is at worst a lateral one for Robinson and he should be viewed as a mid-WR2, but he has legitimate potential to finish as a low-end WR1/high-end WR2 if the Bears realize their potential as the “2018 Los Angeles Rams”.
Jarvis Landry (Miami to Cleveland)
After four years of being the epitome of consistency in fantasy football for the Miami Dolphins, Jarvis Landry delves into the unknown following a trade to the Cleveland Browns. In Cleveland, Landry joins a Browns offense that has been garnering legitimate hype in the media after newly hired general manager John Dorsey added Tyrod Taylor, Carlos Hyde, and Landry to an offense that already featured Josh Gordon and Duke Johnson. Despite joining an offense that looks better on paper (what does it say about the current state of the Miami offense that the Browns look better on paper?), Landry faces uncertainty surrounding his fantasy production for the first time in years.
In Miami, Landry was locked and loaded as a low-end WR1 or high-end WR2 in PPR. Now he joins a Cleveland offense with a lot of weapons and only so many targets to go around. Over his NFL career, Landry has averaged 142.8 targets per year with an aDOT of just 6.6 yards. Tyrod Taylor, on the other hand, has a career aDOT of 9.3, fourth-highest among 2018 projected starters behind Deshaun Watson, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota. Higher aDOT for Taylor bodes poorly for Landry, who survives (and thrives) in the short passing game.
During his years in Buffalo, Taylor never had a pass-catcher reach 100 receptions, and the highest target share any of his pass-catchers saw was 20.6% by Sammy Watkins in 2015. Over his career, Jarvis Landry has a 25.2% target share.
In Cleveland, Landry is the clear No. 2 WR behind Josh Gordon, one of the most talented wide receivers in football when on the field. According to Mike Tagliere of FantasyPros, no team had two receivers with more than 110 targets in 2017, and only three had two over 100. Put simply, the volume that Landry has depended upon his entire career is going to take a hit, meaning his fantasy stock falls as well.
However, Landry is not going to disappear into the chasm of irrelevancy because having a safety net is valuable for a quarterback.
Taylor has had a few underrated receivers during his career – Sammy Watkins, Chris Hogan, and Robert Woods, to name a few – but Landry’s skill set is fairly unique, and, much like how Landry managed to get his with Jay Cutler – who led the DeVante Parker hype train last off-season and caused Landry’s 2017 ADP to fall – Landry will still get his in Cleveland.
Bottom Line: The days of Landry as a surefire high-end WR2/low-end WR1 are (at least temporarily) over, simply due to impending volume regression in 2018.
Sammy Watkins (LAR to Kansas City)
After dazzling media members and scouts alike during his three years at Clemson, the Buffalo Bills selected Watkins fourth overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, but he has failed to reach the expectations that came with such a large investment.
Watkins flashed promise in his first two years in the NFL with over 2,000 combined receiving yards but struggled with injuries in 2016 before being traded to the Rams prior to the 2017 season. In Los Angeles, both Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp outperformed Watkins. While an unusually high TD% kept him semi-relevant, Watkins saw only 14.7% of Jared Goff’s targets, and it was obvious Goff favored Kupp and Woods over Watkins.
After some uncertainty about whether the Rams would franchise tag him, Watkins entered free agency and signed a three-year, $48 million contract with Kansas City. Watkins has shown flashes of being the prototypical X receiver NFL teams so desperately crave, and Kansas City clearly was willing to outbid Watkins’s other suitors to secure his services.
This will probably turn out to a better real-life move for Watkins than a fantasy one. In real life, Watkins will line up opposite speedy Tyreek Hill with Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt also heavily involved, meaning opposing defenses won’t be able to focus solely on Watkins. As a fantasy asset, Watkins will have to compete for targets with the aforementioned Hill, Kelce, and Hunt, all of whom have already established themselves in the Chiefs offense.
The case for this being a positive move for Watkins fantasy-wise is simple: no NFL team would sink so much money into a player they didn’t plan to utilize. Not only that, but Watkins is one of the more talented wideouts in the game, his previous situations have simply been suboptimal and now he’ll have a chance to succeed in a high-octane offense.
However, Watkins has a ridiculous amount of competition for volume in his way in 2018. Seriously, Hill, Watkins, Kelce, and Hunt is almost a video game-level offense. And, for the real-life Chiefs, this move makes a lot of sense: Watkins is too good of a player for defenses to ignore, meaning defenses can’t key in on one facet of their offense without being burned by another.
For fantasy owners, the transition to Kansas City is an unwelcome one, especially after many insiders speculated he’d finally get the chance to be the No. 1 receiver in a pass-first offense, whether it be with Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco or Mitchell Trubisky in Chicago. As it stands, the Chiefs are projected to support an RB1 (Kareem Hunt), a top-tier TE1 (Travis Kelce), and two WR2s (Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill), all with a redshirt freshman manning the helm at quarterback.
In 2017, no NFL team had a top 12 RB, a top 12 TE, and two top 24 WRs. Watkins, two years removed from his last productive fantasy season, is the obvious candidate for disappointment out of Kansas City’s four main skill players.
Bottom Line: Watkins’s talent/name value has kept his fantasy value afloat over the last few years as fantasy owners wait for him to realize the potential he flashed in college. However, four years in and with more target competition than ever, Watkins makes for a risky fantasy bet in 2018.
Michael Crabtree (Oakland to Baltimore)
Prior to the 2017 season, the fantasy community viewed Michael Crabtree as a dependable WR2 thanks to his red zone volume with the Oakland Raiders. However, Oakland’s 2017 season didn’t go according to plan, as Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Crabtree regressed significantly. The Raiders finished 6-10 and canned head coach Jack Del Rio.
Rumors surrounded Crabtree constantly as free agency neared, with conflicting reports arising regarding his status in Oakland. Finally, the dust had seemingly settled: Michael Crabtree would remain a Raider. At least, until the Packers cut Jordy Nelson, which led to the Raiders cutting Crabtree to clear cap space. Then Ryan Grant mysteriously failed a physical in Baltimore and Crabtree found himself as the only proven wide receiver on the Ravens.
Heading into the 2018 season, Crabtree headlines an otherwise uninspiring wide receiving corps. The Ravens lost more than 200 wide receiver targets from 2017 and 79 more from tight end Ben Watson. Volume is king in fantasy football, and there is a lot of volume available for the taking in Baltimore. Crabtree might not be the flashiest option, but he will be a relevant fantasy option due to the lack of other receiving options on the team.
Then again, Joe Flacco has never thrown a wide receiver more than 137 targets in a season. Flacco is also coming off a season in which his average depth of target was a mere 6.8 despite having two field-stretching wide receivers in Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin and a competent rushing game for the first time since 2014. Baltimore’s passing attack clearly regressed last year, throwing for nearly 1,200 fewer yards in 2017 than 2016.
Crabtree was heavily dependent on red zone production during his time in Oakland, totaling fifty RZ targets during his three years as a Raider and finishing each season with at least eight touchdowns. Now, he goes to Baltimore, whose entire wide receiver depth chart combined for eight touchdowns in 2017. Baltimore is quite possibly the worst destination for a receiver like Crabtree who depends on red zone production to maintain his fantasy value.
Bottom Line: Despite being the clear-cut number one option in the passing game in Baltimore, the transition from the Raiders to the Ravens damages Crabtree’s 2018 fantasy stock. Still, he should be viewed as a flex option due to the volume he’s expected to receive.