Now that the dust has settled on most of the higher valued free agents, let’s take a look at who is trending up after their decisions. I’ll be publishing the players with a downward trend as well, so be on the lookout soon for this second edition. Just a caveat, these are not my endorsement of sky-rocketing each player’s value, but noting who I think will benefit from their free agency finds. I’ve written articles on both the top RB and WR free agents, so take a look for background information since I won’t repeat the same stats to you again (how boring). Let’s dive in.
Demarco Murray, RB (traded to Titans from Eagles)
I completely understand and might encourage some hesitancy regarding Murray, but his stock is on the rise given his new situation in Tennessee. I’ve written about Murray, his success in Dallas and his flop in Philly (take a look here), but with his new situation decided and speculation now dead regarding him returning to Dallas, let’s focus on his potential for 2016 as a Titan. No surprise that Titans focused on snagging a running back this off-season, since the RBBC of Sankey, Andrews, McCluster, and Cobb has been a mess. Sankey, a disappointment to say the least as a 2nd round 2014 pick, received a meager 47 carries for 193 years in 2015 (152 for 569 yards in 2014). Andrews led the backfield in carries on the year, with David Cobb getting the last start of the season (and doing well). Murray looks to make this backfield much simpler for fantasy owners, we hope. Titans head coach Mularkey states that Murray will be the led back and used “extensively”, but also noted they would “manage” his usage. I think it is safe to say that he will get the majority of the carries, with the remaining getting some 3rd down/passing work. Titans will most likely focus on building their offensive line to protect Mariota, which will help Murray get the holes he needs to gain yardage. They aren’t going to be the Dallas OL, but with volume alone, fantasy owners can count on Murray being at least an RB2 with upside. For Murray, 2015 was a “year off” compared to his usage in Dallas (dropped from 393 to 193 carries) and I think he has some tread left on those tires, not to mention wants to be a lead back again. He will most likely will see 200+ carries, but may see a dip in receptions (51 for 416 yards in 2015) due to McCluster’s presence. I see David Cobb as talented handcuff who wants to be a starter and has the talent if given the opportunity. Learning from a veteran like Murray isn’t a negative in the least.
Lamar Miller, RB (Dolphins to Texans)
The Miller hype train is pulling out of the station with a full head of steam, so I’m not surprised some are pumping the brakes. Fact of the matter is that Texans run the ball (Houston had the 5th most attempts out of all teams in 2015 with 472 attempts/carries and was 1st in 2014 with 551 attempts) and Miller’s usage in Miami was inconsistent. Given the carries (which there is no doubt in my mind that he will get 15+ carries a game, Miller is very successful (See my write up of Miller in more depth here). Unleash his speed, vision, and ability to make hard cuts and find space, and you’ve got a killer combination. According to fantasyfootballcalculator.com, Miller’s current ADP is 2.08, which has increased almost a full round since March 1st (was 3.05). This has him around RB9, which I think is appropriate value given his new Texan team. He was a steal before in the third, so I think many owners think the 2nd is too expensive, but he ended last season (where he was inefficiently utilized) as #6 fantasy RB in both standard and PPR formats. In 2014, he finished as #9. I know I’ll be looking to snag him, but am hoping that those jumping off the bandwagon will bring down his ADP a little for me. To all my league mates, I’m lying. Look away.
CJ Anderson, RB (Denver Broncos resigned)
After keeping us on the edge of our seats with a possible Miami deal, Anderson resigned with Denver and apparently wanted to stay there all along (I don’t blame him). I won’t hide that I haven’t always been the highest on Anderson and watched fantasy owners struggle through ownership the past 2 years, wondering if Anderson would pull it together. His surge at the end of the season, particularly in the playoffs, caught my attention and I saw a back that just did not give up. He is a downhill runner who keeps his feet going and has success breaking tackles. Anderson only missed one game, but seemed to struggle with a lingering ankle injury until later in the 2015 season. He managed to maintain a YPC of 4.7, but was out-touched by Hillman who ended the year with 207-863-7 stat line to CJ’s 152-720-5. These stats illustrate Anderson’s effectiveness with 50+ less carries, though, and Denver staff seem sold on him as the starter for 2016 after their reinvestment.
Two of my concerns with Anderson still exist: health and Hillman. Anderson appears to be full health and seems to have finally snagged the starter role for an offense that is bound to rely heavily on their running game. However, Hillman (as of this writing) remains in Denver and potentially could fight for the resurgence of the RBBC or steal the starting role, though it looks like it will be Anderson’s spot to lose. At his current ADP in the 4th round (RB 19), I think he is slightly undervalued which is perfect. It may feel riskier than it actually is, as we can see what Denver does with an uncertain or struggling QB situation: Hillman + Anderson = 359 carries in 2015. Sign me up.
Lance Dunbar, RB (resigned with Cowboys)
I view Dunbar as currently being undervalued by the fantasy community given recent signing of Morris in Dallas and because of his torn ACL and MCL in week 4 of 2015 season. Many unknowns, but the reason I have him as trending up is due to Morris not being a pass-catching back and McFadden being made of glass (except last year). In the past 4 seasons with Washington, Morris has never had more than 17 total catches in a season. Dunbar, on the other hand, had 23 targets in first 3 weeks of last season, which was the most in NFL for any RB at that point. He is a great PPR asset and will likely see the majority of the receptions out of the backfield, pending any other moves from Dallas and if his recovery goes smoothly. Before getting injured last season, Dunbar caught 21 for 215 yards. Now, I know this is a small sample size with one 100+ game, so he would not have kept this pace but the opportunities/touches alone should put him on fantasy radars as a possible PPR sleeper. His current ADP is in the 13th round, so minimal risk for possible high value.
Marvin Jones, WR (Bengals to Lions)
There have been some nay-sayers ever since Jones took the spot across from Golden Tate for the Lions earlier this month, leaving the Bengals and the shadow of AJ Green. My quick twitter poll showed that 41% feel Jones will be the “bust” of the WR free agent class this year, but I can’t say I agree. Some are pointing to the shoes Jones is filling—the great Megatron—as reasons why he can’t live up to high expectations, but Jones should not be seen nor will he be treated like a Calvin Johnson replacement (by rational owners anyways). Others haven’t been impressed with his performance, but perhaps expectations are too high for the WR2 who worked his way up the Bengals roster the past 3 years. Jones missed the entire 2014 season with an injury and came away with career highs in receptions and yards (65, 816 yards) in 2015.
Former coach Marvin Lewis is voicing Jones’ skills and citing his desire to be a WR1 as the main reason for Jones leaving Cincinnati. Now, WR1, no. However, he’s a solid WR2 with upside and will benefit from his new passer, Stafford, who threw an average of 639 times for 4500+ yards each season, over the last 4 seasons. I know they may try to improve their running game and Tate, Ebron, and Riddick will get their targets, but that’s still plenty of targets to go around. Johnson was the #1 in overall and red-zone targets last season (surprised?) with 156 targets and 20 in the red zone. That, and Tate still had 132 targets with 17 in the red-zone. My point, is Jones will get his opportunities. The question is, what will he be able to do with them? For me, his current ADP in the late 10th round has “sleeper” written all over it for me, and he has gained some ground since signing with Detroit (up from 13.02 ADP on March 1st). Check out Jeff Donovan’s article on the Marvin Jones effect for even more in-depth look at this wide receiver and his impact.
Travis Benjamin, WR (Browns to Chargers)
Many are discounting Benjamin and his move to the Chargers, though I think it adds value and hopefully consistency to his performance. He’s been quoted as wanting to leave Cleveland for a “better QB”, but perhaps we can generalize these comments to mean he was sick of the constant QB rotation in Cleveland. Would he have had upside on the Browns with possible RG3 and Gordon? Sure, but now he gets a seasoned QB in Rivers and a team that needs a healthy WR2 across from Keenan Allen. There are definite mouths to feed on the Chargers, but Woodhead (#1 in targets overall and redzone) had to pick up the slack of Gates, Allen, and Floyd when injured in 2015 as well as help out a struggling Melvin Gordon. Those numbers will become more balanced this season and none of them have the breakaway speed and deep target appeal of Benjamin. With Floyd now retired, Gates (36 years old at season start) and Allen (never played a full season) being injury-prone, Benjamin could see his stock rise pretty quickly. In 2015, he grabbed 68 catches for 966 yards with 5 TDs and that was with all the QB issues. He had an average of 10+ yards per catch in 12 games last season, so he definitely will look to make defenses pay downfield and be the deep ball threat for Rivers, who threw a career-high 438 times last in 2015.
Ladarius Green, TE (Chargers to Steelers)
First, this move by Pittsburgh was just great football and strategy. Coming off the retirement of Health Miller (and before Bryant faced suspension), the Steelers saw what San Diego couldn’t since Gates is blocking their vision. Green, a veteran TE with 4 years as a Charger, finally will get his chance to make a big offensive impact as well as give the Steelers young TE Jesse James help developing. Second, this is a great move for fantasy owners and Green has a definite opportunity to be a TE1. Steelers like to run 2 TE sets and Heath Miller was the #3 in overall targets and #2 in red zone targets last season (only Brown had more red zone targets). The biggest issue with Green might be his health, as he has only played one full 16 game season and lost time to an ankle injury in 2015. He ended 2015 with 37 receptions for 429 yards and 4 TDs. His size (6’6”, 240 lbs) will make him a consistent red zone threat who can win contested passes and will only help the Steelers more after the loss of Bryant to suspension.
Martellus Bennett, TE (Traded from Bears to Patriots)
Rumors of rocky relationships, a fake rib injury, and not being a good fit for the “unselfish and focus-driven culture” of the Chicago Bears, Bennett was traded to none other than the New England Patriots this off-season to pair up with Gronk. NE hasn’t had a successful TE tandem since Gronk and Hernandez back in 2010-2012. They were most successful in 2011, during which Hernandez caught 79 passes for 910 yards and 7 TDs while Gronk had career-high yardage and TDs at 1327 and 17 TDs, on 90 catches. No, that is not a typo, 17 touchdowns for Gronk that year. Hernandez did well the other 2 years, getting around 500 yards and 5/6 touchdowns each year. Enter: Bennett, a player who is built like a truck (6’6” 273 lbs) and has been very successful breaking tackles and making yards after the catch. He’s also a solid blocker who will make it much more difficult on defenses to cover both himself and Gronk off the line. Rex Ryan is quoted as saying the Bennett/Gronk tandem is “scary” and will cause issues for any defense. Sounds like someone you want on your team right?
Bennett struggled last season with injuries (rumors that the rib injury was a “sham”) and had his weakest season in 3 years, catching 53 catches for 439 yards and 3 TDs. However, ESPN Stats and Info notes that Bennett has the second most yards after the catch since 2013 with 1066 (second only to his new teammate, Rob Gronkowski). Bennett had 90 catches for 916 yards and 6 TDs in 2014 and played all 16 games in the 2012-2014 seasons. In the past, Gronk has also had injury issues, so if he would miss any time, Bennett would get a huge bump in fantasy value on the high octane passing offense of NE. At age 29, Bennett might only have a couple years left but think his new chances with NE are good and increase his likelihood significantly for going out on top.
Click here for my NFL Free Agents: Fantasy Stock Decreases article.