2021 Free Agency - Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Now that the free agency frenzy has died down, we take a look at some of the wide receiver and tight end signings and their fantasy implications.
Thank you to Joe McManus (mcmanusdesign) for the Jersey Swaps/Edits
Kenny Golladay - New York Giants
Kenny Golladay walked out of free-agency with a massive deal, and for good reason. Golladay fills an obvious hole with the Giants at WR1. New York now has their guy who can stretch the field for Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and most importantly, Saquon Barkley. They also have a guy who can do much more.
KG was a touchdown machine in 2019 by leading the NFL with 11 touchdown grabs. He also appeared in the Top 10 in several categories that year:
#1 – Deep targets (37)
#4 – Yds. Per reception (18.3)
#6 – Yds. Per target (10.3)
#7 – Completed air yards (907)
There are two hopes Golladay managers need to hold on to here: That the 27-year-old WR is healthy, and Daniel Jones bounces back BIG TIME. KG only played in 5 games in 2020. As for Jones, he fell absolutely flat on his face in 2020 after a promising, but mistake-prone, rookie season in 2019.
Jones finished last year with 11 TD’s and 10 interceptions. The only QB who had fewer TD passes and started 14+ games; Cam Newton with 8. In fact, the only quarterbacks to play 14+ games & throw 11 or fewer TD's since 2010:
- Blake Bortles
- DeShone Kizer
- Marcus Mariota
- Josh Rosen
- Cam Newton (2020)
- Daniel Jones (2020)
Not great company for Jones. He did enjoy the 7th best Deep Ball Completion Percentage at 46.2%, so that’s encouraging. But Jones HAS TO have a massive rebound to truly make Golladay a fantasy hero in 2021. It’s best to treat Golladay as a WR3 with WR2 upside for now.
Will Fuller - Miami Dolphins
What a wild 2020 season for Will Fuller. We were all enjoying the 'Fuller Express' until the train came to a screeching halt, and he was suspended for the final six games of the season for violating the league's PED policy. While he was on the field, Fuller was a machine for the Texans. In just 11 games, the Houston WR ranked 7th in fantasy points per game and 13th with eight touchdowns.
Fuller would have been someone I’d look to draft again in 2021, but I’m not convinced the Dolphins are the best place for him in fantasy. His opportunities will likely be limited. Miami appears to prioritize a run-dependent offense that controls the clock. The Dolphins also created one of the best defensive units last year, which is critical for a run-heavy offense.
Tua is also another factor for Fuller. Tua can use his legs well, and he doesn’t look downfield too often. His Yards/Attempt ranked 30th, and he ranked 32nd in completed air yards per game. The jury is still out on Tua overall, but he did finish the year 2nd in Accuracy Rating and 3rd with an 80.3% catchable pass rate.
Fuller is a fine bench stash to start the year. See how his health and opportunities evolve.
Curtis Samuel - Washington Football Team
This may be one of the best signings in all of free agency. Unfortunately, it’s only one of the best in reality and not fantasy. Curtis Samuel is a great player, but I think his fantasy value peaked in 2020.
Samuel benefited from Joe Brady’s offense and the absence of CMC. Samuel went from carrying the ball 19 times in 2019 to 41 times in 2020. His rushing upside was key in his fantasy production from week to week.
The WFT may also not throw all too often. Ryan Fitzpatrick is 38-years-old and is on his 9th team. While Fitzpatrick is an upgrade from Alex Smith, don't be fooled that it means the WFT will suddenly have an air-raid offense to both satisfy Samuel and Terry McLaurin managers.
However, Samuel could be a safety net for Fitzpatrick. Last season Samuel had 61 short-yardage receptions compared to just 17 deep catches. He also recorded more most yards and receptions on 3rd down compared to every other down.
Samuel fills a massive WR2 void for the WFT, but for any fantasy value he may get lost in the shuffle. Consider drafting him in 14-team leagues. If you’re in a smaller league, keep a close eye on him on the waivers. He’ll likely post numbers similar to 2019 when he finished with a 54/627/6 statline.
Marvin Jones Jr. - Jacksonville Jaguars
The 31-year-old WR, Marvin Jones Jr., decided to surprise a lot of people and sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars. While many thought he’d try to latch on with a contender, Jones decided to reunite with his former offensive coordinator in Duval.
Jones has recorded 9 touchdown catches each of the last two seasons. There’s a good chance he’s able to keep that streak alive in 2021. He joins a young Jaguars offense that will (likely) be led by the number one overall pick, Trevor Lawrence.
In that offense, Jones will be the clear WR2 and go opposite of DJ Chark. Past numbers show that could free up Chark to stretch the field while Jones occupies the short-middle. In 2019, Jones recorded 12.6 yards/reception and 8.5 yards/target. Then when Kenny Golladay was out in 2020, Jones’ numbers were nearly identical with 12.9 yards/rec and 8.5 yards/target. We should expect the same with Darrell Bevell still calling the plays for Jones.
If you like to take risks, then you could draft Jones in the later rounds of a 12-14 team league. There should be plenty of opportunities to go around too, because Jacksonville’s defense has a long way to go to be average. Be ready for some shootouts in 2021 with Lawrence slinging the ball 40+ times in at least a few games.
Nelson Agholor - New England Patriots
Somehow, someway Nelson Agholor turned his 'Meme Season' in 2019, into a career year in 2020, and into getting PAID in 2021. Good for him.
At 27 years old, Agholor set career marks in receiving yards and touchdowns. Agholor also showed us that he can still stretch the field and be a deep threat by finishing 2nd with 18.7 yards per reception and 5th in average target distance. The Raiders' WR also ended the year 12th in the league with 22 deep targets.
All of that is great, but his new QB is Cam Newton. Cam only had 8 TD passes in 2020. His legs are his first choice, and a shallow pass is his second. In 2020, Cam averaged 6.7 air yards per attempt. I’m no mathematician, but that is far shorter than Agholor’s 18.7 yds/rec. Cam also only threw deep 26 times, which ranked 31st in the league.
This may not go well at all for fantasy. I wouldn't recommend drafting Agholor, but he could be someone to grab off waivers if the Patriots move on from Newton during the year.
Jonnu Smith - New England Patriots
The majority of Fantasy Twitter was ready to crown Jonnu Smith the newest member of the upper-tier tight end group, until he signed with the Patriots. Not only did he sign on with one of the worst throwing QB’s in the NFL, but then Hunter Henry decided to tag along and just ruin everything.
There is good news though. As mentioned, Cam averaged 6.7 air yards per attempt. Jonnu is right there by averaging 6.9 yds/target. So if Cam decides not to run, then he’ll most likely be looking for Smith… and Henry.
Smith could be worth a bye week fill-in depending on the matchup. He’s just so hard to trust with Cam under center and Henry on the other side. There’s a good chance Jonnu falls far from his 10.0 PPR ppg from last season.
Hunter Henry - New England Patriots
New England’s other major tight end acquisition was Hunter Henry. Henry seemed to consistently disappoint given his expectations on the Chargers, but bill Belichick was a fan and he starts anew on the Patriots. Both he and Smith will limit the ceiling of each other, but both could be productive on a TE2 level with a quarterback who doesn’t throw deep and on a team with few other reliable receiving options. Henry will likely be the more in-line TE with Smith moving around the formation more, so there could be a role for both, and Cam Newton helped Greg Olsen be a productive fantasy tight end in Carolina for several years. Like Smith, Henry’s fantasy points per game rate will likely decrease, but he could be a good fill-in for injuries and bye weeks.
Jared Cook - LA Chargers
Jared Cook is now 33 years old and in the twilight of his career. In 2020 Cook still hauled in 7 touchdowns, so he has touchdown-dependent value right now. Unless you find yourself in desperation-mode in a 14-team league, I would not recommend Cook.
If you are willing to take a shot at a Chargers tight-end, We WOULD recommend Cook’s new understudy: Donald Parham Jr.
Corey Davis - New York Jets
Corey Davis had somewhat of a breakout season in 2020 after being highly touted for several years. He finished with 984 yards and 5 touchdowns as the WR2 on a run-heavy offense in Tennessee, who ranked second to only the Ravens in rushing attempts and yards. This solid campaign landed him a contract with the Jets.
It remains to be seen if New York drafts a receiver, but as of now Davis slots in as a quasi-WR1 for the team. He’ll get good volume on a team that, even if they improve their quarterback situation, should be playing from behind quite a bit. Davis will work the intermediate routes with Denzel Mims serving as the team’s field stretcher.
It’s possible for Davis to be a solid WR3 on your dynasty team, and can step into your lineup when injuries or byes warrant it.
Juju Smith-Schuster - Pittsburgh Steelers
Juju Smith-Schuster turned down what looked like better deals from Kansas City and Baltimore to re-sign with Pittsburgh on a one-yar deal. He’ll look to excel in 2021 and cash in on a longer term deal when the salary cap goes back up nxt year.
Juju was a bit of a puzzling player in 2020. He had 97 catches and 9 touchdowns, but that only translated to WR16 in PPR scoring (WR 23 in PPR points per game) due to a low average target distance of 5.8 yards (and 7.6 air yards per reception). He should continue in that vein in Pittsburgh in 2021, and his ceiling will probably be limited to a higher end WR3.
Smith-Schuster’s presence also complicates the outlook for teammates Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. As long as all three are on the same team, their production will likely be hard to predict and perhaps none of them will ascend to the reliable WR2 level.
A.J. Green - Arizona Cardinals
You may be surprised to find out A.J. Green had 104 targets in 2020. It only translated to 47 catches, and he seemed to consistently underwhelm as Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins solidified their positions in the Bengals’ offense. The veteran will play his 33 year old season in Arizona in 2021, and could serve as a reliable possession target for Kyler Murray, as Larry Fitzgerald likely will retire. He’ll likely push Christian Kirk for the WR2 role on the team. His fantasy upside, however, remains limited at this point in his career. Green is a late-round choice in startups and is really nothing more than a bench piece for your team.
John Brown - Las Vegas Raiders
John Brown leaves Buffalo for Las Vegas, who let Nelson Agholor go in free agency. He was limited by injuries in 2020, but served capably as the Bills’ deep threat (20.4 air yards per reception). Buffalo was willing to move on from the 31 year old veteran, and he now joins a wide receiver corps that also features second year players Henry Ruggs and Bryan Eedwards. Many expect both to take a step forward in 2021, and this is still Darren Waller’s team, so Brown’s upside is limited. He’ll take the top off of the defense and make some big plays, but we can’t expect much from Brown, who is a WR4 bench stash for your dynasty team.
Emmanuel Sanders - Buffalo Bills
The Bills replaced Brown with 34 year old veteran Emmanuel Sanders, who managed to produce over 700 yards and 5 touchdowns with New Orleans in 2020, despite Drew Brees missing several games due to injury. The prevailing thinking is that Buffalo moved on from Brown in order to give 2020 rookie Gabriel Davis an expanded role, so Sanders is likely going to be the WR3 or WR4 on his own team, making him little more than a deeper stash for you in your dynasty leagues. Should Cole Beasley get injured, you might see Sanders gain some relevance in PPR leagues, but that’s the most we can really expect at this point in his career.
Rob Gronkowski - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Rob Gronkowsli got off to a slow start in 2020, but ended the season as TE8 in PPR scoring, and TE13 in PPR points per game among TEs who played more than 8 games. He signed a one-year deal with the Bucs who look to run it back and repeat as Super Bowl champions. With the likely departure of OJ Howard and the good rapport with Tom Brady, Gronk’s short-term value is high. If you’re a contending win-now team, Gronk is a possible trade target, but his longer term dynasty value is lower.
Gerald Everett - Seattle Seahawks
Gerald Everett departs the Los Angeles Rams for a situation in Seattle that could prove promising. Everett, weho turns 27 in June, was part of an effective tight end tandem with Tyekr Higbee in Los Angeles, and optimists will point to Everett’s opportunity to be the main tight end in Seattle as reason to expect his fantasy production to increase. Given the quarterback upgrade to Russell Wilson, and given Wilson’s heavy targeting of his only effective intermediate option in Tyler Lockett, we can probably expect Everett to put up better numbers in Seattle. Will Dissly truthers will be upset, but Everett is a decent TE2 option moving forward.
Tyler Higbee - Los Angeles Rams
Everett’s tight end partner in Los Angeles, Tyler Higbee, re-signed with the team and could be a useful TE2 option himself. Higbee had pretty good production in 2020 with the Rams, including a three touchdown game in week 2. He only found the end zone two more times the rest of the season, but managed to gain 521 yards and almost 12 yards per reception. With the deeparture of Everett and the upgrade at quarterback in Matt Stafford, the arrow might be pointing up for Higbee. Assuming his targets increase, Higbee could be a solid TE2 in 2021, and at 28 has a few years left of his prime.
DeSean Jackson - Los Angeles Rams
The Rams added deep threat DeSean Jackson to the receiving mix this offseason. At this point in his career, and with his recent injury history, Jackson is a bench stash. He’ll take the top off of defenses when he is on the field, and he could complicate the outlook for Van Jefferson, but Jackson no longer has much fantasy relevance, especially in dynasty.
Sammy Watkins - Baltimore Ravens
As other receivers seemed to pass on offers from the Ravens, Sammy Watkins signed there, providing a veteran presence for Lamar Jackson, but his fantasy upside probably took a hit. Watkins was already known for his boom-or-bust inconsistency and was at best the third passing option for the Chiefs. Now he movs from a pass heavy team to the most run heavy team in the league, and from a stellar passer in Patrick Mahomes to a mediocre eone in Jackson, while remaining likely the third option behind tight end Mark Andrews and fellow wideout Marquise Brown. Watkins can have big weeks, but they will be harder to come by in Baltimore and will remain difficult to predict. He’s nothing more than a bench stash for your team.
Josh Reynolds - Tennessee Titans
Josh Reynolds flashed as the WR3 for the Rams in 2020 and some in the fantasy community saw promise in his future outlook. He’s still a decent talent who could take a step forward, but he moves to a run heavy offense in Tennessee, who also tries to move on after losing coordinator Arthur Smith. It’s a bit of a lateral move at QB from Goff to Tannehill, and he could grow into the Corey Davis role there, but his ceiling is limited. Reynolds is likely a WR4 depth piece for your dynasty team.