With free agency mostly in the rear-view mirror and the draft just ahead, it is the perfect time to revisit the best fantasy landing spots for the premier skill-position prospects in this year’s class as well as what has changed since the start of free agency.
The free agency period came and went without much change at quarterback. Tony Romo’s unexpected retirement has left the Texans and Broncos in basically the same position they were in heading into March, and Chicago replacing Jay Cutler with Mike Glennon does not register much of a blip on the seismograph. The Browns were elevated out of the honorable mention category because they were able to marginally offset the loss of Terrelle Pryor with Kenny Britt and have the draft capital to add several weapons this weekend, but overall the best destinations remain very much the same.
Broncos: Despite signing Ronald Leary and Menelik Watson, Denver still has a lot of work to do on the offensive line, but their pros outweigh their cons. They have two outstanding receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, a backfield which should produce if the issues up front are fixed, and a defense which will consistently put the offense in good positions. Add in a quality offensive coordinator, and this attack has a chance to be very good with the right quarterback. That said, it seems like the Broncos believe the right quarterback is already on the roster, so it is unlikely they add anyone of note in the draft.
Texans: Perhaps no team has ever been more “a quarterback away” than the Texans. In fact, Houston has many of the same things working in its favor as Denver. The weapons at receiver are not quite as good, but DeAndre Hopkins is a high-end No. 1, Will Fuller should be more dangerous with a competent quarterback, and C.J. Fiedorowicz is a quality tight end. Lamar Miller is a high-end back who should only become more effective if defenses have to worry about the passing game, and the defense is one of the best in the league. Like the Broncos, the Texans’ biggest concern other than quarterback is the offensive line, but it is still a solid spot for a quarterback. Unfortunately, Houston is unlikely to nab a day-one starter with the No. 25 overall pick, meaning Tom Savage should enter the season under center unless the Texans are able to trade up. Coach Bill O’Brien is reportedly enamored with Patrick Mahomes.
Browns: Cleveland was originally listed below the top two teams because of the departure of Terrelle Pryor, but they did a decent job replacing him with Kenny Britt and have the draft picks to add several weapons on offense. On top of that, they have a great offensive mind at head coach, a solid backfield duo, a pass catching tight end with an albeit limited history of success, and what should be an ascending receiver in Corey Coleman. They are quietly a good landing spot for one of the top quarterbacks, and it sounds like they are very interested in Mitchell Trubisky.
Honorable Mention: The 49ers and Jets could offer immediate starting opportunities, but the surrounding talent is bad to terrible in each spot. The 49ers have one of the worst receiver depth charts in the league even after adding Pierre Garcon while the Jets have a black hole at tight end and questionable talent at receiver.
The Bills, Jaguars, and Cardinals are teams worthy of attention in Dynasty formats. Buffalo did not really commit long term to Tyrod Taylor despite a new deal, Carson Palmer could be entering his final season, and Blake Bortles will likely be run out of Jacksonville if he struggles again.
Unlike quarterback, there was some movement among the top destinations at running back. The Raiders made a big splash by signing Marshawn Lynch on the eve of the draft. The Patriots addressed their backfield and then some, adding Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee to a group which already included Dion Lewis and James White. The Vikings also took care of their need, signing Latavius Murray to replace Adrian Peterson, who signed with New Orleans to pick up the slack behind Mark Ingram. Finally, Eddie Lacy landed somewhat surprisingly in Seattle, and Danny Woodhead signed a three-year deal with Baltimore.
Despite those moves, one of the former prime landing spots remains in play, and there are several other secondary options which appear more interesting considering the emphasis those teams seem to have placed on running backs in the lead up to the draft.
Eagles: It is surprising Ryan Mathews remains on the roster, but his neck injury likely has more to do with that than the Eagles’ desire to keep him. Either way, Philly has consistently been linked with the top running backs – including Joe Mixon, who would be an outstanding fit – and seem likely to select someone at the position in the first two days of the draft. Behind a line which should be good as long as everyone stays healthy and with what could be an improved passing game to take the pressure off, Philly has the look of an instant-impact destination.
Packers: Ty Montgomery had his moments as the lead back last season and proved he needs to be involved as a runner moving forward, which is not surprising to many who watched him at Stanford, but he alone is likely not Green Bay’s answer at running back. Even after Montgomery took over in Week 7, the Packers’ other running backs averaged more carries per game combined in the 13 contests in which Montgomery played. He had more than 10 carries only three times and more than 11 just once in that run. Montgomery is going to have a role, but there is room for a 12-15 carry back with solid touchdown upside in this offense. That player will likely be added in the draft. A big, strong back who still offers plenty in the passing game, Toledo’s Kareem Hunt would be a great fit.
Bucs: Tampa Bay was not originally listed among the top spots because of the uncertainty surrounding Doug Martin, but it now seems clear they are going to add another running back early in the draft, perhaps even in the first round. If that happens, it will likely spell the end for Martin in Tampa and vault the rookie ahead of Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers on the depth chart. With DeSean Jackson in the fold and Jameis Winston only getting better, this is an offense poised to take a step forward, and a dynamic back would only help that ascension. The Bucs have been heavily linked with Dalvin Cook.
Panthers: Carolina might not be worthy of this list because Jonathan Stewart should retain a role this season, but they have been heavily linked with Leonard Fournette and to a lesser extent Christian McCaffrey with the No. 8 overall pick. Spending that kind of draft capital on a running back would ensure the rookie has an immediate role, and Carolina’s desire to take some of the rushing pressure off Cam Newton means there should be carries to go around. Both Fournette and McCaffrey would be immediate redraft options if they end up with the Panthers.
Honorable Mention: The Giants have something of an opening at running back, but it is hardly a situation to target. Paul Perkins is not going anywhere, and the running game has not been good enough to support one fantasy back let alone two. Without any spectacular additions on the offensive line or changes in scheme, the running game will likely continue to struggle.
The Bengals are a very interesting landing spot for Dynasty because Jeremy Hill is not very good and headed into the final year of his deal, but Giovani Bernard should return from his knee injury relatively early in the season, putting a damper on redraft upside.
Finally, the Colts and Lions are interesting because they have a starter or stable of backs with serious question marks. Frank Gore seems to be nearing the end of his Hall-of-Fame career, and it will not be surprising to see him usurped by a rookie if the Colts invest a high pick. The Lions have two good backs in Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, but they could be looking for more of a traditional “lead back” to carry the load behind what looks like an improved line.
The receiver spot had the most movement among the skills positions. Washington filled their gaping need by signing Terrelle Pryor, the Browns replaced Pryor with Kenny Britt, the Eagles brought in both Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, the Giants and Bucs shored up their No. 2 spots with Brandon Marshall and DeSean Jackson respectively, and the 49ers at least helped their cause with the addition of Pierre Garcon, although they have more work to do. Even so, there are still some great potential situations for fantasy rookies.
Ravens: With Steve Smith Sr. retired and Kamar Aiken in Indy, the Ravens have a big hole to fill in the receiver corps, and that will remain true even if Breshad Perriman takes a step forward in year three. They need a true No. 1 receiver opposite Mike Wallace and Perriman, and Mike Williams or Corey Davis fit the bill. If Davis does land in Baltimore, it will be difficult to pass on him with the first pick in rookie-only Dynasty drafts, and he should make an immediate impact in redraft leagues.
Titans: With the running game putting idiot doubters (aka yours truly) in their place, the Titans’ next great obstacle on offense is surrounding Marcus Mariota with weapons. While Tennessee did not lose many targets, they also did not add anyone of note and sport a bottom-half receiver depth chart. Rishard Matthews is a quality No. 2, but Tajae Sharpe is unlikely to become a game-changing receiver while Harry Douglas is not going to be an important cog in any well-functioning passing game. Tennessee needs a No. 1, and Mariota played well enough last season to suggest that player will be a high-end asset in fantasy once they land him. Like with Baltimore, Mike Williams or Corey Davis would be a great get at No. 18 overall.
Honorable Mention: The Bears, Rams, and 49ers still have targets up for grabs, but the quarterback situation for each is questionable at best. Chicago is arguably in the best spot after signing Mike Glennon, but there is no guarantee he will be good while my irrational love for Kevin White, Cameron Meredith, and Kendall Wright makes me question just how much opportunity is available. Jared Goff has a chance to take a step forward playing under Sean McVay, but that is no better than a guess and they gave Robert Woods a lot of money. The 49ers are at least in a better position than this time two months ago with Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, but that is not saying much.
The Bills, Bengals, Cowboys, and Steelers all have quality No. 1 receivers, but they should be on the lookout for a secondary option, although Pittsburgh’s search carries less urgency with the news Martavis Bryant has been reinstated. Dallas and Cincinnati are also in better positions after re-signing Terrance Williams and Brandon LaFell respectively. Buffalo, on the other hand, remains a wasteland behind Sammy Watkins, who cannot be trusted to stay healthy. A rookie could find their way into a lot of targets with the Bills this season.
Philly added Jeffery and Smith, but both along with Jordan Matthews could be gone after this season – it could be even sooner for Matthews. The Eagles remain a good situation in Dynasty. The Cardinals, Panthers, and Lions might not appear to be great fantasy destinations, but all three offer sneaky opportunity upside.
Of the three teams who really needed help at tight end, Green Bay was the only one who seriously addressed the position, replacing Jared Cook with Martellus Bennett. Cook also ended up in an interesting situation in Oakland, and he should immediately jump to the top of the depth chart ahead of Clive Walford. Jack Doyle did not go anywhere, but he is suddenly in a better fantasy position after Dwayne Allen was traded to the Patriots.
Jaguars: Following the trade of Julius Thomas, the Jaguars are left with a big question at tight end, and Mychal Rivera is not the answer. Thomas only saw 51 targets last season, but those came in just nine games (5.7 per game). Jaguars tight ends accounted for 20 percent of the team’s total targets in 2016, and that was with replacement-level talent occupying the position most of the year. Considering only nine tight ends saw more than 90 targets each of the last two seasons, there is an immediate-impact opportunity in Jacksonville.
Giants: While they did bring back Will Tye and Matt LaCosse while signing Rhett Ellison to an interestingly large deal, the Giants still could use a receiving option. Even without quality talent at the position, New York funneled 113 targets to tight ends in 2016. If they are able to land one of the top talents, he could see the majority of those looks.
Honorable Mention: There is a bevy of teams with questionable starters or unsettled situations at tight end. The Steelers top the list because of offense’s upside and Ben Roethlisberger’s reported campaign for a top tight end, but the Ravens and Broncos deserve a mention as well.
The Jets also have an opening at tight end, but they fall under the “who cares?” category. New York is certain to use the tight end more in the passing game – Austin Seferian-Jenkins paced their tight ends with 17 targets in 2016 – now that Chan Gailey is gone, but their quarterback situation leaves much to be desired.