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NFL Draft

Fantasy Football Winners & Losers: NFL Free Agency Tampering Day 1

  • The Draft Network
  • March 16, 2021
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We can’t say that the NFL’s legal free-agent tampering period is officially in the books quite yet because, well, it’s in full effect for every second of the day leading up to 3:59:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday when regular ol’ free agency begins. So if you’re reading this before midnight on Monday, the wealth of potential Day-1 possibilities continues. If you’re reading this after, literally nothing changes—we just have to say “Day 2” instead.

While none of these deals are official until 4 p.m. ET rolls around on Wednesday—and players have time to Frank Gore their way out of these agreements—backing out at this point is so rare that it’s really not something worth worrying about (hello, @OldTakesExposed).

So as things stand now with the agreements currently in place, who are the big winners and losers of Day 1 of the legal tampering period from a fantasy football perspective? Here are the five that immediately come to mind. 

LOSER: Nelson Agholor (WR - NE)

Agholor is a big winner from a financial standpoint, agreeing to a two-year deal worth up to $13 million per year after a renaissance season in Las Vegas in 2020, but I don’t think he has much fantasy value in New England. Agholor was one of the top receivers in football last season in average depth of target (15.48), ranking seventh in the NFL among receivers with a minimum of 500 air yards. He’ll now be catching passes from Cam Newton who was among the NFL’s worst in average depth of target last season (6.45), 31st among quarterbacks with a minimum of 2,000 air yards. Only Nick Mullens and Drew Brees had lower marks among qualified players.

Agholor finished as the WR44 in average fantasy points per game last season (11.6) and the WR34 in total points. A lot of that fantasy-relevant value was tied to his career-high eight touchdowns (tied) and 10.9 yards per target. Unless Newton’s arm looks considerably better in 2021 than it did in 2020, Agholor’s upside appears to be significantly capped—both from a yards-per-target and touchdown standpoint.

We may never truly know whether 2020 was a fluke or the start of something more for Agholor, but he does not appear to be in the best position to succeed in 2021. He appears poised to drop out of WR4 territory this season with New England. 

WINNER: Jonnu Smith (TE - NE)

Smith was one of the day’s first “wow” agreements. The Patriots have their first true pass-catching tight end threat since Rob Gronkowski’s retirement. Smith instantly becomes a big-play threat for New England—he’s averaged 11.7 yards per reception over the last two seasons and 6.8 yards after contact in his career, per PFF—and more importantly, given what we just discussed above with Newton, a top red-zone option. Newton now has a true go-to in goal-to-go situations so he doesn’t always need to always pull the ball down and try to take it in himself.

Smith finished as the TE9 in average fantasy points per game last season (10.7) and the TE13 in total points in PPR formats. He did all that despite being tied for only the 18th-most targets at the position (65). Newton has to be a better overall passer in 2021 than he was last season in order to keep his job, but Smith having a more prominent role in the offense (more targets) can help make up for the drop in play from Ryan Tannehill to Newton. Smith should be considered a top-10 in redraft leagues.

LOSER: Baltimore Ravens D/ST

The Ravens not only lost one prominent edge rusher, they lost two as they saw both Matthew Judon (Patriots) and Yannick Ngakoue (Raiders) leave for greener pastures on Monday. That’s 23% of Baltimore’s total sack production from last season out the door, with another 16% of the production (Tyus Bowser, Jihad Ward, Derek Wolfe) still pending free agents. Nearly 27% of Baltimore fantasy production came from sacks last season and now they have major holes to fill there this offseason while also trying to address needs at wide receiver and possibly right tackle. With the premier free-agent edge rushers already out of play, the Ravens appear poised to not be a top-five fantasy defense for the first time since 2016.

WINNER: Rob Gronkowski (TE - TB)

Gronkowski returning to the Buccaneers was far from a surprise, although reports did open the door for a potential change earlier in the day. Gronkowski has only played with Tom Brady as his starting quarterback in his NFL career and it didn’t seem like there was any way that wouldn’t continue for another season. The future Hall of Fame tight end finished last season as the TE13 in average fantasy points per game (9.6) and the TE9 in total points. He was quite boom-or-bust—who isn’t aside from the elite options at the position?—but he was rosterable all season long.

Gronkowski returning to Tampa Bay was always going to be the best scenario for his overall happiness and production—and there’s reason to believe those two things are very intertwined. While he’s far from his prime and injury risk still needs to be accounted for, Gronkowski can serve as a really solid best ball option or as a backup plan in redraft leagues if you wait on tight end. He’s worthy of being ranked among the top 15 tight ends, but he’s not a lock for the top 12. However, he’s a small winner here because leaving Brady would have pushed him firmly in the middle or lower tier of TE2 territory.

LOSER: Ryan Tannehill (QB - TEN)

We all figured it was coming, but watching both Smith and Corey Davis leave Nashville on the same day had to hurt. Tannehill has been a very solid fantasy quarterback with some elite moments ever since he took over for Marcus Mariota as the Titans’ starter in Week 7 of 2019. Last season, Tannehill finished as the QB9 in average fantasy points per game (21.46) and the QB7 in total points. However, he’s now down his No. 2 WR, No. 3 WR, and his top tight end. With significant needs on the defensive side of the ball, the Titans may not have a ton of resources to dedicate to pass-catchers this offseason. As such, Tannehill could drop out of a QB1 spot and into streaming territory next season as a less consistent option. He’s still got an elite weapon in A.J. Brown, but that might be all he’s got in 2021.

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