Free Agency Roundtable: Under The Radar Signings

The staff offers their opinions on potential high-impact free agent signings that haven't received much hype.

Are any transactions from the free agency period flying under-the-radar for fantasy purposes?

Jason Wood: As the staff member who keeps our Offseason Player Movement Tracker updated, I don't take any signing lightly (kidding...mostly). But every off-season, there are transactions we tend to overlook at first that gain significance after the NFL draft.

For example, most assume the Giants goal in signing Jonathan Stewart was to add a veteran backup who trusts in Mike Shula's system. But if New York ignores the running back position on draft day? Suddenly Stewart will garner consideration as an RB3 or flex option. Similarly, I've seen some excited at the John Brown signing in Baltimore. Yet, all it would take is for the Ravens to spend another high pick on a receiver for Brown's prospects to take a huge dip.

With the caveat most of my views will change in the coming weeks depending on how rosters are filled out, here are a handful of potentially underplayed signings:

  • Jerick McKinnon, RB, SF -- Coach Shanahan has made it clear McKinnon reminds him of Devonta Freeman, and sees the new 49ers starter as a potential offensive centerpiece. There is industry hype around McKinnon, but enough casual owners view him as a committee back that his RB1 potential isn’t being properly valued...yet.

  • Jeremy Hill, RB, NE -- The uncertainty surrounding the Patriots backfield figures to make Hill a strong value. He’s young, powerful, and strikes me as the kind of back Bill Belichick will use heavily when the game script allows.

  • Cameron Brate, TE, TB -- Trey Burton to Chicago has folks (understandably) excited, but it's Brate who appears the better bet for a featured role. The Buccaneers signed Brate to a 6-year, $41 million extension and clearly plan on keeping him at the center of their passing attack.

Stephen Holloway: Jason is 100% correct in saying we don’t have all the puzzle pieces yet to know with any certainty which players will maintain their current perceived value, but as of right now:

  • McKinnon appears to be a great match for what San Francisco wants to do on offense.

  • Paul Richardson Jr has a terrific opportunity playing with Alex Smith in Washington. He’s considered an injury-risk due to issues early in his career but has only missed one game over the past two seasons. Richardson is coming off a career year with 44 catches for 703 yards and 6 touchdowns and should see an increase in targets this year.

  • Carlos Hyde is a better runner than Isaiah Crowell and if Cleveland’s offensive line does not fall apart with the retirement of Joe Thomas, he could produce as a high RB2.

Daniel Simpkins: Tyrell Williams staying in San Diego isn’t getting much publicity, but I believe this cements a very solid receiving corps along with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Travis Benjamin. Philip Rivers may be on the back end of his career, but he’s quietly got a very good group that can help him to remain a top-10 option.

Andy Hicks: Speaking of unheralded wide receiver signings, how about the Cowboys signings of Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson? Granted, they aren't the biggest names or best players on the market, but fantasy football is about opportunity. With the decision on Dez Bryant’s contract status playing out in slow motion, it’s possible one or both of these guys end up starters in Dallas.

Terrance Williams is at best a league-average receiver, who is best suited for a supporting role. Thompson is on his third team since last season started and a longshot to be fantasy relevant, but over the last two years, he’s logged three times as many 90+ yardage games as Terrance Williams. Hurns has struggled to get playing time in Jacksonville since his breakout 2015, but he has a shot to resurrect his value if he can develop a rapport with Dak Prescott, something Bryant has been unable to do.

Dan Hindery: Rex Burkhead staying in New England on a three-year, $9.75 million deal with $5.5 million in guarantees (plus millions more in incentives) is the deal flying most under-the-radar from a fantasy perspective. While the money isn’t eye-popping, it is a significant outlay for the Patriots given their history of frugality at the position.

The reason Burkhead’s deal is so interesting for fantasy is that the New England running back position has been wildly productive. Patriots running backs combined for an incredible 2700 total yards, 25 touchdowns and 120 receptions last year -- good for 540 fantasy points in PPR scoring. This is a huge pie, so Burkhead doesn’t need to dominate the backfield touches to put together a big fantasy season.

Burkhead put up 129.8 fantasy points (PPR scoring) last year, which placed him about 75 points shy of finishing as a fantasy RB1. However, he put up those numbers playing just 17.2% of the Patriots total offensive snaps. What if, with Dion Lewis out of the picture, Burkhead plays 35% of the snaps in 2018? What if he steps into a lead role like Lewis did down the stretch and plays over 60% of the snaps?

In dynasty leagues, I’m trying to buy Burkhead wherever I can because it is rare to find a back with legitimate RB1 potential at such reasonable trade prices.

Justin Howe: Dan has it right on Burkhead. The Patriots will sprinkle in other backs, but Burkhead still carries monstrous PPR and touchdown potential, and as Jason alluded to, the crowded depth chart in New England suggests their backs will be available in drafts for a song.

I know it's not very under-the-radar, but I can't stop singing the praises of Oakland's Jordy Nelson signing. Jon Gruden trusts veteran wideouts, and we’ve seen how much Derek Carr involved Michael Crabtree all over the field. Nelson is still just 33 (in May) and a far more reliable target than Crabtree has ever been. He should step into the Raiders intermediate and red zone roles and capitalize on an offense that should improve from last year.

Phil Alexander: It's no longer cool to like Terrelle Pryor after he failed miserably last season in Washington -- especially now that he landed with the Jets -- but I refuse to give up on a player I love so much, so easily.

Pryor was hurt last year, plain and simple. How else do you explain a receiver with a 99th percentile height & weight adjusted speed score struggling mightily (despite improved offensive surroundings) after clearing 1,000 receiving yards in just his second season as a position-convert?

Pryor injured his ankle in Week 2 and quietly played through the malady until it shut him down for good in Week 9. He was healthy for just a single game last season -- not coincidentally the one in which Kirk Cousins targeted him 11 times. Did you read this quote from Pryor when it was learned he needed season-ending surgery?

"[Dr. Robert Anderson] said the stuff he saw in there, he couldn't believe I was still playing on it".

We should be willing to give Pryor a mulligan for last season and look ahead as if he's the same imposing physical specimen and ascending talent most analysts thought he was back in 2016. What can we expect from Pryor on the Jets?

Reports are Jermaine Kearse could be on the chopping block, Ardarius Stewart failed to move the needle as a rookie, and last year's WR1, Robby Anderson, could be still be looking at a league-mandated suspension even though felony charges were dropped after his latest arrest. Add in Austin Seferian-Jenkins' free agent defection and Matt Forte's retirement, and suddenly Pryor could be walking into a situation just like 2016 when he was the only viable pass-catcher on his team.

New York's presumed starting quarterback (at least to start the season), Josh McCown, has a rapport with Pryor also. In McCown's three starts for the Browns in 2016, Pryor combined for 264 yards on a whopping 34 targets and was never targeted less than 10 times in a game. Considering we won't be paying anything close to Pryor's late-third-round ADP from 2017 at the draft table this season, there's little risk in finding out which of his last two seasons was the fluke.

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