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Fantasy Football 2021: 10 losers after NFL free agency, including new Giants receiver Kenny Golladay

Fantasy expert Jacob Gibbs took a look at all the moves from an eventful NFL free agency period and broke down which players' Fantasy value dropped the most as a result.
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The 2021 NFL offseason has seen several highly-Fantasy relevant players join new teams, and keeping up with it all isn't easy. These moves don't just directly affect the players involved, either. There's a trickle-down effect with any player movement, and as the dust settles on the 2021 free agency period, we have a more clear view of which players' Fantasy value has changed the most.

If you've had a difficult time keeping up with all of the changes, here are the 10 players I believe to have lost the most Fantasy value from the 2021 free agency moves:

A.J. Dillon, RB, Green Bay Packers

I had reached for Dillon as early as the seventh or eighth round in early offseason mock drafts, which looks a little silly now. It was easy to get excited about Dillon's 2021 outlook, though, if operating under the assumption that the Packers had a plan. Green Bay selected Dillon in the second round of last year's draft. Dillon had just one game with a snap rate above 15 percent as a rookie, and he rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns in that game. Both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams hit the free-agent market in 2021, so it seemed as if there was a real chance that Dillon would get the opportunity to fill the role he was drafted for.

Green Bay had other plans, apparently, as they re-signed star RB Aaron Jones to a four-year, $48 million deal. And while the Packers did let Jamaal Williams leave in free agency, his presence doesn't have nearly the impact on Dillon's Fantasy value that Jones' does. Williams and Dillon play completely different roles -- Green Bay's second-round pick profiles as more of an early-down back, while most of Williams' playing time came on passing downs.

Williams was on the field 57 percent of the time while Green Bay was running its "two-minute" offense, or any play deemed as an obvious passing down; Dillon was only on the field for eight total two-minute snaps all year. The likelihood of Aaron Jones playing a larger role in the passing game in 2021 seems higher than that of Dillon filling Williams' role. It is possible that Williams takes some short-yardage work from Jones or rotates in on series more often than he did as a rookie, but the chances of him playing a Fantasy-relevant role are not high with Jones re-signed.

Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders

There were already some obvious red flags when considering Josh Jacobs' Fantasy outlook prior to free agency, and after watching Las Vegas' moves this offseason, I'm not even convinced that Jacobs is worth selecting inside of the first three rounds in 2021 Fantasy drafts.

The issue with Jacobs is and always has been a lack of receiving work. Jacobs truthers will point you towards his increase in targets in Year 2 -- from 2.1 per game to a whopping 3.0 per game -- as evidence of a step forward, but additional context makes it hard to feel excited about any "leap" Jacobs made as a receiver.

For starters, he wasn't even targeted more often. His target per route run rate in 2020 was identical to his rate as a rookie.

TPRR:

2019 -- 17.7 percent
2020 -- 17.7 percent

So Jacobs wasn't targeted more often, he just played two more games and ran a few more routes per game. He also was less efficient with his targets.

Yards per route run:

2019 -- 1.13
2020 -- 1.03

Yards per reception:

2019 -- 8.3
2020 -- 7.2

More important than Jacobs' efficiency metrics are his opportunity-based stats, which also don't favor him.

A big reason for Jacobs' lack of targets as a rookie was Las Vegas' aversion to having him on the field in obvious passing situations. When operating the two-minute offense, or plays that are deemed as obvious passing downs, Vegas only had Jacobs on the field 35.2 percent of the time as a rookie. Jacobs' rate did increase in Year 2 -- but only to 41.1 percent. The Raiders still mostly preferred another back to Jacobs on obvious passing downs in 2020, and that isn't likely to change after they gave Kenyan Drake a contract worth up to $14.5 million.

There's really no reason to expect Jacobs' targets to increase after Vegas brought in Drake and John Brown, which means he is going to again be dependent on finding the end zone to offer any chance at paying off his Fantasy draft capital. Jacobs' Fantasy production has been wholly dependent on positive game scripts to this point in his career, and I'm not overly optimistic about Las Vegas (win total set at 7.5) providing him with ample positive game scripts in 2021.

Jacobs career win/loss splits:

Averages in wins -- 22.2 carries for 95.6 yards and 1.31 touchdowns, 21.1 Fantasy points
Averages in losses -- 15.1 carries for 64.8 yards and 0.13 touchdowns, 10.3 Fantasy points

Placing a bet on Jacobs means placing a bet on the Raiders, and that's not a bet that I want to make with an early-round pick.

Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, TE, New England Patriots

The signing of these two talented tight ends has me cautiously optimistic about New England's offense in 2021, but it is hard to feel the same optimism regarding Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry's Fantasy outlook.

It's possible that Smith could see more targets in New England than he did while operating as the fourth offensive weapon behind A.J. Brown, Derrick Henry, and Corey Davis in Tennessee, but any targets gained are likely to be offset by the move from one of the NFL's most efficient passing offenses to one of the least. The Titans and Patriots ranked 30th and 31st in pass attempts in 2020, but Tennessee's offense produced 33 passing touchdowns to New England's league-low 12.

Henry also could potentially be looking at a larger role than in L.A., where he played third fiddle behind Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler. That possibility doesn't carry much weight compared to the fact that he left Justin Herbert and a Chargers offense that ranked fourth in dropbacks in 2020. Even if Henry's target share does increase in 2021 -- which is no guarantee -- New England's offensive environment presents a significant downgrade from Los Angeles.

Given New England's low volume passing attack, it will likely require some favorable variance on finding the end zone for either of these tight ends to be Fantasy relevant. And given how frequently the Patriots used Cam as a rusher when near the goal line in 2020, predicting touchdowns for anyone else in New England's offense is a near-impossible task to feel confident in. Either of these guys could end up inside the top-10 Fantasy tight ends in 2021, but I won't be drafting either as such.

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Tennessee Titans

Of course, the efficiency numbers for Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith were boosted by playing in one of the most efficient passing offenses in the NFL, but the impressiveness of their 2020 efficiency metrics still should be understated.

The only receivers who averaged more yards per route run than Corey Davis in 2020 were Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson, and A.J. Brown. Smith's yards per route numbers don't jump off the page, but he did rank top-five among tight ends in yards after the catch per reception for the second straight season. Smith ranked third at his position in Fantasy points per target, while Davis ranked sixth.

It remains to be seen what Tennessee will do in the NFL Draft, but to this point, their only replacement plan for Davis and Smith is Josh Reynolds. There is no way to classify Tannehill as anything but a loser after free agency.

Kenny Golladay, WR, New York Giants

Among 113 qualified players, Kenny Golladay's average route depth (10.1 yards downfield) and depth of target (13.8 yards) are both top-10 marks since the start of 2017. The only players to average more deep catches per game during that time are Tyreek Hill and Julio Jones.

Golladay makes his living on downfield targets, and his perfect early-career pairing with Matthew Stafford -- the owner of an NFL-high 9.4-yard aDOT since the start of 2019 -- made Kenny G a rich man in 2021. As a Golladay fan, I am happy to see him get his payday but am devastated by his landing spot in New York.

Here's how Golladay's old QB compares with his new one since the start of 2019 (each QB's rank among 25 QBs in parentheses):

  • Average depth of target: Stafford (1st -- 9.42 yards), Daniel Jones (18th -- 7.82 yards)
  • Percentage of attempts that traveled 15+ air yards: Stafford (1st -- 24.4%), Jones (20th -- 18.3%)
  • Percentage of attempts that traveled 20+ air yards: Stafford (2nd -- 15.1%), Jones (19th -- 10.4%)

It's clear that Stafford is among the best available options for a deep threat receiver -- in terms of volume of downfield targets, at least. Jones has been below the league average in terms of deep ball volume, and the rates listed above actually all dropped in 2020 (Jones had a 7.59-yard aDOT, attempted throws of 15-plus air yards on just 17 percent of his passes, and threw 20-plus yards downfield just 8.9 percent of the time). In terms of deep ball volume, it's no contest.

In terms of deep ball quality, Stafford still has Jones beat in almost all efficiency metrics since the start of 2019, but the discrepancy isn't nearly as large. In fact, in 2020, Jones actually finished third in completion percentage and first in passer rating on passes that traveled 20-plus air yards. That came on a tiny sample size (just 40 deep attempts), so it's not worth overreacting to.

Another clear downgrade for Golladay is the move from one of the NFL's most pass-heavy offenses to a middling Giants offense. Detroit ranked fourth in the NFL in pass-to-run rate in 2020, while New York ranked 16th. Their middling ranking was actually boosted by playing from behind so often -- in neutral situations (score within six points), only seven teams had a lower pass rate than the Giants in 2020. Golladay has yet to top even 120 targets in a season while playing on a pass-happy Detroit team; the probability of him seeing more targets on a Giants offense that ranked just 23rd in dropbacks in 2020 seems low.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers essentially used JuJu Smith-Schuster as a tight end in 2020. 19 tight ends ran at least 350 routes in 2020. JuJu's average route depth and aDOT both were lower than 18 of the 19 qualified tight ends. Drew Sample was the only guy from that group with worse usage.

So, when JuJu decided to re-up with the team that used him as nothing more than a short-yardage safety valve, he immediately became one of the biggest Fantasy losers of the 2021 free agency period. We've seen Smith-Schuster's productivity take a nosedive over the past two seasons, and it is difficult to expect a correction while competing for targets with ascending young target hogs like Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson. I wouldn't draft JuJu anywhere inside of the first 90 picks in Fantasy.

Will Fuller, WR, Miami Dolphins

I'm sure that Fuller's average draft position will fall as we get closer to Fantasy draft season, but the fact that he is currently being drafted in the same range as in 2020 is hard to wrap my head around. He'll be suspended for the first game of the season, and after that, he'll find himself in a significantly worse situation than the one in which he thrived last year.

A player of Fuller's caliber really couldn't have asked for a dreamier setup than what he had in 2020 -- there's a reason he was my most-drafted player after Antonio Gibson. Fuller posted excellent Fantasy numbers because he was the clear top target on a pass-heavy Texans team -- one which also frequently had to aggressively attack downfield in an attempt to erase deficits on the scoreboard.

The setup was perfectly suited to his skill set, and Fuller delivered strong results. Let's not forget who Will Fuller is, though. Over the past four years, Fuller has finished the season with 11, 11, 7, and 10 games played. And even when on the field, Fuller has never shown an ability to command targets at a rate that was even above average. In the time I have the data available (since 2017), Fuller has been targeted on just 19 percent of his routes -- for reference, the league average was 19.5 percent in 2020. Even in 2020, with Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb as his top competition for targets, Fuller was targeted on just 19.7 percent of his routes.

Now he heads to Miami, where DeVante Parker has already established himself as a target hog when healthy. Parker ranked 20th among 92 qualifiers with a 22 percent target per route run rate in 2020 -- ahead of the likes of Adam Thielen, Terry McLaurin, Amari Cooper, and Tyler Lockett. And, for what it's worth, Parker's TPRR rate was actually higher (22.5 percent) with Tua Tagovailoa at QB than Ryan Fitzpatrick, so the narrative that Fitz's gunslinger mentality is what has driven Parker's volume doesn't seem to hold much weight. Parker isn't Fuller's only competition for targets, either -- the Dolphins also have ascending young talents like Mike Gesicki, Preston Williams, and Lynn Bowden who could cut into Fuller's target share.

Fuller's problems don't stop at competition for targets -- there also will simply be fewer total targets to go around than in Houston. The Texans ranked third in the NFL in pass-to-run rate in 2020, while Miami ranked 18th. The Dolphins have a ton of young talent on the defensive side of the ball too, so it's unlikely they'll find themselves needing to attack downfield nearly as often as Fuller's Texans did in 2020.

On that note, it's time we talk about the drastic change in going from Deshaun Watson to Tua Tagovailoa. Watson was the only QB in the NFL to complete over 50 percent of his attempts on passes that traveled at least 20 air yards in 2020. He's been among the league's absolute best deep passers in recent memory. We haven't seen enough of Tua at the NFL level to say that he can't throw the deep ball, but we have seen enough to say that he can't throw it like Deshaun Watson. For a deep-ball specialist like Fuller, transitioning from Watson to Tua is like trading in a Ferrari for a used Honda Civic.

Among 113 qualified players, Fuller ranks 15th in average route depth (9.5 yards) and ninth in depth of target (13.98 yards) since the start of 2017. 27.2 percent of his targets have come at least 20 air yards downfield, which is the highest mark of qualified receivers.

That's right, Fuller has been the most deep-ball dependent wide receiver in the NFL since entering the league. So, moving to Miami -- where Tua Tagovailoa ranked 21st in deep ball rate (10.8 percent) in 2020 -- and having to compete with DeVante Parker and company for targets makes Fuller one of the clearest Fantasy losers of the free agency period.

David Johnson, RB, Houston Texans

Johnson essentially had no competition for playing time in 2020; when he was healthy, he regularly ranked near the top of NFL RB's in snap rate. With Houston bringing in both Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram during free agency, Johnson is one of the easiest "loser" picks for Fantasy purposes. Sometimes advanced analysis isn't needed.

This doesn't even take into account the possibility that Deshaun Watson could miss time in 2021. Between trade rumors and troubling off-field allegations, there's a very real chance that Watson is not starting for Houston. In that scenario, this offense projects to be one of the worst the NFL has seen in quite some time. There are enough red flags here to make Johnson a simple "do-not-draft" player for me in 2021. I feel confident that I can find a player with a path to more upside in any of the first 15 rounds. I'm happy letting a league mate deal with this Houston backfield, which seems almost certain to be a season-long headache for Fantasy purposes.

D.J. Chark, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jags gave Marvin Jones a two-year, $14.5 million contract to join their already talented receiving corps, and even with Trevor Lawrence likely to improve upon Jacksonville's problematic QB situation, it is hard to feel overly optimistic about D.J. Chark's outlook entering 2021.

Laviska Shenault is going to play more in 2021. With Keelan Cole now a member of the New York Jets, Shenault could operate as the primary slot receiver for the Jags. This is important for Chark because Shenault was a target magnet when allowed on the field as a rookie -- particularly from the slot. Shenault's 20 percent target per route run rate as a rookie was higher than Chark's rate in either 2019 or 2020, and it made Shenault just the 12th rookie receiver to finish with a TPRR above 20 percent since the data became available in 2017. His 20 percent mark is identical to that of rookie Chris Godwin and Terry McLaurin, for reference. And when the Jags created mismatches by lining Shenault up in the slot, his TPRR rose all the way to 23.4 percent.

If one of Jacksonville's receivers is to lose targets to Marvin Jones, it is much less likely to be Shenault than Chark. Shenault is just used completely differently than vertical threats like Chark and Jones:

2020 average route depth: Chark (9.6 yards), Jones (9.2), Shenault (7.6)
2020 average depth of target: Chark (13.9 yards), Jones (12.7), Shenault (6.2)

None of this is meant to suggest that Chark won't have Fantasy value in 2021. I would project him to lead the team in air yards, and he should be expected to out-target a 31-year-old Marvin Jones. But I expect Shenault to lead the team in targets, and second-year wideout Collin Johnson (team-high yards per route run as a rookie) is looming as a dark horse to steal perimeter reps if either of Chark or Jones falter. There's still a path to a useful Fantasy season for Chark, but it is much narrower than in 2019 or 2020. I wouldn't feel comfortable using a top-100 pick on Chark in 2021 unless the Jags make it explicitly clear this offseason that he -- and not Shenault -- will fill the slot role.

Jacob Gibbs
Jacob GibbsDFS Guru