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    Fantasy Football 2024: Free agency winners you'll want to target in drafts and here's the advanced stats that prove why

    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 rose the most as a result.
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    We finally have believable hope for the Fantasy futures of Bijan Robinson, Drake London, and Kyle Pitts in Atlanta! The running back position appears to be back, as four of the eight highest-paid running backs signed their contract during the 2024 free agency period. The Chiefs got Patrick Mahomes a wide receiver, while Justin Herbert and the Chargers enter the Jon Harbaugh era without Keenan Allen or Mike Williams. The 2024 offseason has delivered another wild free agency period, and the Fantasy landscape has shifted in major ways as a result.

    It hasn't been all fun and games, as some signings seriously dampened the Fantasy outlook for exciting young players. At the beginning of March, Tyjae Spears appeared set for a massive Year 2 breakout following the departure of Derrick Henry. Now, his workload is unclear while set to share the backfield with Tony Pollard. Chicago's backfield duo of Roschon Johnson and Khalil Herbert lost any semblance of Fantasy value when the Bears signed D'Andre Swift to a three-year $24 million contract. Buffalo Bills slot receiver Khalil Shakir was one of the most efficient producers in 2023 and appeared poised to follow up his late-season breakout with a big Year 3, but the signing of slot weapon Curtis Samuel complicates things. Other players who clearly lost Fantasy value during the free agency period include Keenan Allen, the Minnesota pass-catchers, the already-mentioned Pollard, Austin Ekeler, Gabe Davis, Adam Thielen, Cole Kmet, and Gerald Everett.

    In addition to evaluating the obvious Fantasy winners and losers affected by the biggest free agency signings, more subtle shifts in the Fantasy landscape can be observed in the inaction of some NFL organizations. There are certainly players who benefited from the lack of aggression exhibited by their team during free agency -- for example, Nico Collins was highlighted in this space during the 2023 offseason. The lack of activity from the Detroit Lions during 2024 free agency gives Jameson Williams a better chance at breaking out in Year 3; the same can be said for third-year running back James Cook who is one step closer to assuming the massive workload that we witnessed him pile up Fantasy points while filling under Joe Brady's instruction late in the 2023 season.

    The Fantasy implications of the 2024 free agency period are wide-reaching and extremely exciting after several months with little NFL news to speculate on. If you've had a difficult time keeping up with all of the changes, read on to find the 16 players I believe to have benefited most from the 2024 free agency period.

    Falcons

    Projecting the Atlanta Falcons with Kirk Cousins at QB is so much fun. New offensive coordinator and former quarterback, Zac Robinson, brings five seasons (2019-23) of experience with the Los Angeles Rams during which he served in a variety of roles, including quarterbacks/passing game coordinator, assistant quarterbacks coach and assistant wide receivers coach. I expect that we will see a much different offensive environment in Atlanta than the one that London and Pitts have endured.

    Only the Chicago Bears posted a lower situation-neutral (score within six points) pass rate than the Atlanta Falcons (47.4%) over the past two seasons. The league average during that time was 56%. Atlanta's 37% pass rate on first downs over the past two seasons was by far the NFL's lowest mark, 41% being the next-lowest. Even a move to league average in those two rates would provide a massive boost to the receiving volume available to the Falcons pass-catchers.

    Improved efficiency is likely coming as well, as both Pitts and London have regularly found themselves near the top of their position in off-target rates.

    I'm doing my best to project Atlanta's efficiency modestly -- for all of the belief that Netflix's 'Quarterback' inspired in Kirk Cousins, he indeed remains a soon-to-be 36-year-old recovering from a typically debilitating injury -- I feel much more confident in projecting an increase in overall passing volume. Any boost in efficiency from a modest projection provides a path to league-winning upside for Atlanta's offensive pieces.

    However confident you feel in the efficacy of the Falcons offense can dictate how aggressively you move in targeting Cousins, London, Pitts, and Robinson in drafts this summer. Let's lay the groundwork by first considering what type of play volume may be produced in Atlanta.

    My current projections have the Falcons producing 34 pass attempts and 266 air yards per game. The league average over the past two seasons is 259 air yards on 33.5 attempts. This creates room for the following 2024 per-game target and air yardage projections:

    Projected 2024 targets per game:
    (2022-23 data only includes games that London or Pitts played at least half of the offensive snaps)

    6.9 -- London (2022-23)
    8.4 -- London's 2024 projection

    5.5 -- Pitts (2022-23)
    7.9 -- Pitts' 2024 projection

    Projected 2024 air yards per game:

    75.2 -- London (2022-23)
    86.5 -- London's 2024 projection

    68.2 -- Pitts (2022-23)
    86.3 -- Pitts' 2024 projection

    I was shocked to see such high target projections for Pitts, but it's backed by data -- Pitts has demanded unique target volume for the tight end position when healthy, even while sharing the field with London.

    With these volume projections, London yields a range of outcomes between 12.9 and 16.7 PPR points per game. Pitts has a wider range of outcomes, between 11.9 and 16.4 PPR points per game. Based off of the 2023 per-game averages, that places London in the WR6 to WR29 range and Pitts in the TE1 to TE7 range.

    Bijan Robinson projects as likely to finish somewhere between RB1 and RB5 on a per-game basis in 2024 with more routes run and a potentially huge increase in targets. He doesn't come close to Christian McCaffrey or Kyren Williams from a median projection standpoint, but Robinson does bring a similar top range of outcomes. From a median projection standpoint, Robinson falls into the same range as Breece Hall, Saquon Barkley, Jahmyr Gibbs and Jonathan Taylor, with Josh Jacobs and Travis Etienne forming a third tier behind that bunch.

    Derrick Henry, RB, Ravens

    Derrick Henry leaves a Titans offense that has produced yards before contact for the rushers at one of the lowest rates in favor of a Baltimore Ravens offensive line that had no problem opening running lanes in 2023.

    Heavy mileage may slow Henry down in his age-30 season, but he was still one of the NFL's best producers of yardage after initial contact in 2023. With both J.K. Dobbins and Keaton Mitchell rehabbing serious injuries, it's quite possible that Henry works as the clear lead back for an elite offense in 2024. Uncertainty regarding Henry's 2024 role placed him as Fantasy's RB16 in my pre-Free Agency rankings; I now have Henry ranked as the RB10 in the same range as Isiah Pacheco and James Cook. If drafting in March, I'd draft Henry ahead of Rachaad White, De'Von Achane (I discussed both in detail on the most recent Beyond the Boxscore episode, if you are curious), and Kenneth Walker.

    Zack Moss, RB, Bengals

    The Cincinnati Bengals moved on from Joe Mixon and may have found a cheap and seamless skillset transition in free agent acquisition Zack Moss.

    Landing in a high-powered offense where the potential for a lead role exists undoubtedly qualifies Moss as one of the biggest free agency Fantasy football winners. Of course, we have countless examples of fill-in running backs failing in roles that projected to be Fantasy-friendly over the past few seasons (and well before that, too!), so an honest and even dubious examination of Moss as a player is warranted before assuming anything.

    Quite frankly, the 2023 data that Moss turned in was not nearly as impressive as the overall impression that he made as a frequent Jonathan Taylor replacement in 2023.

    Don't get me wrong, Moss was clearly better than Joe Mixon in 2023.

    Mixon finished as the RB9 in PPR points per game in 2023. He was the RB6 on a per-healthy-game basis (only including games where backs played at least 50% of the offensive snaps) in 2022. This landing spot is a clear W for Moss.

    Josh Jacobs, RB, Packers

    Almost unbelievably, Josh Jacobs posted worse 2023 data than Mixon. Jacobs ranked bottom-10 in avoided tackle rate, yards after contact per rush, and rushing success rate among 49 qualified backs. Only Kareem Hunt produced a lower explosive rush rate than Jacobs. Just one year prior, Jacobs ranked third in avoided tackle rate and seventh in yards after contact per rush. If we zoom out, Jacobs has been one of the NFL's best rushers over the past 3-5 years.

    Jacobs was out-produced across the board as a rusher by backfield-mate Zamir White in 2023, though, and we have yet to see him produce efficiently as a pass-catcher even with increased target opportunity over the past three seasons. I wasn't sure what his free agency demand would be as part of a 2024 RB class in which Saquon Barkley clearly outclassed him and several other potential lead backs were up for contract. Returning to the Raiders felt more likely than landing in an improved offense where a similar bell-cow opportunity existed.

    To see Green Bay offer Jacobs $12 million per year while also deciding to take a sizable cap hit to release Aaron Jones was a surprise that presented a clear increase to the Fantasy value of the former Raider. I watched a good bit of Jordan Love film this offseason and am optimistic about the future for Green Bay's Matt LaFleur-led offense. Jones averaged 16.1 PPR points in seven healthy 2023 games, which would have placed him just between Gibbs (16.2) and Barkley (15.9) as the RB7. Some of that production belonged solely to Jones as the creator of explosive plays, which is a facet of Jacobs' game that was completely missing in 2023, so don't assume that we can extrapolate Jones' production over to Jacobs. As the depth chart currently stands, though, Jacobs has little-to-no competition for playing time in an offense that I currently project to finish top-12 in scoring.

    Zamir White, RB, Raiders

    We were treated to a four-game preview of what White and head coach Antonio Pierce might look like while working in tandem, and the results were PPR point totals of 17.5, 14.5, 15.6, and 13.1 for the second-year back. White handled 21 rush attempts per game during that stretch and totaled 397 yards on the ground.

    On the season, White only rushed 104 times. That's too small of a sample to make much of his data, but his rates did suggest that White is the same tough runner that was on display while sharing a backfield with (and out-rushing) James Cook at Georgia.

    A long offseason remains, but so far, White appears poised for a legitimate opportunity to handle the early-down work in Las Vegas. Keep him on your Fantasy radar.

    Diontae Johnson, WR, Panthers

    Diontae Johnson is exactly the type of wide receiver that the Carolina Panthers needed.

    Adam Thielen's 25.7% target share ranked 11th at the WR position, and he finished as Fantasy's WR17 in PPR scoring in 2023. From a target volume standpoint, Thielen enjoyed one of the most Fantasy-friendly roles in the NFL. After only drawing a target on 15.9% of his routes in 2022, Thielen posted a 21.6% target per route run rate in his first season with the Panthers. For reference, Diontae Johnson's rate has ranged between 23.9% and 27.6% over the past four seasons.

    The difference between a 33-year-old Thielen and Johnson in the prime of his career is extremely wide when it comes to earning targets. ESPN's "open score" has Thielen ranked 39th at the wide receiver position with a grade of '60' over the past three seasons combined. Johnson ranks first with an open grade of '92'; he and A.J. Brown (91) are the only two receivers with a grade above 85. Justin Jefferson (84), Tyreek Hill (81), and Stefon Diggs (81) are the only other receivers with open grades above 80 during that time. Johnson has struggled with drops, his efficiency has left a lot to be desired while receiving targets from Kenny Pickett and the likes, but he is absolutely one of the best when it comes to getting open.

    That ability has helped Johnson demand targets at an elite rate -- among qualified receivers, only eight have a higher target per route run rate across the 2020-2023 seasons. Displayed below is the range in which Johnson falls, for reference.

    Target per route run rate (2020-2023):

    Davante Adams -- 30.4%
    Tyreek Hill -- 29.2%
    Cooper Kupp -- 27.2%
    A.J. Brown -- 27.0%
    Keenan Allen -- 26.7%
    Stefon Diggs -- 26.6%
    Justin Jefferson -- 26.1%
    Diontae Johnson -- 25.9%
    CeeDee Lamb -- 25.4%
    DeAndre Hopkins -- 25.2%
    Deebo Samuel -- 25.0%

    Johnson's rate has actually been pulled down by the past two seasons, as the Steelers drastically changed his role.

    Diontae Johnson's average route depth by season:
    (Target per route run rate in parentheses)

    2020 -- 6.2 yards (27.6%)
    2021 -- 6.2 yards (27.5%)
    2022 -- 9.4 yards (23.9%)
    2023 -- 9.5 yards (23.9%)

    Average route depth refers to the average distance from the line of scrimmage at which a route runner's initial cut comes. Wide receivers with an average route depth above nine yards had an average target per route run rate of 19% in 2023. Receivers with a route depth below nine yards had a target per route run rate of 21%. Thielen's rate was 7.2 yards, for reference. Receivers with a route depth below eight yards had a target per route run rate of 23%. Running a more downfield-oriented route tree, as Johnson was asked to do in 2022 and 2023, typically results in a decrease in targets. That's exactly what we saw reflected in Johnson's target rates. On routes where his initial cut came eight yards or fewer downfield, Johnson still posted an elite target per route run rate (34% in 2022 and 32% in 2023).

    Thielen's target per route run rate increased by 36% from his final season with Minnesota to his first season with Carolina. Thielen's move into the WR1 role resulted in a shortened route tree and a drastic increase in targets. It's easy to get excited about what this type of transition could mean for Johnson, who has displayed a target-earning ability that is far beyond anything ever shown by Thielen. Thielen's highest single-season target per route run rate (25.9% in 2017) was his only mark above 24%. It's possible that Johnson could notably out-pace the 2023 target rate that led to a top-20 Fantasy WR season from Thielen.

    Carolina averaged an embarrassingly low 265 yards of offense per game in 2023, the lowest single-season mark of any team over the past five seasons. The 2024 offseason moves from the Panthers organization suggest that last season's abysmal offensive output served as a catalyst to prioritize providing Bryce Young with a healthier offensive environment, and so it's possible that Johnson will face more target competition in the 2024 version of Carolina's offense than Thielen did in 2023. Given Johnson's track record of target hogging, the Panthers will have to make huge additions to its receiver room before I would lower his target projection. Jonathan Mingo's rookie target per route run rate of 15.8% reflected the same inability to demand targets that was on display during his time at Ole Miss. The Panthers will probably add more pass-catching options, but it appears likely that Johnson will enter the 2024 season as the offense's unquestioned WR1. Currently, I have Johnson projected to finish as the WR16 in Fantasy in 2024 on the back of a massive 148 target-total.

    George Pickens, WR, Steelers

    We were treated to a month of George Pickens working as Pittsburgh's uncontested WR1 during his second season, and his target volume during that time clearly represented a capable top wideout.

    On the year, Pickens posted a respectable 24% target per route run across roughly 200 routes run without Johnson on the field. His per-route data without Johnson on the field was almost identical to Brandon Aiyuk's 2023 per-route data.

    A Russell Wilson and Arthur Smith-led offense is sure to be inconsistent in producing receiving yards, but Pickens profiles as a prototype fit for both Wilson and Smith as a big-bodied wide receiver who can win down the field and come down with play action targets.

    The Pittsburgh offense is difficult to project with much optimism, so Pickens still falls outside of the top-30 Fantasy receivers in my 2024 projections. I currently have him ranked as the WR27 in the same range as Cooper Kupp (WR25), Amari Cooper (WR26), DeVonta Smith (WR28), and Zay Flowers (WR29).

    Curtis Samuel, WR, Bills

    Curtis Samuel feels like he has been around forever but still is only entering his age-28 season. And by all indications, Samuel still very much has the juice.

    2023 PFF receiving grade -- Terry McLaurin (74.6), Samuel (70.5)
    2023 yard per route run rate -- McLaurin (1.56), Samuel (1.53)

    On a per-route yardage creation basis, Samuel nearly outproduced his stud WR1 teammate in 2023. Washington fed McLaurin a 25.4% first-read target rate, while Samuel's rate was just 17%, and still Samuel was almost as efficient at creating yardage. McLaurin's average depth of target (11.5 yards) nearly doubled Samuel's (6.6), and still, Samuel's 14.3% explosive reception rate (the percentage of receptions that resulted in 15+ yards) was almost as high as McLaurin's (16.7%).

    Even in a mess of an offensive environment, Samuel remained productive. In 2024, he'll have an opportunity to play in by far the best offensive environment of his career to-date. With the Bills signing, Samuel vaulted from fringe Fantasy relevancy to potentially deserving of a top-50 Fantasy WR ranking. It would be no surprise if Samuel outscored up-and-coming slot receivers such as Jayden Reed or Jaxon Smith-Njigba in 2024 -- they look super similar from a projections standpoint, but Samuel will be much cheaper in Fantasy drafts.

    Gus Edwards, RB, Chargers

    On short yardage runs (three or fewer yards needed to gain a first down or touchdown), Joshua Kelley and Isaiah Spiller have struggled to get the job done for the Chargers. So, it was no surprise to see the hard-nosed Harbaugh bring in Gus "the Bus" Edwards as one of the first new-regime moves.

    2024 short-yardage rushing success rate:

    72% -- Gus Edwards
    65% -- League average
    47% -- Joshua Kelley

    The Chargers are likely to add a running back with a receiving skillset via the NFL Draft, but Edwards appears set for a large role on early downs and when in the red zone. This new-look L.A. offense may lean on the run following the departure of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and Edwards could very well be a focal point.

    James Cook, RB, Bills

    Including the playoffs, Cook was the lead back for nine games with Joe Brady as offensive coordinator in 2023. During those games, Cook averaged 20.1 touches with no fewer than 15 touches in a game. Cook averaged 15.5 PPR points across that 19-game stretch, which would have been good for the RB11 finish in 2023.

    With several capable running back options available in free agency, including threats to steal short-yardage work such as Edwards, Moss, A.J. Dillon, or D'Onta Foreman, Buffalo's apparent lack of interest in the RB market bodes well for Cook's outlook.

    Jameson Williams, WR, Lions

    The 12th overall selection from the 2022 NFL Draft has just 278 routes run over his first two regular seasons and has a single-game high snap rate of only 69%. Williams has only played more than 60% of the snaps in four career games. While his part-time role makes him difficult to evaluate, we can lean on per-route data to speculate on his future outlook.

    Jordan Addison was the WR23 in Fantasy in 2023. Even with meager target rates, he was able to produce Fantasy results through his own competency as an explosive downfield weapon. Addison is the exception, rather than the rule -- particularly, his 10 touchdowns place him as an outlier -- but could Williams' elite speed make him a similar type of outlier if given the opportunity? Head Coach Dan Campbell claims that Williams will be a full-time player in 2024, a claim backed by Detroit's inactivity during the free agency period.

    One key difference between 2024 Williams and 2023 Addison, from a projections standpoint, comes in the form of their route run total. The Vikings finished fourth in dropbacks per game in 2023, while Detroit ranked 17th. Detroit's offensive identity is the run game, it would be a surprise to see much of an increase in dropbacks in 2024. I had Addison ranked as a top-30 Fantasy WR entering the 2023 season because of his access to a potentially league-high route total, the same type of upside doesn't exist for Williams. Currently, Williams sits at WR47 in my 2024 Fantasy rankings -- ahead of the likes of Jerry Jeudy, Gabe Davis, and Jahan Dotson, and behind Addison, Courtland Sutton, and Curtis Samuel.

    Trey McBride, TE, Cardinals

    The Arizona Cardinals are heavy favorites to land Marvin Harrison Jr. in the 2024 NFL Draft, which will surely impact the massive target rates that Trey McBride posted in 2023. There should still be plenty of targets to go around, though, as the Cardinals have few other proven target earners on the roster. McBride's Year 2 per-route data paints him as one of the best receiving threats at the tight end position, and those rates only increased when not sharing the field with Rondale Moore.

    Moore was ultimately a disappointment as Arizona's 49th overall selection in 2021, but not for any lack of the Cardinals trying to get him involved. The short-yardage catch-and-run weapon was targeted at a high rate while on the field, an area where McBride will operate as the clear first option going forward following a trade that sent Moore to the Atlanta Falcons. The only tight end who I have ranked ahead of McBride for 2024 Fantasy purposes is Travis Kelce. A case can be made for Sam LaPorta, Mark Andrews, or even Kyle Pitts, but McBride has the clearest path to targets of any of them.

    Jacob GibbsDFS Guru

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