These last few weeks, I had to painfully watch news come out as I was flying cross country four times in a short span. And for some awful reason, I feel as if the NFL was monitoring me. I have gone my whole life paying attention to the NFL offseason and usually there are a few moves that make the industry freak out. This year, however, the NFL took a page out of the NBA’s playbook and the league got flipped on its head. I will take a deeper look into those moves and their fantasy impacts down the road.
But, as I have been doing, I will outline each team in the NFL and outline how to take advantage of the prospective/actual changes they’ve made this offseason.
Onto the AFC West, where the Arms race has already begun.
The Denver Broncos were not a highly sought-after offense due to the consensus being they were a quarterback away from competing. It seemed safe to say that Drew Lock wasn’t the long-term solution at QB, which led to them signing former 1st-round pick, Teddy Bridgewater. Teddy’s perception is he’s a conservative game-manager who doesn’t force the ball downfield, which is not what fantasy owners want due to a lack of explosiveness. Despite the concerns, 6 Broncos were regularly drafted in BBM II – Jerry Jeudy (54.1, WR27), Javonte Williams (63.9, RB24), Courtland Sutton (69.8, WR33), Noah Fant (110.8, TE10), Melvin Gordon (113.3, RB36), and K.J. Hamler (167.8, WR78). Occasionally, Mike Boone (~1%), Tim Patrick (~8%), and Teddy Bridgewater (~19%) were drafted.
The Broncos were a balanced offense running on roughly ~46% of plays to try and slow down the game. They wanted to rely on one of the league’s best defenses and used clock management to limit opposing teams’ possessions. This led to them having one of the best rushing tandems in the league and an under-performing passing attack. Based on advance rates, Melvin Gordon was the RB6, Javonte Williams was the RB13, Jerry Jeudy was the WR99, Courtland Sutton was the WR54, K.J. Hamler was the WR83, Tim Patrick was the WR31, Noah Fant was the TE18, and Teddy Bridgewater was the TE18.
Melvin Gordon was the zero-RB hero. Everyone was interested in the shiny new toy, Javonte Williams, who the Broncos spent a 2nd round pick on. The public just assumed that Javonte would step in and take away many of the touches from Melvin. Instead, Melvin reminded everyone that he was a former 1st round pick himself and went for 231-1131-10 (scrimmage yards). Maintaining the goal-line back role helped propel teams that selected him in the 10th round. Javonte wasn’t a miss though. He surpassed his ADP and showed why the fantasy community was infatuated with him. Expect a leap forward as he should be the #1 back this year.
The passing game was underwhelming. Despite their 4 starting receivers (tight end included) all being drafted in the 2nd round or higher, none of the Broncos’ receivers topped 800 yards or 5 touchdowns. Teddy did a good job spreading the ball around, but it limited everyone’s ceiling. Despite playing in all 17 games, Courtland Suttons severely underperformed. This is mostly in part due to Teddy leaning conservative and not yolo-ing the ball downfield as Drew Lock used to do. Teddy didn’t play to Sutton’s strengths. K.J. Hamler got hurt early and will get a pass as one of the best deep-field WRs in the game.
Jerry Jeudy showed some promising things when healthy. He was good at separating and ranked first in the league in separations per route run. Injuries slowed him down and didn’t let him have the 2nd year breakout many in the industry expected.
Looking forward to this year, the Bronco’s made the first big move of the offseason by trading for Russell Wilson. They were always a QB away with one of the best defenses in the league, so now they pushed all their chips in for the 9x Pro-Bowler. In the trade, they gave up their 1st round pick, Drew Lock, and Noah Fant leaving their TE spot for former 4th round pick, Albert Okwuegbunam. The Broncos weren’t done after the trade. They signed star DE, Randy Gregory, formerly of the Cowboys. As it currently stands, they have $13.9M in cap space with Kyle Fuller, Melvin Gordon, Bryce Callahan, and Kareem Jackson as major free agents. Expect their focus on the draft to be primarily on the defense or the OL unless a major value falls. I do not expect Melvin Gordon to re-sign.
In terms of drafting, the Broncos were a value pre-Russ trade. But have found the pass catchers flying up draft boards. It will be interesting to see how the new HC, Nathan Hackett, deploys the offense as they have weapons all over the field. I will be making an effort to grab Jeudy as I see him being Russ’s Tyler Lockett and showing he is a dominant WR. I will only grab Sutton and Patrick past ADP. Hamler is one of my favorite late-round targets. Javonte is still a huge value and should be drafted as a top5 RB, at worst. Especially since Gordon hasn’t re-signed yet.
Kansas City Chiefs
Fresh off back-to-back Super Bowl appearances (and 1 title) and with one of the best quarterback-coach combos in the league, owners wanted any piece of the offense they could get. Any offense led by Patrick Mahomes is going to be explosive and in Best ball, all you need is one explosive play for a spike week to occur. This led to 8 Chiefs being regularly drafted in BBM II – Travis Kelce (6.9, TE1), Tyeek Hill (8.3, WR2), Clyde Edwards-Helaire (24.3, RB14), Patrick Mahomes (35.8, QB1), Mecole Hardman (85, WR40), Byron Pringle (185.1, WR82), Jerick McKinnon (202.8, RB60), Demarcus Robinson (206.9, WR93). Occasionally, Darrel Williams (~28%) and Cornell Powell (~7%) were drafted.
Despite all the high praise for the offense. It ended up being condensed and the top-end players were inconsistent leading to poor advance rates across the board. Patrick Mahomes was the QB20, CEH was the RB68, Darrel Williams was the RB7, Jerick McKinnon was the RB51, Tyreek Hill was the WR32, Mecole Hardman was the WR93, Byron Pringle was the WR48, Demarcus Robinson was the WR56, and Travis Kelce was the TE31.
There are a few major flaws with how the Chiefs are currently constructed. They have almost no run game and severely lack a 3rd threat outside of Tyreek and Kelce. Mahomes had a down year as he didn’t have the boom weeks in the 30s he was close to averaging in 2020.
I account for Darrel Williams’s extreme numbers being due to him severely outperforming anyone near his ADP. CEH got hurt early and he became the starter yet getting him at the end of drafts was a steal. 1000 scrimmage yards and 8 touchdowns provided RB2 numbers in the 17th/18th round and he ranked 63rd overall in fantasy points over replacement (points scored above minimum starter at their position each week). Meanwhile, CEH has continued to disappoint since entering the league. Although a deeper dive shows he wasn’t as bad as expected due to his touchdown numbers. He is an inefficient runner (and rarely used in the passing game) but if he maintains the GLB role, he will be serviceable (just won’t warrant an early-round pick).
The lack of 3rd reliable option for the Chiefs led to inconsistent results throughout the year. It seemed if Kelce had a good week, Tyreek typically had a poor one and vice-versa. They are still top players at their respective positions and will remain there for the foreseeable future.
The tertiary options for the Chiefs remained inconsistent. Mecole still maintains the Tyreek replacement role and appears to remain a wasted commodity. Josh Gordon was a dart throw that couldn’t get on the field. Byron Pringle saw nearly 70% of his games under 5 targets and Demarcus Robinson didn’t have more than 3 receptions in a game all season.
Looking forward to this year, the Chiefs have to find a way to improve their roster. They are tight to the cap after re-signing Frank Clark, Michael Burton, Josh Gordon, Andrew Wylie, Orlando Brown (franchise tag), Deandre Baker, and Derrick Gore. They also signed Justin Reid to replace Tyrann Matthieu and JuJu to finally have a reliably 3rd option. They currently are over the salary cap by about $700k and should focus on the defense in the draft.
In terms of drafting, I have been taking a conservative approach to the top 3. I prefer other WRs around Tyreek and Kelce and prefer to not grab an early QB. If I grab Tyreek or Kelce, I will prioritize grabbing Mahomes or scooping if he falls. I have been prioritizing Juju at his ADP (100) but that will surely come up to the 50/the 60s and he will be a good value. As of this writing, Darrel Williams has not resigned and I have been targeting CEH in the late 80s-100 as he should be the goal-line back in one of the best offenses in the league.
Las Vegas Raiders
Another year into the Jon Gruden tenure and the Raiders were expected to take a slight step backward. After going 8-8 in 2020, the Raiders made marginal upgrades but still had some major flaws. Their Oline wasn’t great, they didn’t have weapons outside Waller, Renfrow, and Jacobs and their QB was still Derek Carr, who the jury is still out on. Despite all of that, Jon Gruden was fired for emails, Henry Ruggs went to prison for reckless driving/DUI and the Raiders (under Rich Bisaccia) went 10-7 and made the playoffs. In terms of fantasy, 6 players were regularly drafted in BBM II – Darren Waller (22.5, TE2), Josh Jacobs (58.4, RB22), Henry Ruggs (115.8, WR57), Kenyan Drake (129, RB41), Bryan Edwards (126.9, WR60) and Derek Carr (179.1, QB24). Occasionally, Hunter Renfrow (~34%) was drafted.
The Raiders’ offensive output is overstated in terms of fantasy. They were not an efficient running football team and were in the bottom half of the league in points scored but due to negative game scripts had a top 10 passing offense. Overall, Derek Carr was the QB8, Josh Jacobs was the RB18, Kenyan Drake was the RB23, Hunter Renfrow was the WR5, Bryan Edwards was the WR63, and Darren Waller was the TE36.
Hunter Renfrow established himself as a reliable receiver over the middle. He became Derek Carr’s trusted option and broke out posting a 103-1038-9 line. Since he was only drafted in 35% of drafts, having him on your roster was a significant advantage over the field. He didn’t tear the house down (averaged 12 ppg), but he was consistent to maintain a high floor for rosters. Derek Carr’s advance rate stats are a mirage. He was barely a startable QB with 9 weeks under 13 fppg and only 4 weeks above 20.
Darren Waller missed most of the year after sustaining an injury in week 12, but before then hadn’t found the end-zone consistently to pay off his draft capital. He was being targeted as the #1 option but only had 2 TDs on the entire year.
Bryan Edwards has not been utilized well and doesn’t gel with Derek Carr. There is nothing to say on Ruggs besides after he was released, they brought in the corpse of DeSean Jackson to fill his role. Zay Jones became reliable for the Raiders in the second half of the year as they used him more in the short-intermediate game rather than as a field stretcher.
The fact Kenyan Drake and Josh Jacobs advanced at such high rates is somewhat of a head-scratcher. The team ranked near the bottom of the league in rushing attempts, rushing yards, yards/attempt and was 18th in rushing TDs. Collectively, they had 2 scores above 20 points for the entire season. Jacobs did score 9 times and played in 15 games. He didn’t have any dudes (under 6 points) which raised rosters overall floor.
Looking forward to this year, the Raiders have been building something exciting. They didn’t retain interim-coach Rich Bisaccia but did sign longtime Patriots OC, Josh McDaniels. He was brought in specifically to help figure out the offense in a stacked division (Herbert, Mahomes, & Russ). Despite many thinking they would consider trading Derek Carr and starting over, the Raiders have shown every intention of going for it and recently traded for stud WR, Davante Adams to solidify their passing game. They also signed Chandler Jones and traded Yannick Ngakoue for CB Rock Ya-Sin. Other moves have been towards the bottom of their roster. They currently have $17.6M in cap (with $8M to come once the release of Carl Nassib is processed). I expect the moves coming to be more defense-focused with some stabs on the offensive side in the draft (maybe some linemen).
In terms of drafting, I had been drafting all the Waller and Renfrow due to Josh Mcdaniel’s offense. The addition of Davante throws a wrench in it. But I still expect Renfrow to take the over-the-middle role ala Wes Welker and Julian Edelman. Waller should be a force down the seam. I can’t get myself to fade Davante so I will be taking him just due to talent. Jacobs is enticing if he is used in the passing game more. Derek Carr will probably be too rich for my liking.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers were one of the most hyped teams going into the 2021 season. Despite finishing 2020 with a 7-9 record, the Chargers found their franchise cornerstone in QB Justin Herbert and brought in a coach that trusted analytics in former Rams DC, Brandon Staley. The hype led to 6 Chargers being regularly drafted in BBM II – Austin Ekeler (12.1, RB8), Keenan Allen (26.1, WR10), Mike Williams (76.8, WR38), Justin Herbert (82.4, QB7), Jared Cook (171.1, TE20) and Josh Palmer (190.6, WR86). Occasionally, Justin Jackson (~19%), Tyron Johnson (~9%), Donald Parham (24%), Josh Kelley (~3%), and Larry Rountree III (~5%) were drafted.
The hype was justified as the Chargers were the 2nd best offense to own (outside the Bucs). They produced a top 12 option at every position. Overall, Justin Herbert was the QB2, Austin Ekeler was the RB4, Mike Williams was the WR4, Keenan Allen was the WR19, Josh Palmer was the WR38, and Jared Cook was the TE8 in terms of advance rates.
This isn’t surprising as they were top 5 in points scored and ranked 29th in points against. Their offense had to explode for them to stay in games that relate to their 9-8 record. They had 10 games decided by less than 1 score and went 5-5 in those games. The Charges scored under 20 points 3 times and only scored under 25 points a total of 6 times all year. It shouldn’t come as a surprise they were 2nd in passing yards, 3rd in passing attempts, 5th in passing touchdowns, and 9th in rushing touchdowns.
The biggest benefactors were Austin Ekeler and Mike Williams who combined for 17 of Justin Herbert’s 38 passing touchdowns. Add in the 12 TDs that Ekeler scored on the ground, and he provided a dominant season. Mike Williams was the preferred downfield threat and took advantage of Justin Herbert’s arm. He had his 2nd season over 1000 yards and averaged 15.1 yards per reception. He showed the talent that made him the 7th overall pick in the 2017 draft and was a steal for fantasy owners at the 6th/7th round turn.
Keenan Allen performed “poorly” in terms of his advance rate but remained a reliable target over the middle and broke 1000 yards for the 4th time in the last 5 years. He scored 6 TDs and provided a solid floor, scoring under 10 fantasy points only 4 times on the season. He didn’t have any spike weeks failing to score over 20 points in any game this season.
Josh Palmer had lofty expectations as a 3rd round pick out of Tennessee. The fantasy community expected him to win WR3 duties right out of the gate, but he struggled to find consistent playing time over Jalen Guyton until the end of the year. He started to showcase his talent when filling in for Mike Williams and was used as the primary WR3 onward.
Jared Cook was around a 50/50 player with Donald Parham. The ageless wonder provided a 48-564-4 line and shows how pitiful the TE landscape is since he ended as TE8.
The most impressive part about Justin Herbert is even though he has a cannon for an arm and is one of the best passers in the league, he isn’t afraid to use his legs and managed to run for over 300 yards and 3 TDs. Expect him to keep getting better entering his 3rd year in the NFL.
Looking forward to this year, the Chargers need to go all-in and build around Herbert. They started that by trading for the Bears star DE Khalil Mack, re-signing Mike Williams, and bringing in an interception machine in JC Jackson. Despite all of those big contracts, the team still has over $26M in cap space and I would be shocked if they were done. I would like to see some upgrades on the OL and DL. If they manage to do that, this team is a true Super Bowl contender.
In terms of drafting, I have been off Ekeler, I expect them to bring someone in to potentially compete for goal-line work which hurts his TD-upside. Keenan is a safe pick and I tend to lean a bit more aggressive. I was all over Mike Williams as he’s a stud and I expected him to either re-sign or go to a powerhouse (like KC) to maximize his talent. I have been underweight on Herbert and I think that is partly due to a personal bias. I can’t get over the price change from last year (I was overweight last year). But don’t be like me. Draft as much Herbert as you can.