NFL offseason fantasy football losers: Should we be excited about a Russell Wilson bounce-back?
The whole Broncos offense
It’s difficult to spin anything that happened in NFL free agency as a positive for any of the players on the 2022 Denver Broncos roster.
Sean Payton and Co. spent most of the moments after the opening bell of free agency recruiting maulers in the run game. Denver spent big money to get Mike McGlinchey and Ben Powers to beef up the run blocking. They also added a certified extra tackle in tight end Chris Manhertz. Payton is letting us know he wants to help salvage Russell Wilson by taking control — and the ball — away from the quarterback’s hands.
All that road-grading beef would be good for a star starting running back but unfortunately, every report about Javonte Williams’ health is more troubling than the last. We could be looking at a JK-Dobbins-2022-level lost season for Williams. That’s a real shame as he’s demonstrated fantastic talent so far in the pros.
All of this was further reinforced by the aggressive pursuit of Samaje Perine. He should play a big role in this offense to start the season and is unlikely to be the last man added to the backfield. Based on what we know right now, I’m not even sure Williams will be a draftable player in fantasy this season.
The receivers don’t come away looking great from free agency either. Not only is it clear this team will be run-heavy but neither Jerry Jeudy nor Courtland Sutton was moved via trade. These two have struggled to produce when both have been on the field for Denver the last three years. Also, trusty veteran Tim Patrick is coming back after a 2022 torn ACL. This target tree could be quite spread out on a low-volume offense but none of these three are good enough to dominate a target share anyway.
This sounds like a mess.
D’Andre Swift, RB, Detroit Lions
The most obvious player who I’m sure makes everyone’s list. It’s been clear for years the current Lions’ brass doesn’t view Swift as a big-time bell-cow back. Yes, his backfield mate Jamaal Williams moved on. But the Lions actually made a move to not just replace but potentially upgrade on him by signing David Montgomery before Williams went to New Orleans.
Montgomery can offer some of the same grinder, between-the-tackles appeal that Williams brought to the table but he also has plenty of experience as a passing-down player. There’s every chance in the world that Montgomery doesn’t just take Williams’ goal-line carries but also eats into Swift’s receiving work.
Swift is entering the last year of his rookie deal and this is not the coaching staff or front office that drafted him. They just don’t seem to be that high on him as a player. There’s a chance Swift is traded at some point prior to kickoff.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are in a weird holding pattern with Cook because of his shoulder injury so they can’t really cut or trade him right now. However, the whispers that they want to move on from the veteran back and his salary coming off a down season have been loud all offseason. That was seemingly confirmed when the Vikings opted to re-sign Alexander Mattison for decent money to give them some stability at the running back spot.
I tend to doubt this analytics-heavy front office wants two veteran running back contracts on their books. That means that Cook could still be released or moved when he’s healthy. That might come after the draft when desirable running back landing spots have all but dried up.
Maybe I’m wrong and Cook is back in his usual featured role with the Vikings and Mattison is merely an insurance policy — albeit a more expensive one than ever — once again. It just doesn’t feel like this situation is headed in that direction.
Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
It already seemed like there was some weirdness between Kamara and the Saints last year and we know he has a possible 2023 suspension hanging over his head. New Orleans did some extra legwork to protect themselves by signing Jamaal Williams in free agency.
Kamara’s most efficient seasons came either with Drew Brees getting him an absurd amount of check-downs or designed targets, or when he was in tandem with an early down back like Mark Ingram. It seems like he’s destined to return to the latter with Williams on the roster. The former Lions runner is a perfect fit as a complementary back on early downs and near the goal line. The Saints were hesitant to use Kamara near the scoring area last year, for whatever reason.
While Williams didn’t work much on passing downs in Detroit, he was a solid pass-protector during his early seasons in Green Bay. This current Saints staff was using an aging Ingram and even David Johnson over Kamara in passing situations just last year. I can see them allowing Williams to eat into those looks in 2023.
We know Williams is highly likely to start games for the Saints when/if Kamara is suspended. I’m telling you, reliable backs like Williams who are good in protection, get the yards that are blocked and don’t make mistakes are like coaches’ catnip. And considering there are already weird vibes between Kamara and the team, I can see Williams holding a bigger role than we think even when the long-time Saints legend is available.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, New England Patriots
I think JuJu gets a little too much flak for the player he is today simply because that 2018 season in Pittsburgh caused him to be way overrated for years. He’s a rock-solid slot receiver who brings a physical edge to the position.
I’m just not too interested in a player who fits that description playing for the New England Patriots offense. That’s true even if they’re a far more professional operation than the Matt Patricia disaster of last season.
JuJu is a fine real-life No. 2 receiver. I just can’t imagine he outkicks Jakobi Meyers’ per-game stats from the last few years in the exact same role. That means he will go later in fantasy than he did with the Chiefs last year — and it is a deserved ding.
Mike Evans / Chris Godwin, WRs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers' quarterback plan for 2022 is either: Kyle Trask takes a dramatic leap forward after he couldn’t win the QB2 job from Blaine Gabbert last year or Baker Mayfield starts most of the season. For now, I’m expecting the latter to be the more realistic outcome — and that’s not great news for the offense.
It’s particularly troubling to Mike Evans who is a pure perimeter, downfield receiver. Mayfield has consistently struggled to hit difficult throws outside the numbers and that’s Evans’ specialty on deep curls or comebacks after selling the vertical pattern. Mayfield also bails out of clean pockets too early before deeper routes have a chance to develop.
I could have been convinced to buy back into Evans despite him coming off a down season. But this fit is just too messy to consider keeping much faith alive.
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In addition to all of those Mayfield struggles listed above, he also doesn’t read out the middle of the field. That’s been an issue when trying to build chemistry with DJ Moore and Odell Beckham Jr. on slant, dig and crossing patterns in prior stops. Over the middle is where Chris Godwin does most of his damage.
The counterargument in Godwin’s favor would be that he plays a souped-up version of the style of Jarvis Landry, and that’s essentially the one high-quality receiver Mayfield has had a good connection with in the NFL. So, if one Bucs player is going to overcome Mayfield’s fatal flaws, perhaps it’s Godwin.
However, I was just hoping for better with both Bucs receivers. I just can’t imagine this offense being a quality ecosystem based on the head coach’s conservative leanings and the current options under center.
Mike Gesicki, TE, New England Patriots
Speaking of hoping for better, I was hoping that Gesicki could go somewhere in free agency that was juicy enough to have him join my “restore the middle class of fantasy tight ends” campaign in 2023. While almost anywhere would be a better scheme fit than what he played under in Miami, New England doesn’t provide the quarterback play or offensive juice to qualify.
At best, Gesicki will be the higher-targeted player in a two-tight-end-heavy offense with Hunter Henry. That will lend itself to fun personnel groupings and mismatch looks for the Patriots' offense but typically, the two-tight-end situation in fantasy is better in theory than in practice. Gesicki might claw into the very bottom of the TE1 rankings but even that feels like a stretch with this landing spot.