The NFL true Free Agency just opened its doors officially! But it’s been two days full of rumors and nearly-confirmed deals reported by insiders already around the NFL as the league allows teams to use a “legal tampering” period that went on for two full days leading up to today’s grand opening. The past 48 hours have seen tons of players getting off the FA board, and I’m here to let you know what I liked most for those early moves before the real thunderstorm arrives later today.
Here are my top signings from the pre-FA period, including an overview of their 2021 campaigns and a small commentary on what’s ahead for them in terms of fantasy football upside.
WR D.J. Chark Jr. - Detroit Lions
Love him or hate him, Chark is a good football player. Full stop, folks, don’t overthink it. Of course, Chark has been limited all of his career to fewer than truly complete seasons playing only 11, 15, 13, and a career-low four games in his four years as a pro. That has sucked to watch unfold, but it is what it is. Although Chark’s PPR points have gone down each of the last three seasons (from an average of 15.1 to 11.8 and just 8.6 last season) it is also true that the Jaguars have been mediocre at best. Not even Trevor Lawrence could save them from the no. 1 pick in next month’s draft, and adding wood to the fire Chark missed 13 (!) games last year. Yikes.
Chark is now in Detroit, which is 1) a barren-of-talent squad in which just one WR is a viable pass-catcher and 2) a team led by meh-not-horrid QB Jared Goff. What I’m saying is that, as long as Chark manages to stay healthy, he should be good for a top-36 finish among wideouts next year putting up reasonable numbers along the lines of his second or third seasons in Jacksonville (175+ PPR points, 100+ targets, 850+ receiving yards, 5+ touchdowns).
WR Russell Gage - Tampa Bay Bucs
Look, if Russell Gage was good to get a 94-66-770-4 line in Atlanta last season, playing for a certain Tom Brady in Tampa Bay can’t finish below that level. You won’t convince me about that. Gage is signing a sizable deal with the Bucs to be the WR2 of the offense at least until Chris Godwin comes back, which is still not so probable given his season-ending injury just a few months ago.
Gage has been active in 14+ games through his four-year NFL career and although his rookie season was some sort of an afterthought, he’s been good in his other three campaigns. Gage broke out for good in 2020 posting an average of 11.3 PPR per game and he was able to repeat last season with 11.6 FPPG. Back-to-back borderline WR3 seasons are enough for me to consider him a nice late-round pick, even more considering Tommy will be the one throwing him the rock. Should be good for a solid 100-70-750-5 line over the year.
RB D’Onta Foreman - Carolina Panthers
Are we sure Christian McCaffrey will made it past six or eight games played? In fact... are we sure CMC will be playing football in Carolina at all when the season gets rolling? It’s been reported that the Panthers have been dangling CMC just in case someone bites—to no avail yet, though. In any case, it’s been 23 games out of the field for CMC in the past two seasons while only appearing in 10 of them. That is ridiculously bad, though the man also got to play in all 16 for his first three years of NFL football.
Anyway. D’Onta Foreman was to the Tennessee Titans what Mike Davis was to the Carolina Panthers a couple of years ago: a super-sub forced into the RB1 role due to the leading-back getting injured (Derrick Henry in this case). Signing Mikey didn’t work out nicely for Atlanta, and we’ll see if Carolina can dodge that bullet and use Foreman properly if he ultimately gets the starting gig at some point. Foreman is coming off a career year in which he posted highs in touches (142), receiving yards (123 on nine receptions), and most of all carries (133) and rushing yards (566 with 3 TDs). He did that in nine “starts”, and it’s not that crazy to think CMC could very well miss that number of games in 2022 if he doesn’t fit his shaky health.
RB J.D. McKissic - Buffalo Bills
McKissic will play for his fourth franchise in the past five years when we get to the 2022 campaign’s kickoff. He’s been a Seahawk (topped at 7.5 FPPG), a Lion (5.2), a Footie (12.0), and he’s now moving into Bills Mafia territory. I don’t love this signing as much as I do others because of the competition McKissic might face in Buffalo (Devin Singletary and Zack Moss), but he’s done more than enough to jump straight into an RB1 role if the Bills FO and HC plans align given this signing.
JDMK is coming off his second season in a row posting an average of 11.5+ FPPG with the now-rebranded Commanders. Obviously, missing six games entirely limited his total FP outcome (127 compared to 2020’s RB17 191.4 tally) but that doesn’t mean McKissic is expected to miss ample time next year. He’s played 16, 16, and 11 games in the past three seasons, so it’s not that he’s any sort of oft-injured guy. McKissic is a phenomenal pass-catching back and his 53 targets in 2021 already were more than Singletary’s and Moss’. In the past two years, JDMK has gotten 163 targets and 123 receptions, which is more than Singletary’s and Moss’ receptions combined (115) while also beating the two of them in receiving yards 986 to 789. Expect McKissic to put up numbers all across the board on both the passing and the rushing (2021 stat line: 48-212-2; 4.4 YPC) game.
Update: J.D. McKissic is returning to Washington after a change of heart, it seems.
RB Chase Edmonds - Miami Dolphins
Similar to McKissic’s case in Buffalo, Edmonds will need to fight Myles Gaskin in the Dolphins backfield for touches next season. Fantasy GMs are going to find a bargain in the former Cardinal, though, because he’s coming off a disappointing season in which he ceded too much ground to James Conner and also because of the positional battle he’s about to enter into this summer.
Edmonds and Gaskin (one fewer game played) have posted eerily similar numbers in the past two seasons combined:
- Edmonds Receiving: 120-96-713-4
- Gaskin Receiving: 110-90-622-6
- Edmonds Rushing: 213-1,040-3
- Gaskin Rushing: 315-1,196-6
That said, Edmonds has been much better in terms of YAC (4.9 to Gaskin’s 3.8) and posted a higher YPR average mark too (7.4 to 7.1) on a much steadier/less-volatile game. The only thing Edmonds has lacked to finish as a bonafide RB2 in the past two seasons has been, simply, a bulky dose of opportunities. If he gets them in Miami, Edmonds could turn into one of 2022 fantasy football draft bargains.