The 2023 fantasy season may be over, but if you play dynasty, you know it’s just getting started. In only 2 months we’ll be at the NFL Combine, where prospects’ stocks will rise and fall. Shortly thereafter, free agency and the NFL Draft will be upon us, with dynasty league rookie drafts right on their heels. Even if leagues with trade deadlines usually see them lifted right after the championship, when astute dynasty managers are active as they watch NFL playoff football while thinking about next season. Below are five names to think about when looking at making trades. They’re players who could have an impact in 2024 and beyond, yet can be picked up cheaply and stashed away now.
Ronnie Bell – WR, San Fransisco 49ers
There is no denying that the San Francisco 49ers are a powerhouse right now. If not for the injuries at quarterback last season, we might be looking at them as a potential dynasty. They have brought in great pieces via free agency and trade while drafting well. Part of what has helped them succeed: they don’t have a ton of old, expiring contracts on their roster and instead are brimming with young players who have exceeded expectations. This starts at the wide receiver position.
On a team that has consistently featured one of the league’s low-volume passing attacks, having skilled wideouts who can produce after the catch is key. It’s no surprise that the 49ers are also a Top 5 team in yards after the catch since Kyle Shanahan took over in 2017. We can talk all day about the quarterback and the system and which makes what, but the pass catchers are the real system makers. For the 49ers this year, that has started with tight end George Kittle, wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, and running back Christian McCaffery. Beyond those dynamic four, no player has stepped up and commanded a significant target share, and the Niners haven’t needed anyone to do so. That situation could change in the coming years.
Their core four won’t be around forever: Kittle is 30 years old and is currently enjoying a phenomenal year. However, he has been taken out of the equation entirely in certain games. Aiyuk is headed towards free agency after the next season and both Samuel and McCaffrey are due for new contracts after the 2025 season. The Niners’ brass has done a great job of minimizing the number of free agents on the roster with only 17 this upcoming season. They have also been very proactive in developing young talent and that’s where rookie Ronnie Bell steps in.
Bell has been mostly a special teams player this year; he’s behind Jauan Jennings and Ray-Ray McLoud on the depth chart, but both of those receivers are headed for the open market in March. Their departure opens up nearly 50 targets in the offense. Bell seems poised to take over most of those, if not more. As the offense continues to expand and adapt, there could be even more targets to go around. Brock Purdy continues to be good if not great and the running game, while the focal point of the offense, can’t sustain its volume forever.
Ronnie Bell was not a standout on the stat sheet during his five seasons for the University of Michigan but in his final year, he was able to produce 62 receptions for 889 yards and four touchdowns. He fell to the 7th round of the draft to the 49ers. He failed to impress at the combine running only a 4.54 forty time and didn’t put up any other impressive numbers. His 2022 season was good and was probably a little slower as he was still tentative after suffering a season-ending ACL tear in 2021. He is only 6’0” so not impressive height and at 192 lbs he needs to use his size to be dominant. His college tape showed more than his combined metrics let on. He was and is a tough runner who will outwork the more gifted and skilled corners. His ball skills are where he excels. He is great at catching which has already been on display in the NFL. With only seven targets he has caught five of them and has two touchdowns. In his final year of college 318 of his 889 yards came after the catch. It’s a trait that all the pass catchers for San Fran have in common with Kittle and Samuel being two of the top twelve in the league. What Bell lacks in speed and physicality he more than makes up for in grit, determination, and work ethic. One of the knocks on him during the draft process was that he would need the right system to make him shine. It looks like the 49ers are that system and could continue to work him into the offense giving them more depth. Let’s not forget that Deebo and Aiyuk missed 4 combined games this season and three full seasons between their combined seven NFL seasons.
Raheem Blackshear – RB, Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers are a franchise in flux. They started this year by drafting quarterback Bryce Young and wide receiver Jonathan Mingo and are now looking for other pieces to fit into the offense. The biggest question will be who is coaching the Panthers in 2024 after firing Frank Reich just 11 games into the season and appointing Chris Tabor as interim head coach. The Panthers will head into the offseason looking for a new leader, but that coach will walk in the door and onto a team without a first-round pick. There will be also be aging pieces at some of the skill positions, and 23 players as a free agent of some degree. One of those is running back Raheem Blackshear, who will be an exclusive rights free agent. What that means is the Panthers have the first right to re-sign him to a one-year deal. Why would the Panthers do that? In front of Blackshear on the depth chart are Miles Sanders and Chuba Hubbard.
Sanders, who was slowed by injuries for much of the season, has been a massive disappointment after signing as a free agent. His yards per carry have dipped from 4.9 to 3.26. He has only one touchdown on the year and hasn’t been the pass-catching dynamo we were expecting. Hubbard has done well stepping up into the role this season. He has scored five touchdowns and logged 3.79 yards per carry. The offensive line is the biggest issue for both the running backs and the passing game; it will be a point of emphasis for the team. Cap space is another issue: the team is projected to only have $4 million to work with. Shedding Miles Sanders as a post-June 1st cut would save them $2.2 million in cap space; it’s not a lot, but every bit will help a team with so many pressing needs. Locking up Blackshear as the primary backup to Hubbard could afford the Panthers the ability to spend elsewhere.
Blackshear was a five-year college player and didn’t produce until his final year at Virginia Tech, when he averaged 5.7 yards per carry for 760 yards and six touchdowns. He is a bit of a change-of-pace player who was listed as a running back once upon a time in college but also has great route-running and pass-catching abilities. He has the ability to create with the ball in his hands, but he’s listed at 5’9′ 198 lbs, so he probably can’t line up as anything more than a slot in the passing game when not lined up in the backfield. His ability to play all three downs makes him a valuable asset to whoever takes over in Carolina. Blackshear hasn’t been used a ton, but is only 24 years old and with very little wear on him, he could have a longer NFL career than some think. He does what it takes to make it on an NFL roster: after not being drafted at all, he was signed by Buffalo Bills before being scooped up by the Panthers. If Carolina does decide to move on from Blackshear, I believe another team will pick him up. His ability to return kicks and punts will keep him on the 53-man roster and his work ethic should endear him to a coaching staff that might also give him opportunities to make plays on offense.
Terrace Marshall, Jr. – WR, Carolina Panthers
While we know the Panthers are in a rebuild, part of their previous attempt was wide receiver Terrace Marshall, Jr. He was a second-round pick for the Panthers back in 2021 and has struggled thus far in his NFL career. There are a few things that point to a potential uptick in his production moving forward. For starters, he is headed into the fourth and final year of his rookie contract. He hasn’t been active on gameday due to a coach’s decisions, but with a new coaching staff entering the door in 2024, that could change.
Marshall is only 24 years old and has shown flashes in his limited work over his career. Look back to 2022 when his yards per target was 10.43 and see what he can do when properly utilized in an offense. There is a reason he was drafted in the second round: despite being a three-year player at LSU in a wide receiver room loaded with talent in the form of Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson, he racked up 23 touchdowns and 1,402 yards in his last two years. Perhaps going back for a fourth year might have benefited his development more, but we can’t change that now.
At 6’4 and 200 lbs, Marshall has ideal NFL size for the wide receiver position, and as cliché tells us, size can’t be taught. He doesn’t have top-end speed but has a wide catch radius and is effective with the ball in his hands. He certainly needs to work on some of the other points in his game, like getting open in press coverage and improving at catching balls over the middle of the field. A new regime coming in could change how the Panthers are run and could open up targets for Marshall, especially downfield.
The Panthers will be forced to rethink their wide receiver core. They are looking at a 2024 group that would include Marshall as well as veterans Adam Thielen and Jonathan Mingo. Current Panthers D.J. Chark, Laviska Shenault, and Ihmir Smith-Marsette are all set to be free agents. We know the Panthers are desperate for cap space, so bringing in a big-name free agent will be tough. They don’t have a first-round pick but still hold their second-rounder which projects to be the top of the round. Drafting a wide receiver there could be an option, but given other needs, especially offensive line, they will probably focus elsewhere. This leaves Marshall in a good spot for increased snaps and targets. There was a ton of hope and hype coming out of the 2021 draft but most people have now given up on him. He will be available at rock-bottom prices in trade if he’s even on rosters anymore.
Michael Wilson – WR, Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals once boasted a dynamic pass-catching duo of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Since Boldin’s departure in 2009 and Fitzgerald’s retirement in 2020, the Cards have been searching for their next star wide receiver. They had it for a few years after trading for DeAndre Hopkins, then acquired Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Now it seems like they will have to build assets through the NFL Draft: Hopkins is now with the Tennessee Titans and Brown is headed for the open market.
The Cardinals started this process by selecting Michael Wilson in the third round of the 2023 NFL draft. The rookie from Stanford has struggled at times despite playing a good portion of the team’s snaps. He and other Cardinals receivers endured tough times at the quarterback position while Kyler Murray missed a good portion of the season.
The wide receiver room has been a mess this season, to be frank. Brown is seeing near career targets but will end up with the fewest yards since his rookie season. Greg Dortch, who is set to enter the free agency market, has only played in spot duty. Rondale Moore has only three games over the 75 percent snap share mark. The offense looks to be on the rebound now that Kyler is back under center, and the running game is picking up steam thanks to steady play by veteran James Conner and solid depth in the form of the recently acquired Michael Carter.
All of this should mean more work for Wilson. He continues to play outside and logs a high percentage of the team’s overall snaps, playing over 75 percent of them in eight of his 11 games. The Cardinals have a good amount of cap space heading into the offseason; while they could bring in someone to be the true alpha, they have other needs including a leaky offensive line and several holes on defense. They do hold two first-round picks in the upcoming draft so there is reason to believe they can land a top wide receiver. That’s not a bad thing for Wilson at all. He would benefit from seeing lesser-talented coverage more regularly and would probably see fewer double teams in the form of safety help.
Wilson wasn’t a game-breaking wide receiver in college, but he showed more on tape than the stat sheet lets on. At 6’2, 213 lbs he doesn’t possess elite speed or the physical ability to bully corners like his divisional mate, DK Metcalf. What he does have is a nasty streak in him, which can be seen in his run blocking and how he runs with the ball in his hands. He is a competitor but needs to clean up some of the finer details in his routes. He has already started to do just that, and having Kyler Murray back under center certainly bodes well Wilson’s development.
Revisit- Tyquon Thornton – WR, New England Patriots
Below is from October 2022. What we have seen from the speedy Tyquon Thornton since then has been a lot of the same: he has been a boom-or-bust player and has leaned more toward “bust.” That is in large part due to subpar quarterback play and the lack of overall effectiveness of the New England Patriots offense. The winds of change are coming in New England; head coach Bill Belichick is on his way out and quarterback Mac Jones might be going out the door with him. Most of the very few bright spots in the Patriots offense might be gone after this year as well: Ezekiel Elliot, Hunter Henry, and Kendrick Bourne are all set to become free agents. The Patriots look poised to take a quarterback at the top of the NFL Draft, which should raise the long-term value of all remaining receivers. The quarterbacks available to the Patriots in the draft are good downfield passers, which suits Thronton’s style. As the offense changes, there will be a lot of room for him to grow. He is only 23 years old and headed into his pivotal third year. If a breakout is coming, you want to be ahead of the curve and scoop him now before the hype spikes.
After having Tom Brady for so many years the youth movement continues in New England with the drafting of Tyquan Thornton. The Patriots took him in the 2nd round. It’s only the third time in the past ten years that the Patriots have drafted a pass catcher that high. At Baylor, Thornton didn’t come on till his senior year. He had only nine touchdowns in his first three years and then exploded to ten his senior season. The Baylor offense wasn’t exactly a high passing offense having under 400 total attempts each year that Thornton was there. He was also injured in 2020 which held him to only five games. Thornton helped his draft stock by running a blazing 4.28 40 time at the combine. Its elite level of speed will help him find a role in the NFL. He isn’t the biggest receiver coming in at 6’2′ and 181 lbs. He looks very thin compared to others around him on the field but he uses his speed to separate especially on slant routes. One of the things that Bill Belichick is great at is using players in positions that suit their strengths. He will have to move Thornton around to get him off bigger corners who can muscle him in press coverage. He has a good catch radius but lacks the size to break tackles and get yards after contact. He will rely on his speed to outrun guys either in coverage or in space with the ball in his hands. He could be a Tyreek Hill light. not as good of a pass catcher but a little taller and just as fast. People will be scared off of him due to the hurt that N’Keal Harry inflicted. Given the low number of receivers they have invested draft picks in I trust their scouting department which always seems to go against the norm and it seems to work out.
The Patriots need to choose their wide receiver options sooner rather than later. After this season both Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers‘ will be unrestricted free agents. Agholor will have just turned 29 and Meyers will be getting close to turning 26. The following offseason a then 31-year-old DeVante Parker and Ty Montgomery as well as 28-year-old Kendrick Bourne seeking contracts. That’s a huge number of targets potentially leaving the team. using the 2021 season that’s 191 targets vacated headed into the 2023 season accounting for 35.45 of the team’s total targets. If they then lose 3 more receivers the following year it would leave nothing but an opportunity for Thornton. Through six games of the 2022 season, Meyers and Agholor account for 30% of the team’s targets. As mentioned above when we talked about Pierre Strong, other players also need contracts and look to be more integral parts of the offense going forward. We have also already seen what the rookie can do on the field. In week six he saw five targets hauling in four of them for a score and 37 yards. It looks as if he has a good relationship with Bailey Zappe. It remains uncertain what the Patriots do at the quarterback position once Mac Jones is fully healthy and ready to return. If Thornton continues to play and sees his snap percent go above the 70% mark his value in trades will soon rise with it.
Harrison Bryant – TE, Cleveland Browns
Primary backup on a tight end-centered offense.
Juaun Jennings – WR, San Francisco 49ers
Young, pending free-agent
Grant Calcaterra – TE, Philadelphia Eagles
Backup on a high-scoring offense
Jarrett Stidham – QB, Denver Broncos
Good backup who is smart and knows a lot of systems
Dawson Knox – TE, Buffalo Bills
Splitting work with Dalton Kincaid
Zach Wilson – QB, New York Jets
Benched multiple seasons. no landing spots
Deejay Dallas – RB, Seattle Seahawks
Falling behind two young stud rookies on the depth chart
Keaontay Ingram – RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Two teams in two years; hasn’t carved out role despite opportunities
Amari Rodgers – WR
Couldn’t make the roster on three different teams
Ben Skowronek – WR, Los Angeles Rams
Fell down the depth chart and couldn’t produce when called upon