Free Agency: What We Saw on March 20, 2020
While most of the sports world is in limbo, the NFL free agency period is in full swing. We’ll be giving you daily updates all week covering the moves and their fantasy implications. Check out our podcasts recapping free agency so far.
Falcons sign Todd Gurley
As our own Matt Cava predicted yesterday, Todd Gurley found a new home in Atlanta. The standout UGA star returned to his old stomping grounds on a one year, $6M deal with the Atlanta Falcons.
Last year was a down year for Atlanta on the ground, partly because of an ineffective Devonta Freeman, but mostly due to an offensive line that ranked 24th in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards statistic. The Falcons drafted two offensive linemen in the first round of the 2019 draft, guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary, and they signed guard James Carpenter to a four-year deal as well. Both Carpenter and Lindstrom missed significant time with injury throughout the year, and McGary was largely ineffective in general, so there is reason to believe the line play can improve in 2020. After signing with the Browns, Austin Hooper even said that he believes Lindstrom will eventually be the best lineman in the game. That’s high praise for a guy who spent most of 2019 injured, so a healthy Lindstrom should be able to lead the charge and open some holes for Gurley.
A healthy and improved offensive line should in theory help Gurley return to form, but that assumes that health won’t get in the way for Gurley himself. His knee problems have been well documented in recent years and it’s no guarantee that the situation will improve in 2020. It was only two years ago, however, that Gurley was a fantasy superstar and widely considered the best running back in the game. At his current ADP around the top of the third round, Gurley is being taken around guys like Kerryon Johnson, Aaron Jones, and Chris Carson and I like his upside compared to those guys. Atlanta has stability at QB and WR, an offensive line that should improve overall, and a 25-year-old (!) running back in Gurley who has the talent to be the best back in the league. Their offense has the potential to be top 5 in the league and if Gurley can manage his knee and stay on the field, I would expect big things out of him this year.
Melvin Gordon signs two-year deal in Denver
Another stud running back who had a down year last year (albeit for different reasons), Melvin Gordon landed in Denver on a two-year deal and will again end up sharing a backfield with another talented back. He apparently had a better offer from another team but chose the Chargers’ in-division rival anyway. Denver had an offensive line that ranked in the top half of the league which helped Phillip Lindsay reach 1,000 yards for the second straight year despite dropping from 5.4 to 4.5 yards per attempt in his second season. This should bode well for Gordon who averaged 18 carries for 76 yards in four games in Denver as a Charger.
No doubt missing an entire training camp and the first eight games of the season impacted Gordon’s production in 2019 as he never quite rounded into his 2017 form. He averaged the second-lowest yards per attempt, yards per game and attempts per game of his career while also battling breakout star Austin Ekeler for #1 back duties. All of this led to a career-low in touches and a measly 908 yards from scrimmage, a far cry from his glory days when he averaged 1,457 yards from scrimmage between 2016-2018. Granted, eight fewer games will impact a player’s total yard production, but Gordon was being drafted in the 5th round in most drafts last year and his on-field production when he returned didn’t come close to that kind of value.
One positive to come out of last year was Gordon’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield continued to improve, posting the second-highest catch% of his career with 42 catches. Royce Freeman, now the #3 back in Denver, caught 43 passes out of the backfield in 2019 and I would expect Gordon to take up the majority of those in 2020.
I like the fact that Gordon chose the in-division Broncos over another team. This tells me that he has a chip on his shoulder and wants to stick it to the Chargers for not giving him the long term deal he ultimately wanted. Gordon is motivated and betting on himself to return to form as a top 5 back in the league, and I’m usually willing to invest in those kinds of guys on draft day. However, Gordon will likely be in a timeshare with Lindsay for most of the year, and I simply couldn’t justify taking a guy who could flirt with a sub-1000 yard year at his current ADP in the middle of the second round.
Steelers ink Eric Ebron
It seems that every year a Pittsburgh tight end is hyped up in the preseason only to disappoint his owners as the season drags on. In the past it was Heath Miller, then it was Jesse James, and last year it was Vance McDonald. None of these guys are uber-talented like a Travis Kelce or a Rob Gronkowski, but they are all viewed as dependable possession guys who have the ability to go 5 for 57 with a touchdown on any given week. When I think of Pittsburgh Steelers’ tight ends, that is the mold that comes to mind.
Eric Ebron does not fit that mold. Ebron has been a perennial disappointment since being drafted 10th overall by the Lions in 2014. He tied for the third most drops in the NFL in 2018 with 9 and added another 5 in 2019. It’s an issue that has plagued him his entire career and at this point, I can’t imagine that he will magically learn to catch the ball reliably. His career year in 2018 is looking like a true outlier and not indicative of future performance.
Ebron’s current ADP in the 14th round could lead some to take a flier on him with the hope that he can get more red-zone targets in the Pittsburgh offense. His value is as touchdown-dependent as it gets, and with Steelers TEs scoring only 17 total touchdowns since 2016 I wouldn’t count on Ebron returning much value. The ADP is appropriate given the skill level and opportunity, but McDonald at his 10th round ADP is the Pittsburgh TE to target in 2020.
Emmanuel Sanders agrees to join the Saints
Late Friday night, Ed Werder and Josina Anderson broke the news about Emmanuel Sanders joining the Saints on a two-year deal after rumors floated around all day about him ending up in either Dallas or Tampa Bay. Drew Brees has never really had a prototypical slot receiver with the speed and agility of Sanders, always relying on the bigger-bodied Marques Colston or Michael Thomas types as his go-to guy. While it was unlikely that Thomas would approach 150 catches for a second straight year, this news certainly hurts his value the most as he is no longer the only reliable chain mover on the team. Don’t get me wrong – Thomas will still be a monster, but Sanders will steal some targets that would otherwise go Thomas’ way. On the other hand, Sanders could draw some attention away from Thomas and open him up, as well as helping to extend more drives and give Thomas more opportunities to score. All of this is to say that Thomas is still a stud and should be drafted as a stud, but expect closer to 100 catches this year.
As far as Sanders goes, I love this situation for him. As long as Brees is under center this will be an explosive offense and Sanders should have plenty of opportunities to get open. Sanders is currently going in the 11th round of drafts which I think is a terrific value. I could see him replicating his 2016 season where he went 79/1032/5, and in PPR leagues I would rather have him than guys like N’Keal Harry, A.J. Green or Will Fuller who are getting drafted in the sixth round. Keep an eye on him in camp – he is still only 14 months removed from an Achilles injury, which can be a death sentence for a receiver, but if he still shows some explosiveness he could be a great mid-round WR2 for your team.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)