With most of the biggest moves in free agency made and paid, let’s have a look at who’s impacted most for fantasy. While the details included were accurate at time of writing, things will, of course, change in the coming weeks and months.
This is a fantastic landing spot for the former Eagles runner. The Panthers have shown they can produce elite rushing production from mediocre backs, and now Sanders is in prime position to take over in what has previously been the Christian McCaffrey spot. Sanders is no CMC, but he’s significantly better than Chuba Hubbard, his only competition in Carolina. With little pass-catching quality and a solid defense, it’s very possible the Panthers are involved in a lot of low-scoring matchups where runners shine. He’ll likely be one of the last workhorse backs off the board but has solid RB1 upside. I love this spot for him.
There’s no doubt Tony Pollard is a very good running back and that he’s earned the chance to be a full-time back in Dallas. Spending over $10 million on a runner doesn’t suggest a committee approach, so I’d guess this is Pollard’s backfield in 2023 with a mid-late round rookie backing him up alongside Ronald Jones and Malik Davis. I would also anticipate a significant drop in efficiency. Ezekiel Elliott has done the heavy grinding for years, while Pollard has been left with the juicy, high-upside snaps. Expect a major bump in snaps but only a moderate bump in output. For me, he’s an RB1 but not somebody I’d want to take in the 1st round of drafts.
Aaron Rodgers (NYJ?)
(This is, of course, contingent on a move to New York happening, which looked highly likely at the time of writing.) Aaron Rodgers has fallen badly out of fantasy relevance since his boom 2020 season. 2022 saw his worst season in two decades in most metrics across both fantasy and real football. The New York Jets have offered the lifeline the one-time Super Bowl winner has been looking for, stocking up on elite offensive talent and bringing in Rodgers to replace their awful, young quarterbacks. How about this supporting cast: Breece Hall, Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore, plus plenty of Rodgers’ favorites in Allen Lazard and the like. It’s all a 39-year-old on his last legs could possibly hope for. The big question is whether it’s a good move for the Jets, though, and the answer is probably not. Rodgers is getting very close to looking washed, and there seems to be better talent out there. But we’ve seen older talent getting a boost from a new team before. There are also questions about whether Rodgers is the locker room presence to unify the team for a title charge. For fantasy, Rodgers is a worthwhile late-round dart throw, but if Russell Wilson taught us anything last year, it’s that we shouldn’t overreact to this kind of situation.
This is a fantastic landing spot for Jimmy G. The NFL’s most handsome man gets an array of new weapons, with Jakobi Meyers joining Davante Adams, Josh Jacobs and Hunter Renfrow. They’re a tight end short of a very solid offense that will need to pass a lot, given their mediocre defense. He’s an upside late-round pick, though he doesn’t run enough to offer true league-winning upside, so don’t reach for him. I would also expect the Raiders to grab a QB in the draft, Anthony Richardson is apparently a favorite in Vegas. That leaves Garoppolo on a slightly shorter leash than you’d prefer, while it will become very concerning if a more NFL-ready talent is taken.
This situation is still very much up in the air, but with Damien Harris moving elsewhere in the division, the Patriots have brought in only James Robinson. This is the same James Robinson who lost out to Travis Etienne, then fell behind Zonovan Knight and didn’t get tendered by the Jets, even after they spent a pick on him. It’s a great sign for Stevenson. JRob’s being paid RB2 money but hasn’t offered even close to the production to threaten the starter. Unless someone else signs or a high draft pick arrives, this is Rhamondre’s backfield, and it’s a valuable one at that. He’s in the 1st round conversation, but I’d rather wait well into the 2nd.
Rashaad Penny and Kenny Gainwell (PHI)
This backfield will probably be a committee, but both of these players looked like they’d be backups at best, so this situation is great for both of them. Penny has a legit chance to compete for a starting spot. He’s by far the more talented back, and if he can take the bulk of the RB snaps, he’ll be in the RB2 argument, which is far more than anyone expected entering free agency. Kenny Gainwell also hasn’t looked close to fantasy relevant, but with an extremely injury-prone runner as his primary competition, he has a very feasible path to a starting role. I don’t believe he really has the ability to deserve that spot (though he showed more in college than he has in Philly so far), but opportunity trumps talent in the NFL. They’re both late-round gambles, especially if you’ve taken a zero RB approach.
Taylor Heinicke is on the record as claiming he wants to be the “best backup” possible for Desmond Ridder. It’s the sophomore’s job to lose, and let’s be clear, he’s well and truly capable of losing it. He’s not looked very good at all through four starts, but the Falcons were hardly a super-powered offense, so maybe with a full off-season and some playmaking additions, Ridder might be able to get something going. I wouldn’t be targeting Ridder outside Superflex or deep dynasty leagues, but the addition of Heinicke and a solid pass catcher in the under-rated Mack Hollins is a fine start for this youngster’s first NFL off-season.
This is clearly Love’s job, and that seems intriguing, though honestly, it’s hard to see him making much of it. He’s not particularly talented, he’s got solid young receivers, but nothing special, and the Packers love running the ball. Assuming nothing whacky happens with Rodgers unexpectedly staying in town, he’s a middling QB2 for fantasy, but he’s infinitely more valuable now than he was for most of last year.
With the addition of DJ Moore and a bevy of draft picks from the 1.01 trade, Justin Fields is in a great position to flourish in 2023. He’s a clear top-5 QB pick with the opportunity to take the overall QB1 spot at the end of the season if everything goes perfectly for him.
I know what you’re thinking, ew. And I couldn’t agree more. Ew. But I don’t think anyone really saw Baker taking a starting job this year. Honestly, I’m still not convinced he has one. But this is about as good a situation as he could have hoped for. He has two tremendously talented receivers (assuming they don’t want out) and a team I suspect will be chasing games a bit as their defense falls apart, so he could be a surprise, low-end QB1. I doubt it, but it’s possible, far more possible than it was before free agency.
I’m hearing from a lot of people that this has been a great free agency for Khalil Herbert, and it’s hard to argue. D’onta Foreman, on a small contract, clearly isn’t the starter, but this certainly screams a committee, and I’d expect a rookie to join the crew too. Herbert is now somewhere in the RB3 argument, and while that’s better than when David Montgomery was there, it’s still not really a great situation. An improvement, yes. A fantasy league winner? I doubt it.
KJ Osborn (MIN)
With Adam Thielen out of town, KJ Osborn becomes the clear WR2 in Minnesota. While they’ll clearly bring somebody else in, I believe Osborn has proven he deserves a run at the starting outside role, and I think he’s good enough to keep it. He doesn’t have Thielen’s red zone chops, but he’ll have some boom weeks and some quiet times. He’s on the WR3 bubble if no other true competition arrives.
Speaking of Thielen, he’ll become *insert rookie name here*’s new red zone weapon and possibly the WR1, depending on how DJ Chark goes with this offense, though he’s more likely to be the solid WR2. Terrace Marshall, Laviska Shenault and Shi Smith aren’t offering any competition, but it’s possible the Panthers bring in a Day 2 receiver or another free agent. If they don’t, Thielen becomes a low-end fantasy starter with big TD upside.
$12 million with $5 million guaranteed is starter money. It’s not clear WR1 money, but it’s enough to show the Giants expect Slayton to have a solid role. That’s enough to draft him in fantasy, given the lack of a clear WR1 in East Rutherford. He’s a safe but boring late-round option now.
This is fine, I guess. It’s hard to love this move, given nobody has flourished under Mac Jones, but it’s better than many of the possible options, and I think staying in KC was always unlikely. He’s a mid-round roster filler, and that hasn’t changed, but he does at least have upside as the likely Pats WR1.
I’m still not convinced this is White’s backfield, but if Chase Edmonds is to be Tampa’s only addition to replace Leonard Fournette, it brings White into the RB2 argument. Be aware, though, that even at the Sun Devils, he wasn’t an every-down back, so it’s hard to know if he can really maintain that workhorse role.
Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot (DAL)
Dalton Schultz’s departure and the lack of a replacement is a good sign for the two youngsters. Ferguson should be the favorite for a starting role in 2023 but don’t be surprised if Hendershot challenges him for snaps or turns it into a committee. Ferguson, a quality fantasy option with Wisconsin in college (yes, I had him, big fan), will be a late-round dart throw if he can avoid a high-profile addition.
Matt Gay (IND)
It may seem crazy to include a kicker, but the Colts have, for a long time, been a good fantasy location for kickers. Though the Indy offense may struggle with a rookie quarterback, this could still be a solid weekly spot for fantasy, given the previous alternative in LA was looking a lot worse for Gay.
Check out my rankings at ffdfantasyfootball.com or if you have any thoughts or questions, you can find me @thefantasyfirstdown on Instagram (where I answer all questions) and @fantasyfirstdwn on Twitter. In two weeks, I’ll be back with some free agency losers, including Darren Waller, which will surprise a lot of people. Come back to find out why.