The 2019 NFL offseason had its share of headlines, but overall it wasn’t one of the more earth-shattering years in terms of player movement.
Oh, there were big moves all right. Two of the top five wide receivers in terms of total PPR fantasy points scored — and the top two at the position when using per-game averages — changed teams via trade. Meanwhile, the No. 2 running back in terms of PPR fantasy points since his rookie season in 2013 — that despite his sitting out the entire 2018 season — signed with a new squad.
But looking at the collective group of team-switchers, only eight players who scored as many as 180 PPR fantasy points will begin the 2019 season with a different team than the one with which they finished 2018. It was an offseason where more role players swapped uniforms, though that’s still important for those seeking values in the later rounds of their drafts (or in deeper leagues).
To help you get a head start on your preseason preparations, what follows summarizes all of the NFL’s most significant offseason transactions into approximately 3,000 words, saving you the trouble of doing hours of research. The 10 most impactful transactions are listed at the top — the importance of moves including not only the player himself, but also the impact upon his former and new teams — with other significant moves briefly listed at column’s end.
The Browns landed one of the game’s transcendent talents at his position and one of the best downfield threats in the game to pair with up-and-coming quarterback Baker Mayfield, who by the way had a 120.8 passer rating on throws at least 15 yards downfield during the second half of 2018 (seven games spanning Weeks 10-17). As Beckham’s quarterback, Mayfield represents a huge upgrade over Eli Manning, and if Beckham can avoid the injuries that cost him half of the Giants’ 32 games the past two seasons combined, he will have a legitimate chance at topping the position in fantasy points.
Impact on new teammates: Mayfield, meanwhile, becomes all the stronger breakthrough candidate as a result of Beckham’s arrival, a true top-10 talent at his position who could max out as a top-five scoring quarterback in 2019. If there’s any fantasy opportunity-related issue with Beckham’s trade to Cleveland, it’s that he becomes another mouth to field on a Browns team that already had many of them. All five players who had at least 50 targets for the 2018 squad currently return for 2019, and that group was responsible for 427 targets from the 574 passes the team attempted. Beckham is certain to gobble up at least 150 of them if he plays all 16, so something has to give in terms of opportunity, meaning that someone from the group of Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, Antonio Callaway or Duke Johnson Jr. is going to take a big hit in that department. Otherwise all four are going to see slight declines in targets.
Impact on former teammates; Don’t underestimate the adverse impact of Beckham’s departure on Eli Manning’s numbers. Since Beckham’s 2014 Week 5 NFL debut, Manning had a 91.9 passer rating when Beckham was on the field compared to 78.8 when Beckham was off it. Manning is far from an appealing fantasy choice at this stage of his career, but that’s a significant split to consider when dipping into the streaming-quarterbacks pool.
For a player who, in 2018, became the first wide receiver in league history to score at least 300 PPR points in six consecutive seasons — those six also trailing only Jerry Rice’s seven for the most 300-point campaigns in an entire career — Brown’s trade understandably will be met with some concern amongst his prospective fantasy managers. The Raiders totaled the ninth-fewest PPR fantasy points from its quarterbacks and eighth-fewest from its wide receivers last season. In addition, Derek Carr is no Ben Roethlisberger, best evidenced by Roethlisberger having averaged 4.2 more fantasy points per game during Carr’s five-year career to date (2014-18). The No. 1 wide receiver selected on average (and top six overall) in each of the past four seasons, Brown deservedly might struggle to crack the top five wide receivers in ADP this year.
Impact on new teammates: That said, Brown should enjoy a boost in opportunity with the receiver-starved Raiders, even if the quality of his targets isn’t the equal of those from his past. He might challenge his career high of 194 targets, set in 2015, and his addition — as well as that of Tyrell Williams — should only improve Carr’s streaming prospects. The depth Brown brings to the Raiders’ passing game can only help open up rushing lanes for rookie Josh Jacobs.
Impact on former teammates:Roethlisberger was surprisingly productive during Brown’s rare absences. The sample-size debate comes into play — Roethlisberger played only 415 of his 5,695 snaps with Brown on the sidelines — but in the past six seasons, Roethlisberger averaged 0.51 fantasy points per pass attempt when Brown was off the field, compared to 0.45 when Brown was on it. JuJu Smith-Schuster still gives Roethlisberger an elite target, and Brown’s departure opens up a great amount of opportunity for other Steelers pass-catchers like Donte Moncrief, James Washington and Vance McDonald, all of whom might be underrated in fantasy drafts.
3. RB Le’Veon Bell signed with New York Jets
Brown wasn’t the only Steelers star from the past decade to change teams during the offseason; Bell also exited after holding out for the entire 2018 season. Bell chose the Jets, a team in transition but one with its arrow seemingly pointing upward, thanks in large part to second-year quarterback Sam Darnold. Bell immediately upgrades the Jets’ running game and he gives Darnold arguably the best pass-catching back in the game. Bell’s 390 targets, 312 receptions and 2,660 receiving yards the past six seasons leads all running backs — and that’s including the missed 2018. The word “arguably,” though, is tossed in there because of the questions surrounding the potential performance of a 27-year-old running back coming off a year-long absence. Jamal Lewis’ 251.9 PPR fantasy points in 2002 represent the most by any running back in a season played following a year-long absence, but Lewis played that season as a 23-year-old. Couple that with the perceived downgrade in offenses and Bell is a solid top-10 fantasy option at the position, but not one of its top picks.
Impact on former teammates: Back in Pittsburgh, Bell’s departure is easier to stomach, being that he didn’t play all of last season. His replacements were plenty productive, though: James Conner actually averaged more non-PPR fantasy points per game in 2018 (17.3) than Bell did in 2017 (17.1), and he came close in PPR scoring, too (21.5 to 22.8). Jaylen Samuels is also an adequate backup who could see more time in 2019.
Coleman’s arrival in San Francisco made a lot of sense if you consider his history with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan during Shanahan’s time as offensive coordinator in Atlanta (2015-16). It made less sense if you consider that the team still boasts Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. on its roster, and indicated that the former two, along with Coleman, will all be heavily involved in the offense in 2019. Coleman’s first-team work during OTAs, capitalizing upon the injury absences of McKinnon (recovery from ACL surgery), Breida (pectoral) and Mostert (surgery on his arm), could give him a leg up on the competition, but his arrival created a potentially aggravating committee picture for his prospective fantasy managers. This will be one of the critical backfields to track during the preseason, and unless injuries or significant shifts in performance clarify the situation, it might well extend through the entire 2019 season. It’s almost impossible to regard any of the three as a top-25 running back in fantasy.
Interestingly enough, the Ravens had gotten by with a running backs-on-the-cheap strategy in recent years, coaxing 170-point PPR fantasy seasons out of Justin Forsett (2014), Terrance West (2016) and Alex Collins (2017) in the past half-decade, but now they’ve invested in a more proven option at the position in Ingram. Consistency is his thing, as 51 of his 69 games played during the past five seasons were worth 10-plus PPR fantasy points, and the Ravens have given every indication that they’ll be one of the most run-heavy offenses in the league in 2019. Still, Ingram will turn 30 years old on Dec. 21, so it’s possible that any significant expansion of his workload might cause him to exhibit greater signs of wear and tear, especially later in the season. He’s a top-25 running back primarily due to opportunity, but be cautious overrating that and regarding him as a locked-in weekly RB2.
Jackson’s return to Philadelphia, where he played the first six of his 11 NFL seasons, might actually have greater all-around impact than either of the two transactions ranked higher on this list, but he’s ranked here mainly because the move was of greater interest to his team than him individually.
He fits a key need for the Eagles: A deep threat who has been noticeably absent for four years running, best evidenced by the fact that the Eagles haven’t had any receiver amass 15 catches or 400 receiving yards on throws at least 15 yards downfield in any of those years. Jackson has reached both of those thresholds in two of the past three seasons. That’s big news for the offense as a whole, but especially so for Carson Wentz, whose 38.9 percent completion rate, 1.3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 82.5 passer rating on such throws during his three-year NFL career were all beneath league-average during that time span. No one Eagles player should see a significant boost in value as a result of Jackson’s arrival, but it’s good news across the board, with Wentz, in particular, a potential top-10 quarterback. Jackson, meanwhile, shouldn’t have trouble finishing among the 50 best at his position.
Tight end has been a big need for the Saints since Jimmy Graham’s departure following the 2014 season, and in the past two years it had become particularly problematic for them to fill. In both of those seasons, they coaxed fewer than 170 PPR fantasy points total out of the position, a number Cook easily exceeded in 2018 (193.6). While he enjoyed a tremendous opportunity with a Raiders team hurting for any receiving help (his 101 targets were a career best) and has exhibited extreme inconsistency throughout his 10-year career, Cook brings quite a bit of natural talent to the table. And now he’s teammates with Drew Brees, one of the best quarterbacks with whom he has gotten to work. Yes, Cook disappointed in a big way while working with Aaron Rodgers in 2016, but when Brees has had a premium tight-end target, he has utilized him as heavily as any quarterback. He targeted the position a whopping 25.5 percent of the time from 2012-14, when Graham was there, but only 16.9 percent in the four seasons since. Cook’s prospects of a top-eight positional repeat are mighty good.
8. RB Kareem Hunt signed with Browns
As with Beckham, Hunt’s arrival in Cleveland fattened a depth chart that already had a decent chunk of talent. In fact, it probably cast more of a shadow on the Browns’ running game than Beckham’s did to the receivers, as starter Nick Chubb was one of the most productive at his position during the second half of 2018. From Week 9 forward, an eight-game span for him, he was the No. 6 running back in terms of PPR fantasy points (141.7). Hunt’s eight-game suspension for a violation of the NFL’s conduct policy means any running back controversy will wait until Week 10, but for Chubb’s prospective managers, that’s awful timing on our schedules, in the middle of the playoff-push weeks and directly before the fantasy playoffs themselves. Chubb’s performance in those first eight weeks might ultimately offer the most clarity, and Hunt could be asked to work his way into the mix initially upon his return. Perhaps all it’ll do is expedite a Duke Johnson Jr. trade, if not before the season starts then by the trade deadline. This is a natural handcuff situation, for those in leagues with the bench depth needed to speculate on a player who will miss half the season.
Here’s a move that was more significant for the team the player left behind, rather than his own or his new team’s significance. Coupling this move with the aforementioned Jackson signing in Philadelphia, the Buccaneers opened up 177 of their 616 total targets from last season, while adding only Breshad Perriman from free agency and Scott Miller through the draft. That’s a heck of a lot of opportunity for a player like Chris Godwin, whom new head coach Bruce Arians hinted might get some looks out of the slot, which is where Humphries ran 414 of his 513 routes in 2018. Miller, meanwhile, might instantly become the team’s primary slot receiver, giving him a chance at instant fantasy relevance. Godwin scored 185.2 PPR fantasy points last season, 27th among wide receivers on only 94 targets, so there’s a real breakout opportunity for him in what’s sure to be a pass-heavy offense.
Humphries, meanwhile, should add some depth to a Titans receiving game that needed it, though his 188.7 PPR fantasy points last season (24th at the position) seemed more the product of volume than star-caliber talent. He’ll be of help to players like Marcus Mariota and Corey Davis, but not enough so to move the rankings for either.
One could go in numerous directions with these final two spots, but Howard’s move, like the one above, had greater significance in terms of what was left behind than many of the alternatives. Howard amassed at least 250 rushing attempts in each of his three seasons in Chicago, and the 250 he had last season were uninspiring to say the least, as his 0.58 fantasy points per carry ranked below average at the position. Vacating those carries presents a great opportunity for any of three players: Rookie David Montgomery, a strong, pass-catching back who stands the best chance at a three-down role, Mike Davis, who averaged 4.6 yards per carry in 2018, but projects as more of a third-down back, and Tarik Cohen, a brilliant receiving back who is great in the open field, but who could probably handle only a small increase in rushing work. Montgomery is a legitimate candidate for a top-30 season, with a ceiling probably in the top 20 at the position, and Cohen probably belongs in the same tier, albeit with a tighter range of outcomes of the two.
As for the Eagles, Howard joined Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams as another cog in the team’s running back-by-committee, inevitably leading to even further decline in Howard’s rushing attempts as well as his fantasy production. Miles Sanders’ selection in the NFL draft further clouded this picture, but he has the greatest odds of the quintet at grabbing the regular role.
“Just missed” moves of note
WR Jamison Crowder signed with Jets: He’s a worthwhile gamble on the Jets’ part, stepping into the team’s slot-receiver role in place of Jermaine Kearse after running 1,263 of his 1,673 career routes (75 percent) out of the slot while with the Washington Redskins. It’s another plus for the aforementioned Darnold, and it could put Crowder in line for bounce-back/top-50 fantasy wide receiver numbers.
QB Nick Foles signed with Jacksonville Jaguars: He’s certainly an upgrade over Blake Bortles, but for all of Foles’ postseason magic, he was awfully ordinary in his two seasons begun as an NFL starter (2014-15). In fact, he was replaced by Case Keenum in St. Louis during the latter. Foles’ receivers in Jacksonville also aren’t the equal of his in Philadelphia, so he’s more streaming candidate than fantasy asset with the move. It’s at least a boost for the Jaguars’ offense, though, even if minimal.
RB Carlos Hyde signed with Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs have squeezed quite a bit of production out of unlikely running back candidates during the past half-decade, and they’ve got plenty of opportunity at the position entering 2019, with Damien Williams, Hyde and rookie Darwin Thompson all in the mix. Williams is the likely starter, but Hyde is a worthwhile handcuff/top-50 positional pick.
WR Golden Tate signed with Giants: Another head-scratcher of a move by the Giants, Tate is one of the league’s most accomplished slot receivers of the past half-decade, who moves from a roster crowded with slot-receiver candidates to one that has Sterling Shepard handling those duties. Tate should find his targets, but the awkward fit does cast some doubt upon his own (and Shepard’s) fantasy appeal.