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More than just Brady: Ranking the top 10 fantasy moves of the offseason

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Things will look quite a bit different in the NFL -- and by extension, fantasy football -- in 2020.

The NFL's winningest player -- both in terms of regular-season quarterback wins (219) and individual Super Bowl championships (6) -- will be sporting different threads, as Tom Brady left the New England Patriots after 20 seasons of historic performance.

The most productive fantasy players from both 2016 and 2017 changed teams, as David Johnson was traded by the Arizona Cardinals and Todd Gurley II was cut by the Los Angeles Rams. Johnson was first-team All-Pro during his massive 2016, while Gurley made Pro Bowl appearances in three of his five seasons with the Rams, and in two of them earned first-team All-Pro honors.

One of the three 100-catch performers in both 2018 and 2019 also made a big move, as DeAndre Hopkins was traded by the Houston Texans. He had a third 100-catch season in 2015, hauling in 111 passes.

And those were merely the headliners. Plenty of players changed teams during the offseason, and what follows summarizes the most significant transactions and analyzes them for fantasy purposes in approximately 3,000 words, saving you hours of research. The 10 most impactful transactions are listed first, discussing not only the impact of the move on the player himself, but also upon his new and former teams. Other significant moves are briefly discussed at column's end.


1. QB Tom Brady signed by Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It was the move that sent shockwaves throughout the NFL, as Brady's departure from New England was oft-rumored but rarely considered a probable outcome. He and the Patriots, after all, seemed synonymous. Now, Brady will finish his star-studded career with a new team, à la quarterback greats who preceded him, such as Joe Montana and Peyton Manning. The big question: Can Brady reverse the disturbing statistical trends that placed him outside his position's top 10 in fantasy scoring in each of the past two seasons, and saw him place 30th out of 32 qualified quarterbacks in on-target percentage and 26th in air yards per target in 2019?

Brady's arrival is considerably more important for his new Buccaneers teammates than for his own statistical prospects. Just compare the personnel: At wide receiver, the Buccaneers' Mike Evans and Chris Godwin were the only teammates to manage at least 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns receiving in 2019, while the Patriots' Julian Edelman had 1,117 yards and six scores, but no other wide receiver caught more than 29 passes and five different players made starts at the position (but none with more than five). At tight end, Brady got his favorite target, Rob Gronkowski, back from retirement, to add to the Buccaneers' incumbent duo of Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, who caught a combined 134 passes for 16 touchdowns the past two seasons. The Patriots, meanwhile, had four different tight ends make starts in 2019, that group combining for 37 catches and two scores in all of their game action (starts or otherwise). And at running back, while James White is one of the position's best pass-catchers, the Buccaneers have a capable receiver in Dare Ogunbowale and both Ronald Jones II and Ke'Shawn Vaughn are plenty capable of handling those chores as well.

Cases can be made for either Evans or Godwin to flourish while working with Brady, assuming the 43-year-old hasn't truly lost the zip on his throws -- and that his statistical downturn was the product of lesser personnel -- as Brady in New England excelled with both perimeter receivers such as Randy Moss and slot receivers like Edelman, who had a trio of 1,000-yard seasons in the past six. In fact, one might make the case that both Evans and Godwin will be top-five positional options, as they were on track to be last season, before Evans was injured in Week 14.

Perhaps even more surprising than Brady's departure was that the Patriots didn't immediately sign his replacement, in an offseason that had several proven options available. Sophomore Jarrett Stidham seems the most likely starter, though veteran Brian Hoyer will provide competition. It's also possible the team could still sign an available free agent (Cam Newton, perhaps?). Whatever the outcome, losing Brady can't mean anything good for Edelman's fantasy production, and it dampens breakthrough enthusiasm for N'Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers.


2. WR DeAndre Hopkins traded to Arizona Cardinals

If Brady's move wasn't the offseason's shocker, the trade of Hopkins certainly qualified, mainly because it was a head-scratcher as far as things were concerned on the Texans' side. If Deshaun Watson is the key to the franchise's success, why trade his -- and one of the league's -- most valuable receiver? The facts: Of Watson's 795.6 total fantasy points in his first three NFL seasons, 593.2 came on passing plays and 221.4 of those specifically on targets to Hopkins. That's 37.3% of Watson's career production, but it came on only 31.9% of his career pass attempts.

Watson's loss is Kyler Murray's gain, especially as far as his scoring prospects are concerned. In 2019, Watson enjoyed the fifth-best red zone passer rating (107.8) out of 33 qualified quarterbacks, while Murray ranked 24th (88.3). The gap widened on end zone targets, as Watson converted 14-of-29 pass attempts for touchdowns, while Murray was 6-of-22. Hopkins' arrival might also help draw some defensive attention from Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, and considering pass-friendly coach Kliff Kingsbury might run a good number of four-wide receiver sets, there's a chance either could still post WR3 numbers.

Hopkins' departure thrusts a pair of up-and-coming, albeit injury-prone, wide receivers into the spotlight: Will Fuller V and Keke Coutee. Yes, the Texans subsequently acquired Brandin Cooks -- we'll get to that move shortly -- and still have Kenny Stills, but it's Fuller who stands to benefit the most. It won't be a seamless transition, though, as Fuller is more of a field-stretcher than red zone monster, leading the team with a 14.7-yard average depth of target from 2017 to 2019 -- though Fuller was a respectable 10-of-14 catching his red zone targets for six touchdowns during that same time span. One thing to expect: Watson, who likes to take chances downfield, might see a small uptick in interceptions in 2020.


3. RB Todd Gurley II signed by Atlanta Falcons

As mentioned above, Gurley was the No. 1 player in fantasy football in 2017 (383.3 PPR points) and No. 4 in 2018 (372.1), before knee issues cost him a combined three games the past two seasons and pushed his per-game production to a mere 14.6 points, 16th-best among qualifiers at his position. The Rams could find no takers for what remained on the four-year, $60 million (including $45 million guaranteed) deal he signed in July 2018, and cut him in March. The Falcons scooped him up a day later, on a one-year, $5 million deal, an effective homecoming for the Georgia product.

Gurley's health is the wild card here and we still don't have a firm read on it. He'll presumably take over as the team's lead running back, though Ito Smith should still have a role and might ultimately be one of fantasy football's most essential handcuffs.

With Gurley gone, it opens up quite an opportunity in L.A., one that might well go to rookie Cam Akers, the earlier of the Rams' two second-round picks and their first player selected in the 2020 NFL draft. Akers should duke it out with Darrell Henderson Jr., Malcolm Brown and perhaps John Kelly for starter's duties, but this is the kind of role that presents top-20 positional upside. It's one of the most essential preseason position battles to track.


4. RB David Johnson traded to Houston Texans

The Texans' primary return in the aforementioned Hopkins trade, Johnson takes over for Carlos Hyde as the team's starting running back. In what was perhaps the most puzzling part of the trade, however, Johnson has been a more effective receiver than runner the past two seasons, creating some redundancy with Duke Johnson, one of the game's best pass-catching backs, already on the roster. Each of the Johnsons will presumably cut into the other's target share, diminishing their value in PPR and half-PPR leagues. In fact, Duke Johnson might suffer enough of a drop that he's a total non-factor in non-PPR leagues, and David Johnson might not see enough targets to warrant more than low-end RB2 status in anything but a non-PPR league.

David Johnson's exit from Arizona, however, serves as a strong endorsement of Kenyan Drake as the Cardinals' starter. After his acquisition from the Miami Dolphins in Week 9 last season, Drake totaled the fourth-most PPR fantasy points (159.4) among running backs, including a 90.3-point outburst in the final three weeks alone. For those worried about Kingsbury's pass-oriented scheme, Drake caught 28 of 35 targets with his new team, not to mention he had 50-plus receptions in 2018 and 2019.


5. WR Stefon Diggs traded to Buffalo Bills

Speaking of odd fits, presenting Diggs in Buffalo: A 1,000-yard receiver in back-to-back seasons who had a 23.5% target share with the Minnesota Vikings in those years combined, on a run-heavy team quarterbacked by the mobile-yet-shaky-armed Josh Allen. Diggs gives Allen a great target to throw to, but Allen already had one in John Brown, meaning that there's precious little chance that Diggs will be able to match the production he enjoyed in Minnesota. This is a run-based offense, and it's a reasonable guess that Diggs' opportunity won't be enough to make him more than a high-end WR3 in most leagues.

It's a heck of an opportunity left behind in Minnesota, though, now potentially filled by rookie and No. 22 overall pick Justin Jefferson. He's coming off a season with an LSU-record 111 catches and might immediately slot into an opportunity that grants him a chance at even better production than Diggs could offer in 2020.


6. RB Melvin Gordon signed by Denver Broncos

Gordon's change of teams will probably have more of an impact upon his former team than his new one. Despite the presence of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman on the roster, the Broncos are still likely to grant Gordon a similar role to the one he had with the Los Angeles Chargers -- probably around 15 carries per game. In L.A., though, Gordon's departure paves the way for Austin Ekeler to be a three-down back, and it presents an intriguing chance for Justin Jackson to sneak in first- and second-down work.

Ekeler did get four starts filling in during Gordon's holdout at the onset of 2019, scoring 107.0 PPR fantasy points (second most among RBs), while averaging 14.0 rushing attempts in the process (Jackson averaged 6.0 in the three that he played). While Ekeler probably won't repeat that production over a full 16-game schedule, it's important to point out that he averaged only 5.4 carries per game the remainder of 2019, meaning that this is still a sizable boost in opportunity.


7. QB Philip Rivers signed by Indianapolis Colts

After 15 seasons and 224 consecutive starts for the Chargers (an active streak, and the second longest in the game's history), Rivers moved east to Indianapolis during the offseason, where he'll take over for Jacoby Brissett as the Colts' starting quarterback. Rivers, at this stage of his career, is a bit of an overrated passer, with so-so numbers in 2019 and only the ninth-most fantasy points by a quarterback in the past three seasons combined (and bear in mind that's despite having played every game during that time). Still, he'll be protected by a much stronger offensive line than the one he played behind in L.A., and he should pair well with tight end Jack Doyle, who might quickly become his favorite target in the red zone. Remember, Rivers targeted the tight end on 27.5% of his red zone throws from 2017-19.


8. TE Austin Hooper signed by Cleveland Browns

After a breakthrough 2019 that included pacing his position in PPR fantasy points through Week 10 (154.8), Hooper signed a four-year, $44 million deal with the receiver-rich Browns. There he'll have to battle with Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and fellow tight end David Njoku for targets, meaning Hooper will struggle to approach the 18.5% target share he enjoyed during the aforementioned 10-week stretch. It won't help, from a sheer volume perspective, that the Atlanta Falcons attempted 145 more passes than the Browns (an average of 9.1 per game). Still, Hooper has been a rock-solid option at his position for the better part of two seasons, and he's one of the few capable of serving as an every-down option. He'll probably hover in the back end of the positional top 10, while rendering Njoku a nonfactor in fantasy.


9. QB Teddy Bridgewater signed by Carolina Panthers

It's a new regime in Carolina, and it'll begin with a new quarterback, as Bridgewater, Drew Brees' backup in New Orleans the past two seasons, signed on as Cam Newton's successor. Bridgewater's fantasy prospects are a tough read, being that he made only six starts combined from 2016 to '19 as he recovered from major injury and settled for the aforementioned backup role, but he was plenty productive as Brees' fill-in early last season. In five starts during that time, Bridgewater scored 83.6 fantasy points, 11th best among quarterbacks, enough to place him within the QB2 tier in two-quarterback leagues. That he was such a conservative thrower, though, is a bit of a concern for some of the team's receivers.


10. WR Emmanuel Sanders signed by New Orleans Saints

Do the Saints really need a No. 2 wide receiver? It's a role that has been more of an afterthought in recent seasons, but Sanders also provides the team its best option in that spot, and a useful slot receiver at that. He managed a 17.4% target share following his trade to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 8 of last season, a number that might be generous as a New Orleans projection but also not one out of the realm of possibility. Expect Sanders to be a matchup-driven WR4, one best used against teams with poor slot cornerbacks, but his arrival should help firm up Drew Brees' options, continuing to support his status as a top-10 fantasy quarterback.


Just missed the cut

WR Robby Anderson signed by Carolina Panthers: The frequency with which new head coach Matt Rhule uses three-receiver sets will ultimately determine Anderson's fantasy appeal, as Anderson will slide in behind DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel on a depth chart that also sports the game's best pass-catching running back. Anderson is more of a WR4/5 with his new team.

RB Matt Breida traded to, and RB Jordan Howard signed by, Miami Dolphins: Rather than look to the draft to restock their running back corps, the Dolphins brought in a pair of modestly productive options to compete for the role in Breida and Howard. It'll be a preseason battle to watch, one that might ultimately result in a committee. Howard scored the 27th-most PPR fantasy points among running backs from 2018-19 (291.4), Breida the 32nd most (265.8).

WR Brandin Cooks traded to Houston Texans: Like Fuller, Cooks is a field-stretching receiver, his 13.9-yard average depth of target only incrementally behind his new teammate's. Remarkably, Cooks has been fantasy's No. 10 wide receiver during the past five seasons combined (216.4 PPR points per season), despite playing for three teams during that time. He's in good position to contribute again as a WR3 but brings some redundancy to Fuller.

TE Eric Ebron signed by Pittsburgh Steelers: Ebron regressed in a big way in 2019 -- partly due to injuries but also due to the quarterback change from Andrew Luck to Brissett -- but he'll get a chance to rebound in Pittsburgh. There, he'll battle Vance McDonald for targets, though the Steelers' historic lack of reliance upon tight ends presents a volume concern. At best, Ebron is a low-end TE2.

TE Rob Gronkowski traded to Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It might surprise some that he didn't make the top 10, but while Gronk's return was a big NFL storyline, is it quite the same for fantasy? He was only the No. 11 tight end in terms of PPR fantasy points when he last played in 2018 (131.2), he missed a combined 13 games because of injuries from 2016 to '18, and he's joining a team loaded with tight end depth and two excellent wide receivers who will cut into his target share. Gronkowski has the ability -- not to mention Brady's eye in scoring position -- to return as a top-10 fantasy tight end, but it's far from a guarantee he'll do so.

TE Hayden Hurst traded to Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons' designated replacement for Hooper, Hurst steps into a golden opportunity after having been buried on the Baltimore Ravens' depth chart for the first two years of his NFL career. Coach Dan Quinn is tight end-friendly, as evidenced by Hooper's 14.7% full-season target share, in a season where Hooper missed three games due to injury. Though unproven, Hurst has a legitimate chance at a top-eight fantasy season.


Other notable moves

Here is an alphabetical list of more fantasy-relevant players -- especially depending on league type -- who changed teams during the offseason.

WR Nelson Agholor, Las Vegas Raiders

WR Geronimo Allison, Detroit Lions

RB Peyton Barber, Washington Redskins

TE Trey Burton, Indianapolis Colts

WR Randall Cobb, Houston Texans

WR Phillip Dorsett II, Seattle Seahawks

TE Tyler Eifert, Jacksonville Jaguars

QB Nick Foles, Chicago Bears

WR Devin Funchess, Green Bay Packers

WR Marquise Goodwin, Philadelphia Eagles

TE Jimmy Graham, Chicago Bears

QB Case Keenum, Cleveland Browns

RB Dion Lewis, New York Giants

K Brett Maher, New York Jets

QB Marcus Mariota, Las Vegas Raiders

RB J.D. McKissic, Washington Redskins

TE Greg Olsen, Seattle Seahawks

WR Breshad Perriman, New York Jets

WR Tajae Sharpe, Minnesota Vikings

RB DeAndre Washington, Kansas City Chiefs

QB Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints

TE Jason Witten, Las Vegas Raiders

K Greg Zuerlein, Dallas Cowboys