THE BEST OF THE REST
After all the hoopla that comes with top-ranked free agents, there will always be those that quietly ascend to another level to make whichever team they go to just slightly better. These guys won’t put up the eye-popping numbers that grab headlines and have everyone questioning why all 32 NFL teams didn’t take a shot on them. What they will do is enough to be fantasy relevant and capture the affection of die-hard fan bases and fantasy football fans alike. My best example for this is Robby Anderson, who signed a 2-year $20 million deal in 2020. Anderson had put up decent stats for a number 3 option but wanted to prove there was more to his game. He reunited with his college head coach in Matt Rhule and instantly showed he was a value compiling career highs in targets, receptions and receiving yards. Anderson was one of the under the radar signings that was lost in the shuffle of the Tom Brady news, much like the fanfare that is expected to follow Will Fuller and Kenny Golladay this off-season. The next best free agents that we didn’t cover during free agency week for the DayDreamers are Curtis Samuel, Marvin Jones and James Conner. I’ll provide some insight on where they should go and where the most fun landing spot for them is.
The 2020 football year for Curtis Samuel saw a workload that was geared toward his talents for the first time in his career, and what resulted was awesome. Touches were created for Samuel all throughout the field, but most importantly for his value, in the backfield. He had 41 carries, more than double his career total entering the year. Some of this was out of necessity with the loss of CMC early in the year, but the results showed that he is a creative playmaker with the ball in his hands who can be successful when given the chance. The Washington Football Team is in desperate need of playmakers to aid young superstar WR Terry McLaurin and emerging 2nd year RB Antonio Gibson. Regardless of who lines up behind the center at the start of the season, Samuel gives them a great option to hit up if either of the other two playmakers on that team are occupied on a play. Samuel would also be reunited with former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, who has shown his coaching prowess with both franchises. Samuel gives Washington the ability to cheaply add young talent, while also bringing in a versatile player.
The place I would absolutely love to see Samuel go is to the San Francisco 49ers. Adding a do-it-all player like Samuel to a Kyle Shanahan offense would be a delight to watch. Mix in his talent with the young and versatile WR core of Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk would have Shanahan like a kid in a candy store. The amount of jet sweeps and double reverses just made me dizzy imagining it. It would also allow Curtis Samuel to go to a contending team and not have the entire workload placed on his shoulders. The pressure put on free agents from the fan bases can often be unrealistic, but going to a contending team that already has pieces in place lessens that burden.
You may be wondering how and why Marvin Jones makes the cut on my best of the rest list. Well, over the last two seasons, Jones is the WR #18. That includes games with Jeff Driskel, David Blough and James Colvin. Now, while only two of those are actually NFL QBs (shoutout James), I bet even die-hard NFL fans wouldn’t have been able to remember who played QB for the Lions other than Matthew Stafford. Even with Stafford missing half of the 2019 season, Jones still produced enough to show that he can succeed in an offense that has pieces put in place around him. Since joining the Lions in 2016, Jones is 8th in the NFL in receiving TDs, which puts him in elite company; it’s not exactly what you would expect from a #2 WR in most offenses. This is why Jones would be a perfect fit for the team formerly known as the San Diego Chargers, the now Los Angeles Chargers. Mike Williams is still there, but he has yet to show that he can play a full season without missing time, whether it’s complete games or chunks of time within games. Plus, Williams is an unrestricted free agent in 2022, which could lead to a classic Chargers contract standoff. Jones would come in and be a complement to star Keenan Allen while giving Justin Herbert another weapon to add to his arsenal. The Chargers have struggled in the red zone and whether it is coaching, play-calling, execution or all of the above, Jones gives them a great option to get creative.
Now, this may be my favorite “fun fit” for a player, and it’s the Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers has made it overtly clear that he needs better pass catchers, so whether they do so in free agency or through the draft, I think that’ll please the reigning MVP. Jones would enter as the clear #2 and give the Packers a legitimate threat that would force teams to make a concerted effort in not doubling Davante Adams. Packers’ fans could get a little blast from the past with Adams and Jones, being reminiscent of the glory days with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, but better.
James Conner has one thing to prove before any real trust can be put into his fantasy value and that’s staying healthy. Conner has yet to play more than 14 games in a season, missing a total of 14 games in his four seasons with the Steelers. While his best fantasy year was three years ago, he showed he was worth a top-10 pick, coming in as the #6 overall RB on the year. This may seem like ages ago if you’ve followed his career or even worse, have been someone who has rostered him on your team. Due to these factors, the team that has the best situation for him is the Buffalo Bills. They already have other RB options in Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, which may seem counterintuitive to someone who wants to be a starting RB. However, the easiest way to earn a starting job is to go to a team with a power vacuum at the position, which is how I picture the Bills backfield. Neither Singletary nor Moss earned the right to be the starter, and a healthy Conner could show he’s the guy for the job.
The 2nd team that could be the most intriguing option is the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals will be looking for a starting RB, if you don’t believe that Chase Edmunds has the job locked down. There is very little chance the Cardinals enter the season with Edmunds as the lone option, and they need to address the position to take pressure off of Kyler Murray. Conner brings veteran leadership to a relatively young backfield and could still find his way to a lead role. Conner doesn’t have greater than top-15 potential this season, but he could use this season as a building block to a more lucrative offer in the coming years.
A reminder to all fantasy football fans is to stay active in free agent news and do not overreact to signings. While we may think we have all the details in our heads, we still don’t know what teams plan to do in the draft or through trades. Stay patient, stay vigilant, and most importantly, Stay Dreamin’!