Dynasty Watch: Rising/Falling Before Free Agency
Dynasty Watch: Rising/Falling Before Free Agency

This article is part of our Dynasty Watch series.

The second half of March will bring us some big value swings, with free agency drastically altering the team context for dozens of fantasy-relevant players. Even the ones that aren't directly impacted won't be entirely out of the woods, potentially getting competition for jobs/targets/carries come draft time in April.

The first half of March gives us a a chance to speculate before any of the player movement is solidified, selling high or buying low based on expectations of what might happen over the next two months. Interviews at the scouting combine were mostly filled with coach-speak and universal praise, but there were also some cases where coaches or general managers provided legitimate insight about their offseason intentions.

I dug through the latest round of rumors and quotes to look for meaningful stuff, building on our first installment of Rising/Falling from early February. Keep in mind that we're discussing value changes relative to the end of 2019, so "rising" doesn't necessarily mean the player's career is on an upward trajectory... it just means things are looking better than they did a couple months ago.

Gaining Value ⬆️

TE Blake Jarwin, Dallas Cowboys

We now have multiple reports suggesting Jason Witten won't re-sign with the Cowboys, including one from ESPN where the tight end acknowledges he "might have to go somewhere else" to continue his football career. Jarwin, on the other hand, will get a second-round tender, after producing 8.5 yards per target in 2018 and 8.9 YPT in 2019.

That's not to say the 25-year-old will simply be handed a three-down role, but he does have an opportunity to become the Cowboys' top pass catcher at tight end. It's one of the weaker positions in the upcoming draft, and a team that needs to re-sign Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper probably won't be in the mix for a top-of-the-market solution in free agency. Competition on the current roster consists of 2017 UDFA Cole Hikutini and 2018 fourth-round pick Dalton Schultz, a duo with 15 combined NFL receptions. I like Jarwin as a dynasty trade target and believe his rising ADP in best ball (No. 157, TE21) is justified.

  

WR Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions

Back in February there were some whispers about the Lions considering a full rebuild around Tua Tagovailoa, or perhaps just a mini-rebuild/retool with Matthew Stafford still at quarterback. Either scenario could've made Jones available for trade, considering he's 30 years old and will cost a team-friendly $6.5 million in the final year of his contract. However, Lions GM Bob Quinn quickly shut down the idea of a Stafford trade and then re-signed 34-year-old Danny Amendola to a one-year, $5 million contract.

With Detroit seemingly all-in for the upcoming campaign, Jones figures to stay in the same offense where he averaged 5.3 catches for 66.9 yards and 0.75 TDs per game in 2019 before Stafford suffered a season-ending back injury. An aggressive passing game allowed both Jones and Kenny Golladay to thrive, with Stafford leading the league in average depth of target (10.7) and finishing second in passing yards per game (312.4). There are only one or two places around the league where Jones would be positioned for similar success.

  

WRs T.Y. Hilton + Parris Campbell, Indianapolis Colts

I've already talked up Hilton as a bargain at his seventh-round ADP in early best-ball drafts, noting that the Colts likely will bring in a replacement — or at least some competition — for quarterback Jacoby Brissett. I understand why it's hard to get excited about Philip Rivers or Andy Dalton... just know that both would represent significant upgrades from what the Colts dealt with last year. 

Sure, the injuries to Hilton, Campbell and Eric Ebron were a factor, but it's not like Brissett was totally hung out to dry, as he played behind an excellent offensive line that started the same five players in all 16 games. Whether it's a veteran QB or a massive trade package to move up for Tua, the Colts offense should have better days ahead with Brissett on the bench or off the roster. 

Here's a note from my last article for any remaining Brissett apologists:

Plus, there's a pretty good chance he gets a QB upgrade from Jacoby Brissett, who finished last season ranked 20th in QBR (52.1), 26th in completion percentage (60.9), 28th in YPA (6.6), 32nd in PFF grade (59.2) and 30th in deep-pass accuracy (34.9 percent per PFF). A strong offensive line is also useful for a deep threat, and the Colts shouldn't have any issues in that regard now that left tackle Anthony Castonzo has decided to play for at least one more season. Castonzo and freak right guard Quenton Nelson are the leading forces on an O-Line that placed No. 3 in PFF's 2019 rankings.

Losing Value ⬇️

WRs Tyrell Williams + Hunter Renfrow, Oakland Raiders

Much like everyone else, Raiders GM Mike Mayock is visibly stoked on the 2020 WR draft class, noting that 20-to-25 players could have Day 1 or 2 grades. That alone isn't a huge deal, but I found it interesting that he specifically mentioned the wideout position when he was asked about offseason upgrades:

"We're a pretty good offensive team, and I think everybody standing here knows we need help at wideout," Mayock said. "We need to be better. The Antonio Brown thing left a void that we weren't really able to fill. So we need to get better there."

Perhaps I'm overestimating Williams and Renfrow, but my own calculus points to equal or greater needs on all three levels of the defense, not to mention an interior O-line where the three starters will be 37, 31 and 29 years old by Week 1. A Williams/Renfrow optimist like myself might have projected the Raiders replacing Zay Jones with a Day 2 draft pick or second-tier free agent. I'm starting to rethink that assessment, instead considering the possibility of someone like Jerry Jeudy or Robby Anderson coming in to hog targets. The Raiders already have Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller eating a lot of the volume in their offense.

  

RB Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos

Lindsay hasn't shown enough pass-catching skill for 70 receptions to be a realistic expectation, but we could see a modest bump if his problematic wrist heals properly. Surgery at the end of his rookie season restricted his weight-lifting regimen until right before training camp last year, and the need for a follow-up procedure in January suggests the wrist was a factor in his struggles with pass blocking (19.5 PFF grade!) and drops (six) in 2019.

Freeman was a better blocker (73.7 PFF grade) and only dropped two passes, but he didn't do much of anything once he got the ball in his hands, averaging 6.0 yards per catch and 3.8 per carry, with 175 touches producing just one gain of 20-plus yards. The Broncos' search for backfield help seems to be a commentary on Freeman rather than Lindsay, with GM John Elway even acknowledging that the latter could get a contract extension later this offseason.

  

RB Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts

It probably isn't a great sign when the team owner goes out of his way to refute rumors about discussing a contract extension. Mack isn't one of the first guys you'd think of as being on the hot seat, but I'd argue job security is an illusion for any running back that's a liability on pass plays and good but not special as a runner.

The Adrian Petersons and Derrick Henrys of the world can get away with missing blocks and finishing seasons with less than 200 receiving yards. That's not so much the case for a guy like Mack, who owns a career average of 10.3 receiving yards per game and consistently gets poor pass-blocking marks from PFF.

The Colts might try to find a more versatile lead runner, or at least someone to compete with Mack for carries while Nyheim Hines continues to handle passing downs. It just so happens that the team has a boatload of cap space and an extra second-round pick at No. 34 overall, thus allowing for the luxury of upgrading a position that's more of a want than a need.

The worst-case scenario for Mack would be a premium signing like Kenyan Drake or a top prospect like J.K. Dobbins, but even a lesser addition along the lines of Melvin Gordon or Zack Moss would spell trouble for the fourth-year pro. If nothing else, the Colts would be wise to use a mid-round pick on a running back to deter any leverage Mack might think he has for a contract holdout.

   

WRs John Ross + Auden Tate, Cincinnati Bengals

With Tyler Boyd already locked in on a long-term contract, there may have been some thought that the Bengals would let A.J. Green (ankle) sign elsewhere and allow Ross and Tate to compete with a draft pick for playing time. The expectation of Green sticking around for another season doesn't necessarily shut the door, but it does suggest Ross and Tate will be battling for No. 3 reps if everyone is healthy. Would the Bengals really pay Green $18 million if they believed Ross and Tate were solid starters?

   

TE Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons

It's pretty clear the Falcons don't intend to re-sign Hooper, with GM Thomas Dimitroff, team owner Arthur Blank and the tight end himself each making comments to that effect. While the team didn't officially close the door on a re-signing, the decision not to use a franchise tag all but ensures Hooper will be priced out of the cap-strapped Falcons' range.

It's an unfortunate development for Hooper's dynasty owners, as there are few locations around the league so favorable for piling up receiving stats. The Atlanta offense produced more than 4,500 receiving yards in seven of the past eight seasons, thanks to a combination of poor defense, solid quarterback play and frequent dome games. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley obviously will see a lot of targets, but Hooper would've been heads and tails above anyone else as Option C in the 2020 pecking order.

Instead, the 25-year-old tight end will venture out into the free-agent wilderness, with early rumors hinting at Green Bay and Washington as potential landing spots. The latter is a disaster unless you actually believe in Dwayne Haskins, while the former sounds appealing in theory but also entails Aaron Rodgers' history of struggling to connect with pricey veteran signings at tight end (see: Jared Cook, Jimmy Graham). I do think Hooper would be okay in Green Bay, but we'd probably be talking about six targets per game instead of the 7.5 he averaged last season.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Donabedian
Jerry was a 2018 finalist for the FSWA's Player Notes Writer of the Year and DFS Writer of the Year awards. A Baltimore native, Jerry roots for the Ravens and watches "The Wire" in his spare time.
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