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Top 2016 fantasy football free agents to follow

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Building an NFL team is a complex process. The core of most teams is constructed through the NFL Draft, but few teams are ever able to reach the mountaintop without key signings in free agency. The Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos are a perfect example of that, as key contributors like DeMarcus Ware and Emmanuel Sanders signed with the team after careers in Dallas and Pittsburgh, respectively.

Such signings can have a huge impact on the fantasy football landscape as well. Last year, players like Jeremy Maclin and Michael Crabtree found new life in new cities, while DeMarco Murray and Julius Thomas saw their fantasy stock take a hit after changing scenery.

The NFL free agency period is off to a wild start, with most of the big names (Doug Martin, Matt Forte, Lamar Miller, Brock Osweiler) signing big deals. Below are the top remaining free agents worth following in free agency. Odds are, this list will be null and void in a matter of days. Stay tuned.


1. Ladarius Green, TE, San Diego Chargers

While Antonio Gates was serving his suspension to start the season, Green proved he could be a starting tight end in the NFL. Sadly for him, it appears the Chargers still aren't sold. Green posted near identical totals in his four games playing without Gates (18 catches, 219 yards, three touchdowns) as he did in the 10 games where they lined up together (19 catches, 210 yards, one touchdown). Green was a draft pick by the old Chargers regime, and aside from a few flashes hasn't shown the growth many anticipated. My guess is the team re-signs Gates (Editor's note: they did) and lets Green test free agency, which could be the best thing for both parties. Green landing in a high-flying offense (like the Packers, Steelers or Saints) could be fantasy gold. He is visiting the Steelers on Thursday, per reports, so stay tuned.

2. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans

Foster, the extremely productive but seriously injury-prone running back was released by the Texans prior to free agency. Foster will be 30 years old when the season starts, and is coming off two injuries (hamstring, Achilles) that cost him 12 games in 2015. Teams know what kind of player Foster is when healthy -- he averaged 17.83 fantasy points per game in the three games where he saw 20-plus touches last year -- but they'll have to determine whether or not his health concerns are worth the financal investment. If healthy, and in a good offense, Foster should be a fantasy factor again in 2016. But those are big "ifs."

3. Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins

According to reports, Washington will not try to re-sign Morris in free agency after being frustrated by his "lack of productivity" last season, "especially when the blocking wasn't there." Morris is a solid, but limited running back, as he's collected just 47 receptions in four years in the NFL and doesn't have a ton of open field wiggle. Also concerning is that Morris' carries, yards, and yards per attempt have all dropped for four straight years. If he lands in the right situation (like replacing LeGarrette Blount in New England), Morris could be a decent later-round selection as an RB3 or RB4, but his upside is limited. Update: NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Wednesday that Foster is unlikely to sign with a team until the summer.

4. Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, New York Jets

The Fitzpatrick-Chan Gailey pairing once again delivered on the gridiron, as Fitzmagic enjoyed a career season thanks to Gailey's offense, and the fact that he was surrounded with top-notch talent. The Jets and Fitzpatrick is a match that makes too much sense, which is why I'm inclined to believe the two sides will strike a deal to keep the Amish Rifle in the Big Apple. This would do wonders for fantasy fans, and put Fitzpatrick on the backend of the QB1 radar for 2016. Another full year of chemistry with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, plus the return of Jace Amaro and a crop of new rookie talent could lead to a strong fantasy campaign for the Jets offense.

5. Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington

I'll probably push RGIII down this list, but with Dwayne Allen re-signing Monday with the Colts, I needed a quick fill-in. Last we saw RGIII on a football field, he was a broken quarterback. He was skittish in the pocket, couldn't read defenses and struggled with accuracy. Basically, a completely different player than the rookie who took the NFL by storm in 2012. Still, this is a quarterback-driven league, and someone out there likely believes they can fix RGIII -- for the right price. If he gets into the right system and starts resembling that 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year, well, fantasy fans will certainly need to take notice.

6. Zach Miller, TE, Chicago Bears

Finally healthy for most of a season, Miller enjoyed the rare 31-year-old breakout campaign in 2015. There are reports that Martellus Bennett could be on his way out of Chicago, leading many to believe Miller will be his replacement. Miller looked like the more dynamic threat in the Chicago offense last year and had a better rapport with Cutler. If he does stay in Chicago, he'll have late-round sleeper appeal. If he can stay healthy he should be able to build off his 34-439-5 line from a season ago.

7. Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets

A fantasy afterthought for most of his career, Powell emerged as a difference make for the Jets and fantasy owners (at times) in 2015. From Week 13 to Week 16, Powell flat-out outplayed Chris Ivory, averaging 1.15 fantasy points per touch to Ivory's 0.36, while playing on just 27 more snaps. Powell's 47 receptions were a career high and third-most on the team. His fantasy value will be tied to where he lands, but he'll at least be a nice depth player on PPR rosters in bigger leagues, or a handcuff if he backs up an injury-prone runner (like Ivory) again.

8. Ronnie Hillman, RB, Denver Broncos

Hillman enjoyed his best season as a pro in 2015, setting career highs in rushes (207), rushing yards (863) and rushing touchdowns (seven), and wants to get paid as a result. It'll be interesting to see what market exists for Hillman, as he's young (24 years old) and pretty fast, but also a rather limited runner. Throughout the season, even when he was outplaying an injured C.J. Anderson, he struggled to get more than what was blocked. Hillman could still develop a bit as a player, but we already might have seen the best of him. Given the scarcity of good running backs, though, even if Hillman stays as a complementary piece in the Denver offense, he'll have fantasy appeal as a RB4.

2016 NFL DRAFT

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9. James Starks, RB, Green Bay Packers

With Eddie Lacy battling numerous issues this season, Starks picked up the slack and played some pretty good football for the Packers. The trouble is, Starks is now a free agent who will be 30 years old when the season starts. Starks clearly isn't a featured back, but can be a great role player in the right offense. The odds seem against the Packers keeping Starks as they try to get Lacy to turn around his career, but perhaps they want Stark's veteran presence to guide Lacy. Pending the Packers drafting a young runner, if Starks stays in Green Bay he'll have late-round value as a handcuff/upside pick. On a new team, he might not have any fantasy value.

10. Lance Dunbar, RB, Dallas Cowboys

Dunbar was on the path for a breakout season in 2015 until a torn ACL in Week 4 sidelined him for the rest of the year. Prior to his injury, Dunbar was leading all backs in receptions (21) and receiving yards (215) through the first three weeks of the season. Dunbar is an excellent weapon out of the backfield and will have PPR value both in Dallas and elsewhere if the team doesn't re-sign him.

11. Rishard Matthews, WR, Miami Dolphins

Long buried on the Dolphins depth chart, Matthews finally got a chance to prove himself in training camp last year, and used that momentum to turn in a solid statistical season. He set career highs in catches (43), receiving yards (662) and receiving touchdowns (four), and he'll likely be trying to parlay that into a new deal. The Dolphins could look to re-sign Matthews, but with DeVante Parker ready for a larger role, they might use the cap space elsewhere. Matthews could have some intrigue as a WR4 this fall, as he's only 26 years old and is just starting to put it all together on the field.

12. Rueben Randle, WR, New York Giants

To his credit, Randle posted the best catch percentage (63) and touchdown total (eight) of his career in 2015. However, he disappeared all too often in games, as has been the case his entire career. It's amazing that Randle is only 24 years old and a free agent, but at this point we know who he is: a talented, but inconsistent player. His best fit is probably returning to the Giants, but he'll be a boom-or-bust weekly play again in 2016. He could be a nice dynasty buy-low candidate given his age, but understand what you're getting into before making a move.

13. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks passing offense took flight last season, and Kearse was a key contributor, setting career-highs in catches (49), yards (685) and touchdowns (five). He says he won't give the team a hometown discount, but the Seattle Times believes there is "growing sentiment" that the team will try hard to keep him. Kearse is improving as a wide receiver, but unless he moves to a team with a dire need at wideout, his fantasy value will remain capped in Seattle as he'll be behind Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett for targets.

14. Mohamed Sanu, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Reports are swirling that there is "virtually no chance" Sanu stays in Cincinnati, which makes him an interesting name to watch in a thin free agency class for wideouts. Sanu's best season came in 2014 when Marvin Jones missed the whole year with an ankle injury, but outside of that he's been a rather average pass catcher. If Sanu lands in a spot where he'll command a healthy amount of targets in the passing game, he could be on the WR3/WR4 radar. But if he's signed to fill the same Swiss Army Knife role he played with the Bengals (he owns a perfect passer rating for his career), his fantasy value will be minimal.

15. Tim Hightower, RB, New Orleans Saints

Prior to his breakout month filling in for an injured Mark Ingram, Hightower hadn't played in the NFL since 2011. He's a free agent and set to turn 30 before the season starts, but based on what we saw in December he has plenty left to offer. Hightower owned 79 percent of the backfield touches from Week 14-17, and averaged 17.4 fantasy points per game in that same span. Odds are the Saints re-sign him as Ingram's backup again, but Hightower will be a name to watch if he changes jerseys this offseason. Chris Johnson just proved veteran runners can still make an impact in real life and fantasy if given the chance in the right offense.

16. LeGarrette Blount, RB, New England Patriots

Aside from his rookie year in Tampa Bay (1,007 yards, six touchdowns), Blount's best seasons came in New England. It does not appear as if the team wants to re-sign the bruising back, which plummets his fantasy value next year. It's unlikely another team is able to make the most of Blount's talents the way Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels did, though Blount may have situational value as a goal-line back in a different offense.

17. Anquan Boldin, WR, San Francisco 49ers

The 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year is a 35-year-old free agent with 1,009 career catches to his name (the 12th-most all-time). Never a burner, Boldin looked even slower last season and was hampered by a few injuries. That being said, he can still be productive as a tough, chain-moving possession receiver. It'll be interesting to see if he sticks in San Francisco or chases another ring and signs with a contender. Either way, he's a very late-round pick at best in 2016.

18. Reggie Bush, RB, San Francisco 49ers

Bush suffered a torn meniscus last season, from which he's still currently recovering. The 30-year-old runner knows he's nearing the end, and will likely look to fill a third-down or change-of-pace role for a team in 2016. His fantasy value will only be of the handcuff or extremely deep PPR variety if he lands with a decent team.

19. Percy Harvin, WR, Buffalo Bills

Were it not for early retirement rumors that surfaced last year, Harvin would be higher on this list. He's a phenomenally talented individual who just hasn't been able to put together a season commensurate of his potential yet in his career. If he plays again and lands in the right spot, he could be in line for a big fantasy season. But we all know what we're getting into with Harvin at this point.

20. James Jones, WR, Green Bay Packers

Jones surprised the football world in 2015 in his age-31 season after being cut by two teams before landing with the Packers. Jones finished as the WR23, and tied for top-10 in touchdown percentage with 8.1, but it was evident he lacked any semblance of game-changing speed or explosion down the stretch. Seeing as the Packers are loaded with young wide receivers, Jones’ best fantasy future is likely with a different team, but even then he’s a name that likely shouldn’t be called on draft day.

-- Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelhar

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