The NFL offseason is about to get very interesting.
From the start of free agency and the trade period (March 14, 4pm EST) to the NFL Draft (April 26-28), we're about to see a lot of players signed, released and drafted. That also means a whole lot of speculation on where some of the best free agents and rookies will land in the weeks and months to come. Far be it from me not to join in on the banter with a bunch of my own predictions and prognostications as they pertain to the wonderful world of fantasy football, so here are 20 potential scenarios that might or might not be realistic but would benefit fantasy footballers ahead of the 2018 NFL season.
Le'Veon Bell remains with the Pittsburgh Steelers. One of the top three running backs in fantasy football, there's nowhere I want Bell to be other than in Pittsburgh. The superstar is coming off another monster season in the stat sheets, and at 26 he still has a lot of gas left in the tank. The soon-to-be free agent could have the franchise tag placed on him before the March 6 deadline, or the two sides could work out a new deal that satisfies Bell's want for guaranteed money. Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has also expressed a "strong desire" to keep Bell a Steeler for life.
Kirk Cousins signs with the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings don't have a quarterback under contract, as Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater are all free agents. So ... what if the team signed Cousins? With Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph all in the mix, Minnesota would have one hell of a fantasy-friendly offense. If a Cousins-to-Minnesota marriage doesn't happen, then a move to Denver would be next best in fantasy land. For those wondering, the Vikes have just north of $49 million in cap space according to overthecap.com.
Case Keenum remains with the Vikings. If the Broncos or New York Jets back up the Brinks truck and Cousins doesn't land in Minnesota, I'd like to see them retain Keenum. New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo wants a mobile, athletic quarterback under center, and Keenum would fit the bill. He was solid for the Vikings and fantasy fans alike last season, scoring at least 16.9 points in seven of his final eight games of the fantasy season. That includes four games with 19-plus points. Keenum would also be a lot friendlier than Cousins for Minnesota's wallet.
Sam Bradford signs with the Arizona Cardinals. Arizona has a lot of talent on the offensive side of the football including David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald (yes Al Roker, he's back), so as a fantasy owner I would prefer to have an experienced quarterback under center as opposed to a rookie. Bradford would be a legit option and could be a bridge to any signal-caller the Cardinals might pick in the NFL Draft. The problem with Bradford, of course, is that he's as durable as a glass chandelier. Still, he'd keep confidence high in D.J. and Fitz and could have some value himself, too.
Andrew Luck gets back to 100 percent. Luck missed the entire 2017 season as he continued his slow return from shoulder surgery, and the Colts offense suffered without him. T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief disappointed in the stat sheets, and the ground attack was unreliable at best. So, imagine a scenario where Luck and his 16-game averages (2013-2016) of 4,357 passing yards, 352 rushing yards and 35 total scores are back in 2018? His presence would invigorate the value of his offensive teammates and deepen the top of the fantasy quarterback position.
Saquon Barkley is drafted by the Indianapolis Colts. It might not be the trio of Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison, but a Luck-Barkley-Hilton trio would excite the fantasy world. While the Colts do have a ton of needs at other positions, including offensive line, most scouts believe Barkley is a special talent who can make an Ezekiel Elliott-level impact as a rookie and beyond. A three-down back in an offense with a healthy Luck (fingers crossed) under center sounds good to me. Barkley could be a first-round fantasy pick in that scenario.
Derrius Guice is drafted by the New York Giants. The Giants have a gaping hole in their backfield, and Guice would be a great way to fill the void. While the team could pick Barkley at No. 2 overall and throw a wrench into my wish list, I believe their need is greater at the quarterback position. Guice could still be on the board when the G-Men pick at the top of Round 2, and he'd immediately be the favorite to start for new coach Pat Shurmur. Based on his usage of Dalvin Cook in Minnesota, Shurmur isn't shy about putting a rookie in a featured role.
Carlos Hyde signs with the Detroit Lions. Hyde is coming off the best fantasy season of his career, as he finished with a personal-best 59 catches and ranked eighth in PPR points among running backs. With the San Francisco 49ers giving Jimmy Garoppolo a massive new deal, I'd expect the team to go with a cheaper backfield option (maybe Matt Breida or a free agent). That would leave Hyde to the free-agent market, where the Lions could add him as a replacement for draft disappointment Ameer Abdullah. He'd be a nice No. 2 fantasy option in that scenario.
LeGarrette Blount signs with the New England Patriots. This is wishful thinking, but hear me out. Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead are both free agents, and Mike Gillislee was a disappointment in his first year with the Pats. Blount, a touchdown machine for New England in 2016, knows the offense of Josh McDaniels and could slide right back into his previous role. I doubt the Patriots would give Lewis more dough, so he'd be allowed to walk while Gillislee would be released or take a pay cut. If Burkhead is re-signed, he and Blount would create a nice duo.
Jay Ajayi takes on a bigger role in Philadelphia. Ajayi, who is entering a contract year, isn't going to make a consistent fantasy impact if the Eagles retain Blount in what would be one heck of a crowded backfield. But if Blount leaves as a free agent (as I mentioned above), Ajayi could move into a more reliable role for the Eagles and fantasy owners alike. This scenario would also allow Corey Clement a bigger role in the offense as the "new" Darren Sproles, so both Eagles backs would become draftable assets. Clement could become a decent PPR sleeper.
Dion Lewis signs with the San Francisco 49ers. In the event that the Patriots pass on Lewis, it seems like a no-brainer for him to head west to San Francisco. Why? Well, he'd be a great veteran addition to an up-and-coming team who has a relationship with Garoppolo based on their time together in New England. Lewis would also move right into the top spot on the depth chart and create a backfield combination with Breida. A tremendous pass catcher as well, Lewis would push for 40-50 receptions if allowed a chance to play in coach Kyle Shanahan's offense.
Derrick Henry becomes the bell cow in Tennessee. The transition from DeMarco Murray to Henry has to happen next season. It has to. In this scenario, the Titans would cut the veteran (which would save $6.5 million against their 2018 cap number) and hand the backfield reins over to Henry. A proven playmaker who needs nothing more than opportunities to become a fantasy superstar, the Alabama product would be one of the biggest breakout candidates in fantasy land if the cards fall his way. In fact, Henry could be a top-25 overall selection in drafts.
Kenyan Drake becomes the bell cow in Miami. Drake showed that he has what it takes to be a top fantasy back in the second half of last season, as he had five top-20 PPR finishes in his final nine games. In that time, he scored 16-plus PPR points five times and posted 23-plus points in three straight. The Dolphins do need to make additions to their backfield with Damien Williams scheduled to become a free agent, but the wish here is for the team to add depth and complementary options rather than someone who will come in and create a backfield committee.
Sammy Watkins signs with the San Francisco 49ers. As Kramer used to say in Seinfeld, "Giddy up!" Watkins would be the downfield threat the Niners are lacking and see a bump in fantasy value across the board while paired with Pierre Garcon. This would also give Garoppolo another weapon in the pass attack, making him more valuable in fantasy land too. If Watkins were to leave Los Angeles, that would also create far more targets for Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp and open a chance for Josh Reynolds and Gerald Everett to make the next step at the pro level.
Allen Robinson remains with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Whether the two sides can work out a long-term contract or the franchise tag is used, Robinson would be in a good spot if he stays with the Jaguars. A fantasy superstar in 2015, he missed most of last season to a torn ACL but should be back at 100 percent in time for training camp. Robinson would be the surefire No. 1 option in the pass attack for Blake Bortles, as Marqise Lee is expected to test the free-agent market this offseason. This is a situation to monitor, as a domino effect is possible.
Marqise Lee signs with the Chicago Bears. What domino effect, you ask? Well, if Robinson remains with the Jaguars then the team will no doubt pass on Lee. Such a move would help the value of Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole, and puts Lee on the market with a chance to move into a more prominent role elsewhere. A great fantasy fit would be the Bears, who desperately need to add weapons for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and are in need of help at the wide receiver position. Chicago has around $41 million of current cap space, and adding offense is a must.
Jerick McKinnon signs with the Seattle Seahawks. McKinnon is coming off the best statistical season of his career, and now he'll be looking for a featured role with a new team. I'm not sure he'll find such a role, but he sure would look good in a Seahawks uniform as a change-of-pace and passing-down option behind Chris Carson. With Eddie Lacy out of the mix and both Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise coming off bad years, McKinnon would be a great addition to a lackluster backfield. Imagine his PPR potential catching passes for quarterback Russell Wilson?
Deshaun Watson has a healthy return from knee surgery. Watson had a limited number of games as a rookie before tearing his right ACL, but when he played he was ridiculous. In fact, his totals in six starts projected over a full 16-game slate would have been historic in the world of fantasy football. Watson, who tore his left ACL while at Clemson in 2014, has reportedly resumed running and is ahead of schedule in his rehab. While equaling his 2017 totals will be tough after a major knee reconstruction, Watson has fantasy star written all over him.
Calvin Ridley is drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. Yes, I'm a Cowboys fan ... but this isn't out of the realm of possibility. In fact, NFL Media analyst Charles Davis has this happening in his initial mock draft. The Cowboys need help on the defensive side of the football, but there is also a serious need at wide receiver. Ridley, who is considered the top wideout in this class, could come right in and make an impact as the No. 2 option behind Dez Bryant (assuming the Cowboys don't release him). Ridley also gives Dak Prescott another offensive threat.
Sam Darnold is drafted by the Cleveland Browns. NFL Analyst and draft guru Daniel Jeremiah has Darnold atop his first mock draft, and I agree that the Browns need to go with a franchise field general. I know this sounds odd since the team just went 0-16, but there's a lot of potential in Cleveland. Josh Gordon has proven statistical upside, Corey Coleman can be a nice No. 2 wideout and David Njoku could develop into a playmaker for new offensive coordinator Todd Haley. If Darnold meets expectations, the Browns could be fantasy relevant. Seriously.