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The rush of free agency is now behind us and we are full steam ahead to the draft. There are still a few players hanging out there, hoping to land somewhere soon, but the majority of free agents have been wrapped up and we now know where a majority of their value will be in 2018.

Free agency is a very vulnerable time for dynasty fantasy owners. We have no control over this time and in a matter of weeks, we could see a great loss of value in our team or a great gain of value. All we can do as an owner is hope our players land in great positions to produce fantasy relevant numbers.

It’s been a while, but welcome back to #TrendingNow. Now that the dust is starting to settle, we need to take a look at whose value is #TrendingUp and whose value is #TrendingDown. This was one of the most memorable free agency periods in recent years and more than likely we could be looking at the same in 2018. For now, it’s time to start focusing on the season.

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#TrendingUp

Jerick McKinnon (RB, San Francisco)

This had to be one of the most surprising signings of free agency. If you somehow predicted McKinnon signing to be the lead back somewhere at the price he got, congrats, you need to buy a few lotto tickets and share the wealth. Regardless, the signing is done and McKinnon has fallen into one of the best situations of any players this offseason.

If there is a head coach that knows how to use his running backs, it’s Kyle Shanahan. The guy made Alfred Morris a 1,000-yard rusher twice. He helped to form one of the best combos in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman and he got every last ounce of use from Carlos Hyde last season. Shanahan is an offensive genius and he always has running backs worthy of fantasy stardom. McKinnon and Shanahan were made for each other.

McKinnon set a career high with 991 total yards last season and will head to a team that is all around better on offense than Minnesota was in 2017. Jimmy Garaoppolo is going to make McKinnon better and McKinnon will make Garaoppolo better as well. Even if you don’t believe in McKinnon the running back, believe in the 49ers offense as a whole. I see a reincarnation of the 2016 Atlanta Falcons coming to the bay this season. McKinnon only needed 201 touches last season to reach RB17. McKinnon averaged 4.93 yards per touch last season, and if he could get 300 touches or more in 2018, over 1,300 total yards sounds like a ceiling of high end RB2.

Rex Burkhead (RB, New England)

Unlike the other names on this list, Rex Burkhead is #TrendingUp because he re-signs with his former team. This was one move I was almost positive would happen this offseason. When healthy last season, Burkhead played well enough to at least be a flex play in PPR leagues. He could have potentially left for a larger pay day, but chose to stick in New England for a chance to win. That was a smart move, because New England may be one of the only teams that would actually deploy Burkhead correctly.

Burkhead dealt with some injuries last season that kept him off the field in Weeks 3-6, but he was a big asset for fantasy owners who dealt with the injury and the hot start from Mike Gillislee. Burkhead only finished as the RB39 last season in total points for PPR leagues, but his 13 points per week average ranked 18th among running backs.

Burkhead will need to fight with James White for the receiving work and newly-acquired Jeremy Hill will battle with Gillislee for goal line and short yardage work, which could limit Burkhead's TD upside. With any running back in New England, the matchup will always be the key to who will play the most. Burkhead is my bet for best all-around bet in New England though.

Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel (WR, Chicago)

A double feature here as we head to Chicago to talk about one of the biggest acquisitions of the offseason, and one that was really under the radar. The Bears did a great job this offseason and second year QB Mitchell Trubisky will have plenty of weapons to use. New head coach Matt Nagy will also offer a creative boost to an offense that could really take a huge step forward in 2018.

The last time we saw Allen Robinson, he was finishing up a disappointing season in 2016. Robinson had a breakout year in 2015, with 1400 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns but is that really the receiver he is? He has a lot to live up to now and it will be tough with so many play makers, but Robinson is #TrendingUp right now because I like the move away from Jacksonville. When Robinson had his huge 2015 season, it was a much different Jaguars offense. It was going to be tough to expect another WR1 from Robinson now that the Jaguars are committed to winning games on the ground and with defense.

Taylor Gabriel comes to Chicago after two seasons in Atlanta, but coming off a disappointing 2017 campaign. In 2016, Gabriel had six touchdowns and even though he wasn’t consistent, there was always a chance he would have a big play when on the field. Gabriel could end up being a safety net for Trubisky in the slot. Between Gabriel and Tarik Cohen, the Bears could have a lot of speed on the field at one time. But my hot take for the season? Gabriel will offer owners a better return on investment for his ADP than Robinson.

Owners are so excited to have Robinson back, I think they just forget he is coming off an ACL tear, will be learning a new system and playing with a new QB. Gabriel will also be learning a new offense, but it will be easier to develop plays for Gabriel that allows him to catch and run in the open field, then it will be speeding up the process of growth with Robinson and Trubisky. I foresee a WR2 season from Robinson, but a very good flex play in PPR formats for Gabriel.

 

#TrendingDown

Dion Lewis (RB, Tennessee)

Dion Lewis is easily my biggest loser this offseason, besides Derick Henry owners. I spent the better part of a few months telling owners that DeMarco Murray would be released, but not to get overhyped on Henry. I just did not see a RB1 season coming and sure enough, the Titans helped make sure that would come true. This is about the free agents though, not players the free agents impacted.

Lewis wanted to be paid like a top running back and he chased it to Tennessee. For actual football purposes, I like the signing. I think Lewis and Henry will be great together in Tennessee and will help make Marcus Mariota better as well. But this is fantasy football, and Henry and Lewis together in a backfield is going to be a disaster. Lewis will still hold value to be in PPR leagues where he will help with receptions, but even then, I don’t see much more than a flex play at most certain weeks.

My main concern is the lack of work Murray and Henry had in the passing game last season. The two combined for 50 receptions, which was less than 14 other running backs in the NFL. Maybe it was just the fact that Murray and Henry are not prototypical receiving backs. Maybe it was just the offense and game script. Either way, it is interesting to note. It will be up to the coaching staff to ensure Lewis is used correctly, something New England was very good at.

Trey Burton (TE, Chicago)

There were a lot of owners anxious over this signing as many believe Trey Burton has the talent to be a TE1, but has just been hidden behind Zach Ertz for too many years. I don’t think he landed in the best place for that value to show though. I would also like to note really quick, if you were an Adam Shaheen truther like myself, I feel for you. The Bears will run plenty of two-TE sets in 2018, but not enough to warrant owning Shaheen outside of deep leagues.

Back to Burton though. Last season, Bears TEs only had 60 receptions split amongst four players. That was with a depleted receiving corps and no real play makers outside of Tarik Cohen. When Kendall Wright leads your team with 59 receptions, you know you need some help at the position.

The Bears have added too many weapons this offseason to support all of them and that doesn’t even include the potential return of Cam Meredith. Only eight tight ends in the NFL had more receptions than Bears TEs, which would be a good thing if it was one player. If the position couldn’t manage more than 60 receptions with a depleted team and a rookie QB, how will it manage more with new weapons and returning players? The volume just won’t be there to support Burton in 2018.

Carlos Hyde (RB, Cleveland)

I have to say, I am really torn on this one. Carlos Hyde rebounded for a really productive season under Kyle Shanahan in 2017. He ended the season as RB8 in PPR formats. It wasn’t difficult to see this split coming though after all the talk of Hyde being on the hot seat last offseason and the large contract he was likely to command in free agency. The move to Cleveland wont prove as fruitful though, for one major reason.

Now that Hyde is in Cleveland, you can kiss his receptions from 2017 goodbye. Those will continue to be for Duke Johnson. Hyde had 59 receptions last season and in PPR formats, that is a huge boost to value. For arguments sake, let’s just say Hyde goes back to his average receptions per year during his first three seasons in the league, which was 16 per year. That number even seems generous at this point. If you take away 43 points from the difference between his career high last season and his average prior to that, Hyde drops from RB8 to RB17, right behind Lamar Miller.

Those receptions made all of the difference for Hyde last season. Without those, he will need to improve on his rushing yards and even climb to double digit rushing TDs to stay within the top 10 of fantasy running backs. Let’s just throw out another scenario, that I don’t believe in, but until the Browns make a decision with the fourth overall pick, it’s in play. What if they decide to draft Saquon Barkley? Like I said, I don’t think they waste a pick on Barkley with money committed to Hyde and Johnson still around, but if this does happen, then the whole backfield of the Browns takes a dive in 2018.

 

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