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Free Agency Losers - Wide Receiver Fallers

The doldrums of the offseason have been erased by a surge of news and events that transcend sports. The state of affairs around the globe has altered our usual sports-viewing habits. But as we adapt to an evolving daily existence with severely reduced sports activity, NFL free agency has been a welcome reprieve.

Free agency has also played an integral role in reshaping the fantasy landscape, as a sizable number of players have experienced changes in destinations and expectations. Robby Anderson and Breshad Perriman were among the players whose situations were unresolved entering the second week of free agency. But within a four-hour span, both receivers had relocated to new franchises. More roster movement is looming in the weeks ahead, which will affect the decision-making of fantasy owners.

The team at RotoBaller is providing articles, rankings, and other resources that will help you plan your upcoming drafts, and manage your dynasty rosters. That includes our Free Agency Winners and Losers series that examines which players are due for a rise or decline in production. This time around we're looking at the biggest fantasy fallers at the wide receiver position

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Robby Anderson, Carolina Panthers 

The lack of interest in a receiver who was considered to be among the most enticing names on the market had already relegated Anderson to a spot among losers even before he signed with Carolina. But his new contract with the Panthers does not remove him from the collection of receivers whose stock declined during free agency.

He will be the beneficiary of a transition from an Adam Gase offense to the newly formed Matt Rhule/Joe Brady strategic approach in Carolina. However, that will not offset the depressed ceiling that will result from a three-pronged attack that now contains Anderson, D.J. Moore, and Curtis Samuel.

Anderson’s numbers during his initial season in a Gase offense were largely disappointing for anyone who had believed that he could achieve breakout status during 2019. However, his target, reception, and yardage totals all increased slightly in comparison to 2018, as he finished 32nd in targets (96/6.0 per game) 41st in receptions (52) and 36th in receiving yards (779). He also accumulated a career-best 3 100+ yard receiving performances, while finishing seventh overall in percentage of team's air yards (36.7). He operated on the perimeter during 78% of his routes and appeared primed to function as a consistent downfield weapon for the highest bidder.

Instead, he will now be operating within an offense that Moore has already achieved breakout status at age 22, and possesses the versatility to accumulate targets and receptions in the Panthers’ renovated attack. Samuel’s stock has also been affected. But he can also siphon opportunities from Anderson that might have remained available if the former Jet had relocated in a different environment. There is also the matter of Christian McCaffrey, who finished 10th overall in targets in 2019 (142) and has stockpiled 379 during his first three seasons.

His prospects of operating as a dangerous vertical option remain unchanged. But he will now be relegated to usage and production that does not match previous expectations.

 

Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers

Anderson‘s arrival in Carolina should also have a debilitating effect on Samuel, depending upon how he is deployed moving forward. But to be clear, even though Samuel will be included among three agency losers, it is reasonable to believe that Rhule and Brady will deploy him differently than what we observed during 2019. The third-year receiver did not deliver the numbers than many had predicted during the offseason. He finished 28th in targets (105), but just 40th in receptions (54), and 51st in receiving yards (627).

But even though Samuel did not deliver the breakout season that some observers had participated, his numbers were largely a byproduct of Kyle Allen’s inability to consistently locate him with accuracy. This was unfortunate for anyone who invested in Samuel since the opportunity to generate big plays was very much in existence throughout the season. He did finish 11th in targeted air yards (14.5) and was tied for 11th in air yards (1,520). Allen will not be a factor in this year’s passing attack, and a large percentage of Samuel’s deeper routes might be equally non-existent.

Rhule and Brady should be creative with how they use their resources. But even if Samuel becomes more efficient through the expansion of his involvement on higher percentage routes, he will no longer be functioning as Carolina’s WR2. Moore retains the versatility to accrue targets and yardage regardless of his responsibilities. That should keep Moore directly behind McCaffrey in targets. Anderson will become a consistent factor and Thomas will also confiscate opportunities. This provides Carolina with a cluster of options that will make the Panthers’ passing attack more perplexing for opponents. But it will also lower Samuel’s value.

 

Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals

Bill O’Brien’s startling decision to jettison Hopkins temporarily decimated Houston‘s receiving weaponry. However, it also provided Arizona with a 27-year-old who commandeers elite status in his position. The Cardinals ranked just 24th in passing during 2019 (217.3 yards per game), and it was clear that Arizona’s air raid attack remained largely theoretical without an infusion of significant firepower. However, it was unclear whether the Cardinals would deploy an early-round draft selection in order to fortify the position, or would use the free agency process to address their need.

But the injection of Hopkins will certainly achieve the goal of upgrading what had been a deficient arsenal of wide receivers. Unfortunately for Kirk, the trade will also prevent him from assuming the team’s WR1 responsibilities that appeared attainable prior to the trade. Hopkins has finished no lower than sixth in targets during four of his last five seasons (192/151/174/163/140) while averaging 166 during that sequence. He also finished second overall in team target share during 2019 (29.3), and will instantly function as Kyler Murray’s primary weapon. That should entrench Hopkins among the league leaders in targets while operating as the Cardinals’ most essential receiving component.

Even if Hopkins does not replicate the team target share that he experienced with Houston, his problematic is problematic for Kirk. The 23-year old led the Cardinals with 8.3 targets per game last season, and finished second in targets (108), receptions (68) and receiving yardage (709) - despite missing three matchups due to an ankle issue. Kirk would have received a legitimate opportunity to surpass the 36-year old Larry Fitzgerald in each category this season if O'Brien had not gifted the exceptional Hopkins to Arizona. Kirk should function as the Cardinals' WR2. But the addition of Hopkins will reduce Kirk’s chances of achieving a breakout season in 2020.

 

John Brown, Buffalo Bills

In 2018, Buffalo ranked 31st in passing, while failing to average 175 yards per game (174.1) The Bills also ranked 32nd in passing touchdowns (13), as Josh Allen’s primary receiving options were Zay Jones, Robert Foster, and Kelvin Benjamin. The team made a commitment to bolster Allen’s weaponry in 2019 by securing John Brown and Cole Beasley. Brown ultimately established new career highs in targets (115), receptions (72), and receiving yardage (1,060). He also provided Allen with a vertical weapon while finishing eighth overall in percentage share of teams’ air yards (36.1), and 15th in average targeted air yards (14.2). Brown's contributions helped the Bills rise to 26th in passing (201.8 yards per game) and 24th in touchdown passes (21).

While Buffalo's numbers did rise, it was clear that the team's aerial efforts remained substandard. In order for the Bills’ passing attack to make a significant improvement, the team needed a talented perimeter weapon to line up opposite Brown. That was accomplished by securing Diggs, who instantly provides the Bills with a trio of productive receiving components. But blending Diggs into the concoction of pass-catching options should also make it difficult for Brown to match the numbers that he produced during 2019.

Diggs performed outside on 58% of his routes last season, and that percentage should rise with Beasley maintaining a steady presence in the slot. His average depth of targets also exceeded Brown's (14.9/14.3), and he will confiscate downfield opportunities that had been earmarked for Brown in 2019. Diggs finished second overall in yards per target (12.0), third in percentage share of team’s air yards (41.5), and fourth in yards per reception (17.9). His involvement with deeper routes will make it challenging for Brown to reach either the usage or the production that he achieved last season. It should also ensure that Brown will finish behind Diggs in every category where he led the Bills in 2019.

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