New (league) year? New (team) lewk!
Wednesday marked the official start of free agency as the NFL kicked off 2022 in earnest. March has been rife with player movement and ensuing plot twists, as my colleague Matt Harmon noted in his most recent article.
But not every contract breaks the bank. And not every trade involves a star athlete. The shuffling around of players — particularly ones who aren’t household names — can still create a fantasy stir.
Here are five whispered-about moves that could have fantasy managers shouting from the rooftops by the fall.
Mitch Trubisky, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers didn’t waste any time securing the team’s new starting QB, signing Mitch Trubisky to a two-year deal immediately after the legal tampering window opened on Monday. Trubisky began his career in Chicago when the Bears moved up to select the North Carolina product second overall (ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson) in the 2017 draft. After 50 starts in orange and blue, Trubisky landed in Buffalo, backing up Josh Allen.
The redemption journey starts now. Trubisky’s experience as a starter (dating back to college) is decidedly limited. But his opportunity in Pittsburgh is as big as the pair of shoes he’ll aim to fill. Surrounded by electric pass-catchers at every level of the field, under the tutelage of Matt Canada (who has extensive experience as a college QBs coach) and given the team’s upgrades along the o-line, Trubisky could glow up in Steel City. A dual-threat QB who minimally posted top-15 advanced rushing stats from 2017-2019, the 27-year-old needs to be on SuperFlex radars and could flirt with top-20 fantasy numbers.
Full disclosure: I had planned to dedicate this graph to Antonio Gibson’s soaring fantasy stock. That was, however, until J.D. McKissic played take-backsies with Buffalo. Since it appears as though the Bills aren’t all in on Devin Singletary, I think it’s best to highlight a player primed for a bounce back … and his backup, who could continue a late-season (and late-career) breakout.
Nearly every week on Ekeler’s Edge, Austin Ekeler and I discussed self-awareness as it related to players’ workloads and their success staying on the field. We spent a solid amount of time discussing Christian McCaffrey’s 30 touches per game and whether that sort of volume contributed to 23 missed games over the past two years.
Regardless, the Panthers don’t seem concerned.
D’Onta Foreman was, arguably, the biggest offensive skill position player added by the club in free agency. Signed to a one-year contract worth $2M, Foreman is a power runner who adds size and physicality to Carolina’s backfield. The former Longhorn stepped in and stepped up last year, clearing over 100 total yards three times between Weeks 9 and 17 after Derrick Henry was sidelined.
While Foreman figures to get some run on early downs and might poach a few TDs from CMC, this is nowhere near a “timeshare,” even with Chuba Hubbard in the theoretical mix. The perceived volume is enough to consider McCaffery in the first round … though Foreman could keep rolling in a Mike Davis circa-2020 kind of way if CMC can’t keep the soft issues at bay.
Russell Gage was one of PPR’s biggest studs in 2021. The former Falcon recorded double-digit targets three times over the back half of the season and averaged 6.5 receptions per game from Weeks 13 through 18, managing top-10 fantasy numbers in three of those six contests. His best effort came in Week 13 when he posted a career 11 catches for 130 yards versus Tampa Bay. Apparently, Tom Brady took note.
Gage is expected to complement Mike Evans and Chris Godwin (who is expected to be back from a season-ending ACL tear by Week 1) and work as the Bucs’ No. 3 WR. Considering Tampa Bay led the league in passing attempts (719) last year, Gage could flirt with 80 grabs in 2022.
C.J. Uzomah, TE, New York Jets
From the Laken Tomlinson addition to the C.J. Uzomah signing, the Jets appear committed to un-ruining Zach Wilson. Since this is a fantasy article, I’m going to focus on the skill position guy.
Uzomah was an integral part of the Bengals’ electric passing attack in 2021, running nearly 26 routes per game (TE11). At 6-foot-5 and 263 pounds, the Auburn product is a big body and imposing red-zone presence who can bail out a besieged QB. He posted 5 TDs (and 296 YAC, TE9) last season, which is impressive considering the elite options at Joe Burrow’s avail. With only Tyler Croft and Ryan Griffin behind him on the depth chart and given the heft of his contract, Uzomah offers top-15 fantasy appeal.
Younghoe Koo, K, Atlanta Falcons
This one’s for The Rev!
Kickers are much maligned in fantasy, but as the aforementioned Andy Behrens and Yahoo-contributor Jennifer Eakins often remind managers, an extra 7-10 points per week can significantly affect one’s record. The Falcons made Younghoe Koo the second-highest-paid kicker in the league (just behind Justin Tucker), signing the former AAF star to a five-year, $24M ($11.5M guaranteed) deal.
Koo converted all 30 of his PATs and 27 of 29 FGs in 2021, demonstrating his reliability and subsequent floor. He only averaged 6.5 fantasy points per game, but that was in large part due to Atlanta’s modest offensive efforts.
If the Deshaun Watson rumors are to be believed, Atlanta’s implied point totals are about to skyrocket … which means Koo should be rich and busy in ‘22.
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