Five sneaky moves from NFL free agency that matter for fantasy football

Matt Harmon
·7-min read

The big wave of free agency has come and gone. By now you’ve already read reaction pieces about how JuJu Smith-Schuster’s return to Pittsburgh impacts all the players involved, or why Will Fuller can raise Miami’s offensive ceiling.

We don’t need any more on that. Instead, let’s look at five sneaky moves in free agency that might not seem like big deals at first, but actually matter quite a bit for several fantasy football stars.

Corey Linsley to the Chargers

We always talk about teams “helping their young quarterback” in the lens of adding weapons to the receiver corps. That’s obviously a big part of it but building a fortress of an offensive line to protect them might be even more crucial.

The Chargers have a long way to go before Justin Herbert is playing behind a great wall but adding the best center on the market was a perfect start.

Not only will former Packers center Corey Linsley boost the protection at the pivot point of the Chargers’ line, but he’ll also help Herbert out with calls at the line. The relationship between a veteran center and a still-developing young passer can’t be overstated.

Part of me was hoping the Chargers turned the skill-position talent around Herbert “up to 11” by bringing another vertical receiver into this offense.

How simple-minded of me; adding Linsley and guard Matt Feiler is better.

For now, the target share of locked-in stars like Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler remain undisturbed while improved pass protection should only boost the efficiency of this entire offense.

Folks aren’t talking about Linsely to the Chargers enough. This one move might have created three fantasy winners with one swoop.

Emmanuel Sanders to the Bills

Emmanuel Sanders isn't on this list because he’s about to have a huge season with the Buffalo Bills. The main man in this passing attack will still be Stefon Diggs with Cole Beasley getting a permanent promotion to the No. 2 job. At best, Sanders will be splitting the third-receiver duties with intriguing second-year receiver Gabriel Davis.

Those implications, however, are still a big deal.

A proven veteran like Sanders being added to play a bit part in this passing attack shows Buffalo is still fully committed to being a wide receiver-centric offense. Because of this, in a weird way, Sanders being added keeps the stock of an elite guy like Diggs afloat. It’s unlikely he gets enough volume to dig into Diggs’ weekly target share or make a dent in the stat sheet but his mere presence reiterates this team isn’t veering from its 2020 pass-first ways.

If you were worried Buffalo and their defensive head coach were going to look at its inability to run the ball down the stretch and overcorrect to focus on the ground game, you’re in the clear. Bolstering the receiver room shows a good brand identity by this organization.

Marvin Jones to the Jaguars

I saw a few puzzled reactions to this signing and was surprised. To me, this marriage makes perfect sense.

Bringing in Marvin Jones doesn’t just reunite him with his old Detroit offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, but it also gives future No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence a locked-in, reliable presence from Day 1. Jones simply doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being one of the best No. 2 wideouts for the last five-plus years. This might shock some more casual fans but he’s truly one of the best 50-50 ball receivers in the NFL.

Marvin Jones #11 of the Detroit Lions
Marvin Jones will be a boon to the Jaguars. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

Your league-mates aren’t going to want to draft him. Year after year, they never do. And yet, Jones is almost certainly going to continue his annual tradition of outkicking his value ADP 10-plus spots by season’s end.

With Jones in place, the Jaguars offense theoretically doesn’t have that many holes. DJ Chark is in place as the top outside receiver and looking to rebound off an injury-plagued season. If he takes the next step, they have a WR1 to play across from Jones. That will leave 2020 rookie Laviska Shenault to play in the slot and take some gadget reps. He’ll be a fun toy for Urban Meyer to play with. James Robinson looked like a legitimate workhorse as a rookie in the backfield.

The offensive line is somewhere between average or slightly below but there are many teams in much worse shape. The tight end room is the only place that’s truly hurting for quality in Jacksonville.

If Trevor Lawrence is everything he’s cracked up to be from the jump, this could end up being a big value offense in fantasy football this season.

Kevin Zeitler to the Ravens

The Kevin Zeitler signing happened early, so you might have missed it, but this one is huge for Baltimore.

You can spend a good chunk of your day dissecting what went wrong with the Ravens’ offense in Lamar Jackson’s second full season as the starter. But one of the main things that often goes under-discussed while the public obsesses over the receiver corps or continues to harp on Jackson’s flaws is the offensive line.

When a 2020 Baltimore offensive line that was already missing the retired Marshall Yanda saw star left tackle Ronnie Stanley go down early in the season, the damage was hard to come back from. Yanda is a future Hall of Famer. Stanley is one of the best players at his position right now. You don’t just come back from that, especially when you’re a run-based unit. Zeitler, at this stage of his career, isn’t going to give Baltimore the same high-level of play Yanda did but he plugs a massive hole with above-average play.

The Ravens didn’t make the medium splash at wide receiver they were clearly aiming for but this might help the offense even more. More offensive moves better be on the way in the NFL draft, but Zeitler helps secure the foundation.

John Johnson and Troy Hill to the Browns

Defensive players need love too!

You can point to a handful of other defensive players across the league who will make a big impact for their new team but the Browns' signings of John Johnson and Troy Hill stand out to me as ones that will actually help the offense.

The Browns stop unit was a problem in 2020, especially their pass defense over the middle of the field. Taking two plus-starters from the best secondary in football to help fix that issue seems like a smart move on its face.

As a run-first unit that’s based on high-percentage, play-action throws, the Browns offense ideally needs to stay on schedule to function at peak efficiency. Even with a defense that wasn’t great in 2020, the Browns were able to keep to that. But you don’t want to count on that year-over-year.

An organization should be trying to field an above-average defense to keep an offense like the Browns in positive game scripts as much as possible.

It’s unlikely you thought that the Browns' run on defensive starters in free agency was going to help out fantasy heroes like Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt or keep Baker Mayfield in the positive range of his outcomes. However, if Johnson, Hill, and some of the other additions turn this defense into a top-15 unit, we don’t need to worry as much about regression from their efficient 2020 run.

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