NFL

2023 NFL free agents at key fantasy football positions

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The 2022 NFL season is winding down, which means offseason activities are just around the corner, sure to impact fantasy football values everywhere.

We’re going to see some notable trades and/or cuts within days of the Super Bowl (I’m looking at you, Derek Carr), but free agency — which will include players who were waived or released — is one of the first big sessions on the calendar.

For the purposes of this column, I’ll be taking a look at the top free agents at the key fantasy football positions — quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end (sorry, not sorry, kickers) — and also listing a few players who could be released or traded, as well as notable teams with needs at each position.

Note: Only unrestricted free agents are included (info courtesy of Over the Cap). Ages shown are as of Sept. 7, 2023.

Running back

Notable unrestricted free agents: Saquon Barkley (NYG, 26), Josh Jacobs (LV, 25), David Montgomery (CHI, 26), Miles Sanders (PHI, 26), Tony Pollard (DAL, 26), Alexander Mattison (MIN, 25), Devin Singletary (BUF, 26), Kareem Hunt (CLE, 28), Damien Harris (NE, 26), Rashaad Penny (SEA, 27), Jeff Wilson Jr. (MIA, 27), Jamaal Williams (DET, 28), Raheem Mostert (MIA, 31), D’Onta Foreman (CAR, 27), Samaje Perine (CIN, 27), Jerick McKinnon (KC, 31), Latavius Murray (DEN, 33)

Running backs are the highlight of fantasy free agency, and it’s not even close.

Barkley feels like a lock to return to New York via the franchise tag or extension (the tag could also be used on Daniel Jones), but he’s obviously the biggest name here. … Jacobs is fresh off a breakout 2022, but his market will be interesting after a season in which he handled a massive and position-high 393 touches. … Montgomery has missed at least one game each of the past three seasons and could be expendable with impressive Khalil Herbert still under contract in Chicago. … Sanders has proved to be an elite rusher (career 5.0 YPC), but a lack of receiving ability (78 yards on 26 targets in 2022) could have Philly looking elsewhere.

Pollard and Mattison are two very intriguing names after playing extremely well in limited roles during the first four seasons of their careers. Mattison seems more likely to depart and certainly could land a lead-back gig elsewhere. … Buffalo could choose to move on from the reliable Singletary, which would boost 2022 second-round pick James Cook to lead back (and to the top of 2023 breakout lists). … Hunt has been hiding in Nick Chubb’s shadow in recent seasons and figures to move on this offseason, but he’ll likely end up in a committee considering his age and big dip in production this past season.

Potential cut/trade candidates: Ezekiel Elliott (DAL, 28), Aaron Jones (GB, 28), Clyde Edwards-Helaire (KC, 24), Chase Edmonds (DEN, 27)

Could the Cowboys choose to move on from Elliott and re-sign Pollard as their lead back? The Packers are in a similar spot with 28-year-old Jones as a potential cut, which could launch AJ Dillon (entering the final year of his rookie deal) into a featured role.

RB-needy teams: Panthers, Chiefs, Rams, Raiders, Dolphins, Giants, Eagles

This is a buyer’s market with so many solid backs up for grabs, and that could lead to the likes of Sanders and Montgomery returning to their former teams on “cheap” short-term deals. The Chiefs are very interesting here, with 31-year-old McKinnon and Ronald Jones headed to free agency and Edwards-Helaire entering the final season of his rookie deal after losing lead-back duties this past season. The team will need to find a complement to impressive 2022 rookie Isiah Pacheco. The Rams are similarly intriguing after Cam Akers went from projected lead back to a healthy scratch to a top-five fantasy back, all in the span of a few months.


Quarterback

Notable unrestricted free agents: Lamar Jackson (BAL, 26), Daniel Jones (NYG, 26), Tom Brady (TB, 46), Geno Smith (SEA, 32), Jacoby Brissett (CLE, 30), Jimmy Garoppolo (SF, 31), Sam Darnold (CAR, 26), Baker Mayfield (LAR, 28), Mike White (NYJ, 28)

Jackson is the highlight here, as he enters his sixth NFL campaign having missed exactly five regular-season games each of the past two years. Odds are he remains in Baltimore, but if not, there will be a big-time market for his services. … Jones figures to, at worst, draw the franchise tag from New York after a breakout 2022 season. … Brady’s time in Tampa Bay appears over, especially on a roster with a ton of free agents and in need of a rebuild. … A return to Seattle seems probable for Smith after he enjoyed a rare age-31 breakout.

Potential cut/trade candidates: Aaron Rodgers (GB, 39), Derek Carr (LV, 32), Justin Fields (CHI, 24), Trey Lance (SF, 23), Carson Wentz (WAS, 30), Marcus Mariota (ATL, 29), Jameis Winston (NO, 29)

This list is more intriguing than the free agent list, especially with the futures of Rodgers, Fields and Lance in question. Fields might seem like a stretch, but what if Chicago prefers projected No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young? Lance could be trade bait if the 49ers decide to stick with Brock Purdy. The Packers will take a massive cap hit if they move on from Rodgers, but their hands may be tied if he plays hard ball. … Carr figures to be the first big splash move of the 2023 offseason, as the Raiders need to cut or trade him within three days after the Super Bowl.

QB-needy teams: Falcons, Panthers, Texans, Colts, Raiders, Saints, Giants, Jets, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Commanders

As usual, this will be a seller’s market. Houston and Indianapolis are the most likely teams to address QB early in the first round of April’s draft (perhaps via trade with Chicago), but Atlanta, Carolina, Las Vegas and Seattle could make a splash as well. … One of these teams is a strong bet to land Carr. Could Rodgers reunite with Davante Adams, or Brady with Josh McDaniels, in Las Vegas?


Wide receiver

Notable unrestricted free agents: JuJu Smith-Schuster (KC, 26), Jakobi Meyers (NE, 26), Michael Thomas (NO, 30), DJ Chark (DET, 26), Mecole Hardman (KC, 26), Allen Lazard (GB, 27), Parris Campbell (IND, 26), Julio Jones (TB, 34), Jarvis Landry (NO, 30), Marvin Jones Jr. (JAC, 33), A.J. Green (ARI, 35), Sterling Shepard (NYG, 29), Nelson Agholor (NE, 30), Darius Slayton (NYG, 26), Mack Hollins (LV, 29)

This is a very weak class, which isn’t unusual in recent years (top wideouts are quick to land extensions). Smith-Schuster showed well in a one-year, “prove it” deal in Kansas City and should land a multiyear deal somewhere (perhaps with the WR-needy Chiefs). … Meyers has emerged as one of the league’s most underrated receivers and seems like a good bet to re-sign with a Patriots team that needs as many playmakers as possible. … Thomas turns 30 this offseason after appearing in 10 games during his past three NFL seasons. His days in New Orleans are all but over. … Chark may find a bigger role elsewhere with Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams in the mix in Detroit. … Campbell is an interesting wild card after he played more games (17) in 2022 than he did in his prior three NFL seasons combined (15). The Colts figure to try to bring him back, but they do have Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce ready to roll as a one-two punch.

Potential cut/trade candidates: DeAndre Hopkins (ARI, 31), Brandin Cooks (HOU, 29), Corey Davis (NYJ, 28), Adam Thielen (MIN, 33), DeVante Parker (NE, 30), Robert Woods (TEN, 31), Kenny Golladay (NYG, 29), KJ Hamler (DEN, 24), Jerry Jeudy (DEN, 24)

Hopkins is expensive and could be made available for trade by an Arizona team that is likely to be without Kyler Murray for the start of 2023. … Cooks has made it pretty clear that he wants out of Houston. … Veterans Davis, Thielen, Parker and Woods could be cut/traded to free up cap space. … Jeudy and Hamler were a part of the trade deadline rumor mill last season and are entering the final year of their rookie deals.

WR-needy teams: Falcons, Ravens, Panthers, Packers, Texans, Chiefs, Rams, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Titans

The wide receiver market exploded last offseason and will be busy (perhaps via trade, as well) again in 2023. The Chiefs and Packers (especially if Rodgers stays put) are intriguing potential landing spots for Hopkins and Cooks.


Tight end

Notable unrestricted free agents: Dalton Schultz (DAL, 27), Evan Engram (JAC, 29), Mike Gesicki (MIA, 27), Austin Hooper (TEN, 28), Irv Smith Jr. (MIN, 25), Hayden Hurst (CIN, 30), Robert Tonyan (GB, 29), Foster Moreau (LV, 26)

Schultz has finished top 10 at the position in targets, catches, yards and TDs each of the past two seasons, and the former fourth-round gem is about to get paid. … The same goes for Engram, who signed a one-year “prove-it” deal with the Jaguars last offseason before finishing third in catches and fourth in yards at the position. Expect Jacksonville to try to bring him back as a running mate for Christian Kirk, Calvin Ridley, Zay Jones and Travis Etienne Jr. … Gesicki was not a fit in Mike McDaniel’s offense, but the three-time top-12 fantasy TE has big-time receiving chops and could leap back onto the fantasy radar in a better situation in 2023. … Expect old friend Smith to move on from Minnesota after the Vikings’ in-season trade for T.J. Hockenson.

Potential cut/trade candidates: Darren Waller (LV, 30), Zach Ertz (ARI, 32), Cameron Brate (TB, 32), Albert Okwuegbunam (DEN, 25)

Waller was part of the trade rumor mill last offseason and is coming off an injury-plagued 2022. … A torn ACL complicates a potential Ertz market, but could a new regime in Arizona look to move the 32-year-old with 2022 second-round pick Trey McBride set for a larger role?

TE-needy teams: Lions, Packers, Texans, Jaguars, Dolphins, Giants, Buccaneers, Titans

Several of these teams have midround youngsters who could be in for breakout seasons in 2023 (Texans’ Teagan Quitoriano, Giants’ Daniel Bellinger, Buccaneers’ Cade Otton, Titans’ Chigoziem Okonkwo), but a veteran addition could also be in the cards.



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