Rashaad Penny, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
There is no bigger fantasy football winner from NFL free agency than Rashaad Penny.
The former Seahawks back landed in a cushy spot ready-made for running back success. The Eagles feature an elite offensive line that's capable of creating massive rushing lanes. Any Philly running back also gets the benefit of playing alongside a mobile quarterback, often an efficiency boost for backs. While you'd think Jalen Hurts is a massive worry around the goal line, departing starter Miles Sanders still handled 26 carries inside the 10-yard line (third-most in the league) and scored eight times.
The Eagles offense is potent enough to create scoring opportunities for anyone. That’s what matters most for fantasy backs. Penny has proven over the last two seasons he’s the type of talent that’s capable of exploiting those chances.
Now, let’s get to it: The injury risk. Penny has appeared in 42 of a possible 82 career games since 2018. He’s played 15 games the last two seasons and while he burned extra bright during those outrageous stretches, the fire did eventually go out.
There is definitely potential for Penny to get way overhyped over the next few months. However, as long as the potential missed time is factored into his ADP, he’ll be an attractive draft pick in 2023. Penny could easily lead this team in carries for a month-plus, as long as the team doesn’t draft a back high in April. He won’t be around forever but he will win you some weeks in the meantime.
Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys
The addition of Brandin Cooks as a speed-based flanker receiver filled the biggest need on Dallas' offense. Dak Prescott will now have more than one reasonable target when he drops back to pass next season and the offense won't be so constricted to the short areas. That's an obvious win for Dak.
The other interesting fantasy domino from free agency was Ezekiel Elliott's departure. Scott Pianowski brought this up as a win for Prescott on our most recent podcast and while I hadn't considered it, this makes sense. Not only will Elliott's departure likely remove some of the temptations for inefficient early-down runs, but most importantly it frees up a ton of red-zone rushing work. Most of Prescott's high-end fantasy appeal in his early days came as a runner near the goal line. Perhaps some of that equity returns with Zeke out of the mix.
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I’m a little concerned about getting too excited over a now fully Mike McCarthy-led attack but still, I can talk myself into this being Prescott’s best statistical season in years.
Justin Fields QB, Chicago Bears
The Bears did not field a serious receiver corps in 2022. That will no longer be the case with DJ Moore headed to Chicago in the package to trade down from the first overall pick.
Moore is a legitimate No. 1 receiver who can win in various ways. He can fill Chicago's glaring need for a vertical X-receiver but can also be deployed off the line or in the slot for YAC opportunities. His presence also slides Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool into complementary roles. Those guys are useful NFL receivers; they just can't be featured players. They don't have to be now.
Justin Fields was already a fantasy phenom last year simply based on his rushing skills. Even if his carries are dialed back a bit, he could offset that with more efficient passing results. With Moore in tow, that is now within the range of outcomes. If Fields takes a leap in his own game, a top-three quarterback finish is possible this year.
Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals didn't need much help. They got offensive reinforcements anyway. By adding Orlando Brown in free agency, the organization doubled down in its commitment to fortifying a front five that improved from the 2021 disaster but did start to fall apart at the end of the season.
Burrow’s pass protection improving is always a good thing but Brown’s biggest impact comes as a run blocker. While it seems counterintuitive, the Bengals' run game remaining efficient is good for Burrow. This offense got itself unstuck from the mud by committing to a power run game in difficult spots. Brown’s addition helps the offensive ecosystem overall and the quarterback directly benefits from that boost.
David Montgomery, RB, Detroit Lions
I won't project David Montgomery into the "Jamaal Williams role" because that role is unlikely to exist ever again. Williams had 45 carries inside the 10-yard line last year, almost double the next-highest player. I'm not sure anyone has ever run hotter at the goal line than Williams did last year.
Nevertheless, Montgomery is set to take over a sizable backfield role in a good offensive ecosystem. He will have some goal-line equity and could factor into passing work more than his predecessor. Just going from the Bears' slow-paced, drag of an offense to what the Lions have evolved into is a huge win for Montgomery.
Dameon Pierce, RB, Houston Texans
Probably my most controversial selection as I'm sure Dameon Pierce will find his way onto a few "losers" lists for others analysts. I just don't think that Devin Singletary is enough of a needle-mover to truly send Pierce's projected stock sinking. It could have been much worse.
The Texans were always going to add some backs to the mix and Singletary is a good NFL RB. But he probably slides perfectly into the role Rex Burkhead held last year and just gives Houston a younger, upgraded version. Pierce is simply a superior player in just about every aspect. Having a viable changeup is necessary so he doesn't wear down over the course of a full season, which is exactly what happened last year.
Pierce might get more competition in the form of a draft pick but for now, I think he’s a winner from the free agency process.
Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, New England Patriots
The Patriots subbing out Damien Harris for James Robinson could certainly be taken as a win for Rhamondre Stevenson. Harris was a viable red-zone player and early-down banger. Robinson couldn't get on the field for the running back-needy Jets last season and may struggle to regain his pre-Achilles tear form.
Stevenson is beloved by the coaching staff and has an enthralling every-down skill set. If Robinson is the only viable threat for touches behind him, Stevenson should handle a bell-cow-level workload.
Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints
If you watch Chris Olave's rookie season and don't see the makings of a future star receiver, you don't know ball.
Derek Carr might not be the perfect solution as a franchise quarterback but he's more than good enough to efficiently feed Olave. Carr has been the quarterback for a variety of high-end fantasy finishers of late and made beautiful music with another route-running specialist in Davante Adams last year. Olave's skills in the vertical and intermediate game line up well with Carr's and Adams' best plays from 2022.
Similar to Olave, Jimmy Garoppolo isn't necessarily the type of teammate elevator we'd love to see matched with fantasy pass-catchers. Still, he was a best-case scenario for the Raiders this offseason.
Yes, in an ideal scenario, I'd love guys like Davante Adams to be paired with a Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow-type but in case you haven't noticed, those guys are in short supply. Merely going from Carr to Garoppolo is a floor-saving move but this offseason, that's all we could hope for with Adams.
Jakobi Meyers is a winner from free agency too. He has a higher ceiling to unlock as a 120-target type of player operating as the flanker/slot hybrid in this style of offense. His game overlaps well with Garoppolo's preferred throws. There is a lot more volume after the Raiders traded away a top target-getter following his signing. Speaking of which ...
Darren Waller, TE, New York Giants
Darren Waller leaving Las Vegas opens up the target tree for his old team but it's also a great move for him. It was clear he was on the outs with the current Raiders brass so moving to a team that actually wants him is a win in and of itself.
The Giants' receiver room does not feature a legitimate alpha and frankly, it looks more like a collection of good to solid No. 3 receivers than anything else. That leaves Waller as the most likely bet to lead the team in targets and he has the size and positional versatility to line up outside, which stands out among New York’s current cast of slot receivers.
Waller has plenty of individual questions to answer in regard to health and his ceiling-level of play. But he is in a good landing spot to firmly get a solid answer to those questions, and the upside to cash in if he hits.