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2024 NFL Free Agency: Wide Receiver Whirlwind

When I was thinking of some sort of alliteration for the title of this piece mid-week, I came up with “whirlwind”, but it didn’t really fit. As I prepare to publish this on Friday morning, trust me, IT FITS. Late in the evening on the East Coast, back-to-back seismic moves at the wide receiver position took place. One trade and one involving the reigning Super Bowl champions landing one of the bigger names in NFL free agency. So, buckle up, and take a ride with me through a whirlwind of a week amongst wide receivers and the impact they’ll have on fantasy football.

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Wide Receiver Movement and Impact in 2024 NFL Free Agency

Keenan Allen, Chicago Bears

Traded for a 2024 4th Round Pick

I’m very well aware that this trade doesn’t involve a wide receiver in the NFL free agency market. Keenan Allen deserves to be at the top of this list, though, after averaging a league-high 11.5 targets per game in 2023. His 150 total targets ranked 10th among wide receivers despite missing the final four games of the season. Allen still very much has “it.” And now, projected first-overall pick, quarterback Caleb Williams has Allen.

Not everyone is sold on Caleb Williams, but the Bears have done a fantastic job putting pieces in place for him to succeed. With the acquisition of Keenan Allen, he can lean on a true WR1 who’s recorded 100+ receptions and at least 147 targets in four of his last five seasons.

While it’s easy to believe there’s “a lot of mouths to feed” in the 2024 Chicago Bears’ offense, I have faith in offensive coordinator, Shane Waldron. He, of course, is most recently notable for holding the same position with the Seattle Seahawks during Geno Smith’s 2022 Comeback Player of the Year season. In said season, both DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett each logged at least 84 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards. They finished as WR23 and WR19 respectively as a result. I don’t think we can expect another WR3 fantasy season from Allen, but it’s probable that he and D.J. Moore both land inside the top 20 at the position; and even that feels like the floor for these two.

Marquise Brown, Kansas City Chiefs

One year/$7 million

It’s seemingly a “prove it” deal in NFL free agency for Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. What better team and quarterback to do so with than the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes? After bringing back Chris Jones on the defensive side of the ball and signing Brown, the league is that much more on notice about the legitimacy of a Chiefs three-peat of Super Bowl titles.

Marquise Brown provides elite speed and is a much better deep-threat option than last year’s Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Patrick Mahomes’ average depth of touchdown pass in 2023 reached a stunning career-low of 3.9 yards per score. That’s slightly down from 4.5 yards in 2022, but way down from 17.3 yards, 13.0 yards, and 8.5 yards respectively from 2019-2021. Mind you, Tyreek Hill was traded after the 2021 season.

Patrick Mahomes has thrown just TWO touchdown passes that have traveled 20+ yards in the air over the last two seasons. Marquise Brown is an immediate resolution to that problem. This tandem will assist each other in a massive boost in each other’s value for the 2024 season. Additionally, the threat of Brown bombs downfield should open up things underneath for Rashee Rice, Travis Kelce, and the rest of the offense.

Calvin Ridley, Tennessee Titans

Four years/$92 million

In one of the more surprising NFL free agency signings, Calvin Ridley is staying in the AFC South. However, instead of returning to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Ridley secures the bag in Tennessee. Side note: for Ridley’s services in 2023, the Jaguars owe the Atlanta Falcons their 2024 3rd-round pick. Double ouch for Jacksonville.

The Tennessee Titans passing game is not typically one to target for fantasy football. They have ranked outside the top 20 in passing yards per game in every season since 2011. They haven’t ranked higher than 25th in each of their last three seasons.

The 2024 season will be different. First things first, Derrick Henry is now a Baltimore Raven. One of the league’s best running backs isn’t the focal point of this offense anymore. Secondly, the Titans’ new head coach, Brian Callahan, is the former offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals. In his offense, the Bengals have ranked 7th or higher in pass attempts per season in three of the last five seasons, including each of the last two. Additionally, Tennessee’s new offensive coordinator, Nick Holz, just spent 2023 in Jacksonville as the Jaguars’ pass game coordinator. They passed more than Callahan’s Bengals last season.

Calvin Ridley is still just 29 and returned to football with 136 targets last season having not played since October of 2021. As of now, it looks like he will play opposite of DeAndre Hopkins with Will Levis throwing them the ball. It’s not the most obvious fantasy-friendly situation, but I believe in Ridley’s talent and this expected offensive scheme. He shouldn’t be too expensive in 2024 redraft leagues.

Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Two years/$41 million

Mike Evans didn’t even hit the NFL free agency market, signing his extension before other teams had a chance to lure him away. Following Evans’ contract, quarterback Baker Mayfield signed an extension of his own. Together, Evans put together his 10th-straight 1,000-yard season in 2023. He will look to make it 11 in 2024.

In nine seasons, Mike Evans has missed just nine total games for one reason or another. He’s as trustworthy as they come in fantasy football, regardless of who his quarterback is. However, with Baker Mayfield, Evans logged his most targets (136) and receptions (79) since 2018, his third-highest yardage total (1,255), and second-highest number of receiving touchdowns (13) in a single season. This production yielded a WR8 finish in fantasy football. Evans will likely end up drafted outside of the top 10 amongst wide receivers, but finishing inside isn’t out of the question again.

Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts

Three years/$70 million

After receiving the franchise tag, Michael Pittman Jr. was playing for the Colts in 2024 one way or another. Due to the restrictive tag, another team could’ve made a play at Pittman but would’ve owed the Colts two 1st Round picks if they didn’t match their offer. This is all null and void as Indianapolis locked up their WR1 before the start of NFL free agency.

Pittman’s 2023 breakout is long overdue, though unexpected with Gardner Minshew at quarterback for the majority of the season. Minshew was Pittman’s seventh-different starting quarterback in four seasons with the team.

The Colts haven’t added any other legitimate threats to Pittman in NFL free agency. It looks as if they’ll move into 2024 with him, Josh Downs, Alec Pierce, and a few other role players. My personal belief is that they attempt to draft tight end Brock Bowers in the first round, but even he won’t make enough of a dent in Pittman’s value. The combination of Anthony Richardson and Jonathan Taylor as threats to rush for touchdowns in the red zone is what could drive Pittman managers nuts, yet he finished as the WR13 with just four touchdowns last season.

Diontae Johnson, Carolina Panthers

Traded with a 2024 7th Round pick for CB Donte Jackson and a 2024 6th Round pick

Heading into NFL free agency, the wide receivers under contract for the Panthers were as follows: Adam Thielen, Jonathan Mingo, Terrace Marshall, Mike Strachan, and others. Diontae Johnson is already Bryce Young’s top option in the Panther’s 2024 passing game.

New head coach Dave Canales has his fingerprints on the revival of both Geno Smith and Baker Mayfield’s careers as each own’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator respectively. Bringing him in as Bryce Young’s head coach ahead of his second season is a source of optimism his rookie struggles are truly a thing of the past.

I don’t think the Panthers are done adding to their wide receiver room. However, I do expect Diontae Johnson to fulfill the role of WR1 for the 2024 season. It may sound crazy, but Bryce Young is a quarterback upgrade for Johnson, especially behind an offensive line being rebuilt in NFL free agency. I still expect the Panthers to be playing from behind quite often, increasing Johnson’s opportunities in negative game script.

Last season, Adam Thielen had some success in fantasy football which was a bargain after going generally undrafted all summer long. I don’t foresee Diontae Johnson requiring high draft capital to get him on your rosters, but you should make it a point to.

Wide Receivers Worth Mentioning

Mike Williams is joining the New York Jets on a one-year deal worth up to $15 million. That’s key verbiage for a player coming off of a Week 3 season-ending ACL tear. Williams is a deep threat with a large frame that can go up and get the ball. He has a career average of 15.6 yards per reception and 9.4 yards per target. I’m not treating him as anything more than a WR3 in fantasy football, but he does take pressure off of Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall, the two main targets on this offense.

Gabe Davis heads from Buffalo to Jacksonville on a three-year/$39 million deal. His fantasy football production is completely boom-or-bust. I expect that to continue while competing for targets alongside Christian Kirk, Evan Engram, Zay Jones, and a likely rookie addition after missing out on bring Calvin Ridley back.

Curtis Samuel replaces the aforementioned Davis in Buffalo on a three-year/$24 million deal. He reunites with offensive coordinator Joe Brady from their time with the Carolina Panthers. While together in 2020, Samuel notably logged a career-high 41 rush attempts for the Panthers. That’s flirting with “Deebo Samuel” like numbers.

Darnell Mooney and Rondale Moore bolster the Atlanta Falcons’ wide receiver corps. Mooney joins the team on a three-year/$39 million deal while Moore arrives via trade in exchange for quarterback Desmond Ridder. If either, I prefer Mooney for fantasy football, but the “big three” of Drake London, Bijan Robinson, and Kyle Pitts are who we want in this offense.

K.J. Osborn is the latest addition to the New England Patriots never-ending average wide receiver room. That doesn’t mean he can’t have fantasy football relevance. I don’t have faith in Juju Smith-Schuster staying healthy for a full season. Osborn is the only other wide receiver that’s handled 75 or more targets in more than one NFL season.

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