2020 Fantasy Football: Free Agency needs evident for NFL teams in initial Opportunity Index

The first time I published the Opportunity Index was in 2019, and it was after free agency and the NFL Draft. That made it easier to see who was likely to fill openings on which teams and helped to project a breakout for Chris Godwin and an increase in role for Leonard Fournette. It also indicated the coming of Darren Waller, but I was too obtuse to say it. 

In 2020 I’ve completed the project earlier, which is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it gives us a good idea of who had the most room for free agents and draft picks at the skill positions. The curse is that so much is still up in the air.

Hunter Henry and Austin Hooper are both free agents at tight end, but all news has indicated the Chargers will retain Henry and the Falcons will let Hooper test free agency. Alshon Jeffery and Sammy Watkins are both still under contract, but sources have indicated both could be cap casualties. Thank goodness quarterbacks aren’t a part of this exercise, because that would be even worse.

Due to the uncertainty, I had to make some projections. Henry, Jeffery, Kareem Hunt and Amari Cooper all stay with their 2019 squads in this run. Hooper, Watkins, Jason Witten and Emmanuel Sanders all leave in free agency. When, not if, some of these assumptions prove incorrect, I’ll update the spreadsheet. For now, here are the teams with the most opportunities for new talent and what players might best fit that need.

Running Backs

Houston Texans (254 carries, 17 targets) — Carlos Hyde just had an 1,100-yard season in this offense and he’s one of the least efficient backs of the past half-decade, so there is definitely potential here. There are only 17 targets available because of Duke Johnson. Deshaun Watson hogs rushing touchdowns in this offense as well. Like most teams, Melvin Gordon is probably their best option, but I wouldn’t hate it if they went with Jordan Howard as a cheaper option. He’d fit well next to Johnson and could be a solid flex or No. 2 running back in non-PPR.

Los Angeles Chargers (179 carries, 63 targets) — The Chargers entered the offseason with two free agent running backs before they locked up Austin Ekeler. Melvin Gordon will not be back, which leaves a role for either Justin Jackson or an acquisition to fill. Howard also could fit here, but my real preference would be for Ekeler and Jackson to man the backfield with a late-round pick to back them up. In that situation, Ekeler would be a top-five back and Jackson would be a worthwhile flex.

Buffalo Bills (169 carries, 17 targets) — I expect some real blowback to the Bills being on here. I think everyone would prefer they just give 250 carries to Devin Singletary, and they migh.! But it sure sounds like they view Singletary as part of a committee, not an answer. The problem is that the Bills don’t throw the ball much to their backs, so it’s really hard to have significant value in a committee. The best case for Singletary’s value would be if they added someone like Hyde or Lamar Miller and gave them very little work.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (151 carries, 24 targets) — Finally, we get to the team everyone was expecting at the top. Tampa doesn’t profile quite as well with this exercise because Ronald Jones and Dare Ogunbowale are still on the roster. The hope is they go sign Melvin Gordon or draft Jonathan Taylor, and then neither Jones nor Ogunbowale matter at all. The question is, how high-profile does a back have to be to push Jones out of the picture?

Also: Philadelphia Eagles (146 carries, 25 targets); Kansas City Chiefs (118 carries, 41 targets); Miami Dolphins (100 carries, 54 targets)

Wide Receiver

New York Jets (156 targets) — There has been some buzz about the Jets and Robby Anderson being open to a reunion, but the Jets have a lot of needs and Anderson is going to have a very good market. As I talked about in my sleepers column, Jamison Crowder dominated targets from Sam Darnold, but there’s absolutely room for a downfield threat, and this draft is full of them.

Kansas City Chiefs (147 targets) — A lot of people will project Mecole Hardman to fill the Sammy Watkins role,  and the Chiefs actions will tell us a lot about whether they think Hardman is ready. If they don’t make a significant acquisition, Hardman would have a shot at WR2 production. If they do add a receiver in free agency, someone like Taylor Gabriel would make a lot of sense.

Green Bay Packers (129 targets) — This is the team that could be really interesting for Anderson or any receiver. Aaron Rodgers needs significantly more help and the Packers have more than enough targets to go around. Anderson would be my first choice to put opposite Adams but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Packers used multiple early picks on the position. 

Dallas Cowboys (107 targets) — Again, this number is with Cooper back on the team. There could be even more opportunity. But as of now we’ll just assume they’re replacing Randall Cobb, which means they’re probably looking for a slot receiver. I believe Sanders could play the role, and Nelson Agholor may be an option as well.

Philadelphia Eagles (103 targets) — We don’t really know what to expect from the Eagles receiving corps. They threw to the position less than anyone else last year and they still have Jeffery and DeSean Jackson on the roster. I’d expect them to make a play for Cooper if he got away from the Cowboys, but if not the draft may be their best option. 

Also: New England Patriots (98 targets); Miami Dolphins (97 targets)

Tight End

Atlanta Falcons (97 targets) — Hooper may be the most interesting free agent from a skill position standpoint. If he doesn’t return, the Falcons don’t really have a good option to replace him. Assuming Henry gets the franchise tag, Eric Ebron may be the next best tight end on the market. If Ebron landed in Atlanta, he’d be a borderline top-12 option in Fantasy. If he doesn’t, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are going to see a ton of targets. 

Green Bay Packers (94 targets) — The Packers are letting Jimmy Graham walk, and I assume Hooper will be one of their top priorities in free agency. Hooper would a be a top eight tight end in Green Bay, but his presence could affect Davante Adams if the Packers also make a big splash at wide receiver. 

Dallas Cowboys (83 targets) — It’s been pretty quiet on the Jason Witten front, but one thing we have heard is that the Cowboys plan on bringing Blake Jarwin back. I’m working under the assumption Jarwin will be the Cowboys starting tight end, and if they don’t bring anyone else, that could make him a borderline starter at the position.

Carolina Panthers (82 targets) — Greg Olsen has already agreed to a deal with the Seahawks, so he’s definitely gone. Olsen has a chance at one last year of Fantasy relevance, but the guy who could be really enticing is Ian Thomas. Thomas has shown flashes early in his career and now he gets a chance to shine without Olsen. If Cam Newton is his old self for 16 games, that could lead to big things for Thomas.

Also: Cincinnati Bengals (66 targets); Indianapolis Colts (58 targets)

Here’s the full Opportunity Index as well as each team’s positional target rate in 2020.

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