Free Agent WR Fantasy Performance
By Ron Brown @headbutturface
For a while now I have wondered, “What value does WR that is an impending FA have in fantasy?” The narrative was that WR’s generally don't fair well when changing team via FA. This past year it seems that WR’s have faired better. i.e. Robby Anderson and Nelson Agholor. With this question in mind, I set out to find out find out that very question. Do FA WR’s fair better after changing teams? Once we have that answer we want to exploit this data to help crush your league mates.
For this analysis I collected the following data.
15 FA WRs from the 2018 class
15 FA WRs from the 2019 class
10 FA WRs from the 2020 class
I collected the previous years output and compared it to the year they had with their new team and converted it to PPR points
I did not take into account any rushing statistics. They were trivial enough where it wouldn't have made significant impact
This data related only to free agents and not for trades
The 2018 Class
This class had the biggest names and was generally pretty good. Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson are the two highlights of this class that garnered big contracts. Robison was coming off an ACL suffered in the first game of 2017 with Jax. His data represented a large uptick in production. His production along with near-identical production from veterans Jordy Nelson, Michael Crabtree and Danny Amendola really helped this class. John Brown and Taylor Gabriel had large upticks in production while Paul Richardson, Mike Wallace, Ryan Grant, and Sammy Watkins struggled to live up to their previous production. Overall this class suffered a dip in PPR production by 8%.
The 2019 Class
This was an interesting class. Big money FA’s Tyrell Williams and Golden Tate held serve with their output. There were some real disappointments. Antonio Brown, Devin Funchess and Donte Moncrief all had terrible seasons. Brown’s problems are well chronicled, Funchess suffered from an injury and Moncrief was terrible. Overall many of the class had a large uptick in production. Cole Beasley, Jamison Crowder, John Brown, Chris Conley, Randall Cobb and Breshard Perriman all had really nice increases. The disappointments really dragged down the overall score here. All total, this class had a drop of 17% PPR production. That is a tremendous drop. More on that later.
The 2020 Class
This was a much smaller class and weaker over all. Robby Anderson, Emmanuel Sanders, Nelson Agholor, and Damiere Byrd all preformed at or above expectations. Several of the players were 4th/5th WR types that had the low-level production you would expect from that roster spot. Randall Cobb and Breshard Perriman had down years which tarnished a small and productive class. This small class posted a 3% increase in PPR production.
These free agents are volatile. Once tallied and reviewed there was an clear decline in production. I calculated it as a 9% dip in PPR scoring for the 3 years outlined. However, there were big outliers. I studied the data and found several of them. Based on that review, I removed the following player/years from the data set. Two of the biggest outliers, Antonio Brown going batty in 2019 and Devin Funchess getting injured and only playing in one game one of 2019, were removed from the data set. To further illustrate the Antonio Brown impact, he went from 104-1297-15 to 4-56-1. Thats about as big of a drop that you can possibly imagine. Mike Wallace fell into the first game injury boat in 2018 and was also excluded. Conversely, the increases of Allen Robinson from his injury missed 2017, where he tore his ACL in the first game of the year was removed. Once all of that data was removed the dip was decidedly less dramatic. The result was a dip in production of 1.5%. 1.5% is very negligible amount. Depending if you want to factor injuries or not, there is a range of a negative 1.5% to 9% reduction in PPR Fantasy points for the 3 years sampled.
As noted above, though a smaller sample size, the 2020 data did trend up. 2020 represented a 3% PPR fantasy increase in points. Looking into 2020 in more detail reveals Damiere Byrd , Nelson Agholor, all had substantial increases in production. Couple that with the smaller sample size in 2020 along with the touchdowns remaining the consistent (26) from 2019 to 2020 it seems to explain the increase. It will be interesting if this becomes a trend or is just a blip.
Using the information
We can easily glean from this that there is no reason to target a free agent WR and expect increased production. However, there is more to that. There is inconsistency throughout the data. Firstly, and most obviously the production is linked to health. Players that increased or maintained their production had kept their games played to roughly the same as previous years. Secondly was landing spot, there were several WR that ended up in more pass friendly offenses while others went to teams that were struggling or more run-centric.
Even with this in mind, there was only an increase in production 37.5% of the time. You are generally chasing outliers when targeting a FA WR. You can find value. I had targeted Robby Anderson in a few of my dynasty leagues last year. The price was a late 2nd in both cases prior to him signing with the Panthers. At the time, I was less than enthusiastic with the landing spot, but he was away from the Jets and Adam Gase. I was hoping the reunion with Matt Rhule and teaming up with Joe Brady would reinvigorate his career. He ended up having an unexpected career year. This was probably a bit of luck, but the risk was relatively low and the payoff was a top 20 PPR WR. Be strategic with your targets. Look for obvious volume or scheme/QB improvements. You are chasing outliers, be cautious.
From a dynasty perspective, trading WR’s that are pending free agency, that will not be franchised or resigned, is a far better bet than hoping one hits. The elite WRs generally stay put and have the past 3 years. The thing is that in FA, it is mostly mid-tier players that get overpaid resulting in unrealistic expectations. This is something you should use to your advantage and trade those players. Trading them right after they sign with the new team would seem like a good time to strike.
Unless the team is in salary cap hell, teams don't want to lose a difference making WR. The only player who was in this free agent dataset who would have been considered a star is Antonio Brown. His problems are well documented.
For redraft, it is simple. Don't prioritize WRs that have be added via FA. I don't think you have to discount them much, but there is little to no reason to give them a bump in your rankings.
This data is all over the place. Booms, busts and everything in between. The booms were big and so were the busts. There were sneaky values and big let downs. Scheme fit, passing volume and opportunity seemed to be the common threads of the WR’s that increased production. Overall a nuanced approach is needed when reviewing FA WR’s to target.
Only 2 FA WR’s produced a 1000 yard season John Brown in 2019 and Robby Anderson in 2020
Touchdowns either remained the same or decreased from year to year
Only 15 of the 40 WRs sampled produced more PPR fantasy points than the previous year
Average age of the 40 FA’s was 28.2 years old
Oldest was Danny Amendola in 2019 at 34 years old
Youngest was tied by 6 players at 25 years old