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The period between free agency and the NFL draft is one of the quietest in the NFL calendar. Most free agent signings happen quickly, and teams wait until after the draft to take advantage of the compensatory pick formula. The formula rewards net losses, and the NFL has moved the date up for non-qualified signings to the Monday following the draft. That allows an opportunity to identify draft needs and underrated dynasty buy low players to target before the draft grants clarity. This series will look division by division at where teams stand before the draft.
Tennessee Titans: Quietly, The Least Predictable Team In Fantasy
The news broke on a quiet Saturday morning. Derrick Henry to the Eagles. Ok, it was a false start. But it broke the silence on one of the quieter assumptions held through the offseason. Derrick Henry has played his last game for the Titans.
At eight games, the Titans have the second-longest losing streak in the NFL, behind the Chicago Bears' ten. Ryan Tannehill is viewed as an obvious cap casualty, with the team holding the ability to halve his cap hit. Tannehill ranks sixth in franchise passing yards, a category led by Warren Moon and Steve McNair. Meanwhile, Henry is third in rushing yards behind Eddie George and Earl Campbell. The looming departures of Tannehill and Henry mark the end of an era.
Those two departures would leave Malik Willis as the current active team leader in passing yards, with 276, Hassan Haskins as the franchises' current active leader in rushing yards at 93, and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, as the leader in receiving yards at 903. Woof.
As it stands, where is the excitement? The team could fully commit to the Caleb Williams derby, playing Malik Willis for the season and allowing the chips to fall where they may. They could split the backfield between Haskins and Julius Chestnut, allowing one to emerge. Or the two rookies who did show glimpses in Treylon Burks and Chig Okonkwo could establish themselves as the focal points of a new generation. Dynasty managers must grab Haskins and Chestnut and see how things work out. But the atrophy that's hit the 2021 AFC number one seed has been sudden and complete.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Travis Etienne Needs To Dodge A Bullet
Doug Pederson has reiterated his commitment to a committee backfield at every opportunity. Etienne's 220 attempts in 2022 were 41 more than Pederson's previous backfield leader, Miles Sanders, in 2019. Etienne was efficient with that usage, placing ninth in rushing yards despite the attempts ranking 13th. But Pederson stated his desire to add to a committee in post-season press conferences and free agency media availability.
The Jaguars have been among the most aggressive teams at adding talent around franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence. In the last year: Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, Evan Engram, and Travis Etienne. Now they insert Calvin Ridley. The team has done well in the draft, increasing their talent across the board and separating themselves into a division at various stages of rebuilding. It is a far cry from the team that earned the number one overall pick in 2020 and 2021. But that talent accumulation allows the team to explore luxury selections, and with nine picks in the 2023 draft, it is easy to envision the addition of another back.
In the receiver room, Calvin Ridley is the big question. The receiving production was cleanly split between Kirk (1,108), Jones (823), and Engram (766), who all posted career highs, with the departed Marvin Jones a distant fourth option (529). But Ridley opens two doors. The receiver room lacks a clear alpha talent, a distinction Ridley showed flashes of unlocking with 1,374 yards in 2020. If he is that player, it is excellent for him, and the other three options likely struggle for fantasy viability. But if Ridley struggles, it opens the door for a messy four-way production split that could be great for actual football. Lawrence can operate with the open receiver but is incredibly unpredictable for fantasy purposes.
Pederson's past gives little indication of how this will work out. He's never coached this level of receiving talent, as Kirk was the first wide receiver he coached to over 900 yards. His Philadelphia offenses were tight end heavy, leaning on the skill of Zach Ertz and the lack of talent everywhere else. Dynasty players have been eager to boost Ridley back to elite status, creating a situation that allows patient players who held him to capitalize on name value while avoiding risk. This offense went from a desert to potentially the most mouths to feed league-wide in just a year. Etienne managers have to hope it does not add one more.
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