The 2021 NFL League Year starts on March 17th, which is the first day teams can start officially signing free agents. In advance of that, we’ve already seen some notable roster cuts, highlighted by J.J. Watt in Houston. Plenty more are coming along, with Kyle Rudolph, Jared Cook, and Golden Tate among the players getting cut in advance of the start of free agency.
The decrease in the salary cap is going to result in significant roster movement. So much is expected that a source told ESPN’s Dianna Russini, “It’s going to be a massacre next week all around the league.”
Here, we’ll highlight three NFL backups that you should trade for in your dynasty leagues ahead of more cap casualties, and in one case, the official start of free agency.
Chase Edmonds: RB, Arizona Cardinals (24 years)
Though it seems like a foregone conclusion that Kenyan Drake won’t be returning to Arizona in 2021, Chase Edmonds still hasn’t been the subject of much hype. When Drake does hit free agency, however, Edmonds will see his dynasty value skyrocket as the next man up for the Cardinals.
Edmonds very quietly put up a respectable 2020 season, even in fantasy football. In full-PPR scoring formats, he finished as the RB25, totaling 850 scrimmage yards and 5 touchdowns on 150 touches. Among all running backs in 2020, Edmonds ran the seventh-most routes and ranked sixth among RBs with 402 receiving yards to close out the year. It might not seem like much, but it feels significant when you think about what he accomplished as a backup/change of pace running back.
Drake’s 2020 season cost the Cardinals nearly $8.5 million, and it didn’t amount to much. The prospect of bringing him back into the picture just doesn’t seem to fit, especially after signing J.J. Watt to a two-year, $28 million deal. If they do move on, and even draft or sign a free agent running back, it’s reasonable to assume an increase in touches for Edmonds. He’s got my vote as the running back with one of the greatest potential returns relative to cost for the 2021 season — as long as you trade for him now.
Cole Kmet: TE, Chicago Bears (21 years)
Cole Kmet has a pretty solid underground fanbase, but his name hasn’t circulated as much in mainstream fantasy circles. Kmet was drafted No. 48 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, with the Bears’ first pick in the draft. He posted 515 receiving yards and 6 TDs in his junior year at Notre Dame before declaring for the draft. Kmet is an explosive prospect who posted an impressive 37” vertical and 123” broad jump to pair with his solid frame at 6’6” and 262 pounds.
Though Kmet didn’t command much attention in his rookie season, the Bears do have plenty of opportunities coming available in 2021. WR Allen Robinson could hit free-agency or get franchise-tagged and traded, leaving a significant void in the team’s receiving corps. Since joining the Bears in 2018, Robinson has accounted for 399 targets, the fifth-most among all wideouts in that three-year span.
If the Bears wish, they can also save $7 million on veteran tight end Jimmy Graham by cutting or trading him ahead of the season, vacating another 76 targets. At the age of 34, Graham finished as the TE14 in half-PPR formats while dominating in the red zone. He finished the season tied for the fourth-most end-zone targets and touchdowns among tight ends. Trade for him now before we see an Irv Smith-like bump in player value.
O.J. Howard: TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (26 years)
Fantasy managers may not be too keen to revisit the heartbreak of O.J. Howard, but hear me out, folks. As Howard returns from a ruptured Achilles in the 2021 season (and fantasy managers continue to recover from the burns instilled in 2019), his dynasty value feels like it’s at an all-time low. However, there are still some reasons to hold out hope.
Though it seems like a given that the Bucs will reassemble their 2020 Super Bowl-winning receiving corps, it’s worth noting that there are quite a few receivers who are set to hit free agency in the 2021 season. Names include WRs Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, RB Leonard Fournette and TE Rob Gronkowski, who combined for a 43% target share in the 2020 season.
Though the Bucs currently project to have the 14th-most cap space in the NFL, they’ve got several defensive players set for free agency as well, including Lavonte David, Ndomakung Suh and Shaquil Barrett. They’re going to have to make cuts somewhere, and my gut is ready to bet that barring a trade or setbacks in rehab, Howard is bound to see a larger chunk of the pie in 2021.
The beauty of Howard lies in the potential of combining his athleticism and explosivity with a bump in target share. If you trust trade value charts, some around the web have set Howard’s value equivalent to a late-second round rookie draft pick. Despite the talent in this draft class, I’d say Howard’s metrics when healthy show me as much upside as any of these picks with a relatively low hit rate.