The 5 most transformed offenses coming out of NFL free agency

Matt Harmon
·9-min read

New York Giants

In an offseason when the conventional wisdom has been to slow down some of the spending, the Giants have gone the opposite direction. A big chunk of their cash went to defenders like Adoree' Jackson and Leonard Williams but they also made some offensive moves. The team added depth players like Kyle Rudolph, Devontae Booker, Mike Glennon, and John Ross to fill backup roles.

The big swing was wide receiver Kenny Golladay.

Golladay's addition alone lands the Giants on this list, as he was easily the best offensive skill-position player to hit the open market.

Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay (19)
Kenny Golladay is now a member of the New York Giants. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

With this move, the Giants have a sneaky stacked offense. Golladay is right on the fringe of being a true No. 1 wide receiver. We’d universally agree he is that true No. 1, if only he'd played a healthy season in 2020 and run back the type of film he put out in 2019. Either way, Golladay is the finishing piece of this pass-catcher corps as the perfect X-receiver who can win at all levels but is at his best down the field and in contested situations.

The rest of the receiver corps is solid. Darius Slayton is a good flanker option who can get deep. He had an underrated start to his career and reminds me a lot of Marvin Jones, both from a skill-set and career-path perspective. Sterling Shepard is a great slot receiver who brings some flash but mostly reliability to the table.

The tight end and running back position didn’t perform to the expectations the Giants had coming into the 2020 season. Saquon Barkley missed most of the year and Evan Engram wasn't at his best. However, if Barkley gets back close to 100 percent and Rudolph still has gas left in the tank to form a tandem with Engram, these two positions will rebound.

It’s not a unique thought but this whole operation will rest on Daniel Jones’ shoulders. With this group of skill position players, he is set up to succeed.

At the offensive coordinator and pass-protection level? That’s a different discussion.

Jones' 2021 season is looking much like how Josh Allen was set up to sink or swim after the Bills remade their wide receivers room for him. Giants fans can only hope Jones can cruise through the tides like Allen did last year.

I'm not totally convinced he can but if he jumps a tier, he's going to make this Giants offense one of the most attractive ecosystems in fantasy football.

New York Jets

I find a way to bring up this thought from one of the best offensive minds in football at least once every offseason. Back in February of 2018, Kyle Shanahan discussed the 49ers wide receiver position and really laid out his thoughts about the need, or lack thereof, for a true No. 1 wideout.

Shanahan believes if you have an opportunity to get and use an alpha receiver like Julio Jones, “It's worth it ... but you don't have to have that to be successful.” It’s all about finding guys that win in a variety of different roles and scheming them into high-value spots. You can see that in the DNA of the 49ers receiver corps throughout Shanahan’s time as the coach and it appears the New York Jets, now armed with a disciple of that system, are going about their business in a similar fashion.

Even though they paid Corey Davis in free agency, the Jets don’t have a true No. 1 on their offense. And that’s okay.

Davis’ contract is instructive. His $12 million average per year salary ranks around 20th among receivers. That’s perfect for what Davis is as a player: A strong No. 2 perimeter receiver. Davis’ proclivity for “doing the dirty work” as a receiver — blocking his tail off and winning against zones on in-breaking patterns over the middle — is a perfect fit in Mike LaFleur’s offshoot of the Shanahan system. Fitting the scheme is huge.

Davis will slide into a receiver corps with several other interesting names. Former Jaguars receiver Keelan Cole was also added on a one-year deal. Cole is an underrated player who can bring a vertical element to the offense on play-action looks. There were many times when DJ Chark was hurt last year that Cole stepped into the WR1 spot for the Jags, even while fantasy folks wanted to make LaViska Shenault happen. Davis and Cole will pair with two receivers who are already on the roster in Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder (if he sticks around). Mims is a good fit as an X-receiver and Crowder is an ideal slot.

Even if the Jets didn’t get Sam Darnold — or whoever their quarterback will be in 2021 — a true No. 1, they now have the makings of competent receiver corps stocked with players who win in different roles. That’s the Shanahan model through and through.

Washington Football Team

I’ve already waxed poetic about how much I love the Ryan Fitzpatrick signing by the Washington Football Team for our fantasy football teams. But one more time for the people in the back can’t hurt.

Terry McLaurin is my favorite bet at wide receiver to make the leap from “good starting receiver” to true superstar status in the eyes of the national audience. He’s already that good of a player, he just needs an aggressive and competent quarterback to help him produce so the stat-gazers can catch up to reality.

Enter Fitzpatrick.

Logan Thomas doesn’t get enough credit for having a discount version of a Darren Waller-esque late-career breakout last season. The converted quarterback played a huge snap share for Washington and got better as the year went on. Thomas has all the peripheral signals we look for. We're just dying for someone to help push him up a tier in the positional rankings.

Enter Fitzpatrick.

Antonio Gibson is coming off an awesome rookie season and should only get better as Washington's lead back. We just need him playing in a more stable offensive environment than he was in 2020.

Enter Fitzpatrick.

Washington also added wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who was a big hit in the 2020 version of the Panthers’ offense. Don’t worry about him potentially returning to some of the vertical routes this version of the old Panthers staff deployed him on during his 2019 season. Samuel executed those with precision. He just played with a quarterback who was completely incapable of pushing the ball downfield. There’s so much more goodness to unlock out of Samuel.

Enter Fitzpatrick. Notice a pattern yet?

We think of Washington as a conservative offense because of Ron Rivera’s reputation as a defensive head coach but coordinator Scott Turner actually had them rolling at 13th in pass-to-rush ratio in neutral game scripts. That’s a carryover from the way he called plays during his stint as the Panthers’ play-caller too. We want that for fantasy football.

I can already tell I’m way too bullish on this being the biggest value-buy offense in the entire NFL this upcoming season.

New England Patriots

The Patriots did a lot of peculiar things when free agency opened.

I think you can absolutely say they misread the wide receiver market. Even if you like Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne as players and acknowledge their roles will plug some serious holes for this offense, you have to admit their contracts look bad in hindsight after we saw far superior receivers sign modest deals last week.

Their tight-end duo addition gives the offense plenty of potential to be versatile and exciting. Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry are both good players and Smith especially was one of the best bets to make the leap at tight end by moving to a new team. However, the idea of two tight ends from one team crushing it in fantasy football is almost always more fun than the end-of-season reality.

The Patriots’ likely run-heavy tendencies really lower the excitement for any of these players in fantasy football — even the tight ends. With those two splitting a passing pie that’s already going to be small, it’s unlikely they carve out the type of slice we’re projecting at this point. And no one can argue they’ll be anything but run-heavy as long as Cam Newton is the quarterback.

Newton himself is probably the only real winner among the Patriots' free agency moves from a pure fantasy angle. Even if you don’t like the process of these moves, there’s no doubt this depth chart is light years better than it was in September 2020. Newton might get usurped by a rookie at some point in 2021 but for now, he remains a better fake football pick than you think.

The Patriots definitely got better on offense the last couple of weeks but I’m still just not sure they’re actually good at this point. The offense is certainly transformed. What its new form is ... I’m not so sure yet.

Los Angeles Rams

It feels like the Matthew Stafford trade is ancient history at this point but it only became official just over a week ago. If Stafford is truly the level-jump that the Rams believe he will be at quarterback, this will easily be the most consequential transaction of the 2021 NFL offseason.

The Rams offense straight-up had no passing-game juice last year. Even if he doesn’t play at a top-10 quarterback level, Stafford will at least open up the vertical play-action game that McVay was clearly fuming about being removed from the offense last year.

The issues went beyond just the quarterback, however. The wide receiver corps led by Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp was a bit homogenous and lacked any sort of speed element. That’s why I’ve talked myself into loving the DeSean Jackson signing.

I know, I know. I’m ready to get the rug ripped out from under me when/if Jackson gets hurt again. However, he’s just a few years removed from leading the NFL in yards per catch and still torched defenders in the extremely limited game action he saw with the Eagles in 2019 and 2020.

Even on an extremely limited snap count, Jackson can give the Rams an element of their offense that they can’t get from any other player on the roster.

Odds are Jackson won’t be an individual fantasy factor but even as a sporadic big-play threat and defensive-adjusting decoy, he can make life easier for everyone else. That will beef up the efficiency of Stafford — which of course trickles down to Kupp, Woods, Tyler Higbee, and running back Cam Akers.

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