Fantasy Football 2017: Ranking the best landing spots for free agent playmakers

By Alex Butler   |   March 8, 2017 at 2:27 PM
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March 8 (UPI) -- It's never too early to prepare for fantasy football glory.

Sometimes an aging veteran just needs a change of scenery to reemerge as fantasy relevant. Here are the top expected free agents from each skill position this offseason and the best spots where they could land.

The NFL's new league year begins at 4 p.m. Thursday.

QB: Tony Romo, Houston Texans

The Dallas Cowboys are expected to release its veteran backup quarterback. After weeks of speculation, the Texans and Denver Broncos have emerged as front-runners to add the gunslinger. But the Texans make the most sense for Romo. With a struggling Brock Osweiler and aging defense, the team needs to get consistency out of the quarterback position while its best players are in their prime.

Romo would obviously benefit from DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller out wide, but the Texans have many more weapons. C.J. Fiedorowicz and free agent Ryan Griffin are expected to return and offer consistency from the tight end position. The Texans gave a big deal to running back Lamar Miller last offseason and are looking for a more balanced approach during its 2017 campaign in order to keep him fresh. Center Greg Mancz offers leadership on the Texans' offensive line, which ranks No. 18 in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Mancz comes in as PFF's No. 3 ranked pass-blocker.

Then there is the AFC South. By comparison, if Romo goes to the Broncos, he would be heading into one of the toughest divisions in football. With a young and explosive Oakland Raiders team and Andy Reid's Kansas City Chiefs coming back strong, the Broncos face an uphill battle to get into the playoffs every season. The Texans have managed to win its division in consecutive seasons, despite lackluster play at quarterback.

Romo's arrival in Houston would upgrade every player's fantasy value in that offense. You could book the quarterback for at least 30 passing touchdowns if he stays healthy for more than 14 games.

Assuming full health for 14 games, and that's a big assumption, Romo could be a great seventh or eighth round target in your fantasy draft if he lands in Houston or Denver.

RB: Adrian Peterson, Oakland Raiders

Future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson seems like a great fit for the Raiders' offense. The Raiders and Seattle Seahawks emerged Tuesday as interested parties in the former All-Pro.

The Raiders make the most sense here as the franchise isn't expected to retain Latavius Murray and will be in need of a grinding early-down back. With Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise coming back for the Seahawks, it seems like Peterson would have to fight for carries against two players who have been more productive and explosive, as of late.

If Peterson lands in Oakland, he would have a great young quarterback in Derek Carr. He would also have studs outside at wide receiver in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. The Raiders likely offer Peterson two major attractions: the chance to compete for a Super Bowl and an opportunity to get the first crack at early-down carries. Peterson's father told the St. Paul Pioneer Press Tuesday that his son is "intrigued" by the Raiders' offensive line, which ranked as PFF's No. 4 unit in 2016.

If the four-time All-Pro has any juice left, expect his best stage to be in Oakland, where he won't be forced to be the focal point of the offense. Peterson, 31, has never averaged fewer than 4.3 yards per carry when he has played more than three games in a season. He led the NFL with 1,485 rushing yards in 2015, but put up just 1.9 yards per tote in three games. Peterson, once the perennial top pick in fantasy drafts, would likely be a fourth or fifth round dart if he landed in Oakland. If you do end up snagging him as a Raiders ball carrier, make sure to add plenty of depth.

LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots

Blount's best fantasy football outlook for 2017 would be a return to the Patriots. After leading the league and breaking a franchise record with 18 rushing scores last season and winning a Super Bowl, it's unlikely he could do better elsewhere. The 30-year-old likely won't break the bank by re-signing, but he could expect to see a similar role and be in line for another deep postseason run. Blount's touchdown total from 2016 equaled the amount he scored from 2013 to 2015 combined. His 299 carries and 1,161 rushing yards were also career-highs.

Blount could be a mid-round steal in your fantasy draft as other owners will likely stay away due to Dion Lewis and James White's presence. But don't be afraid to draft wide receivers early and target a guy like Blount for consistency from the slot.

Jamaal Charles, Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles coach Doug Pedersen has admitted interest in the four-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro. Charles will likely never return to his All-Pro form, but he could be a serviceable asset in fantasy football. If he lands with the Eagles, give him a late-round draft grade. He should be a thought for you later in drafts as a bye-week fill-in or a plug-and-play flex option when you are in a pinch. Charles turned 30 in December and is known for his hands. With Ryan Mathews likely out and Darren Sproles getting older, Charles would be a great weapon for Carson Wentz's offense with his dynamic skill-set. Expect the Eagles to also add a wide receiver this offseason, via the NFL Draft and/or in free agency.

WR: Alshon Jeffery, Tennessee Titans

The Titans have been in need of a playmaker at wide receiver for a few seasons and Jeffery could fill that void. Still just 27-years-old, Jeffery and Marcus Mariota would both benefit in fantasy and real-life football for a long time with this marriage. Though a return to the Chicago Bears is still in play, this is likely the best destination for Jeffery's fantasy value, given the unknown quarterback situation in Chicago. Jeffery, who entered 2016 with injury concerns, had actually played all 16 games in two consecutive seasons before missing seven games in 2015. He was healthy last season, but missed four games do to a suspension for violating the NFL's PED policy. The Titans have the third-most salary cap space this offseason and have the means to go after the playmaker. If Jeffery lands in Nashville, he would garner a late second round draft grade.

DeSean Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jackson and Mike Evans together for the Buccaneers should terrify NFC South defensive backs. While several teams have been linked to the 30-year-old speedster, Jackson appears most likely to be headed to the Buccaneers. Jameis Winston's squad will reportedly make a "strong push" for Jackson. Vincent Jackson is a free agent and had declining speed, so injecting DeSean into this offense would be a terrific complement to his young Pro Bowl level counterpart. Jackson has been known as a boom-or-bust fantasy football asset throughout his career, but continues to show juice, as proven by his league leading 17.9 yards per catch last season. Jackson also cashed in for his third 1,000-yard receiving campaign in his last four seasons in 2016. The Buccaneers have the fourth-most salary cap space in the NFL and should seek out this flashy X-factor. If Jackson lands in Tampa Bay, look at him as a WR3 with WR2 upside most weeks.

Terrelle Pryor, Philadelphia Eagles

Pryor would be a very welcomed addition to the Eagles' offense. Although the Pittsburgh Steelers reportedly lost interest after hearing his asking price, other teams should be so squeamish. The Cleveland Browns somehow haven't locked down its best playmaker, leaving a window for all interested parties. Pryor is still just 27-years-old and is worth a double-digit annual salary. In his first full season at wide receiver in 2016, he had 1,007 yards and four touchdowns on 77 receptions, and that was with Browns quarterbacks. Wentz and Pryor would both benefit from this pairing as the Eagles are begging for consistency at the wide receiver position. Pryor would add both veteran leadership and provide a trusted target in Wentz's sophomore campaign. If he does land in Philadelphia, book Wentz for 20 to 25 touchdowns as Pedersen expands his playbook. Pryor would be a WR2 on your fantasy football squad with this marriage.

TE: Martellus Bennett, Jacksonville Jaguars

Bennett, 29, might be pricing himself out of Foxborough with a $9 million annual asking price. Last season for the New England Patriots, he provided solid depth for when Rob Gronkowski was knocked out. He was a bit more hit-or-miss when Gronkowski was available. Bennett rewarded the Patriots for acquiring him last offseason by putting up 701 yards and seven scores on 55 receptions in 2016. The 2014 Pro Bowl selection is definitely worthy of TE1 status if he finds the right fit. While the Oakland Raiders look like the most appealing option for the tight end, the Jacksonville Jaguars might provide the most opportunity. With Julius Thomas departing to the Miami Dolphins, expect the Jaguars to add a playmaking pass-catcher in an effort to ramp up Blake Bortles' consistency. Tom Coughlin, now the Jaguars' executive vice president, coached Bennett in 2012 with the New York Giants and is aware of his abilities. That season, Eli Manning had one of his best years, in terms of interception percentage, something Bortles has struggled with in his young career. If Bennett lands in Jacksonville, you should feel comfortable targeting him in the middle to late rounds in your fantasy draft. He could draw close to 100 targets in a Jaguars' system where Thomas earned 131 looks in 21 games during his two seasons with the franchise. With the sixth-most salary cap space in the NFL, expect the Jaguars to throw some cash at Bennett.

TE: Jared Cook, Green Bay Packers

Cook was a solid option for Aaron Rodgers during his first season for the Green Bay Packers. In 10 games, he managed 377 yards and a touchdown on 30 receptions. He won't carry your team to weekly victories, but Cook can provide consistency as a plug-and-play guy. Expect the Packers to re-sign the veteran, who increased Rodgers' yards-per-attempt consistently when he was on the field. He can also be had late in your fantasy draft and is a good bet for 50 to 55 receptions if he plays a full season.

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