Every year we await the kickoff of the NFL’s free agency period to begin and see how much the landscape of the league will change. Usually, between this and the start of March Madness, it creates one of the busiest times on the sports calendar. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic currently impacting the sports world and beyond, this was not the case. What did come was a much-needed change and distraction in the form of massive trades and signings right from the beginning. Even though it is still early on and more moves will occur, we can begin to look at how the fantasy football world is changing. Let’s take a look at one of the most significant changes and examine the fantasy impact of free agency for the Arizona Cardinals.
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DeAndre Hopkins comes to Arizona in a blockbuster trade
There is no way I could begin this by not talking about one of the most surprising and head-scratching moves we have seen yet. On the opening day of free agency, a bomb was dropped on the sports world as news broke that the Arizona Cardinals had agreed to a trade sending RB David Johnson, a 2020 second-round draft pick, and a 2021 fourth-round pick to the Houston Texans in exchange for superstar WR DeAndre Hopkins and a 2020 fourth-round pick. Just writing that is still hard to believe.
You rarely see one of the best players at their position change teams. It is even rarer to see them do it for pennies on the dollar. DeAndre Hopkins has been one of the most consistent players in both the NFL and fantasy football. Hopkins finished as WR5 in 2019, and WR1 & WR2 in 2018 and 2017, respectively. Last season was his second straight year of catching over 100 passes while never dropping a single one. He ended the season with 104 (tied for third-most) catches on 150 targets, for 1,165 yards (11th), and seven touchdowns for 269.54 fantasy points (PPR). This was the third year in a row Hopkins eclipsed the 1,000 receiving yard mark and the fifth time in his seven-year career.
I do not expect to see him get the 20.08% target share he saw last year in Houston. He will still see around the 22-23% share in what is a very fast tempo offense. Hopkins will always match up every team’s best cornerback each week as he deserves that level of respect. However, what we have this year is another wide receiver who teams have to pay attention to. Yes, Will Fuller is a solid WR2, but he could never stay healthy, and it required Hopkins to be the only driving force of the offense for the Texans.
In my offseason dynasty ranks, I had Hopkins listed as my number two wide receiver, and he will stay there for me. Even though he might not see as many targets as he did last year, what he does do is fill a massive hole for Arizona, which is a target in the red zone. Known for his route running and ability to turn a 50/50 ball into a consistent play, Hopkins will thrive in this Cardinals’ offense. Other than the movement of quarterbacks, this move has the most significant impact on the fantasy scene for 2020.
The end of Hakeem Butler?
It is amazing what a year does to change the view we have on a player in dynasty. While adding a player like DeAndre Hopkins will naturally take away targets from everyone else, it seems there is more going on behind the scenes. It appears the front office and coaches have been less than pleased with the former fourth-round pick and are glad to bring in Hopkins rather than cut bait on Butler. Yesterday, PFN NFL Insider Tony Pauline discussed the frustration that has been brewing for some time.
“Last fall I was told the team was not happy with their fourth-round pick from the 2019 draft and the Cardinals were relieved they had to place him on injured reserve rather than face the embarrassment of cutting him before the regular season. I heard further confirmation of this during the Scouting Combine three weeks ago.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of someone the dynasty community was rather keen on stashing in the hopes of profit in the future. Between the addition of Hopkins, continued development of 2019 second-rounder Andy Isabella, along with Christian Kirk and veteran Larry Fitzgerald, it is hard to imagine a path to any playing time for Butler. It appears there is a solid chance if he doesn’t figure it out in Arizona and show the coaches he deserves to stick around, he could be another roster cut casualty. Keep an eye on who owns him in your fantasy league, and if due to the incoming 2020 rookie class, someone might drop him due to being impatient. Between his 6’5” frame and 4.48 speed, it is likely another NFL team could give him a shot if he goes into the open market.
Kyler Murray stock skyrockets
It is hard to think of any player who benefited more from a move their team made than Kyler Murray. Coming into the 2019 season with the expectations that come from being the first overall pick in the draft, Murray did not disappoint—completing 349 of his 542 attempts (64.4%) for 3,722 yards and 20 touchdowns along with 544 yards rushing with four touchdowns, earning himself NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Now in his second year in head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense along with the addition of a true WR1, Murray has seen his fantasy value soar. Coming into the 2020 offseason, Murray was my QB6 in dynasty but has since risen to QB3, moving ahead of Deshaun Watson, most notably. He now sits at atop my second tier of quarterbacks only behind Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. Between adding Hopkins into the fold and what I expect to be an upgrade on the offensive line with their eighth overall pick, Murray now should be going in the back end of the first round in Superflex formats.
Kenyan Drake has the backfield to himself
One of the most overlooked parts of the shocking Hopkins trade is the fantasy impact it has on Cardinals’ running back Kenyan Drake. The running back touches, for the most part, are all his. The exit of Johnson clears up any real concerns the Cardinals could employ a running back by committee approach. Now, this could change if they bring in someone during the draft to be the RB2 instead of Chase Edmonds, but we can cross that bridge when we get there.
Although the team did not give Drake a new contract, they did place the transition tag on him, giving the Cardinals the right of first refusal to match any offer the player may make with another team. Drake was phenomenal after arriving from Miami halfway through the 2019 season, piling up 814 total yards and eight scores in just eight games with the Cardinals.
Numerous times since coming to Arizona, Kingsbury and others on the team, have called him the “perfect running back for this system.” After seeing what he did last year, it is hard to argue. What we hope to see is consistency from Drake as his season totals do not paint the entire picture. Of his 544 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns with the Cardinals, 303 yards and 6 touchdowns came in just two games, including a staggering four-touchdown game in Week 15 that likely knocked out every fantasy opponent in the first round of the playoffs.
It is clear the upside is there for Drake in this up-tempo offense, and if the Cardinals do upgrade the offensive line, it is hard to see him finishing 2020 any worse than an RB2 in fantasy.
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Tommy Garrett is a writer for PFN covering Fantasy Football. You can follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.