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Dynasty Trade Targets for Rebuilding Teams

Maybe 2020 isn't going the way you planned. That could go for a lot of us in a lot of ways but this specifically refers to fantasy football.

Maybe your dynasty team that once looked like a strong contender is sitting at the bottom of the standings with one lonely win or none at all. You hate to throw in the towel before the season is half-done but sometimes you know a playoff run isn't in the books, especially if your powerhouse team consisted of Saquon Barkley, Austin Ekeler, Chris Godwin, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Zach Ertz. Things aren't looking much better the rest of the way so it's time to act.

The key to winning in dynasty is to constantly look forward and build value as much as possible. If your present roster isn't helping you win in the present, do what is needed to help you win in the future. Here are some players to target in trade talks that could break out in 2021 and have greater projected value.

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JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR, PIT)

The supposed WR1 for Pittsburgh is looking more like their WR3. Rookie Chase Claypool has emerged and Diontae Johnson, if he ever gets healthy, will get just as many looks. In fact, the Steelers' top four WRs and TE Eric Ebron are all within four targets of one another on the season so far. This is looking like a true WRBC.

Coming off a career-low six yards on two receptions (not including the first game of his career where he wasn't targeted), fantasy GMs are raging. Should we be mad at Smith-Schuster for underperforming or the Steelers for underutilizing him? Our Antonio Losada gave a great detailed answer to this question but for our purposes here, it doesn't necessarily matter.

The fact is that Smith-Schuster isn't helping fantasy teams and the notion he is being phased out of the offense in favor of Claypool presents a trade opportunity. The manager who rosters Smith-Schuster that is in win-now mode may be willing to part with him for a more reliable starter. It may be tough to accept trading away someone like Julio Jones or Adam Thielen in exchange for an underperforming wideout but it makes sense. Both those receivers are past the age of 30 while Smith-Schuster is just 23. Both the Falcons and Vikings are 1-5 and could be rebuilding sooner than expected.

The final, unexpected component to this analysis is the fact that I don't expect Smith-Schuster to remain in Pittsburgh next season. He is set to hit free agency in 2021 and the Steelers simply may not want to pay up for his services. This is why they drafted Claypool a year after drafting Johnson. This franchise has a history of successfully developing wide receivers and not paying for them. The one exception was Antonio Brown and that ultimately ended badly. If Smith-Schuster gets paid to be the top dog on a team with cap room like the Colts or Patriots, he may see that target share shoot back up again. His value hasn't hit bottom yet but another disappointing performance or two may be the catalyst to make an offer.


Rashaad Penny (RB, SEA)

Remember when Penny was going to usurp Chris Carson's role as lead back in Seattle? Carson has proven to be better and more resilient than he ever got credit for. He's also had a penchant for getting banged up and will be a free agent entering 2021. As a Pete Carroll favorite, it's hard to imagine the Seahawks letting him walk but it might not be his call. The team has been burned before by signing Shaun Alexander and Marshawn Lynch to big deals, only to see them flame out less than two years later. Running backs just don't get paid like they used to - the recent Le'Veon Bell fiasco serves as another warning to NFL GMs.

Regardless of Carson's future, Penny should be back to contribute late in 2020 and could get back to what he was doing before his injury. In 2019, Penny was averaging 5.7 yards per carry and provided a nice complement to Carson. Even as the RB2 on his own team, Penny was flex-worthy in fantasy and a high-end insurance policy for the times Carson would be out of action.

The best-case scenario is that Penny takes over as the team's lead back in 2021. The worst case is that he doesn't fully heal from ACL surgery and lacks the same explosiveness. It's a calculated risk but one that shouldn't cost much to take on.


A.J. Dillon (RB, GB)

Similar to the Penny situation, Green Bay could be a team in transition for 2021, especially if the season ends on a sour note. Aaron Jones is a stud, especially for fantasy purposes, but he's also a free agent as is Jamaal Williams. One would imagine they drafted Dillon for this exact reason, to replace one or both of them.

The selection of Jordan Love to succeed Aaron Rodgers may not make an impact next season but the RB situation is more likely to change. Dillon has played sparingly this season, rushing only 13 times for 65 yards so far. He has only taken more than two carries in a game at the tail end of two blowouts. This isn't concerning for dynasty managers, it's encouraging. He will enter his second season with fresh legs and fully healthy. Wear and tear was a minor concern after taking 845 rush attempts in college.

Dillon was labeled a combine warrior after running a 4.53 40 time. This is outstanding for someone his size (247 lbs), resulting in an adjusted speed score in the 97th percentile. He might have been a fantasy favorite if he landed in a better situation. Instead, we will have to wait until next year to see what he can do in a part-time, if not a full-time role. Teams in need of startable players or in win-now mode have no use for Dillon so try to extract him from their clutches while you can.


Quintez Cephus (WR, DET)

I mentioned Cephus as a last-minute preseason stash for dynasty leagues due to the Kenny Golladay injury that kept him out of Week 1. Sure enough, Cephus was targeted a whopping 10 times in the opener, although he only caught three for 43 yards. He followed up with three catches for 54 yards in Week 2 and then disappeared from the offense once Golladay returned. It may take another injury for him to have any relevance this season but we're looking ahead here.

Detroit's top three receivers, Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola, are all due for free agency in 2021. Golladay is likely to get paid while it wouldn't be surprising if Jones was set free. He is now 30 years old and appears past his prime based on a slow start. He's averaging a career-low 10.4 yards per reception and 6.1 yards per target while his 58.3% catch rate is 10 points lower than last year. He wasn't able to lift up this passing game while Golladay was out, proving how much more valuable one is than the other. Amendola should be an afterthought as this team gets younger at receiver again.

Cephus fell to the fifth round of the NFL Draft due to disappointing measurables, including a 4.73 40 time. He then became a preseason darling based on outstanding training camp performance. The sky may not be the limit here but Cephus could thrive with a QB like Matthew Stafford funneling passes his way.


Collin Johnson (WR, JAX)

Filling out your roster with upside can be an overlooked aspect of rebuilding a franchise. Those players at the end of your bench may seem disposable but in deeper dynasty leagues, you may not find any worthy waiver wire pickups during the season or be able to pull off a trade that satisfies your needs. If your WR6 has the upside to perform as a WR3 in the right context, that is the type of player hold onto. Not stashing Josh Gordon for the fifth straight year.

Johnson was a fifth-round pick out of Texas that landed on the outskirts of a deep receiving corps for a bad team. As the season began, he was behind D.J. Chark, Keelan Cole, Chris Conley, Dede Westbrook, and fellow rookie Laviska Shenault Jr. on the depth chart. Things are slowly changing in his favor and could take off in 2021.

It's clear Chark is the top target and Shenault has been what the team hoped for. Beyond that, only Cole has delivered value. Westbrook has been a healthy scratch multiple times. Conley has been his usual modestly productive self but the last two games he's only seen two targets in each. Johnson saw four targets in Week 5 alone before being blanked in Week 6. The Jags are already using his 6'6" frame in the red zone area since they don't have any other big-bodied receivers.

Considering that Westbrook and Conley are free agents next year, Johnson should surely take their place. Cole is also set to walk but it remains to be seen whether they retain his services. If Johnson proves capable down the stretch, they could easily save the cash by keeping him to replace Cole.


David Njoku (TE, CLE)

The tight end position is a tough one to glean dynasty value from. There are the elites who are off the market like Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Mark Andrews, the reliable holds like Darren Waller, Hunter Henry, and Austin Hooper, and the young rising stars who you won't get at a discount like Mike Gesicki, Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson, and Jonnu Smith. Then there's everyone else who isn't especially fantasy-relevant, especially in dynasty.

Njoku fit the rising star mold before 2019 began as a third-year player in an offense that was due to take off. Not only did Cleveland fall flat but an IR stint wiped out Njoku's season. The signing of Austin Hooper didn't sit well with him, leading to a trade demand in the offseason that was later rescinded. Now, it's back.

Since being activated from IR, Njoku has caught one pass in each of the last two games while Hooper has caught five passes in each and led the team in targets. Njoku wants out again and may get his wish before the November 3 deadline. If he lands with a team that could utilize him right away, he could deliver low-end TE1 production right away and become a solid starter heading into next year or an immediately trade-worthy asset.


Irv Smith Jr. (TE, MIN)

Smith was a popular preseason sleeper heading into his second year. He was drafted for one reason - to catch the ball. At 6'2", 242 lbs, Smith isn't out there to block. He was taken in the second round to be a field stretcher and offensive weapon after posting 710 receiving yards his junior year at Alabama.

Over the first month of 2020, he did neither. Smith graded out as the second-worst TE, 63rd out of 64, performing terribly as both a blocker and a receiver. It's understandable, as he was barely being used. Smith saw a total of six targets in the first four games and went without a catch in Weeks 3-4. Then, a light bulb clicked in Gary Kubiak's head and he realized that using Smith as a third receiver might not be a bad idea.

Since then, Smith has back-to-back games with four receptions and five targets, going over 50 yards in each. He hasn't hit paydirt yet but that might benefit the dynasty GM seeking a deal for a discounted TE salary. Smith has been dropped all over redraft leagues and even in some shallower dynasty leagues. The peak time to target him was two weeks ago, obviously, but with Minnesota's bye coming up the window is still open. Offer up a hot name like Robert Tonyan or a third-round pick to get the conversation started.


Sam Darnold (QB, NYJ)

"One man's trash is another man's treasure." To say that the Jets players are underachieving is putting it kindly. This team is a raging dumpster fire that Adam Gase keeps pouring hot grease on. Even if ownership insists on keeping Gase around until the season ends, whether it be to fulfill the tanking process to secure QB Trevor Lawrence or to stubbornly refusing to admit their mistake in hiring him, there is still hidden value to be unearthed here.

Although Breshad Perriman makes for a nice WR4 that can be had for a draft pick, the real value is with Darnold. His career arc has been rife with mediocrity and injuries/illnesses. We may never know what might have been of his first three seasons if he could have stayed on the field and had a competent coach during his critical developmental stage. As it stands, he currently has a 59.8% completion rate, 39-32 TD-INT rate, and has been On Target for just under 75% of his passes. By contrast, third-year quarterback Josh Allen, whose accuracy was always a question mark, has an 83.2% OnTgt% this season. Rookie Justin Herbert has a 78.8% OnTgt% in his first four career starts. Darnold has been put in tough positions his whole NFL career with a struggling offensive line, no running game, and incompetent play-calling. If any or all of those factors change, we could see the talent that made him the third overall pick in the 2018 draft.

The understandable concern with Darnold in dynasty is the fact that the Jets are on track to have the top pick in the NFL Draft, which would undoubtedly be Trevor Lawrence unless they trade it away. It's too soon to speculate on the final standings or what the team would do with its pick but Darnold ending up with another team a la Jameis Winston might not be the worst thing in the world for his future value. In Superflex leagues, he can be had for practically nothing at this point and is worth a future draft pick. The time to move is now while he remains sidelined. You never know, if Gase gets fired and Darnold returns next week, this offense could suddenly catch fire! Probably not though.

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