Offseason Extra: Free agency Fantasy fallout
Some of the best arguments we have in our office center around a player signing with a new team as a free agent. I'm usually flabbergasted when a team wastes money (see Toby Gerhart and James Jones ), but my colleague Dave Richard is much more optimistic.
Most of you surely have your own opinions on these free agent moves, and you can track all of them here as players continue to sign. We're still waiting on a few players to land with new teams, but here's a look at some of the early winners and losers from the free-agent period when it comes to their Fantasy value.
While I don't agree with the Jaguars making Gerhart their featured running back, he obviously gets a bump in Fantasy value with a starting job. And that sinking sound you hear is Jones' Fantasy value crashing to the ground. You don't leave Aaron Rodgers for the Raiders and get better.
My favorite free-agent signing might be Golden Tate going to Detroit, because now we'll find out if he can be a legitimate Fantasy weapon. He also helps Matthew Stafford with another quality target opposite Calvin Johnson , and I'm excited to see this offense continue to flourish.
The worst move? It's hard to fault Eric Decker for getting paid and going to a huge market like New York, but leaving Peyton Manning for the Jets is Fantasy nightmare.
Nick Foles , QB, Eagles: There are many quarterbacks who improved in free agency. Joe Flacco got Dennis Pitta back and added Steve Smith , Andrew Luck got a new toy in Hakeem Nicks and Stafford added Tate. But Foles hit the lottery this offseason when it comes to weaponry. Not only did the Eagles keep Riley Cooper and bring back Jeremy Maclin , but they traded for Darren Sproles . With LeSean McCoy , DeSean Jackson and the potential of Zach Ertz , Foles is loaded with talent around him. I'm expecting a natural regression for Foles based on last year's surprise performance, but he's still a Top 10 Fantasy quarterback coming into the season. He's worth waiting for until Round 4 when he should be ripe for the taking.
Andre Ellington , RB, Cardinals: Ellington obviously didn't change teams, but the Cardinals didn't add anyone of significance to hurt his chances for a breakout performance. They signed Jonathan Dwyer to replace the retired Rashard Mendenhall , but Ellington is locked into the starting job. Sure, he'll lose some touches to Dwyer and Stepfan Taylor , but Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said the team wants "to build the offense around" Ellington. I got the chance to speak with Ellington this March while training, and he looks ready to go. I plan to target Ellington in Round 4 in all leagues as a No. 2 Fantasy running back with Top 15 potential. He was No. 24 in standard leagues last season despite being in a timeshare with Mendenhall.
arrival in Cleveland is, for now, the biggest
impact in free agency. Fantasy owners finally can get some
productive use out of Tate without having to wait for someone else
to get banged up first. Tate should work right away as the primary
back for the Browns, and considering their transition to an offense
he's already familiar with, this is a win for him. Tate has 421
career carries over three years of work including a pair of seasons
with at least 175 carries. He also has yet to have a season where he
hasn't averaged less than 4.3 yards per carry. This suggests that
Tate can handle a decent bump in workload without much concern about
whether or not he can handle it. Injuries are a concern as is a lack
of long speed. But if you consider him a volume back with goal-line
work in an offense with a solid offensive line, you'll be happy with
him as a quality No. 2 Fantasy rusher.
It's going to be very difficult to get excited about Eric Decker in 2014. Signing with the Jets did plenty for his own personal gain but his production should swoon. Going from Peyton Manning to the likes of Geno Smith is like going from a vacation in Hawaii to snowblowing the driveway. To give you an idea of what his numbers might look like, check out his 2011 season – before Manning arrived in Denver. Decker had eight touchdowns but also had 44 grabs for 612 yards and just nine plays all season for 20-plus yards. By comparison, last year Decker had 612 yards by Week 7 and 44 grabs by Week 8. Decker also benefitted from playing against single coverage for much of the year -- something he won't see a lot of thanks to the Jets' weak receiving corps. And Decker, frankly, isn't an elite talent. I could easily see him landing below 1,060 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, numbers he reached in his last two years. -- Dave Richard
Ben Tate , RB, Browns: Tate was on my sleeper list last season because I expected a breakdown for Arian Foster , giving Tate the chance for more opportunities. He had seven games in 2013 with at least 15 carries and finished with double digits in Fantasy points just twice. Now he heads to the Browns, who failed to have a running back rush for more than 75 yards in a game with only four rushing touchdowns. Granted, we're talking about a group highlighted by Willis McGahee , Chris Ogbonnaya , Fozzy Whittaker and Edwin Baker , but it's still telling. That said, Tate gets the chance for a starting gig, and it's hard to ignore his potential as a workhorse if he can stay healthy, especially for new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Don't overvalue Tate, but he's worth drafting in Round 4 or 5 as a low-end No. 2 option based on his opportunity for touches.
Rashad Jennings , RB, Giants: Jennings was one of the biggest surprises in 2013 when he took over for an injured Darren McFadden and scored at least nine Fantasy points in six games over a seven-game period (he missed Week 14 with a concussion), including double digits in points in five of those outings. He now heads to the Giants, where he's expected to start, depending on what happens with David Wilson (neck). New York could still add or draft a running back for competition, but Jennings looks like a solid flex option in standard leagues. There's risk of injury since that's been the knock on Jennings during his career, but he's a high-reward option with a pick in Round 6 in most formats, especially if the Giants can improve their offensive line.
Pierre Thomas , RB, Saints: You might be surprised to find out that Thomas led all running backs in receptions in 2013 with 77. And now New Orleans loses Sproles and Lance Moore , opening the door for Thomas to be even more involved as a safety valve for Drew Brees . We don't expect Thomas' receptions to improve dramatically, but he should remain around 75-plus catches. And last year he finished with 1,000-total yards and five touchdowns. I was expecting Thomas to leave New Orleans, but staying there without Sproles gives him immense value in PPR leagues. He was also the No. 23 running back in standard formats, and I'll take him as a flex option in Round 7. Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram will hurt his rushing totals, but he'll still get plenty of chances to make plays all year.
Toby Gerhart , RB, Jaguars: I would have liked the Jaguars to wait out the market than sign Gerhart on the first day of free agency to see who else they might have signed, but Gerhart is their guy. And coach Gus Bradley has said Gerhart will get 15-20 touches per game. Based on volume, that will put Gerhart in the range of a No. 2 Fantasy running back, but you should target him more as a flex option. Jacksonville's offense, especially if Justin Blackmon (suspension) is out, isn't overly dynamic with Chad Henne at quarterback. Keep in mind Maurice Jones-Drew and Jordan Todman combined for just two 100-yard games in 2013. But they scored eight total touchdowns, and Jones-Drew was the No. 20 running back in standard leagues. Gerhart also has five games with double digits in Fantasy points in the six games he's gotten double digits in carries over the past three seasons. He's worth a pick in Round 6 or 7.
Darren McFadden , RB, Raiders: I'm done supporting McFadden. I don't want to draft him unless he falls to the right spot in the later rounds, and I certainly don't consider him a starting Fantasy option coming into the year. But no one expected him to remain a starter in 2014, especially for the Raiders. Yet here we are after McFadden signed a one-year deal, and his main competition will be promising sophomore Latavius Murray , who missed his rookie year and is unproven. If you go into the season expecting McFadden to give you four of five games of excellent production -- he had four games with double digits in Fantasy points in 2013 -- and then getting hurt, you should be fine. He's a No. 4 Fantasy running back and nothing more, but returning to the Raiders as the starter is a good move for his value.
Julian Edelman , WR, Patriots: The best thing Edelman did was stay in New England, because going somewhere else might have crushed his Fantasy value. He was awesome last season once the Patriots realized he was the answer to filling Wes Welker shoes. He finished the season with career highs in catches (105), yards (1,056) and touchdowns (six) and scored double digits in Fantasy points six times. Edelman is obviously a star in PPR leagues, but he has Top 20 potential in standard formats as well (he was No. 18 last year). Tom Brady loves Edelman as his security blanket, and he must be happy he stayed. The Patriots receiving corps is on the rise with Edelman back, Rob Gronkowski (ACL) hopefully healthy and also Brandon LaFell joining the fold to go with Aaron Dobson .
Golden Tate , WR, Lions: As stated above, I love this move. Tate was stuck in a run-heavy offense with the Seahawks, and he still finished as the No. 28 receiver in standard leagues last season with 64 catches for 898 yards and five touchdowns. With the Lions, he goes to an offense where Stafford has attempted at least 630 passes in three consecutive years. Tate will get plenty of single coverage with Calvin Johnson , and this should be his first chance for 1,000 yards with at least six touchdowns. Go into your draft with Tate as a high-end No. 3 Fantasy receiver, and I plan to target him as early as Round 7 or 8 depending on how the draft goes. This should be a big season for Tate as he finally is part of a legitimate aerial attack.
Emmanuel Sanders , WR, Broncos: Don't mistake Sanders for Decker because they're not the same player. But Decker had 87 catches for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013 on 137 targets, and someone has to pick up that slack. We know the Broncos have three elite weapons already in Demaryius Thomas , Julius Thomas and Welker, but Sanders gives them a flexible receiver who can play outside or in the slot. He had 67 catches for 740 yards and six touchdowns with the Steelers last season, and he should be able to crack 1,000 yards with around seven touchdowns. Like Tate, he's a high-end No. 3 Fantasy receiver to target in Round 7 or 8, and I like him better than Decker this season. The upgrade in quarterback from Ben Roethlisberger to Manning is going to help Sanders immensely.
Drew Brees , QB, Saints: Just because Brees is listed here doesn't mean you should avoid him on Draft Day. Far from it. But the Saints haven't done Brees any favors this offseason. They got rid of Sproles and Moore, and by franchising Jimmy Graham they could cause him to hold out. The Saints have also said they want to be more ball-controlled on offense, so the 662 passes Brees averaged the past three seasons could be reduced. We hope the Saints address their receiving corps in the draft because Marques Colston (31 when the season starts) isn't getting younger, and losing Sproles will hurt. I dropped Brees to No. 3 on the quarterback list behind Manning and Rodgers, and I wouldn't draft him until Round 3 at the earliest.
Cam Newton , QB, Panthers: Newton might be having the worst offseason of any quarterback since the Panthers have given him nothing to work with on top of his three best receivers leaving the team -- and he's having ankle surgery that reportedly has him out for up to four months. Steve Smith was cut and signed with the Ravens, LaFell went to New England and Ted Ginn signed in Arizona. Along with that, the Panthers are down three starting offensive lineman from last year, including left tackle Jordan Gross retiring. The Panthers will hopefully find someone to catch passes along with Greg Olsen , and Newton will still make plays with his legs, assuming his ankle is OK as expected. But he's looking more like a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback than a No. 1 option, and he shouldn't be drafted before Round 8 in the majority of leagues. Newton is likely a bust candidate in 2014.
Darren Sproles , RB, Eagles: Sproles will help the Eagles offense and Foles, but he's not going to be a must-start Fantasy option in the majority of standard leagues. Leaving the Saints will hurt his Fantasy value, especially playing most of his games outdoors (12 in 2014). He played six games outdoors in 2013 and combined for 20 Fantasy points. He'll also be 31 when the season starts, and the Eagles aren't going to take McCoy off the field for significant stretches. Sproles is still a potential flex option in PPR leagues, but I'd only consider him a low-end No. 3 running back in standard formats. This is one of those moves that's better for the team than the individual, and Sproles loses Fantasy value leaving the friendly confines of the Superdome.
Ryan Mathews / Donald Brown / Danny Woodhead , RB, Chargers: The Chargers signed Brown in one of the most head-scratching moves of the offseason. Mathews is coming off a career year and Woodhead was solid in a complementary role. On top of that, Brown had a career season in 2013, and you would think he'd want to build off that with a better opportunity. Now all three are mired in a timeshare, and no one will benefit. Mathews should still get plenty of touches, and he remains a No. 2 Fantasy running back worth a pick in Round 3. But I'd stay away from Woodhead and Brown since neither should get enough touches to be successful. We would have much rather had Brown either stay in Indianapolis or chase a starting job somewhere to see what he can do, but now he's a backup just waiting for an injury. This move has bad written all over it.
Eric Decker , WR, Jets: In 2011, Decker had 44 catches for 612 yards and eight touchdowns. That was pre-Manning when Decker was catching passes from Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow . I hope Decker isn't that bad, but he's definitely not going to post stats similar to the past two seasons when he averaged 86 catches for 1,176 yards and 12 touchdowns. Geno Smith , if he's the starter for the Jets, definitely benefits having Decker as his No. 1 option, but now we'll find out just how good Decker really is. I wouldn't draft him as anything higher than a No. 3 Fantasy receiver, and I expect him to struggle to reach 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns, especially in a division with Darrelle Revis , Brent Grimes and Leodis McKelvin / Stephon Gilmore for six games. I'll avoid Decker in most Fantasy leagues, but look for him to be drafted somewhere around Round 6.
Reggie Wayne / Hakeem Nicks , WR, Colts: How nice would it have been to see Nicks sign with the Panthers? He could have been the No. 1 receiver for Newton and played in his hometown as a Charlotte native. Instead, he has a great opportunity to win, but he's now the No. 3 receiver for the Colts with T.Y. Hilton and Wayne. You can argue that's where Nicks belongs after two injury-plagued years, which is fair, but he now hurts the value for Wayne, who is coming back from last year's torn ACL. The move makes Luck better, and we hope Nicks uses this prove-it, one-year deal to elevate himself back into Fantasy stardom. But we're skeptical that can happen with so many mouths to feed in Indianapolis. And Wayne, if he's 100 percent, is now just a No. 3 Fantasy receiver at best. Both are only worth mid-round picks.
Riley Cooper , WR, Eagles: Cooper had a breakthrough last season when he stepped up as the Eagles' No. 2 receiver with career highs in catches (47), yards (835) and touchdowns (eight). He had at least eight Fantasy points in seven games, and he finished as the No. 22 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues. But that was with Maclin out with a torn ACL and before the Eagles added Sproles. Along with that, look for Ertz to take a big step in production, and Cooper is trending in the wrong direction. Maclin should return as the No. 2 receiver since he had at least 63 catches, 850 yards and five touchdowns in three consecutive seasons with 22 touchdowns over that span, and Cooper is only worth drafting as a low-end No. 3 Fantasy receiver. I would only draft him with a late-round pick.
Steve Smith , WR, Ravens: Smith was a bust in 2013 when he had 64 catches for 745 yards and four touchdowns, and he failed to gain 70 yards in any game. He fell out of favor in Carolina, and the Panthers let him go. He landed in a good spot with the Ravens, but he's already expecting a lesser role in offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's system. Smith has compared himself to former Texans receiver Kevin Walter, who was a complementary option to Andre Johnson . We hope Smith can do better than that -- Walter's best season in Houston was 2008 when he had 60 catches for 899 yards and eight touchdowns -- but that's a fair estimate for Smith at 35 when the season starts. He's a low-end Fantasy receiver heading into this year.
James Jones , WR, Raiders: Jones gets the benefit of a nice payday from the Raiders, and he gets to go home where he grew up as a product of the Bay Area. But he's going to a team in need of a quarterback, and this passing game was terrible last season. Jones has never had more than 65 catches or 820 receiving yards in a year over seven seasons, and his best year for Fantasy owners was 2012 when he scored 14 touchdowns. The Raiders receivers combined for 10 touchdowns last year, and Jones will struggle without Rodgers and the Packers offense propping him up. He's a late-round flier at best, and I won't draft him in 2014 because his Fantasy value is about to plummet.
Jimmy Graham , TE, Saints: This posting is solely dependent on the Saints and Graham working out a long-term deal. They placed the franchise tag on him, and this could lead to a potential holdout. If that happens and Graham is forced to miss significant time in training camp, then it hurts his Fantasy value. No one is moving Graham from the No. 1 tight end spot yet, and he should be drafted as a first-round pick in all formats -- if he is on the field and ready to go for Week 1. Again, this is all speculation on Graham, but I could see this process dragging out for a long time, which is scary because no one wants to lose Graham and his ability to dominate like we've seen the past three years. Let's hope the Saints give Graham what he wants and he shows up to training camp ready to go.