Free agency in the NFL has a definite effect on Fantasy Drafts, so read this article to stay informed.
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FANTASY VALUE OF THIS YEAR’S TOP FREE AGENTS
Free agency in the NFL has a definite effect on Fantasy Drafts the following year. The fact is during the off-season all you will hear about for the first 3 months is the free agent movement and certain players are always on your television. The top free agents in the NFL usually end up getting over drafted due to the heightened buzz. So, the question is; are the free agents this season worthy of the buzz? I will examine the top free agents from this year’s class, so don’t expect to hear anything about Derek Anderson and Jason Campbell.
It is important to understand the situation surrounding each of these players is different and each player and will be judged based on their situation with their new team. I will also give some historical perspective to this year’s free agents by looking back on other free agents at their positions going back through 2005. This off-season there was one player who dominated all the coverage and he did not even play a down of football last season, but Peyton Manning was a once and a lifetime free agent and the Broncos won the derby, so where better to start then by examining #18.
Peyton Manning – Peyton has been such an amazing quarterback for the NFL and fantasy owners since he was drafted what seems like ages ago, but Peyton thinks he still has some football left…and I believe him. Peyton had his pick of the litter when he was deciding who he wanted to play football for and he chose the Broncos. Manning will have the luxury of two very big and fast receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, both of whom did not get a chance to showcase their true talents in the Tim Tebow led offense. Willis McGahee proved he can be counted on for consistent yardage, which is all you need in Peyton Manning run offense. Then there will be some familiar faces as well in Brandon Stokely and Jacob Tamme. Normally you figure it will take time for a quarterback to figure out the new offense, but this is Peyton Manning and all you need to do is provide him with weapons and let him drive the car. He should slip beyond the big 4 (Rogers, Brady, Brees & Stafford) and will be a good value in the 5-9 pick for quarterbacks. Imagine how good your team could be if you get Manning in the 5th round or later.
Historical Perspective – The history is on Peyton’s side here. Since 2005 there have been 3 veteran quarterbacks that have been free agents: Drew Bledsoe 05’, Chad Pennington 08’ and Matt Hasselbeck 11’. Each one of these veteran quarterbacks experienced rejuvenation to their stat line with the moves. Each saw an increase of at least 570 yards to their passing lines and all saw an increase in TD of at least 3. The history dictates that Peyton Manning should have no problem rekindling his past performance if healthy.
Matt Flynn – Flynn is the latest backup quarterback that filled in and then cashed in the following season. Flynn, unfortunately, is not being given the same vote of confidence even after signing a 3 year deal. Flynn is expected to beat out Tarvaris Jackson for the starting roll, and it would be hard not to beat him out, but Pete Carroll has also left it open that Russell Wilson has a chance at the job. That being said Flynn will be the opening day starter. The issue for him is that he is not going to have an extremely long leash. Then you have to factor in that he is not throwing to the receivers from the Packers anymore and on top of that they have a running back in Marshawn Lynch who should be the centerpiece of their offense. There is just too much depth at the quarterback position this year to think about taking Flynn as a starter on any Fantasy team.
Historical Perspective – The history lesson here for Matt Flynn is not one that he is going to want to hear, but the truth usually hurts. Since 2005 the free agent quarterback that has the most similarity to Flynn is Derek Anderson who signed with the Arizona Cardinals in 2010. He was given the starters job based on the success that he had in 2007. For the Cardinals he only managed to start 9 games, and in that time he posted 7 TD and 10 INT. If there is a positive the silver lining would be Matt Schaub who signed with Houston in 2007. His first year with Houston was not very impressive though. It was not until his third year in Houston that Schaub really broke out. History says that this year will not be a good one for Flynn, but he could be more valuable in dynasty/keeper leagues…if Pete Carroll has the confidence in him.
Peyton Hillis – Wow how the mighty have fallen from one year to the next. Hillis was looking for a long term deal from the Browns and then had a bomb of a season in 2011. For his efforts he is no longer in Cleveland and now will be sharing the backfield in Kansas City with Jamaal Charles. The best news in this scenario for Hillis is that Charles is coming off a season ending ACL injury and the team will look to lighten his load in the beginning of the season. The other positive you have to take if you are a Hillis fan is that he has to have a chip on his shoulder this year and needs to produce. The problem is he is not going to break any long touchdowns this year and after last season his durability has become an issue. I only suggest grabbing Hillis as a backup, and if he does get an early workload you should look to trade him on the spot.
Historical Perspective – The good side of history will tell you to go back and look at Willis McGahee who signed with Denver last year. McGahee had some success followed by some lean years and reestablished himself in Denver. Hillis needs to hope that he follows Willis instead of his other most common match of Travis Henry 07’. Henry had issues on and off the field and was released after one year into his deal. If I had to choose which side if history Hillis will fall on I am going to go with much closer to the Henry side.
BenJarvis Green-Ellis – The law firm has a new address and it’s in Cincinnati, which is actually a good landing spot for him. The Bengals are a young team with the outstanding young talent in AJ Green. The Bengals are trying to build on their success last year and needed to find a replacement for Cedric Benson. Green-Ellis is a great fit for this offense. There are two things that the law firm is known for and they are not fumbling and scoring touchdowns. With a young team Green-Ellis should be a calming influence on them and coming from the Patriots he brings with him a winning pedigree. He is not going to be a back that is going to gain you 100 yards. In fact, Green-Ellis only has only rushed for 100 yards 4 times in his career, which covers 53 games. Green-Ellis is not going to blow you away this year, but he should give consistent production and be low end RB2 and a good bye week replacement player.
Historical Perspective – There are two examples for the Law Firm: Cedric Benson 08’ and Edgerrin James 06’. Benson made the move from the Bears to the Bengals and is ironically the guy that the Law Firm is replacing. Benson was nothing special with the Bears and was really nothing special with the Bengals in his first year putting up nearly the same numbers he did with the Bears the year before. The Edge had been a monster in Indy before signing with the Cardinals. He had some success in his first season with the Cardinals but they were a decrease from his Indy days. This tells me that the Law Firm is not going to surprise anyone and blow up this year.
Michael Bush – Bush had himself a very good season last year while filling in for Darren McFadden. He finished only 23 yards short of 1,000 rushing and amassed 1,395 total yards and 8 touchdowns. Those are the type of numbers as backup that we saw out of Michael Turner before he cashed in and became the main back in Atlanta. Bush took a different route than many expected when he signed a 4 year deal with the Chicago Bears to backup Matt Forte. It obviously reduces greatly the expectations that would have followed him going to Cincinnati or some other destination where he would have been the lead back. Bush still has a chance to be productive this year. Forte is back in the fold with the long term deal he was looking for, and the Bears are not going to want to burn him out in year one so you can expect Bush to get at least 10 touches a week. Bush should be the goal line back and showed that he can be effective in the passing game as well. Bush should be viewed a handcuff to Matt Forte with the potential to be worth more if Forte goes down.
Historical Perspective – The fact that Bush decided to move into a reserve roll made him comparable to LT when he moved to the Jets in 10’ or to Darren Sproles from last year with the Saints. LT saw an increase in his numbers with the move to running team, which the Bears still claim to be. Sproles was in a crowded backfield with the Saints last year but proved if you have the talent you will rise to the top. Bush also believes in his ability and maybe he just did not want to be like Lamont Jordan 05’ who signed with his Raiders but never took the next step.
Vincent Jackson – Jackson was the hot commodity at the wide receiver position this offseason and like some of our other free agents made an interesting decision going to Tampa Bay. Jackson had been, in my opinion, the best place he could have been in San Diego. By moving across the country to Tampa he is going to see a drastic decline in his numbers. The Chargers were a pass happy offense which is not the case with the Buccaneers. There is still one major difference and that is at the quarterback position. Jackson was a deep threat receiver for Philip Rivers who liked to air the ball out as witnessed by his 75 passing attempts of 20 yards or more compared to Josh Freeman who attempted only 36 passes of 20 yards or more. These are major warning signs to expect the numbers to go down for Jackson. Then you have to realize that it will take some time for the chemistry to truly develop between Jackson and Freeman. The only person in this scenario who benefits is Josh Freeman. Jackson should not be viewed as a #1 WR this year in fantasy. Expect Jackson to produce like a WR3 and let someone else spend their early pick and be disappointed.
Historical Perspective – Jackson was the biggest prize in this year’s free agent class, much the same way Muhsin Muhammad was in 05’. Muhammad was coming off a huge season with the Carolina Panthers and as soon as free agency opened he signed with the Chicago Bears. Much like Muhammad, Jackson is moving from a passing team to a run oriented team. Muhammad saw his numbers plummet with the Bears the next season. Jackson seems likely to walk in Muhammad’s footsteps this season with the Bucs.
Pierre Garcon – Garcon is no longer a #2 wide receiver, on his new team at least. Garcon moves to the Redskins and will be the #1 target for rookie RG III. Garcon should be a good fit in Shanahan’s offense, which should give him opportunity to go down the field as well as shorter passes with the opportunity to run after the catch. The Redskins added plenty of depth at the receiver position, but Garcon stands out as the clear #1 target with his great playmaking ability and gives RG III a deep threat as well. The downside for Garcon is that RG III is still a rookie and has yet to prove anything in the NFL…yet. There are going to be inconsistent games and Garcon looks like a great keeper value for next year, but I do expect him to make a run at getting his first 1,000 yard receiving season. Garcon was targeted 134 times last year and hauled in 70 catches. I think you can expect the number of targets to decrease, but you have to remember how horrible his quarterback situation was with Curtis Painter discovering that he can’t play quarterback in the NFL. RGIII will be much better than Painter, really stepping out there, and Garcon is a nice sleeper pick this year.
Historical Perspective – Garcon has an example for the good and the bad. The bad would be that this situation has the look of Bernard Berrian 08’. Berrian signed a big contract with the Vikings to be their #1 receiver. Berrian had showed flashes with the Bears and the Vikings expected him to take the next step but he still has yet to have a 1,000 yard receiving season, same as Garcon. The good would a look at Wes Welker. Welker is definitely a different type of receiver than Garcon but he made the jump into an offense that was built for him. We have yet to see what the Redskins offense looks like in a game, but if it is a fit for Garcon then he could take the next step. History is going to lean closer to Berrian knowing there is a rookie QB throwing him the ball for this year anyway.
Brandon Lloyd – Lloyd has proved that sometimes it just takes a little longer for a player to figure it out. With his experience in the NFL he made a very wise veteran move by signing with the New England Patriots. Lloyd is coming off a down year, considering how outstanding his 2010 season was, but having Tom Brady as your quarterback is always a good thing. Lloyd gives the passing game in New England the dimension they were missing last year when Deion Branch was the best outside receiver they had on the team. The big drop for Lloyd last year was in his yards per catch average which fell by 4 yards. In the Patriots offense, coached by Josh McDaniels who Lloyd has played for the last 2 years, we should see more of the opportunities for Lloyd like he had in Denver where he finished with an 18.8 yards per catch average. The problem for Lloyd is that he will be competing for targets with Gronkowski, Hernandez and Welker. Lloyd will have a bounce back year and should be a low WR2 or high WR3.
Historical Perspective – This one is an easy one to get a perspective on. The closest player to him would be himself in 08’ and 09’. The first move for him was a poor one where he signed with Bears and put up anemic stats. The following year he signed with Denver and only played in 2 games. The next year was when he blew up and had the best season of his career. He will regain some of his past glory but history tells us his 10’ season was his career best.
Mario Manningham – Manningham moved 3,000 miles this year and will play for the San Francisco 49ers and like Vincent Jackson, this long move is going to result in a reduction in his production. Manningham is coming from an offense that had the worst rushing attack last season to the 49ers that had the 8th best rushing offense last year averaging nearly 128 yards per game. As with VJax, Manningham had a great quarterback in Eli Manning who is miles ahead of Alex Smith at the position. Not only do the 49ers like to run the ball, but they still have Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and the newly signed Randy Moss. Last season Alex Smith attempted 144 less passes than Eli Manning, which is nearly 10 passes attempts a game. Manningham may have a good game here or there, but he is not a starting receiver this year.
Historical Perspective – There is another two sided coin of history here. Manningham is hoping that he ends up like Plaxico Burress when he made his move from the Steelers to the Giants in 05’. Burress’ Steelers like Manningham’s Giants had lots of talent at the receiver position and the move was great for Burress who had the best season of his career. The downside of the coin would be Derrick Mason 05’. Mason went from the Air McNair offense to the run oriented Ravens. He saw a decrease in his numbers but still had over 1,000 yards but also saw a decrease from 7 TD to 3 TD. I think Manningham can expect Mason like decreases.
Robert Meachem – Meachem has gotten himself out of the crowed pack that was the Saints receiving corps and has landed nicely in San Diego. Meachem has never had more than 45 catches for 722 yards in any season. This year will be different for Meachem and I expect a big year out of him. Meachem is a deep threat receiver, but has never been an every down receiver in the Saints offense. He will have a chance to be that receiver in Norv Turner’s offense which likes to stretch the field. As I had mentioned earlier Philip Rivers attempted 75 passes of 20 yards or more and with VJax gone, you can look for Meachem to be the main beneficiary ahead of Vincent Brown. Rivers had a down year last season throwing a lot of interceptions, but Meachem has great skills and abilities and if he makes the most of his opportunity he could end up being a WR2 this year.
Historical Perspective – Meachem has a lot of similar characteristics to Kevin Curtis 07’. Curtis was a player that had showed signs that he could breakout while playing for the Rams. When he signed with the Eagles he exploded onto the fantasy scene with career highs in receptions, yards and TD. The only problem that happened to Curtis was injuries that really hurt his career after that. Like Curtis Meachem is stepping into a good system with a good quarterback and will be given the chance to shine.
Laurent Robinson – Robinson cashed in on his resurgent season last year signing with the Jaguars and will play opposite rookie Justin Blackmon. That sounds good until you realize that Blaine Gabbert is still the quarterback in Jacksonville. As with many of our free agent wide receivers Robinson took the money, but is not in a good fantasy situation. Going from Romo to Gabbert is going to cost you a lot of production. Gabbert had a putrid 50% completion percentage last season and if he does not have a marked improvement this year then all of the receivers on Jacksonville will suffer. MJD is also still on the team and this is a run oriented offense. Robinson got a nice payday, but in terms of what that means for his fantasy value this year is a sharp decrease.
Historical Perspective – It was more difficult to find matches for Robinson, who saw a resurgence in his career right before hitting the free agent market again. That being said there were a slew of guys who were free agents last season: Sidney Rice, Braylon Edwards, and Mike Simms-Walker. Unfortunately for Robinson all of these players had a very poor season.
John Carlson – Carlson signed a 5 year deal with the Minnesota Vikings. This was a strange signing by the Vikings as they have Kyle Rudolph who they just drafted. It is unclear who is going to be the starter but it seems like the Vikings are intent on running an offense similar to that of the New England Patriots. That being said the chemistry between Ponder and Rudolph has been growing all offseason and Ponder has come out publically to say as much. Carlson is a player who has not been overly impressive in his career to this point. There is no reason to believe that it will start in Minnesota because he signed a big contract.
Historical Perspective – The best hope for Carlson is that he resembles Daniel Graham 07’. Graham went from the Patriots to the Broncos and saw a similar stat line the following season. Last season Carlson had close to the same stats as Graham back in 07’, and those stats did not make Graham a viable option 5 years ago.
Martellus Bennett – Bennett made a nice move this offseason and signed with the defending Super Bowl Champion NY Giants. Bennett is also finally going to get out of the shadow of Jason Witten and have a chance to make an impact on his former team twice a year. This is a great move for Bennett as Eli and the Giants have been looking for that tight end to compliment their outstanding wide receivers. There is a lot of depth at the tight end position and Bennett is going to slide down draft boards. The benefit here is that Bennett is still an unknown, but in this offense he is going to have a chance to make plays. I see Bennett as a late round pick up who could be starting for teams by week 5.
Historical Perspective – I have to say when I did this research the free agent tight ends since 2005 have been nothing short of horrible. The reason is that all the depth at the position has come from the draft since then and teams are keeping their best ones. That being said there was only one free agent tight end that saw an increase in his numbers and that was Marcus Pollard in 05’. I believe he should be able to better that mark and be the best free agent TE value since Pollard.
Dallas Clark – Clark had a great career and totally capitalized on his time with Peyton Manning. Unfortunately for Clark, this is the end of the road as I see it. It breaks my heart to say this about one of my favorite players from my alma mater The University of Iowa. Clark is joining VJax in Tampa and will be a short to mid range target for Freeman, but the days of the 100 yard games with 7+ catches are a thing of the past. The Bucs are a run oriented team and they play conservative football. Clark may make some nice plays this year but he is still an injury risk and is 33 years old. The position has great depth this year and Clark should be left off your draft board this year.
Historical Perspective – History directs us to look at Alge Crumpler 08’. Crumpler had been a very good tight end with Falcons before having a down season and then signing with the Titans in 08’. In Tennessee he saw an even further decrease in his numbers. The history lesson here is that you should not expect an older tight end that used to be productive to regain the glory.