The free agent wide receiver class is especially boring this year, which makes writing about it somewhere between my excitement level for Zoolander 2 and Fuller House. While the names on the free agent list don’t immediately jump off the page, there are still a few moves worth a closer look.
Let’s go back and revisit the last few years of free agent wide receivers in an attempt to help predict how this year’s class might impact the Fantasy Football world.
2015 Free Agent Notables: Dez Bryant, Randall Cobb, Demaryius Thomas, Jeremy Maclin, Torrey Smith, Michael Crabtree, Andre Johnson, Dwayne Bowe, Percy Harvin, Stevie Johnson, Harry Douglas, Ted Ginn Jr., Reggie Wayne, and Nate Washington.
In large part, the 2015 class disappointed Fantasy owners across the board. Bryant, Cobb, Thomas, Maclin and Andre Johnson were all drafted as Top 24 wide receivers, but only Thomas and Maclin returned value. What we do see, however, is the ability for health, opportunity and scheme fit to play a potential large role for some. This was evidenced by Crabtree and Ginn Jr. each thriving in growing offenses, helping them both to outperform their average draft position (ADP).
2014 Free Agent Notables: Emmanuel Sanders, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, Eric Decker, Julian Edelman, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Steve Smith Sr., Brandon LaFell, Anquan Boldin, Ted Ginn Jr., and James Jones.
This class saw the likes of Sanders, Tate, Decker, Jackson, Smith Sr. and LaFell all switch teams and significantly contribute to their owners’ success. Sanders, Tate and LaFell had shown signs of potential and when thrust into a larger role were able to outperform expectations.
2013 Free Agent Notables: Wes Welker, Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe, Victor Cruz, Danny Amendola, Emmanuel Sanders, and Julian Edelman.
The most glaring fact we see when looking at this class is the potential for disappointment and inconsistency when players switch teams. Scheme, rapport, opportunity and timing all play a significant role when it comes to the wide receiver position in the NFL and that can not be underestimated, unlike Ben Affleck.
Looking at the players who switched teams and went on to become significant Fantasy contributors, the list is shorter than Donald Trump’s fingers. Emmanuel Sanders, Golden Tate, Steve Smith Sr. and Michael Crabtree seem to stand alone.
The common thread here seems to be players who are versatile, can be used creatively and have little competition for wide receiver No. 1 targets within their new offense.
Free Agent Wide Receivers
Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
#Bears franchise tag WR Alshon Jeffery at $14.6 mil for ’16.
Jeffery had at least 9 targets and 78 yards in 7-of-9 games in ’15.
— Chris Raybon (@ChrisRaybon) February 29, 2016
Alshon signing a one year franchise tender was probably best case scenario for Fantasy Football owners, which is why he receives a Stock Up grade for 2016. Jeffery finds himself in a contract year with plenty of motivation to excel.
Martellus Bennett has been shipped off to Boston and pass catching running back and common look alike, Matt Forte has sought greener pastures with the Jets.
Before missing seven games last season, health hadn’t been an issue for Jeffery and with seemingly only Kevin White to compete with for targets, he’s poised to return as the Top 10 wide receiver we’ve grown accustomed to.
Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions
Marvin Jones signing for $5 million more than Doug Martin over the same five-year span. Indicates the value of WR vs. RB these days.
— John Paulsen (@4for4_John) March 9, 2016
Jones is the player whose situation most closely resembles that of the aforementioned Emmanuel Sanders, Golden Tate and Michael Crabtree. Jones has shown flashes of being a capable Fantasy producer as a backup or flex option but now has an opportunity to become one of 2016s breakouts.
Calvin Johnson has retired, leaving the door wide open for another productive receiver in Jim Bob Cooter’s (it’s always going to be funny) offensive scheme. Whether it’s Jones, Eric Ebron or both, someone is going to see a large uptick in targets next season.
Chris Hogan, New England Patriots
When I land Chris Hogan on all my dynasty teams and the leagues mock me for dropping so much coin… pic.twitter.com/8ROcyrDmEu
— Dynasty Professor (@thirddowntheory) March 17, 2016
Hogan caught 36 balls for 450 yards and two touchdowns last season in miserable Buffalo and while this signing wouldn’t make headlines for 31 teams in the NFL, a crafty, shifty, gritty, scrappy, white, underutilized wide receiver signing with the New England Patriots feels awfully familiar to Fantasy owners.
Brandon LaFell and his feet for hands are gone, leaving an opening at the outside receiver position in New England. While the Black Unicorn, Martellus Bennett trade may impact Hogan’s red zone productivity, he could see the same opportunity LaFell did in 2014, where he hauled in 74 passes for nearly 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. Stock Up.
Mohamed Sanu, Atlanta Falcons
Sanu, believe it or not, has an opportunity to fill a role the Atlanta Falcons desperately need. Old man Roddy White was not able to separate from the dog house or defenders last season and with virtually no pass catching talent at the tight end position, a reliable possession receiver does have a place in this offense opposite the alien humans refer to as Julio Jones.
Dynasty owners will tell you Justin Hardy is the No. 2 receiver to own in Atlanta next year, and I tend to agree, but whether I think Sanu is talented or not, he just received $14 million guaranteed. He’s going to play. Stock Up.
Travis Benjamin, San Diego Chargers
Benjamin is coming off a career year in Cleveland, so naturally they didn’t resign him. Benjamin is a speedster and many consider him to be a one trick pony, which normally I’d steer clear of. In this case, that trick happens to have a place in the San Diego offense.
Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson and Antonio Gates all may be professional pass catchers, but deep threats they are not. Philip Rivers now has someone at his disposal who can take the top off of defenses, especially if they can establish some semblance of a running game this season.
For those labeling Benjamin as a 2016 bust, name me the non-injury prone pass catchers the Chargers have again? As far as the one trick pony label goes, who doesn’t love a good pony? If it’s good enough for Ron Swanson, it’s good enough for me.
Chris Givens, Philadelphia Eagles
Speaking of a one trick pony, Givens is the definition. He, like Benjamin, has the potential to find a niche in this offense. I don’t believe in Givens’ talent, but the reason he receives a Stock Up grade is because we’ve seen him have moments of success with his new quarterback, Sam Bradford.
Taking a trip into the way back machine, the year was 2012 and Givens was an emerging Fantasy receiver. He’s still only 26 years old and appears to have landed in the one spot that could legitimately resurrect his career. Fly Eagles, Fly! But seriously, he probably won’t be any good.
Brandon LaFell, Cincinnati Bengals
As of March 26, reports suggest LaFell signing with the Bengals is a virtual a lock. Assuming this happens, LaFell finds himself in a situation where his 2014 numbers are repeatable.
Gone is Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu and while the Bengals are rumored to possibly draft a wide receiver to play opposite stud A.J. Green, LaFell is competent enough to be a viable flex option.
Disclaimer: New England fans may disagree with this analysis as they curse LaFell and all he represents.
Mike Wallace, Baltimore Ravens
Still just 29 years old, it’s not inconceivable to think Chad Pennington Jr., Teddy Bridgewater and Lauren Tannehill’s husband, Ryan Tannehill, were simply horrible partners for his skillset. Wallace should merit late round consideration as a possible sleeper candidate this season as he’s now paired with Joe Flacco.
While no one believes in Flacco more than himself, I think it’s safe to say if there’s a quarterback in the league Wallace belongs with, it may be the human unibrow.
Steve Smith Sr. is coming off an Achilles tear, Kamar Aiken did a fine job as a possession receiver and we don’t yet have any type of read on the type of player Breshad Perriman translates to. The door is open. Stock Up.
No Change in Value
Nate Washington, New England Patriots
New England is a nice landing spot for Washington, assuming he makes the team. Washington will be 33 years old to start the season and while his 2015 stats are likely repeatable, they’re not good enough to merit drafting him.
Rishard Matthews, Tennessee Titans
When rumors of Matthews signing with New England swirled, savvy Fantasy owners were already targeting him as a 2016 breakout candidate. Instead, Matthews signed with Tennessee for some inexplicable reason and now has the likes of DeMarco Murray, Delanie Walker, Dorial Green-Beckham and Kendall Wright to compete with.
Granted, anyone is better than Harry Douglas but with the Matthews addition, this offense has the makings of an actual NFL caliber lineup capable of spreading the ball around evenly. Matthews has some ability but unless an injury hits the Titans offense, his potential has been capped. Stock Down.
Rueben Randle, Philadelphia Eagles
Sam Bradford to Rueben Randle, the NFL’s goldilocks connection.
Gotta be juuuust right to work.
— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) March 23, 2016
Randle is a worse version of Jordan Matthews. His route running ability suggests he’ll likely get lost driving to the stadium on game day. If Matthews were to go down with an injury, its conceivable Randle becomes Fantasy viable, as he scored eight touchdowns last season opposite Odell Beckham Jr. The more likely scenario is Sam Bradford + Rueben Randle = Gross.
Kamar Aiken, Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens extended a second round tender to Aiken, meaning we’ll see him back in Baltimore this season. Aiken had a very similar season to the one LaFell had with the Patriots in 2014, catching 75 passes for nearly 1,000 yards and five touchdowns.
Unfortunately for Aiken, he now has to compete with newly signed Ben Watson, Mike Wallace, a healthy Breshad Perriman and apparently Steve Smith Sr. once again. The targets simply won’t be there for Aiken to reproduce that level of production. Stock Down.
Brian Quick, Los Angeles Rams
The experiment is over for the once coveted dynasty diamond in the rough. Case Keenum? No thanks.
Other Free Agent Wide Receivers of Note
- Anquan Boldin
- Percy Harvin
- Andre Johnson
- Roddy White
- Marques Colston
- James Jones
- Hakeem Nicks
- Dwayne Bowe
- Wes Welker
Outside of Colston, Harvin and Boldin, I have zero interest in this group, regardless of where they sign. They’re all terrible.
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