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Now that the coaching carousel has nearly stopped spinning, let’s turn our attention to the free agency market, specifically the 2016 Free Agent Wide Receivers.

I should caution you however that maybe you should not. You’ll notice we said “monitor” not “watch”, as focusing your vision on most of the free agent WR “talent” could be harmful to your eyes.

You might be able to avert your eyes, but your ears will be bombarded the next few months with discussions of restricted and unrestricted free agents. Few however know the difference. To keep it simple, restricted gives the player’s original team the right to match any offer or receive compensation, usually in the form of draft picks. Therefore, few restricted free agents are usually signed by new teams, thus I’ve limited the list below to unrestricted free agents.

Not that unrestricted free agents always sign with new teams either. In fact, I expect a lot of the unrestricted 2016 free agent WRs to re-sign with their current teams. Much of that is due to the amount of cap space the teams of the 2016 free agent WRs have and the importance of those players to those organizations.

So here is how I see the 2016 Free Agent WRs class in descending order below:

2016 Free Agent Wide Receivers

No. 1 Alshon Jeffery

It’s very simple: The 2016 Free Agent WRs start and end with Alshon. If your favorite NFL team needs a WR and whiffs on Alshon, don’t expect too much improvement in the receiving department.

There’s a lot that Jeffery brings to the table. Jeffery has averaged 14.8 yards per reception and has easily topped 1,000 yards in the two seasons he played 16 games.

Therein of course “lies the rub”. Alshon is a bit of injury risk, making him a risky pick for the NFL owner but an even potentially bigger headache for the fantasy owner. When healthy, he’s clearly a stud WR1.

Should he end up with a stud QB and WR-needy team like Carolina, look out. But don’t be surprised if the Chiefs, with over $11M more cap space than Carolina makes a run at him. The more likely situation however is that Chicago keeps him given that they have the fourth highest amount of cap space.

No. 2 Travis Benjamin

Benjamin had only 966 yards, but given the putridity of the Browns passing offense, the high level of difficulty of achieving that feat makes it more impressive.

Like Alshon above, I expect the Browns will try to resign Benjamin and given their ample $35M cap space, they probably will. Realize that in his three previous years with Cleveland, Benjamin did very little, but with a career average of over 15 yards per reception, the potential is there.

 No. 3 Anquan Boldin

“Q” had his worst season in San Francisco this year and his lowest yardage output since his second season in Arizona when he played only ten games. He’ll turn 36 this coming October, so there are a few reasons to be wary. But let me remind you that we’ve heard this before.

Already thought to be “old” and a cap casualty after his 2012 season in Baltimore, Boldin responded with 85 catches, nearly 1200 receiving yards, and seven TDs.

Even if the 49ers don’t, some team will take a chance on him; likewise I would leave him off your draft sheet at your own peril.

No. 4 Rueben Randle

Randle might be Exhibit 1A of a receiver who many still have high expectations of, but as his rookie contract expires has yet to warrant those expectations. Coming from the WR factory that is LSU (Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham to name just a couple recent studs), Randle has yet to see the numbers his fellow alumnae have racked up. He did however see his TD totals jump to eight this year.

Yes, ODB is a target hog, but part of the reason Randle has not seen as many targets from Eli Manning is Randle rarely gets the separation he should. In case you didn’t watch any Giant games this year to count how many times Randle got separation, let’s just say that even JPP would have no problem counting them on his fingers.

The Quinton Dunbar interception for example sticks in my mind as Randle never gets even an arm’s length away and the space actually decreases as the play continues. Yes, some of this falls on Eli Manning. However, I’d argue the biggest reason is because he should know Randle doesn’t get separation.

Given the no-shows by Victor Cruz and Nicks over the last couple years, Randle should have done a lot more, especially given that he had only 57 catches for less than 800 yards this past year. The potential is still there for Randle to provide valuable fantasy production. But the track record says otherwise.

No. 5 James Jones

So one of my leaguemates who was a James Jones owner started off 5-0 and then proceeded to go 1-7. James Jones mirrored that performance, scoring six touchdowns in the first six weeks and then two touchdowns the rest of the way.

With Jordy Nelson due back and Jeff Janis stepping up recently, Jones is probably expendable to the Packers. Some team will sign the nine year veteran as he has proven a worthwhile WR3. But his 8-TD 890 yards is the ceiling, not the likelihood.

No. 6 Marvin Jones/Mohamed Sanu

With the godliness that is my fantasy football knowledge comes some very embarrassing moments, including the fact that I get these two mixed up sometimes; therefore I’ve listed them together.

I suspect one of these WRs will be retained by the Bengals, but not both. Despite my confusion, I can confidently tell you that Jones is the more desirable of the two, coming off a season of 65 catches for 816 cards. Jones also had the far better year in 2013, snagging 51 passes for 712 yards and double digit touchdowns.

Sanu currently has the larger cap hit and is likely to be a cap casualty. Sanu is still young enough and enough of a valuable “real life” player to garner attention, but is not worth rostering on a fantasy roster should some other team sign him. However, should Jones prove difficult to resign and Sanu become the WR2 for the Bengals, he does have enough upside for late pick consideration.

No. 7 Jermaine Kearse

As the Divisional Playoff Round proved (11 catches for 110 receiving yards and two TDs), Kearse can still be a valuable asset.

However, with Doug Baldwin clearly Russel Wilson’s first option and Tyler Locket coming into his own, Kearse might be the odd man out in Seattle. And let’s not forget Jimmy Graham either.

Kearse is a local hero who played his college football at nearby Washington, but very well might be on his way out. Given that’s he’s never even had 50 catches as a Seahawk, I wouldn’t expect more than that outside of the state of Washington either.

No. 8 Malcom Floyd

Technically, he’s a free agent this year but has said he’s retiring. Floyd has given his owners some good games over the years, but the fact that a 34-year-old who has never scored more than six touchdown or had even 60 receptions is this high on the list tells you how weak the 2016 free agent WRs crop is.

No. 9 Rishard Matthews

Some other team or Miami might resign him given how he started the year (16 catches for over 250 yards and three TDs in three weeks), but he’s coming off an injury, Landry and DeVante Parker are clearly ahead of him, and Kenny Stills is still signed through 2016. Keep your expectations low no matter where he signs.

No. 10 Lance Moore

If Calvin Johnson retires, I would not be surprised to see Detroit resign Moore as an insurance plan. He does have a season with over 1,000 receiving yards and another with ten touchdowns.

No. 11 Darrius Heyward-Bey

DHB has stepped up when the various combinations of Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Markus Wheaton were out.

The Steelers have the 7th least amount of cap space, and I see him being signed by one of the Steelers AFC North rivals. However, if he’s willing to come back at his 2015 cap hit of $665K, Pittsburgh will probably resign him. But is a WR4 on a high scoring offense worth a spot of your roster? I say no.

No. 12 Andre Holmes

When I said the WR FA ranks were thin, I meant it. He might be willing to resign with the Raiders, but with Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper ahead of him on the depth chart, I don’t see Holmes worth rostering or drafting. Even in 2014 when he might have been the de facto WR1 on the Raiders, he still only caught 47 passes for 693 yards. But a 6’4 receiver can often be a red zone threat and I would expect a WR-needy team to sign him cheaply.

The Remaining Top 20 “Interesting” 2016 Free Agent WRs (in no particular order….)

Brian Quick:

Still might have dynasty/keeper value. Maybe. (Watch him sky for the TD catch below)

 

Percy Harvin:

Still has gadget play potential. Not worth the risk.

Rod Streater:

See Andre Holmes; probably not worth a look either.

Andre Caldwell:

Denver will probably go with Cody Lattimer as their WR3 and the market for Caldwell will be lukewarm at best.

Jason Avant:

With Jeremy Maclin hobbled, had the best hands of any KC receiver this past weekend. That’s about the best thing we can say about him.

Hakeem Nicks:

Yes, he’s still in the league and guess what, he’s only 28 years old. Someone will sign him. Doesn’t mean you should.

Leonard Hankerson:

He did have six catches for 103 yards and a touchdown against Houston earlier this year. And so ends the highlight notes for Hankerson.

 

The good news is that some of the other major fantasy positions have more to offer in free agency. Yes, you might have to avert your eyes, but there’s your list of the “top” 2016 Free Agent WRs.


Also please check out the rest of our 2016 Free Agent Reviews

Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Tight Ends|

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