Mar 23, 2012
I am back with this blog for at least the next four months after shutting it down last summer. The reason I shut it down was because I was getting too many questions from readers in the comments section to answer them. While I’m more than happy to answer all questions when I have time, the comments aren’t supposed to be a back-and-forth Q & A like a chat session. The comments are really for readers to chime in with their own thoughts, and as you may have noticed we did a ton of chats last year (60+) to answer reader questions. In fact, I had several in-season chats go 100+ minutes, so I answered hundreds and hundreds of questions in 2011.
Now on to my first post in 2012…
If I’ve noticed one thing about free agency over the years, it’s that most of the players who aren’t elite options at their position and move on to new teams don’t do squat for fantasy. This is why teams like the Packers and Steelers, who rarely participate in the early buying stages of free agency, are consistently good. If another team isn’t willing to pay an impact player they currently own, then why should they want to pay him? There are certainly some exceptions, but for the most part, free agency is overhyped, especially for fantasy.
That said there will be some impactful moves this year. It’s just my job to isolate the ones that will turn out well, and also pointing out those that won’t mean much once the season starts. We’ve still got a ways to go in free agency, but here are my top-5 moves thus far.
Note: If you haven’t seen it already, we’re tracking ALL the moves online here.
#1 – Peyton Manning to the Broncos – I think Manning is the most valuable player in the history of the NFL, so I’m clearly going to be high on him, even on his new team. I believe the key to Manning picking the Broncos is the same key that will help him achieve success: flexibility. Manning is a creature of habit, and it would have been dangerous to ask him to change some of his routines. Clearly, the Broncos will not do that, so Manning’s going to run the exact offense he’s run in the past. The health issue is obviously a huge key, but when you connect all the dots, starting in December, when there were some rumblings that he might even suit up for a game or two to close out the 2011 season, it does appear as if he’s out of the woods. We can’t expect brilliance right out of the gate, but a full offseason and training camp may be enough for Manning to play at a level resembling his usual All-Pro level. He’ll also have to develop chemistry with his receivers, which could take some time. That’s why I’m going to be somewhat cautious with Manning and his projections. But he’s in the top-10, no question. Even though the team added the versatile Andre Caldwell, I’m most intrigued by Eric Decker, who was fantastic in 2011. Decker can play inside and outside, and his excellent route-running tells me he could be Manning’s guy. Demaryius Thomas is more talented, but in a PPR league I expect us to rank Decker higher. This solid duo is a nice start for Manning, but they have some other puzzle pieces (and could bring in more) in TEs Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen and Julius Thomas, who is incredibly intriguing for a keeper or dynasty league now. Tamme, of course, played with Manning for several years in Indy, so he’s a nice add for them and has significant value in 2012 while helping Manning find a comfort level. The OL in Denver is solid, and right now their stable of RBs is serviceable enough. He’s been a major bust, but having Knowshon Moreno at his disposal to pair with Willis McGahee should help balance out the offense. John Fox is all about running the ball, and while I expect Manning to be Manning for the most part, it might be a good idea for his offense to feature the running game a little more than we’ve seen in Manning’s past. They may not be done picking up players and may add an impact RB, too. Defensively, it’s interesting how Manning teams are usually built to play with a lead with pass-rushing the top priority, and Denver has one of the better duos in the league in Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller.
2012 Projection: 3750 passing yards, 27 TDs
#2 – Brandon Marshall to the Bears – This isn’t a free agent move, but it’s certainly close enough. Marshall’s a guy who drives us nuts, like Vincent Jackson below, but unlike Jackson, Marshall’s actually come through and posted the massive numbers (206/2590/16 from 2008-2009) one would expect from an imposing and dominant player. His TD totals have been strangely low, but the pitch-and-catch he had going on in Denver with Jay Cutler was downright impressive. And it’s worth pointing out that he averaged 8 TDs a year his two big seasons with Cutler. Had Marshall scored 8 TDs in Miami last year, he would have finished 9th in WR scoring, and that’s with Chad Henne and Matt Moore. Now the duo is back together, which is big for both players. Cutler loves throwing the ball to a big, physical receiver because he’s not afraid to make risky throws, so the pair complement each other very well. Their chemistry has also been fantastic. This addition is huge for Cutler, who now has a chance to put up strong numbers now that he finally has a legit go-to guy. The move will also make their other players more effective, and I can see a healthy Johnny Knox (things are positive, but he’s far from a lock still) returning to form with a lessoned role that will entail less responsibility. In addition, Earl Bennett projects best as an inside slot receiver. If all goes well, you have your go-to guy in Marshall, your deep threat in Knox, and your chain-mover in Bennett, so Cutler’s stock is on the rise. Marshall may not average 12 targets a game like he did in 2008, but 10 is very realistic, which puts him at 160 targets if he can play all 16 games. If he can bump his catch rate up from 58% to just 60%, which is very doable, that would give Marshall 102 grabs, which is fantastic. He’s a ticking time bomb, but there’s a lot to be said about how active he’ll be, and how productive he should be with an elite passer tossing him the rock. I’ll take my chances on him.
2012 Projection: 92 catches for 1250 yards, 8 TDs
#3 – Vincent Jackson to the Bucs – I know he’s been a real pain in the ass because of his inconsistency, but if you’re not impressed with Jackson’s skills, then you’ve got some really high standards. There’s definitely something going on with Jackson that has prevented him from truly busting out. In the past, we could blame TE Antonio Gates, but Gates is slowing down, so Jackson should have been more productive or at least consistent in 2011 (his 54% catch rate in 2011 was mediocre to be kind). But I still like the move for Tampa. It was imperative for them to give QB Josh Freeman a legit #1 wideout because we learned in 2011 that Mike Williams was miscast in that role. They also greatly needed speed at receiver, and Jackson gives them these things plus a great red zone option (Freeman struggled badly inside the 20 this year). Jackson, with great size and physicality, also fits in well with a power running offense, which the Bucs will run, and his downfield presence will help their running game. Jackson won’t put up big numbers here this year, but his arrival gives Freeman a chance to flirt with a top-10 finish at QB this year, and Jackson should approach double-digit TDs. What he may not do, however, is rack up a ton of catches for a lot of yards.
2012 Projection: 70 catches for 1100 yards and 7 TDs
#4 – BenJarvus Green-Ellis to the Bengals – First of all, I’m going to try my best not to get caught up in the whole “volume back” thing because, as we learned in 2011, a lot of times these guys who rely on a heavy workload on the ground have a small margin for error and can be very underwhelming. But for now, this move has to rank highly because Law Firm is clearly going to be the main guy, and this should be a pretty solid offense. Green-Ellis isn’t special, and he did run out of pass-happy offense last year, which can disguise some limitations. But the guy is a damn good goal line back (24 rushing TDs the last two years), probably better than Cedric Benson, who struggled a bit in short yardage for the Bengals. BJGE’s receiving production has been poor, but he has caught 70% of his targets the last two years, and he claims his lack of production as a receiver is simply a function of them not throwing it to him. He’s not going to rack up 40+ catches, but 30-35 should be doable, which should help his cause. Otherwise, he is a solid sustainer who does all the right things, and he never fumbles (0 lost fumbles in his career), so he should be good for 250 touches this year. I expect the Bengals to add one of the many solid complementary backs in the draft in about the 3rd or 4th round, or perhaps another serviceable backup in free agency, plus they do still have the speedy Bernard Scott (although I’m not expecting much more than what we’ve already seen from him). So while Law Firm may crack our top-25 at RB in August simply because there are so many committees, I’m not going to rank him particularly high overall.
2012 Projection: 235 carries for 925 yards and 8 TDs with 30/175/0 receiving
#5 – Peyton Hillis to the Chiefs – This was a pretty savvy move by KC, since no one knows exactly how quickly Jamaal Charles will return to form coming off his ACL injury. If need be, Hillis can be the guy here for most of the season, if not the entire campaign (he does need some help, as we saw in 2010). Even if Charles is in top-top shape, the move is still a great one because there’s no question his exposure needs to be limited, and while he’s actually a pretty good inside running, Charles is hardly the banger they need to complement him and Dexter McCluster and their offense. Hillis is on a one-year deal, so it would behoove him to run with a sense of urgency all year and “bring it,” which he obviously can. He was rarely healthy in Cleveland last year, but when he was, I saw essentially the same guy who shocked the fantasy world in 2010 with a top-3 season. Speaking of 2010 in Cleveland, Hillis will be reunited this year with OC Brian Daboll, who was with the Browns that year, so he knows the playbook. KC has weapons in the passing game, which is good, but they still need to rely heavily on their running game because QB Matt Cassel simply isn’t very good. I also like the upgrade they made on their OL with the addition of RT Eric Winston.
2012 Projection: 195 carries for 775 yards and 7 TDs with 38 catches for 245 yards and 1 TD receiving.
Just missed the cut:
#6 – Brandon Lloyd to the Patriots – Love the fit, obviously, and I will draft him even though there’s only one ball in NE.
#7 – Michael Bush to the Bears – He could be higher simply because he’ll affect Matt Forte, but Forte is still the guy.
#8 – Matt Flynn to the Seahawks – I like this fit a lot, but more so in NFL terms.
#9 – Robert Meachem to Chargers – I’m optimistic for sure, but this could be a bit of a WRBC.
#10 – Pierre Garcon to Redskins – On paper it’s a good signing, but he’ll be playing with a rookie and he’s inconsistent himself.
Check here for analysis on all FA moves thus far.