Last Updated: 4/23/13 @ 11:25 a.m. ET
The newest cliché around the NFL is “there is no off-season,” and considering we’ll be publishing one of our biggest and most important articles of the year in March, we suppose that’s true. But the 2013 Free Agency Tracker will indeed provide a strong baseline for scouting reports drawn up later in the year, and if you’re like us, it’s never too early to start formulating opinions.
We’ll usually include analysis on many signings immediately, especially the important ones. But as a general rule, it’s safe to assume we’ll have all key signings included no later than 24 hours after the signing is official. The key word is “official,” as we may hold off on writing up some reported signings until they are confirmed by the teams. It’s also important to note that any analysis here is quick and also early. These first impressions are subject to change.
So check back here regularly to keep up with the fantasy impact of all of these signings.
Note: We won’t just update new signings but will also tweak finished writeups once additional details come out and situations become a little clearer.
Players acquired by new teams:
Note: Players ordered by projected fantasy impact.
Fantasy Analysis: The Chiefs own the #1 overall pick in April, but it’s evident that new coach Andy Reid is not enamored with any of the QBs who will be available with that pick. Remember, Reid enjoyed 14 mostly successful years in Philadelphia in large part because he drafted and developed Donovan McNabb with his first ever pick as the Eagles’ top dog. Bringing in a young franchise QB who can anchor an offense for a decade is still the best course of action for sustained success in the NFL. So how telling is it that Reid, who has ended up on the better end of veteran QB trades in the past with the Redskins, Dolphins, and Cardinals, is willing to offer a pretty hefty package for a solid and smart but ultimately limited passer who needs a lot to go right around him to win games? But in that regard, Smith will at least do more for the Chiefs than either Matt Cassel or Brady Quinn did this past season, even if the fit isn’t ideal. In his “career year” of 2011, Smith averaged fewer than 28 pass attempts per game. By comparison, Eagle rookie QB Nick Foles attempted more than 28 passes in six of his seven games of action this season under Reid. Additionally, in 2011, Smith posted a 1.1% INT rate (a league-low) and a 9.0% sack rate, a league high. This implies that Smith was coached to simply eat the football, not turn it over, and keep the clock moving. Does that sound like a Reid QB to you? Hey, perhaps he’s been spooked these last few years by Michael Vick’s turnovers. Moreover, Smith’s YPA in 2011 was 7.1, and Reid’s QBs typically average almost a full yard more than that. In other words, is Reid going to adjust his entire philosophy because of his new QB, or is he going to try to fit a square peg into a round hole? The good news for Smith is that the Chiefs also re-signed top WR Dwayne Bowe to a monster contract, and RB Jamaal Charles will be absolutely perfect for Smith’s checkdown game. They’ve added free agent wideout Donnie Avery, and TE Tony Moeaki is now a full year removed from ACL surgery, so Reid and Smith have some intriguing toys to work with. Kansas City is a talented team, much more so than its 2-14 record would indicate, and perhaps Reid sees Smith as the perfect player to transition the Chiefs back to contention, much like he did with the 49ers in 2011. But his impact on the fantasy level is probably more positive for his teammates than it will be for Smith himself. There is the fairly curious presence of Chase Daniel, one of the better free agent QBs this year, to potentially loom over Smith’s shoulder, but the team has been pretty clear that there won’t be an open competition for the starting job, which is all Smith’s. We have a hard time envisioning Smith as more than a decent fantasy backup in 2013, but it’s possible he significantly boosts the value of those around him simply by being okay.
Fantasy Analysis: Palmer clearly isn’t the elite QB he was nearly a decade ago, but this move has to be music to the ears of Larry Fitzgerald fans and fantasy owners. Past his prime or not, Palmer automatically becomes the Cardinals’ best QB since Kurt Warner retired, and he should help Fitz improve on his awful 2012 season (thanks Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, andRyan Lindley). Last season, Palmer put up solid numbers for fantasy purposes, completing 345/565 of his passes for 4018 yards, 22 TDs, and 16 INTs. If you watched the Raiders in 2012 (which we hope you didn’t have to often), Palmer did a lot of his work in garbage time after the Raiders fell behind in the second half. Luckily, garbage-time production counts just the same for fantasy, and Palmer had six games with at least 300 yards passing this year (including one 400-yard performance). He ended up finishing 16th among QBs this year with 19.9 FPG while playing in 15 games. Palmer played in just a few snaps in his last game in Week Sixteen, so he was 13th among QBs with 21.2 FPG through Week Fifteen, when he got most of his playing time, so he was actually a borderline fantasy starter. Palmer cracked his ribs and bruised his lung against the Panthers late in the season and missed the final game of the year, but he’s expected to make a full recovery and be ready for off-season workouts. He now joins a totally revamped QB depth chart with Drew Stanton and Brian Hoyer, so while the Cardinals still appear to be a bottom-feeder in the ultra-competitive NFC West, they at least have a fighter’s chance to compete. Although his arm strength isn’t near what it once was, Palmer should be a good fit in the offense of new coach Bruce Arians, and while we wouldn’t rule out Arizona spending an early pick on a QB, the addition of Palmer makes it much less a necessity. Palmer’s presence should also help the development of youngsters Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts, and a particularly interesting player to watch in 2013 could be TE Rob Housler, given the chemistry Palmer showed with the previously unknown Brandon Myers in Oakland last season (Housler actually has more physical ability than Myers). If the Cardinals can improve their awful offensive line, a huge question, this could be a sneaky-good offense, and Palmer could be a more consistent fantasy option, potentially a high-end backup/low-end starter. The presence of Fitzgerald already puts Palmer ahead of where he was in Oakland last season, when he had to put up numbers with Myers and the inconsistent WR duo ofDenarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Fantasy Analysis: Kolb has made a lot of money with little production during his time with the Eagles and Cardinals. Arizona cut him loose before a bonus was due in early March, as expected, and in a weak year for QBs on the open market, Kolb was expected to find work rather quickly. In 2012, he was limited to just six games after suffering detached ribs and a shoulder separation. In those six games, Kolb was 109/183 (59.6%) for 1169 yards with 8 TDs and 3 INTs, putting him at 17.8 FPG. Concussion issues and a foot injury limited him to just nine games in 2011. Kolb functions better without deep dropbacks, which was the problem in Arizona, especially with a terrible OL. The Bills are expected to run a version of the K-Gun offense, which should help Kolb, as he functions better in a quick-paced scheme. While the Bills also have Tarvaris Jackson on the roster, it certainly looks like Kolb will be the favorite to start although he won’t have much to work with in the receiving corps besides WR Stevie Johnson.
Fantasy Analysis: Just over a year ago, Flynn turned one monster performance at the end of 2011 into a three-year deal worth $28 million including $10 guaranteed with the Seahawks. While the team also drafted QB Russell Wilson and had QB Tarvaris Jackson on the roster, it was believed that Flynn would end up as the starter. HC Pete Carroll insisted it was an open competition and thanks to the strong play of Wilson and Flynn’s arm issues in the preseason, Wilson ending up as the clear winner of the competition and went on to have a strong rookie season. With Wilson firmly entrenched as the team’s starter heading into 2013, it was only a matter of time before Flynn was traded. Outside of his big game in Week Seventeen of 2011 and one other start in 2010, we haven’t seen much of Flynn in his five seasons. Now, Flynn will join a Raider team that looks like it may be one of the worst in the league. His top receiver, Denarius Moore, had 51/747/7 on 112 targets last season. With the departures of WR Darrius Heyward-Bey and TE Brandon Myers, the Raider with the most catches after Moore is WR Rod Streater, who had 39/584/3 on 74 targets as a rookie. Flynn, who will be 28 when the season starts, is reunited with GM Reggie McKenzie from their time together in Green Bay. As of now, Flynn is expected to be the favorite to start considering the only competition appears to be Terrelle Pryor with Carson Palmer heading out of town.
Fantasy Analysis: Stanton didn’t take a snap as Andrew Luck’s backup after he requested a trade from the Jets over the summer. Stanton had signed with the Jets in hopes he’d be the #2 behind Mark Sanchez, a plan that blew up when the club dealt for Tim Tebow. Stanton follows former Colt OC and new Cardinal HC Bruce Arians to Arizona where the QB situation is far from settled, thanks to injuries suffered by Kevin Kolb over the last two seasons and the backups showing no signs of being adequate replacements. Kolb has been cut, and Arians was reportedly very happy with the work Stanton did in practice as a member of the Colts, but we’ll see if that can translate to anything more in Arizona. Stanton has just 12 appearances and four starts in five seasons, but hasn’t taken a snap since he was with the Lions in 2010. For what it’s worth, he acquitted himself fairly well that season for Detroit. For now, it looks like he and Brian Hoyer will compete for the starting job here. Stanton was promised a chance to compete, according to FOXSports.com.
Fantasy Analysis: The Titans wasted no time filling their backup QB role when they released Matt Hasselbeck on March 18, signing Fitzpatrick just a few hours later. As much as Fitzpatrick’s Harvard education is discussed, it’s clear he’s not a dummy here: while he will definitely enter the season as the backup to the talented Jake Locker, he clearly realizes that Locker has battled serious injury issues and inconsistency in his two NFL seasons thus far. In the event Locker can’t play up to his talent level again, the Titans have a very experienced backup in Fitzpatrick to lean on. In terms of being a starter, it’s not like Fitzpatrick is bad; it’s just that he’s not good enough. That’s the problem with a lot of NFL QBs, and the Bills knew it when they cut him and decided to build from the ground up at the position. In 2012, Fitz went for 306/505 passing (60.6%) for 3400 yards with 24 TDs and 16 INTs in 16 starts. He added 49/201/1 rushing, and ranked 19th among all QBs with 18.3 FPG. As the Bills’ starter, it was Fitzpatrick’s worst fantasy performance, which probably shouldn’t be shocking, considering he lost WR David Nelson in Week One and really had nothing outside of Stevie Johnson on the perimeter. In Tennessee, he’ll have an interesting set of WRs that features Kendall Wright and, for now, Nate Washington and Kenny Britt. He also has two interesting TEs in Delanie Walker and Taylor Thompson. If Fitzpatrick is pressed into action, he’s shown he can be a viable fantasy fill-in, much like he’ll be in reality for the remainder of his NFL career.
Fantasy Analysis: It didn’t take long for Hasselbeck to find work as a backup quarterback. Just hours after the Titans decided to part ways with the veteran, Hasselbeck signed with the division-rival Colts. Hasselbeck, a longtime veteran of West Coast offenses, should immediately pick up on new OC Pep Hamilton’s version. Hasselbeck will bring 14 years of NFL experience to Indianapolis, and he should be a positive influence on young QB Andrew Luck. Hasselbeck saw action in eight games last year (five starts) as the backup to Titan QB Jake Locker, completing 138/221 (62.4% completion percentage) for 1361 yards, 7 TDs, and 5 INTs for 12.5 FPG. Hasselbeck immediately steps in as Luck’s backup, ahead of 2012 7th-round pick Chandler Harnish. As a veteran presence, Hasselbeck should be a big asset for the Colts, as he’s familiar with the division from his time in Tennessee. Even if he doesn’t take a snap (like Drew Stanton last year), that should give the Colts a little edge. Hasselbeck, at 37, is certainly heading to the end of his career, but he should help Luck’s development for at least the 2013 season.
Fantasy Analysis: For the last two seasons, Garrard found himself in the hunt to start in training camp, only to end up sidelined by injuries. In 2011, Garrard was part of the final cuts in Jacksonville, thanks to a back injury that kept him out all season after he needed surgery. He ended up signing with the Dolphins and was supposed to be part of a three-way battle for the starting job with Matt Moore and rookie Ryan Tannehill, but a knee injury took him out of the running, with Garrard needing arthroscopic surgery. He hasn’t taken a snap in the regular season since 2010, but he is expected to compete for the job with Mark Sanchez and others the Jets may bring in at the QB position. Garrard worked out for the Jets in early March and apparently showed enough to warrant a deal, although terms weren’t disclosed. Garrard is a mediocre player in all facets and tends to be robotic, as he looks like he’s playing in slow motion, but the Jets are hoping to find someone to help them cut down on the turnovers Sanchez has piled up in recent seasons.
Fantasy Analysis: In one of the more curious signings of free agency, the Chiefs added Daniel on a multi-year deal. What’s interesting about it? Well, there are some around the league who believe Daniel has a legitimate chance to start in the NFL. Given what the Chiefs just gave up to acquire Alex Smith, it’s certainly eyebrow-raising at a minimum that they added perhaps the best QB on the free-agent market. Although he’s been pretty impressive in the preseason over the last few years, as Drew Brees’ primary backup the last few seasons, Daniel has thrown a grand total of 9 passes in the regular season, completing 7 of them for 55 yards, with no TDs or INTs. It’s understandable that the durable Brees wouldn’t require his backup to throw too many passes, but it’s also meant that Daniel hasn’t had his chance to show his stuff. Like Brees, he’s an undersized passer at 6’0”, but he possesses a strong arm and the ability to create lanes with pocket movement and good vision. Daniel, who was a prolific passer at the University of Missouri, has publicly stated he wants an opportunity to start. He’s a very nice scheme fit with Andy Reid in Kansas City, but will he get a legitimate shot to compete? We doubt it, at least from the start, but in the event Smith collapses, the Chiefs now have a very good backup plan.
Fantasy Analysis: There’s absolutely no doubt that Cassel had a disastrous 2012 season. He threw 6 TDs and 12 INTs in nine games of action, and his failures to even play decent football meant a pretty talented roster in Kansas City went 2-14, and the entire power structure of the team was gutted. Cassel was released after the Chiefs added Alex Smith and Chase Daniel, and now he lands in Minnesota, where he’ll back up Christian Ponder, according to GM Rick Spielman. While Spielman said specifically that Cassel is the club’s second-stringer, we don’t doubt that a former NFL starter with some success in that role will push Ponder to improve. But for fantasy purposes, it’s hard to imagine Cassel having much success in the event he’s pressed into action unless the Vikings significantly improve their barren WR position. He doesn’t have a particularly strong arm, and he’s also struggled with accuracy in recent years. That’s not the best combo. But the point for the Vikings is that he’s going to be a more effective backup than Joe Webb.
Fantasy Analysis: While the Browns were expected to provide competition for QB Brandon Weeden, it won’t come from McCoy. With the singing of veteran QB Jason Campbell, Cleveland didn’t have much need for McCoy. And with the 49ers trading QB Alex Smith to the Chiefs, they had a need for a backup to QB Colin Kaepernick. McCoy took over the starting job in Cleveland six weeks into his rookie season back in 2010, but dealt with ankle issues that limited him to eight games. In 2011, he struggled in 13 starts before going out with a concussion. That year completed 57.2% of his passes for 2733 yards with 14 TDs and 11 INTs. McCoy served as the primary backup to Weeden in 2012 and appeared in just three games. Limited arm strength has been a major issue for McCoy, but considering he has starting experience and is only 26 heading into the final year of his rookie deal, the move looks like a smart one, especially since the only other option to back up Kaepernick is Scott Tolzien, who has never started a game.
Fantasy Analysis: Skelton will compete with Josh Johnson to be the primary backup behind Andy Dalton. Certainly talented, Skelton has just never been able to exhibit any sort of mental or mechanical consistency in his time with Arizona. Skelton is big and burly, features a cannon for an arm, and seems totally willing to stand in the pocket to take hits. That’s why he initially beat out Kevin Kolb for the Cardinals’ starting job during the summer, but he got injured in Week One and then lost out to Kolb based on performance. After Kolb’s rib injury, Skelton returned to the starting lineup in Week Seven for four games, but he was benched again in Week Eleven following a 2/7 start. From Weeks Seven through Nine, when Skelton played the majority of his football, he went 80/134 for 858 yards (59.7%) with 2 TDs and 3 INTs, ranking 21st with 17.0 FPG. But it was evident to then-coach Ken Whisenhunt that Skelton just didn’t see the field and process information well enough to be an NFL starter, so Whisenhunt went to sixth-round rookie Ryan Lindley. Clearly, new coach Bruce Arians saw the same problems, and Skelton was made expendable once the Cards acquired Carson Palmer.
Fantasy Analysis: The Steelers have finally upgraded their backup QB spot behind starter Ben Roethlisberger, in a move that has been long overdue. Big Ben has missed eight games over the last three seasons, and he hasn’t played a full season since 2008, so the Steelers desperately needed a reliable backup. Gradkowski will bring some stability to Pittsburgh, having 20 NFL starts under his belt. Gradkowski, a Pittsburgh native, played the last two years in Cincinnati, but he played in just three games and threw 18 passes. Roethlisberger missed three games in 2012 because of a rib injury, and the Steelers stumbled down the stretch with shaky backup play and Big Ben struggling, so Gradkowski will bring much needed depth to the quarterback spot. He’s a mobile guy who improvises, a lot like Roethlisberger, but he lacks Ben’s size and huge arm. He’s still a major upgrade at backup QB for Pittsburgh.
Fantasy Analysis: Although he was thrown into a pretty ugly situation following the dismal play of Matt Cassel this past season, Quinn proved beyond a reasonable doubt in 2012 that he’s incapable of moving the football consistently, or even inconsistently. He saw action in 10 game, making eight starts, completing 112/197 passes (a career-high 57.1%) for 1141 yards, just 2 TDs, and 8 INTs. He had one brilliant game in Week Thirteen (completed 82.6% of his passes), but that performance was a mirage aided by an incredibly effective running game behind him. Fortunately, he’ll have that in Seattle. Quinn’s “experience” as an occasional NFL starter helped him land a chance to compete behind Russell Wilson, and he has decent enough arm strength and size. But this is a guy with 12 TD passes and 17 INTs in six seasons of work who carried worries of scattershot accuracy with him into the pros from college, and you can count the good games Quinn has played in his career on two or three fingers. If he’s the Seahawks’ #2 this year, they had better hope Wilson stays healthy.
Fantasy Analysis: The Saints finally added a second quarterback to back up Drew Brees. It appears that McCown will be the backup in 2013, unless the Saints use a high draft pick on a quarterback in April’s draft (they lost Chase Daniel to the Chiefs in free agency). McCown spent last off-season with the Saints when Brees missed OTAs as the team worked out a deal with their star QB. The Saints eventually released McCown in August, and he latched on with the Falcons for the 2012 season. McCown made appearances in two games last season without attempting a pass, and he last threw a pass in 2011 with the Jaguars.
Fantasy Analysis: After working out for the Raiders along with Tyler Thigpen, Wallace didn't end up in Oakland and now joins Luke McCown to battle for the backup job to Drew Brees. Wallace was cut by the Browns in training camp last year and was out of the league for the 2012 season. Wallace last played in 2011, when he had three starts in six appearances for the Browns, completing just 51.7% of his passes for 567 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs. Wallace, who will be 33 when the season begins, will have to beat out McCown, who also signed with the team this offseason.
Fantasy Analysis: Johnson signed with the 49ers last off-season but didn’t make their final roster. He then proceeded to play one snap in Week Seventeen with the Browns, losing a fumble when he got sacked. So it could have been a better year for Johnson, obviously. But with the read option exploding onto the scene the way it did in 2012, it’s not surprising that Johnson has found work. He’s incredibly athletic and his a big arm, so he’s a strong backup for teams with dreams of running a read option offense. The Bengals might not be exactly that with Andy Dalton, but Johnson still will provide an intriguing backup. He has five career starts, throwing 5 TDs against 10 INTs, so at least he has some experience.
Fantasy Analysis: While Bush has done a solid job the last two years proving he can be a legitimate “lead” back with 225 carries per season on average, the real key to his fantasy value in Detroit could be whether or not you’re in a PPR league. Bush will likely be handed the “starting” job for the Lions, but Detroit is still fairly committed to Mikel Leshoure, who was very effective as a goal-line back in 2012. If Leshoure can regain some of the explosiveness that was missing in 2012 another year removed from his Achilles injury, there should be an active role for him as their power runner/closer as well as their short-yardage and goal line back. Leshoure scored a TD in five of their last seven games, and he had a very high TD conversion rate on his goal-line carries this past year. So while Bush should be a lock for 15+ touches per game, he might not score a lot of TDs, since the Lions do like to run inside the 5, and last year they liked to run it with Leshoure. It’s also worth noting that Bush did seem to regress as a runner last year, as he wasn’t as decisive and seemed to lose some patience while attempting to bust too many runs outside. So ironically, while the Lions have failed to have a legit base running attack for years, we’re not sure they will now with Bush in the fold. However, what they have on the roster now is a versatile weapon who will clearly give their offense a big boost. Bush had only 78/588/3 receiving in 31 games as a Dolphin, an average of only 2.5 receptions and 18.9 receiving yards per game. That’s after posting 295/2148/12 in 60 games as a Saint, an average of 4.9 receptions and 35.8 yards per game. We have to think his role will shift more toward being a jack-of-all-trades in Detroit, and, most important, a very active receiver. Detroit RBs totaled 98 receptions in 2012 (led by the surprising Joique Bell, who had 52 catches), and since this is an offense that indisputably throws the ball a ton – QB Matthew Stafford put the ball up an obscene 727 times last year – Bush’s reception totals should be soaring. If Bush is relatively healthy, about 200 carries should be a low-end projection, with slightly more than 4 catches per game on average also being a conservative estimate. At slightly more than his 2012 YPC average of 4.3 YPC (he averaged 5.1 in 2011), 200 carries would give Bush around 900 rushing yards. With 65-70 catches almost a certainty if Bush doesn’t miss a lot of time, Bush would likely end up with roughly 475-500 receiving yards. 1400 total yards and 5-6 TDs would have placed him around 15th at RB, which is almost exactly where he finished in 2012. However, if you added 65-70 points for each reception, that would slot him as a top-10 back in a PPR. Injuries are still a concern for Bush, but he’s surprisingly been more durable the last two years with a larger role. He appears to be a lot safer pick in PPR on the Lions. If you’re not in a PPR league, you’ll be relying on his ability to score TDs, and that could be a tricky proposition on this team and based on the fact that he’s never scored more than 8 TDs total in a season or more than 6 rushing scores in a season. It would be risky to consider him a #1 RB in any format, but he could easily produce as one in a PPR. As for Leshoure, his value tumbles from being a viable flex starter in any format, to a depth player.
Fantasy Analysis: This is one of those fits that made just too much sense, and it’s good to see it happen. The Falcons will replace the plodding Michael Turner with Jackson, who absolutely gives them more juice at the position, even though Jackson’s lost some himself. Last year showed that Jackson still has plenty in the tank. Jackson, who will turn 30 in July, reached 1000 yards for the eighth consecutive season. He finished with 1042 yards and 4 TDs on 257 attempts, and he added 38 catches for 321 yards. He may not be as dynamic as he once was, but he still runs extremely hard, and he’s still productive. He’ll also contribute much more as a receiver to the Falcons than Turner ever did. The Rams attempted to save Jackson a bit for the end of the year by cutting down on his snaps earlier in the 2012 season. The Falcons can do the same with Jacquizz Rodgers. While this signing all but confirms what we knew already in that Rodgers blew his chance to earn more of a full-time role in 2012, he’s still a solid rotational guy. But if anything, his role probably decreases given Jackson’s solid receiving ability, and it certainly won’t increase much more than the 147 offensive touches he had last season. As for Jackson, he gives the Falcons a strong short-yardage runner who still can do much more than that, unlike Turner. Although he’s done it only once in his career (2006), it wouldn’t be out of the question to see Jackson score double-digit rushing TDs if he gets the same opportunities Turner got. This is a far better offense than Jackson has really ever played in, and that alone should increase his scoring opportunities. Remember, he’s had only 19 rushing TDs over the last four seasons combined, an average of fewer than 5 per year. It’s not exactly going out on a limb to say that will go up in 2013. His yards per carry could be on the rise, as well. While the sluggish Turner did fall to only 3.6 YPC in 2012, he was at a healthy 4.5 clip just one year earlier. With one of the best downfield passing games in the league, as well as the best WR tandem in the league in Julio Jones and Roddy White, Jackson will finally get some chances to run on defenses that are not stacking the box to stop him, so we see his YPC bumping back up to the 4.4-4.5 range. So really, Jackson’s ability to stay on the field is by far the biggest question. He’s absorbed a lot of hits, but Jackson’s been able to play in 62 of 64 possible games the last four years, so he’s actually been very durable. All things considered, a top-12 finish is within reach for Jackson, but he would be a very good choice as a #2.
Fantasy Analysis: Coming off an ACL injury in 2011, Mendenhall had a lost season in 2012, with just 51 carries for 182 yards and 9 receptions for 62 yards and 1 TD. Back in 2010, Mendenhall was a foundation of the Steeler offense, with 324 carries in 16 games (20 carries a game), yet the following year current Cardinal head coach Bruce Arians and the Steelers didn’t commit to him as much, and Mendenhall averaged only 15 carries per game (228 carries in 15 games). Arians is known as being a pass-happy coach, but we were told that HC Mike Tomlin wasn’t a big Mendenhall fan, so that could have been a limiting factor for Mendenhall. Arians is obviously not down on Mendenhall, but the veteran got only a 1-year deal, so Arizona hasn’t made a big commitment to him, either. The Cards have cut veteran Beanie Wells, and while Arians at the combine said he “loved” RB Ryan Williams, it’s fair to guess that a healthy Mendenhall will emerge from training camp as the team’s top back. Of course, Arizona’s running game last year was miserable, thanks in large part to one of the worst run-blocking lines in the league. Their four backs averaged a measly 3.1 YPC in 2012. Mendenhall is a bigger power back, but while he’s got some wiggle for a bigger guy, he’s not exactly a creator, and his YPC average has been stuck in a mediocre range the last three years, as the Steeler OL hasn’t exactly been stellar, either. At times, he was caught dancing behind the line of scrimmage with Pittsburgh, and that could be an issue with the Cards. Mendenhall has also been underutilized in the passing game in Pittsburgh, and we have to assume that trend will continue in Arizona, since Arians ran the offense in all but one of Mendenhall’s five seasons. Still, Arians told the Arizona Republic that he believes Mendenhall to be an every-down guy, especially considering he can block – we’ve always been fans of his overall talent, so we agree – so it certainly looks like he’ll at least have a chance to lock down a major role. But even if Mendenhall can regain some of his old form after five NFL seasons, he’s hardly a slam-dunk for fantasy in this offense. If all is going well in the summer, he’ll be worth a mid-round pick for depth. There is tangible upside for this talented back if the planets align for him in what will once again be a contract year. But until he proves healthy and the Cardinal offense emerges with a capable QB, he won’t be someone fantasy owners can truly count on.
Fantasy Analysis: We think Goodson is a pretty complete player – he’s very quick, he can make people miss, but he also sets up his blockers well and is a patient runner. He’s a very capable receiver and in 2010 he not only proved he can handled a workload over a short period of time if need be (he had back-to-back 20-carry, 100-yard games in Weeks Ten and Eleven), he proved he could be a three-down back with 40 catches on 57 targets (70% catch rate). He seems ideally suited to be in a dual backfield with a bigger back also well in the mix, and that should describe his situation on the Jets. Although the team is clearly trying to be more dynamic at RB and less plodding, veteran Bilal Powell should be very much in the mix for touches. In fact, this could be a 50/50 split. Powell can catch the ball pretty well out of the backfield, but his value should come as their goal line back, a role he split with Greene last year but later in the season started to take over. Still, Goodson has enough talent and will likely have enough of an opportunity to merit consideration later in drafts in all formats. Of course, that’s assuming the Jets don’t acquire a RRB of note in the draft, which is possible. This signing could mean the end of the Joe McKnight experiment, since Goodson is clearly a similar player who more experience and production.
Fantasy Analysis: The Titans showed a commitment to improve their running game early in the free agency period by adding the consensus top interior lineman, Andy Levitre, and a solid run-blocking tight end, Delanie Walker. The trend continued when the team added former Jet RB Greene to back up current starting RB Chris Johnson. The Titans were looking for a big, short-yardage back to complement and share the workload with Johnson. Johnson is still highly likely to see the majority of touches in the Titan offense, so Greene will have significantly less value as fantasy producer in 2013 than he did in 2012. We’ve been somewhat tough on Greene throughout the last few years because he’s a totally unexciting player with a capable but limited skill set. Yet he’s been miscast with the Jets because he should never be a team’s best offensive player. Greene was mediocre this past season as the Jets’ lead back, rushing for 1063 yards and 8 TDs on 276 carries (3.9 YPC). He did bump that number up to 4.2 YPC the final six games of the season, but he was under 4.0 YPC in three of those six games. He added 19/151 on 30 targets to finish 22nd among RBs, with 10.6 FPG. Greene’s value and production with the Jets came merely as a result of the volume he received. He’s not an overly talented player and doesn’t have any traits that stand out. Greene can absorb a beating and has managed to stay relatively healthy over his first four seasons, as he hasn’t sat out a game due to injury in the last three years. However, he doesn’t have much juice, isn’t a creator, and is pretty much nothing more than a between-the-tackles runner who needs a significant number of touches to produce decent numbers. Greene is unlikely to see much volume with his move to the Titans, so it's likely he will have little value outside of possible goal-line touches. However, there is the chance he becomes an annoying TD vulture. Last season, Titan RB Jamie Harper scored 3 rushing TDs on only 19 carries, while Johnson scored 6 on 276. Greene could be a thorn in the side of Johnson owners, as the most legitimate backup RB the Titans have had in years. The Titans are likely not only looking for a more active complement to Johnson, but also an alternative if Johnson gets into a slump or fails to distinguish himself while leaving plays on the field during the season, as he did in 2012. That said, there is a chance Greene dips into Johnson's fantasy value more than most expect. This move wouldn't be as disconcerting if Johnson were producing nice totals in the passing game, but his production as a receiver hit a career-low in 2012 with mediocre totals across the board (36/226/0).
Fantasy Analysis: Woodhead has been a key player for the Patriots the last few years, including playing about a third of their snaps in 2012, but he got caught up in a numbers game at RB in New England, who saw an emergence from Shane Vereen this past year. Vereen, a former #2 pick, has better size but also speed and versatility and is simply more talented. Woodhead is very effective in a certain role, though, as a hurry-up back, and he ended the year with 76 carries for 301 yards and 4 TDs, and he added 40 catches for 446 yards and 3 TDs. He finished 34th among RBs this year with 7.3 FPG, so he was a solid flex player, especially in a PPR. Woodhead lacks size (5’8”, 195), so he’s not going to be a true answer for the Chargers if Ryan Mathews fails to deliver again, but the biggest obstacle to Woodhead’s fantasy value is veteran Ronnie Brown, who has been re-signed for the 2013 season. When Woodhead was on the field for the Patriots last year, they threw the ball 80% of the time, and there’s no doubt the Chargers do not trust Mathews on 3rd down, so Mathews will likely once again be a non-factor in key passing situations. That’s potentially great news for Woodhead, but if Brown makes the final roster he’ll likely be a big factor on 3rd down and in hurry-up situations, since he’s excellent in pass protection. Brown in 2012 caught 49 passes for 371 on 59 targets, and if he’s in the mix this fall we just don’t see enough production for Woodhead to consider him draft-worthy, especially since the Charger OL looks to be in major trouble this coming season.
Fantasy Analysis: With Texan backup RB Ben Tate unreliable because of injuries during the 2012 season, Forsett was actually a pretty important player as Arian Foster’s backup. In 16 games, the speedy Forsett went for 63/375/1 (6.0 YPC) rushing and 3/38 receiving. Forsett may be best utilized as a changeup and/or 3rd-down back, but we’ve always felt he was a little better than given credit for and that he could potentially be a fairly prominent player in a backfield. The Jags are clearly keeping their costs down with their signings this year, but they may agree with that assessment, since Forsett projects as the #2 RB behind his good friend Maurice Jones-Drew, and the replacement for free agent Rashad Jennings, who won’t be back. Forsett has some familiarity with the new Jaguar coaching staff, since he played in Seattle with new Jag head coach Gus Bradley. Most important, Forsett is familiar with and very comfortable in the zone blocking scheme, which Jacksonville is expected to transition to this season. Forsett probably won’t be worth much of an investment as a handcuff to MJD, but he could be in larger leagues. And if Jones-Drew misses time, Forsett definitely has enough talent and versatility to make a fantasy impact.
Fantasy Analysis: Jennings did a fine job as the Jags’ #2 behind Maurice Jones-Drew in 2010, but he missed the entirety of the 2011 season with a knee injury and was a huge disappointment in 2012. With MJD injured early in the season, Jennings stepped into the starting role, but he never really got going, and it was clear how much the team missed MJD. Jennings was sluggish and appeared to have trouble handling the heavier workload. He battled concussion issues and a shoulder injury that eventually landed him on the injured reserve after Week Thirteen. Jennings failed to top 60 rushing yards and didn’t play much of a role in the passing game outside of his first two starts when Jones-Drew went down. Jennings appeared in 10 games (6 starts), rushing 101 times for 283 yards (2.8 YPC) and 2 TDs with 19/130 on 26 targets, putting him 57th among RBs at 5.1 FPG, and he ended up losing his job to the likes of Jalen Parmele and Montell Owens. The Raiders are hoping he rebounds to becoming the guy who averaged 5.2 YPC in 2009 and 5.5 YPC in 2010.
Fantasy Analysis: Leonard will provide some off-season depth for the Bucs, as he’s a versatile back who can swing between tailback and fullback. Just don’t expect much for fantasy. With the Bengals in 2012, his numbers included rushing 33 times for 106 yards and adding 11/67 on 15 pass targets in 15 games. He’ll compete for snaps and provide the Bucs some added cushion behind Doug Martin in the event they’re able to move LeGarrette Blount.
Fantasy Analysis: Lewis is a talented scatback who hasn’t been able to find a role in the Eagle offense, buried behind LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown. Lewis has only 36 career carries, but the new Brown coaching staff (and team president Joe Banner, who was in Philadelphia when Lewis was drafted) might have designs of using Lewis like Darren Sproles, whom OC Norv Turner coached in San Diego. Lewis is no threat to Trent Richardson, but he has upside, which backup Montario Hardesty doesn’t.
Fantasy Analysis: The Patriots added arguably the best return man in football by signing Washington to a one-year deal. Washington became expendable in Seattle when the Seahawks traded for WR Percy Harvin. Washington, an All-Pro and Pro Bowler last season, returned 27 kickoffs for 784 yards (29.0 average) and 1 TD, and he added 41 punt returns for 356 yards (8.7 average). He finished second in the league in kickoff return average. Washington is really no longer viewed as offensive threat, but we wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots threw a couple wrinkles in to get Washington a few touches in their offense, especially if Danny Woodhead isn’t back. And since Washington has signed with the Pats, that’s a clear sign that Woodhead won’t be back. Keep in mind that the team has fairly large plans for third-year back Shane Vereen, who finally started to come on late in the 2012 season. Washington had just 23 carries for 83 yards and 1 TD and 4 catches for 31 yards last season in Seattle.
Fantasy Analysis: Jones has been one of the NFL’s better blocking backs over the last decade, but he’s now entering his age 32 season, and he had injury problems in 2012, dealing with an ugly thigh strain. So the Jags opted to let him go. His absence in the backfield will not please Maurice Jones-Drew, as was insinuated on MJD’s Twitter account, but with only 149 yards from scrimmage over the last three years combined, Jones isn’t much of a fantasy option, or even a threat to be a vulture. His skills will be a welcome addition to the fantasy projection for Arian Foster, however.
Fantasy Analysis: With obvious discontent in Minnesota, the relationship between Harvin and the Vikings was apparently beyond repair after an injury-shortened 2012 season. In Week Nine, Harvin dealt with hamstring and ankle issues, which would force him from the game multiple times. It would be his final appearance for the Vikings, as they put him on the injured reserve about a month later. Through the first nine weeks of the season, Harvin was considered an MVP candidate, thanks to his versatile play as a receiver, runner, and return man. At the time of his injury, Harvin was 11th among WRs with 11.3 FPG, thanks to 62/677/3 on 85 targets and 22/96/1 on the ground. Going into Week Nine, through half the season, he was on a pace for 120 catches. He also added value to the Viking D/ST and in return-yardage leagues with 574 yards and a score on 16 returns, for a whopping 35.9 yards per return. While Harvin dealt with various injuries in his three previous seasons, including bouts with migraines, he’d missed only three games over that span before missing the final seven of 2012. Harvin joins a Seahawk team that had a lot of success in 2012 on the shoulders of RB Marshawn Lynch, but also due to the great play of rookie QB Russell Wilson. We’ve seen the Seahawks roll Wilson out to take their shots down the field to guys like WRs Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, so we’d expect more of the same with Harvin. Plus, Wilson became even more effective down the stretch when the read option was introduced, and with Harvin’s ability to work out of the backfield, it should add another explosive element that will be very tough for defenses to handle. This move is certainly good news for Wilson’s fantasy value. If there was still doubt as to whether or not Wilson was a viable fantasy starter in a 12-team league, that doubt should be gone now. Clearly, despite his lack of ideal height, Wilson will be able to get Harvin the ball all over the field due to his movement and ability to see the whole field. We also have to also believe the presence of Harvin will help Lynch as well, since the offense will be one that should severely test defenses due to the QB and Harvin’s movement and versatility. We’re certainly excited about Harvin’s prospects in this offense, but it is fair to temper expectations since the Seahawks attempted the fewest passes in the NFL last season and primarily relied on Lynch to carry the offense. Now that he’s got his big money, and is away from QB Christian Ponder (one of Harvin’s apparent beefs with Minnesota), let’s hope he explodes. But heading into 2013, we’ll have to consider Harvin as only a #2 fantasy WR. But he’s one with real upside at this early stage (obviously higher in a PPR), depending on what the team decides to do with their other receivers, like Rice (who might be cut due to his salary). We have to remember that none of their current receivers had even 50 catches last season, while Harvin had 62 in nine games with a lesser quarterback. He’s someone head coach Pete Carroll coveted dating all the way back to his time at USC (he tried to recruit Harvin there), and Harvin played for Seahawk OC Darrell Bevell for two seasons from 2009-2010, so it’s clear the Seahawks have big plans for Harvin and the wherewithal to take advantage of his unique skills and dynamic versatility.
Fantasy Analysis: Although he’s turning 30 in June and has had injury problems for two straight seasons, this move absolutely had to be done for the Vikings, who were perilously thin at receiver after trading Percy Harvin to the Seahawks. Jennings was limited to just eight games in 2012, thanks to a groin injury that ended up turning into sports hernia surgery. He finished the season with 36/366/4 on 62 targets in eight games (five starts), but was just 40th among WRs with 7.6 FPG. Jennings also missed time late in 2011 with a knee injury, so durability is a concern. But previously, Jennings had played all 16 games from 2008-2010. Jennings will immediately step in as not only the #1 WR, but the face of the receiving corps. He’ll deal with a huge drop-off at QB going from Green Bay to Minnesota, and his impeccable timing with QB Aaron Rodgers was a big part of his success in Green Bay. But the fact is Jennings is still a very good receiver and a complete receiver. He will finally give them a dangerous presence on the outside and down the field, but he can also play inside, so he’s versatile. His runs great routes, his hands are generally strong, and he’s an effective red zone receiver. He’s a good leader and teammate, and the hope is that Jennings can speed up Ponder’s maturation process, which hasn’t moved as swiftly as Viking fans would have hoped for. Ponder’s up-and-down play could hurt Jennings at times, but there’s also a lot to be said about Jennings moving into a major featured role in the passing game, which wasn’t always the case in Green Bay. Jennings will also benefit from the attention all-world RB Adrian Peterson commands, and the Vikings haven’t had a player on the outside take advantage of the single coverage often afforded to him since Sidney Rice back in 2009 (8th in WR scoring that year). Ponder’s player has been disconcerting, but at least he’s shown that he can play well enough to get Jennings the ball, and he did show promising flashes in his rookie season and early in 2012. Knowing Jennings will be the foundation of the passing game, and even knowing his QB is less than stellar, we believe a top-24 finish is very doable, and that would make Jennings a viable #2 fantasy WR. What could make Jennings more appealing is some skepticism from fantasy owners due to Ponder, which could drop Jennings into the 6th or 7th round in a 12-team draft. The Vikings will almost certainly continue to revamp their receiving corps in the NFL draft, and if they get a chance to draft slot receiver Tavon Austin with one of their #1 picks, we’re convinced they would pull that trigger. That would give them a pretty nice receiving corps on paper along with TE Kyle Rudolph, so Ponder does have a chance to be relevant for fantasy if he can put it all together and play consistently.
Fantasy Analysis: While Welker’s fantasy value will drop based on this move, the ramifications for his QB and Denver’s other receivers – not to mention some key players in New England – is significant. Over the years, we’ve learned that if something seems too good to be true in the NFL, it usually it. Welker in Denver definitely seems too good to be true, but in this rare case, it probably isn’t. QB Peyton Manning is widely regarded as one of the hardest-working players in league history, and Welker’s preparation and professionalism are also stellar, so this marriage can’t fail. Manning obviously excels throwing the ball inside the numbers, and he can make a fantasy star out of a no-name slot receiver, as he essentially did with Austin Collie in 2009 and 2010. In Welker, Manning now has the most prolific slot receiver in league history on his side and a player who’s averaged a mind-numbing 112 receptions per season his last six seasons. Welker is a very intuitive player from the slot, and given the two work ethics involved, the pair should quickly develop great timing. Welker’s role won’t likely be as expansive in Denver as it’s been in New England, but we can be sure to see more action from the slot in Denver this year, and Brandon Stokley was certainly a factor in 2012 with 57 targets and 45 catches (an impressive 80% catch rate). Stokley had only 5 red-zone pass targets, according to our numbers, but he still caught 5 TD passes and seemed to be a big factor when Peyton badly needed someone to make a play. Welker hasn’t been a big TD guy over the years, but it’s not like he doesn’t get red zone targets. He’s been averaging about 20 a season in New England, and that’s not too far off from Demaryius Thomas (21) and Eric Decker (25, tops in the league) in 2012. It’s going to take some time to sort through the ramifications of this epic acquisition, but the obvious benefactor is Manning. Manning completed 68.6% of his passes last year after a year layoff and on a new team, so we have to think he'll be over 70% now for the season. Even though it was very high at 7.99 last year, you also have to assume his pass attempts will go up as will his yards per attempt (Welker led the NFL in YAC last year, with 619 yards). Even with just slight upgrades in attempts, completion percentage, and YPA, Manning’s numbers seem to be headed north of 5000 yards passing and 40 TDs. There should be fewer targets for Thomas and Decker, but it’s Decker who seems to be hurt more by the Welker pickup. Thomas is a gifted specimen who is nearly unstoppable on bubble screens and in the red zone, whereas Decker at times seemed to lose some looks inside and in the red zone to Stokley. There’s a lot of production to go around, but Welker is going to spread it among three players much more than it was last year. As for the Bronco TEs, with Joel Dreessen always seemingly involved (including last year), top guy Jacob Tamme seems much less appealing. Despite the admission by Manning that Tamme was a guy who dictated how defenses played Denver, Tamme was still a mediocre fantasy performer. Welker should now be that guy that Tamme was, that movable chess piece. Obviously, the Broncos will still run the ball, but right now their pecking order at tailback is still a little unsettled. For now, Willis McGahee is still on the roster and should be this summer, and Ronnie Hillman’s role should increase. The hardest player to handicap here is Welker himself. Last year, Stokley had only 57 targets to Welker’s 173. If you doubled Stokley’s targets from 2012 for Welker in 2013, that gives him only 114. Even at a crazy catch rate of 80%, that’s still “only” 91 catches. Welker was actually at just under 70% last year, which would put him at 79 catches. That seems high, but it does seem possible with Manning pulling the trigger. At 12.0 YPC, that’s about 950 yards. So unless Welker surprises with 8-9 TDs, which is certainly possible, he could be an average option in a non-PPR league. As great as this signing is for Manning and Denver’s offense, it’s impossible to dispute that Welker’s value has taken a hit.
Fantasy Analysis: The comparison between Amendola and Wes Welker may seem lazy, but it just so happens to be accurate, and it’s clear the Patriots saw it as legit, given that they locked up Amendola hours after Welker bolted for Denver. And it’s a bigger deal than the one Welker received in Denver in terms of years and average annual value, so it’s entirely likely the Pats were simply ready to move on to a younger option. Amendola has shown that he can be a really good NFL wide receiver when he can stay on the field. The “staying on the field” part has proven to be a huge problem, though, as Amendola struggled with injuries all year long in 2012, and has throughout his career, most likely due to his reckless playing style with relation to his small stature. Amendola missed five games and was limited in three other games because of foot and collarbone injuries in 2012. He still posted 63 catches (63.6% catch rate) for 666 yards for the second-highest totals of his career. Amendola added 3 TDs to finish 36th among WRs this year 7.8 FPG. But he has now missed 20 of a possible 32 games over the last two seasons, and Amendola seems to always be playing through an injury when he is on the field. Amendola proved by far to be Sam Bradford’s favorite target, posting seven games with at least 5 catches, including games with 11 and 15 catches, which is a ridiculous total. Amendola this past year evolved into being more than a slot receiver, and he played significant snaps on the outside in 2012, with success. So he’s a little more versatile than Welker, but still an easy fit into the Welker role with the Patriots. It’s tempting to lazily transfer a regular Welker projection to Amendola, but we have to consider the durability factor, and Amendola may not be quite as good after the catch and in this particular offense. The good news is that Tom Brady will ease the transition period, and Amendola is familiar with Josh McDaniels’ offensive system from their time together with the Rams, although Amendola played only one game that year (2011) due to his nasty dislocated elbow injury. To be certain, if he can manage to play 15-16 games, Amendola could absolutely nab triple digits in catches this year. Amendola caught 85 passes in 2010, his last healthy year, and he did that with a rookie QB in Bradford. That season, he also finished second to Larry Fitzgerald with 24 red-zone targets. We’d also expect his yards per catch, less than 9.0 in St. Louis, to rise a bit with the Pats simply because he’ll get better QB play and will be running routes on the field with two pro bowl caliber TEs. He can work inside and outside, he’s effective in the red zone, he’s fantastic with subtle moves, and he’s tough as nails, despite a small frame. Sound like anyone else you know? The Patriots will absolutely continue to build their passing offense around TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. But remember, those guys aren’t exactly Cal Ripken Jr. clones, either. If Amendola can stay on the field, a top-10 PPR finish isn’t out of the question, and it might be expected. To be safe, he’s probably in the 15-20 range, accounting for the dings and dents he’s sure to deal with and a conservative estimate of 2 games missed. Given the upside, we’d certainly be willing to roll with him as a #2 in a PPR, and a #3 in a non-PPR.
· Mike Wallace (Signed by Mia from Pit) – Wallace agreed to a five-year, $60 million contract with the Dolphins that includes $30 million guaranteed, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Fantasy Analysis: Wallace was arguably the most sought-after wide receiver to hit the market, and the Dolphins placed Wallace as their #1 priority this off-season. They got their man shortly after free agency opened on March 12. The Dolphins were desperate for a big-name player and playmaker on the perimeter, and Wallace will bring some flash and profile to South Beach and the Dolphin offense for young QB Ryan Tannehill. Wallace is one of the top vertical threats in the league, and he immediately brings explosiveness to the Dolphin wide receivers, which has been missing since Brandon Marshall was traded to the Bears. The Dolphins had one of the weakest groups of wide receivers in 2012, and Wallace will significantly bolster the group and allow Brian Hartline to become the #2 WR, where he belongs. Wallace’s 2012 season got off to a shaky start from the moment he decided to hold out of training camp after turning down an extension from the Steelers. He also never really fit into OC Todd Haley’s new offense, one that didn’t take enough advantage of his special vertical abilities. A number of key drops during the season overshadowed the big plays he made in 2012, and the fact that drops really haven’t plagued him over the course of his career. Wallace finished 28th among WRs, with 8.8 FPG on 64 catches (55.2% catch rate) for 838 yards and 8 TDs. Wallace equaled his TD production from 2011, but he finished with 355 fewer yards, and his YPC dropped from 16.6 in 2011 to 13.1 in 2012, perhaps a symptom of the quicker and shorter passes that Haley implemented into the offense with fewer deep throws. The Steelers were about $10 million over the projected 2013 cap, and Steeler president Art Rooney II said all the pieces didn’t fit. The Steelers decided to spend their money on WR Antonio Brown instead of Wallace. That’s bad news for Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, but it is good news for Tannehill, who has a strong arm and the potential to deliver the ball deep down the field to his new toy. But certainly, a path to fantasy glory could take some time in Miami. Tannehill showed all the traits you want to see from a young QB, but he’s still a work in progress. He developed a good rapport with Hartline last year, and the team will also look to get the ball to new TE Dustin Keller each week, plus they also added former Ram Brandon Gibson in free agency and as of now they still have a good slot receiver who will command targets in Davone Bess. Wallace definitely commands the ball and will get consistently targeted down the field. But unless he and his new QB surprisingly start connecting on big plays right out of the gates, there may not be a ton of production to go around for Wallace on a weekly basis this year in Miami, so he could be a little hit-or-miss. He’s a worthy fantasy pick as a #2 wideout, but it’s probably best to approach his first season in Miami with some skepticism.
Fantasy Analysis: Boldin played a pivotal role in the Ravens’ run to the Lombardi Trophy, but he didn’t fit into the team’s future plans. Boldin, who is due to make $6 million in 2013, decided not to take a pay cut to stay with the Ravens, but the 33-year-old wide receiver landed on his feet with a trade to the 49ers, the team the Ravens beat to win the Super Bowl. Boldin had a mediocre regular season, finishing 37th among WRs, with 65/921/4 for 7.8 FPG. But he made big catch after big catch during the Ravens’ playoff run, and he’s been a consistent force since he broke into the league with the Cardinals in 2003. Boldin isn’t a #1 WR at this point in his career; however, that makes him a just fine fit with the 49ers. He’ll immediately step into the 49er passing game as the #3 passing option behind WR Michael Crabtree and TE Vernon Davis. With Randy Moss likely out of the fold, Boldin will give talented QB Colin Kaepernick a physical possession receiver, who was adept at running deeper routes in the Ravens’ vertical passing attack, despite his lack of true speed. Remember, Boldin can also be a force from the slot in the red zone, where he dominated in the playoffs, and where Kaepernick came up short in Super Bowl XLVII.
Fantasy Analysis: Heyward-Bey finally latched on to a team, and he landed in a receiver-friendly situation with the Colts and QB Andrew Luck. Heyward-Bey, a former top-10 draft pick, should get the chance to revive his career in Indianapolis. DHB figures to slide into the Indy depth chart as the team’s #3 WR, behind Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton, where DHB will take over for Donnie Avery. LaVon Brazill also figures to compete with DHB for the #3 spot, but Heyward-Bey has more experience and the edge to win the spot. Heyward-Bey will be the team’s primary downfield threat along with Hilton, as DHB has averaged 14.8 YPC in his four NFL seasons. DHB has been a disappointment to this point in his career, but he’ll have the chance to learn from one of the league’s top veteran receivers in Wayne and play with one of the league’s top young QBs in Luck. His situation now is likely better than it ever was in Oakland, and the pressure on him almost disappears.
Fantasy Analysis: Jones was bothered this past year by a calf injury that caused him to miss some time down the stretch and eventually landed on the non-football/illness list for the last two games of the season. While the illness was never revealed, Jones did deal with a minor something he’s dealt with since college. Still, despite his shaky injury history, he’s only 25 years old and has some versatility, since he can play inside but can also offer a bit of speed and playmaking ability on the outside. By signing Jones, the Patriots prepared themselves for life in 2013 without Brandon Lloyd, who was released the day after the Jones signing. But while Jones has some noteworthy ability, even with Lloyd released, Jones is still at best the fourth option in the passing game behind their two excellent TEs and new slot receiver Danny Amendola. That said, while he does add some tangible potential to their receiving corps, which helps QB Tom Brady, Jones probably won’t be worth fantasy draft consideration this summer. He’ll be someone to watch, though, since Amendola has major durability questions, and this is obviously a potent passing attack still.
Fantasy Analysis: Avery finally restarted his career with the Colts in 2012 after struggling to return from a knee injury he suffered during the 2010 preseason. With his injury behind him, Avery regained the speed that made him a dangerous threat on the outside during his early seasons with the Rams. He started 15 of 16 games and finished the year with 60 catches (a very poor 49.6% catch rate) for 781 yards and 3 TDs. Avery lost a lot of targets towards the end of the season to rookie T.Y. Hilton, and it’s completely understandable, given how many terrible drops Avery had last year. Those negatives were the most visible part of Avery’s season, but it’s also important to realize that the oft-injured Avery managed to stay on the field for 16 games. Avery should be a good fit for Andy Reid’s offense in Kansas City and should figure into the mix right away starting alongside Dwayne Bowe, especially if Jonathan Baldwin still isn’t ready for an increased role.
Fantasy Analysis: Gibson had his best year as a Ram (51/691/5) in his fourth year. He’s a solid enough player who is a decent red zone threat, but he’s mainly an unexciting possession receiver. He adds nice depth to their receiving corps, and he’s another capable passing option for QB Ryan Tannehill, so credit should go to Miami for helping their young QB by adding yet another viable option in the passing game. However, unless the team decides to part ways with slot receiver Davone Bess, Gibson looks like the 5th option in the passing game (behind Wallace, Hartline, Bess, and new TE Dustin Keller), so he’s hardly someone to get excited about for fantasy. And we do not see Gibson as a viable slot receiver, so we find it hard to believe the Dolphins will cut Bess loose. Again, his addition does help their offense and Tannehill, but Gibson should not be worth drafting this summer and is merely someone to keep an eye on during the season on the Waiver Wire.
Fantasy Analysis: A very capable player who has good speed but also big problems with injuries in recent years, Hixon was versatile and useful enough to attract attention on the open market from several teams, but finally landed with Carolina. He played only two games in 2011 before tearing his ACL, but he rebounded nicely to post 39/567/2 in 13 games with the Giants, limited with an ankle injury at times. Valuable with the Giants because he was an effective backup to the injury-prone Hakeem Nicks, Hixon likely will have a greater role with Carolina, where he could be guaranteed the #3 WR job and a return job, as well.
Fantasy Analysis: Ogletree’s signing doesn’t help the Buccaneers all that much on paper, but he will provide a boost to the team’s WR depth and he could possibly give them the much-needed support from the slot they’ve needed. Ogletree will immediately come in and compete with Tiquan Underwoodand Steven Smith for playing time as the team’s #3 WR in the slot, as the Bucs have moved on from Arrelious Benn, who was traded to the Eagles. Ogletree was the perfect example of a Week One tease in 2012, after he put up 8/114/2 in the season opener and then never got anywhere near those numbers again the rest of the season, posting just 24 catches the rest of the season. Despite both WRs Dez Bryant and Miles Austin battling injuries throughout the year, Ogletree never stepped up to become the #3 WR the Cowboys have been trying to find for the last few years. In fact, Ogletree’s spot on the receiver pecking order was seriously challenged by second-year man Dwayne Harris as the season progressed. Ogletree was blanked three times and never had more than 2 receptions in any game in the second half of the year. In 15 appearances (one start), Ogletree ended up with 32/436/4 on 54 targets, putting him at 4.6 FPG. While Ogletree has his best season in four years with the Cowboys, Dallas didn’t feel the need to bring him back. Ogletree will compete for playing time in Tampa, but he’s no more than a #3 WR at best next season for the Bucs. If he can lock down a slot role, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see him catch 40-50 balls.
Fantasy Analysis: It appears that the Titans are ready to let go of Nate Washington, and their pursuit of Wes Welker clearly indicated they were looking for a veteran WR to add depth to the squad. While Walter won’t provide nearly as much as Welker could have, he does provide a solid reserve. The problem was being miscast in Houston, where he was the most boring #2 WR in football, posting 41/518/2 on 65 targets (12.6 YPC, 63.1%) in 2012. He ranked 81st at the position with 4.3 FPG and posted more than 4 catches only once in a game all year. We’d be surprised if he got the opportunity to match that production in Tennessee.
Fantasy Analysis: Another injury-plagued season spelled the end for Massaquoi in Cleveland. Massaquoi battled a hamstring injury for most of the season before landing on the injured reserve with a knee problem. In nine games (five starts), Massaquoi had just 17/254/0 on 31 targets. Massaquoi’s numbers have dropped every year since he was a rookie in 2009, and while he had plenty of chances to succeed as a starter, his time ran out with the Browns having more talented WRs like Josh Gordon and even Greg Little. Massaquoi isn’t a bad downfield threat when healthy, but between his injury issues in 2012 and concussion issues in the past, he isn’t going to be a guy the Jags can count on to produce for them, but he can work as a reserve.
Fantasy Analysis: A player who has never lived up to his physical abilities, Benn still remains a worthwhile gamble for the Eagles, who acquired him for essentially nothing. Benn has had major knee and playbook problems in his Bucs career, but he’s still a 220-pound receiver who bore some similarities to Sterling Sharpe when the Bucs made him an early 2nd-round pick in 2010. Benn provides the Eagles with some size (about 15% of his career targets have come in the red zone), and he was incredibly effective in college at the University of Illinois, which ran an option-based offense. That should be appealing to coach Chip Kelly.
Fantasy Analysis: Nelson had a 2012 season to forget after tearing his ACL in Week One, a shame since he was coming off a strong 2011 season that saw him catch 61/658/5 in 16 games (13 starts). A solid slot receiver with good size at 6-5, 214 lbs., Nelson is a nice red-zone threat. But ultimately, this move feels like a depth move for the Browns, and Nelson’s overall role will be determined by his performance in workouts and camp. If he’s healthy, he’s got a chance to stick, but he might be more of a “move” guy in the tight end mold than the strict slot receiver he was with the Bills.
Fantasy Analysis: The Vikings have some of the worst receivers in the NFL, so Jenkins’ release early in free agency probably doesn’t speak well for his chances to contribute much in 2013. Jenkins sat around for three weeks before the Patriots finally showed some interest. Jenkins isn’t a lock to make it out of training camp but, even if he does make the team, he isn’t much of a threat as he can’t separate from defenders any longer. Jenkins finished with 40/449/2 last season in extended playing time, but he likely won’t match those stats in New England.
Fantasy Analysis: Smith’s debilitating knee issues have hampered him since his standout 2009 season with the Giants (107/1220/7), and his playing career is very much up in the air after another pedestrian season. He appeared in just nine games with St. Louis, finishing with 14 catches for 131 yards and no TDs. He ended up buried on the Ram WR depth chart, which is saying something given that was one of the league’s least inspiring groups of wide receivers. In Tampa, he’ll have no pressure on him, and he’ll be able to compete with the likes of Kevin Ogletree and Tiquan Underwood for the team’s #3 WR job. But entering his age 28 season, the oft-injured Smith could be approaching the end of the road.
Fantasy Analysis: Murphy landed in Carolina after a trade last July brought him over from the Raiders. He would end up playing in all 16 games for the first time since his 2009 rookie season and had five starts, finishing with 25/336/1 on 61 targets and 2.5 FPG. Although WR Brandon LaFell battled turf toe, Murphy was never able to step up and assume a bigger role, which has been an ongoing knock against him over his four years in the league. While we doubt Murphy will make a major impact with the Giants, he’ll provide some depth for the Giants, and may have to be even more than that if by some chance RFA WR Victor Cruz is signed away by another team. Murphy turns 26 in May, so while he’s still relatively young, he’s also unproven thanks to a lack of production in his five-year career.
Fantasy Analysis: Myers had a complete breakout season in 2012. He had just 16 catches for 151 yards in 2011 in 16 games, but he jumped up to 79 catches for 806 yards and 4 TDs to finish 11th among TEs this past year, with 6.5 FPG. Although he’s more of a possession guy than dynamic threat, and a great deal of his production came in “garbage time,” he showed excellent rapport with Carson Palmer, and his hands made him an ideal weapon in short yardage for the Raiders. He did, however, fade significantly down the stretch. He posted only 10/85 receiving on 17 targets over his last four games, after posting 14/130/1 in Week Thirteen alone. However, while Myers has only one good season to his name, it’s fairly safe to say his drop in production was a function of the disjointed Raider offense more than anything else. His catch rate in the second half of the season fell to 71.6% (which was still solid), but for the season his 76% catch rate was second to only Tony Gonzalez among TEs with 30 or more catches. Playing for the Giants is indisputably a terrific environment for a TE. Not only do they have an extremely evolved offense with tons of continuity and a future Hall of Fame QB in Eli Manning, they have one of the best TE coaches in the business in Mike Pope. While Pope’s guidance hasn’t produced a fantasy stud in the recent past, he’s been able to transform three no-name players into viable fantasy options. And he’s actually done it the last three years, as Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard, and Martellus Bennett were impactful for fantasy in 2010, 2011, and 2012, respectively. Of the three, and also including Myers, Bennett is the most talented, but Myers takes on the starting TE job for the Giants with the best resume. Myers wasn’t a great TD guy last year for the Raiders, catching a TD pass every 20 times he haul in a grab, but in this offense and system he should get a few more looks in the red zone, as Manning likes to look down the seam and to the TE inside the 20. While Myers was actually tied for 8th with 14 targets inside the 20 last year, Bennett had two more, and starting Giant TEs have scored at least 4-6 TDs in each of the last five years. He’ll have to compete for the ball with a couple of very high-end talents in Hakeem Nicksand Victor Cruz, but Myers was a guy the team targeted if bringing Bennett back wasn’t meant to be, so they are high on him. Myers might not be as good of a blocker and the dynamic red-zone threat that Bennett was, but he has a better chance to emerge as a consistent producer in terms of catches and yardage totals. He did, after all, finish 4th in the NFL in TE catches this past year. There’s a chance he’ll merit a top-12 ranking this summer in standard formats, and he almost certainly will in PPR leagues.
Fantasy Analysis: Considered to be the top TE on the market heading into free agency, Cook reportedly narrowed his choices down to the Dolphins and Rams, but chose to reunite with HC Jeff Fisher in St. Louis. Cook in some ways took a step back in 2012 from 2011’s promising career year, and while he flashed at times, he never put together a dominant performance, capping out at 77 yards in Week Three and topping 50 yards only four times. In 13 games, Cook posted 44/523/4 on 71 targets (11.9 YPC, 62%), and he ranked 16th among all TEs with 5.9 FPG. Cook’s season ended prematurely with a torn rotator cuff, but that’s not expected to be an issue going forward. Although he’s a TE, Cook lined up in the slot or out wide for more than 60% of the snaps last year, and as a big, fast player, he may immediately step in as Sam Bradford’s top target in St. Louis, who lost go-to guy Danny Amendola to free agency and will be relying on some very young WRs in 2013. While TE Lance Kendricks won’t necessarily fall by the wayside, there’s no doubt Kendricks’ lack of production was a factor in bringing in Cook. The production of Cook under Fisher in the past may be a bit disconcerting, and Ram OC Brian Schottenheimer didn’t have a great track record with the Jets with a guy like Dustin Keller. But St. Louis has a very good QB in Bradford, so if Cook is up for it and the Rams make him a focus, Cook should produce and offer upside as a downfield threat down the middle. The Rams now have a lot of money tied up in him, so he should be a huge focus of the Ram offense. The real question is whether or not the talented Cook can completely bust through or if he’ll continue to underachieve. As the season draws nearer, we should have a better idea as to whether Cook is a viable #1 fantasy TE or merely a high-end backup. We’ve always love his raw physical talent, but other than a few “flash” performances, he’s left us a little underwhelming and wanting a little more the last three seasons.
Fantasy Analysis: We loved the Giants’ signing of Bennett on a one-year “prove it” deal in 2012, and Bennett finally lived up to some of his potential as a talented player with a career year, posting 55/626/5 on 89 targets (61.8%), and finished 16th among TEs with 5.8 FPG. Unfortunately for the cap-strapped Giants, who need to work out deals with other key players, Bennett proved enough to land a big deal with the Bears, who will welcome him with open arms. Bennett’s a sizable and athletic pass catcher who will provide significantly more reliable hands than the horrendous Kellen Davis (who was released), and he’s also a very good blocker, which big news in both areas for QB Jay Cutler. Bennett instantly becomes the second-most athletic pass catcher on the Bears behind Brandon Marshall, and if Alshon Jeffery continues to progress, Cutler all of a sudden will have a nice group of weapons, including RB Matt Forte.
Fantasy Analysis: Keller’s a very talented TE whose skills have probably gone to waste the last few years in New York, without anything resembling consistent QB play and also shaky play-calling. Still, his 2012 season had to be considered a major disappointment after the career numbers he posted in 2011. Durability is a concern after an injury-plagued 2012 season. He opened the season with a hamstring issue, which caused him to sit out Weeks Two through Five. He returned until Week Thirteen, when an ankle injury ended up sidelining him for the rest of the season. In what was easily his worst season in five with the Jets, Keller had 28/317/2 (11.3 YPC) on 36 targets to finish with 5.5 FPG. However, it’s premature to label Keller as a serious injury risk, since he played in 61 of 64 possible games from 2008-2011. Although he’s not a freak athlete, Keller does fit into the “new age” TE in the NFL. He’s athletic, and he’s a solid red zone threat, despite the fact that he’s never had more than 5 TDs in a season. Miami’s receiving corps has seen a major overhaul in free agency, so it should take some time for all the new receivers to gel with young QB Ryan Tannehill, but Keller should be a large part of head coach Joe Philbin’s offense. Philbin, of course, comes from Green Bay, where they have featured the TE plenty. However, as Tannehill learns on the job and works in new #1 WR Mike Wallace along with 2013 signee Brandon Gibson and incumbent Brian Hartline, you wonder how much production there will be to go around. That’s especially true if the team retains slot receiver Davone Bess. If they do, Bess should be strictly an inside receiver, so Keller may not get a ton of targets. Keller is essentially in a one-year “prove it” deal, so he will be plenty motivated. But while he’s plenty talented, we find it hard to believe that he’ll be productive enough to be a viable starter. Unless we have strong indications otherwise this summer, he’s merely a fantasy backup.
Fantasy Analysis: With TE Jared Cook gone, the Titans found their replacement in Walker, who served as the backup to Vernon Davis in San Francisco. Walker, who will turn 29 in August, played in every game last season, catching 21/339/3 (16.1 YPC) on 39 targets (53.8% catch rate) for 3.2 FPG. He has dropped his fair share of passes over the years, but he’s the ideal #2 TE in any offense because of his blocking abilities and his special team contributions, and the 49ers will definitely miss him. We could see the Titans use him and the raw Taylor Thompson in a dual-TE situation, especially since Walker has proven to be a versatile player as a great blocker, solid pass catcher, and help on special teams. Thompson is a talented prospect, and he surprisingly got snaps in 2012. But he’s still raw and very inexperienced, so the Titans should be looking to Walker to handle a featured role. It’s questionable if Walker can handle that, since he’s been ideally-cast on the Niners as a moveable chess piece type who catches defenses off guard. If he’s the main guy as expected, we’d tab him as a low-end backup only, and we’ll been keeping a close eye on the youngster Thompson. With the signing of Walker, the team could choose to move on from Craig Stevens.
Fantasy Analysis: The offense of new Eagle coach Chip Kelly is predicated on versatility and athleticism, and Casey absolutely fits that mold. He has lined up as a tight end, fullback, H-back, and occasionally wide receiver in his tenure with the Texans. In other words, he’s a great athlete who can create a lot of mismatches. And given that Kelly’s offense doesn’t use a traditional fullback, Casey is probably the closest we’ll see to that. In 2012, he posted 34/330/3 on 45 targets (9.7 YPC, 75.6%), but he averaged only 3.2 FPG as he had to split TE targets with Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham, and backfield targets with Arian Foster. But it was still the best season of Casey’s career, and as an added bonus, he’s healthy heading into the spring for the first time of his career, having dealt with shoulder and foot surgeries at this time of year in the past. He’ll have a lot of competition for targets in Philly, from Brent Celek, LeSean McCoy, and of course, the WRs, so his fantasy value may be capped, but he’s a cheap and versatile signing for Kelly. In fact, Kelly recently mentioned the name Aaron Hernandez when discussing Casey in an interview with Philly Mag. “You really get pigeon-holed when you have one-dimensional players,” Kelly said. “And when you do, it makes it a little bit easier for the defenses to go out there and understand what’s going to go on in certain formations.” Casey might not be a fantasy stud in 2012, but it’s not out of the question he puts up a nice sleeper season and becomes really useful, more so than he was in Houston.
Fantasy Analysis: Saint starting TE Jimmy Graham doesn’t have to worry about his playing time with Watson’s signing, but the veteran tight end will certainly provide depth for New Orleans, and potentially a headache for fantasy owners. The Saints needed some depth behind Graham after the team cut ties with former backup TE David Thomas. Watson started 41 of 45 games the last three years with Cleveland, including 14 starts in 16 games last year. Watson finished 28th among TEs last season, with 49 catches for 501 yards and 3 TDs, for 4.3 FPG. He ended the year with a below-average catch rate for TEs, by snagging just 59.8% of his targets, but playing with a rookie in Brandon Weeden didn’t help that. Watson is doubtful to come anywhere close to his 2012 numbers because he’ll see his playing time significantly tail off, but he’s clearly an upgrade over Thomas behind Graham. Watson is a solid backup TE as he enters his 10th season, and he’ll be a versatile contributor as both a receiver and as a blocker. It’s just unlikely that any fantasy production he puts up will amount to more than an annoyance, as long as Graham stays healthy.
Fantasy Analysis: Fasano’s a capable TE who is average as both a blocker and a receiver, and as such, the Dolphins let him walk as they looked to upgrade. In 16 games, Fasano caught 41/332/5 on 69 targets (59.4% catch rate), which was good for 4 FPG (31st among TEs). But he had a six-game stretch between Weeks Eight and Thirteen when he had no more than 1 catch or 14 yards receiving in any game, so even on a Dolphin team that lacked weapons in the passing game, he couldn’t produce consistently. But that makes him a good fit with the Chiefs, who already have TE Tony Moeaki and need to replace Kevin Boss. Fasano is unlikely to provide much fantasy value in Kansas City, but he adds a very strong depth option and red-zone target for QB Alex Smith.
Fantasy Analysis: Phillips isn’t a bad player, but it was hard to stand out behind Jason Witten, and the Cowboys have an emerging young athlete behind Witten in James Hanna. So Phillips moves to San Diego to back up Antonio Gates, shortly after the club released veteran Randy McMichael. In 2012, Phillips appeared in all 16 games for the third time in three years and had nine starts, but he managed just 8/55/1, a drop-off from the 15/101/1 he had in 2011, which was his best season. Phillips had shoulder surgery after the season, but he is expected to be ready to go in the spring. Add that to the torn ACL he suffered in 2010, and he has a pretty extensive injury history. However, given Gates’ major drop-off in 2012, Phillips could be a very important part of the Chargers’ 2013 campaign, although we’d still tab Ladarius Green as the long-term guy to own here.
Fantasy Analysis: The Packers didn’t tender Crabtree an RFA contract, expecting to be able to re-sign him anyway, but the Bucs swooped in and surprised Green Bay by locking in Crabtree. That means the Packers might be a little trapped with regards to potentially moving the disappointing Jermichael Finley. As for Crabtree, the move makes sense. He saw action in all 14 games last season, but managed just 8/203/3 on 12 targets. Crabtree was mostly limited to blocking duty and we doubt that would change much if he were to return. But he has clear athletic ability (he made some big plays last year), and he could look to make much more of an impact on a Bucs roster that doesn’t have any standouts at the TE position. It wouldn’t be shocking if Crabtree becomes a guy who has a much higher profile than he did in Green Bay.
Fantasy Analysis: Davis is almost as big as a tackle, at 6’7” and nearly 270 pounds, and for his size he’s a pretty remarkable athlete. Davis caught only 19 of his 42 targets this past season, however, dropping way too many passes. That said, he’s a viable risk for the Browns to take. Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner have a great track record working with TEs, and the Browns do need to replace Ben Watson to go along with Jordan Cameron. Davis will compete for snaps this summer with Gary Barnidge.
Fantasy Analysis: Last season, Smith touched the ball 13 times, and gained 46 yards. That would be a poor stat line in one game for a plodding running back, but that was his full-season stat line as a pass catcher. Obviously, he’s become a blocking specialist whose only fantasy relevance will be as a vulture. He’s a depth option, but no threat to Jermaine Gresham’s hold on the Bengals’ TE spot.
Fantasy Analysis: Barnidge is an athletic TE who rejoins Carolina OC Rob Chudzinski, who is moving to Cleveland as head coach. Barnidge posted 6/78/1 in 15 games with the Panthers this past season, and he’ll help ease the transition to the new offense for Cleveland. He can also act as insurance for young TE Jordan Cameron, although he isn’t likely to have much fantasy value.
Fantasy Analysis: The Packers brought in Mulligan to be the backup TE for starter Jermichael Finley. Mulligan is no guarantee to even make the Packers’ final roster but, if he does, he’ll bring his blocking skills to Green Bay, as he’s not much known for his pass-catching. Mulligan replaces former backup Tom Crabtree, who was a much better receiver than Mulligan. Mulligan will see time as the #2 TE in obvious running situations, but young and talented TE D.J. Williams could still play over him in passing situations next season.
Fantasy Analysis: Spaeth is a massive blocking tight end who won’t provide much in the way of fantasy value, but he will annoy us with his potential TD vultures. Although he has only 49 career receptions, 8 have gone for TDs, and it appears he’ll be replacing Leonard Pope in the Steeler offense. Pope had only 3 receptions last year, but 2 went for TDs. Spaeth could be important early on if Heath Miller isn’t ready to return from his nasty knee injury.
Fantasy Analysis: The 49ers ditched one of the league’s most inconsistent kickers from the past year, David Akers, and brought in one of the league’s most efficient kicker from 2012, Dawson. Dawson was selected to his first Pro Bowl after making 29/31 field goals (93.5%), which ranked second in the NFL in field-goal percentage behind Redskin K Kai Forbath. Meanwhile, Akers made just 29/42 field goals (69.0%), which was the second worst field-goal percentage ahead of Packer K Mason Crosby. Dawson broke into the league as an original member of the “new Browns” in 1999, and he’ll instantly bring some stability to a position that became anything but a guarantee last season. Akers attempted the most field goals in 2011 (42) and in 2012 (52), so Dawson will instantly become one of the top fantasy kickers next season, so long as he doesn’t mysteriously collapse like Akers. Dawson will be 38 in 2013, just like Akers, but there’s nothing in his history that suggests he’s about to fall off.
Fantasy Analysis: With longtime Lion K Jason Hanson retiring this off-season, Detroit decided to bring in another older kicker in Akers. Hansen was fantastic the last few years, including an 89% conversion rate in 2012, but Akers struggled mightily in San Francisco, making just 69% (29/42) of his kicks last season. Akers likely won’t get nearly as many field goal attempts as he did during his two years in San Francisco, but he could be a little more accurate with eight home games in a dome stadium. He also underwent a surgery on his pelvis this off-season to alleviate some pain that he felt throughout the 2012 season, so he should be healthier in 2013. Akers isn’t a better field goal kicker than Hanson, but he will be an upgrade on kickoffs. Expect the Lions to bring in some younger competition for Akers.
Fantasy Analysis: The Lawrence Tynes era is over in New York with the signing of Brown. Tynes won two Super Bowls with New York, but the cash-strapped Giants couldn’t afford to keep Tynes around. The Jets dumped Brown during the preseason in 2012, but he did latch on with the Bengals at the end of the season, making 11/12 kicks in four games. Brown was even named the Special Teams Player of the Month for December. Known for his short-range accuracy, Brown will take over a fruitful job, as Tynes finished 2nd among Ks with 9.1 PFG (although he struggled majorly down the stretch). If Brown can get used to the winds of East Rutherford, he should have a chance to be decent fantasy producer in 2013.
Fantasy Analysis: The Browns brought in a solid veteran kicker to replace the team’s only K, Phil Dawson, since the new Browns came back in 1999. In 2012, Graham completed 31 of 38 field goal attempts (81.6%). While he was perfect inside 40 yards (19/19), he went only 11/18 from beyond 40, including 4/9 beyond 50. The Texans drafted Randy Bullock last to compete against whom Graham, but Bullock landed on IR with a groin injury in August. Bullock will get his chance to take the Texans’ kicking job, while Graham will have an advantage for the Browns’ kicking job against Brandon Bogotay.
Fantasy Analysis: Kaeding is no threat to the job of Connor Barth, who recently signed a big-money extension. Instead, he’s taking a camp job to keep his leg fresh and hopefully impress enough to latch on somewhere else. Once one of the NFL’s elite kickers with the Chargers, Kaeding has missed significant time in each of the last two seasons with injuries, kicking in only five games last year before groin and ACL injuries set him down. If he’s healthy and he impresses in camp, he could find a job elsewhere.
Fantasy Analysis: The Rams have been trying for a while to build up their offensive line, but the huge bust that was Jason Smith put them behind the 8-ball. Long’s arrival should help Sam Bradford in a big way, so long as he is healthy and ready to go. Long was once the most dominant lineman in football, but over the last couple of seasons his back has affected his performance. But while the injury worries might have caused a bit of a hang-up in contract talks, they weren’t enough to derail them completely, and Long will arrive in St. Louis as Bradford’s new blind-side protector. That means Rodger Saffold will likely move to right tackle, and the Rams hope they have their bookends for a long time. Long has to improve his play over last season, but it’s clear the Rams and their doctors felt he was capable of doing so.
Fantasy Analysis: Levitre showed improvement in each of his four years and was able to turn that into a big deal during his first foray into free agency. Considered the best interior OL available, Levitre has started every game since entering the league in 2009 and was part of a Bill OL that allowed just 30 sacks in 2012 (10th-fewest). He’ll join a Titan OL that gave up 39 sacks last season and has struggled inside for the last few years, which is one of the reasons RB Chris Johnson’s numbers have struggled. While Levitre is considered more of a pass blocker, the hope is he’ll be able to help jump-start the ground game once again. For $47 million, the Titans are obviously certain he can do that, but it’s a big risk.
Fantasy Analysis: In a move that has seemingly been anticipated for years, the Bears spent big money to upgrade Jay Cutler’s blindside. The Bears had tried to develop J’Marcus Webb, but he was never able to put it all together. Bushrod is by no means an elite player, however, and the Bears might have been priced out of signing some higher-priced free agents because they chose to upgrade at TE as well with Martellus Bennett. That said, Bushrod will be very familiar with his offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who was his OL coach in New Orleans, and Kromer clearly put in a good word for Bushrod with the Bears’ higher-ups. But Bears fans should not expect Bushrod to be a legitimate brick wall, and he could give up more sacks with the Bears simply because Cutler will hold the ball significantly longer than Drew Brees. He’ll be an upgrade, and it allows the Bear to move Webb to RT, but this does feel like an overpay.
Fantasy Analysis: While the Charger OL struggled in 2012, the blame wasn’t on Vasquez. Along with OG Andy Levitre, Vasquez was considered one of the best interior OL free agents out there and after seeing a lot of him over the last four seasons, the Broncos will bring him in to protect QB Peyton Manning. Last year was Vasquez’s first full season, as he missed 10 games in his previous three seasons due to knee, neck, and ankle injuries. The addition of Vasquez could be bad news for Chris Kuper, who may not be ready after undergoing surgery on his leg in late January, the same injury he battled last off-season.
Fantasy Analysis: Louis started 11 games for the Bears last year before a torn ACL set him down in November. Presuming Louis is healthy in time of training camp, he should be in the mix to start at right guard for the Dolphins (pushing John Jerry out), who will have a rebuilt offensive line in 2013. He’s also capable of playing right tackle in a pinch, so he’s a quality depth signing for the Dolphins even if he doesn’t win a job.
Fantasy Analysis: The Colts were looking to upgrade their offensive line, and they took a step in that direction by signing former Lion RT Cherilus. He’s dealt with knee troubles in the past, and the Lions decided to move on from him. Although he’s nothing special overall, Cherilus graded out as Pro Football Focus’ #2 right tackle in 2012, and he’s best known for his pass blocking. Colt rookie QB Andrew Luck took the fourth-most sacks (41) in the NFL in 2012, so Cherilus will surely bolster a Colt offensive line that struggled mightily to keep Luck upright.
Fantasy Analysis: Colon comes to the Jets and immediately fills a need for offensive line help. Colon, a seven-year NFL veteran, can play both guard and tackle, and he’s an effective player when he can stay on the field. However, Colon has had significant trouble staying healthy as his last three seasons have been hampered by knee injuries. The Steelers place Colon on the injured reserve this past season after he needed knee surgery. Colon moved to left guard last season, and he was one of the most effective players at his position, especially as a run blocker. However, Colon was also penalized a ton before his knee injury. Colon figures to slide into the Jet starting lineup at one of the guard spots, but he just has to stay healthy for an entire season.
Fantasy Analysis: Thomas was the Patriots’ top backup interior lineman behind Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly, and he’s played well enough the past few years to land a potential starting job with the Colts. Thomas is athletic for his size (6’4”, 310), can play guard and center, and will provide a veteran presence on the same line that just added Gosder Cherilus. He’s not a great run blocker, but protecting Andrew Luck and strengthening the defense are clearly the Colts’ top priorities this off-season. Thomas helps accomplish that. He’ll play left tackle, according to coach Chuck Pagano.
Fantasy Analysis: Thanks to various injuries along the Ram offensive line, most notably to C Scott Wells, Turner started all 16 games in St. Louis a year ago and performed about as well as can be expected. For the time being, he should be in the mix to start at RG for the Titans, who have to replace LG Steve Hutchinson and RG Deuce Lutui this off-season (they already added Andy Levitre on a big-money deal)> Ideally, though, Turner is a backup, and a valuable one because of his ability to play all three interior line positions. In fact, his best position is probably center, but the Titans should look to re-sign restricted free agent Fernando Velasco, who had a pretty strong year in the middle of the Titan line.
Fantasy Analysis: Dunlap had been a swing tackle and reserve man for the Eagles since 2008, and he’s made multiple starts in each of the past few seasons. Maligned by Eagle fans because he wasn’t as dominant as Jason Peters and occasionally struggled with penalties, Dunlap has been inconsistent but has definitely flashed at times. He’s especially strong in pass protection, when he can use his monster 6’9” frame to anchor. In San Diego, he’ll have the opportunity to compete for a starting job on an offensive line that has been little better than mediocre in recent years.
Fantasy Analysis: The Titans brought some depth to their offensive line by bringing in Spencer from Chicago. Spencer played in 10 games and started five games last season frorthe Bears, with three coming at RG and two at LG. Spencer is a eight-year veteran and a former 1st-round pick of the Seahawks in 2005. He brings some versatility to the completely rebuilt interior of the Titan line with 89 career starts, with 62 coming at center, 19 at RG, and eight at LG. Spencer is a solid backup.
Fantasy Analysis: Britton, a once sought-after 2nd-round pick in 2009, hasn’t been able to stay on the field and play effectively for the Jaguars in four seasons with the Jaguars. Britton has missed 26 games in the last three seasons, and he played so poorly that undrafted rookie Mike Brewster took his job at left guard last season. Britton will look to bring depth to the Bear offensive line, as he has experience at both guard and tackle, but he’ll need to stay healthy to even just make the team.
Fantasy Analysis: Once an underrated player in his tenure with the Buccaneers, Trueblood had one disastrous start in 2012 before getting benched. A big boy (6’8”, 320) with a mean streak, Trueblood will arrive in Washington hoping to compete for the starting right tackle job left behind by the departing Tyler Polumbus, but on the surface he doesn’t really seem like a scheme fit. He’ll have to beat out Tom Compton and Tony Pashos for the job. The Redskins brought Pashos in despite the veteran missing all of 2012 with a foot injury.
Fantasy Analysis: A rotational interior lineman, Ohrnberger spent three years as a reserve with the Patriots before moving to the Cardinals last year, where he started four games (two at right guard and two at center). His versatility makes him an ideal reserve for the Chargers, who struggled up front last year.
Fantasy Analysis: Svitek missed all of 2012 with an arm injury, but if he’s healthy he’ll provide the Patriots with a cheap depth option given his starting experience in the past. He started at left tackle for most of the 2011 season in Atlanta as Sam Baker dealt with injuries. Signing a veteran with experience coming off an injury is a Patriots move, for sure, and Svitek should strengthen their depth.
Fantasy Analysis: Dumervil’s chaotic first couple weeks of the off-season came to an end when he latched on with the Ravens. Baltimore’s defense had been decimated by the losses of Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, and Ed Reed during the early days of free agency. Dumervil’s addition takes away some of the sting, especially the loss of Kruger, as Dumervil will now be arguably the team’s most feared pass rusher. Dumervil finished 2012 with 11 sacks, second on the Broncos behind Von Miller. Dumervil had a career-best season in 2009 as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 system, with 17 sacks to lead the league. He’s played primarily at defensive end the last two seasons, but he’ll once again play in a 3-4 hybrid system next season. Ideally, Dumervil will be paired with fellow OLB Terrell Suggs to make one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league.
Fantasy Analysis: Avril played the 2012 season under a franchise deal with the Lions, starting all 16 games and racked up 35 tackles, 9.5 sacks, and 2 FF to finish with 3.7 FPG. He’s had at least 8.5 sacks over the last three seasons and hasn’t missed a game over the last two. Avril should step in and start right away for the Seahawks, as DE Chris Clemons will likely still be recovering from the torn ACL he had surgery on in mid-January. Avril, who will turn 27 in April, is entering the prime of his career and is natural pass rusher, so he could have plenty of money thrown his way. As the top pass rusher available this off-season, it was surprising to see what appeared to be a quiet market for Avril despite more than a few teams needing someone of his caliber, but the Seahawks jumped in quickly and got the deal done. Although Avril’s numbers may have been helped out by playing with a lot of talent up front in Detroit, he’ll be entering a similar situation in Seattle. The Seahawks take care of a huge need, as their pass rush died in the postseason after the injury to Clemons.
Fantasy Analysis: The Seahawks figured, “Hey, why not add another talented pass rusher to our already stout defensive front?” Out of nowhere, Bennett signed with Seattle on March 14 to join recently signed Cliff Avril and talented rookie Bruce Irvin. Oh yeah, Chris Clemons will also be in the mix at some point next season, so long as he can recover from his torn ACL suffered in the playoffs. Assuming health, the tandem of Bennett, Avril, Irvin, and Clemons is arguably the best group of pass rushers in the NFL entering the 2013 season, and the group complements an already formidable secondary. However, Bennett’s deal was so affordable in large part because he was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder, according to ESPN. It’s a major concern at this point, because shoulder issues have derailed so many careers. But if he’s ready for the regular season, it’s a huge coup for the Seahawks, who lost a lot of bite in their defense after Clemons went down in the playoffs. Bennett had a breakout season in 2012 with a career-best 9 sacks, and he provided consistent pressure beyond that. It’s hard not to see how this deal is a major bargain for the Seahawks, where Bennett returns to where he started his career (2009, before being cut in the same season). With so much talent at defensive end, the versatile Bennett figures to see some time at defensive tackle next season on passing downs. He should have very good IDP value in sack-heavy leagues.
Fantasy Analysis: Osi is coming off a bit of a subpar season, with 43 combined tackles and just 6 sacks, his lowest sack total since 2006. The Falcons are hoping, however, that he can adequately replace the veteran pass-rush presence they let go in John Abraham. Umenyiora restructured his contract in 2012 and played behind Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, so the Giants just couldn’t offer Osi the kind of money he wanted after his favor last season. Umenyiora isn’t the same pass-rushing force that he once was with the Giants, but he can still get to opposing QBs in passing situations.
Fantasy Analysis: Bryant became infamous this off-season for his absurd mug shot taken after he was arrested on a criminal mischief charge. However, the underrated Bryant was known in NFL circles as one of the top defensive lineman available in free agency, and he cashed in. Bryant showed he was capable of playing both defensive tackle and end, and he’ll likely be an ideal fit as a DE in new DC Ray Horton’s 3-4 scheme. Bryant is an athletic 6’6”, 300-pound defensive lineman, who excels at stuffing the run and rushing the passer from the interior, although his numbers don’t really translate to IDP (only 2.9 FPG in 2012). The Brown defensive front seven has suddenly become a formidable unit with acquisitions of Bryant and OLB Paul Kruger on the first day of free agency. Expect Horton to unleash mayhem with his new front seven, which already includes DL Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, and Jabaal Sheard.
Fantasy Analysis: Jean-Francois got quite the lucrative contract for starting only five games during his four years in San Francisco. Jean-Francois did play all over the 49er defensive front, so he’ll bring some versatility to the Colts. He did fill in well for Justin Smith when he missed some time in the second half of the season. Jean-Francois has outstanding short-area quickness, with good hands and a high motor. He’s never played more than 27% of the 49ers’ defensive snaps in his four years, so he’s still a bit raw. Jean-Francois did lineup at NT and DE in the 49ers’ 3-4 scheme, but he’s used to playing in a 4-3 scheme like he’ll play in Indy from his time at LSU.
Fantasy Analysis: Canty spent the first eight years of his career in the NFC East with the Cowboys and most recently as a member of the Giants, but he’ll head down I-95 to become part of retooled Raven front seven. Canty was limited to nine games last season, thanks to groin and knee issues after not missing a start in the previous two seasons. According to NFL Network, Canty didn’t get approval from the Packers’ doctors during his visit, but was cleared by the Chiefs, Titans, and Ravens. He finished 2012 with 26 tackles and 3 sacks, good for just 3.3 FPG. Canty should be able to help the Ravens up front, especially against the run, after they lost LB Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe to free agency. If he’s healthy, this is a nice bargain for Baltimore.
Fantasy Analysis: Shaughnessy showed glimpses of becoming a top-tier pass rusher back in 2010 when he racked up 7 sacks, but injuries derailed his career the last two seasons. Shaughnessy suffered a shoulder injury in Week Three of 2011 and missed the rest of the year. He returned to the Raider lineup in 2012, but he struggled to gain back his old form. Shaughnessy figures to play in a rotation with starters Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. If Shaughnessy can start playing like he did in 2010, then Campbell could slide inside and Shaughnessy could see more time. He started 16 games with the Raiders last season, racking up 42 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
Fantasy Analysis: After two seasons with the Eagles, Jenkins will head up the New Jersey Turnpike and stay in the NFC East to play for the Giants. Although he may not have played up to the deal he signed with the Eagles in 2011, Jenkins wasn’t bad either. He just wasn’t good enough to keep around in a new regime and new scheme, which is why he was cut loose just two years into a five-year deal. Last season, Jenkins started all 16 games, registering 26 tackles and 4 sacks, which put him at 2.9 FPG. He’s expected to start for the Giants, taking the place of DT Chris Canty, who is no longer with the team.
Fantasy Analysis: The Ravens have been decimated by the loss of some key defensive free agents, but the team has made some smaller moves, including Spears’ signing, to lessen the blow. Spears started 89 games with the Cowboys since he came into the league in 2005, and he’ll join recently signed Chris Canty along the defensive line. Spears and Canty might not start next season, but they’ll bring some much-needed depth to the front seven. Spears defends the run well, but he won’t bring much in terms of a pass rush, as he has just 10 career sacks in eight seasons.
Fantasy Analysis: The Jaguars continued to try to bolster their defensive line by signing Marks. He’ll compete with Tyson Alualu and recent free-agent signee Roy Miller to start along the defensive front. With the Titans, Marks played in 51 games and started 26 times, racking up 180 tackles and 3 sacks, but been a bit of disappointment in Tennessee after being selected in the 2nd round in 2009. However, he’s still young at 26. The Jags are looking for any kind of help to stop the run, as the team allowed 141 rushing yards per game in 2012.
Fantasy Analysis: Branch brings even more depth to a defensive front that includes DTs Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. He’ll jump right into the rotation after starting 31 games in his last two seasons in Seattle, racking up 64 tackles and 4 sacks. The Bills really struggled to stop the run in 2012, allowing 145.8 rushing yards per game and 5.0 YPC to finish 31st in the NFL. New Bill DC Mike Pettine expects to run a mix of 3-4 and 4-3 fronts next season.
Fantasy Analysis: The once-deep Lion defensive line suddenly became thin this off-season with the release of Kyle Vanden Bosch and the imminent losses of Cliff Avril and Sammie Hill. The Lions addressed their sudden need for defensive line help by brining in Jones, a versatile lineman who will likely play defensive end. Jones can play on the outside on run-downs and inside during passing situations. He finished with 10 tackles and 3 sacks for the Seahawks this past season. Jones racked up 5 sacks in 2008 as a rookie and 4 in only seven games in 2009, all with the Titans. During his time in Tennessee, Jones played under Lion HC Jim Schwartz and Lion defensive line coach Jim Washburn. The Lions’ coaches should know how to use Jones, so this could be a sneaky good signing.
Fantasy Analysis: Knighton’s signing with the Broncos certainly didn’t grab many headlines, as he inked his deal on the same day as WR Wes Welker. Still, Knighton’s signing is quietly a solid pickup and a boost for the Bronco defense. Knighton lost his starting job with the Jaguars, a job he held down the previous three years, but he’ll be reunited with his former coach Jack Del Rio in Denver. Knighton’s best season came under Del Rio’s watch in 2010, with 34 tackles and 4 sacks. Knighton dealt with an eye injury in the 2012 preseason and lost his starting job, but he still finished with 32 tackles and 2 sacks. Knighton is expected to clog running lanes inside, next to DT Kevin Vickerson. He doesn’t have a ton of IDP value, but he brings more bite to an underrated defense that lost steam toward the end of last season.
Fantasy Analysis: The Giants continued to turn to former Eagle defensive tackles to add depth to their defensive line with the signing of Patterson. The Giants previously brought in Cullen Jenkins to bolster a defense that finished 25th against the run and 31st overall in total defense. Patterson started 14 or more games for the Eagles from 2006-11, but he underwent brain surgery in January 2012. He played in just five games last season before he was placed on the reserve/non-football illness list with pneumonia. If Patterson gets back to full health, he can certainly bring some size and experience to the Giant defensive line.
Fantasy Analysis: An underrated rotational lineman, Rucker made 29 solo tackles and 4 sacks last year with the Browns. He’ll provide depth for the Cardinals in their hybrid defensive fronts, but he probably won’t do much for IDP value unless Darnell Dockett or Calais Campbell gets hurt.
Fantasy Analysis: Kelly played in all 16 games in 2012, all of the starts, but the 32-year-old defensive lineman had the worst year of his career, statistically. He finished with only 25 solos, his fewest since his rookie year in 2004, and only 1.5 sacks. His 2.8 FPG was the worst mark of his career. At 32, Kelly won’t be expected to provide much more than depth for the Patriots, but if he functions well in a rotational role, he could be a valuable piece.
Fantasy Analysis: DeVito comes to the Chiefs after a six-year stint with the Jets. DeVito will likely replace DT Glenn Dorsey in the Chiefs’ 3-4 scheme next year. DeVito started 15 games last year, collecting 52 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 forced fumbles. DeVito will be reunited with former Jet linebackers coach Bob Sutton, who is the new the DC in Kansas City. The Jets were working to re-sign DeVito, but the organization didn’t have the cap space to strike a deal. The Jets released DT Sione Po’uha earlier this off-season, so the Jets will be without their two interior DTs from 2012. DeVito will be a reliable run stuffer for the Chiefs.
Fantasy Analysis: Pitoitua is a monster at defensive end, measuring in at 6’8”, 315 pounds, but he won’t be counted on to be anything more than a rotational lineman both outside and inside. He did see extended time last season for the Chiefs, starting 10 games and playing 505 snaps. He recorded 32 solo tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. Pitoitua, a four-year veteran who played his first three seasons with the Jets before joining the Chiefs last year, did miss an entire season in New York because of an Achilles injury. He’s much more likely to bolster the Titans’ run defense than pass rush.
Fantasy Analysis: The 49ers suddenly had a need for DTs with Isaac Sopoaga headed to Philadelphia and Ricky Jean-Francois likely gone as well. The Chiefs misused Dorsey as a DE in their 3-4 system, and he’s likely to play inside with the 49ers. The Chiefs initially expressed some interest to keep Dorsey around, but the team decided to sign former Jet DT Mike DeVito. Dorsey should immediately slide into the 49ers’ starting lineup, and he’s earned a reputation as a solid run defender. Dorsey became known as a draft bust in Kansas City after being taken 5th overall in 2008, but the 49ers quickly snatched up Dorsey in free agency, so they obviously think that he can help one of the league’s best defenses.
Fantasy Analysis: Both HC Mike Munchak and GM Ruston Webster recently said they were looking to get bigger up front and Hill certainly helps fill that need, as he’ll be the team’s big DL at 6’4”, 329 pounds. Hill has appeared in all but five games in his four years, all with the Lions. However, after starting in 12 of 13 games as a rookie, he was pushed into more of a rotational role in the last three years, getting just six starts. Last season he had just 15 tackles and 0 sacks, but he should have a chance at better numbers with the Titans, where he’s expected to play a bigger role. Hill is considered a solid run defender and can get pressure on the QB. At just 26, coming off a backup role, Hill should have plenty left and gives the Rams a versatile DL with the ability to play DT or DE.
Fantasy Analysis: Miller, 26, is a rising defensive tackle, and a player who will offset the loss of DT Terrance Knighton to the Broncos. Miller is stout against the run, and he helped the Buccaneers become one of the toughest teams to run against last season, so he’ll immediately give the Jaguars a boost along the defensive front. Miller won’t bring anything to the Jaguar pass rush, but the Jaguars didn’t bring him into the fold to terrorize quarterbacks. Miller has great hands, and he’s good at tying up blockers to free up linebackers. The Jaguars gave up the 3rd-most FPG (22.08) to RBs last season, including 121.2 rushing yards per game in 2012.
Fantasy Analysis: A huge run defender who doesn’t play on passing downs, Sopoaga isn’t likely to contribute to your fantasy teams, but he’ll sure help guys like DeMeco Ryans rack up solo tackles by sucking up blockers. Sopoaga had only 21 solo tackles himself last season, and he’s never had more than 26 in a single year, but his contributions go beyond that for the Eagles. And if it wasn’t obvious already, the Eagles are clearly switching to a 3-4 defense, or at least a hybrid, under new coordinator Billy Davis. Sopoaga rejoins new Eagle personnel guru Tom Gamble in Philly. Gamble just left San Francisco last month for a similar role in the Eagle front office.
Fantasy Analysis: Franklin joins his fourth team in four years by heading to Indianapolis. Franklin was one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league just a few years ago, but he’s moved from San Francisco to New Orleans to San Diego to Indy in the last four years and his profile has fallen off. The Colts have gone out of their way to try to upgrade their 3-4 defensive front this off-season, as they also brought in Ricky Jean-Francois, who can play all three spots. That means Franklin is likely to slide in at NT. Franklin started nine games and appeared in 12 before suffering a season-ending knee injury with the Chargers last year. Strictly a run stopper, he’ll try to help a unit that gave up 5.1 YPC last season.
Fantasy Analysis: Sims is pushing 340 pounds, so we know what he is: a run clogger. He’s never made more than 22 solos in a season, and he has only 6 sacks in his five-year career. But he’s big, he’s physical, and he eats up blockers. He has no fantasy value for IDP, but he isn’t someone running backs want to mess with on a consistent basis, and he’ll clear the room for LBs to make plays.
Fantasy Analysis: Martin was drawing interest from several teams as a rotational defensive tackle, and he opted to sign with the Dolphins. He’s been a starter the past two years with the Chargers, but has never been a fantasy option, topping out at 27 solos and a single sack in 2011. If he isn’t getting consistent full-time snaps with the Dolphins, he’s got no real shot to produce for IDP, but at age 27 he’s a solid depth signing.
Fantasy Analysis: Tapp, a former defensive end with the Eagles, doesn’t quite have the body type to play DE in a 3-4, so he’ll likely move to outside linebacker with the Redskins. Tapp will play behind OLBs Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, so he’ll be the insurance policy for oft-injured Orakpo. Tapp is a seven-year veteran, and he spent the last three years in Philadelphia, registering 17 tackles and a half a sack in 13 games.
Fantasy Analysis: Coleman followed former Cowboy DC Rob Ryan to New Orleans, where he will provide some depth at DE behind Akiem Hicks and Cameron Jordan. Coleman started five games in 2012 before he tore his left triceps and went on the IR in November. Coleman, who recorded 15 tackles and a forced fumble, is a stout run stuffer on the defensive front, and the Cowboys struggled to stop opposing running backs when Coleman went out. The Cowboys allowed 105.2 rushing yards per game in the seven games with Coleman, and 150.9 in the final nine games without him. If Coleman can stay healthy, he should help a Saint defense that struggled to stop anybody, but he’s not the type of guy who will provide big IDP value.
Fantasy Analysis: Mosley didn’t last long on the open market, as the Lions scooped him up two days after the Jaguars released him. Mosley started over the talented Terrance Knighton last season, but new HC Gus Bradley didn’t quite have a spot for Mosley in his system. Mosley will backup starters Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley next season, and presumably will bring a run-stopping presence to the Lions. The Lions needed some depth at DT after the team decided not to re-sign Corey Williams and Sammie Lee Hill left for Tennessee.
Fantasy Analysis: Landri is a high-motor defensive tackle who had some success in a rotational role with the Eagles the last two seasons. However, he’s entering his age 30 season and he’s only been a full-time starter once in his career, when he registered 30 solos and 2 sacks with the Panthers in 2010. He could compete for a starting job opposite Gerald McCoy this year, but he’s unlikely to provide much in the way of IDP value.
Fantasy Analysis: Garay lost snaps in the Chargers’ defense last year, and he’ll come to the Jets with a hope of competing for a job now that Mike DeVito is gone. Still, we find it unlikely Garay seriously undermines Kenrick Ellis, and even if he does, we doubt he’ll be much of a fantasy option. His best IDP year came in 2010, with 38 solos and 6.0 sacks, and his best hope of getting on the field is showing an effective interior rush again. But at 33, his skills are dwindling.
Fantasy Analysis: While a lot of attention may have been given to LB Ray Lewis in the playoffs, it was Kruger who shined for the Raven defense. He had 4.5 sacks in the playoffs after racking up 9 during the regular season, which helped him to a tie for 18th among DEs with 4.9 FPG. Kruger parlayed his big year into big money, something the Ravens weren’t able to pony up as they had to pay QB Joe Flacco. With Kruger coming off a season with career highs in sacks (9) and tackles (42) in 15 games, he’ll be expected to anchor new coordinator Ray Horton’s 3-4 hybrid defense. In sack-heavy leagues, he’ll absolutely have IDP value, especially as a DE, because he’ll also rack up solo tackles.
Fantasy Analysis: The Ravens’ top priority coming into free agency was to re-sign Ellerbe, which is why it came as a shock that Ellerbe bolted to Miami on the opening day of the new league year. Baltimore even traded postseason hero WR Anquan Boldin in order to clear up some cap room to re-sign Ellerbe. The Ravens viewed Ellerbe as Ray Lewis’ replacement, but Ellerbe left Baltimore reeling, as the top inside linebacker went for significantly more money than anticipated in South Beach, where he will be the starting MLB. And it’s hard to blame the Ravens, given Ellerbe’s durability issues. It’s unknown where exactly Ellerbe, an inside linebacker with Baltimore, will line up with the Dolphins, but he could play all over the defense. Ellerbe’s addition immediately brings youth and versatility to the Dolphins, who already released veteran Karlos Dansby pretty much immediately after signing Ellerbe, and then signed Philip Wheeler. Dolphin WLB Koa Misi could see more action as a pass rusher with the addition of Ellerbe to the Dolphin defense. Ellerbe can stop the run and rush the passer, as he finished with 69 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season. Ellerbe does struggle in pass coverage a bit, but he excels in the other two areas to make up for his deficiency.
Fantasy Analysis: The Dolphins haven’t been shy about throwing their money around early in free agency, as they add another LB in Wheeler after signing LB Dannell Ellerbe. While the Raider defense was a mess for the most part last season, Wheeler actually had the best performance of his five-year career. After spending his first four years with the Colts, Wheeler came to Oakland and started all 16 games, notching 109 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 FF to finish 25th among LBs at 7.4 FPG. Wheeler did a fine job as a run stopper and was able to handle himself nicely when asked to drop into coverage. This appears to be a solid addition for the Dolphins, especially since Wheeler is just 28. This signing spelled the end for LB Kevin Burnett in Miami, just as the Ellerbe signing spelled the end of Karlos Dansby.
Fantasy Analysis: Wiliams was the first choice to replace longtime Bear Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker. Williams was very productive for the Broncos from 2004-2011, but he barely stepped on the field last season because of off-the-field issues. He missed three games after he was convicted for driving while impaired, and he was suspended another six games for failing an NFL test for performance-enhancing drugs. The antics limited him to 160 snaps, and in fact Williams missed more games last season than Urlacher missed in his last three seasons combined. Still, if Williams can keep his act together, he could be a better option for the Bear defense than aging Urlacher, who was clearly slower last year than he had been before. Williams has played all three linebacker spots for the Broncos, but he’ll likely be in the middle next season in Chicago.
Fantasy Analysis: The Eagles are hoping they get the 2011 version of Barwin to play OLB in their new 3-4, but it appears their contract with him has some safeguards in case he’s the 2012 version. Barwin had a disappointing 2012, with 44 combined tackles, 1 fumble recovery, and just 3 sacks. Barwin’s sack total plummeted from 11.5 sacks in 2011 to just 3 sacks this season, but he still played on 94% of the Texans’ defensive snaps, more than any other player in their front seven. His skill set is one that probably should put him somewhere in between those numbers. He isn’t a freakish pass rusher with outstanding speed and moves, like DeMarcus Ware, but he’s a high-motor guy who will run through blockers and provide great effort play after play. He’s best, as GM Howie Roseman noted, when he lines up away from the TE when rushing the passer, which suggests he’ll more often play the “Predator” role in the Eagle defense, and not the SAM linebacker spot. He gives the Eagles a clear starter in their new 3-4 because of his experience (currently the only OLB on the roster with 3-4 experience), but it’s doubtful he becomes a double-digit sack guy again.
Fantasy Analysis: While the Dolphins opted to get younger at LB by signing Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe, releasing Burnett and Karlos Dansby in the process, that doesn’t mean Burnett was ineffective last year. In his age 29 season, Burnett posted 80 solo tackles and 2.5 sacks on the weak side, his third consecutive season with 80 or more solos. Assuming he locks down a starting role for the Raiders, and there’s little reason to believe he won’t, Burnett should have IDP value as a cheap source of solo tackles, especially in leagues that weigh them heavily. Burnett is likely to start at WILL, with fellow new acquisitions Nick Roach and Kaluka Maiava at MIKE and SAM, respectively.
Fantasy Analysis: After spending the first four years of his career with the Cowboys, Butler follows DC Rob Ryan to New Orleans. Butler appeared in every game for Dallas in 2012, but started just once. He had 25 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 PDs, and 3 FF. While not considered a strong run defender, Butler does provide the Saints with some pass-rushing speed on the outside and could be in the mix for a bigger role than he played in Dallas. Look for Butler to compete for a starting job as an OLB in Ryan’s 3-4 defense.
Fantasy Analysis: Lawson joins the Bills, where he’ll be reuniting with former North Carolina State teammate Mario Williams. Lawson fell out of favor with the Bengals last year, posting 29 solos and 2 sacks in 15 games of action, but at his best he’s a solid strong-side rush linebacker who can get to the quarterback. His career year came in 2009 with the 49ers, when he posted 49 solos and 6.5 sacks. In sack-heavy IDP leagues, he could be a worthwhile Waiver Wire depth guy, as the Bills will likely give him every chance in the world to get a lot of snaps under coordinator Mike Pettine, who has run 3-4 concepts in the past but will use a hybrid system this season.
Fantasy Analysis: Groves, who will be 29 in July, is coming off his best season as a pro, finishing with 34 solos and 4 sacks in a rotational role with the Cardinals last season. So it makes perfect sense that he’s going to look to keep his success going in a familiar scheme. He’ll follow DC Ray Horton from Arizona to Cleveland, where he’ll likely play a similar depth role. The Browns have spent big elsewhere on the defense, but Groves is also the type of player teams need: cheap, familiar with the scheme, and very useful. The Brown defense looks significantly improved through only two days of free agency.
Fantasy Analysis: The Ravens have been desperate for inside linebacker help ever since Ray Lewis retired and Dannell Ellerbe left via free agency, so it’s reasonable that they’ll take a risk with McClain. McClain is getting a second chance to establish himself in the league after he ran into trouble off the field, as well as playing inconsistently (and usually poorly) in Oakland. The Raiders released him April 5, and the Ravens snatched him up five days later. McClain has been solid against the run since he came into the league in 2010, but he’s only a two-down linebacker because he’s been terrible in coverage. If he can reestablish some value, he could have some IDP juice, but he’s not going to be guaranteed a job.
Fantasy Analysis: With the Bears, Roach was a “jack of all trades, master of none,” but he could see more guaranteed playing time in Oakland, where the roster is extremely thin. In 2012, Roach started 14 games for the Bears, making 50 solo tackles and 1.5 sacks, his second-best IDP season after 2009. Roach has played MIKE and SAM with Chicago, and he could well be the Raiders’ starter at MIKE when Rolando McClain is cut. If so, he’ll likely have more IDP value than he ever had with the Bears.
Fantasy Analysis: The Raider front seven has taken some hits since free agency opened up on March 12, so adding Maiava will stop some of the bleeding. The Raiders have already lost OLB Philip Wheeler, and LB Rolando McClain is expected to be cut. Maiava was an underrated outside linebacker last season for the Browns, starting 13 games and collecting 53 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. Maiava, in his fourth season out of USC, played in 50 games in Cleveland, and he will immediately be inserted into the Raider starting lineup next season.
Fantasy Analysis: Smith was a backup in Chicago last year, but he’ll be brought in with a real chance to start for the Jags at SAM, where Daryl Smith is likely gone. At his best in Tampa Bay a couple seasons ago, he was a player capable of posting 70-80 solo tackles with a handful of sacks. Smith will be at his best if he’s asked to blitz more often because he’s not the surest of tacklers in the NFL and has been a liability against the run in the past. In IDP leagues, he can be an interesting bench guy if he nabs a spot in the lineup with Jacksonville because he can provide solos and the occasional sack.
Fantasy Analysis: The Bears continue to try to replenish their linebackers with the addition of Anderson. He’ll likely step into the lineup at strongside linebacker, replacing Nick Roach, who signed with the Raiders. There, he’ll play beside recently signed D.J. Williams, who will take over for longtime Bear Brian Urlacher. The Panthers decided to cut Anderson after two sub-par seasons, as he struggled as a run defender, despite setting a Panthers’ single-season record for tackles in 2011. The Bears figure to bring in some younger talent at linebacker, but the team has only five picks in the draft, so it needed to add depth with the signing of Anderson. Anderson missed four games last season because of a back injury, but he has plenty of experience with 53 starts in seven seasons.
Fantasy Analysis: Blackburn started 15 games for the Giants last season at middle linebacker, but he won’t sniff that spot as long stud Luke Kuechly stays healthy. The Panthers brought Blackburn into the mix to bring depth to the position behind Jon Beason and the oft-injured Thomas Davis. Blackburn spent eight season with the Giants, so he brings plenty of experience and versatility to the position. He finished last season with 64 tackles and 3 sacks, and Blackburn effectively replaces James Anderson.
Fantasy Analysis: The Cowboys are facing some salary cap issues, but signing Durant is a low-risk move on that end. He isn’t a spectacular talent at linebacker, but he’s a tackling machine in his six career seasons with the Jaguars and Lions. Durant will likely step right into the starting lineup at strongside linebacker in the Cowboys new 4-3 scheme. He’ll play on the outside with Bruce Carter and Sean Lee will man the middle. Durant started 14 games last year for the Lions, finishing with the second-most tackles on the team with 103. He might not tally that much in Dallas, but if he’s in position to make some plays, he could be a solid IDP fill-in some weeks.
Fantasy Analysis: Connor never quite could fit into the Cowboys’ 3-4 scheme last season, but he’ll be back in his most comfortable spot at middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme with the Giants. Connor played four seasons a middle linebacker in a 4-3 with Carolina, and he played at MLB during his time at Penn State, so Connor wanted to get back to his most comfortable position. Connor brings plenty of experience to New York, with 27 starts in 56 career games, and he figures to battle Mark Herzlich for the starting job in the middle of the Giant defense. Free agent Chase Blackburn, who started at MLB last season, doesn’t seem to fit into the Giants’ plans after the Connor signing.
Fantasy Analysis: The Cardinals spent the first couple days of free agency loading up on linebackers by signing Brinkley and Lorenzo Alexander. The Cards were hungry for linebackers because free agent Paris Lenon is likely gone and the team cut Stewart Bradley, who signed in Denver. Brinkley is the favorite to play inside linebacker next to Daryl Washington, although Alexander figures to be in the mix. Brinkley, who is entering his fifth year, is coming off a career-best 117 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles in 15 starts. He started 19 total games while in Minnesota, and Brinkley will likely be a solid two-down linebacker in Arizona.
Fantasy Analysis: Diles has been a reserve linebacker for most of his time in the NFL, including in 2012, when he made only 7 solo tackles in six games before a season-ending leg injury. But he is a player who has had some fantasy relevance in the past, averaging as high as 8.1 FPG in 2008. If he’s healthy, he’ll have a chance to compete for a starting ILB job in Kansas City, alongside Derrick Johnson. If he is ever in a starting role, he could be a viable Waiver Wire guy.
Fantasy Analysis: New Chief HC Andy Reid brought in his former linebacker Jordan to bring some depth to the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense. Jordan will likely compete to start at one of the inside linebacker spots against recently signed Zac Diles. ILB Derrick Johnson will likely start in the other spot. Jordan started seven games for the Eagles in 2012 and 27 in the last four seasons, and he contributed on special teams as well.
Fantasy Analysis: Zombo brings some depth to the Chief outside linebackers behind starters Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Zombo started eight games as a rookie in 2010, racking up 4 sacks, but he’s run into some injury issues the last two seasons. Zombo played in just eight games the last two years, and a hamstring injury slowed him in 2012 as he had just 8 tackles. The Packers decided not to even tender Zombo, a restricted free agent, this off-season.
Fantasy Analysis: The Redskins lost a glue guy in Alexander, a player they had hoped to keep around, despite tight salary-cap limitations. The Cardinals get a Pro Bowl special teams player, and Alexander said he is also expected to get a chance to start at inside linebacker next to Daryl Washington, one of the reasons he jumped to Arizona. Alexander racked up 47 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season, playing primarily as a backup in Washington. Alexander is coming off his seventh NFL season, and he’s considered a good team player who is willing to play both inside and outside at linebacker. In other words, he’s a great fit on a team that was a total mess last year.
Fantasy Analysis: Walden was forced onto the field more than the Packers would’ve liked in 2012. Rookie LB Nick Perry was lost for the year and OLB Clay Matthews was lost for a stretch of games, forcing Walden to become an every-down OLB. Walden was a less-than-adequate fill-in for both Perry and Matthews, and Pro Football Focus rated Walden as the worst OLB in 2012. That’s why this contract was so universally panned among football experts in the immediate hour following its announcement. And it makes us wonder what GM Ryan Grigson knows that we don’t. Walden finished the 2012 season with 46 tackles and 3 sacks, and he’ll be asked to give the Colts a pass rush with Dwight Freeney gone from the organization. Walden is fully expected to be a starter opposite Robert Mathis next season.
Fantasy Analysis: Unless there’s an injury to Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman, don’t expect much fantasy value from Skuta. But that’s why he’ll be so valuable to the 49ers. Skuta is known for his fantastic special teams track record, and his ability to effectively fill in at MLB/ILB in the event of an injury. Skuta has never made more than 9 solo tackles in a season, but he’s the type of player championship-caliber teams love.
Fantasy Analysis: Obviously, readers of this site know that Revis is an “anti-fantasy” player: he doesn’t put up many stats himself, but he prevents others from putting up their numbers. Despite the steep cost, acquiring him makes sense for the Bucs, who had a historically awful pass defense last season (they also spent big to add S Dashon Goldson). But there are questions here, most notably surrounding Revis’ torn ACL, which he suffered in Week Three of last season. Both Revis and Buc GM Mark Domenik have been adamant that he will be 100% by Week One 2013, which isn’t a stretch considering how early in 2012 he suffered his injury. If he’s healthy, Steve Smith, Marques Colston, Roddy White, and Julio Jones will have a much tougher go of it in 2013 than they did against the Bucs in 2012. The Bucs are gambling that Revis is healthy, and the Jets traded away one of their few remaining assets for draft picks, which makes this trade easily defensible but their roster dreadful. It’s one of the more interesting moves in the NFL in a long time.
Fantasy Analysis: The Buccaneers had a ton of money to spend and a secondary that finished dead last in the NFL by surrendering 297.4 yards per game through the air, so it should come as no surprise that they made a major splash in signing Goldson. Still, he’s a big name who is known for making “splash” plays. Indeed, he has 9 INTs over the last two seasons from the safety position, which is certainly impressive. At the top of his game, he can cover the best TEs in the NFL, which is becoming more and more important every year. But he’s also prone to lapses in coverage, and giving up plays down the field. That’s why the 49ers didn’t offer him the franchise tag for the second consecutive season. He’ll be 29 in September, meaning he’s approaching the end of his prime, and the 49ers chose to revamp their secondary, which was clearly the weakness of their generally excellent defense. Goldson’s a good player who might have gotten a little bit too much press the last couple of seasons, and it may have artificially inflated his value. But for the Bucs, this could have been a necessary deal, and we’d think he’d remain a solid IDP player for those in big-play leagues (he averaged only 5.2 FPG in our standard-scoring system last year).
Fantasy Analysis: With the lack of stability in the Lion secondary, adding Quin to the mix should help fix that problem. Since switching from corner to safety a couple of seasons ago, Quin was a big part of the turnaround for the Texan defense. Not only does he have the ability to line up in coverage, but can also help when it comes to defending the run. Last season, Quin had 84 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INTs, and 14 PDs, putting him in a tie for 27th among DBs at 6.2 FPG. In four seasons, Quin has missed just one game and has started every game over the last three years. Quin should help a defense that ranked 14th against the pass and 17th against the run in 2012.
Fantasy Analysis: The Texan defense was already one of the best units in 2012, and adding a veteran playmaker like Reed will only make the unit that much more dynamic. Reed is getting up there in NFL years, at 34 years old, but he appeared to have plenty of tread left in his 11th career season on his way to leading the Raven defense to a Super Bowl victory. He’s also stayed healthy the last two years, not missing a game in that time and playing 1068 snaps last season. Wade Phillips is one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL, so it will be interesting to see how he deploys Reed next season. Phillips could very well let Reed do what he does best: roam free in the secondary and wreak havoc by outsmarting opposing quarterbacks. The Texan defense finished 6th in the league with 8.6 FPG, and Reed is the kind of playmaker that immediately boosts the fantasy value of a defense, even if he’s not much of an IDP player himself. Reed has a flair for chaos, as he has a 61 career INTs, 13 TDs, and 11 forced fumbles. Reed had 4 INTs, 1 TD, and 3 fumble recoveries alone in 2012. The Texans did lose S Glover Quin to Detroit this off-season, but Reed will be more than a capable replacement, if he can keep his high-level of play going in 2013.
Fantasy Analysis: The Ravens found their replacement for FS Ed Reed with the addition of Huff from the Raiders. Huff is extremely athletic and was even forced to play cornerback last season when injuries started to mount for the Raiders. He also started his career at strong safety, but his ideal position is free safety (which was Reed’s spot). Huff has missed just four games during his seven-year career, so he’ll bring some durability to the Raven secondary. Huff is a solid tackler and has 11 career INTs and 55 pass deflections. The Ravens were purged during the early days of free agency, but GM Ozzie Newsome has rebuilt the defense with some cheap but effective pieces. At true free safety, Huff might not provide consistent value in tackle-heavy IDP leagues (Reed didn’t either), but he should be in position to make a few big plays.
Fantasy Analysis: The Colts really struggled to stop the run last season, so the team went out and signed Landry, one of the best run-support safeties in the NFL. Landry is best at filling any free space in the running game. He’s versatile enough to stop both the run and pass, but he doesn’t have great speed in coverage. Landry spent his first five seasons with the Redskins before moving on to the Jets last year and having arguably his best season in the league, with 100 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, and 2 INTs. Landry also stayed healthy for all 16 games last season, but he’s had injury issues in the past, missing 15 games between 2010-2011. In that regard, the big contract is a gamble for the Colts.
Fantasy Analysis: The Jets replaced S LaRon Landry with his brother Dawan, who was released by the Jaguars after last season. Landry is familiar with the Jet coaching staff, as he played under HC Rex Ryan and DC Dennis Thurman in Baltimore. Landry has been a starter in the NFL since he broke into the league with Baltimore in 2006 and is tough against the run, racking up 81 solos to go with 1 INT in 2012. The Jet secondary has been depleted this off-season with the departures of LaRon, Yeremiah Bell, and Eric Smith, and the Jets could also trade away CB Darrelle Revis.
Fantasy Analysis: Cox, one of the top young free agent cornerbacks, had quite the market developing for his services, but he called off some his other trips to land in San Diego. Cox was the top CB in Jacksonville the last few years, picking off 4 INTs in each of his last three seasons. He finished with 60 tackles and 4 INTs last season, while allowing just one touchdown. Cox has also dealt with some injury issues in his young career, as he’s missed at least three games in each of his last three seasons. DC John Pagano will likely use Cox as a press corner against the opponent’s top WR next season.
Fantasy Analysis: Considered one of the top CBs available on the market, the 6’3” Smith adds another nice corner to the Chiefs’ secondary, which already features top CB Brandon Flowers and new addition Dunta Robinson, who could also play safety. At 6’3” and close to 220 pounds, Smith is a physical corner who is willing to jam receivers to get them off their game, and he’s also a sure tackler. He’ll be only 26 in July, so he’s still young, and he’s also coming off his best IDP season. He had 53 solo tackles, 2 INTs, 3 forced fumbles, and 11 passes defensed in 2012, and he can absolutely replicate or improve on that with the Chiefs.
Fantasy Analysis: Grimes had his name linked to a number of different teams, including the Rams, Falcons, Browns and Bucs. In the end, Grimes got paid by the Dolphins (didn’t everyone?). Grimes was considered one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the league heading into 2012, but his season was cut extremely short after he tore his Achilles tendon in Week One. Despite his injury, Grimes was a sought-after commodity, but he ended up choosing a one-year deal to go to South Beach to try to re-establish his value after his devastating injury. Grimes also missed four games in 2011 with a knee injury, so there are some durability issues. If a healthy Grimes can regain his Pro Bowl form, he’ll give the Dolphin defense a huge boost in the secondary, a unit that ranked 27th against the pass in 2012, and one that lost top CB Sean Smith in free agency.
Fantasy Analysis: Wilson spent the first 12 years of his career with the Cardinals before they cut ties with him this off-season. His play had dropped off a bit thanks to a combination of age and injuries slowing him down. He started in 14 of 15 appearances last season, racking up 54 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 5 PDs, and 1 FF. Wilson was coming off the field quite often in nickel situations last season, as he’d become a liability in coverage over the last few years. He’ll try to help a Patriot secondary that struggled last season and lost S Patrick Chung to free agency. New England also gave CB Kyle Arrington a new long-term contract and re-signed top CB Aqib Talib to a one-year deal. Wilson, who’ll turn 34 in October, could be in the mix for a starting job, but will at least provide depth for the secondary.
Fantasy Analysis: In Lewis, the Saints locked up one of the top available cornerbacks on the market. Lewis had a breakout season with the Steelers as a first-time starter, notching a league-high 23 pass defenses. Lewis finished the year without an INT, but he record 71 total tackles and 1 forced fumble. Lewis played as primarily a zone corner during his time in Pittsburgh, but he’ll be asked to play more man coverage in DC Rob Ryan’s defensive system. Lewis will start opposite of CB Jabari Greer, as the Saints will look to improve their pass defense that ranked second to last against the pass in the NFL.
Fantasy Analysis: Williams played a big role in the Ravens run to the Lombardi Trophy, as Williams and S Ed Reed were the only Raven defenders to play in all 16 games this past season. Williams picked off four passes during the regular season, and he added two more INTs during the postseason. Williams, who is stout against the run for a cornerback, added 75 tackles and 17 pass deflections. Raven CB Lardarius Webb was the team’s top cornerback, but he tore his ACL in Week Six, which forced Williams to take on a bigger role against opponent’s top receivers. Williams did struggle in the regular season, though, as opponents threw for 1000 yards and 6 TDs against him. Williams will start opposite freshly signed Bradley Fletcher in the Eagles’ revamped secondary. The team also signed FS Kenny Phillips and SS Patrick Chung, along with Williams and Fletcher, during the opening days of free agency.
Fantasy Analysis: Injuries have plagued Toler in recent seasons, including a torn ACL that kept him out for all of 2011 and a hamstring injury that limited him last season. When he’s been on the field, he’s been a solid player, although he has given up a few too many big plays. Toler could be in the mix to start along with CBs Vontae Davis and Cassius Vaughn, an RFA, but if not he’ll be a nice #3 CB for a team that did have some issues on the back end last season.
Fantasy Analysis: In ways, the Cardinals and Colts essentially trade corners, with Greg Toler signing in Indy and Powers signing in the desert. A favorite of new Cardinal coach Bruce Arians, Powers should immediately jump into the Cards’ starting lineup opposite Patrick Peterson. The problem for Powers is staying healthy. He’s had major toe and elbow injuries over the last two years alone, and he’s never played more than 12 games in a season. But when he’s out there, he’s a productive player. He made 33 solo tackles and an INT in only eight games this season, and in 2009 and 2010 with the Colts, he posted 6.2 FPG, enough to rank him in the top 35 at the position both years. He should also benefit for IDP if opposing QBs choose to shy away from Peterson.
Fantasy Analysis: The Seahawks made yet another savvy off-season move by signing Winfield to a one-year deal. The Seahawks already have two of the best cornerbacks in the NFL with Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, and Winfield once again defied his age with a strong season in 2012. Winfield (5’9”) will be a perfect fit as the Seahawks’ nickel corner, as he’ll let the taller Sherman (6’3”) and Browner (6’4”) work on the outside. The Seahawks already had one of the best secondaries before the Winfield signing, with standouts Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas at the safety spots. Winfield has 27 career INTs and 2 TDs in the 14 years since the Bills drafted him in the 1st round of the 1999 draft.
Fantasy Analysis: Hall can be a liability in coverage, but the Redskins found ways to get the most out of him, specifically by moving him inside and sometimes to safety. The nine-year veteran started every game last season, as he has done since 2010. He tied a career high with 95 tackles and also added a sack, 14 PDs, and 4 INTs, which put him in a tied for 19th among DBs at 6.6 FPG. The 29-year-old gives the Redskins their starting group back at CB, although we’d expect to see more of Hall in the slot, especially considering how well that worked out last season.
Fantasy Analysis: The Raiders had been gutting their roster, but they came up with a solid signing with Porter to a one-year deal. Porter will immediately step into the starting lineup in one of the Raiders’ two vacancies at starting cornerback. Porter is also reunited with Raider HC Dennis Allen, Porter’s former position coach in New Orleans. Porter lost playing time last season in Denver after he suffered a seizure last summer and regained playing time once he was healthy. Porter has 43 career starts under his belt and a signature INT in the 2009 Super Bowl, so he’ll help a weak Raider secondary.
Fantasy Analysis: At the peak of his game, the fantasy analysis around Nnamdi would be no fantasy analysis; teams didn’t throw at him, and he didn’t make many plays. Therefore, WRs didn’t put up numbers, and neither did he. But in his two years with Philadelphia, Asomugha’s skills rapidly declined, and his fall-off led to his release, as the Eagles work to totally rebuild their roster. But the 49ers are taking a gamble that Asomugha, entering his age 32 season, can squeeze one more big year out of his body. The issue is that Nnamdi isn’t the best athlete in the world. He’s a below-average runner and a poor tackler, and all his success in Oakland was tied to his physical press coverage, skills that mysteriously left him once he got to Philly. In San Francisco (Nnamdi chose the Niners over the Saints), he’ll have less pressure, and he isn’t even guaranteed to start, as he’ll compete with Carlos Rogers. But his deal includes no guaranteed money, which means the 49ers can cut him if it’s obvious that’s done.
Fantasy Analysis: The Cowboys missed out on Michael Huff, who signed with the Ravens, so Allen will have to do at safety. He’ll contend for a starting spot at free safety with Matt Johnson. Johnson, a 4th-round pick in 2012, missed his entire rookie season while Allen has played in 130 career games in nine seasons with the Bucs and Steelers, so the veteran depth is welcome. Allen was forced to start seven games for the Steelers last season with Troy Polamalu dealing with several injuries, and he finished with 34 tackles, 5 pass deflections, and a forced fumble.
Fantasy Analysis: The all-world CB duo of DRC and Nnamdi Asomugha didn’t come close to as planned for the Eagles, so now the Broncos will try with DRC and Champ Bailey. DRC is big at 6’2”, but he doesn’t really use his size in a positive way. He has all the talent in the world, but he’s short-armed tackles and he’s prone to mental errors as well. He struggled extensively in the slot when the Eagles tried to use him there in 2011, so he’s relatively one dimensional in that regard (Chris Harris will be the Broncos’ slot corner). The Broncos are hoping that a veteran CB like Bailey can help DRC sort out his issues, and on a team with such strong leadership, the gamble is absolutely a worthwhile one. And for IDP, DRC might be able to put together a career year if teams choose to pick on him rather than Bailey (he’s never topped the 5.0 FPG he averaged as a rookie in 2008, so he hasn’t really been a consistent IDP guy). But if Bailey’s play declines as he ages, and DRC doesn’t get the issues cleaned up, things can get ugly. Just ask the Eagles.
Fantasy Analysis: Robinson has developed a reputation as a hard hitter who gives up too many big plays. Chief coach Andy Reid certainly knows this, as one of Robinson’s “big hits” in recent years was at the expense of Eagle WR DeSean Jackson. So it might not be surprising that the Chiefs could move Robinson to safety, according to multiple reports. He made 67 solo tackles and 1.5 sacks this past year in Atlanta, but only 1 INT. It’s possible that Robinson could extend his career, entering his age-31 season, by playing a hybrid role like Charles Woodson and Ronde Barber have done in recent years.
Fantasy Analysis: Cason started the last three seasons with the Chargers, but it looks like he’ll be the #3 CB in Arizona this season. The Cardinals signed former Colt CB Jerraud Powers two days before Cason, and the unit already has top CB Patrick Peterson, so the Cards are starting to build some depth in their secondary. Cason is bigger than Powers, so Cason could line up on the outside and Powers could move inside when the Cardinals use their nickel package. Cason finished 2012 with 2 INTs, 11 passes defended, 71 tackles, and 2 forced fumbles. Cason had a career year in 2010 with 4 INTs, but his play has tailed off since then.
Fantasy Analysis: The Redskins addressed a huge need for depth at cornerback by bringing in the underrated Biggers from Tampa Bay. Washington had huge problems stopping the pass last season, and the team is currently cash strapped, so the team reunited Biggers with his former coach Raheem Morris, the Redskin secondary coach. Biggers is ideally the third or fourth CB on a team, so the Redskins are still likely looking for another CB to start opposite Josh Wilson (they made a play for Aqib Talib, who went back to New England). Biggers has 24 starts under his belt, so he could be the team’s #2 CB if the Redskins can’t find an additional cornerback. Biggers, who is entering his fifth season, has long arms and the length (6’0”) to play in man coverage, which the Redskins prefer. The Buccaneer secondary was atrocious last season, but Biggers was probably the closest thing to a bright spot at cornerback they had.
Fantasy Analysis: Phillips has serious knee problems that limited him to five games this past year, but on a one-year deal, he’s a good risk for the Eagles, who are likely to have four brand-new starters in the secondary in 2013. At his best, he’s good in coverage and is a solid IDP contributor, topping out at 82 tackles and 4 INTs in 2011. If he can get back to that level of play (he’s still only 26), the Eagles could have landed themselves a bargain on a low-risk deal.
Fantasy Analysis: The Ravens cut Pollard after their title run because they didn’t feel his play (and apparent headache) was worth his price tag. It was a burn to IDP owners, who saw Pollard rank 6th among all DBs with 7.5 FPG in 2012, posting 71 solos, 2 sacks, and an INT. But he’s almost strictly an in-the-box safety at this point, and he can be exploited down the field badly. That means he isn’t even guaranteed to hold down a starting role with the Titans, who also added George Wilson this off-season to go along with Michael Griffin. Pollard is a hard hitter but little more.
Fantasy Analysis: Released by the Bills, who franchised Jairus Byrd and re-signed Bryan Scott, Wilson will move to Nashville for his age-32 season, where he’ll likely be the favorite to start at strong safety over Jordan Babineaux. Best known for his in-the-box play, Wilson made 73 solo tackles in 2012, which made him a solid week-to-week DB in tackle-heavy IDP leagues. He’ll help out a Titan run defense that was 9th-worst in the NFL with 127.2 yards allowed per game. Just don’t expect him to rack up big plays as he gets older (he had no sacks, INTs, or forced fumbles in 2012).
· William Gay (CB, signed by Pit from Ari) – Gay signed a three-year, $4.5 million contract with the Steelers, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Fantasy Analysis: Gay returns to Pittsburgh after spending one season in Arizona. Opposing quarterbacks consistently picked on Gay last season, while playing opposite top CB Patrick Peterson. The Cardinals decided to cut Gay this off-season after he registered 2 INTs, 57 tackles, 1 sack, and 3 forced fumbles. The Steelers brought Gay back to Pittsburgh as insurance in case CB Keenan Lewis departs during free agency, and reports suggest that Lewis might be a long shot to stay with Pittsburgh. It also shows that the Steelers lack confidence in CB Curtis Brown, who struggled in the nickel when CB Ike Taylor missed time in 2012. Gay won two Super Bowls with the Steelers as the team’s nickel back, so he does offer some familiarity. As with most CBs who get “picked on,” he can be a productive IDP player, so keep an eye on his playing time.
Fantasy Analysis: With the releases of Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson, the Cardinals needed some help on the back end and get some in the form of Bell. Bell comes off his only season with the Jets in which he had 89 tackles and 2 PDs, which was good for 5.5 FPG. Bell hasn’t missed a game since 2008 and has started all but one game during that span. The nine-year veteran just turned 35, but will bring some experience to a secondary that doesn’t have much of it.
Fantasy Analysis: The Eagles are looking to upgrade their abysmal safety position, and their first move in that regard is adding Chung, who will be entering his age-26 season in 2013. There are some serious concerns with Chung’s health, as he’s missed 14 games since 2010 with a variety of injuries, but when he’s on the field, he’s a productive player. When on the field, he ranked #6 among all DBs with 7.3 FPG in 2011 in eight games, and he ranked #22 in 14 games in 2011 with 6.6 FPG. He should have no problem throwing his hat into the ring against Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen for a starting job, and he’s probably the best current safety on the Eagles’ roster, and he’s familiar with head coach Chip Kelly from his time at Oregon.
Fantasy Analysis: On the same day that they cut free-agent bust Nnamdi Asomugha, the Eagles opted to fly a little bit under the radar at the CB position with Fletcher. A four-year veteran with the Rams, Fletcher had a great year in 2010 before tearing his ACL in 2011, and losing his job to Janoris Jenkins in 2012 after some terrible penalties. But at his best, Fletcher is a big corner (6’0”, 200 pounds) with very good cover skills, and absolutely a worthwhile bargain for the Eagles as the look to erase the stink of the last two years on defense. Chung also produced 61 solo tackles in his peak year of 2010, so he’s a much more adept run defender than Asomugha or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Fletcher could win a starting job in camp, and he can play the slot very well.
· Aaron Ross (CB/S, signed by NYG from Jac) – Ross reunited with the Giants, according to the USA Today.
Fantasy Analysis: Ross is going back to the Giants, the place where he won two Super Bowls since being drafted in the 1st round in 2007. Ross left to sign a three-year deal with the Jaguars last off-season, but Jacksonville and Ross decided to part ways just one year into the deal. Ross started 15 games for the Giants in 2011, but he’s no guarantee to step right back into the starting lineup, as Ross struggled with Jaguars in 2012. The Giants were extremely thin at cornerback, with safety Antrel Rolle even playing as nickel CB at times.
Fantasy Analysis: Mundy certainly isn’t a flashy addition for the Giants, but he will provide depth at safety as a backup, behind Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown. Mundy will immediately replace former S Kenny Phillips as the team’s #3 safety, after Phillips signed with the Eagles. Steeler safeties Troy Polamaluand Ryan Clark missed some action last year, and Mundy saw plenty of time filling in for them. Mundy played in all 16 games, starting three times, and Mundy recorded a career-high 39 tackles. Mundy saw action in every game in his first four seasons with the Steelers, and he leaves Pittsburgh with 79 career tackles and 1 INT.
Fantasy Analysis: Leonhard started just one game for the Broncos last season, but he’ll bring some depth to the safety spot for the Saints behind Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper. Leonhard contributed 12 solos and 2 INTs in 16 games as a backup for the Broncos last season, but he did start the four previous seasons with the Jets under HC Rex Ryan. Leonhard will play under Rex’s brother Rob Ryan in New Orleans, so he should have some knowledge of the schemes. Leonhard dealt with a couple injury issues during his final two years in New York, as he suffered a fractured tibia at the end of 2010 and a torn patellar tendon at the end of 2011.
Fantasy Analysis: The 49ers lost S Dashon Goldson in free agency, and Dahl’s signing will lessen the blow of losing Goldson to the Buccaneers. Dahl isn’t expected to take over Goldson’s starting spot in the lineup, but Dahl will give the team depth at safety. The 49ers are still expected to make another move to bring in a safety to start next to Donte Whitner, whether it’s through the draft or another free agency addition. Dahl proved to be incredibly reliable last season, missing just 41 defensive snaps for the Rams last year. He finished the year with 78 tackles and 1 INT, but he struggled mightily with tackling and can get beat in coverage. If the 49ers do add another safety and Dahl is the #3 safety, he’ll also be asked to help on special teams, where he has plenty of experience.
Fantasy Analysis: The Chicago native is coming home, as the Colts found Zbikowski expendable after signing LaRon Landry early in free agency. Zbikowski started 11 games for the Colts last season, recording 38 tackles, 1 INT, 5 passes defensed, and 1 sack. He also brings some experience on special teams, with 6 kick returns for 123 yards last season. Zbikowski has 25 career starts since he broke into the league in 2008 with the Ravens. He’ll bring depth to the safety spot for the Bears, behind starters Chris Conte and Major Wright.
Fantasy Analysis: Jenkins is coming off an awful year with the Cowboys, a season in which he was demoted to dime back. The former starter for the Cowboys has struggled with shoulder injuries recently. The Raiders have revamped their whole team including their secondary, so Jenkins could immediately step in as a starter opposite of Tracy Porter. Jenkins, a former 1st-round pick in 2008, has just 2 INTs in his last three seasons after picking off 5 passes alone in 2009.
Fantasy Analysis: The Browns brought in the former Falcon cornerback, as they continue to eye another Falcon CB Brent Grimes. Owens played the majority of his snaps in nickel and dime situations since he broke into the league in 2009, but he will try to earn a starting spot next to top CB Joe Haden next season. Owens played in 13 games with one start last year, with 4 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble, and 17 tackles. Owens lost his nickel back job to Robert McClainlast season, so it’s likely will likely just bring depth for the Browns in 2013.
Fantasy Analysis: Mitchell has been backup safety for his entire four-year career in Oakland, but he joins a very mediocre group of safeties in Carolina. Mitchell will compete with Haruki Nakamura and D.J. Campbell to start at strong safety next season. Still, Mitchell has never been a special player, so it would be a bit of a shock if he’s able to win the job. Mitchell started nine games last season because of injuries to Tyvon Branch, and he has 2 INTs and 3.5 sacks in 60 career games. Mitchell is a physical, versatile player, best at stopping the run. He’ll also likely contribute on special teams.
Fantasy Analysis: Florence is entering his age-32 season and is coming off a season in which he had concussion and arm problems, he made only 17 solo tackles, and is at best a nickel guy at this stage of his career. But the Panthers are really hurting for money, and they had to cut top CB Chris Gamble (who later retired). Florence could get a lot more playing time than he deserves this year.
Players re-signed by their 2012 teams:
Note: Players ordered by projected fantasy impact.
Fantasy Analysis: Timing is everything in life, and Flacco is the perfect example of that. After another up-and-down season, Flacco played his best football in the playoffs, leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory. With both the free agent and rookie class looking weak at the QB position, Flacco had a lot of leverage and was able to cash in with a monster deal. However, we do need to separate fantasy from reality. While Flacco may have gotten the Ravens to the playoffs in all five of his seasons, he’s rarely been worth more than a backup spot on your fantasy roster. That was once again the case in 2012, as he was 18th among QBs, with 18.7 FPG. After going 317/531 (59.7%) for a career-high 3817 yards with 22 TDs and 10 INTs in the regular season, Flacco was 73/126 (57.9%) for 1140 yards with 11 TDs and no INTs in the playoffs. Flacco’s best game may have come in the Super Bowl, when he went 22/33 for 287 yards and 3 TDs. We know Flacco has a big arm, and it’s hard to argue that anyone is better at throwing the deep ball, but Flacco has been inconsistent throughout his five-year career. However, we’ve never been enamored with his receiving corps, and losing WR Anquan Boldin might hurt in the short-term, especially since the team doesn’t have much besides WR Torrey Smith and TE Dennis Pitta, who already received his RFA tender. We’d expect the Ravens to improve at WR, especially after committing so much to Flacco as the QB of the future. As of his signing, we’d still consider Flacco a fantasy backup, but if he can find some consistency and the Ravens improve their receiving corps, Flacco definitely has a chance to become a low-end starter.
Fantasy Analysis: Moore lost out on the starting job to then-rookie Ryan Tannehill in 2012, but served as his primary backup when David Garrard suffered a knee injury in the preseason. The six-year veteran was the team’s primary starter in 2011, but has been a backup for most of his career, although a capable one at that. Moore is your typical #2 QB in that he doesn’t do anything extremely well, but he can certainly be a spot starter or fill in for the short-term if Tannehill were to go down with an injury. The team expressed a big interest in bringing him back, and with a weak free agent market at QB, Moore decided to return on a nice deal instead of looking for a starting job elsewhere.
Fantasy Analysis: Grossman became the forgotten man in Washington during the 2012 season. Rookie QB Robert Griffin took the city by storm with his electric play, and fellow rookie QB Kirk Cousins proved to be a capable backup with potential to be a future starter in the league. Grossman didn’t take a single snap this season for the first time since breaking into the league in 2003. Grossman started most of the 2011 season for the Redskins but was mediocre at best (265/458 for 3151 yards, 16 TDs, and 20 INTs). The Redskins clearly saw that quarterback was an area of weakness and addressed the need in the 2012 draft. Grossman was a regular inactive in 2012, and the Redskins don’t really have a need for him outside of being the team’s #3 QB. Grossman, who will turn 33 in August, does have a lot of playing experience in his favor, but he’s no longer starter’s material. He’s no guarantee to make the Redskin roster with Pat White also being brought in, but his re-signing is a smart one just in case Griffin’s knee rehab doesn’t go as smoothly as the Redskins would like.
Fantasy Analysis: The Giants are fond of Carr as Eli Manning’s backup, although he’s thrown only 3 passes the last two years combined (all in 2012). Carr’s preparation and knowledge of the offense are considered his best traits at this point, and it’s a good combination to have, in the event that Manning can’t rebound from his poor 2012 season and his “dead arm” issues creep up again. At this point, Carr is more valuable to the Giants than he would be to any other team in the NFL, and he knows it. That’s why he’s back.
Fantasy Analysis: This is the perfect example of a “coach in a uniform” signing, given Clemens’ familiarity with OC Brian Schottenheimer’s system. In 2012, Clemens served as QB Sam Bradford’s primary backup for a second straight season, appearing in just two games and completing 1/3 passes for 39 yards and 1 INT. Clemens, who will turn 30 in June, started three games for Bradford at the end of the 2011 seasons, but Bradford stayed healthier in 2012. Ram coach Jeff Fisher insinuated that second-year QB Austin Davis will be the #2 behind Bradford next season, so Clemens looks to be a tutor and an emergency player, at most.
Fantasy Analysis: McCown returns to Chicago, where he ideally won’t have to play a snap in 2013 behind Jay Cutler and whomever the Bears decide to add as a backup. But it’s Cutler who has been McCown’s biggest fan, telling the Chicago Sun-Times last year that he really respects McCown’s experience, “positivity,” and knowledge of the game. In other words, McCown is like another QB coach for the Bears.
· Jonathan Dwyer (Pit) – Dwyer signed a one-year, $1.3 million contract to stick with the Steelers, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Fantasy Analysis: Dwyer quickly re-signed with the Steelers, which was a bit of a surprise, but he signaled with the deal that he wants to get to work on carving out a role for 2013. Dwyer was the best of three running backs in Pittsburgh in 2012, finishing 40th among RBs, with 6.5 FPG, on 156/623/2 rushing and 18/106 receiving, but that’s not exactly saying much. He had back-to-back 100-yard performances in Weeks Seven and Eight. Yet, after that two-week stretch, Dwyer never topped 60 yards the rest of the year, and only two times did he have a halfway-relevant fantasy performance after that, with TDs in Weeks Thirteen and Fifteen. Former starting RB Rashard Mendenhall is gone, and RB Isaac Redman is a restricted free agent like Dwyer was and would likely be a third-down and goal-line option. Dwyer is the projected starter for now, but the Steelers are expected to draft or sign at least one other running back to compete for the starting job. Dwyer’s best hope is to split snaps with another running back, but he’s more likely to be the top backup to a better RB next season.
Fantasy Analysis: Brown mostly acted as the Chargers’ hurry-up back and did see a lot of time on passing downs in 2012. He appeared in 14 games, rushing for 220 yards on 46 carries (4.8 YPC) and caught 49/371 on 59 targets, which was good for 4.2 FPG, and he was occasionally a decent PPR flex option. Apparently, he was effective enough to entice San Diego to bring him back. But most importantly, do you think the Chargers trust Ryan Mathews on third downs? Since Brown was their primary third-down back last year, and the club also signed Danny Woodhead, Mathews might not see a third down snap for the entire 2013 season. That’s only a slight exaggeration.
Fantasy Analysis: Scott tore his ACL just five games into the 2012 season, so he has an uphill climb for 2013. He ended up with just 8 carries for 35 yards in two appearances before landing on the injured reserve. The Bengals had hoped Scott would emerge as a nice #2 complementary back, but that was never the case, and he was only able to land a cheap deal after a major injury and four disappointing seasons. Scott’s biggest workload came in 2011, when he ran 112 times for 380 yards and 3 TDs with 13/38 in the passing game. His role in the passing game has always been extremely limited, so we can’t call him versatile. He’ll battle Cedric Peerman for the #2 RB job, but the Bengals probably need more help at the position.
Fantasy Analysis: In a move that shocked absolutely no one, rookie RB Doug Martin overtook Blount for the starting job heading into the 2012 season. Blount finished the year with just 41 carries for 151 yards and 2 TDs after combining for 385/1788/11 in his first two professional seasons. Blount, 26, also isn’t a great short-yardage and goal-line back, despite weighing in at 247 pounds. He’s been a guy who’s not only put the ball on the ground, but he’s also danced behind the line and doesn’t run with consistent power. He actually fell behind RB D.J. Ware on the depth chart, which might explain why the Bucs will continue to shop him around even after signing him to a one-year deal. If he does end up still in a Buccaneer uniform when the season begins, we wouldn’t expect to see much of him unless Martin was injured.
Fantasy Analysis: Thanks to RB Bernard Scottlanding on the IR early in the year, Peerman got a chance to move into the #2 role behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis for most of the 2012 season. With BJGE struggling for the first half of the season, Peerman looked like he might cut into Green-Ellis’ role, but an ankle issue cost him some time in December and Green-Ellis was playing much better by then. Although we didn’t see much of him in his 14 appearances, Peerman finished with 258 yards and a TD on 36 carries (7.2 YPC) and caught all 9 of his targets for 85 yards. While mostly a power back, Peerman did show some explosion and was a nice change from Green-Ellis when called upon, which is why we’d expect to see more of Peerman in 2013. Of course, the Bengals could bring in a noteworthy back in the draft, so Peerman could be only a deep backup in 2013.
Fantasy Analysis: It was another quiet season for Choice in Buffalo, buried on the depth chart behind RBs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Although Jackson was injured both early and late in the season, Choice didn’t get a chance to do much despite playing for former college HC Chan Gailey. In fact, during the season, Gailey made a point to say Choice wasn’t a “great back” when asked about Choice stepping in to fill in for an injured Jackson. But that didn’t stop new coach Doug Marrone from bringing him back. Choice carried 47 times for 193 yards (4.1 YPC) and a TD while adding 4 receptions for 9 yards in 12 appearances, so he’s the clear #3 on this depth chart, and he’s no guarantee to make the team. But he’s a veteran, and can provide some solid depth.
Fantasy Analysis: It’s possible that Felton had more fantasy value than any player in NFL history with fewer than 100 yards from scrimmage. Despite catching only 3 passes for a total of 35 yards, the veteran fullback (he’ll be 27 in July) was the lead blocker on a large majority of Adrian Peterson’s 348 carries this year. Felton paved the way for Peterson’s legendary season, and then he rode that same path to the Pro Bowl and a new contract with the Vikings. This is a great re-signing for the Vikings, and it makes us feel even better about Peterson in 2013.
· Ryan Torain (NYG) – Torain re-signed with the Giants, according to his agent’s Twitter account.
Fantasy Analysis: The Giants decided not to tender Torain, which made him an unrestricted free agent. But the two sides came to terms on a contract to bring back the running back right after free agency opened on March 12. Torain played in just two games in 2012, and he didn’t see a single carry or target. Torain will simply bring depth to the Giants at running back, as Torain hasn’t been fantasy relevant since 2010, when he finished 164/742/5 while in Washington.
· Darrel Young (Was) – Young and the Redskins came to terms on a three-year, $6.2 million contract, according to Washington Post.
Fantasy Analysis: Young has been the starting fullback in Washington the last two seasons after sitting behind Mike Sellers as a rookie in 2010. Young helped pave the way for rookie RB Alfred Morris to finish second in rushing in 2012, with 1613 rushing yards. Young’s return as a starter at fullback should be a positive for Morris in 2013. Young is a decent receiver out of the backfield, but he’s hardly fantasy relevant, with 8 catches for 109 yards and 2 TDs last season. Young added 14 carries for 60 yards, and he’s one of the team’s best special team’s coverage players. He’s a guy with much more real-world than fantasy value.
Fantasy Analysis: When Bowe was franchised last season and ended up having a poor year, thanks in large part to the Chiefs’ horrendous QB play and a rib injury, the general assumption was that both sides would benefit from moving on from the other. But the Chiefs will enter 2013 with an entirely new front office and coaching structure behind Andy Reid, and a new QB in Alex Smith. For Bowe, it might be like playing with an entirely new team now that Romeo Crennel, Scott Pioli, and Matt Casselare gone. It also makes sense for the Chiefs to retain Bowe. They’ll be breaking in a new QB, and an alpha receiver like Bowe can really help to ease that transition. But there are a few caveats. First of all, Bowe didn’t have a great season, finishing with 59 catches (52.2% catch rate) for 801 yards and 3 TDs in 13 games, ending the season 41st among WRs, with 7.5 FPG. We can certainly explain that away with the poor Chief QB play. But more important, scouts have told Sports Illustrated in recent weeks that they’re scared that Bowe, who will be 29 when the 2013 season begins and has had some disciplinary problems in the past, will start to mail it in effort-wise once he gets his big contract. Chief GM John Dorsey recently told the Kansas City Star that Bowe “understood the challenge” of living up to his new contract, and it just seems that the Chiefs were not willing to part with a guy who is a potential superstar, especially one whom Reid liked so much coming out of college. He’s a guy who is capable of catching 80 or so balls and scoring more than 10 TDs. Guys like that don’t grow on trees. If Reid wants to keep some semblance of his pass-happy offense in Kansas City, Bowe – and fantasy owners – will be the main beneficiary.
Fantasy Analysis: Hartline was the Dolphins’ #1 WR out of necessity in 2012, and overall he acquitted himself pretty well. Hartline set career highs, with 74 catches and 1083 yards (14.6 YPC) on 130 targets (56.9% catch rate), but scored just once and was 48th among WRs, with 7.1 FPG. Hartline flashed at times, including a ridiculous 12/253/1 performance in Week Four against the Cardinals, but he topped 100 yards only two other times all season (Week Two, Week Nine) and caught more than 5 balls just four times. That said, his connection with rookie QB Ryan Tannehill was beneficial to both players, and because of that, Hartline is back in Miami. Based on skill set, it’s certainly arguable that the Dolphins overpaid Hartline. He’s got good hands and size, and he can run a bit, but he’s best suited as a #2. That’s what he will be, with the Dolphins adding Mike Wallace on a monster deal early in the free agency period. As a #2, Hartline’s numbers might decrease, but his efficiency and overall value to the Dolphins will probably increase.
Fantasy Analysis: Although the situation surrounding Sanders’ courtship with the Patriots is interesting, including suspicions that the Patriots had a long-term deal worked out with Sanders in the event they landed him, the fact of the matter is that he’ll be in Pittsburgh for at least one more year (thanks in part to the lobbying of QB Ben Roethlisberger). Sanders will surely be thrust into a bigger role for the Steelers next fall, if he’s ready for it or not. Sanders was a marginal player at best as the #3 WR for the Steelers in 2012, even with chances for extended playing time because of injuries. Yet he’s set to take on a bigger role next season, with Mike Wallace leaving for Miami. In 2012, Sanders hauled in 44 catches for 626 yards and 1 TD, but his role could drastically increase next year. WR Antonio Brown probably isn’t a true #1 WR in the strictest sense, but he’ll more than likely be forced into the role, with Sanders – unless they acquire another strong option at wideout in the draft – getting bumped up to the #2 spot. Sanders has had some troubles with injuries during his career, as he’s missed nine games in his first three seasons. He’s got to stay healthy if he wants to land a big deal next off-season.
· Jerome Simpson (Min) – Simpson agreed to a one-year deal with Vikings, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Fantasy Analysis: Simpson’s 2012 season got off on a bad foot, and then literally ended on a bad foot. He was suspended for the first three games of the season after spending time in jail on drug-related charges, and then he struggled to get going, posting only 26/274/0 on 51 targets. He had trouble with his routes, he dropped passes, and he fumbled twice. And later on in the season, Simpson had trouble with cuts after a back injury led to problems with his foot. Given that, you might think the Vikings would like to part ways, but their priorities changed once they dealt WR Percy Harvin to the Seahawks. Simpson could now be the Vikings’ “best” receiver, at least until the team brings in better options through free agency or the draft, which they are fully expected to do. Simpson is extremely talented, but he’s never totally put it together outside a few flashes in Cincinnati in 2011, so it’s hard to be too optimistic. We’d expect more things out of second-year player Jarius Wright in 2013 than Simpson, and that’s even if the Vikings surprise people and don’t add another WR.
Fantasy Analysis: The Jags took a risk and didn’t tender the RFA Shipley, but they managed to bring him back on their terms. In a reminder to football fans that no two knee injuries are the same, it took Shipley well over a calendar year to recover from the torn ACL he suffered in Week Two of 2011 with the Bengals. In fact, it took him until his third team of the 2012 season to find his footing. He was cut by the Bengals in August and landed in Tampa, where he was cut early in the season after fumbling on a punt return. In November, he signed with the Jaguars, and was actually pretty productive, with 23/244/1 receiving on 39 targets over the final six weeks of the season, including 7/51/1 on 9 targets in Week Seventeen. Remember, Shipley’s a guy who caught 50 balls as a rookie in 2010, so he definitely has the ability to be a solid hands guy from the slot.
Fantasy Analysis: In short spurts, we’ve seen Edelman mimic Wes Welker pretty well, so this makes sense as a depth signing for the Patriots, who added Danny Amendola to replace Welker. Amendola also does a fantastic Welker impression, but his biggest issue is his health. As such, it’s important for the Pats to have a backup plan. In nine games this year, Edelman posted 21/235/3 receiving on 32 targets, but he’s had problems with injuries throughout his career, missing time with both hand and foot injuries in 2012. But with no guaranteed money, this is a no-brainer deal for Edelman.
· Plaxico Burress (Pit) – Burress re-signed with the Steelers to a one-year contract, according to the NFL Network.
Fantasy Analysis: Burress waited for his opportunity to play in 2012. Finally, his former team, the Steelers, called when their wide receiver unit got thin, and he suited up in Week Twelve. Burress ended up seeing action in four games, finishing with 3 catches for 42 yards and 1 TD. Burress is just an average receiver now who can’t contribute on special teams, but he does bring great size and red-zone ability. QB Ben Roethlisberger reportedly pushed the Steelers to keep Burress around for another year, especially with WR Mike Wallace leaving via free agency. Burress won’t be an every down receiver at this point in his career, but he does have some value near the end zone.
Fantasy Analysis: Ginn had the worst year of his career as both a receiver and as a returner in 2012, so he decided it was time to move on from the 49ers. He finished with just 2 catches for 1 yard and 1 carry for 7 yards in 13 games this season, when he failed to see the field even with WRs Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams going down with season-ending injuries. Ginn added just 253 kickoff return yards and 298 punt return yards for a combined 551 return yards, his lowest total in six years. Ginn, however, should represent a big upgrade over Armanti Edwards for the Panthers, and he could also see snaps on offense given how thin their WR depth chart is. This looks like a beneficial deal for both sides.
Fantasy Analysis: It’s becoming pretty clear that Tate isn’t much of a receiver. After not recording a reception in his first year with the Bengals in 2011, Tate ended up with 13/211/1 on 25 targets this past season. The Bengals were looking for a #2 WR to emerge behind A.J. Green, but Tate wasn’t able to grasp the role, even with Mohamed Sanu being lost for the season due to a foot injury. Tate appeared in all 16 games, but his primary role is as a return man where he racked up 754 yards on kickoffs and 187 yards on punts. His special teams acumen, however, made him a worthwhile option for the Bengals, who chose to bring him back. He’s unlikely to have fantasy value except in the deepest of leagues that include return yardage.
· David Reed (WR/KR, Bal) – Reed agreed to a two-year, $2.5-million contract with Ravens, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Fantasy Analysis: Reed spent the first 11 games of 2012 on the PUP list, as he recovered from a torn ACL that he suffered during the 2011 season. Reed saw action in five games, recording 5 catches for 66 yards. Even with WR Anquan Boldin now out of the mix, Reed doesn’t figure to play too big of a role in the Raven passing game next season. Reed’s biggest impact will be in the return game, where he led the league, with a 29.3 kickoff return average as a rookie in 2010.
Fantasy Analysis: Even though Gonzalez came into 2012 saying he was “95 percent” sure it would be his last season, the heartbreak of getting so close to the Super Bowl before the Falcons blew a big lead in the NFC Championship was not the way he wanted to go out, so he’ll return in 2013. Interestingly enough, Gonzalez informed the team of his return just hours before free agency was to open, which probably allowed the Falcons to adjust their plans, as they would have been looking for his replacement. Gonzalez was arguably the league’s most consistent TE last season, finishing with 93/930/8 on 122 targets, putting him 3rd among TEs with 8.8 FPG. It was Gonzalez’s best season in his four with the Falcons and the sixth straight without missing a game (he’s missed just two his entire career). Because Gonzalez shares the field with WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones, the Falcons have a ton of talent in their receiving corps, and with Gonzalez still near the top of his game, it gives QB Matt Ryan a chance to have another big season with all four players expected to be big-time fantasy options in 2013.
Fantasy Analysis: Resisting interest from both the Bills and the Jets, Davis signs a one-year deal to return to the Redskins where he’s comfortable. Davis will have to battle back from an Achilles injury, but if he proves he’s healthy, he could be a top TE on the market next off-season. Still only 27, Davis is one of the more underrated athletes at the position in the NFL, and should be a prime target for QB Robert Griffin III. For fantasy, Davis was a huge disappointment in 2012, even when he was healthy enough to play in the first seven games of the year. He finished the year with just 24 catches for 325 yards and no TDs, a year after hauling in 59/796/3 from QB Rex Grossman in just 12 games. However, he was starting to emerge just before the injury. The Redskins also got hot at that time, finishing 7-2 with Logan Paulsen at TE. For the 2013 season, a one-year deal for the Redskins for a gifted player like Davis is just about no-risk.
· Logan Paulsen (Was) – Paulsen re-signed to a three-year deal with the Redskins, according to The Washington Post.
Fantasy Analysis: Paulsen has served as primarily a backup with the Redskins since he joined the team in 2010, but he was forced into the lineup this season after TE Fred Davis went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Paulsen made little-to-no fantasy impact as a starter in nine games, finishing with a career-high 25 catches for 308 yards and 1 TD. In other words, Paulsen doesn’t bring much to the Redskin passing game, but he proved to be a superior run blocker in an offense that puts an emphasis on running the ball. Paulsen’s re-signing may not have much of an impact on Davis, as the team told Paulsen they hope to retain Davis to play alongside Paulsen. But Paulsen remains an affordable option in an offense that is predicated on running the ball.
· David Johnson (FB/TE, Pit) – Johnson re-signed with the Steelers to a one-year deal, according to Steelers.com.
Fantasy Analysis: Johnson was set to become the Steelers’ lead blocker in 2012 before he tore his ACL during a preseason game. Johnson will compete for the starting job next preseason with Will Johnson, the 2012 starter. Johnson formerly played tight end for the Steelers, but the team decided to move him to fullback in OC Todd Haley’s offense last off-season. If Johnson is able to recover from his knee injury and regain his starting spot, he’ll be blocking for a new running back.
· Rob Bironas (Ten) – Bironas and the Titans agreed to a two-year, $6.7 million contract, according to The Tennessean.
Fantasy Analysis: Bironas will be back for a ninth year with the Titans, and he’s been one of the league’s most consistent kickers over that time. Yet the 35-year-old Bironas is coming off his worst season since 2006, making 25-of-31 kicks or 80.6%. Still, he finished ninth in the AFC in points (110) and sixth in touchbacks (37), plus he hit two game-winning kicks in 2012. He needs QB Jake Locker and the rest of the Titan offense to step up and play better football in 2013 for him to have more value and return to being the high-end fantasy kicker he was for a long time.
Fantasy Analysis: The Chargers picked up Novak late in September to fill in for Nate Kaeding, who injured his groin during practice. Novak also took over for Kaeding in 2011 when Kaeding tore his ACL, so the Chargers knew what they were getting with Novak. He proved to be a reliable kicker for the Chargers, playing in the Chargers’ final 13 games and making 18/20 (90%) kicks with his only two misses coming from 50 yards or longer. Kaeding ended up latching on with the Dolphins at the end of last year, kicking in their final two games of the year. Novak, who is 31, has been fairly consistent the last two years, making 45/54 field goals (83.3%), but he isn’t going to be a guy who will consistently make longer kicks. Still, the Chargers are going to feel safer going into 2013 with Novak as their kicker, than the ticking time bomb that is Kaeding.
Fantasy Analysis: After Nugent was pushed to IR with a calf injury, the Bengals signed Josh Brown to kick late in the season and in the playoffs. But as solid as Brown was, the Bengals opted to stick with the devil they know at kicker. Since landing with the Bengals in 2010, the strong-legged Nugent has drilled 67/80 (83.8%) field goals in 38 games, and is often a solid and cheap fantasy option.
Fantasy Analysis: Folk’s been a guy whose job has seemingly been hanging from a thread ever since he arrived in New York in 2010, and he really hasn’t gotten any better over the years. In 2012, Folk converted 77.8% of his kicks (21/27), marking the fourth consecutive year he completed fewer than 80% of his kicks, and finished in the bottom five in the NFL in that category. So it seems reasonable to assume that Folk, even in returning to the Jets, won’t be guaranteed anything resembling a starting job. If he’s going to kick in the NFL next year, he’s going to have to earn it.
Fantasy Analysis: Protecting QB Matt Ryan has been Baker’s primary responsibility, and after another fine season in 2012, the Falcons made sure to bring back one of their most important OL. With 28 sacks allowed in 2012, the Falcons were tied for 7th-fewest in that category and helped Ryan set records for yards and TDs. Baker has played in 67 games (58 starts) since being drafted by the Falcons in 2008. After playing through injury in 2011, Baker showed improvement last season, specifically in pass protection. His return will be a welcomed one by Ryan, but he has to avoid his seemingly chronic back issues.
· Will Beatty (LT, NYG) – Beatty inked a five-year, $37.5-million contract with the Giants, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.
Fantasy Analysis: One of the Giants’ top priorities this off-season was to stabilize their offensive line, and signing Beatty is a step in the right direction. Beatty has been the team’s starting left tackle since 2011. Most important, he finally stayed healthy for an entire season in 2012, after missing 14 games in 2010-11. Beatty suffered a detached retina in 2011, and he battled through back issues last preseason to play a full slate in 2012. Beatty gives the Giant O-line some stability as RG Chris Snee and C David Baas recover from injuries. LG Kevin Boothe is an unrestricted free agent and it’s unclear if RT David Diehl is still in the team’s plans, but Beatty is an emerging player whose best days are ostensibly in front of him. That’s a huge positive on a shaky Giant line.
Fantasy Analysis: There was talk that concerns with his knee and an off-season surgery tempered the market demand for Vollmer, but he still managed to pull together a four-year deal to stick with the Patriots (though it’s an affordable deal for the Pats). That’s good news for QB Tom Brady and company, as Vollmer remains one of the more underrated but solid right tackles in football. Typically a savvy front office, the fact that the Patriots re-signed Vollmer should be a good sign that his injury concerns aren’t too serious. Vollmer will be 29 in July, so he’s still in his prime, and assuming he’s on the field, there’s little reason to think his play will slip. If it does, however, the Patriots have protected themselves with a contract that won’t overload their financial situation.
Fantasy Analysis: When a RB runs for 2000+ yards, his offensive linemen tend to become more attractive in free agency, which is exactly what happened with Loadholt after Adrian Peterson’s remarkable 2012 performance. Loadholt was considered one of the best run-blocking OTs available and drew interest from the rival Bears. However, the Vikings decided to keep the 27-year-old around, especially after his pass blocking showed improvement.
Fantasy Analysis: Lichtensteiger wasn’t extremely effective last season, but he was coming off a gruesome knee injury, and he has the respect of head coach Mike Shanahan, who loves his run blocking and athleticism. Another year removed from injury, Lichtensteiger could potentially move better in one of the NFL’s best run games. He can also play center and right guard, which helps his chances of sticking around.
Fantasy Analysis: If Costa can get himself healthy, this contract could be a major bargain for the Cowboys. But that’s a big question, considering a back injury and an ankle injury limited Costa to only three games in 2012. When Costa played, his athleticism shined and he was very impressive, anchoring against the pass and aggressively getting to the second level. Costa will be only 26 when the 2013 season rolls around, and he’s caught the eye of owner Jerry Jones as a potential long-term solution at center, according to ESPN Dallas. He’s just got to be on the field.
Fantasy Analysis: The Giants brought back another piece of their offensive line with the re-signing of Boothe. He’ll be reunited with starting LT Will Beatty, who also re-signed this off-season, so the goal for the Giants is looking to be continuity and chemistry, despite their line struggling at points last year. In fact, the Giants are close to bringing back their entire offensive line, as only RT David Diehl has an uncertain future. Boothe has won two Super Bowls with the Giants since he came into the league in 2007. He started his career as a backup lineman, but he emerged as a starter in 2011. Boothe excels as a run blocker and wasn’t penalized in 2012, but he does struggle a bit in pass protection.
· Garrett Reynolds (RG, Atl) – The Falcons re-signed Reynolds to a two-year deal, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Fantasy Analysis: Reynolds, a former 5th-round pick in 2009, started the last two seasons at right guard. He started six games last year before a back injury forced him to the injured reserve. In 2011, Reynolds started seven games before losing his job to Joe Hawley. Reynolds will be in the mix to start next season, but he needs to stay healthy and play well to win a job.
Fantasy Analysis: Meester is “Mr. Jaguar.” He’s played all 13 of his NFL seasons in Jacksonville, starting all 193 games he’s played in over that stretch, including all 64 games of the last four seasons. However, he’s entering his age 36 season, and his once elite physical skills are eroding. He’ll be an excellent veteran presence for new coach Gus Bradley to help ease the transition, but Meester’s days as an effective starter are seriously limited. The Jags need to find someone to potentially take his job soon.
Fantasy Analysis: Barnes is one of those guys who is seemingly criticized endlessly but keeps managing to start for the Raiders. Considering the Raiders have been the team employing him in recent years, Barnes probably did the smart thing in returning if he wants a chance to keep starting. He’s entering his age 31 season, and calling him “average” would probably be kind. But he’s experienced and the Raiders are a mess, so he’s got a chance to lock down a starting job again.
Fantasy Analysis: While Garner clearly isn’t Jake Long, the utility offensive lineman should at least help alleviate the loss of their former left tackle to the Rams. Garner started the last four games of 2012 at right tackle, as Jonathan Martin moved to the left side to replace the injured Long. Garner could start next season at right tackle, but the Dolphins will likely remain active trying to find a replacement for Long (whether they add a RT and move Martin permanently, or find their LT of the future). The Dolphins also have five picks in the first three rounds of the draft, so they could spring for a lineman in the draft. Garner also started five games at left guard and four at right guard, so he’s an ideal quality depth player along the offensive line.
Fantasy Analysis: Harewood will be back with the Ravens next year, and he’ll bring some depth to their offensive line. Harewood started five games at guard before Bobbie Williams replaced him during the season, so he has some playing experience. At 6’6”, 234 pounds, Harewood brings some athleticism and versatility along the Raven offensive line, as he can play guard and tackle. Harewood is hopeful he can start next season, but he’ll most likely be playing for a backup spot.
Fantasy Analysis: Scott is back in the mix for 2013 after he was forced to start six games for the Bears after Gabe Carimi struggled. With Jermon Bushrod now in the mix to start at left tackle, it looks like Scott, Carimi, and J’Marcus Webb will battle it out for the starting right tackle spot (Webb started all 16 games last season at left tackle). Webb is the favorite heading into the preseason, so Scott will at least provide offensive line depth with 35 starts under his belt throughout his seven-year career.
Fantasy Analysis: The Texans brought back backup OT Harris after he played in 16 games last season, including two starts, and he’s a good fit in the club’s zone scheme. Texan second-year RT Derek Newton played 14 games last season, but he battled leg injuries throughout the year, so Harris will once again be his top backup.
Fantasy Analysis: A swing tackle who didn’t perform particularly well when pressed into action, Roland provides the Bengals with a familiar face in the event they can’t re-sign Andre Smith, who remains their priority. If Roland is projected to start at any time this year, the Bengals would have suffered an injury or something would have to go really wrong.
Fantasy Analysis: Hayes had spent his first four seasons with the Titans before landing with the Rams last season on a one-year deal. Although he didn’t start, Hayes played in all 16 games and had his best season as a pro. He racked up 7 sacks and 35 tackles, putting him at 3.2 FPG. As a solid rotational pass-rusher, Hayes proved to be a solid pickup for the Rams and was able to cash in with this multi-year deal.
Fantasy Analysis: Carter was merely a rotational player for the Raiders last year, notching 2.5 sacks and 13 solos. It was a disappointment following his 11-sack 2011 season with the Patriots, but this is a guy who turns 34 in May. The Raiders are hoping he reclaims some of the juice he had in 2011, but he’s not going to be a strong IDP option.
Fantasy Analysis: Just one year after Vickerson took a pay cut to stay with the Broncos, he re-signed on a two-year deal after responding well to an increase in playing time in 2012. The eight-year veteran started 14 of 16 appearances and ended up with 40 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 PD, and 1 FF. Denver is very thin up front, so bringing Vickerson back was considering a priority, which they handled on the opening day of free agency.
Fantasy Analysis: Edwards is a solid player who is entering the twilight of his career. The Panthers’ best interior rusher, Edwards will be 32 in May and ideally provides little more than a solid rotational player for Carolina. For fantasy purposes, he’s not a particularly useful IDP unless he’s a bench player in big leagues that require defensive tackles. He averaged 3.8 FPG and made only 26 solos last year, but his 5 sacks were solid for an interior lineman. He gives the Panthers a useful player, but he’s unlikely to give much in the way of quantifiable production.
Fantasy Analysis: Given that he’s never made more than 33 solo tackles in a year and has only topped 20 twice, Golston isn’t much of an IDP player. But as a rotational 3-4 defensive lineman, he’s an important piece for the Redskins, and they’re happy to retain him. Just don’t put him on your fantasy radar.
Fantasy Analysis: While it looked like there was a chance Henderson wouldn’t return to the Vikings, he’ll be back and should remain a starter after starting 10 of 14 games last season. He battled a concussion early in the season, but he ended up returning to action in October and had a fine year. In fact, Henderson set career-highs with 80 tackles and 3 sacks while adding 3 PDs and 1 FF, which put him 68th among LBs at 5.4 FPG. Henderson was consider one of the best run stoppers in the free agent market, but does struggle when he has to drop back into coverage. The return of Henderson could mean the team decides to move on from LB Jasper Brinkley, another starter who entered free agency this year.
Fantasy Analysis: Foote’s re-signing in Pittsburgh is good news for IDP players, who saw the veteran LB put up 74 solo tackles, second-most in his career, and a career-high 112 overall tackles in his 11th NFL season. That meant the Steelers didn’t feel comfortable letting Foote depart for Arizona, a team that was showing big interest (Cardinal head coach Bruce Arians is familiar with Foote from his days as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator). Foote’s average of 7.0 FPG was a career high, and he ranked 31st among all LBs in the category, making him a solid IDP linebacker. While it’s tough to anticipate another season like that from a player who is entering his age-33 season, Foote should continue to start with Lawrence Timmons at ILB for the Steelers, where tackles will be plentiful.
Fantasy Analysis: Despite taking visits with other teams, Maualuga will remain a Bengal after spending the first four years of his careers in Cincinnati. Maualuga is coming off his best statistical season with 122 tackles, 1 sack, and 4 PDs, which was good for 6.1 FPG, although those numbers didn’t exactly translate to a strong performance by Maualuga in 2012. In fact, the rise of LB Vontaze Burflict could push Maualuga to the strong side with Burflict moving to the middle. Maualuga started all 16 games last season and has missed just four games in his four seasons with the Bengals. Maualuga was a relatively cheap player to re-sign and gives the team some versatility since he can play multiple spots.
Fantasy Analysis: Levy played on the weak-side last season and was limited to 14 games, thanks to a nagging hamstring injury. He finished the season with 81 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PDs, and a FR, which put him in a tie for 68th among LBs with 5.4 FPG. The Lions apparently hope he’ll be able to pick up his play if he’s healthy, since they gave him this contract without a lot of room to work with in terms of the salary cap.
Fantasy Analysis: Dobbins played in 14 games with the Texans last season, and he’ll be a key backup for the Texans at linebacker once again, especially if the Texans run into injury problems like in 2012. He started six times for an injured Brian Cushing before coming off the bench in five of the final six games. Dobbins sprained his ankle in the playoffs and ended up on injured reserve to finish the season. Dobbins is best at stopping the run and can really play only two downs, so he’s best in a reserve role.
Fantasy Analysis: Jones turned in an underrated season in 2012, starting 12 games at ILB for the Packers and registering 56 solos with 2 sacks. He averaged only 6.5 FPG, making him a backup IDP, but it can be argued that he was more effective than A.J. Hawk and could actually be the favorite to start over him once the season comes around. With Jones and D.J. Smith, the Packers have really strong LB depth, even if Desmond Bishop can’t effectively return from injury, although he’s expected to be ready for OTAs.
Fantasy Analysis: Scott, who plays a hybrid DB/LB role in the Bills’ nickel packages, is a valuable and versatile player who nonetheless won’t offer much IDP value, outside of potential positional flexibility. He made 43 solo tackles and 4 INTs in 2012, but the INT total could be seen as an anomaly, considering he totaled 4 INTs in his previous seven seasons combined. He might be worth keeping around as a flexible bench option in 2013, but he’s going on his age-32 season and plays almost exclusively in subpackages.
Fantasy Analysis: After testing the market and reportedly rejecting a multi-year deal from the Patriots, Talib decided to take a one-year contract with the hope he can have a big season in his first full year in New England and turn that into a lucrative contract in 2014. – With the Patriots in dire need of help in their secondary, they sent a 2013 4th-round pick to the Buccaneers in exchange for Talib and a 2013 7th-round pick with Talib still having one game left on a four-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy. Talib quickly became New England’s top CB, although considering their lack of talent at the position, it wasn’t much of a surprise, since outside of his off-field issues, he’s a very good player. In 10 games between the Bucs and Patriots, Talib had 10 PDs and 2 INTs, including a return for a TD. He battled hip and thigh issues with New England, but missed just the season finale before returning for the playoffs. There’s no doubt Talib is the team’s top CB and with the addition of S Adrian Wilson and new deal for CB Kyle Arrington, New England appears to finally be addressing a secondary that’s been an issue for them over the last few years. Despite his less-than-stellar past, Talib received positive reviews in his time with New England and will be looking to further rehabilitate his image when he returns for the 2013 season.
Fantasy Analysis: Moore became a legit stud for both the Falcons and IDP players last year, as he started to come to life in DC Mike Nolan’s system. Nolan loves to use Moore and fellow safety Thomas DeCoud all over the defense, as blitzers, in coverage, and as run-stoppers, and Moore parlayed his active role into a big year. Despite missing four games, he tied his career high with 59 solo tackles, plus he made 4 INTs, delivered a sack, and forced 2 fumbles. His 7.5 FPG finished him tied for 6th among all defensive backs, and he’ll be highly coveted again next season.
Fantasy Analysis: Clemons has developed into a solid starter for the Dolphins in his four-year career. He’s coming off his best season, one in which he played and started in every game, racking up 98 tackles, 2 INTs, 4 PDs, and was 39th among DBs with 5.8 FPG. Clemons, who turns 28 in September, keeps some stability for a defense that’ll go through some changes this off-season and should continue to be a reliable starter going forward.
Fantasy Analysis: Houston came over the Lions from the Falcons via trade in 2010 and just finished playing out a two-year, $6 million deal signed in 2011. Ankle issues bothered Houston for most of the season and caused him to miss the first two games, but it was clear he was the team’s top CB. In 14 starts, Houston had 56 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 PDs, and 2 FF, which put him at 4.8 FPG. While probably more of a #2 CB, Houston was forced into the top spot thanks to the youth in Detroit’s secondary. The Lions have to hope Houston can stay on the field, as he hasn’t played a full season dating back since 2008.
Fantasy Analysis: It looks like Butler has finally found a home after bouncing from New England, to Carolina, and finally to Indianapolis. The Patriots cut their former 2nd-round pick in 2010, and Butler spent 2011 in Carolina. Butler revived his career this past season with a really strong year as the nickel cornerback in Indianapolis, behind CBs Vontae Davis and Jerraud Powers. Butler finished with 4 INTs as a primarily slot corner, and he proved incredibly strong covering receivers in that alignment. The Colts cut Powers, but the team brought in Greg Toler from Arizona, so the Colts have a solid group of cornerbacks for 2013.
Fantasy Analysis: Delmas has shown that he can be a playmaker from his free safety spot, but he can’t seem to stay on the field enough to do it a consistent basis. Delmas played in just eight games in 2012, and he’s missed a total of 13 games the last two years because of knee and groin issues. Delmas is an aggressive, hard-hitting free safety, who will step up and take on running backs or take out wide receivers crossing over the middle. Delmas also has the talent to become above average in pass coverage, but he just needs to play more. Simply put, the success of Delmas’ contract will depend on if Delmas can stay healthy. Delmas will start alongside freshly signed SS Glover Quin from Houston.
Fantasy Analysis: Arrington isn’t a flashy re-signing, but he’ll bring some much-needed depth to the Patriot secondary, which also includes CB Aqib Talib. Arrington saw action in all 16 games, and his game improved once he moved to covering the slot with the addition of Talib. Arrington has started at least 12 games each of the last three seasons, but he flourished when he moved to nickel CB last season. Ideally for the Patriots, Arrington will continue to play in the slot and not outside. Arrington was a ball-hawk in 2011 when he tied for the league-lead with 7 INTs, but he didn’t pick off a single pass in 2012.
Fantasy Analysis: Ideally, Munnerlyn is a solid depth corner, a guy who can play nickel packages in the slot and occasionally pop outside. The cap-strapped Panthers, however, might not have a choice but to start Munnerlyn. They had to release Chris Gamble (who later opted to retire) because of cap issues. And so far their only noteworthy addition at the position has been Drayton Florence, so they aren’t exactly employing Pro Bowl competition. We’d think youngster Josh Norman will have one of the starting jobs come September, and Munnerlyn should be in the mix for significant snaps. He made a career-high 46 solo tackles last season, so he can have some cheap IDP value.
Fantasy Analysis: New HC Doug Marrone said McKelvin will compete for a starting CB job in 2013, but he stood out as a return specialist in 2012. Before landing on the IR in late December thanks to a groin injury, McKelvin averaged 18.7 yards per punt return, with two scores and 28.3 yards per kick return. He opened the season as the team’s nickel back, but he started in four of 13 appearances, putting up 21 tackles, 1 INT, and 3 PDs. Possibly the first time as a pro this past year, he held his own as a corner. His value would rise if he won the starting job, although we’d still expect to see him make an impact as a return man after a great 2012 season. However, he faces a four-month recovery from groin surgery, which he had in early January, so he’ll be a little bit behind in Marrone’s program.
Fantasy Analysis: After flirting with the Raiders, who offered Newman more money, he decided to stick with the Bengals. DC Mike Zimmer, who was part of the Cowboy staff that drafted Newman in 2003, seemed to be a big reason for Newman’s return to Cincinnati. Newman joined the Bengals last off-season after being cut by the Cowboys. He started all 15 games he appeared in, finishing with 75 tackles, 10 PDs, 2 INTs, 1 FF, and 5.6 FPG. Newman will turn 35 in early September and could be in the mix to start again if he can beat out CB Dre Kirkpatrick, but at the very least will provide the team with some good depth in the secondary.
Fantasy Analysis: The Bears wanted to bring back Hayden all along this off-season, and Chicago finally got its man after Hayden explored his limited options. Hayden, a nine-year pro, will once again be the Bears slot cornerback in 2013, behind starters Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. Hayden joined the Bears in 2012, and he earned a role as the team’s nickel back by beating out CB D.J. Moore. Hayden started two games when Jennings missed two games because of a shoulder injury, and he finished the year with 40 tackles and an INT. He also tied for the league-lead with 4 fumble recoveries. Hayden brings plenty of experience as a nickel back with 46 career starts, and he also has 56-yard INT return for a TD against the Bears in Super Bowl XLI. Moore is no longer in the mix this off-season after he signed with the Panthers, so bringing back Hayden became a priority for the Bears.
Fantasy Analysis: Johnson had drawn interest from other teams, but the Cardinals seemed intent on bringing him back, which makes sense after they parted ways with veteran S Adrian Wilson. Johnson was primarily a special teamer and backup safety, but he did start in three of his 15 games in 2012. He had 20 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 PDs, and a score. If the Cardinals don’t land a big-name safety, Johnson could have a chance to move into Wilson’s spot in the starting lineup.
Fantasy Analysis: It’s entirely possible that Pacman turned in his best year as a pro in 2012, perhaps performing as the Bengals’ best corner despite not actually being a “starter” for a good part of the year. With second-year man Dre Kirkpatrick expected to slide into the permanent starting lineup with Leon Hall, Jones should be an active nickel and package player, and he’s still a potential game-breaking return man, taking a punt to the house in Week Two of the 2012 season. He isn’t going to be a huge IDP guy unless in big-play leagues (he had only 33 solo tackles in 2012), but he’s an important piece of what the Bengals do and they made it a priority to bring him back.
Fantasy Analysis: Spievey played in only five games in 2012 as he dealt with major concussion issues, but at his best, he’s a player who can compete for a starting job with the Lions this summer. In 2011, he registered 60 solo tackles, with a sack and 3 INTs, posting a decent 5.3 FPG. If healthy, he’ll have a chance to win a starting job in training camp.
Fantasy Analysis: A rotational safety who is fantastic on special teams, Sanford is a player who will help solidify the depth in the Viking secondary, after the team cut CB Antoine Winfield. When in the starting lineup, Sanford can be a decent fill-in IDP, producing 44 solos in 2011 and 47 solos in 2012. He also forced 4 fumbles in 2012, so he’s a good guy to have back in the fold.
Note: Players ordered by projected fantasy impact.
· Ryan Clady (LT, Den) – The Broncos placed their franchise tag on Clady, which is worth $9.8 million, according to the Denver Post.
Fantasy Analysis: The Broncos made sure they’d be protection QB Peyton Manning’s blindside for at least one more year by placing their franchise tag on Clady. The Broncos gave up the second-fewest sacks in the NFL (21), and Clady is universally considered one of the best LTs in the league, so that is no coincidence. He’s come to the end of his five-year rookie deal and will look to cash in the big bucks for the first time in his career, but the Broncos and Clady haven’t even discussed a long-term deal just yet, as Clady recovers for off-season shoulder surgery. The Broncos want to see how much progress Clady makes from the surgery before they’re willing to offer him top dollar to stick around for years to come, but that’s a move we’d anticipate getting done, especially with Manning’s health such a concern as he ages.
Fantasy Analysis: The Chiefs’ franchising of Albert is interesting because he’s been their left tackle for a while now, and most simply assumed the Chiefs would spend the #1 overall pick on Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel or Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher. And Albert has explicitly stated that he’s not interested in changing positions to accommodate a new player. Albert missed three games last season with what coach Andy Reid called a “fairly significant” back injury, but Chief GM John Dorsey was also adamant that Albert passed his physical and is ready to go. The Chiefs apparently want to lock up Albert to a long-term deal, but the Kansas City Star reports they’re not close to doing so, and what they do with the #1 overall pick in April’s draft could tip their hand with regard to their chances of signing Albert.
· Michael Johnson (DE, Cin) – The Bengals placed their franchise tag on Johnson, which is worth $11.2 million, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Fantasy Analysis: The Bengals locked up one of their top off-season priorities by placing Johnson under the franchise tag. Johnson played a big part on a dangerous Bengal defensive line alongside DT Geno Atkins, finishing the year with 11.5 sacks. He also set a career-high with 52 tackles, which helped him to finish 6th among DEs with 5.7 FPG. The Bengals will have until July 15 to work out a deal; otherwise, he’ll play under the one-year tag. Johnson’s agent Rick Smith told the Cincinnati Enquirer that both sides will continue to try to hammer out a deal. “Michael and I both understand what they did and we will continue to talk with the Bengals,” Smith said. “We have talked a number of times, there just wasn't enough time to zero in on a deal and get something done. We will keep working at it. It is not going to be acrimonious.” It certainly appears that a long-term deal is in the mutual interest of both parties here.
· Henry Melton (DT, Chi) – The Bears placed their franchise tag on Melton, which is worth $8.5 million, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Fantasy Analysis: in an expected move, the Bears placed their franchise tag on Melton. He finished the 2012 season with 7 sacks, a year after picking up 6 sacks in 2011, strong numbers for an interior defensive lineman. That said, Melton racked up 4.5 sacks through the first five games of 2012, and he really slowed down as the season went along. But he’s still seen as an important piece in new DC Mel Tucker’s 4-3 system. Melton and the Bears have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal, which could be a struggle as both sides are said to be far apart at this time. But as long as he’s in Chicago next season, he’ll be a coveted IDP in leagues that require defensive tackles.
Fantasy Analysis: Considering the number rose given the second straight year of the franchise tag for Spencer, it was a little surprising to see the Cowboys bring him back, especially with a change in scheme. With DC Monte Kiffin using a 4-3 base scheme, Spencer will have to move from LB to DE, a position he’s not primarily played since college. Despite playing in 14 games, Spencer led the team with 95 tackles and nearly doubled his sack total from the season before by registering 11 in 2012. Spencer will sign his tender, but the two sides will try to work toward a long-term deal, although owner/GM Jerry Jones has hinted at that money not being available. There have been conflicting reports as to whether or not the team would trade Spencer, but for now it looks like he’ll be with them through at least the 2013 season.
Fantasy Analysis: Byrd wants to get paid, and the Bills want to keep him, but the two sides are currently far apart on a long-term extension, prompting Buffalo to franchise its star safety. In February, GM Russ Brandon told the Buffalo News that the franchise tag would only be “a last resort,” which probably hints where the two sides are in negotiations. One of the better big-play safeties in the NFL, Byrd has 18 INTs and 10 forced fumbles in four seasons, and he’s also a solid tackler, averaging 55 solos per year. IDP players in leagues that favor big plays and turnovers would probably like to see Byrd stick long-term in Buffalo, where he’s had tremendous success.