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Free Agency Roundtable: Wide Receiver Movement

Eavesdrop as various staff members share their views on the 2017 free agency period.

With the dust settled on the first wave of NFL free agency, a group of our staffers got together to discuss the fantasy impact of the player moves. In this fifth installment, they highlight impact wide receivers on the move. If you missed any of the previous Free Agency Roundtables, check them out at the links below:

Terrelle Pryor to Washington    New England Running Backs
 Under the Radar Moves    Butterfly Effects

On the Footballguys Player Movement Tracker, our Jason Wood rates the importance of each move on a scale from 1-to-5 (with 5 being most important). To this point, three wide receivers on new teams -- Brandin Cooks, DeSean Jackson, and Alshon Jeffery -- were assigned an importance rating of 4 or higher. Which of these wideouts receives the biggest boost in fantasy value as a result of changing teams?

Jeff Haseley: The popular answer here will be Alshon Jeffery since his 53rd place finish in 2016 gives him the most room for improvement. But Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz had a mere 16 touchdown passes in 16 games in his rookie season. That doesn't mean he'll stay in the doldrums in 2017, but a tremendous improvement isn't necessarily expected either.

Also, Jeffery missed four games in 2016 due to a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. Another infraction would mean an even longer suspension, which would kill his fantasy value. If you prorate his numbers over a 16-game period, Jeffery would've had 69 receptions for 1,094 yards and 2.6 touchdowns. Those numbers are well within Jeffery’s range of outcomes with the Eagles, and would typically be good for a top-30 finish. Even though I have some doubts, he clearly has the best chance to improve on last year’s numbers out of these three.

Jason Wood: Due respect to Jeff, but the idea Carson Wentz isn't expected to make a dramatic leap is laughable. The Eagles ran a super conservative offense last year because they had no receiving talent and the offensive line was in shambles for 10 games while Lane Johnson was suspended. If you look at the Eagles offense when Johnson was in the lineup, it paints a much better baseline to start thinking about Wentz' 2017 outlook. Jeffery, if healthy, is immeasurably better than anyone the Eagles fielded in 2016. Better yet, he’s playing on a one-year deal and is trying out for the monster payday he expected to land this offseason. If he stays healthy (14+ games), he'll OBVIOUSLY finish much higher than last year.

Phil Alexander: Yeah, I’m taking it for granted Jeffery’s numbers will look much better than last year’s, but the question for me is can he bounce back to low-end WR1 form in fantasy and provide value as the 17th wide receiver off the board (per MFL10 ADP)? I don’t think there’s any doubt he has the tools to do it. Even in a down year, Jeffery still finished seventh with 15.8 yards per reception (minimum 75 targets). The problem, as I saw it, was the Bears did a terrible job getting him the ball when he was actually on the field.

Philadelphia has bolstered their passing game weapons, but Jeffery is by far the best among them. 120 targets shouldn’t be an issue. Whether or not they’re quality targets remains to be seen, but it’s encouraging to hear Wood’s optimism on Wentz taking a step forward. There’s not many opinions I’d trust over his when it comes to the Eagles.

Justin Howe: Of the main wide receivers on the move, Jeffery is absolutely the one to target right now. He's the clear (and best-paid) option in his offense, he oozes physical talent and downfield potential, and his quarterback is strong-armed and promising. However, I'm tempering my expectations, even if he's healthy. He's never been a consistent touchdown producer, and this offense isn't exactly built to inflate wideout stats. But it does tend to create an imbalanced target share for its top guy, which Jeffery absolutely is. (I think we can agree that Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz are sanitized, low-upside options.)

Consider that, in his four years as a coordinator or head coach, Doug Pederson's No. 1 wideouts have posted team WR target shares of 35.0%, 43.4%, 52.1%, and 38.6%. Those are elite jumping-off points for Jeffery, who I would project closer to 130-150 looks over 16 games. At this point he's the closest this group offers to a fantasy WR1, for sure.

Chad Parsons: A few years ago I did a quick study on receivers changing teams. Outside of Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and a rogue receiver or two, there was a clear trend of declining production in their first season in a new locale. That said, Jeffery has the best chance to maintain his output from the previous season or two, as Carson Wentz threw the ball the fifth-most times last year as a rookie. Plus, the Eagles are without a clear lead running back.

Andy Hicks: I agree with Jason's analysis here. If Jeffery is fit, look for him to finish closer to his Chicago heyday, as opposed to his last two seasons there. I’ll definitely be tracking his rapport with Wentz through training camp and the preseason.

Jeff Haseley: I’ve got to play devil's advocate here - is anyone worried at all about Jeffery getting another suspension, or has he learned his lesson? Couldn’t this have been a major reason why several GMs didn't want to commit long term money to Jeffery this offseason? It's also not like he's the only weapon on the team. Jordan Matthews is still there, as is Zach Ertz. I'm not sold there will be enough balls to go around in the passing game. As I said before, he’ll be better than last year, but I’m not so sure he’ll be a fantasy stud again.

Phil Alexander: As far as the suspension goes, I’m not at all afraid Jeffery becomes the league’s next Josh Gordon or  Martavis Bryant. Outside of LaRon Landry a few years back, I can’t think of any repeat PED offenders in the NFL off the top of my head. I do agree with you though, Jeff -- that suspension cost Jeffery years and dollars this offseason.

Alessandro Miglio: I’ll be the contrarian here and say Brandin Cooks (mostly because I’ve heard enough from you guys about Alshon Jeffery). Cooks was the WR8 last season, so there’s not much room for improvement. And Drew Brees isn't exactly a dropoff when compared to Tom Brady. Still, if Julian Edelman is a Cadillac, Cooks is a Ferrari.

The biggest issue with Cooks in New Orleans was scoring consistency. Brees' propensity to spread the ball around made Cooks invisible when we needed him the most in the fantasy realm. Will that change in New England? The Patriots have a bevy of offensive weapons, so there is certainly a danger Cooks will be lost in the mix. But Rob Gronkowski is fantasy gold, at least in part because Brady gets him the ball often. Cooks is instantly the best wide receiver in New England, so it stands to reason he will command a consistent, hefty target volume in a potent offense.

Andy Hicks: I expect Cooks to only spend one year in New England. Exercising his fifth-year option will be expensive, and I doubt the Patriots will want to meet Cooks’ asking price. Then, if my understanding is correct, New England would receive a relatively high supplemental pick when he moves to another team. The Patriots play this game very well. With the options New England has in the passing game, I find it hard to believe he can get close to his 8th ranking from 2016.

It seems like Jeffery is the overwhelming favorite to have the biggest impact of any wide receiver who has switched teams. Does that mean Cooks and Jackson will take a hit from a fantasy perspective on their new teams?

Jeff Haseley: As Alex and Andy just mentioned, Cooks finished last season as the WR8. The last Patriots wide receiver to finish in the Top 15 was Wes Welker in 2012. Cooks is outside my top-10 and his current ADP (WR13 in MFL10s) is a little rich for my blood given all the offensive weapons in New England.

Jackson, on the other hand, has my interest. Mike Evans has dominated targets on the Buccaneers since Jameis Winson entered the league. I don't see Jackson exceeding 125 targets, but the ones he'll receive will be quality and his yardage numbers will be high. Winston doesn't possess the most accurate deep arm, but he does make a habit of attempting those passes - and Jackson has a habit of reeling them in. Jackson may have the best separation skills of any veteran receiver. He finds ways to get open and knows how to track down a ball, which seems like a perfect fit for Winston.

Jason Wood: I’m with you on Cooks, Jeff. He’ll be hard pressed to finish higher than WR8. While Cooks landed in an awesome situation, he’s coming from another superb passing offense. Cooks' target share likely falls a bit in Belichick's offense. I do think he'll be the best receiver Brady has had in years, but you need to be talented and a target monster to rank in side the top-5 preseason receivers.

Jackson won't be on many of my teams this year. I'm not sure how the Buccaneers are going to use him, since Mike Evans is also a deep threat. Jackson will have big games, but he'll disappear for plenty of others.

Will Grant: I’ll have a hard time drafting Jackson next year as well. Until we see someone other than Evans getting the ball in Tampa, I don't see how the 31-year-old Jackson finds consistent targets. I feel the same about Brandon Marshall - his name value will likely see him overdrafted based on the opportunities he’ll receive with the Giants.

Andy Hicks: Jackson’s contract is awfully rich for a receiver over 30 who relies on his deep threat abilities. As the others have said, I like him to have big games with the Bucs, but he’s a bottom tier WR2 for me. I suppose that would qualify as an improvement over last year’s WR30 finish.

Justin Howe: I’m going against the majority on Jackson. He’s a darkhorse candidate to have a bigger impact than Jeffery, and may even boast the better path to targets. Yes, Evans is a truly astounding talent, but his offensive stake over the last two years has been exorbitant. Last season, he drew 46.5% of Tampa Bay's wide receiver targets - just a shade smaller share than Antonio Brown drew in his monstrous 2015 campaign. Any regression toward the mean would open up more looks for the Buccaneers' peripheral targets. And even if he maintains the same vice-grip on the offense, Jackson should still threaten 100 targets over 16 games. That's significant when your quarterback is Jameis Winston, a cannon-arm who threw deeper than any full-time passer in football last year.

Chris Feery: I’ll buy what Justin is selling on Jackson, as long as he doesn’t get too expensive in drafts. He’s still a home run threat, who should see plenty of splash play opportunities while opponents game plan to contain Evans.

Chad Parsons: Getting back to Cooks, I did some quick calculations on New England’s targets directly following the trade. Even if you were to drop Julian Edelman significantly, and lower the running backs and ancillary receivers by a decent chunk, Cooks will have a challenge to see more than 100 targets in 2017. This accounts for Brady approaching near career-high per-game volume already. I just don’t see how he gets enough targets to improve on his numbers with the Saints.

Will Grant: Cooks does more for New England than New England does for Cooks. Alex points out Cooks has proven he can play in a spread-the-ball-around offense, but Brady is the king of finding the open man and not locking in on anyone. Between Edelman and Gronkowski vying for targets, Cooks’ absolute best case scenario is fringe top-10 for fantasy.

Chris Feery: I’m tempering my enthusiasm for Cooks, but I can see a scenario where he at least maintains his 2016 value. The Patriots are clearly pushing for at least one more ring before Tom Brady hits the inevitable wall. Bill Belichick doesn’t make this move without a clear plan in mind for how to best integrate Cooks into the offense. New England could very well be in ‘blow the opponents doors off’ mode this season, in which case Cooks will deliver some impressive production.

What other wide receiver transactions caught your attention?

Jeff Haseley: I like Adam Thielen's chances of making an impact with the Vikings again. Thielen jumped from 12 catches in 2015 to a career-high 69 in 2016. He also added 5 touchdowns and made a name for himself as a consistent fantasy receiver down the stretch. Sam Bradford's short-range passing game worked well for Thielen, as did his run after the catch ability. If he continues to improve and develop, he could creep into WR2 territory.

Andy Hicks: Brandon Marshall is going to be interesting on the Giants. He posted at least 1,500 yards and double digit touchdowns in his first seasons in Chicago and New York (with the Jets). At age 32 I don't expect those numbers, but Marshall is like a racehorse who does his best work fresh out of the gate.

Robert Woods is also an eye catcher. The Rams desperately need a WR1 (heck, even a WR2 would be nice). Woods is only 24-years-old and has been developing over the last four years in Buffalo, where he had at least 500 receiving yards in each season. Despite the reported 5-year, $34 million contract with $15 million guaranteed, it essentially amounts to a one-year, $7 million prove it deal, so he should be plenty motivated.

Digging deep, Charles Johnson moving to Carolina intrigues me. Johnson never lived up to the promise of his debut season with the Vikings. At least he has the most important thing you can ask for with the Panthers -- genuine opportunity.

Will Grant: I've never been a big Kenny Britt fan, but he might be worth a late round flier. Cleveland looks like they are going to have a lot of garbage time, and Britt -- who’s coming off a nice season with the Rams -- profiles as their WR1.... for whatever that’s worth.

Justin Howe: I'll have plenty of Pierre Garcon shares this year. Kyle Shanahan offenses are notoriously slanted toward his X-receiver, and his recent ones have seen very bloated target stakes. Garcon himself drew wild target numbers under Shanahan in Washington, including 181 in 2013. In a fast-paced, yet talent-deprived 49ers offense, he carries the upside for similar marks in 2017 - and a 16-game floor around 75 catches that could come to you in the 9th or 10th round.

Chris Feery: I’m on the Garcon bandwagon too, Justin. He’s a nice fit in Shanahan’s offense, and he’ll see plenty of opportunities with a team that’s just about completely barren on star power.

Phil Alexander: I’m not sure this answers the question, but the perennially underrated Eric Decker is not surprisingly being underrated once again. His early MFL10 ADP (WR41) places him in Rishard Matthews/Sterling Shepard territory, which seems crazy to me. Before hip surgery limited Decker to three games last season, his worst PPR finish in the previous four years was WR26.

Brandon Marshall is no longer around to hog targets, leaving Decker’s main competition for looks newly signed Quinton Patton (yuck), Quincy Enunwa (who I also like a bit), and Robbie Anderson. Josh McCown is decidedly not good, but he proved in his three starts for the Browns last year he’s capable of supporting -- and locking in on -- his WR1. In those starts, McCown targeted Terrelle Pryor a combined 35 times, and Pryor went over 100 receiving yards twice.

Of course things can get really ugly if/when McCown gets hurt, but Decker is a notorious touchdown maker and will be the centerpiece of his team’s passing game. You can’t say the same of the other players being drafted in his range.


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