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Faceoff: WR Most Hurt By Free Agency

August 12th

Clayton Gray: Is there a wide receiver whose fantasy prospects were really hurt by free agency? If so, expound on what happened and how it decreases his 2011 outlook.

Sigmund Bloom: Sidney Rice could have had Donovan McNabb throwing to him, but instead he'll have Tarvaris Jackson. Perhaps history will look kindly on this move when we see its effects on Rice's fantasy stock. After all, Rice had 10 catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns in Jackson's two starts last year, but Jackson also had four interceptions and barely threw for 300 yards combined in those games. Jackson also has Mike Williams and Zach Miller to throw to in addition to Rice, in those two games, Percy Harvin was out and Jackson had no other strong weapons to throw to. Before free agency, Sidney Rice owners in dynasty leagues were dreaming of him landing with Sam Bradford or even Tom Brady. Instead he's got probably the worst set of QBs in the league throwing to him.

Other Losers: Derrick Mason, who was cut by Baltimore and is now playing for the veteran minimal in New York for the Jets. Braylon Edwards, who had to accept only one million unguaranteed dollars to play for San Francisco as an insurance policy for Michael Crabtree's foot. Steve Smith, both of the Giants, who is not expected to be ready to start the season and is still a free agent, and of the Panthers, who could have ended up with Philip Rivers, but instead decided to stay with Cam Newton. Jordy Nelson, who could have had the #3 and potentially #2 role in Green Bay, but will instead continue to share with James Jones. Deion Branch, who will rotate with Wes Welker in two-wide sets now that Chad Ochocinco is in Foxboro. Mike Williams, who was hit with the double whammy of a downgrade at QB and the addition of two good targets to his passing game.

Dave Larkin: I was going to type almost all of these guys in nearly the exact same order. Talking about Big Mike Williams at the end, though, is something I wanted to expand upon. It seems that all the thrashing of Tavaris Jackson and questioning of Sidney Rice for going to Seattle would go hand-in-hand with a BMW downgrade, but he's kind of the lost story there. Jackson, Rice, and even Zach Miller are the new guys getting all the headlines -- for better or worse -- but Williams has to be pretty shell-shocked about the transactions considering how he re-emerged last year as a reliable player and had a nice couple of playoff games.

I was also shocked by the lack of market for Braylon. The Jets are signing a dream-team of 2005 wideouts but leave Braylon out in the cold. Some would argue it's the trouble he keeps getting into, but many players have still found lucrative deals despite troubles. Very peculiar there. I'm very interested to see how much money he can get next year after he puts up a 49 rec / 724 yd / 4 TD season in San Fran with Alex Smith only looking his way if Vernon Davis is covered.

Jeff Tefertiller: After the loss of Derrick Mason and Todd Heap in free agency, Anquan Boldin will see double coverage. Boldin has to be seen as a big loser in that catches will be difficult to come by. Even if the Ravens sign a retread veteran, there is no receiver to keep defenses honest. Rookies Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss will get a chance to see the field early on, but the Raven passing game is a rough situation for fantasy owners.

Jeff Haseley: You guys nailed it so far. While not as critical, I will add Redskins WR Anthony Armstrong as someone who took a hit due to free agency/trades. Not only did Washington re-sign Santana Moss, but they also traded for Jabar Gaffney, a former Shanahan guy. Armstrong may have been the right guy at the right time and place last year, but he did show some promise. if he is to find success in 2011, he'll have to prove he belongs.

Another WR whose value is in question is Rams WR Mark Clayton. Clayton was a man on a mission, before he was lost for the season with a knee injury last year. The recent signing of Mike Sims-Walker, the return of Donnie Avery and the recent draft selections of Greg Salas and Austin Pettis really makes it difficult for Clayton to see the same involvement that he had in early 2010.

One guy I had my sights on as a sleeper this year was Patrick Crayton in San Diego, however Malcolm Floyd was re-signed and the team also signed Laurent Robinson. It's possible Crayton will rise to the occasion again in 2011, but his path to continued success with Philip Rivers throwing him the ball, just got a bit tougher.

The signing of Roy Williams in Chicago moves Devin Hester to a WR4. Hester had a few good moments in 2010 as a WR, but he is not expected to reach similar numbers this year. In fact, he should see a big drop off in production as a result.

Mark Wimer: Jeff, Clayton also got a negative report from head coach Steve Spagnuolo, who said on 7/31/11 that the knee is still not ready after Clayton's 2010 patellar tendon tear. I doubt Clayton winds up with a contract in St. Louis this year, despite reports on 8/10/11 that he's still on the team's radar. There just aren't enough reps left in training camp to get Clayton up to speed in the new offense, even if he does eventually re-sign in St. Louis.

Jason Wood: My colleagues have given a comprehensive rundown of the major losers at the WR position. I don't want to be redundant, so I'll try to throw out a few more guys I see as coming out of free agency a little worse off than when they started.

  • Johnny Knox, Chicago Bears -- I expected Knox to net at least 1,000 yards this year in his second season in Mike Martz' offense. And while that may still transpire, the Roy Williams signing -- and subsequent comments by Martz -- make it less likely.
  • Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins -- Marshall thought he was getting Kyle Orton, and instead he got Matt Moore. In all seriousness, Marshall seemed out of synch with Chad Henne last year and the Dolphins made it clear they wanted a new sheriff in town. Yet as camp gets underway, Henne is the prohibitive favorite to start yet again -- and that means Marshall is a less certain bet to bounce back.

Mark Wimer: On Marshall, the revelation that he is suffering from borderline personality disorder makes me very nervous. That particular mental health issue makes people extremely unpredictable and erratic in their behavior, and treatments for it aren't well defined (it isn't one of the mental issues that is easily controlled by medication, according to my understanding). As Jason noted, Marshall and Henne haven't really developed a good rapport, and now that we know about Marshall's mental health issues, it is understandable why. My concern is that I don't know that Marshall will ever be able to be a good teammate. Henne and he may never get on the same page due to the trust issues between them.

Dave Larkin: In response to Wood and Haseley talking about the Bears guys...

It's amazing how fast things can change. I was thinking along the same lines as you guys with the Bears' WR depth chart. However, with news coming out that my "Brother From Another Mother" Devin Hester will definitely start and with their WR coach Darryl Drake calling him their best WR last year, it seems like the kind of coaching confidence that might limit the outlook of Knox and Williams.

While much of this stuff at this time of year can be deemed "coachspeak" and classified as motivation-through-the-media, the stuff on Hester (to me at least) was telling. Of course, a few nice preseason outings by the other guys can make this quote irrelevant in a few weeks. Something worth monitoring for sure though.

I personally like to consider talent/skill as my tiebreaker between guys I'm drafting -- especially players on the same team at RB and WR. The cream of the depth chart crop will ideally rise to the top.

So I still like Williams on this team as I view Knox as a not-so-versatile deep perimeter guy and Hester as a guy who still has some improvement to be made in route-running. Earl Bennett still could end up leading this team in catches despite the fact that it took me four paragraphs and three other WRs to get to him because he's the only true slot guy on this team -- and therefore could be considered the only one not fighting for a position.

Mark Wimer: I agree that Hester is a big loser in Chicago due to the arrival of Roy Williams, and though the team says they envision a larger role for Hester, they said the same thing last year and he saw 73 targets for 40/475/4 receiving - down from 92 and 91 targets during 2008 and 2009 (Hester set a career high in 2009 with 57/757/3 receiving). He's a guy who has underperformed expectations for years now, and he's not in the position to get more opportunities, in my opinion.

Sigmund Bloom: Let's hold off on knocking Hester too much just yet - he's absolutely in position to get more opportunities in the opinion his team and coaches. He's tearing up CHI training camp and running with the first team. I think most fantasy football players had written him off already, so his status is on the rise simply because his team seems to have a lot of confidence in him right now and he's backing it up on the practice field.

Matt Waldman: Braylon Edwards loses because of himself. He should be Andre Johnson, but he's more concerned about the wrong things. Now he joins a team that has recently been concerned about the wrong things. Hopefully he'll do a good enough job of getting in the way of people to help Frank Gore down field. The quarterback situation doesn't help, either. He'll be a mediocre player in this offense, at best.

Brandon Tate loses in free agency because the Patriots aren't confident enough in his development to give the third-year receiver a shot on the outside. Instead they opted for Chad Ochocinco and Tate is likely returning kicks this year.

The Ravens receiving corps. I like Torrey Smith as a long-term prospect, but to make him replace Derrick Mason seems ridiculous. I heard some recent commentators say that Mason couldn't get open in the playoffs, but I think that had more to do with Flacco under pressure than Mason. I'd rather have Mason showing my young receivers the ropes than Boldin, because Mason is a master technician. I just don't see how this team got better on the outside.

Greg Russell: The reports coming out of Chicago could spell the end for Johnny Knox's streak as a starting wide out in Chicago. That is not to say that he won't still be utilised by Mike Martz in a similar way; he will remain a factor in the Bears' passing attack. Roy Williams is no superstar and despite being a talent, his effort is inconsistent. Williams will more than likely assume a large role in the Bears offense, so expectations have to be tempered for Knox.

Santana Moss tested his wares on the free agent market but ultimately returned to Washington on a three year contract. Moss had received an offer from Carolina but opted to turn it down. The Redskins matched the Panthers offer and the rest is history. Moss returns to a Redskins offensive team that resembles a patchwork quilt in its makeup. Free agency didn't hurt Moss as much as his decision to remain with a team which boasts very little at the quarterback position. Moss will lead the team in targets and receptions, but if he had gone elsewhere he could have had a much smoother ride to finish his career and pleased his owners at the same time.

Chris Smith: I believe that Deion Branch will have his production cut way down with the arrival of Chad Ochocinco. Branch was a nice story in 2010 but the team brought in Ochocinco knowing he has the ability to elevate the production at the receiver. He will have the ability to get down the field, make defenders miss and create offense. Branch will have a role still but it will be significantly smaller than if Ochocinco wasn't brought in.

Jeff Pasquino: Excellent rundown so far, including Chris' mention of Deion Branch. I really thought he was being overdrafted as it was, and now with Welker and Ochocinco in the fold Branch stands to lose a ton of value.

I disagree on the inclusion of Santana Moss though - going back to Washington is the most ideal place for him, and he will be the top receiver for the Redskins on a team where everyone knows him as the most reliable target in the offense. With that familiarity and the lack of other options, I see him as a lock for another 1,000 yard season for the Redskins despite the QB issues and the lack of other options for Washington, even if some of those yards do come in garbage time.