Free Agency Winners and Losers - WR

A look at how free agency changed dynasty value at wide receiver

It’s nearly impossible to wrap your mind around the player movement that took place over just a few days in March. Thankfully, fantasy football gives us an angle to break this cacophony of change into micro movement on our dynasty rankings board. When we isolate the net effect of the plate tectonic movement around the league on one player, we can make some sense out of it, or at least what we expect to come of it. Let’s look at wide receivers, where the biggest moves were unfortunately of the down variety.

UP

Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, TB - This isn’t based on any player movement, but instead the growing belief shared by many that Jameis Winston will be the #1 pick. Evans and Jackson should have a field day with a bold thrower under center, not to mention one with excellent natural arm talent and anticipation.

Randall Cobb, GB - Cobb the Packer is worth more than Cobb on just about any other team. He was expected to leave for more dough in free agency, but instead Cobb took less money to build a stronger foundation for his next contract (at age 28) and maintained continuity with one of the best passers in the game.

DeAndre Hopkins, HOU - Andre Johnson had a strong gravitational pull for targets, now Hopkins will be competing with Cecil Shorts instead. There could be some turbulence upon takeoff as Hopkins gets #1 wide receiver defensive attention with Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett at quarterback, but at least he is cleared for takeoff as a #1.

Brandin Cooks, NO - Cooks might catch 120 balls this year with Kenny Stills and Jimmy Graham gone. CJ Spiller will threaten the share of “Darren Sproles” targets Cooks got last year, but Spiller isn’t known for staying healthy and the Saints obviously see Cooks as a passing game cornerstone and are willing to build that half of a more balanced offense around him.

Jarvis Landry, MIA - Landry was already cruising on a 100-catch pace in the second half of 2014. The Dolphins overhauled their passing game targets, which should only lead to more targets trickling down to Landry in an offense that will emphasize the short and intermediate passing game.

Jordan Matthews, PHI - Matthews is the most talented pass catcher on the Eagles roster right now and he might have gotten an upgrade in passer quality. We’re yet to see if Matthews remains solely in the slot and Chip Kelly’s offenses haven’t created fantasy studs out of wide receivers that don’t get deep targets, but in theory Matthews should easily lead the team in all major receiving categories.

Cody Latimer, DEN - Latimer didn’t take a huge leap in value, but the continued drum beat of news that he’ll likely inherit the #3 WR job this year is a plus after a rookie year devoid of snaps despite Bubba Caldwell looking like a he belonged on the waiver wire. Latimer oozes natural physical and football ability, and this year we should get to see a lot more of it.

Brandon LaFell, NE - As good as LaFell was for the Patriots last year, it would been no surprise to see the team target a castoff like Andre Johnson or Percy Harvin in free agency, but neither of those moves came to pass and the team didn’t add a good deep receiver either. LaFell looks like the best downfield wide receiver for the Patriots again coming into the 2015 campaign.

Andre Johnson, IND - Johnson will play with the best QB in the best passing offense of his career by far. You know wide receiver is deep when Johnson is low-hanging fruit to be your WR3 in early drafts.

Rueben Randle, NYG - With Victor Cruz no sure thing for the start of 2015 and Randle finishing 2014 on a high note, he might start to deliver on his considerable promise facing defenses obsessed with Odell Beckham (just like the rest of us).

Charles Johnson, MIN - Johnson gained some competition for downfield targets in the form of Mike Wallace, but before that the team called him their best receiver by far. If he is as good as they think he is, Wallace’s presence shouldn’t slow down Johnson’s rise.

Josh Huff, PHI - An examination of the Eagles pass offense right now should lead one to ask “Who does Chip Kelly think he has to stretch out defenses and provide a threat outside right now?”. There’s a good chance that the answer is Josh Huff, who has cross-trained as an inside and outside receiver, in addition to getting some training in the running back role. Huff is in line for a big increase in opportunity, it’s up to him to deliver on it.

Marques Colston, NO - When the dust settled in New Orleans, Colston was somehow left standing, and in line to be the #2 passing target, including #1 in the middle of the field. Looks like we’ll be able to wring one more WR3/Flex level year of production from Colston.

Steve Johnson, SD - Don’t rush out to pick up Johnson in your dynasty league, but note that he landed with the best QB of his career in San Diego. If Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates start to falter at this late juncture of their careers, Johnson will be able to swoop in and convert additional targets to points.

Steve Smith, Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken, BAL - The Ravens didn’t have much wiggle room at wide receiver, but Ozzie Newsome has pulled a rabbit out of a hat before when opportunity presented itself in free agency. As of right now, Smith is clearly the #1 passing game target, and that shouldn’t change greatly even if the Ravens draft two receivers in the top 100 because they’ll need time to be ready to perform at a high level. Brown and Aiken’s immediate opportunity will be hampered a lot more by a high draft pick or two, but we shouldn’t assume that the Ravens won’t have to turn to one or both to play large roles this year.

Dwayne Bowe, CLE - He’s out of Kansas City. Cleveland and Josh McCown is far from a big upgrade, but you never know… ok, maybe you do. Just keep tabs in case we hear that Bowe is reinvigorated.

Brandon Coleman, Seantavious Jones, Nick Toon, NO - Marques Colston is far from his prime, and Coleman is a good match for his trait/skillset. Jones got a callup from the practice squad last year, and Toon got some playing time down the stretch. Someone is going to have to pick up the slack in the passing game, and one of these youngsters could show up that they have a bright future, even though the offensive gameplan may leave less slack for the #3 WR than we expect.

Eddie Royal, CHI - Royal has inexplicably had fantasy value for short stretches in San Diego, now being reunited with the QB who piloted his career value as a rookie could create even more unexpected value. Royal got ten million guaranteed from Chicago, so he could be a bigger part of the passing game than he was in San Diego.

MAYBE UP, MAYBE DOWN

Kenny Stills, MIA - I can talk myself in circles when trying to forecast Stills’ value in comparision to 2014. He is leaving a high-flying pass offense, but also one that appears to be morphing into part of a more balanced approach. Stills is losing quality of deep passing from his quarterback, but gaining opportunity in an offense that should put him front and center in the deep passing game. Perhaps most importantly, he’s on a team that appears to want him, which is more than you can say for the Saints after they accepted a third-round pick and overpriced Dannell Ellerbe for him. Was the lack of connection between Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace more on the QB or receiver? If it was Wallace, Stills could be in for a leap to upside WR2 value.

Mike Wallace, MIN - Like Stills, Wallace seemingly benefits from being somewhere he is wanted instead of somewhere he isn't. It can't get worse than it was with Ryan Tannehill in terms of deep chemistry. Wallace feels like an upgrade in overall situation, but he also was close to the precipice of clearly being regarded somewhere around Kenny Britt level around the league if he isn't already. The destination was a reprieve if you own Wallace, but it might be only temporary.

Marquess Wilson, CHI - On its face, the shipping off of Brandon Marshall to the Jets would appear to be great for Wilson, who will inherit the #2 WR job. On the other hand, the Bears will become more conservative on offense, they signed Eddie Royal, who has a history with Jay Cutler, and Wilson wasn’t that impressive after Marshall went down last year. Wilson’s perceived value is likely up, but I’m not sure about his actual value once the season starts.

DOWN

Sammy Watkins, BUF - It was already bad for Watkins when Rex Ryan came to town. Now with Percy Harvin suiting up for the Bills, Watkins has a lot of competition for short targets that are supposed to turn into longer gains after the catch. The Bills pass offense will be anemic, and now there’s another stone to get blood out of. Watkins will eventually hit his fantasy ceiling, but it feels like we’re getting farther away from that moment, not closer.

Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Jeff Janis, Jared Abbrederis, GB - It’s only an incremental drop for Nelson, who was going to get an inordinate number of numbers if Randall Cobb left in free agency. Adams, on the other hand, takes a huge hit, as he will go back to being the boom/bust WR3 he was in his rookie year. Janis and Abbrederis appeared to have a shot to get their feet in the door as a #3, but that door slammed shut with Cobb’s new deal in Green Bay.

Keenan Allen, SD - Stevie Johnson’s free agent deal with San Diego went under the radar, but he excels in creating separation in the same areas of the field that Allen has won in during his first two years in the league. The hopes of Allen getting a #1 WR share of targets in terms of volume and value appears to be on hold for at least another year.

Brandon Marshall, CHI - Brandon Marshall without Jay Cutler is a bleak picture for the big receiver’s fantasy prospects. If you take out his rookie year and injury-riddled 2014, Marshall’s bottom two seasons in catches, yards, and touchdowns all came in the three-year stretch he played with a quarterback other than Cutler.

Donte Moncrief, IND - Moncrief will get plenty of opportunity as the #3 in Indy, and on some high value downfield targets, but it is impossible to interpret the signing of Andre Johnson as anything but a bummer for his short-term prospects. If he comes anywhere close to his ceiling long-term, this will just look like a slight bump in the road in hindsight.

Torrey Smith, SF - There’s no positive way to spin Smith landing in Santa Clara… err, San Francisco. He’ll draw some deep pass interference penalties and Kaepernick does have a good deep arm, but the week-to-week scoring for Smith will give us motion sickness.

Jeremy Maclin, KC - Maclin at least addresses the biggest hole in the Chiefs offense. Unfortunately for him, that hole is so deep that the wide receiver position produced zero touchdowns last year. Alex Smith is not inclined to throw deep very often and Maclin’s main value will be a tactical one - to stretch the defense vertically. There probably isn’t a worse place for fantasy that Maclin could have landed in.

Eric Decker, NYJ - Decker is best cast as a #2 anyway, and new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey will flip the Rex Ryan script and likely make the Jets into a viable pass offense, but the arrival of Brandon Marshall can’t possibly be seen as a good thing for him.

Victor Cruz, NYG - No player movement issue here, but the buzz around Cruz is getting more cautious and the reality of his shaky status for the start of 2015 and beyond is setting in.

Pierre Garcon, WAS - Garcon’s fantasy value plummeted from near WR1 levels to barely rosterable in redraft last year. A release and landing in a good spot a la Andre Johnson would have been much better than Garcon being stuck in Washington.

Justin Blackmon, JAX - There was some early offseason buzz that the Jaguars were expecting Blackmon back in 2015, but that has died down and most team sources indicate that they aren’t expecting much from Blackmon even if he does return. Julius Thomas should be holding down the red zone work now, and Allen Robinson is being groomed as a #1. The dream is barely alive, if it is alive at all for those holding Blackmon and hoping for a resurgence.

Cordarrelle Patterson, MIN - Patterson is going to have to make his own path to touches and playing time, and I’m not sure that will happen while Norv Turner has the controls of the offense. Looks like we’re waiting for Patterson to get to his second team before we can see if he’ll translate in the NFL.

Terrance Williams, DAL - It didn’t get much press, but the Cowboys re-signed Cole Beasley, who was consistently getting more targets down the stretch than Williams despite being in the #3 role. Beasley and Tony Romo have chemistry, and there’s also that Dez Bryant guy. Williams is beginning to look like the Cowboys version of Robert Meachem, which equals unreliable for fantasy.

Robert Woods, BUF - It’s not like Buffalo 2015 was going to be a launching pad for the passing game, but what little there was going to be to go around just got more meager with the addition of Percy Harvin. Woods could hit down the line, but the short-term prognosis is depressing.

Brian Quick, STL - The Rams won’t commit to Quick being ready for camp with a shoulder injury, and they re-signed Kenny Britt, who provides a lot of the same elements Quick does. Quick’s mini-breakout in 2014 is encouraging for the long term, but don’t expect him to pick up right where he left off in 2015.

Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, SEA - Baldwin was the #1 target by default for a pretty good (albeit low volume) passer. Now that Jimmy Graham is on the scene, Baldwin looks more like a role player who will be hard to trust week to week as a complement on a run-first team. Likewise, Kearse’s highwire act on deep balls will get fewer spotlights and make him a very tenuous hold through the offseason in dynasty leagues.