Three Marquee Wide Receivers - One Stays, Two Go (So Far)

A look at the 2015 fantasy prospects for Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin, and Brandon Marshall

During the first few days of free agency, there has been a remarkable amount of movement by marquee level wide receivers - if all the reports pan out, it appears that Jeremy Maclin will be a Chief shortly, while the trade of Brandon Marshall to the Jets is already a done deal (despite Marshall signing a four-year $39 Million contract with the Bears just last year). One other impact player, Randall Cobb, elected to stay with the team that drafted him in 2011, and Cobb will remain the bookend to Jordy Nelson as Aaron Rodgers' 1B wide receiver. Below, we'll take a look at the conditions "on the ground" where these receivers have landed/will land, and consider the fantasy implications for each player.

Starting with the easiest situation to analyze, Cobb has (wisely) elected to stay in the land of plenty that Green Bay constitutes for wide receivers. He is firmly ensconced as a top option for one of the best quarterbacks in the league, yet will still draw his share of single coverage as teams struggle to cover Nelson and Davante Adams as well as Cobb from week to week. Posting a career-best 91/1,287/12 receiving last year in Green Bay (eighth-best among fantasy receivers), Cobb is just now entering the prime of his career. It would surprise nobody to see him finish among the top-ten wide receivers again during 2015.

The Brandon Marshall saga has taken some twists during the offseason - he was traded from the Bears to the Jets on March 6 (reportedly for just a fifth-round pick) one year after signing an extension with Chicago. However, a plague of injuries (ankle woes followed by broken ribs and a collapsed lung) limited Marshall during 2014, and he had a very public falling out with prima donna Jay Cutler near the end of the season. Ultimately, the Bears' new coaching staff decided they wanted to move on, and the Jets were already ready to put Percy Harvin in the rear-view mirror, so the deal made sense for both sides.

Landing in New York's talent-starved wide receiver stable should assure Marshall of a plethora of targets across from #2 wide receiver Eric Decker. The tandem looks workable on paper, but the play of Geno Smith so far during his NFL career is a red flag for Marshall's fantasy prospects. It doesn't do fantasy owners any good if many of the "targets" that go Marshall's way land at his feet or sail over his head. Also, the chemistry between Marshall, Smith and Decker in new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's attack is an unknown at this stage of the preseason. There is potential for Marshall to do well in New York, but there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about his upside as a Jet. This is a situation to monitor closely during July/August/preseason games.

Jeremy Maclin is reputedly going to Kansas City for roughly $11 Million per year (a five-year, $55 million contract with $22.5 million guaranteed), once the Chiefs clear salary cap space - one way they are expected to do so is to release former #1 wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. The mechanics of managing the salary cap should result in Maclin becoming the clear #1 wide receiver in Kansas City - but here's the problem. Though Maclin caught 86/1,329/10 in Philadelphia last season, he is going to a team where NOT A SINGLE WIDE RECEIVER CAUGHT A TD DURING 2014. Obviously, the team would like to change this fact (Alex Smith had 23 TD passes in 2013 but only 18 during 2014) - but it looks like a stretch to expect double-digit TD catches for Maclin on a team where Jamaal Charles and Travis Kelce accounted for 10 of the 18 TD receptions last year. Even if the pass-TD pie grows bigger during 2015, Maclin's upside in this department looks limited down in Kansas City. Maclin may be a PPR MONSTER as the headliner for Smith, but explosive games are likely to be sparse in other scoring paradigms. We'll see who else the Chiefs bring in via free agency and the NFL Draft to compliment Maclin - like Marshall's scenario in New York, Maclin's integration into the Chiefs' offense will be an item to monitor closely during the preseason.

Of course, the departures of Marshall and Maclin are creating opportunities for guys like Jordan Matthews (PHI) and Marquess Wilson (CHI) as well - but that is a topic for another column, once the dust has settled on the roster-churning across the league!

Keep your seat-belts buckled, folks! If the first few days of free agency are any indication, there may be some more surprises (Nick Foles for Sam Bradford, anyone?). Enjoy the action, everyone - only six more months until the games count for real!

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