Is there any debate that the NFL is America’s new pastime? We are five months away from meaningful football action and the interwebs are abuzz with free agency activity, rumors and reactions. Welcome to the first edition of Make It Reign, your source for keeper and dynasty football analysis and advice. Much like the NFL, there is no offseason in a keeper or dynasty league. The “offseason” is almost as exciting as playing out the actual season. You cannot win a Fantasy championship in the summer months, but you can certainly lose it. Making roster moves, researching rookies and keeping tabs on emerging talent is all part of succeeding in long-term leagues. With the high rate of talent turnover in the NFL, it is important even for championship caliber Fantasy teams to avoid complacency.
With the new NFL league year starting on Tuesday, March 12th, we have seen plenty of action. It has slowed down a bit since the initial burst, but there is a lot to discuss. How does all of the free agency and trade movement affect players on your keeper/dynasty roster? Great question, so let’s take a look starting with the biggest movers, the wide receivers.
The move: Percy Harvin gets traded to the Seahawks.
In perhaps the biggest move of the offseason to date, the Seahawks made a major splash by landing Harvin. Already a Top 10 dynasty talent, he gets a boost in value with Seattle. While he may not see the sheer volume of targets that he did in Minnesota, the Seahawks are going to find creative ways to get the ball in his hands. Plus, he will be playing for an upgraded offense overall, specifically at QB, moving from Ponder to Russell Wilson, who also gets a value boost with the acquisition.
Sidney Rice makes for an interesting WR4 as long as he can remain healthy. It has been the same story with Rice since his breakout 2009 season, though. All of the skills are there for him to be a Fantasy beast. He is only 26 years old and could put together a solid campaign with Harvin drawing attention from defenses. Golden Tate looked as if he was starting to figure things out, but his value takes a hit. There is just not going to be enough opportunity for him to shine on a consistent basis without an injury to someone else. He is a free agent after this season and could garner enough interest to revive his prospects. Doug Baldwin had an excellent rookie season, especially considering he was undrafted out of Stanford. He battled injuries last year and faded from the Fantasy scene just about completely. He is still worth rostering in deep leagues in case of injury or a change of scenery.
The Vikings traded their second best player and are now in complete rebuilding mode. They signed Greg Jennings to replace Harvin, but still need more WR help. Jennings’ best years are behind him and he is downgrading from the best QB in the league to one of the worst. On a positive note, he should see a ton of targets. Unfortunately, that will come with more attention from defenses. His upside is an inconsistent WR2 for the next few seasons. Second year playmaker Jarius Wright offers intriguing upside in long-term leagues. Jerome Simpson was a disappointment in his first season with the Vikings, but they re-signed him as depth. His dynasty value is limited to bench depth/bye week replacement at this point. Greg Childs was a potential steal in the fourth round coming out of Arkansas last April, but he tore both patellar tendons over the summer. That kind of injury tends to kill any buzz a player has going. It is going to be a tough road back and he is only worth owning in the deepest of leagues.
Jennings’ former team, the Packers, are still in great shape at receiver despite losing the veteran. Jordy Nelson was up and down all season, battling injuries and unable to repeat his breakthrough 2011. He makes for a buy-low candidate in keeper leagues if his owner has soured on him a bit. Expect him to bounce back in a big way. Randall Cobb and James Jones picked up the slack, each turning in Top 25 seasons. Jones will turn 29 this offseason and has struggled with inconsistency throughout his career. He should remain a solid TD option for the next few years, but is more of a WR4/5 in the long-term. He is a situational talent, so it is important to keep in mind he is a free agent at the end of this season. Randall Cobb is a true difference maker. He is a high-upside WR2 for 2013, but keeper and dynasty leaguers should treat him as a Top 12 WR talent. Looking deeper, file away the name Jarrett Boykin. He impressed the Packers last summer as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia Tech. He has an intriguing combination of size and athleticism that could make Jones expendable in 2014.
The move: The Dolphins scoop up Mike Wallace.
Wallace was the best dynasty receiver on the free agent market and brings an element of explosiveness to the Dolphins aerial attack. He is downgrading in situation on the surface, but the Miami offense is on the rise. Still, it is best to treat Wallace as a WR2 for Fantasy purposes. He is blazing fast and will have his share of big plays and even bigger games, but also some duds along the way. If someone in your league is excited about the move and believes he is a Top 5 WR waiting to happen, do not hesitate to move him.
Prior to free agency, the Dolphins re-signed Brian Hartline. He was solid last season, but is more of a WR4/5 for Fantasy purposes. Long term, he is not the type of player to rely on for week-to-week production. It does not help that he is allergic to the end zone. Miami did not stop there, however, also signing the underrated Brandon Gibson. While he may not be a high upside talent, he could overtake Hartline as the number two in Miami. Long term, he is bench depth. Davone Bess is going to see his targets eaten into and that is not great news for a small possession receiver whose value is directly tied to volume. His best bet for future value is a ticket out of town. He is strictly a point-per-reception asset.
Wallace’s departure leaves the Steelers receiver situation murky at best. In fact, their entire offense is a question mark other than Big Ben. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are both intriguing talents, but more Robin than Batman. The Steelers are in desperate need of a bona fide go-to receiver. Since they did not make any major moves in free agency (sorry Plaxico) they could take to the draft to sure up their WR corps.
The move: Wes Welker signs with the Broncos, Pats sign Danny Amendola.
Which signing came first is up for debate – classic chicken or the egg scenario. Either way, it is an interesting move for both teams. The Broncos add another element to an already dangerous offensive attack. Welker will see a slight downgrade in production being surrounded by a true WR1 in Demaryius Thomas and another solid possession type in Eric Decker. Peyton Manning loves his short to intermediate targets and Welker will be no different. They should be on the same page almost immediately. Keep in mind he will be 32 years old before the season starts, making him a dangerous player to build around. Decker should remain a red zone asset, but could also see his overall numbers dip a bit. For the moment, he is more WR3 material. Thomas has elite talent, he should not see much, if any, drop off. Sadly, this may be the end of the road for Brandon Stokley. To both of you holding onto him in your dynasty leagues, it is time to say goodbye.
The Patriots wasted no time replacing Welker with a younger, more injury-prone version in Danny Amendola. He is not an exact Welker clone, but he is close in many respects. Amendola is a little taller, a little faster and has more after-the-catch ability. He is likely to be a PPR leaguers dream because of his ideal situation. However, there are no guarantees in Fantasy and Amendola may never see his value this high again. Proceed with caution if you are trying to acquire his services; they are likely to be extremely expensive right now. If you own him and are fielding inquiries, you have to consider if someone is willing to overpay.
The Patriots offense is not likely to slow down too much with the loss of Welker, but they could definitely use young talent at the position. They did sign former Bills receiver Donald Jones. While not an exciting move, he is a sneaky deep sleeper in dynasty leagues, especially following the release of Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd’s New England tenure was short-lived and relatively uneventful. He did manage over 900 yards, but only four TDs and opportunities were definitely left on the field. Expect him to catch on somewhere and he may give you Flex numbers for the next season or two if the situation is right. Outside of 2010, he has largely been a Fantasy disappointment.
The move: Dwayne Bowe heads back to the Chiefs with a long-term deal.
Bowe is the epitome of a solid WR2. He has had at least 800 yards in every season except one (2009 when he only played 11 games) and has had between three and seven TDs a year, except for 2010 when he hauled in 15. The big question with Bowe is his commitment level. Is he motivated to be great or satisfied with getting by on natural ability? While unlikely to take his game to new heights, we could see career highs in catches and yards as he hogs targets from Alex Smith. If you are looking for a consistent option to balance out your offense, Bowe makes for a solid buy. His value is a tick better with Smith under center, as opposed to the traveling circus he has dealt with the past few seasons.
Coming out of the draft, many had high hopes that Jon Baldwin would develop into a go-to receiver and make Bowe expendable. That has not happened, as Baldwin has flashed immaturity, inconsistency and dominance at times during his two-year tenure in Kansas City. At 6’4” and 230 lbs. with solid speed, there is still a lot to like from a long-term perspective. He is a WR project worth a flier, but you should not be expecting too much from him in 2013. If it happens, consider it gravy. He will be competing with speedy Donnie Avery and possibly Dexter McCluster for targets. Avery is a deep threat and could have a few big games, but his upside is capped by Alex Smith’s arm. It will be interesting to see what Andy Reid does with McCluster, who could still have value as a gadget player. Check your league’s waiver wire because he might still be there. Very deep leaguers should not forget about second year receiver Devon Wylie. He did not get much time in 2012, but he has potential to be a useful slot machine if given the opportunity.
The move: Anquan Boldin goes from one Harbaugh to the other.
Rumors swirled about Boldin’s potential release, as the Ravens looked to re-structure his deal to save cap money. Instead, he was dealt to the 49ers in a somewhat surprising transaction. Boldin has not had a 1,000-yard season since leaving Arizona and has not topped 1,038 yards since 2006. He is a tough player who carries more value in real life football than Fantasy. For those in keeper and dynasty leagues, he is no more than a WR4, considering his production and age (he will be 33 in October).
What the move does is take some pressure off of Michael Crabtree, who is primed to deliver on lofty expectations in 2013. Mario Manningham is rehabbing a torn ACL and is only a flier at this point. Should he come back healthy, he may use his speed to carve out a role with the cannon-armed Colin Kaepernick. One receiver to watch closely is 2012 first round pick A.J. Jenkins. He struggled to pick up the offense in his first season, but brings a playmaking element not currently found on the receiving corps. If his game takes the next step, it is going to be hard to keep him off the field. Acquire him now before the hype starts to pick up. In very deep leagues, owners may want to take a flier on Ricardo Lockette. He is an intriguing size/speed prospect who last played for the Seahawks in 2011 after being undrafted out of Fort Valley State University. Like with any roster stash, expectations should be tempered for the soon-to-be 27-year-old.
The Ravens are left with a need at receiver. Torrey Smith still needs to show he is more than a deep threat and he could take the next step this season. Super Bowl hero and Dancing with the Stars “star” Jacoby Jones has already proven he is no more than a deep threat. A perennial sleeper candidate, Jones has never had more than 562 receiving yards in a season. Tandon Doss has not shown he is anything more than an average talent, but will likely get a chance to breakthrough this spring. Track star Deonte Thompson impressed during camp last summer and has some very deep dynasty appeal. Of the young fliers on the roster, one name stands out as a stash. Tommy Streeter was taken in the fourth round last April and essentially red-shirted in 2012. He is a raw product with tantalizing upside for a 6’5”, 220 lb. receiver with speed. He came out of Miami too early, as he could have been a Top 10 WR talent had he stayed in college. He is a recommended dynasty pick-up if you are looking to gamble on a high-risk/reward talent. Expect the Ravens to address the position at the Draft, but there should be plenty of opportunity.
Under the Radar Moves:
The Raiders released Darrius Heyward-Bey. He showed some flashes, but never lived up to expectations as the first pass catcher off the board in the receiver rich 2009 Draft. DHB is just 26 years old and could still be a useful Fantasy receiver in the right situation. From a Raiders perspective, they will enter the 2013 season with three young, exciting players and a rehabbing Jacoby Ford. Denarius Moore still has tremendous upside and makes for an intriguing buy-low in long-term leagues despite fading down the stretch in 2012. Rod Streater turned heads as an undrafted rookie out of Temple and could step into a starting role. Fellow rookie and fifth round selection Juron Criner did not come on as quickly, but boasts excellent hands and size. Both Streater and Criner have the potential to emerge given the opportunity. What the Raiders do in the draft at the position will be telling. With Carson Palmer reportedly not willing to restructure his contract, it is also remains to be seen who will be throwing these receivers the ball this season. The situation is still developing and keeper/dynasty leaguers need to monitor closely.
The Bucs traded former second round pick Arrelious Benn to the Eagles in exchange for a late round pick. This is an under the radar move that raises an eyebrow. Benn has talent, but has been unable to stay healthy. He tore his ACL in 2011 and battled injuries throughout 2012. Not a bad flier for the Eagles or your dynasty team if you have an open roster spot. It is worth noting that Jeremy Maclin is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
Troubled Lions WR Titus Young was released in February, quickly signed with the Rams and was subsequently released a week later. The enigmatic Young clearly has maturity (and possibly other) issues that he needs to work out before another NFL team takes a chance on him. He has plenty of talent, but he is no more than a roster stash at this point.
Laurent Robinson signed a big offseason deal with the Jaguars last spring but only played in seven games because of serious concussion issues. He was released in March and is currently looking for work. He was overrated due to his TD production for the Cowboys in 2011 and does not hold much long-term value because he has never been able to stay healthy. If he does land in a good situation it might not be a bad idea to kick the tires, but do not expect much.
The Jags replaced Robinson with Jordan Shipley, who had a decent showing in his seven game trial last year. Shipley signed a two-year deal to remain with the Jags. He is no more than a WR6, but could see increased targets should emerging beast Justin Blackmon or 2012 waiver wire all-star Cecil Shorts III gets injured.
Week One Wonder Kevin Ogletree signed with the Buccaneers. He could get time as the third receiver in Tampa Bay, but carries little dynasty value at the moment. Some moves are under the radar for a reason.
Former Raider and Panther Louis Murphy signed a one-year deal with the Giants. He was basically a non-factor for Carolina last season despite their massive need at the position. He is only rosterable in the deepest of dynasty leagues.
The Texans released Kevin Walter. He will catch on somewhere, but one of those places should not be your fantasy team. He has extremely limited upside.
Next time, we will take a close look at all of the movement at the running back position and what effect it has on keeper and dynasty values.