Fantasy Free Agents WRs to Watch
Dwayne Bowe may have already made his bed – a very comfortable, expensive one – in Kansas City for the next five years and Brian Hartline just signed a long-term deal, but plenty of wide receivers are eagerly awaiting the open market. Teams can start unofficially negotiating with players’ agents Saturday, but free agency doesn’t open until 4 p.m. EST Tuesday. And we’re going to highlight the most intriguing prospects before the bell. We’ve already covered tight ends. Here we talk wide receivers. Next up, running backs.
Mike Wallace: Wallace is clearly the most coveted free agent out there. He’s the fastest WR in the league, or at least Top Five, which makes him particularly appealing to teams who love to throw the deep ball (and to Fantasy owners), but his attitude issues are concerning to potential suitors (and Fantasy owners). If you already own him in a Dynasty league, you’re content to sit back and watch this play out. But looking ahead in redraft leagues, is Wallace the kind of guy who will get the hugely lucrative contract and then descend into bum-land? Some say he is, but I don’t think so. There are precious few teams who don’t need a guy like him (Giants, assuming they keep both Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz and Falcons, to name two), but there are also precious good teams who can pay him what he’ll demand – and get – on the open market. Miami is the rumored frontrunner at this point, but they have zero other weapons – the impending exit of Reggie Bush would make him the only weapon. Wallace is fast, but having someone like Brian Hartline as the next tier of talent opposite you is just not going to cut it. Antonio Brown meant Wallace avoided double coverage a lot in Pittsburgh and could break away.
He might be able to do a bit of that in Tennessee, which is reportedly a dark horse in the bidding war, but I’m not sure Jake Locker has matured enough yet to capitalize on Wallace and Kenny Britt as his go-to receivers. Plus, the team is still paying Chris Johnson that huge contract – and after a lackluster performance to follow up the deal, they may be sheepish about shelling out another one. Minnesota would be another poor landing spot. Percy Harvin would surely hold out if the team lured Wallace there with the contract Harvin wants, and Christian Ponder doesn’t really throw downfield. In an ideal world, Wallace would end up with the Saints, where Marques Colston just submitted a restructured contract, Drew Brees has offered to restructure his and Devery Henderson is a free agent. But it’s not an ideal world – Fantasy or otherwise. He’ll be a risky high-end draft pick this year, but I say it pays off.
Greg Jennings: Jennings certainly made a fair case for himself as a free agent when he returned to action in Week 13 after missing most of the season with a groin injury, but his options likely will be leftovers from the Wallace bidding war. The Dolphins were widely considered a frontrunner for Jennings, but once rumors came out they were the “ones to beat” for Wallace, Jennings got pushed to the side. Miami still may be the most likely landing spot for Jennings because, of course, it’s all just talk until there’s a deal. But with a 30th birthday looming, Jennings just doesn’t appear to be the receiver he was a few years ago – and even then, he never hit 1,300 yards or more than 12 TDs. He’s certainly above average in this market, but he’s not a stud – and that $11 million price tag he floated might turn some teams off. Fantasy-wise, I see Jennings flourishing if he ends up as a No. 2 WR next to a guy like Andre Johnson or Steve Smith in Carolina. In that event, he’ll probably be solid enough of a performer to put up WR3 Fantasy numbers most weeks. San Diego would probably bump up his Fantasy value a notch; Danario Alexander always gets hurt, don’t be fooled. Malcom Floyd is not a No. 1 receiver and also a guy who gets hurt a lot; and Antonio Gates is dead to most Fantasy owners after his 2012 abysmal season. The Lions could use him too, but my gut says he ends up in Miami or Minnesota; he should certainly be startable most weeks, but Jennings’ best Fantasy days are behind him.
Wes Welker: I had to list Welker among these guys, but he’s honestly the only one who I’m almost certain will stay where he is – and you know what he is where he is – so I’m just going to leave him alone. Bottom line: If he stays in New England as expected, he’ll be the Fantasy-friendly Welker we all know and love. If he leaves, it’s already too late for his owners to sell him – and sell him they’ll wish they had. He’s a very specialized slot receiver who succeeds in Tom Brady’s offense and won’t have as much success elsewhere. The Patriots are smart to let him test the open market; he might not find as many interested teams as he’d like because they know he fits within a specific system.
Danny Amendola: Amendola opposite Calvin Johnson would be a pretty scary combination, right? Wherever Danny lands – and I’m not sure he and the Rams won’t just reach a deal to keep him in St. Louis (Brandon Gibson is a free agent, too, so he might be kicked to the curb in favor of some of the high-potential rookies the team drafted last year) – he’s clearly going to have value as a possession receiver who can stretch the field. Obviously, his perennial injury issues are a concern for potential suitors, but his playmaking ability on the field almost overshadows his missed time – almost. He’s missed 20 games over the last two seasons, which is why the Rams weren’t about to put a $10 million-franchise tag on him. He should get a little more than half that. If not Detroit, why not the Texans? Or the Bears? Both teams have superior deep threats in Andre Johnson and Brandon Marshall, respectively, but they lack the wily possession WR who can make defenders miss. San Diego, Indianapolis (Donnie Avery is also a free agent – has Amendola-like qualities and comes with the injury concerns but not quite at the same skill level as a deep threat/possession receiver), Washington, Seattle – these are all teams where he could thrive Fantasy-wise. The only place that desperately needs a receiver that would totally– or mostly– kill his value would be the Vikings and Ponder, unless, of course, Harvin holds out, team loses bid for Wallace and Ponder decides to throw downfield.
Titus Young: Titus Young has lots of talent. He also has lots of attitude – the bad kind. There’s no need to rehash the whole saga that got him kicked out of Detroit, but I will say that if he can be rehabilitated, he needs to do it this season – or he’ll be marked as a selfish, route-blower for the rest of his NFL career, which would likely then be shorter than he’d like. Young will be 24 in August; he has solid ball skills when he focuses on the darn ball. He was claimed off waivers by the Rams, where he spent less than 10 days before management wised up to whatever behavior issues he allegedly displayed in Detroit. What’s a good fit? The 49ers are interesting – Jim Harbaugh isn’t known for being Mr. Nice Guy, Randy Moss is on his way out and Mario Manningham just won’t cut it as a No. 2 wide receiver – not with other options out there. If Harbaugh can scare him straight, he’d be an asset to that team – and to Fantasy rosters. Of course, the Jets would be an obvious landing spot – because, you know, controversy is what they do. They could afford a one-year deal, and Young could help kickstart the sad offense, though he and Santonio Holmes in the locker room might not be the best idea. Speaking of Holmes, the Steelers wouldn’t be foolish if they gave him a shot. With Wallace likely gone, they need a speedster.
Julian Edelman: If Edelman had been drafted by any team other than the Patriots, he would have been their version of Wes Welker. But with the talented, elusive possession guy already holding one of the starting jobs in New England, Edelman spent most of his time on the bench. Four years later, he has a shot to get off the bench – even if he has to go out of town – and be someone’s Welker. Edelman saw a little more action in 2012 while the Patriots were allegedly trying to phase Welker out of some packages ahead of the anticipated free agency divorce; he caught 65 percent of his targets (Welker caught 67 percent, but had more than 100 receptions to Edelman’s mere 21) and three TDs. The former seventh-round pick won’t have much leverage in contract negotiations with a new team because he hasn’t done much, but don’t be surprised if the number of suitors seems disproportionate to his playing time – smart coaches know what kind of player he is. Edelman would do well – Fantasy and otherwise – in similar situations talked about with Amendola. He’d also do well in New England if Welker abandons ship. If he gets a shot to start, he’ll probably be one of the best potential value picks in 2013 PPR Fantasy drafts.
Austin Collie: The only WR to more unexpectedly help Fantasy owners to win after win in 2010 than Collie was Brandon Lloyd, whose monster year in Denver eventually earned him a contract in New England as a free agent. Collie missed most of the rest of that season due to injury after notching more than 500 yards and six TDs in six games, much to Fantasy owners’ dismay, but was drafted in 2011 with high hopes. Of course, Peyton Manning was gone by then, leaving a torrid QB rotation to destroy every Colts Fantasy value; Collie didn’t miss a game last season, but it didn’t matter. Fantasy hopes returned in 2012 with the arrival of Andrew Luck, but after one dismal six-yard reception on one dismal target, Collie was done for the year with a knee injury. He’s been rehabbing, but reports indicate he may not be full speed again until October. Some team will sign him because of what he did with Manning (though if they’re smart, the contract will have an injury clause) and some Fantasy owners will draft him late in hopes he can stay healthy. If he can, and he gets signed by a team with a real QB, he could put up those numbers again. Best landing spots: Dallas, Seattle, Pittsburgh (though he’s a bit too similar a player to Antonio Brown), Lions and Saints. He’ll come fairly cheap because of injury woes and I would love to see someone like Tony Romo (Miles Austin’s status with team iffy), Matthew Stafford or Russell Wilson throwing him the ball. If rookie QB Geno Smith lands in Arizona as some reports have suggested, I’d be happy with him playing opposite Larry Fitzgerald, too.
Domenik Hixon: Like Edelman, Hixon is a guy who should receive more interest in free agency than his playing time would suggest. Hixon did spend a bit more time on the field for the Giants than Edelman did for the Patriots, but injuries – and a certain gentleman by the name of Victor Cruz – kept his action limited. It seems like Rueben Randle, who will enter his sophomore season, is going to be the third guy in three-WR sets for the Giants going forward, and Big Blue has enough to worry about contractually between Hakeem Nicks and Cruz, so expect Hixon to hit the market on Tuesday. He’s been a No. 3 WR but has the skills to be a No. 2 – can both flex the field and get substantial yardage after the catch. Is he as intriguing Fantasy-wise as some of the other guys on this list? No way. But guys like Danario Alexander went from forever injured, Fantasy obscurity to relevance the moment they found a home where they could start. That’s not out of the question for Hixon. In the few games he did start this year due to Nicks injuries, he did quite well.
Randy Moss: Does Moss have anything left in the tank? If he does, the 49ers didn’t give him much chance to show it. He had 46 targets all season despite being active every game and serving as the No. 2 wide receiver after Manningham went down. At least one of his 49ers teammates has said he thinks Moss will play one more season somewhere, though almost surely won’t be in San Francisco. Personally, I think that he has another productive year in him, but I’m not sure the mindset will be there, depending on who shows interest in him. Remember the Titans? Yeah, it didn’t go so well. If the Patriots somehow brought him back on a one-year deal, he could put up Fantasy No. 2 WR numbers with Brady and end his illustrious career on a high note. If a Titan-like team wants to sign him, which likely wouldn’t happen precisely because of what happened with the Titans (and the Vikings), he’s better off ending his career coming off a Super Bowl appearance.
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