There’s nothing unusual about offseason player movement. Big names swap teams every year. In each of the previous two seasons, roughly 20 offensive skill-position players of note changed jerseys via free agency or trades.
What’s rare is the free agent that improves his fantasy stock in the year after leaving his previous team.
In 2009, only Brett Favre, Kyle Orton, Nate Washington and Kellen Winslow measurably upgraded their fantasy production from the previous season. In 2010, the standouts were Peyton Hillis, Terrell Owens and Ben Watson. Danny Woodhead and Marshawn Lynch also found happier climes after moving in-season.
Meanwhile, following the historical trend, last year’s list of team-swapping disappointments was exhaustive, highlighted by such long-time fantasy stalwarts as Donovan McNabb, Thomas Jones, Brian Westbrook, Anquan Boldin, Brandon Marshall and Randy Moss.
This year’s lockout, of course, has spawned an unprecedented round of free-agent musical chairs. The number of fantasy-relevant players changing zip codes this season roughly doubled from recent years, and the music hasn’t stopped yet.
Who will prosper? Who will disappear? Let’s examine the most significant offseason moves, broken down by the projected impact on each player’s fantasy value in 2011.
MOVIN’ ON UP – Look for improved production from these six.
Kevin Kolb, QB, Cardinals – As the unchallenged leader in Arizona, Kolb is a lock to vault up the passer rankings this year. Just how far up is the question. Consider him a borderline fantasy starter with upside.
Reggie Bush, RB, Dolphins – After missing half of the 2010 season due to injury, a healthy Bush should fare better in Miami by default. He’ll reprise his role as a lethal passing-game weapon, but rookie Daniel Thomas was drafted to be the rushing workhorse.
Plaxico Burress, WR, Jets – Call it a shot in the dark, but I’d consider pulling the trigger on the free agent out of the Oneida Correctional Facility in the middle rounds of your draft.
Lee Evans, WR, Ravens – He’ll benefit from a more consistent QB and a better offense in Baltimore. But the improved scenery is unlikely to make him more than a desperation starter.
Chad Ochocinco, WR, Patriots – Though well past his prime, the diva will fill a void in Tom Brady’s receiving corps that could easily translate to a doubling of his four-touchdown output of 2010.
Sidney Rice, WR, Seahawks – He scored just twice in an injury-shortened 2010 campaign. But given the horrid state of QB affairs in Seattle, don’t expect a return to his stellar 2009 form.
COMIN’ BACK DOWN – These players will be hard-pressed to match last year’s results.
Ronnie Brown, RB, Eagles – His days as a starter, and wildcat impresario, are over. But he’ll be a useful handcuff to LeSean McCoy.
Cadillac Williams, RB, Rams – Will be parked behind Steven Jackson, waiting for an opportunity.
Ricky Williams, RB, Ravens – Relegated to Ray Rice insurance.
Braylon Edwards, WR, 49ers – Highly unlikely to match 904 yards and seven TDs as Alex Smith’s third or fourth target.
Derrick Mason, WR, Jets – You have to have a lot of confidence in Mark Sanchez to believe his third wideout can be a productive fantasy weapon.
Steve Smith, WR, Eagles – Once his knee heals, the former Giant will likely be the No. 3 wideout in the pecking order, unless Jeremy Maclin’s mysterious illness lingers.
Zach Miller, TE, Seahawks – He’s teased us with his potential in Oakland, but it’s hard to see him excelling in Seattle’s lackluster offense.
David Akers, K, 49ers – He was an elite kicker in Philadelphia. Don’t count on similar results on the left coast.
CALL IT A WASH – For better or worse, these players should post comparable results to last season.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Titans – The former Seahawk hasn’t yet adjusted to his new offense. Tennessee will likely remain a one-dimensional, run-dominant team.
Tarvaris Jackson, QB, Seahawks – He may not even hold off Charlie Whitehurst as the starter.
Donovan McNabb, QB, Vikings. Dumped by the Redskins for a sixth-round pick and a case of Schlitz, McNabb is merely holding down the fort until Christian Ponder is ready. It could be another ugly season.
Marion Barber, RB, Bears – Long past his fantasy prime, Barber will settle for Matt Forte’s leftovers.
Tim Hightower, RB, Redskins – He may begin the season as the starter in a crowded backfield, but he’ll likely fumble the job away to one of his younger understudies.
Willis McGahee, RB, Broncos – Will poach touchdowns from Knowshon Moreno instead of Rice this season.
Darren Sproles, RB, Saints – He was recruited to fill Reggie Bush’s cleats, but his opportunities will be few.
Steve Breaston, WR, Chiefs – He gets an upgrade at QB, but the ceiling is low for No. 2 wideouts in Kansas City.
Jerricho Cotchery, WR, Steelers – All but forgotten by the Jets, you’ll forget where he landed before long.
Jabar Gaffney, WR, Redskins – He had his moments in Denver. He’ll have some in Washington, too. Not enough to matter, though.
Legedu Naanee, WR, Panthers -- Vowel-blessed wideout could start opposite Steve Smith, but that job has rarely been a lucrative one.
Mike Sims-Walker, WR, Rams – If you believe, as I do, that Sam Bradford’s star is on the rise, then Sims-Walker becomes an intriguing prospect. But he needs to win a starting job first.
Roy Williams, WR, Bears – Don’t be surprised if Jay Cutler ignores him as much as Tony Romo did.
Kevin Boss, TE, Raiders -- Repeat after me: The only Oakland pass-catcher worth drafting is Jacoby Ford.
Todd Heap, TE, Cardinals -- He should be as reliable a target for Kolb as he was for Joe Flacco.
Greg Olson and Jeremy Shockey, TEs, Panthers – Both were disappointing as clear starters in better offenses last season. Sharing looks from a rookie QB can’t be good.
Olindo Mare, K, Panthers -- Moves from one lousy offense to another.
Jeff Reed, K, Seahawks – Must battle Brandon Coutu for this ho-hum job.
Tomorrow: My first round of positional rankings will be out.
Next week: A look at the Sleepers of 2011.