Monday, August 6, 2012

Old faces in new places

Offseason player movement is the name of the game in today’s NFL.  Each year, more than 20 offensive skill-position players of note swap jerseys via trade or free agency.

What’s rare is the free agent that improves his fantasy stock in the year after leaving his previous team.

In 2011, only Darren Sproles, Willie McGahee and Reggie Bush measurably improved their fortunes after changing teams.  Matt Hasselbeck and Sidney Rice inched up their respective rankings, but neither approached previous fantasy highs. 

Meanwhile, following the historic trend, the list of team-swapping duds was exhaustive.  Even Kevin Kolb, last offseason’s most-coveted prize, couldn’t work his way up to fantasy respectability despite landing his first starting job.

Once again, the number of fantasy-relevant players changing zip codes this season is extensive.  I counted more than 70, and more are likely to come.

Who will stick their landings?  Who will fall flat on their tushes?  Let’s examine the most significant offseason moves of 2012, broken down by the projected impact on each player’s fantasy value.

MOVIN’ ON UP Look for improved production from these seven.

Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos.  His first completion will be an improvement over the lost season of 2011.  Still, the future Hall of Famer has yet to take a hit to test his surgically repaired neck.  He is the ultimate high-risk, high-upside player, for the Broncos and his fantasy owners.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Bengals – The Law Firm moved his practice out of New England, where he was perennially underutilized, to Cincinnati, where he is expected to become the lead prosecutor of the Bengals’ ground attack.  That should lead to more week-to-week consistency and significant upside.

Pierre Garcon, WR, Redskins – He scored all six of his touchdowns in just three games last season.  If Garcon seizes his presumed role as Robert Griffin’s favorite target, he’ll trade his boom-or-bust track record for more reliable production.

Brandon Lloyd, WR, Patriots – What better place than New England to prove his league-leading 2010 season wasn’t a fluke?  But Lloyd can only soar so high with Wes Welker and those pesky tight ends competing for touches.  He has nice upside, but don’t expect miracles.

Robert Meachem, WR, Chargers – He gets an upgrade from role player to featured starter.  Meachem lacks Vincent Jackson’s dominating talent, but he should be a steady contributor most weeks.

Randy Moss, WR, 49ers – Perhaps the biggest wild card of them all, Moss seems committed to reviving his career in San Francisco after flaming out in 2010.  He’s been turning heads all offseason, and he’ll surge up draft boards should he perform well in the preseason.

Jacob Tamme, TE, Broncos – Manning made Tamme fantasy-relevant as a Colt in 2010, and should do the same in Denver.

COMIN’ BACK DOWN These players will be hard-pressed to match last year’s results.

Tim Tebow, QB, Jets – He’s more likely to ruin Mark Sanchez’s fantasy value than improve his own stock.  Wildcat QBs don’t make fantasy stars.

Mike Tolbert, RB, Panthers – We loved him when he filled in for the oft-injured Ryan Mathews, but Tolbert’s talents will be wasted behind two accomplished backs and a TD-poaching quarterback in Carolina.

Brandon Jacobs, RB, 49ers – As long as Frank Gore is healthy, Jacobs won’t have much value.  He may steal a goal-line plunge or two, but that’s about it.

Vincent Jackson, WR, Buccaneers – A Top 10 finish is hard to envision for Jackson in his first year playing catch with Josh Freeman.

Laurent Robinson, WR, Jaguars – If you think he’ll come anywhere close to his 11-touchdown season of 2011, I’ve got some Dunder Mifflin stock I’d like to sell you.

Visanthe Shiancoe, TE, Patriots – If you were a free-agent tight end in the witness protection program, there’d be no better landing spot than New England.

CALL IT A WASH For better or worse, these players should post comparable results to last season.

Matt Flynn, QB, Seahawks – No longer relegated to backing up Aaron Rodgers, Flynn was paid handsomely to cure Seattle’s aerial woes.  Hard to believe he won’t wrest the starting job from Tarvaris Jackson; but fantasy relevance is still likely out of reach.

Peyton Hillis, RB, Chiefs – The 2011 Fantasy Bust of the Year is determined to rebound, but must do so as Jamaal Charles’ understudy.

Michael Bush, RB, Bears – Unfortunately for Bush, Matt Forte is not as injury-prone as Darren McFadden.  He’ll continue to be a valuable handcuff, at best.

Brandon Marshall, WR, Bears – Marshall has never ranked higher than ninth among fantasy wideouts, even during his glory days with Jay Cutler in Denver.  After quietly ranking 13th in Miami in 2011, don’t over-estimate his upside.

Chad Johnson, WR, Dolphins – No longer numerically monikered, Johnson squandered his opportunity with Tom Brady in 2011.  Expect him to underwhelm his way to retirement in his hometown.

Mario Manningham, WR, 49ers – As in New York, he’ll have a few shining moments.  Just not enough of them to write home about. 

Josh Morgan, WR, Redskins – The former disappointing 49er is now gearing up to disappoint Redskins fans.

Jerome Simpson, WR, Vikings – Don’t expect more highlight-reel feats from Simpson in Minnesota’s low-octane passing attack.  He’ll begin the season by serving a three-game suspension. 

Kellen Winslow, TE, Seahawks – A borderline fantasy receiver in 2011, he’ll offer similarly modest returns in Seattle.

Dallas Clark, TE, Buccaneers – Injuries robbed Clark of his mojo in 2010, and he’ll be hard-pressed to find it in Tampa Bay.

Next Monday: A look at the Rookie Class of 2012.

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