Monday, August 4, 2014

Preseason Column #1: Old faces in new places

Quick: Name Cam Newton’s new starting wideouts. Who’s expected to be the workhorse rusher in Jacksonville? How about Cleveland? Whose jersey is Stevie Johnson wearing now?

How well have you been paying attention this offseason? Not being much of a baseball, hockey or hoops fan, I tend to focus more than most people on things like NFL free agency moves, and I even keep a tracker on my Fantasy Fools blog. But until I started writing this column, I would have been hard pressed to pass a quiz on the 60-plus fantasy-relevant players that switched zip codes this year.

And while this year’s merry-go-round spun no more quickly than in recent years, there’s one thing we can always count on: Precious few players have boosted their fantasy stock by moving to a new team.

Last year, only Alex Smith and Anquan Boldin measurably improved their fortunes in different uniforms. (Phil Dawson and Josh Brown moved up the kicker ranks, but do they even count?) A few others, like Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Ivory and Greg Jennings got modest bumps, but were mediocre contributors at best. Meanwhile, following the historic trend, the list of team-swapping disappointments was exhaustive.

So as we survey the NFL’s continuously shifting landscape, we are justifiably pessimistic about most of the carpetbaggers’ prospects. Here’s a quick look at the most significant offseason moves of 2014, broken down by the projected impact on each player’s fantasy value.

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

Josh McCown, QB, Buccaneers – One of last year’s biggest surprises earned himself a starting job down south. If he can develop a rapport with his new receiving corps, McCown could solidify his unlikely role as a fantasy stalwart.

Toby Gerhart, RB, Jaguars – No longer Adrian Peterson’s perennial handcuff, Gerhart will be given every opportunity to breathe life into the Jaguars’ offense. He’s a solid rusher and receiver, so don’t be surprised if he finally emerges as a fantasy force.

Rashad Jennings, RB, Giants – He showed flashes of brilliance during his tenure in Oakland, and the starting job is his to lose in New York. If David Wilson (neck) can’t get back on the field, only rookie Andre Williams will stand in Jennings’ way. Temper your expectations, but the former Raider and Jag could be a salty RB3.

Ben Tate, RB, Browns – While Cleveland feigns competition at the QB position, the real battle is playing out between Arian Foster’s former backup and rookie Terrance West. Tate has a spotty injury history, but there’s upside here should he emerge as the lead tailback.

Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Broncos – Ka-ching! Sanders has the talent to fill Eric Decker's shoes, and Peyton Manning can make him a star. Nobody’s fantasy stock has soared so dramatically.

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

Matt Schaub, QB, Raiders – Traded by the Texans for a sixth-round pick, it’s hard to imagine Schaub getting his mojo back in Oakland.

Knowshon Moreno, RB, Dolphins – Even before worries arose over his injured knee, I would’ve bet my retirement fund (meager as it is) that Moreno would never approach his 2013 stats in Miami.

Darren Sproles, RB, Eagles – As long as LeSean McCoy is healthy, Sproles’ role will be minimal.

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Raiders – It’s only a matter of time before Darren McFadden’s next injury, but MJD is clearly not the runner he once was. I’ll pass, thank you.

LeGarrette Blount, RB, Steelers – He won’t get the chance to soar like he did in New England as long as Le'Veon Bell remains intact.

Eric Decker, WR, Jets – Left Denver for a big contract in New York, and POOF goes his fantasy value.

DeSean Jackson, WR, Redskins – His presence boosts Robert Griffin III’s chances of a rebound, but Jackson won’t flirt with elite status again playing second fiddle to Pierre Garcon. 

Stevie Johnson, WR, 49ers – The No. 3 receiver in San Francisco’s offense is no place to build your fantasy portfolio.

James Jones, WR, Raiders – Swaps Aaron Rodgers for Matt Schaub. How do you think that’s going to work out for him? Exactly.

Jerricho Cotchery, WR, Panthers – Arguably the least talented No. 1 receiver in the league, he’ll be no better than a WR4 in most fantasy leagues – and that’s assuming he keeps his starting gig.

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

Mike Vick, QB, Jets – They say he won't start over Geno Smith, but we'll see how many interceptions (and losses) it takes to shake that commitment.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Texans – Set free by the Titans, it’s hard to foresee greatness in Fitzpatrick’s future in Houston.

Chris Johnson, RB, Jets – It’s been five years since he earned the CJ2K designation, but it’s been all downhill since then. With Chris Ivory expected to vulture the goal-line touches, Johnson’s days as a fantasy starter may be numbered.

Steve Smith, WR, Ravens – After a down year in 2013, the aging playmaker will be hard pressed to resurrect his career a second time.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, Colts – Nagging injuries have limited Nicks’ production over the last two seasons and now he’ll have to fight Reggie Wayne and TY Hilton for attention.

Golden Tate, WR, Lions – We’ve been waiting for years for a dynamic complement to Calvin Johnson in Detroit’s pass-happy offense. Still waiting…

Miles Austin, WR, Browns – The former Cowboy will try to plug the holes in Cleveland's receiver corps, with or without two hamstrings. Good luck with that.

OFF THE RADAR – These players are likely to be written about only in the past tense from now on. 

QBs: Mark Sanchez (Eagles), Blaine Gabbert (49ers), Terrelle Pryor (Seahawks).

RBs: Jonathan Dwyer (Cardinals), Donald Brown (Chargers), Andre Brown (Texans), Dexter McCluster (Titans), Rashard Mendenhall (Ret.), Willis McGahee (FA).

WRs: Mike Williams (Bills), Jason Avant (Panthers), Lance Moore (Steelers), Nate Burleson (Browns), Andre Roberts (Redskins), Brandon LaFell (Patriots), Santonio Holmes (FA), Sidney Rice (Ret.).

TEs: Owen Daniels (Ravens), Brandon Myers (Bucs).

Ks: David Akers (FA), Rob Bironas (FA), Garrett Hartley (FA).

Next week: A look at the 2014 Rookie Class.

Ladd Biro was named Football Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association for two consecutive years (2010, 2011) and was a finalist again in 2013.  Follow all his advice daily at the Fantasy Fools blog (, on Facebook and via Twitter (@ladd_biro).

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