Monday, August 15, 2016

Preseason Column #1: Old faces in new places

Quick: Where will DeMarco Murray be taking handoffs this season? Whose uniform is Travis Benjamin now sporting? Which city’s fans will Mike Wallace disappoint this year? Can you name the starting backfield in Houston?

Welcome back, fantasy fools! It’s time to hunker down and get serious about our fantasy drafts. But first, we need to pause and examine the NFL’s shifted landscape.

As usual, dozens of fantasy-relevant players – more than 50, by my count – were traded or signed free-agent deals with new teams this offseason. But if history is any guide, barely 10 percent of them will improve their fantasy fortunes. The vast majority will decline -- 
even plummet – in value. (Just ask anyone who wasted a premium draft pick on DeMarco Murray last year.)

Last season, a larger group than normal appreciably boosted their production after swapping uniforms, though three of those players – Sam Bradford, DeAngelo Williams and Ryan Mathews – were returning from injury-shortened seasons. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall defied the skeptics to soar as Jets, Darren McFadden assumed the plum starting role that Murray vacated in Dallas and Frank Gore prospered in Indy. 

But the list of players who crashed and burned in their new cities was much more exhaustive, headlined by once-proud fantasy stars like Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, Andre Johnson, Jeremy Maclin and Torrey Smith.

Will this year’s carpetbagger class fare any better? Don’t count on it. Here’s our quick look at the most significant offseason moves of 2016, categorized by the projected year-over-year impact on each player’s fantasy value.

MOVIN’ ON UP – Look for improved production from these six.

Robert Griffin III, QB, Browns – He will scramble last season’s goose egg with his first completion. But that doesn’t mean RG3 will return to his promising rookie form.

Brock Osweiler, QB, Texans – A first-time starter, he will bear watching. But not drafting.

Arian Foster, RB, Dolphins – The risks are well-documented, but a healthy Foster should seize the starting role from the still-unproven Jay Ajayi. But if you take the plunge, handcuffing him with Ajayi is mandatory.

Travis Benjamin, WR, Chargers – Benjamin quietly cracked the Top 30 ranks last season despite playing in Cleveland. Now paired with Philip Rivers, the playmaking speedster has legit upside.

Marvin Jones, WR, Lions – He’s no Megatron, but the former Bengal could prosper as Matt Stafford’s lead receiver. No guarantees here, but his ceiling is high.

Coby Fleener, TE, Saints – Likewise far from a sure bet, Fleener certainly bears watching given the enviable position he has stepped into. Just ask Jimmy Graham and Ben Watson.

LOOK OUT BELOW – These players will be hard-pressed to match last year’s results.

Matt Forte, RB, Jets – Now on the wrong side of 30, the versatile veteran likely left his elite days in the Windy City.

Alfred Morris, RB, Cowboys – After dazzling as a Redskins rookie, his stats have declined annually. The durable back now has the benefit of running behind Dallas’ offensive line, but the handicap of playing second fiddle to prized rookie Zeke Elliott.

Chris Ivory, RB, Jaguars – Replicating his 2015 Top 10 finish while sharing carries with T.J. Yeldon is hard to foresee.

Anquan Boldin, WR, Lions – He’s expected to be Detroit’s No. 3 receiver, but his days as a fantasy force are surely over.

Reuben Randle, WR, Eagles – He failed to achieve consistency, or fantasy cred, as a Giant, but will have trouble even repeating his previous modest results as a backup in Philly.

James Jones, WR, Chargers – James has never fared well without Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball, and he’s off to an unimpressive start with Rivers.

Nate Washington, WR, Patriots – He’s a long shot to make New England’s crowded roster.

Ben Watson, TE, Ravens – Drew Brees briefly rekindled Watson’s fantasy flame in New Orleans, but he’s now part of a three-headed TE mess in Baltimore.

Martellus Bennett, TE, Patriots – Barring an injury to Gronk, Marty B will be a bit player in New England’s passing attack.

Jared Cook, TE, Packers – He never lived up to his potential as a starter in Tennessee and St. Louis, and now will have to share the position with Richard Rodgers.

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

Mark Sanchez, QB, Broncos – Fear not, Denver fans. Sanchez is here to lead you back to Super Bowl glory! Yeah, right. He’s just holding down the position until Paxton Lynch is ready.

Lamar Miller, RB, Texans – Miller has quietly finished in the Top 10 RB ranks for the last two seasons in Miami. The Texans hope he will keep up that pace, though the change of scenery presents real risk.

DeMarco Murray, RB, Titans – After being misused and given-up-on in Philly, Murray will try to rediscover his mojo in Nashville. But rookie Derrick Henry will keep the veteran’s ceiling low.

Khiry Robinson, RB, Jets – Look for the ex-Saint to be an occasional goal-line vulture behind Forte and Bilal Powell.

Donald Brown, RB, Patriots -- Leaves one crowded backfield for another. Expect similar mediocre results.

Reggie Bush, RB, Bills – The truth is a healthy Bush can’t help but out-perform his lost 2015 season. But he is unlikely to return to fantasy relevance as Buffalo’s return specialist and Shady McCoy’s backup.

Stevan Ridley, RB, Lions – There’s a chance Ridley won’t even make Detroit’s roster, as he has not fared well in the competition for a backup role behind Ameer Abdullah.

Mike Wallace, WR, Ravens – After flaming out in Minnesota, Wallace will try to return to fantasy relevance with Joe Flacco’s help. But failing his initial conditioning test was a bad omen.

Brandon LaFell, WR, Bengals – Cincinnati hopes he can take some of the heat off A.J. Green, but given his sorry performance last year in New England, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Rishard Matthews, WR, Titans – He flashed some skills as a Dolphin, but will likely be third in the receiving pecking order in Tennessee.

Mohamed Sanu, WR, Falcons – He struggles with consistency and rarely made much of an impact opposite Green in Cincinnati. What makes you think he’ll fare better teaming with Julio Jones?

OFF THE RADAR – We expect to refer to these players strictly in the past tense from now on.

QBs: Nick Foles (Chiefs), Brian Hoyer (Bears), Johnny Manziel (Vegas)

RBs: Trent Richardson (F/A), Joique Bell (F/A), Bobby Rainey (Giants)

WRs: Andre Johnson (Titans), Jeremy Kerley (Lions), Dwayne Bowe (F/A)

TEs: Owen Daniels (F/A), Ladarius Green (Steelers), Vernon Davis (Redskins), Garrett Graham (Broncos)

Coming Friday: A look at the 2016 Rookie Class.

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