Top 20 Fantasy Effects of the Offseason (part 1)
1. Peyton Manning, QB (DEN) – Barring the obvious health snafu, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker both become 1,000-yard receivers, each of whom has the upside to be a top-10 fantasy wideout depending on which Manning develops better chemistry with. I love Thomas in keeper leagues and can’t see him or Decker lasting past the sixth round of any drafts. And with those two weapons leading the way Manning should finish in the 4-6 range among all quarterbacks with really just Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady as locks to finish ahead of him. Whoever winds up as the team's top tight end will also be worth a late-round pick, whether that be Jacob Tamme (currently meeting with the Broncos) or the high-upside youngster Julius Thomas. As a by-product of Manning to Denver the Tim Tebow circus was packed up and sent east. If he can unseat Mark Sanchez amidst all the hysteria his addition creates, Tebow makes for one of the stronger back-up QB options, while Shonn Greene’s stock rises if the Jets become an option attack similar to what Denver ran last year.
2. Brandon Lloyd, WR (NE) – In a Josh McDaniels’ offense with Kyle Orton, Tebow (for his first three starts mind you) and a 2011 mix of a badly banged up Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley and Kellen Clemens throwing him the ball all Lloyd did was catch 128 passes for 2,131 yards and 16 touchdowns in 27 games. Now he gets Brady. Oh and he’s not the only weapon to worry about in the passing game. With Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez drawing plenty of attention, I can’t see Lloyd drawing double coverage often, if at all. With a whole offseason to build chemistry with Brady and already knowing the offense inside and out, I love this addition for the values of Lloyd and Brady. In fact, I can’t see Brady finishing next year as less than the No. 2 overall quarterback. As for the rest of his weapons, all their values dip since there are simply less balls, yards and scores to go around. Lloyd is a better value than Welker in my eyes and the highest of high-end No. 2 receivers with top-5 potential, while Gronk should get unseated by Jimmy Graham as the No. 1 overall tight end.
3. Brandon Marshall, WR (CHI) – Stock in Jay Cutler went way up the moment this trade went through. If the two former Broncos teammates can revisit their 2008 seasons—the last they shared together—Cutler will be a top-10 fantasy QB once again and Marshall will be a true No. 1 fantasy receiver with top-5 upside if he can find the end zone more often than his career average of 5.7 per season. And with potentially one of the best rushing attacks in the league led by Matt Forte and the newly acquired Michael Bush taking pressure off the passing game, yards and scores should be easier to come by for this pair than they were in Denver. Also, with Marshall drawing doubles, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Earl Bennett take on the role that Eddie Royal held for the Broncos in 2008 when Royal went for nearly 1,000 yards and five scores.
4. Matt Flynn, QB (SEA) – I’ve heard plenty about Flynn being a “system quarterback” and not worthy of being a full-time starter. If you read my blog on him a couple weeks ago you know I disagree with that theory. I don’t care how good the system is or how talented the receivers are, no one has a game in the NFL where he throws for 480 yards and six scores while completing 70% of his passes to set single game franchise records, leads a game-winning drive, does all this in just his second career start and without a Pro Bowl receiver (no Greg Jennings) without having exceptional ability. So plug Flynn into the starting role in Seattle and put Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, Mike Williams, Ben Obomanu and Zach Miller around him with a strong running game. There may not be a stud among the group, but there’s plenty of depth at receiver and Rice and Miller have serious upside if healthy. I’m buying Flynn as one of the best back-up options with the potential for a major breakout.
5. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB (CIN) – The Law Firm didn’t get enough love in New England. He was never flashy but he got the job done when his number was called, particularly in the red zone, where he scored all but one of his 24 touchdowns over the past two seasons. If he gets the chance to be the feature back in Cincinnati, which barring the addition of a rookie back it looks like he will, I could definitely see BGE going for 1,300 total yards and 8-10 scores in the balanced Bengals attack. Can you say "value pick"?
6. Carl Nicks, OG (TB) – LeGarrette Blount will love having Nicks clear the road for him. And Trent Richardson may love him some Nicks too if the Browns pass on him in the draft. Either way, expect a serious upgrade to the running game in Tampa courtesy of the 6-foot-5, 343-pound Nicks and the presence of new head coach Greg Schiano who favors a balanced offense with a physical rushing attack. If Richardson is not added, I’m hoping to add Blount as a mid-round pick in all leagues. Behind one of the better lines in the league, I expect the Bucs to not be shy about pounding the ball, particularly in a division in which they’ll want to keep the ball out of opposing quarterbacks’ hands.
7. Mike Tolbert, RB (CAR) – As someone who intends to hang on to Ryan Mathews in one keeper league, I particularly love that Tolbert bolted from the Bolts and went to Carolina. Without his vulturing ways robbing Mathews of carries, catches and of course scores, I can only see Mathews finishing outside of the top-10 at running back if he can’t stay healthy. And while I acknowledge that’s a scary proposition, I still believe his upside outweighs that risk. Additionally, I love the fact that the Chargers picked up former Pro Bowl fullback Le’Ron McClain to lead block. With Bush joining Forte in Chicago I’d now rank Mathews as the No. 5 back entering the preseason. As for Tolbert, his value definitely takes a major hit if the Panthers can’t move Jonathan Stewart in a trade, especially since Cam Newton is already the goal line back.
8. Michael Bush, RB (CHI) – Poor Forte he just can’t get any love from his own team. The addition of Bush certainly seems like an insurance policy if Forte decides to actually hold out or if the Bears choose to cut ties after this season with their franchise player. Either way this move is awful for each player’s fantasy upside. Bush is no Marion Barber or Chester Taylor and he will almost certainly eat a bigger chunk of Forte’s touches as both a runner and a receiver while likely dominating the goal line work. At the same time, Bush keeps himself behind a star runner and greatly hinders his chance to be a feature back. It’s a shame for both players and the NFC North defenses that will have to deal with this two-headed monster. It does, however, increase the value of Darren McFadden if he can somehow stay healthy all year. Without Bush to rob his goal line looks, Run DMC could have a banner year for scores.
9. Peyton Hillis, RB (KC) – I can’t see Jamaal Charles finishing as a top-10 fantasy back this year with the addition of Hillis. No way, no how. It was already a bit of a stretch to think he’d come back from a torn ACL with a big year. But now he’s also got to split carries with a bruising back looking to redeem his bruised ego—one who was previously a beast in new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s system just two years ago. I actually like Hillis as the better value in this backfield considering he can be had much later than Charles (see our first mock draft of the offseason if you don’t believe me), is not coming off a major injury and should still see 200+ carries (see Thomas Jones 2010) including most of the goal line action.
10. Vincent Jackson, WR (TB) – I like the V-Jax move to Tampa Bay, but not as much for Jackson as for Josh Freeman and Mike Williams. I can’t see Jackson having similar success with the Bucs and Freeman as he did catching balls from Philip Rivers. He had great chemistry and timing on deep routes with Rivers and that was the product of years playing together combined with what is certainly one of the best deep balls in the league coming from Rivers. Considering Jackson made his living (and the huge contract the Bucs just paid him) on long bombs, I expect a drop in his production as he and Freeman spend this first year getting used to one another. However, it should still boost Freeman’s numbers, making him a high-end backup, and it should open things up for Williams to be the possession receiver he’s fit to be. He won’t hit the 11 scores he racked up as a rookie, but I expect Williams to have a career-best in catches and yards.