Quick: Where will Alshon Jeffery be shagging passes this season? Whose uniform is Jamaal Charles now sporting? Which city’s fans will Jared Cook disappoint this year? Is anyone left on the Jets to catch a pass?
Welcome back, fantasy fools! It’s time to hunker down and get serious about this year’s draft. But first, we need to pause and examine the NFL’s shifted landscape.
As usual, dozens of fantasy-relevant players – more than 55, by my count – were traded or signed free-agent deals with new teams this off-season. But if past is prologue, precious few will improve their fantasy fortunes.
The trend was never more evident than last season, when exactly one player – DeMarco Murray – appreciably boosted his stock after swapping uniforms. Ironically, he was the marquee free-agent bust of the previous year. Mike Wallace and Martellus Bennett also improved their fortunes in 2016, but not enough to crow about.
Will this year’s carpetbagger class fare any better? For a change, I’ll say yes. But my prediction is tempered by the fact that most of those listed in the “Movin’ On Up” category are returning from injury-shortened seasons or, in one notable case, from retirement.
Here’s my quick look at the most significant off-season moves of 2017, categorized by the projected year-over-year impact on each player’s fantasy value.
MOVIN’ ON UP
Look for improved production from these players.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Raiders: It’s hard not to get excited about Oakland’s loaded offense this season. If Lynch can return from the sofa in anything resembling his beastly form, he could lead the league in rushing TDs behind that monster offensive line.
Terrelle Pryor, WR, Redskins: Moving from Cleveland’s moribund offense to the Kirk Cousin-led passing attack in Washington is obviously a major upgrade. Pryor immediately vaults to the top of the Redskins’ overhauled receiving corps, giving him significant fantasy upside. As long as you’re not expecting WR1 production, he shouldn’t disappoint.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Eagles: The former Bear has been a fantasy bust since his stellar 2013 and 2014 seasons, so counting on him to reclaim his mojo in Philly comes with significant risk. It would be hard not to improve on the paltry numbers he posted over the last two injury- and suspension-plagued seasons, but WR2 production in 2017 seems out of reach.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Ravens: Joe Flacco’s back injury casts a pall over Maclin’s early-season prospects, but the veteran is expected to be Baltimore’s go-to wideout now that Steve Smith has hung up his cleats. Maclin’s last season in KC was a bust, so there’s plenty of room for a rebound provided he gets in sync with his new QB(s).
Eddie Lacy, RB, Seahawks: An ankle injury robbed him of most of the 2016 season before the Packers sent him packing, so simply staying on the field should lead to an uptick. But in addition to overcoming his well-chronicled fitness issues, Lacy will be competing for carries with incumbent Thomas Rawls and the promising C.J. Prosise.
Danny Woodhead, RB, Ravens: PPR leaguers should once again target Woodhead in the middle rounds of their draft. He appears to be fully recovered from last year’s ACL blowout, and his resume is more impressive than any other back’s in Baltimore.
Jay Cutler, QB, Dolphins: You’ll forgive this lifelong Dolphins fan for his disappointment that Miami enticed the wrong former-quarterback-turned-announcer out of retirement. That said, Cutler adds needed stability after Ryan Tannehill’s latest knee injury, and at worst, gives hope to those counting on Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Julius Thomas and even Jay Ajayi. But I sure wouldn’t put my fantasy team in Cutler’s insecure hands.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Saints: I’m not foolish enough to declare the future Hall of Famer done, but unless he slides precipitously, I won’t be drafting him. I remember how ineffective he was even when “healthy” last season, and now his carries will be limited by Mark Ingram, talented rookie Alvin Kamara and Father Time. We’ve heard for years that AP would take on a larger role in the passing game, but even in New Orleans, I’m not buying it.
Eric Decker, WR, Titans: Decker appears to be fully recovered from last season’s hip and shoulder injuries, and he has a fairly clear path to a starting gig. His ceiling is limited, but young-and-improving QB Marcus Mariota has the ability to make Decker fantasy relevant again.
Mike Glennon, QB, Bears: Chicago fans may be ready to turn the page on the underachieving Cutler era, but they can’t be thrilled about their passing game being placed in the hands of the former Buc. Glennon will outperform last year’s three-game production by default, but that does not make him roster-worthy.
LOOK OUT BELOW
These players will be hard-pressed to match last year’s results.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Eagles: Coming off the best season of his career (highlighted by 18 TD runs), Blount brings some stability to the Philly running game. But look for a major step backwards in fantasy production.
Latavius Murray, RB, Vikings: While he’s recovering from off-season ankle surgery, rookie Dalvin Cook is staking his claim to the lead role in Minnesota’s backfield. Murray’s draft stock dips daily.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Patriots: Though most would concede that Tom Brady is at least marginally superior to Drew Brees, Cooks will have trouble improving on 2016’s 1,173-yard, 8-TD performance in the Patriots’ crowded passing game. Brees was better equipped to take advantage of Cooks’ blazing speed, though Brady may target him more in the red zone.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Buccaneers: Looking for an exciting addition to Jameis Winston’s receiving arsenal? Check out rookie TE O.J. Howard. The 30-year-old Jackson is destined to be a boom-or-bust (mostly bust) fantasy performer in any given week opposite elite wideout Mike Evans.
Pierre Garcon, WR, 49ers: If a receiver leads the 49ers in production, does he make a sound? Methinks not. Especially with Brian Hoyer at the controls.
Kenny Britt, WR, Browns: How good could Britt be if he was paired with a good QB? We certainly won’t find out this season.
Steven Hauschka, K, Bills: The once-steady kicker loses his fantasy cred in frigid Buffalo.
CALL IT A WASH
For better or worse – mostly worse – these players should post comparable results to last season.
Brian Hoyer, QB, 49ers: Similar to Glennon above, Hoyer’s starting status cannot be comforting to diehard 49ers fans. Given the limited firepower of his receiving corps, this passing game will be hard to watch.
Josh McCown, QB, Jets: The well-traveled passer still hasn’t won the starting job over fairly mediocre competition. And when Quincy Enunwa is projected to be the top target, how excited can you get about any QB?
Jamaal Charles, RB, Broncos: It’s never a good sign when your projections are preceded by the phrase “if he makes the team.” Charles is coming off back-to-back seasons lost to knee injuries, and he clearly isn’t the every-down workhorse he once was.
Mike Gillislee, RB, Patriots: Conventional wisdom has pegged Gillislee as “the new LeGarrette Blount” in New England. But you and I know how frustrating it can be to own Patriots backs, even when they’re ostensibly labeled “starter.” Draft him if you enjoy weekly headaches. Ditto for former Bengal Rex Burkhead.
Brandon Marshall, WR, Giants: Despite seeing the field in all but one game, Marshall couldn’t crack the Top 50 WR ranks in 2016. Playing opposite Odell Beckham, Jr., and with Eli Manning at the controls, a rebound year is possible. But how big a jump the 12th-year receiver can make is another story. He’s a WR3 at best.
Robert Woods, WR, Rams: Irrelevant as a second or third option in Buffalo, Woods’ value should soar as Jared Goff’s top receiver. But it won’t.
Martellus Bennett, TE, Packers: Marty B managed to finish the 2016 season among the Top 10 ranks, thanks in large part to Rob Gronkowski’s injuries. He will be A-Rod’s most-targeted TE in Green Bay, which should be enough to replicate those results. But don’t count on consistent highlights from the well-traveled player.
Julius Thomas, TE, Dolphins: The oft-injured tight end was a bust in Jacksonville, just as oft-concussed free agent Jordan Cameron disappointed in Miami. Neither his nor his team’s recent history offers reason for optimism.
Dwayne Allen, TE, Patriots: New England has a habit of making backup TEs fantasy-relevant, but the perennially underachieving Allen should only be viewed as injury insurance for Gronk.
Jared Cook, TE, Raiders: Remember all those fantasy “gurus” who said Cook would excel in Green Bay last year? Yeah, I wasn’t buying the hype then either.
Blair Walsh, K, Seahawks: He’s deserving of an upgrade now that he has escaped Minnesota’s low-octane offense, but the difference will be negligible.
OFF THE RADAR
We expect to refer to these players strictly in the past tense from now on.
QBs: Tony Romo (CBS), Brock Osweiler (Browns)
RBs: Tim Hightower (49ers), C.J. Spiller (Chiefs), Justin Forsett (Ret.)
WRs: Torrey Smith (Eagles), Kendall Wright (Bears), Ted Ginn (Saints), Victor Cruz (Bears), Markus Wheaton (Bears), Michael Floyd (Vikings), Anquan Boldin (F/A)
TEs: Gary Barnidge (F/A), Mychal Rivera (Jaguars)
Ladd Biro is a two-time winner and five-time finalist of the Football Writer of the Year Award by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Follow all his advice daily at the Fantasy Fools blog (fantasy-fools.blogspot.com), on Facebook and via Twitter (@ladd_biro).