2014 Free Agency Fantasy Stockwatch
NFL free agency never really ends, but the bulk of the big names have found new (or the same) homes for the 2014 season, so it’s a good time to take a look at how free agency has affected the value of players around the league. Let’s start with the…
▲Montee Ball, Broncos
Now that Knowshon Moreno (and the #5 fantasy RB in 2013) has signed with the Dolphins, it’s clear that Ball’s stock has taken a huge jump. Prior to the Moreno signing, Ball was being drafted in the 4th round due to the uncertainty of his situation. With Moreno out of the way, he’s starting to go in the late 1st/early 2nd. Is this too early? I don’t think so. In my Never-Too-Early RB Rankings, I said that Ball would move into the second or third tier if Moreno walks and as the RB landscape has shifted, I would now put him in the #7-#9 range alongside Zac Stacy and LeVeon Bell. Stacy and Bell have more dependable workloads, but Ball is tempting due to the relative upside of the Denver offense when compared to the offenses in St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Ball had a higher YPC (4.7) than Moreno (4.3), but wasn’t quite the weapon in the passing game. Still, his catch percentage (receptions/targets = 74.1%) wasn’t bad for a running back. The only real question is whether or not his workload will suffer if his fumbling problem rears its ugly head.
▲Toby Gerhart, Jaguars
Gerhart will be 27 years-old to start the season and has the same career 4.7 YPC as Tate. He has touched the ball 15+ times in seven career games and has averaged low-end RB1 numbers (12.6 FP) with that workload. The former Heisman candidate is expected to start for the Jaguars after HC Gus Bradley predicted that he would see 15-20 touches per game. The biggest knock on Gerhart is that he doesn’t have a lot of wiggle in his game, though he runs with power and his career YPC is certainly encouraging. (I’d also like to note that no one is going to look particularly nifty as a replacement for Adrian Peterson.) He’s a deft receiver and isn’t expected to come off the field on third downs. From a durability standpoint, Gerhart has missed three games in four seasons, so he has played in 61 of a possible 64 games. Barring a big improvement at QB, the Jacksonville offense isn’t expected to be a juggernaut, so touchdowns will be hard to come by. Still, Gerhart looks to be a bona fide workhorse back, and that has value in fantasy.
▲Ben Tate, Browns
Tate wants to be a feature back and he'll have his chance in Cleveland. Tate has averaged 4.7 YPC in his career and has touched the ball at least 15 times in 13 career games, averaging 94.5 yards and 0.54 TD in the process. That equates to 12.7 fantasy points, which is about what Chris Johnson averaged as the #9 RB in 2013. Touchdowns are probably going to be tougher to come by in Cleveland than they were in Houston, and Tate wasn’t used extensively in the passing game while with the Texans, though he did average 2.6 receptions in his final nine games of 2013. The big concern with Tate is his questionable durability. In addition to missing the entire 2010 season due to a broken ankle, he has missed eight other games in his career, so he has missed 24 of a possible 64 games (38%). This led to a tepid market and a two-year deal since the Browns aren’t sure he’ll hold up. Still, as a good fit for new OC Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme, Tate figures to see a big workload as long as he’s healthy. Chris Ogbonnaya will get some third-down snaps, while Edwin Baker and Dion Lewis will fight for the leftovers.
▲Andre Ellington, Cardinals
Rashad Mendenhall retired, and the Cardinals didn’t do much of anything at RB in free agency (outside of signing Jonathan Dwyer), so the path is clear for Ellington to become a feature back. HC Bruce Arians says he wants to build the offense around the diminutive RB, but that they’ll be careful not to overwork him, implying that they may limit his short-yardage work. He was the #25 RB in 2013 with 10.4 touches per game, but averaged 12.4 touches in his last 11 games. In that span, he averaged 9.3 FP, which are low-end RB2 numbers. Arians’ offenses don’t utilize the running back heavily in the passing game, but with the way the coach has been gushing about Ellington’s skill set, that may change. Ellington averaged 0.771 fantasy points per touch in 2013, so if he can maintain that production with a 15-touch workload, he’s looking at an average of 11.6 FP per game. Those are high-end RB2 numbers.
▲Rashad Jennings, Giants
Jennings was the #6 RB from Week 9 to Week 15 (when he was playing starter’s snaps for the Raiders) and that included a missed game against the Jets in Week 14. The team still believes in David Wilson, but Jennings is fully capable of winning the RB1 job outright. The Giants had a very difficult time running the ball in 2013, so they need to sort out the offensive line as well. Still, Jennings is a three-down back and has a relatively clear path to a starting gig.
▲Golden Tate, Lions
Tate finished as the #35 WR in 2012 and #29 last season, so he's a proven commodity that should remedy the Lions' WR2 issues. His FP/target numbers (4th-highest in 2012, 29th in 2013) indicate that he should thrive in a bigger role. He's joining an offense that has 1,374 pass attempts in the last two seasons, which is nearly 67% more passes than the Seahawks have attempted in the same span. He obviously won't be the top target in Detroit, but if he sees the usual 18% of targets (typical for a WR2), it would result in 123 targets, a 25% jump from his 2013 totals. The Lions may run a bit more this season, but Tate's arrow is certainly pointing up. For more on Tate’s potential production, click here.
▲Terrance Williams, Cowboys
With Miles Austin basically sidelined from Week 4 to Week 10, Williams was the #12 WR in fantasy, racking up 24 catches for 438 yards and five TDs in that seven-game span. In four games where he played at least 80 percent of his teams snaps, he averaged 11.0 FP (#15 WR numbers). In eight games where he played at least 70 percent of the snaps, he averaged 9.0 FP (#22 WR numbers). He faded upon Austin’s return to starter’s snaps, but showed enough in his rookie season to make him an intriguing middle-round pick in 2014. The Cowboys figure to throw a lot under new OC Scott Linehan, who was pass-happy while in Detroit. (No QB had more pass attempts than Matthew Stafford over the past two seasons.) With Austin gone, the path is clear for a breakout season from Williams.
▲Doug Baldwin, Seahawks
Golden Tate's departure currently leaves Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin, Sidney Rice and speedster Jermaine Kearse atop the depth chart. Once Rice went down, Baldwin emerged as a productive starter, averaging 3.6 catches for 55 yards and 0.45 TD in his final 11 games (including the postseason). Those are solid fantasy WR3-type numbers. Rice’s return (on a one-year contract) certainly takes some of the wind out of Baldwin’s sails, but he’s still an interesting late-round pick who may end up starting for the Seahawks.
▲Joique Bell, Lions
The Lions hired Joe Lombardi (formerly of the Saints) to run the offense. The general consensus is that he’s going to run the ball more, but the Saints actually threw it more often than the Lions did in 2013 (from a pass/run standpoint). However, with the way team personnel are talking about the new offense, we’re relatively certain that he’s going to utilize Reggie Bush in more of a receiving role. Bush saw about 50% of the carries in 2013, while Bell’s number was called 37% of the time. Lombardi was in New Orleans during Bush’s stint there, so he was around while Bush’s average carries dropped from 13.1 in 2007 to a career low 4.5 in 2010, his final season with the Saints. Bush has had far more success running the ball post-Saints, averaging 4.6 YPC with the Dolphins and the Lions after posting a 4.0 YPC while in New Orleans. So while Bush probably won’t be ignored in the running game, the split could easily flip to Bell in a lead rushing role. Bell finished with 219 touches in 2013 (finishing as the #17 RB in standard formats) and the team just extended his contract, indicating that he’s a big part of their long-term offensive plan. As the #25 RB off the board in the 8th/9th round, he has some upside as a possible 230- to 250-touch running back.
▲Michael Vick, Jets
Granted, starting for the Jets is not a good situation for a QB, fantasy-wise. But at least Vick will have a chance to win the starting job instead of holding the clipboard behind Nick Foles in Philadelphia. If Vick does win the job, he could surprise as a solid QB2/QBBC type, especially since the Jets added Eric Decker in free agency. Vick's per game production is usually respectable.
▲Garrett Graham, Texans
Once the team parted ways with Owen Daniels, re-signing Graham became much more feasible. After Daniels went down, Graham was the #11 TE from Week 6 to Week 14 before getting injured himself. He could be a baseline fantasy option at TE, but Gary Kubiak's TE-friendly offense is gone and it's not clear how much new HC Bill O'Brien will feature the tight end. While at Penn State, TE Jesse James was second on the team in receiving yards (333) in 2013, while TE Kyle Carter was second in 2012 (453 yards), so Graham could have a sizable role in the offense. Time will tell.
▲Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos
Sanders couldn’t have landed in a better situation for his fantasy value. He’ll likely replace Eric Decker in Denver's three-WR set, so Andre Caldwell probably sees spot duty as the team's WR4. In 2013, Sanders was #35 in standard and #32 in PPR, and we'd expect that to be his floor playing with Peyton Manning in the Broncos' potent offense. He is very quick and is adept at making people miss, so he should thrive in Denver’s screen game.
▲Jeremy Maclin & Riley Cooper, Eagles
It’s tough to gauge just how much Maclin and Cooper’s stock has risen with the departure of DeSean Jackson since there are a few other factors at play. Will Maclin’s knee hold up in his first year back from an ACL tear? How will Darren Sproles affect the distribution of targets in the passing game? Will Zach Ertz step in and see a big jump in snaps/targets? We’re not going to go out of our way to draft Maclin or Cooper — they’re currently going in the 8th and 11th round, respectively — but it’s certainly not a bad thing that D-Jax’s 126 targets are up for grabs.
▲Rueben Randle & Jerrel Jernigan, Giants
Randle was the #28 WR through the first 11 weeks, but faded down the stretch (12-151 in the final six weeks). As a result, Jernigan racked up 19 catches for 237 yards and two TDs in the final three games, making him the #2 WR in fantasy in that span. The Giants passing game could bounce back — new OC Ben McAdoo is installing a West Coast offense, which should allow Randle to cut down on those pesky miscommunications with Eli Manning — and if Randle and/or Jernigan are getting starter’s snaps, they’re a good bet to produce.
▲Dexter McCluster, Titans
New HC Ken Whisenhunt used Danny Woodhead to great effect last season while running the Chargers’ offense, and one of his first moves in free agency was to acquire McCluster to fill a similar role in Tennessee. McCluster scored 96 fantasy points (#37 among RBs in standard formats) back in 2011 when he saw 160 touches for the Chiefs. Danny Woodhead touched the ball 182 times in 2013, so at a minimum, it looks like McCluster will be a spot starter in PPR formats.
▼Chris Johnson, Jets
Beat writer Manish Mehta predicts a 35% to 40% decline in carries for Johnson as he forms a 1-2 punch with Chris Ivory. That decline would put Johnson in the 167-181 carry range, though we'd guess that he'll get at least 190 to 210 carries in the Jets' run-heavy offense. (Bilal Powell rushed the ball 176 times in 2013.) The Jets have averaged 493.5 carries over the past two seasons, so it's conceivable that Ivory and Johnson could both reach around 200 carries, provided they both stay healthy. Assuming 240 total touches for Johnson (200 carries, 40 catches) at his 2012-2013 FP/touch rate (.609), he would score around 146 fantasy points, or RB20 numbers.
▼DeSean Jackson & Pierre Garcon, Redskins
After being cut by the Eagles on the heels of a career year, Jackson lands with a division rival. Anyone expecting another 82-1332-9 type season should rein in those expectations. There are a few things working against Jackson in Washington. He's changing teams, which is rarely a good thing for a wideout unless he's moving into a larger role. In this case, he's joining a team with a proven target-hog (Garcon) and an up-and-coming tight end (Jordan Reed). New HC Jay Gruden does have a reputation for being pass-happy, but the Redskins actually attempted more passes (611) than the Bengals did (587) last season, so the pie may not grow as expected. Garcon isn’t likely to see 182 targets in 2014 and Jackson’s FP/target is likely to drop, even if his targets don’t, so both players should be downgraded a bit heading into the summer. For more on Jackson’s potential production, click here.
▼Mike Glennon, Buccaneers
Glennon was the best rookie passer of the Class of ’13, but that doesn’t mean much to Lovie Smith and new OC Jeff Tedford. The Bucs signed Josh McCown to “compete” for the job and rumors are swirling that the team is prepared to take a QB early in the draft. Glennon’s stock has dropped as a result, but he should land on his feet, even if he doesn’t get another chance to start in Tampa.
▼Reggie Bush, Lions
See Joique Bell above. Bush is likely to move into more of a timeshare and isn’t likely to get the 19.8 touches that he saw in 2013. During his first three seasons in New Orleans, he touched the ball 16.6 times per game; he was heavily involved in the passing game, so he should retain most of his value in PPR formats but may be overdrafted in standard formats this summer.
▼Tim Wright, Buccaneers
The converted wideout was a liability as a blocker in 2013 and HC Lovie Smith said the team need a traditional tight end who can block and pass. The Bucs signed Brandon Myers, who isn’t a very good blocker, but will apparently fill that role for the team. Myers will almost certainly eat into Wright’s snaps and targets.
▼Cam Newton, Panthers
Four of the team’s top 5 receivers — Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon — are gone, with TE Greg Olsen the lone holdover. The Panthers have tried to replace them by signing proven (yet unexciting) vets like Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood. Underwood figures to fill the Ginn role, while Cotchery and Avant are aging possession guys. So even if the Panthers draft an NFL-ready WR next month, Newton’s receiving corps has taken a hit. Complicating matters, he just underwent ankle surgery so he won’t be able to develop a rapport with his receivers until training camp (at the earliest).
▼Donald Brown, Chargers
Brown finished as the #28 RB in 2013 despite playing as a part-timer behind Trent Richardson for much of the season. His FP/touch (.954) ranked 3rd among the top 60 fantasy RBs. Unfortunately, he signed with the Chargers, who already have two established running backs in Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. Brown will be a nice handcuff for Mathews, but his stock took a hit when he joined San Diego’s crowded backfield.
▼Eric Decker, Jets
I took an in-depth look at Decker’s potential workload and production here, but suffice it to say Decker is going to have a tough time maintaining his per target production without Peyton Manning throwing him the ball. An increase in targets is possible, but the Jets are a run-first team, so his ceiling isn’t all that much higher than the 136 targets he saw in 2013. If the Jets can get decent QB play out of Geno Smith and/or Michael Vick, Decker has top 20 potential, but he’ll be hard pressed to match his top 8 status from the last two seasons.
▼Knowshon Moreno & Lamar Miller, Dolphins
Moreno was a top 5 RB last season and most of the credit was given to the potency of the Broncos offense. It’s safe to say that the Dolphins aren’t as potent. Throw in a probable timeshare with Lamar Miller and/or Daniel Thomas and Moreno won’t be a top 10 back in 2014. As for Miller, he has gone from de facto RB1 to a likely change-of-pace back in a not-so-great offense.
▼James Jones, Raiders
Over the past three seasons, Jones finished with an average ranking of 31.7 in standard formats. He’ll be hard-pressed to match that after joining the dysfunctional Raiders and experiencing a big downgrade at QB from Aaron Rodgers to Matt Schaub.
▼LeGarrette Blount, Steelers
Blount finished the season on a tear, racking up 431 yards and eight touchdowns in a three-game stretch that included Week 16, Week 17 and a playoff game against the Colts. He stunk it up against the Broncos the following week (five carries, six yards), which may have convinced the Patriots that he wasn’t worth re-signing in the spring. Instead of serving as the Patriots’ primary rusher, he joins the Steelers as LeVeon Bell’s primary backup. (I could have put Stevan Ridley in the list of Risers, but the Patriots could easily find another RB as fumble insurance.)
▼Andre Brown, Giants
Like Blount, Brown is going from starter status to backup as he joins the Texans as the RB2 behind Arian Foster. Had he re-signed with the Giants, he'd likely be starting ahead of David Wilson, who is trying to come back from a neck injury. Instead, the team signed Rashad Jennings to fill that role.