Wide Receiver Free Agency Impact

NFL: New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals

The 2016 off season is currently underway, with free agency finishing up, and teams readying themselves for the NFL draft. This year’s wide receiver free agency class was not an especially strong one, with no real stars or marquee names on the move. Nevertheless, there are still a few names that could have an impact on the 2016 fantasy season. With the league’s passing numbers climbing every year, the wide receiver position is becoming arguably fantasy football’s most important, especially in PPR leagues. Let’s dive in and determine how large of an impact this year’s class will have.

 

Marvin Jones-Cincinnati Bengals to Detroit Lions

Jones, the crown jewel of this off-season’s wide receiver free agency class (Sounds crazy, I know), was given a hefty 5 year 40 million dollar contract by the Detroit Lions with 20 million of it guaranteed. After snagging 10 touchdowns in 2013 with the Bengals (He missed all of 2014 due to injury), Jones saw his scores regress in 2015 to only 4 after AJ Green returned to healthy form and Tyler Eifert emerged as an elite tight end. He did, however, garner 103 targets for 65 receptions and 816 yards, up from 51 receptions and 712 yards in 2013. He leaves Cincinnati behind for the Motor City where he’ll team up with Golden Tate to form a respectable tandem for quarterback Matthew Stafford. The duo will have the tallest of orders replacing Calvin Johnson, who as of this writing, is retired. Johnson had 149 targets in 2015, and about that number of targets should be up for grabs for the Lions receiving core in 2016. When clicking, the Lions have a potent offense, and with coordinator Jim Bob Cooter for a full season, they should return to explosive form, as evidenced by their strong second half in 2015. Golden Tate was a Pro Bowl selection in 2014 with Calvin Johnson banged up during much of the season, so without “Megatron” as the focal point of the offense, there should be plenty of opportunity for Jones to have a breakout season. Being the bigger bodied receiver in the offense, he should also command a good amount of red zone targets, as he did in 2013 with the Bengals. If healthy, look for Jones to finish with 90 catches for 1100 yards and 9 touchdowns, good enough to be a WR2 in standard leagues.

 

Can Marvin Jones become a star in Detroit?

 

Mohamed Sanu-Cincinnati Bengals to Atlanta Falcons

In addition to Marvin Jones, the Bengals lost Mohamed Sanu, who signed with the Atlanta Falcons for 5 years and $32.5 million. Buried on the depth chart behind AJ Green and Jones in 2015, Sanu saw his production dip from his 2014 numbers of 56-790-5 to 33-394-0. In the first half of 2014, Sanu had 39 receptions for 628 yards and 4 touchdowns. Even with a dismal second half, he finished 34th in standard scoring, a WR3. All of this came as the number 2 option in the Bengals offense. With the money that the Falcons are giving Sanu, he’s going to have every opportunity to be the number 2 wideout in a potentially explosive offense with Julio Jones and Devonte Freeman leading the way. In his younger days, Roddy White was ultra productive alongside Julio Jones in Atlanta, and now Sanu steps into that role. Atlanta didn’t have to rely on the passing game nearly as much in 2015 with the emergence of Devonte Freeman at running back. After an unbelievable first half however, his production slipped dramatically. If he starts out slow in 2016, the Falcons could be forced to pass more often again, which would bode well for Sanu. Also working in his favor is the attention that Julio Jones commands from opposing defenses. He’ll see a healthy amount of schemes and double teams to take him out of plays, leaving the door open for Sanu to make something happen. That being said, a lot has to happen for Sanu to have a breakout season, and he is really a dart throw at this point in time. He has the potential to have a successful fantasy season, but the stars are really going to have to align for it to happen. With the Falcons lacking any established talent outside of Freeman and Jones, I’m rolling the dice on drafting Sanu. I project him at 72 receptions, 850 yards, and 6 touchdowns.

 

Travis Benjamin-Cleveland Browns to San Diego Chargers

This is the signing that I like the most. Travis Benjamin landed a 4 year deal worth $13 million in guaranteed money with the Chargers, leaving behind what should be a fantasy wasteland in Cleveland. Despite inefficient quarterback play from both Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel, Benjamin had a surprising breakout year. He finished with 68 receptions, 966 yards, and 5 touchdowns for the season, putting him 30th in standard scoring rankings for wide receivers. That made him a WR3, worthy of starting most weeks. Quite the accomplishment considering he did his damage in an offense that ranked just 25th in yards and 30th in scoring. In 2016, he’ll be playing in San Diego with a potent offense led by quarterback Phillip Rivers, and alongside weapons Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates. Benjamin is a perfect fit for this offense. He’s an extremely dangerous deep threat, with all 5 of his receiving touchdowns in 2015 coming from beyond 40 yards, torching defensive backs with speed reminiscent of the 4.36 40 yard dash time he ran before he was drafted. Rivers has a cannon, but with a lack of deep threats outside of the aging Malcolm Floyd, he only had 3 touchdown passes of over 40 yards in all of 2015. Needless to say, he’s longing for some speed on the outside. With Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates snagging all of the short passes, Benjamin finally gives Rivers a reliable wide receiver over the top to keep defenses honest. The Chargers made improvements to the offensive line as well, so if they are able to establish a decent running attack, that will only make Benjamin more dangerous, especially on play-action passes. With how successful he was in a putrid offense, there’s no reason to expect him to put up numbers any worse than he did in 2015 with a much better offensive situation in San Diego. He should be able to approach 65-70 receptions again, 900 yards, and an up-tick in touchdowns at 7, slotting him as a very draft-able WR3.

 

Phillip Rivers gets the deep threat he’s been looking for.

 

 

Rishard Matthews-Miami Dolphins to Tennessee Titans

The talent deficient Titans gave Matthews $15 million over 3 years to help bolster a lacking receiving core. Matthews appeared in 11 games for the Dolphins in 2015 before an injury cut his season short. The 26-year-old looked promising early on, especially in weeks 2 and 3 where he racked up a combined 228 yards and 2 touchdowns. He essentially played only 10 games (injured in game 11), finishing with 43 catches for 662 yards and 4 scores. The Titans leading receiver in 2015 was tight end Delanie Walker who had nearly 1100 yards and 6 touchdowns. Needless to say, they could use some talent on the outside to develop Marcus Mariota further. Matthews showed flashes of being a game-breaker, with touchdowns of 21, 46, and 53 yards in 2015. The only caveat being that the Dolphins were trailing badly for most of his scores, essentially garbage time touchdowns. While I expect Dorial Green-Beckham to emerge as a more consistent threat, the only receivers that Matthews has to compete with for playing time going into training camp are Harry Douglas, Kendall Wright, and Justin Hunter. It won’t be an especially daunting task to beat those guys out for snaps. If he can stay healthy, Matthews will be able to put up numbers respectable enough to be a factor in fantasy this season. With the right match-ups he could have a few WR1 games in 2016, similar to those games he had in weeks 2 and 3 in 2015. For me, a stat line of 63-800-6 is achievable for him, with higher numbers possible if the Titans can take a big step forward offensively as a team. Draft him as a possible WR3 or as depth for a team with a strong receiving core.

 

Jermaine Kearse-Re-signed with Seattle Seahawks

Kearse is the only player on this list sticking with the same squad, re-signing with the Seahawks for 3 years, worth $13.5 million. After an excellent showing in the 2014 NFC Championship game, and one of the craziest catches you’ll ever see in Super Bowl XLIX, Kearse had a decent season as essentially the third option at receiver for the Seahawks in 2015. He finished with a respectable 49-685-5 stat line despite Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett emerging as Russell Wilson’s preferred targets. At 14 yards per reception, and 2 of 5 scores coming from over 20 yards out, Kearse is a reliable deep threat. While the Seahawks have relied on a heavy run game during Marshawn Lynch’s tenure with the team, they have slowly began to turn the offensive reigns over to Wilson more, with his passing attempts rising every season. With “Beast Mode” most likely retired (he hasn’t filed his paperwork as of this writing), that shift should continue, meaning more opportunities for Kearse. With the offense shifting to more passing, there’s no reason to expect Kearse’s numbers to digress. His production should remain close to his 2015 numbers, if not better. A line of 52-700-5 in 2016 is obtainable, and Kearse will be stream-able against weak pass defenses.

 

Mike Wallace-Minnesota Vikings to Baltimore Ravens

To no one’s surprise, Mike Wallace is on the move again. After being cut by the Vikings after one season, Wallace finds a new home in Baltimore with the Ravens, his 4th team in 5 seasons. After a 10 touchdown season in Miami in 2014, Wallace’s production slipped to all-time lows in 2015, with 39 receptions for 473 yards and 2 touchdowns. The 2 touchdowns were from 4 and 7 yards out, which is shocking considering the speedster’s history as a major deep threat. New scenery seems to be what he needs at this point (again), and Baltimore could be a good fit for him. Joe Flacco loves to throw the deep ball, and not having Torrey Smith in 2015 definitely affected his play. In 2014, Flacco had 6 touchdowns of over 30 yards, while in an injury-shortened 2015, he managed only 2. With Steve Smith at 36 years old and coming off of a major leg injury, and Kamar Aiken doing most of his work on short routes, Wallace could give the Ravens a deep option over the top to complete the offense. The questions about his character persist though, and his numbers from a year ago are startling, especially when you consider the Vikings won the NFC North at 11-5. Aside from last season, the Ravens are perennial playoff contenders, and with a healthy team, they should be right back in the running for the division. For that to happen, they’ll likely need some production from Wallace. I think he has a bounce-back season, though it’ll be a far cry from his prime days. A realistic line of 52-700-6 seems about right for Wallace in 2016.

 

Will Mike Wallace right the ship in Baltimore?

 

Brandon LaFell-New England Patriots to Cincinnati Bengals

With the Bengals losing the aforementioned Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, they signed former Patriots wideout Brandon LaFell to a 1 year deal for $2.5 million. After a successful 2014 campaign in which he recorded 73 receptions for 953 yards and 7 touchdowns with New England, he had a letdown 2015 season. He missed the first 5 games due to injury and was never really healthy all season long. In addition, he dropped almost 10% of the passes thrown his way and never found the end zone. Despite his poor season, there are plenty of positives and potential for the Bengals’ 2016 season with this signing. If healthy, LaFell has a lot of football left in him at only 29 years old, and is going to have every opportunity to get his career back on track. With Jones and Sanu out of the picture, LaFell jumps right into the number 2 wide receiver role, playing in an offense highlighted by AJ Green and Tyler Eifert. With AJ Green garnering a healthy dose of double teams, Eifert commanding extra attention after his breakout season, and Andy Dalton’s willingness to spread the ball around, LaFell should become a major player in the offense. Marvin Jones had 103 targets in the number 2 role, and if LaFell can be targeted anywhere near that number, he’s going to be a useable option in fantasy every week. At 6’2″ and 210 pounds, he also gives Dalton another nice option in the red zone, where he excels. I don’t believe he’ll approach his 2014 numbers that saw him finish as a WR2, but he should have a respectable season nonetheless. A line of 58-775-6 is likely for LaFell in 2016.

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