Being the amateur expert at fantasy football that I am, I think about fantasy football year-round. So the NFL Free Agency period holds special meaning to me. It gives me the first look at how the offensive landscape will change for teams, which means there will be significant fantasy impact. The second look comes at the NFL Draft.
So as of March 19, 2013, I’ve listed the teams that have either made significant pickups or have had significant losses to their offense from the 2012 season until the 2013 season. Please note that not every team is listed here. Also note that I’m only looking at the acquisition of skill position players. I understand that offensive line changes also make a huge difference, so I made sure to mention them in the analysis section for each team where appropriate.
Key Losses: Beanie Wells, Kevin Kolb, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Early Doucet
Key Pickups: Rashard Mendenhall, Drew Stanton
Cardinal fans and fantasy football fans will most likely rejoice at the news of Beanie Wells’s release. Anybody who owned the back knows how maddening it was trying to determine if he was going to play or not week after week. The former Ohio State Buckeye’s talent was never in doubt, and he certainly showed flashes of the brilliance he promised when the Cardinals took him in the first round. But he never materialized into a stud. Will another former stud in Rashard Mendenhall pick up the slack? Probably not, but this means good things for Ryan Williams. If the former Virginia Tech back can stay healthy (and nothing about his first two season in the NFL says he can), then he would be a nice sleeper pick for the 2013 season. The quarterback situation hasn’t really gotten any better with Drew Stanton in the mix, so I’m still staying away from all Arizona pass-catchers, including Larry Fitzgerald. I still think owners will bite on the name and take him early, but I wouldn’t take Fitz any earlier than sixth round.
Key Losses: Michael Turner
Key Pickups: Steven Jackson, Tony Gonzalez (re-signed)
Aside from picking up Jackson, the biggest signing the Falcons made was getting Tony Gonzalez back for one last ride. Had Gonzalez retired after last season, a grave injustice would be made as his “last ride” was taking a back seat to an inferior player in Ray Lewis. Gonzalez’s final season will rightly take center stage this year as the Falcons make another push toward a Super Bowl. By releasing Turner and picking up Jackson, the Falcons offense is truly scary. Jackson has always been a terrific player stuck in a go-nowhere situation, taking years of bumps and bruises for no playoff wins (or barely any appearances!). Finally, he gets to go to a winner, and the one-two punch of Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers will set up the passing game nicely. Gonzo should be the number two tight end taken off the board after Rob Gronkowski.
Key Losses: Anquan Boldin
Key Pickups: Joe Flacco (re-signed)
From a real-team perspective, the Ravens are in trouble. They’ve lost many key pieces of their defense. From the offensive (and fantasy) side though? Not much has changed really. They re-signed Joe Flacco, and although Anquan Boldin, who was a beast in the playoffs, is gone, they still have Ray Rice, Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta, all of whom contributed mightily last season and should continue to do so this season. In fact, I really like Torrey Smith as a fantasy option considering the amount of confidence his quarterback now has with a Super Bowl MVP under his belt. I also like Bernard Pierce as a backup. I expect him to have more of a share in the touches distribution for Baltimore this season. I’m staying away from Flacco though, as I expect owners to bite on the fact that he did so well in the playoffs and will take him a couple rounds too early.
Key Losses: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Key Pickups: Tavaris Jackson
From Fitzy to Tavaris, it’s not like the Bills had much of an upgrade. There’s still a possibility they’d draft Geno Smith in the first round, but they have so many other holes to fill. Again, the Bill you’re most likely looking at is CJ Spiller, who will get some serious workload now that the Chan Gailey cuffs are off him.
Key Losses: Kellen Davis
Key Pickups: Martellus Bennett
The upgrade from Davis to Bennett from a fantasy perspective cannot be overstated. Davis was a physical freak but he couldn’t hold onto the ball. Bennett certainly saw his share of touchdowns last season on the Giants, and should be a bit more sure-handed for Jay Cutler. He’s also a great blocker, which means good news for Matt Forte.
Key Losses: None
Key Pickups: Wes Welker
Believe it or not, Welker coming to the Broncos is BAD news from a fantasy perspective. Another pair of hands to feed takes potential looks away from last year’s studs Demariyus Thomas and Eric Decker. Plus, you have the Tamme/Dreessen TE conundrum to play with. The only person Welker’s signing helps from a fantasy perspective is Peyton Manning, and I’m definitely going to be eyeing Peyton in drafts this summer while everybody else overbids on the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, and RG3, all of whom will most likely go before Peyton.
Key Losses: Kevin Smith, Titus Young
Key Pickups: Reggie Bush
Much like Welker to the Broncos, Bush’s arrival in Detroit only muddies up the backfield in Detroit from a fantasy perspective, rather than clears things up. Mikel Leshoure was a very good fantasy player last year, but he benefited from having the Lion’s share (pun intended) of the touches in Detroit. Bush also had a good year in Miami last year (he led me to a championship as an RB2), but it was tough watching him cede goal-line touches to Daniel Thomas. I fear the same thing will happen this year, as Leshoure was the co-king of the 1-yard score (along with Michael Turner). Good luck trying to figure out who’s going to get the points each week. I’m staying away if I can afford to.
Green Bay Packers
Key Losses: Greg Jennings, Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant
Key Pickups: None
As of this writing, the Packers are interested in Ahmad Bradshaw. If they sign the former Giant, Bradshaw immediately becomes a solid RB2 option, and I’d definitely draft him before Reggie Bush. Losing Greg Jennings doesn’t really mean much because the Packers barely had Jennings at all last year, and they did fine in racking up yards and touchdowns. Obviously Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson get boosts, as well as TD machine James Jones. When it comes to 2013 fantasy football, it’s going to be business as usual for the Pack.
Kansas City Chiefs
Key Losses: Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn, Kevin Boss, Peyton Hillis, Steve Breaston
Key Pickups: Alex Smith, Anthony Fasano, Donnie Avery, Chase Daniel, Dwayne Bowe (re-signed)
The Chiefs wasted little time turning things around in the Andy Reid era. Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn are gone, replaced by Alex Smith and Chase Daniel. No word yet on the fate of Ricky Stanzi. You know things are good when the Chiefs convinced their disgruntled WR Dwayne Bowe to re-sign with the team. Bowe obviously gets an upgrade by having Smith throw footballs to him rather than Cassel. An interesting pickup could be Anthony Fasano, as Smith has proven to do well with tight ends (ask Vernon Davis), and Fasano is a better pass-catcher than Tony Moeaki, who’s main responsibility is to block. Donnie Avery had a quietly good year for the Colts last year, and would be an excellent late-round flier as a WR5.
Key Losses: Reggie Bush, Anthony Fasano
Key Pickups: Mike Wallace, Dustin Keller, Brian Hartline (re-signed)
Miami’s passing attack gets a big upgrade with the addition of Wallace and Keller, but losing OT Jake Long to the Rams will hurt a lot. Still, I wouldn’t mind using Ryan Tannehill as a bye-week fill in. Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller take over backfield duties, but neither are as talented as Reggie Bush, so I expect the backfield to take a hit this year.
Key Losses: Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins
Key Pickups: Greg Jennings, Matt Cassel, Jerome Simpson (re-signed)
Many will argue that Jennings is a step down from Percy Harvin, but Harvin was a headache (pun intended again!) for the Vikings, and now that Jennings got paid, as long as he can stay healthy, he’ll put up good numbers for Minnesota. Obviously, the offense will still run through Adrian Peterson, but nobody should expect him to put up the near historic numbers he had last year. If you have the number one pick, you should take Arian Foster. I think Cassel’s arrival will only serve to light a fire under Christian Ponder to get better during training camp. The job is still Ponder’s to lose.
New England Patriots
Key Losses: Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Danny Woodhead, Julian Edelman
Key Pickups: Danny Amendola, Leon Washington, Donald Jones
Let’s get one thing straight: losing Wes Welker hurts Tom Brady. Welker was definitely a security blanket, and it’s asking too much to expect Danny Amendola to replicate Welker’s numbers. Welker’s departure, along with Lloyd’s, definitely helps New England’s Tight Ends, especially Rob Gronkowski. Gronk will most certainly be worth the second-round price tag, and Hernandez will definitely be one of the Top 5 TEs taken off the board. Woodhead’s departure definitely helps Stevan Ridley owners. Ridley already has to worry about Shane Vereen. Washington should be relegated to special teams only.
New York Giants
Key Losses: Ahmad Bradshaw, Martellus Bennett, Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden
Key Pickups: Brandon Myers, Louis Murphy
The sneakiest free agent pickup so far has to be the Giants scooping up Myers. He had a very solid fantasy year with Carson Palmer throwing him footballs on a bad team. With Eli, a superior QB, throwing him footballs in a superior offense, I expect Myers to have a Top 10 fantasy year at his position, and I’ll be trying to scoop him up wherever I can. Bradshaw’s loss hurts me as a Giants fan because he was a part of two Super Bowl-winning teams, but Andre Brown and David Wilson will make a great RB tandem. The big question mark here is Victor Cruz. As of this writing, the Giants are expecting another team to make him an offer on his first-round tendered restricted free agent contract. If the Giants can’t match, then Cruz is gone, depressing Giants fans everywhere (especially my wife). Cruz is a huge part of this offense. Guys like Reuben Randle and the newly acquired Louis Murphy are not going to replicate his production.
New York Jets
Key Losses: Shonn Greene, Dustin Keller
Key Pickups: David Garrard
The Jets are a mess. All you need to know is that they still have Tim Tebow on their roster as of this writing. As always, stay away from all Jets, with the possible exception of Bilal Powell. Without a passing game to speak of, teams will most likely stack the box against the run and force Mark Sanchez to win games, and we all know how that goes. But Powell is very talented from what little I saw of him last year, and there are only 32 featured backs in this league, so you have to take what you can get.
Key Losses: Darius Heyward-Bey, Brandon Myers
Key Pickups: None
The Raiders finally cut the rest of the Al Davis era, by giving megabucks rookie DHB the boot. Darius was actually doing really well last year and starting to live up to his huge rookie deal, but apparently it was too much for Oakland to have. As I mentioned previously, losing Brandon Myers is a bigger deal than you might think. I don’t know who will replace him at TE this season. Darren McFadden seems like the only game in town now when you look at the Raiders offense. If Run DMC slips to the third or fourth round, I’d pick him up with the quickness, recognizing of course that you’ll probably still have to deal with injuries.
Key Losses: Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall, Emmanuel Sanders
Key Pickups: None
The Steelers have cap problems, so it’s unlikely they’re going to be making any type of free agent splash this offseason. Losing Mendenhall clears up the foggy backfield situation, but what’s gone under the radar is Jonathan Dwyer signing for relatively little money as a RFA. He’s apparently going the Joe Flacco route of letting his play do the talking, which may set him up later for a bigger payday. I like Dwyer as a possible RB2, certainly more than I do Isaac Redman or Baron Batch. With Wallace gone, and Emmanuel Sanders likely following, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller get a big uptick in draft value. Somebody has to catch those Big Ben passes.
San Diego Chargers
Key Losses: Randy McMichael
Key Pickups: Danny Woodhead, Ronnie Brown (re-signed)
I am staying away from all Chargers this year, with the possible exception of Danario Alexander. DX has injury problems, but he proved to be a fantasy force late last season. He could assume the WR1 spot on this team from Malcom Floyd. Woodhead’s arrival in San Diego, along with Ronnie Brown’s re-signing, muddies up the backfield and gives another blow to Ryan Mathews’s fantasy value.
San Francisco 49ers
Key Losses: Alex Smith, Delanie Walker, Randy Moss, Brandon Jacobs, Ted Ginn
Key Pickups: Anquan Boldin
Losing Smith isn’t that big of a deal, as Colin Kaepernick is the real deal. I think that fantasy owners may overpay for him this year, but he’ll certainly be a fun guy to own. Boldin’s arrival signals to me that Mario Manningham isn’t doing well with his recovery from a torn ACL. So Boldin will have to fight off Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis for Kaepernick’s attention, when he’s not handing the ball of to Frank Gore and LaMichael James, or choosing to take it himself. So good luck with that. I was really high on Crabtree before the Boldin trade. Now, I’m going to let somebody else overpay for both of these guys in the fourth or fifth round.
Key Losses: None
Key Pickups: Percy Harvin
Harvin’s arrival boosts an already dangerous offensive scheme for Seattle. You know that Marshawn Lynch is going to bring so much determination doe to the team this year, and Russell Wilson is going to be a stud, but Harvin gives their offense a whole new type of dynamic. Obviously this hurts guys like Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, but it gives both Harvin and Wilson increased value.
St. Louis Rams
Key Losses: Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson
Key Pickups: Jared Cook
The big pickup for the Rams is former Dolphins tackle Jake Long. So what does this mean? It means I’m going to reach a couple rounds early for Daryl Richardson. Richardson had already shown flashes of being able to handle a lead-down role last season, and with Steven Jackson gone, Richardson will shine. Isaiah Pead will lurk, no doubt, but Richardson outplayed him last year. As for who Sam Bradford is going to throw to, with the loss of Amendola and Gibson, it’s time for Brian Quick to emerge as a WR1 in his sophomore season. I really like the Jared Cook pickup, but Cook has burned me in years past. He’s got the talent, but he’s so inconsistent. Maybe a change of scenery will help?
Key Losses: Jared Cook, Matt Hasslebeck
Key Pickups: Shonn Greene, Delanie Walker, Ryan Fitzpatrick
So the Titans quietly upgraded at the backup QB position. Fitzy is younger and cheaper than Hasslebeck, and although he’s streaky, he’s proven that he can be a TD machine at times. Much like Matt Cassel going to Minnesota, this will light a bigger fire under Jake Locker’s ass in training camp. I really like the Shonn Greene pickup as well. It helps two ways. First, Greene wasn’t too productive as a lead back. By being a backup to Chris Johnson, he could certainly poach some goal-line scores. Secondly, his role as backup will help take some of the load off CJ1K’s shoulders and keep him healthy as he tries for a bounce-back year. I certainly wouldn’t take Johnson as my RB1, but if you can pull him in the third or fourth round, by all means go for it. Delaine Walker is a sneaky TE pickup, as he caught a few TDs for San Francisco last year. With Cook gone, he may shine in a featured TE role.
I’ll be back later next month with the fantasy implications of the NFL Draft.