Fantasy Football and Free Agency: It's a pass-catcher party!

      March 18, 2014 @ 16:46:10 PDT

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The dust is starting to settle after a whirlwind opening week of free agency. As always, the moves range of savvy to silly. Some transactions make sense, others not so much, but they all have one common theme: their influence on fantasy football.

Player valuation will continue to be molded by free agency, then the draft, and again by more free-agent moves in the final weeks leading up to the regular season. Needless to say, values assigned in March are undoubtedly subject to change. That doesn't mean it is too early to take a stab at how meaningful moves impact the players involved.

Wide receiver

Eric Decker (Broncos): Decker was given borderline WR1 money by the New York Jets, and he will be asked to play like a true one, but he has a mountain to climb to make that happen for fantasy purposes. Going against him: 1) He has to learn a new offense, 2) now has added pressure, 3) is in a media circus with a target on his back, 4) doesn't have a Peyton Manning throwing to him, 5) may have a Geno Smith chucking it his way, 6) has little in the way of competent receivers around him, 7) doesn't have a running game to rely on, 8) will face Darrelle Revis twice. At best, Decker is a WR3 on draft day with the occasion statistical outburst during the season. Let someone else deal with that headache, unless he comes at an unbelievable discount.

Steve Smith (Panthers): The feisty pass catcher heads northbound along the Atlantic coastline and will join the Baltimore Ravens. He should see a lot of passes come his way, which frees up Torrey Smith to be a true deep threat, but Smith's upside is very limited. Maybe he can exceed expectations being fueled by anger alone? If anyone could, Smith is that guy! I'm looking at him as a third fantasy receiver who I will consider a weekly flex play, at worst.

WR Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants
Nicks has something to prove

Hakeem Nicks (Giants): I really thought Nicks would end up with the Carolina Panthers, but it was not to be. Instead, he now will catch passes from Andrew Luck, which makes him more valuable. The Indianapolis Colts have a meager running game and need another weapon to complement T.Y. Hilton, particularly if Reggie Wayne (knee) cannot return to form. Nevertheless, Wayne, entering an age-36 season, is long in the tooth and should be eased back into the game plan. Nicks is on a one-year deal and has something to prove. His health is always a concern, but should he stay on the field, low-end No. 2 fantasy numbers are within reach.

Julian Edelman (Patriots): Edelman and the New England Patriots eventually worked out a deal for his return. He is coming off a career year (105-1,056-6), but Danny Amendola missed four games -- contests in which Edelman racked up 32 receptions. While it is clear Tom Brady has a strong rapport with Edelman, I find it hard to believe Amendola's production won't increase. Rob Gronkowski (knee) should get close to full strength as the season wears on. Wideouts Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson all have legitimate chances to improve in their young careers. Now, Brandon LaFell is in the mix. Pass-catching running back Shane Vereen could be healthy all year. The point is, just how many balls can possibly go around? Edelman is a suspect WR2 but a safe third in PPR leagues.

Golden Tate (Seahawks): Tate in the Detroit Lions' offense, playing opposite Megatron ... "Ooh, that's an ideal fantasy football situation for Tate," I hear from all corners of the globe. But -- and that's one Sir Mix-a-Lot would be proud of -- at what cost? How much will fantasy owners overvalue him? He will go way higher than necessary. Detroit has two capable tight ends, a pair of pass-catching running backs, and Calvin Johnson still will get his. Tate may not exceed last year's numbers (64-898-5). I'm pretty confident he won't catch that many passes and isn't likely to go for as many yards, but he could sneak into the end zone more with the way defenses guard No. 81 near the stripe. Tate is a third fantasy receiver or a weekly flex and not the WR2 he will be over-drafted as.

Emmanuel Sanders (Steelers): Eric Decker's replacement? Not quite. The Denver Broncos inked Sanders to a three-year pact. He should see ample work with Decker now a Jet, but Sanders couldn't profile more differently than Decker. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Sanders is more of a slot receiver and doesn't give Peyton Manning that big-bodied, downfield threat he had in Decker, whose 24 touchdown receptions over the past 32 games will be tough to replace. Sanders hasn't scored more than six times in a single season, and some teams reportedly had concerns about the long-term health of his foot. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt as a weak WR3 or strong No. 4, just because No. 18 is under center.

James Jones (Packers): Jones' fantasy appeal just took a nosedive after he signed with the Oakland Raiders. The veteran is a rather average receiver, and now he joins a dysfunctional organization with nothing to speak of at quarterback, a shaky (I'm being kind) offensive line, and little at receiver to capture defensive attention. He is, at best, a WR3, but Jones should be drafted as a fourth in all formats, unless Oakland somehow lands a viable quarterback. Just because a player may be a No. 1 for their team, it doesn't mean said player has any worthwhile fantasy potential.

Brandon LaFell (Panthers): I would have really liked LaFell in New England if Julian Edelman did not re-sign, so just where does that leave the former Panther? New England has so many weapons that it is difficult to expect LaFell to have much of a role. He has to learn a new system, find chemistry with Tom Brady, and prove his worth. Few players just waltz into this organization and make an immediate impact; LaFell offers no reason to expect him to be different. He is a slightly above-average player.

WR Mario Manningham, New York Giants
Guess who's back ... MM is back

Jerome Simpson (Vikings): Simpson re-upped with the Vikes, which is somewhat good. While everyone is focused on the electric Cordarrelle Patterson and the veteran savvy of Greg Jennings, Simpson (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) could be a sly deep threat in this Norv Turner-powered offense. Before you get too excited, Simpson doesn't have a big presence. Norv's offense loves a one-trick guy for the deep ball. That will be Simpson. He's a weak WR5 who will be tough to play most weeks.

Andre Roberts (Cardinals): Arizona let him walk onto the Washington Redskins' roster, and for that kind of money, who can blame them? Roberts does little to appeal to my senses of "fantasy sleeper potential." In a PPR league, at the right price (think WR5), he is worth the gamble.

Mario Manningham (49ers): A decent possession receiver, Manningham has played just one full season in his career and is always a durability concern. He signed a one-year deal to return to the New York Giants, but I struggle to see him fitting in as anything better than the fourth receiver. He will have to learn a new offense, and the rest of the team received their playbooks two months ago. Manningham has to beat out the younger, more talented Rueben Randle or Jerrel Jernigan just to get into the No. 3 receiver spot. Avoid him on draft day, unless he somehow claims the No. 2 spot.

Ted Ginn Jr. (Panthers): Likely replacing Roberts, the Arizona Cardinals added Ginn, who is coming off a fine season in Carolina. Has Ginn improved that much? How many passes can he possibly catch? I see waiver wire fodder here, but deeper leagues (18-man rosters, 14-team leagues, that area) can consider him a viable late-round dice roll. If nothing else, he should improve their special teams game.

Santana Moss (Redskins): Moss hasn't done enough recently in his career to warrant a fantasy draft selection this year. He has mild waiver wire appeal, depending on the matchup but moreover what kind of RG3 we see on the field. I expect Moss to be used mainly through screen plays and other short-area routes that tend to be staples of the West Coast offense.

Tight end

Brandon Myers (Giants): I kind of like Myers' potential with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but there is just too much uncertainty to put any draft stock into him at this time. Maybe that will change as we get closer to preseason football. He is a sketchy No. 2 tight end until then, through little fault of his own, because of the new offense and players around him.

TE Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions

Brandon Pettigrew (Lions): At 29 years old, coming off two seasons of injuries and down production, Pettigrew is becoming something of a fantasy "what could have been" story. The six-year vet certainly had the talent, and vet was a midrange PPR starter in his two full NFL seasons. Those days are gone, sort of. In 2010, Pettigrew hauled in 71 balls. That isn't out of the question, but the mark of 83 he posted a year later is. Nevertheless, he isn't a touchdown producer and has a career average of 10.0 yards per reception. PPR flex value only....

Andrew Quarless (Packers): The tight end position is a sizeable part of Green Bay's offense. Quarless is hardly a household name (maybe not even in his own home), yet forgetting his name on draft day could be a mistake. He is no worse than a second tight end if he winds up being the starter, having little competition for the job. Quarless has reception potential in the 45 to 50 range, especially since wideout James Jones won't return. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers could rely on Quarless' familiar face more than expected by most drafters. Stash this name away in the, "He could be a sleeper, if...." section of your brain. You do have one of those compartments, too, right?

Garrett Graham (Texans): Much like with Quarless, Graham could have quality fantasy value if there is no one in his way. He re-signed with the Texans, but the release of TE Owen Daniels might, in part, illustrate how much Graham is trusted. In 13 games, 11 starts, he gave Houston's offense basically what Daniels had been good for statistically during his career. Graham is a low-end No. 1 tight end with more stability as a point-per-reception target. Keep an eye on the Texans' offseason moves at the position, and if they start a rookie quarterback, that should only bode well for Graham.

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About Cory J. Bonini

Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.

Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.

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