This is my first blog since I begged my beloved Raiders to draft Calvin Johnson instead of JaMarcus Russell. They didn’t listen, so maybe that discouraged me. In any case, I thought I’d rank the risk factor for receivers who have changed teams as of March 17, 2012. A green rating is a guy who you can feel pretty good about grabbing for your fantasy roster. Orange indicates upside with bust potential. I used red for guys likely to underperform their draft position in redraft leagues.
My ranks are based on a 10-team, half-point PPR league, which splits the difference between the two most popular formats.
Brandon Marshall to the Bears
Risk Rating: Leaving your car unlocked in an Amish community
Brandon Marshall is a knucklehead, but he should pick up where he left off with Jay Cutler.
Looking Back: Marshall underachieved in South Florida, but conditioning and concentration weren’t what really held him back. He was the focal point of an underpowered offense using a conservative scheme. His new team was ravaged with injuries down the stretch, but Jay Cutler and Matt Forte are a better one-two-punch than Marshall’s played with. Cutler’s stats weren’t great in 2011, but you seldom see quarterbacks do more with less. He was winging passes to mediocre receivers from behind a line as wobbly as St. Patty’s Day partiers.
Looking Forward: At 27 with a clean bill of health, Marshall’s best years should still be in front of him. He’s got to be the best pass-catcher in Chi-Town since Willie Gault was pulling in Jim McMahon’s passes. (At 50, Gault may still be faster than Marshall, but that says more about Willie.)
Now Cutler gets a receiver he already has a rapport with. Both he and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates are familiar with Marshall from their Denver days. Cutler and Marshall combined for 206 completions and 2590 yards in two seasons. Jay’s stepped up his game since then even if the numbers don’t show it.
There’s a chance that choosing Marshall high will blow up in your face. He may face a suspension for his most recent fracas with the fairer sex or some other screw-up, and he has admitted to battling borderline personality disorder. Maybe Forte gets hurt or new OC Mike Tice runs the ball like Jacksonville. Maybe, but I’m all in on Marshall.
Assessment: The Bears will have a balanced offense with the complementary pieces in place to let Marshall do his thing. Matt Forte will keep nickel packages off the field, Devin Hester and Johnny Knox can take the top off the defense and Earl Bennett is Cutler’s trusty safety valve underneath. I think Marshall will flirt with 100 receptions again and I have him right behind Larry Fitzgerald on my board, just ahead of A.J. Green, Hakeem Nicks and Andre Johnson.
Brandon Lloyd to the Patriots
Risk Rating: Challenging a sorority girl to a pillow fight
Will there be enough to go around in a high-powered Patriots’ passing game?
Looking Back: Lloyd struggled in Denver without Josh McDaniels, but his numbers perked up nicely once he joined Joshie Boy in St. Louis, even on a train-wreck team. You never want a tight end to be your best deep threat, but Rob Gronkowski was the only Pat to stretch the field in 2011. This chink in their otherwise sparkling armor cost them, never more dearly than in the Super Bowl.
Looking Forward: For fantasy purposes, this is the signing I most wanted to see happen. I love Lloyd, at least when he’s playing with a decent quarterback and they’re running Josh McDaniels’ plays. My wish was granted as Tom Brady gets a silky-smooth wideout with the extra-gear to get deep. Sure, there are a lot of mouths to feed in New England and Lloyd is due to lose a step at age 31, but one more big year is a safe bet.
Assessment: Lloyd will be a Top 20 WR whom I’d snatch up as early as the middle of the 5th round.
Vincent Jackson to the Buccaneers
Risk Rating: Bee-hive baseball
You might as well be batting bee-hives around the backyard as invest an early draft pick in Vincent Jackson.
Looking Back: Despite prodigious talent and one of the league’s best QBs, V-Jax never finished as a Top 5 fantasy receiver during any of his seven seasons in San Diego. He had his usual ups and downs in 2010 and sneaked into the Top 10 on the strength of a couple monster games. Jackson joins an offense that could kindly be described as “herky-jerky” last season.
Looking Forward: The problem for Jackson has been nagging injuries and feast-or-famine production. Expect more of the same as he plays his last season under 30 for a new team with a new coaching staff. OC Mike Sullivan brings a receiver-friendly scheme from the Giants, but nothing I’ve heard about HC Greg Schiano leads me to believe this will be an explosive offense in 2012.
Jackson will make big plays for the Bucs, but will he be more consistent? Yes—more consistently bad. It will take a while for Jackson and Josh Freeman to get their timing down, and there’s no Antonio Gates (or even Malcom Floyd) to demand defensive attention. Here’s hoping Arrelious Benn steps it up with that torn ACL one more year in his rear-view mirror.
Assessment: I see Jackson as a low-end WR2 because for much of 2012, he’ll serve up more sh*tburgers than 40-burgers. Great to own in a “best-ball” format, maddening as hell otherwise. (A rich man’s DeSean Jackson.) I’d grab him in the 6th round, but I’m sure he’ll be gone by then.
V-Jax taking his talents to Tampa gives Josh Freeman a bump, but this year QB is as deep as I’ve ever seen it. Freeman barely cracks my Top 20. I’d rather start Jay Cutler or Carson Palmer. Still, adding a legit No. 1 receiver is going to boost Freeman’s confidence—and his upside—making him a sleeper candidate and QB2 with upside.
Pierre Garcon to the Redskins
Risk rating: Tanning with Crisco Oil sunblock
Garcon is better than you think, but there will be growing pains in DC.
Looking Back: Garcon’s issues with drops are well documented, but he held onto the ball in 2011. In fact, he took a step forward even with some of the NFL’s worst throwers getting him the ball in Indy. Even under Rex Grossman, Washington’s passing game was intermittently effective and there’s the right mix of talent in this WR corps to complement Garcon without relegating him to second-fiddle status again.
Looking Forward: Garcon has deep speed and made some electric broken-field, run-after-catch plays. Looks like RG3 will be a Redskin, so Garcon will have that going for him. He’s an undrafted free agent with a chip on his shoulder who, entering his 5th year, is still improving at route-running and setting up DBs.
Griffin and Garcon will make magic on the field as Griffin scrambles, Garcon breaks free and takes intermediate passes to the house. But much of that production will come late in the season or next year.
Assessment: Garcon is a high-end WR3 I wouldn’t pull the trigger on until Round 7 or 8. It will take time for the rookie QB and the still-raw, free-agent WR to develop chemistry. I think Garcon is an ascending player and a nice buy-low candidate after a slow start.
Robert Meachem to the Chargers
Risk Rating: Scarfing a bean-and-cheese burrito before a hot date
Lost in the shuffle in New Orleans, or just a role player?
Looking Back: Meachem has been remarkably consistent the last three seasons. Consistently blah. He doesn’t miss games but other than a spike to 9 TDs in 2009, he’s been a fantasy non-factor. His new team struggled in the first half of 2011, largely due to poor pass-protection, but adding LT Jared Gaither gave Philip Rivers time to throw.
Looking Forward: Meachem is an enigma. He’s got the size and deep speed to fill Vincent Jackson’s shoes in this offense, but he’s not as fluid or aggressive. Some people are sold on this guy but if he was that great, why didn’t Drew Brees make him a star when Marques Colston or Lance Moore missed time? Brees made Jimmy Graham a star in the kid’s first season and a half.
On the other hand, Meachem gets a promotion here, as he’ll have every opportunity to win the WR1 role away from Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown. The Chargers still have a hole to fill at LG, but turnstile games like their first meeting with the Raiders reminded them of the importance of talent in the trenches.
Assessment: Meachem’s numbers will be decent this year, but I’d leave him on the draft board until I needed a WR3. With the risk here, he’s just an 8th round value for me. I’d rather have Antonio Brown or Pierre Garcon.
Laurent Robinson to the Jaguars
Risk Rating: Flossing with razor wire
Robinson is the kind of guy who seldom successfully makes the leap from a team’s complementary receiver to the top target.
Looking Back: Robinson found his groove with the Cowboys, becoming an out-of-nowhere flex firecracker and occasional WR2. He joins what was the worst passing offense in the league last season.
Looking Forward: Robinson seems like a good kid and he smoothed out a lot of the rough edges in his game. At times, he supplanted Dez Bryant in Tony Romo’s pecking order and rightfully so, as Robinson was the more polished receiver.
But Laurent (pronounced “Lahh-Raughn,” at least when I say it) is slightly built for 6’2 and has a voluminous medical file after just five years in the league. I don’t think he can stand up to the punishment a No. 1 wide receiver endures snap after snap. And his best-case scenario is Chad Henne taking over for Blaine Gabbert, which may not happen until October. Even then, the Jags’ offense, such as it is, is still going to revolve around MJD and rightly so. Robinson isn’t the kind of talent who can put bite in the Jags’ toothless passing game by himself.
As a newly minted No. 1, Robinson’s targets will go up but his coverage will clamp down. No way in hell is he going to score TDs on 20% of his receptions, as he did in Dallas. He’ll draw the opponents’ best cover corner. Did I mention it won’t be Tony Romo throwing to him?
Assessment: Robinson is a low-end WR3 whom I wouldn’t feel good about drafting before the 9th or 10th round.
Mario Manningham to the 49ers
Risk Rating: Too early to tell
The Super Bowl hero could haunt his former team.
Looking Back: With knee problems and lapses of concentration, “Super Mario” would have lost his job to Luigi in 2011, so Victor Cruz drank his milkshake. Manningham picked it up in the postseason, as you probably know. And SF? With injuries and a free-agent bust (Paging Mr. Bray-Lon), the lack of consistent WR play haunted the 49ers all season and especially in the playoffs.
Looking Forward: Manningham is a quick, graceful player who can shine in the spotlight of a big game. To date, he’s been more productive than Michael Crabtree, the presumed No. 1 WR in SF. But now he has Alex Smith throwing him the ball, not Eli Manning. And there are questions about his focus and durability. Mario’s a mercurial cat with a personality that has rubbed people the wrong way on occasion.
Assessment: Can you ask me again in August? What’s the pecking order going to be in this passing game? It’s looking a little like the New Orleans crew of 2011. But don’t reach for Manningham in the early rounds. He’s got the look of a flex option.
Randy Moss to the 49ers
Risk Rating: Sticking your head in a tiger’s cage and singing the Star Spangled Banner
Randy Moss has come back from the dead once before. Can he again?
Looking Back: Moss was out of the league in 2011.
Looking Forward: Moss got in shape for his workout and ran well. He’s a legendary talent who may still be an asset to a vertical passing game.
That said, Moss has quit on more routes than a pot-smoking paperboy. While Alex Smith made some strides last season, I don’t think he’s going to deliver the ball reliably enough to keep Moss engaged. Sure, if the team is winning, maybe he won’t complain and get kicked off the team. But fantasy goodness? I don’t see it in a ball-control offense with a weak-armed quarterback.
Assessment: A late-round flier, end-of-your bench wild card pick.
Josh Morgan to the Redskins
Risk Rating: Buying alternative energy stocks
Looking Back: Morgan was underutilized in a bad-to-ordinary San Francisco passing game and missed 11 games last season with a broken leg.
Looking Forward: Like his new teammate Pierre Garcon, Morgan gets yards after the catch (his career average is 5.7) and makes plays with the ball in his hands. He’ll be a good fit for Robert Griffin III’s improvisational style.
Assessment: A much better late-round flier than Moss, one that has an outside chance of turning into a WR3 if Morgan fulfills his potential with Griffin getting him the ball.