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Offseason Movement: WRs
A Fantasy Perspective

Wide receivers are a necessary evil in fantasy football and in the lives of football fans. They seemingly create the most news but, outside of a few exceptions, do not bring it consistently every week in fantasy. They would have the novice football fan believe they the main reason that his team wins, but he is all too often the first player to throw his QB under the bus when his team loses. That said, the above is not meant to be a blanket statement and certainly does not apply to the position as a whole; it merely suggests that some of the more notable receivers suffer from an inferiority complex.

What receivers do, however, is create big plays that change games and create headaches for the defenses that are built to stop that big play from happening. And it is for that reason that we love watching them at their craft. In terms of receivers that swap teams in the offseason, the prevailing thought as to drafting them is to remain cool on their prospects until we get a chance to see them a handful of times with their new employer. Most of the time in fantasy football, though, we don’t get that chance.

So, for our purposes in fantasy football drafting, it makes a lot of sense to take the gamble on WRs that fall under one or more of the following guidelines:

  1. Transitioning from a run-heavy to a pass-heavy offense.
  2. Going from a team that spreads it around to one that has shown a proclivity to target their #1 option.
  3. Receiving a serious upgrade in surrounding talent, especially at the QB position.
Those are some of the factors I look at when assessing the WR crop from year to year anyway and, in most seasons, I downgrade the same faces in different places enough where I am unable to draft them. However, this offseason saw a handful of possible elite options switch teams, meaning a rewrite to the above statements may be needed and once again proving that nothing is ever guaranteed in fantasy football.

At just about every position, a below-the-radar (and sometimes undrafted) player gets “it” for a season and goes from waiver wire hopeful to the final piece in your run for a fantasy title. This position is no different. Last season was a pretty fair season for the position in that regard, as Lee Evans, Reggie Brown, Mike Furrey and Marques Colston all emerged from mid-to-late round or undrafted obscurity to second-half starters on just about any fantasy team, especially the ones that were unfortunate enough to land the likes of Randy Moss, Joe Horn or Derrick Mason. In 2005, Santana Moss, Terry Glenn and Chris Chambers were good WR options that appeared as fantasy top 20 WRs that could be had late in fantasy drafts.

All that being said, there are a few WRs making the move this season who fall under the guidelines just mentioned in the preceding paragraphs. In order of projected fantasy impact, let’s take a look the WRs who switched teams this offseason and their chances for fantasy success…

Randy Moss
(From OAK to NE)
Let’s get this out right away…Tom Brady + Moss does not equal Daunte Culpepper + Moss from a few seasons ago. However, there may have been no more intriguing move in the offseason than the one made by the Patriots on the second day of the 2007 NFL Draft when they picked up Moss for a fourth-round pick. Much like Corey Dillon before him, I do expect Moss to push aside the public perception of being a ball-and-chain on his employer whose potential and consistency almost always teases. Also, like Dillon, I expect Moss to have 1-2 solid years in New England before fading. In New England, it’s a no-brainer that Moss will be part of a better supporting cast and since he is going from a poor passing team to a very good one, it should mean Moss’ prospects to become fantasy-relevant once again are very good.

Here’s what I do expect…a lot of scores. No way will he rack up the 1632 receiving yards or the 111 catches he did in his last healthy season as a Viking. I expect something resembling his 2005 season in Oakland (60 catches, 1005 yards) with an uptick of scoring grabs, somewhere in the 10-12 TD neighborhood. I also expect defenses to pay more attention to him than QB Tom Brady will, as he will opt for Ben Watson, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker underneath more often than hitting the big play on a regular basis. I will be more than just a little surprised if Moss makes a living on the quick slant and drag patterns, as that is not what he likes nor is it what he does best. Another area Moss will excel in will be the red zone, where he will be the prime option (yes, ahead of the ground game). The Patriots have long hung their hat on specialization and molding their attack around the talents of their players. What does Moss do best? Hit the big play and make an inviting target on jump balls. Expect to see a lot of that in Gillette Stadium this season. By the projections I set forth earlier, that makes him a fair target for a low-end #1 WR, although I would feel much better drafting him as my #2. While his final numbers may look pretty nice, I don’t see the Patriots dropping their spread-the-wealth attack – even for a talent like Moss – meaning his weekly consistency will be hard to predict.

Donte Stallworth
(From PHI to NE)
Meet the real beneficiary, besides Tom Brady, of the signing of Randy Moss. Now, if he could just stay healthy!!! Looking at the names, it is hard not to like the way New England attacked the offseason, as the reputations of the players the Patriots brought in turned the WR position from a definite weakness into a definite strength. However, as great as I think a healthy Stallworth would mesh with Tom Brady, we are talking about New England. That fact alone means, as any experienced fantasy player knows, that Stallworth is game-by-game decision from about Week 2 until the end of the season. Why? Stallworth’s penchant for injury and HC Bill Belichick’s ability to keep his intentions about who he will play in the “Patriots’ vault”, information not to be discovered until about 10 minutes after kickoff or about an hour after most of us NEED to know if he is active.

If I knew he could be counted on for a full slate, I would rank Stallworth ahead of Moss in terms of fantasy impact this season. Since I don’t know that and I’m certainly not going to bet on it – not to mention how the Patriots share the wealth in the passing game – I would push the former Volunteer down to one of the last #2 fantasy WRs spots, making him about a sixth-round pick in 12-team, two-starting WR leagues. I would feel even better if he was my third option at the position. I’ll go out on a limb and say that Stallworth does a pretty good imitation of 2005, his last year as a Saint – 70 catches, 945 yards and seven TDs – in 13 starts.

Kevin Curtis
(From STL to PHI)
Curtis to the Detroit Lions seemed like a no-brainer to me. Somewhere along the way, signing with a proven winner and knowing he had a starting gig won out over a team that hasn’t won in a while and familiarity with the play caller. (It could have been that he didn’t want to play third fiddle for Detroit either when he could have a chance at a starring role in Philly…) Whatever the reason, the Eagles let Stallworth leave and replaced him with the slightly less injury-prone version of himself. Assuming McNabb is good to go Week 1 – a big if – I expect Curtis to pick right up from where Stallworth left off. Now, if AJ Feeley needs to take snaps for the first month or so, then I expect Reggie Brown to be the bigger beneficiary.

So, what this boils down to is how soon McNabb is ready to play and how long he will last. If you want to bet on a full season, Curtis will look like a savvy #2 WR pick for the price of a #3. If you think McNabb will start Week 1 but only play half the season and you would like a guy who you could potentially sell high on, Curtis is your guy as well. Lastly, if you think McNabb will not play the first month but play the final 12 games and you would like a buy-low candidate, again, the ex-Ram is a solid choice.

Allow me to conclude on Curtis by talking about McNabb, as he will be the biggest reason Curtis will either be a fantasy boon or bust. While the comparison of McNabb’s knee injury to Daunte Culpepper’s is similar as far as they both tore their ACL’s, McNabb did not blow out each of his other knee ligaments, so a comparison to Carson Palmer is much more spot on. As such, expect a slow start from McNabb, much like the one Palmer experienced last season. In McNabb’s favor is the fact that his injury happened two months earlier than Palmer’s, so a quick start is not impossible by any means. Either way, there’s enough injury risk between McNabb and Curtis that you should draft him as a high-reward #3 fantasy WR. I like Curtis’ ability to log 65-70 catches and notch his first 1000-yard receiving season and 7-8 TDs if he can make all 16 starts.

Darrell Jackson
(From SEA to SFO)
In my mind, the acquisition of Jackson was the best use of a fourth-round pick to acquire a receiver. And, in all honesty, I still can’t quite comprehend why the Seahawks willingly did this deal, even with his injury history or contract status. At 28, Jackson should still be in his prime for a few more years. Either way, Seattle’s loss is San Francisco’s gain, in this instance. As such, I expect less drop-off than most in the fantasy industry. Even though I expect the Niners to be a run-heavy team this season, Jackson should still be the #1 option in the passing game. The scenario isn’t all that different from what he had become accustomed to in Seattle, benefiting from all the attention paid to RB Shaun Alexander. The difference is that Alex Smith is not Matt Hasselbeck, so a slight reduction in numbers is likely.

I will be very interested to see how well first-time OC Jim Hostler works Jackson in with TE Vernon Davis. For fantasy purposes, there is little doubt in my mind that if you are able to get Jackson as your #2 WR, you are well on your way to building a team capable of winning a fantasy championship. He will be intimately familiar with the best CB he will face twice in the division (Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant), meaning I expect six stellar games from Jackson against the NFC West. Games against Cincinnati and Cleveland in Weeks 15 and 17 also shape up as opponents that Jackson owners can point to and believe that he will post equitable numbers in at least half the games and especially when they count the most for his owners. If he somehow lasts past the fifth round in 12-team, two-starting WR leagues, scoop him up as he should be good for 13-14 games once again, with 65-70 catches, 1000+ yards and 6-7 touchdowns a fair expectation.

Drew Bennett
(From TEN to STL)
At first, it struck me a bit odd that the Rams put out such a big carrot for Bennett to take a bite on. However, I like this signing the more I think about it. HC Scott Linehan is probably figuring on having the services of 13-(soon to be 14) year vet WR Isaac Bruce for one more season. In the meantime, the Rams can essentially be the NFC’s answer to the Cincinnati Bengals in which Torry Holt plays the role of Chad Johnson, Bruce serves as the precision route runner to Cincy’s Doug Houshmandzadeh and Bennett the hard-to-guard tall deep threat who is nearly impossible to guard on jump balls, just like Chris Henry.

In all honesty, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Bennett had the best season of any #3 WR the Rams have had since Az Hakim was making waves for The Greatest Show on Turf. It is not hard to imagine the 6-6 college quarterback-turned-receiver will be worthy of a roster spot in two-starting WR leagues and a starting spot in three-WR leagues. The only things to be aware of with Bennett are his tendency to get nicked up as well as his role. Only Brandon Stokley from a couple years ago jumps to mind in regards of a #3 WR who offered any kind of weekly consistency from a fantasy standpoint. So, even though he will be dropping two spots on the depth chart when he straps on a Rams uniform, I would expect similar total numbers to what he had last season (46 catches, 737 yards), with a high probability that he will score 5-6 times and maybe even sprinkle in a TD throw.

Joe Horn
(From NO to ATL)
Long a #1 WR staple in most fantasy leagues, Horn will be picked lower in this summer’s drafts than he has since the year he joined the Saints in 2000. At 35, he cannot be expected to carry the #1 fantasy WR mantle anymore but he is the most dependable option – outside of TE Alge Crumpler – that QB Michael Vick has. That said, Vick will need to clear his name with the authorities and the courts before we can see what Horn still has left. I dread the thought of counting on Horn if backup QB Joey Harrington needs to play more than a few games this fall.

Assuming Vick avoids the legal mess he is currently involved in regarding the federal dog-fighting charges he is facing, the focus then turns on his ability to stay healthy all season long. I believe new HC Bobby Petrino will give Vick the best play-calling he’s had since he became a Falcon. However, I’m not sure Vick will consistently survive behind his offensive line, as I’m not sure relative green OL coach Tom Cable will be able to command an overwhelming performance from his troops. Pair Vick’s issues together with Horn’s recent injury-shortened seasons and you have enough reason to push Horn back into mid-#3 fantasy WR status. I tend to believe that Petrino will employ a spread-the-wealth mentality to his passing game with regular three-and-four WR sets. All in all, I expect Horn to be the best WR pick fantasy-wise from the Falcons’ roster, posting 50-55 catches for 750-800 yards and five scores. I do believe his reputation will push him up higher in the draft than he should go, though, which would between rounds 8-10 in 12-team, two-starting WRs leagues.

Wes Welker
(From MIA to NE)
At what point did the Patriots’ splurge on other teams’ WRs become ridiculous? Well, you can’t point to Welker, who was the first of seven receivers who were ether traded for, signed or re-signed by the team. Now one does have to question why Welker was worth a second and a seventh-round pick when luminaries like Randy Moss and Darrell Jackson were worth just a fourth-rounder. No matter, as Welker is one of the best return men in the business right now. He also works out of the slot very well, meaning if all else fails with Stallworth and Moss, QB Tom Brady will still have more talent at the WR position to work with than he did last season.

Welker will likely be one of many players that will help his real team more than any fantasy team, as he will provide the Patriots with good field position and a player that will regularly move the chains on third down. All this means is he will get consistent looks, but will not be a consistent fantasy WR as they will be too many other New England players that will be higher in the TD pecking order than Welker. A fair estimate for his final numbers would be 40-45 catches, 550 yards and 1-2 scores. However, a Pro Bowl-caliber season as a returner may be in the offing.

Brandon Stokley
(From IND to DEN)
For the nine games that Stokley averages each season, he can serve as a viable threat. However, he goes from the mountaintop of fantasy production to a unit that is somewhat less proficient from a fantasy standpoint, but every bit as effective in the real game. What is going to be tough for Stokley will be overcoming history: his own and the Broncos. Staying healthy is always a concern with him but one literally has to go back to 1988 and the days of the Three Amigos (Ricky Nattiel, Mark Jackson, Vance Johnson) to find the last time Denver had three fantasy-worthy WRs in the same season.

And it's not just that. While Rod Smith appears to be winding down after a stellar career, he will still be the starter until further notice. Stokley will also need to prove his wares over second-year future stud Brandon Marshall. In fact, a dream scenario for HC Mike Shanahan would be that Marshall shows enough this season that he passes - or at least splits time with - Smith on the depth chart. This would allow Stokley to stay in the #3 role that he fits in the best. For fantasy purposes, Stokley is too injury-prone and QB Jay Cutler - while very talented - is probably too green yet to make three WRs fantasy relevant. As a result, let Stokley go undrafted in all but the deepest of fantasy leagues, as he is unlikely to do any better than 40 receptions for 500 yards and a couple of scores.

Bobby Wade
(From TEN to MIN)
No, seeing this name does not mean you should stop reading. Wade is a relatively unknown and underappreciated talent. And all things being equal, the former University of Arizona standout will be nothing more than a #3 or #4 WR on the Vikings, who will have one of the worst passing attacks in the league as they wait for raw second-year QB Tavaris Jackson to develop. That said, it’s hard to say he isn’t the most proven wideout in the collection of Minnesota WRs, so he may someone to keep an eye on for sporadic production. The thing that will be most intriguing to me will be the development of the other WRs on the roster. Will Troy Williamson’s eye surgery be all it takes for him to realize his potential this season, in this, his third year of the league? Will rookies Sidney Rice and Aundrae Allison be the main cogs in the passing attack by the end of 2007? Will Billy McMullen be able to match the production of the man he was traded for last summer, Philly’s Hank Baskett?

For these reasons, Wade’s quickness and experience may be the reasons he ends up being the best Viking WR this fall. He had just four fantasy-relevant games this season with the Titans and he shouldn’t be expected to top that in Minnesota. His production should remain fairly similar to his 2006 numbers (33 catches, 461 yards, 2 TDs) with his biggest impact being made in the return game. All told, Jackson will need receivers in the passing game whose routes he can trust. I expect RB Chester Taylor to be one of those players. I expect Wade to be the other until Williamson’s hands can be trusted.