Fantasy football: Changing teams often hurts more than it helps
BY LADD BIRO For Sun-Times Media August 4, 2014 10:23PM
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown throws a pass during an NFL football training camp Monday, July 28, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) ORG XMIT: FLCO107
Quick: Name Cam Newton’s new starting wideouts. Who’s expected to be the workhorse rusher in Jacksonville? How about Cleveland? Whose jersey is Stevie Johnson wearing now?
How well have you been paying attention this offseason? Not being much of a baseball, hockey or hoops fan, I tend to focus more than most people on things like NFL free-agency moves, and I even keep a tracker on my Fantasy Fools blog. But until I started writing this column, I would have been hard-pressed to pass a quiz on the 60-plus fantasy-relevant players who switched zip codes this year.
And while this year’s merry-go-round spun no more quickly than in recent years, there’s one thing we can always count on: Few players have boosted their fantasy stock by moving to a new team.
Last year, only Alex Smith and Anquan Boldin measurably improved their fortunes in different uniforms. (Phil Dawson and Josh Brown moved up the kicker ranks, but do they even count?) A few others, such as Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Ivory and Greg Jennings, got modest bumps but were mediocre contributors at best. Meanwhile, following the historic trend, the list of team-swapping disappointments was exhaustive.
So as we survey the NFL landscape, we are justifiably pessimistic about most of the carpetbaggers’ prospects. Here’s a look at the most significant offseason moves, broken down by the projected impact on each player’s fantasy value.
Movin’ on up
Look for improved production from these five.
Josh McCown, QB, Buccaneers: One of last year’s biggest surprises earned himself a starting job down south. If he can develop a rapport with his new receiving corps, McCown could solidify his unlikely role as a fantasy stalwart.
Toby Gerhart, RB, Jaguars: No longer Adrian Peterson’s perennial handcuff, Gerhart will be given every opportunity to breathe life into the Jaguars’ offense. He’s a solid rusher and receiver, so don’t be surprised if he finally emerges as a fantasy force.
Rashad Jennings, RB, Giants: He showed flashes of brilliance during his tenure in Oakland, and the starting job is his to lose in New York. With David Wilson (neck) out for the season, only rookie Andre Williams will stand in Jennings’ way. Temper your expectations, but the former Raider and Jag could be a salty RB3.
Ben Tate, RB, Browns: While Cleveland feigns competition at quarterback, the real battle is playing out between Arian Foster’s former backup and rookie Terrance West. Tate has a spotty injury history, but there’s upside should he emerge as the lead tailback.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Broncos: Cha-ching! Sanders has the talent to fill Eric Decker’s shoes, and Peyton Manning can make him a star. Nobody’s fantasy stock has soared so dramatically.
Comin’ back down
These players will be hard-pressed to match last year’s results.
Matt Schaub, QB, Raiders: It’s hard to imagine Schaub, who was traded by the Texans for a sixth-round pick, getting his mojo back in Oakland.
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Dolphins: Even before worries arose about his injured knee, I would’ve bet my retirement fund (meager as it is) that Moreno would never approach his 2013 stats in Miami.
Darren Sproles, RB, Eagles: As long as LeSean McCoy is healthy, Sproles’ role will be minimal.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Raiders: It’s only a matter of time before Darren McFadden’s next injury, but MJD is clearly not the runner he once was.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Steelers: He won’t get the chance to soar like he did in New England as long as Le’Veon Bell remains intact.
Eric Decker, WR, Jets: Left Denver for a big contract in New York, and poof goes his fantasy value.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Redskins: His presence boosts Robert Griffin III’s chances of a rebound, but Jackson won’t flirt with elite status again playing second fiddle to Pierre Garcon.
Stevie Johnson, WR, 49ers: The No. 3 receiver in San Francisco’s offense is no place to build your fantasy portfolio.
James Jones, WR, Raiders: Swaps Aaron Rodgers for Matt Schaub. How do you think that’s going to work out for him?
Jerricho Cotchery, WR, Panthers: Arguably the least talented No. 1 receiver in the league, he’ll be no better than a WR4 in most fantasy leagues — and that’s assuming he keeps his starting gig.
Call it a wash
For better or worse, these players should post comparable results to last season.
Mike Vick, QB, Jets: They say he won’t start over Geno Smith, but we’ll see how many interceptions (and losses) it takes to shake that commitment.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Texans: After he was set free by the Titans, it’s hard to foresee greatness in Fitzpatrick’s future in Houston.
Chris Johnson, RB, Jets: It’s been five years since he earned the CJ2K designation, but it’s been all downhill since then. With Chris Ivory expected to vulture the goal-line touches, Johnson’s days as a fantasy starter may be numbered.
Steve Smith, WR, Ravens: After a down year in 2013, the aging playmaker will be hard-pressed to resurrect his career a second time.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, Colts: Nagging injuries have limited Nicks’ production over the last two seasons. Now he’ll have to fight Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton for attention.
Golden Tate, WR, Lions: We’ve been waiting for years for a dynamic complement to Calvin Johnson in Detroit’s pass-happy offense. We’re still waiting.
Miles Austin, WR, Browns: The former Cowboy will try to plug the holes in Cleveland’s receiver corps, with or without two hamstrings. Good luck with that.
Follow Ladd Biro at his Fantasy Fools blog (fantasy-fools.blogspot.com), on Facebook and via Twitter (@ladd_biro).