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Fantasy Football Free Agency: Winners and Losers

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It’s been a crazy and unpredictable week for fantasy football. Many of the burning questions owners have been asking all summer have finally been answered. Owners will need to adjust their draftboards quickly as drafts are now only weeks away. Let’s take a look at the early winners and losers in free agency.

Winners

Larry Fitzgerald

The long rumored acquisition of Kevin Kolb by the Arizona Cardinals immediately pushes Larry Fitzgerald into the Top 3 receivers in fantasy football. Fitzgerald was plagued by horrendous quarterback play last season and only “managed” to have 90 receptions, 1,100 yards and six touchdowns. With even just an average quarterback, Fitzgerald’s numbers should significantly improve.

You could easily make the argument that Fitzgerald should be drafted third overall, before Calvin Johnson. Looking at a snapshot of the last four years, Fitzgerald has clearly outplayed Johnson, who has been plagued by injuries at several points in his career. Johnson has only had more than 1,300 receiving yards once in the last four years, while Fitzgerald went for more than 1,400 yards twice in that span. Johnson averages 67 receptions a year, while Fitzgerald has averaged 98.

Considering that Fitzgerald is being drafted as the sixth receiver off the board in most drafts, this is a massive upgrade in value. For the record, it’s insane that many owners are somehow drafting Greg Jennings before Fitzgerald. I’ve already gone into great detail about how Jennings might be the most overrated fantasy football player. Suffice to say, owners that draft Jennings over Fitzgerald will be making a colossal mistake, one they may not easily recover from.

Steven Jackson

I’ve spoken negatively about Jackson in previous articles and one of my biggest concerns was that St. Louis would acquire another running back during free agency, thus stealing carries and possibly receptions from Jackson. It looked like the Rams were about to get Reggie Bush but Miami stole him at the last moment. This helps Jackson tremendously and makes him a viable Top 10 running back going forward. There are still the same concerns about him losing a step and getting hurt but at least he’s still the lone ball carrier on his football team, something that is becoming increasingly rare and valuable in the age of running back by committee. 

Chris Johnson

I know he’s already holding out, and every day we seem to read new reports that say something like, “Johnson very committed to holding out” or “Johnson demanding $30 million” and “Johnson’s agent say this could be the longest holdout ever.” Come on. We all know Johnson’s going to play and we all know the Tennessee Titans are going to have to give him more than the $800,000 a year they’re paying him. There’s no way DeAngelo Williams is going to make more than $9 million a year and Johnson less than $1 million next year. No way. This is quite possibly the most justified holdout in the history of sports.

So let’s get back to reality and talk about real things that are really happening. The reality is the Titans signed Matt Hasselback last week. Hasselback might not be the answer for the Titans in the long run but he’s certainly a quarterback that will force defenses to respect the pass and not gang up on Johnson. This tremendously helps Johnson’s value, and as I said earlier this week this should put Johnson clearly ahead of Arian Foster in drafts this summer. If Hasselback can stay healthy and just be reasonably effective, Johnson should have a tremendous year.

Wes Welker

I think Welker was one of the biggest winners of free agency. Chad Ochocinco coming to New England will give the Patriots a true No. 1 receiver that defenses will have to focus on. On the other side of the field will be Deion Branch. In only 12 games for the Patriots last year, Branch had 48 catches for more than 700 yards to go with five touchdowns.

The middle of the field will finally be open again for points per reception legend Welker, whose numbers went down last season when the Patriots traded Randy Moss and defenses could finally focus on shutting him down. He’s fully recovered from his ACL surgery two seasons ago and he’s extremely motivated because this is a contract year for him. He has to do well or the Patriots won’t re-sign him and probably turn to Julian Edelman instead.

Welker is currently being drafted at the end of the fourth round/beginning of the fifth round. We’re talking about a No. 1 receiver who, before last year, had three straight seasons of more than 110 catches. He’s one of the biggest steals in drafts, currently, and he’s a far better choice than several receivers being drafted before him like Dez Bryant,Jeremy Maclin and Marques Colston.

Vincent Jackson

Last week, Jackson signed his one-year contract tender with San Diego and he will now be playing a full season. The last time Jackson played a full season he was a Top 10 wide receiver and had more than 1,150 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. While Jackson’s late second round average draft position is decent, he still shouldn’t be behind Greg Jennings. Also, I’ll be holding my first “Greg Jennings is the most overrated player in fantasy football” fan club meeting next Thursday. I’ll be bringing chips and refreshments. Would anyone out there care to bring something for dessert?

A.J. Green

With Chad Ochocinco gone, the rookie Green immediately takes center stage as Cincinnati’s No. 1 receiver. Green’s having a fantastic  training camp and the best part is, he’s being drafted towards the end of the eighth round in most drafts.

Now, it’s definitely true that the Bengals have a less than desirable quarterback situation. We’re talking about a “competition” between an ex-Raiders quarterback who was beaten out by Jason Campbell and a rookie who has never played an NFL game. For a player with as much talent as Green though, how big of a risk is it for owners to spend a ninth-round pick for a player with all his potential?

Ray Rice

Rice was the biggest winner of free agency. As we talked about last week, with Willis McGahee finally leaving the Ravens, Rice has a chance to be one of the Top 2 or 3 running backs in all of fantasy football. After Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Arian Foster are off the board, there is no one in fantasy football that should go before Rice.

Chad Ochocinco

I’m a little bit in the middle as far as how much Chad Ochocinco will improve now that he’s catching passes from Tom Brady. I think comparisons to the jump Randy Moss experienced are a little out of line. Moss is a future Hall of Famer and he will always be better than OchocCinco. Last season, in a crowded offense with Terrell Owens, Ochocinco had 831 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

I strongly believe that Ochocinco will improve on those numbers but I think talk of him having a Moss-ish record breaking season is a little ridiculous. Ochocinco will have more than 1,000 yards and at least eight touchdowns. Let’s not forget though, Ochocinco hasn’t had a great season since 2007. That was a long time ago. I think he still has talent, but I think it’s wise to not go crazy with the expectations just yet.

Losers

Jonathan Stewart

The biggest loser of free agency has to be Stewart. Sorry to his fan club. It’s over now. With the Panthers re-signing DeAngelo Williams to a long-term contract, he will continue to be the starting running back in Carolina. Many fantasy owners have had dreams of Stewart some day being a fantasy star, but they will never come to be. After last year’s disappointing season, Stewart’s destiny is to be nothing more than a high priced handcuff for Williams’ owners.

Jay Cutler

I had high hopes for the Chicago Bears this offseason. I think the fact that they’ve shown the ability to beat both the Green Bay Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles is a huge ace that they have over the rest of the NFC. I was thinking that the Bears would get a big name receiver for Cutler to throw to. There were tons of receivers available. People like Santonio Holmes, Chad Ochocinco and maybe Steve Smith, if they could make the right offer to Carolina.

Roy Williams? Really? Him? He’s the answer? Total outrage. With a big playmaking receiver to throw to, Cutler could’ve easily moved out of the fantasy basement, which is where he is right now, being drafted after Matthew Stafford, who has absolutely no chance of finishing the season healthy.

Brandon Marshall

Marshall is one of the most talented receivers in the NFL and the Miami Dolphins couldn’t fully take advantage of it because of Chad Henne’s horrendous play. So the Dolphins knew they needed a quarterback to push Henne and compete for the job in training camp. And instead of getting Kyle Orton, maybe the best free agent/available quarterback of the season … they get Matt Moore.

Really? Him? The guy that got benched for Jimmy Claussen, one of the biggest rookie quarterback busts in recent memory. What were the Dolphins thinking? Marshall is currently being drafted in the fourth round and it’s a low down dirty shame because in the right situation, Marshall should be a Top 5 receiver in fantasy football. This is painful to watch, my friends. What a waste.

Percy Harvin

Losing Sidney Rice really hurt Harvin’s value. Similar to Welker, Harvin needs a No. 1 receiver so he can work the slot in the middle of the field. With Rice gone, defenses will key on Harvin because the other Vikings receivers are an over-the-hill Bernard Berrian and a disappointment from my beloved Atlanta Falcons, Michael Jenkins.

While Brett Favre was one of fantasy football’s biggest disappointments last year, I’m not so sure Donovan McNabb is that much of an improvement. Remember, McNabb has his worst year as a pro last season, throwing for 15 interceptions and 14 touchdowns. I’m not saying Harvin’s necessarily going to be a bust this year. He’s still a player with a lot of talent that the Vikings use as their No. 2 playmaker after Adrian Peterson. I’m just saying that he was a loser during free agency because of the subtraction of Rice. His value went down and I view him now as a great No. 3 receiver or a weak No. 2.

Ahmad Bradshaw

There were rumors last week that Bradshaw might get traded to Washington. In that situation, Bradshaw’s value would’ve actually increased because he would’ve surely been the primary ball carrier in Washington. Instead, he re-signs with the New York Giants and returns to being the lead back, but still losing a lot of carries and some goal line touches to Brandon Jacobs.

Similar to Brandon Marshall, Bradshaw’s value stays the same but had a real chance to go up but didn’t because of his situation remaining the same. Bradshaw is still a No. 2 back, but he had a real opportunity for something more but couldn’t find a team to give him a chance.

Free Agency Wrap Up

With free agency almost over, owners need to now focus their attention on training camp, which has already started. Many players’ values have yet to be determined, many depth charts have yet to be settled and there is still a lot that can change between now and Sept. 8.

Good Hunting!

Ed Bonfanti

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