The 2012 NFL season is still six months away, but fantasy football owners might start ranking players on their cheat sheets and draft lists in the coming days.
NFL free agency is ready to kick off this week and fantasy football owners are anxiously awaiting to see which superstars will sign with which organizations. Many are probably like me, fantasizing about players joining teams that could help double their touchdowns, increase their yardage and boost their fantasy values.
So here are three player-team combos that will mean fantasy gold if they happen.
Peyton Manning throwing to Larry Fitzgerald? The thought of this QB-WR pairing has to make fantasy owners drool like Mel Kiper at an NFL draft, especially if those owners end up with Manning or Fitzgerald in 2012.
Let’s start with Manning. If he signed with Arizona, he would quarterback a pass-first offense and have one of the premier pass snaggers as his prime target. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt and Fitzgerald were instrumental in Kurt Warner’s amazing success with the Cardinals and there is no reason Manning could not rack up ridiculous numbers teaming up with that twosome.
Manning would play his home games in a perfect passing environment. Weather would never play a factor, unlike if Manning signed with an East Coast team or a team like the Denver Broncos. If Manning was allowed to bring old friend Reggie Wayne along with him, he would have another weapon to throw to and it could lessen the pressure and the double teams on Fitzgerald.
Then you have Fitzgerald, whose touchdown numbers have suffered the past two seasons without Warner. Derek Anderson, John Skelton and Kevin Kolb were a trio of terror for Fitzgerald. It is a credit to his greatness that he still posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with those average-at-best passers throwing to him. However, Fitzgerald only scored 14 touchdowns between 2010-2011 after scoring 35 times between 2007-2009 with Warner at the helm.
If Manning signs with the Cards and his neck stays on his shoulders, the fantasy sky is the limit. Manning could throw for 4,500 and 35 touchdowns, and Fitzgerald could challenge Detroit’s Calvin Johnson as the top receiver in fantasy with a 1,500-yard, 13-TD campaign.
Brandon Lloyd and the New England Patriots
Lloyd was a journeyman receiver who did a whole lot of nothing with the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins, Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos for seven seasons until Josh McDaniels flipped a switch inside Lloyd’s helmet.
Lloyd racked up 1,448 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns with McDaniels as Denver’s head coach in 2010 and followed that up with a 966-yard, five TD 2011 season spent mostly with the St. Louis Rams, where McDaniels was the offensive coordinator.
Now, McDaniels is the offensive coordinator with New England and Lloyd is a free agent looking to hook up with a Super Bowl contender for one last hurrah. Match made in Heaven? As Sarah Palin would say, “You betcha!”
Unlike Chad Ochocinco who must need a month to memorize McDonald’s dollar menu, Lloyd knows New England’s offense, because he thrived under McDaniels the last two years. He can step right in and produce ASAP and give the Patriots the deep threat they have sorely lacked since Randy Moss was let go.
Lloyd was constantly doubled in Denver and St. Louis because the receiving crews there were thinner than Joe Flacco’s skin. In New England, he would see plenty of single coverage with secondaries tripping over themselves to cover Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowksi and Aaron Hernandez.
Lloyd has never had a quarterback like Tom Brady throwing to him. Lloyd piled up serious yards with the likes of Kyle Orton and Sam Bradford passing his way. Those two are not bad, but they are not Brady, either.
McDaniels’ offense, Brady, Welker and company could help Lloyd get back to his 2010 level again and post 1,300 yards and double-digit touchdowns. He will have plenty of suitors this offseason, but New England would be his best destination.
Mario Williams and the New York Jets
Stop! I know what you are about to ask. How can the Jets fit Williams under their salary cap when they seemingly have less money to spend than the New York Mets? Well, where there’s a will, there’s a way and not many general managers can massage the salary cap better than New York’s Mike Tannenbaum.
What do Rex Ryan and the Jets love to do more than eat, curse at fans and envy the New York Giants? Blitz! Rushing the passer is the key to the Jets’ stingy style of defense. However, during Ryan’s pressure-happy tenure, he has not had the luxury of a 10-sack type of pass-rusher.
Enter Williams, the top defensive free agent on the market and easily the best pass-rusher available. If he signed with the Jets, he would immediately become one of the most sought-after sack men in fantasy football again and the Jets defense would become a top-five unit to have in leagues where entire defenses are used instead of single defensive players.
The Jets defense the past couple years have been light in the sacks department. That would not be the case with Williams on board. He would elevate all the players around him and everyone’s sack totals would go up, including his.
Thanks to the Jets’ all-out blitzes, Williams would find more openings to get to quarterbacks since it would be impossible to double-team him. If he steers clear of another season-ending injury, he would be guaranteed 13-16 sacks in a system like Ryan’s.
Other teams like the Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys have glaring pass-rushing needs, too and more cap room than the Jets, but Williams would do best with “Gang Green” and Ryan.
With the Jets extending Mark Sanchez’s contract to help with cap relief and with the likelihood that many Jets veterans will be pink-slipped to create more money, the Jets should not be counted out of the Williams sweepstakes.