If you want to know which quarterbacks should have better fantasy seasons in 2012 than they had in 2011, look no further than the new receivers and tight ends they are scheduled to throw to.
A quarterback’s fantasy value can be tied to his receiving corps and vice-versa. Talented receivers help a quarterback’s fantasy value exponentially. Top-flight receivers turn incomplete passes into completions and 10-yard passes into 50-yard touchdowns.
Here are four quarterbacks whose teams upgraded their receiving corps in the offseason:
Brady was not exactly lacking for passing options going into the offseason. The somewhat-signed Wes Welker (122 receptions, 1,569 yards) and the titanic tight end twosome of Rob Gronkowski (90 receptions, 1,327 yards) and Aaron Hernandez (79 receptions, 910 yards) would make most quarterbacks happier than Bono is about his Facebook stock.
But New England needed to get a deep threat, someone who could stretch the field and create some space underneath for Welker and the tight end terrors. So the Patriots went out and signed Brandon Lloyd (966 yards), the veteran receiver that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels helped transform into a premiere pass catcher when he coached Lloyd in Denver and St. Louis.
But the Pats did not stop there. They signed almost every WR not named Randy Moss. Old friends Jabar Gaffney (947 yards) and Donte Stallworth were brought back after spending time with other organizations, dependable Deion Branch was re-signed, and Chad Ochocinco has not been cut as he continues his marathon studying session to learn the Patriots’ intricate playbook.
Do not look for all these receivers to stick with New England by the season’s start. And do not look for the Patriots to become a ground-and-pound team, either. Brady will throw the ball another 600-plus times in 2012, and he will likely be the only QB with five different targets who had over 900 receiving yards last season.
Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Fantasy owners and football fans had been under the impression that the 49ers were all about centering their squad around a bruising running attack and a hard-hitting defense. But after this offseason, it may have been a ruse, because now the Niners are acting like they might turn into a run-and-shoot team.
San Fran already had superstar tight end Vernon Davis and the finally-decent Michael Crabtree on the roster, but then, this offseason, they signed Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham to a multimillion dollar deal, and also inked future Hall of Famer Randy Moss in the hope that he has spent the last year perfecting a time machine that will help him play like it is 2007.
On top of the Manningham and Moss signings, the 49ers added ANOTHER WR in the first round of the NFL draft, selecting quicker-than-Russell Westbrook A.J. Jenkins out of Illinois.
With Davis, Crabtree, Manningham, Moss and Jenkins all together in the fold, the only way Smith’s fantasy value won’t go up is if he gets hurt or throws as badly as Charles Barkley swings a golf club.
The 49ers might have acquired a couple more running backs during the offseason, but don’t get it twisted. This team is looking to pass more often and more efficiently, and that bodes well for Smith’s fantasy worth.
Poor Cutler and Matt Forte have had to score points with mirrors the past couple seasons in Chicago, thanks in large part to a receiving corps that ran poor routes, dropped catchable balls and struck absolutely no fear into opposing defenses. And this is nothing new for the Bears organization. They have not had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2002.
So Chicago fired the first salvo of the offseason by trading a pair of third-round draft choices to the Miami Dolphins for the troubled (and often treasured) Brandon Marshall. Cutler had the best statistical season of his career playing with Marshall in 2008 when both were members of the Denver Broncos. That year, Cutler threw for a career-high 4,526 yards and tossed 25 touchdown passes, while Marshall caught 104 passes for 1,265 yards.
Marshall is a serious upgrade over Roy Williams, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett. Yes, Marshall drops his own fair share of passes. Yes, he courts so much trouble off the field that Nancy Grace probably has spies watching him.
But Marshall has topped the 1,000-yard mark for five consecutive seasons and has reunited with the quarterback who helped him have his greatest seasons. Both Cutler and Marshall’s fantasy values will benefit from this reunion. And if second-round pick Alshon Jeffery pans out, then Cutler will really be throwing to a receiver gold mine in Chicago.
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Many young quarterbacks take a step back during their third season. Freeman took 114 back. His TD-to-INT ratio went from 25-to-6 in 2010 to 16-to-22 in 2011 in one of the more puzzling predicaments for fantasy owners last year.
So, to help Freeman out, the Buccaneers broke out the big bucks this offseason like they were on a spending spree President Obama would have admired. Their main target was the top wide receiver available, Vincent Jackson, who has three 1,000-yard years and 37 career touchdowns to his credit. The Bucs signed him to a multimillion dollar contract.
Tampa Bay set Freeman up with another nice target this past week when longtime Indianapolis Colts tight end Dallas Clark was signed off the scrap heap. Where Jackson will be able to help Freeman out by catching passes downfield and in the red zone, Clark can assist his new QB on key third downs and over the middle.
Jackson and Clark should also open up areas for former No. 1 WR Mike Williams, who suffered through a sophomore slump last season that saw his production tumble by a couple hundred yards and eight TD from his rookie campaign.
This all adds up to Freeman being able to find more open receivers and having better pass catchers to bail him out when he makes errant throws. Freeman now has a better chance of a 25-6 TD-INT ratio than a 16-22 ratio this upcoming season.