Fantasy Football Stock Report, Early Free Agency Edition
The landscape is shifting in the NFL, as it does every year when free agency rolls around. As a result, the fantasy football realm is being reshaped as well.
Plenty of big and small names have flown the coop—or been forced out, in some cases—affecting their fantasy football stocks and that of those around them.
Which players have seen the biggest fantasy gains and losses as a result of free agency thus far? Click through to find out.
All statistics from Pro Football Reference.
Stock Up: Ben Tate, RB, Cleveland Browns
Fait accompli brought running back Ben Tate to the Cleveland Browns.
The 25-year-old seemed destined to ply his trade on Lake Erie since before the 2013 season even ended. The Browns were the team with the biggest need at the position after trading Trent Richardson away, and Tate was the best young option set to hit the market.
Tate didn't get paid like a top running back option—his two-year, $6.2 million contract is a sign of the devaluation of his position—but he will be the top running back in Cleveland.
Being the lead back is valuable in and of itself in fantasy football, and Tate seems to have the job locked up for the time being. The Browns could certainly add someone else or thrust him in a timeshare with Edwin Baker, who saw time in three games at the end of last season.
Stock Down: Eric Decker, WR, New York Jets
Normally going from second or third banana in an offense full of ripe bananas to being the No. 1 receiver elsewhere would be cause for celebration in the fantasy football realm. But that may not be the case for receiver Eric Decker as he becomes the top option for the New York Jets.
He signed a five-year, $36 million contract, per Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar, who had this to add:
The contract is in line with what other receivers at Decker’s level currently make, but the question is if Decker’s production nosedive as he transitions from catching footballs from Peyton Manning to Geno Smith, or possibly Michael Vick, or whoever the Jets’ quarterback du jour may be? The Broncos set an NFL record with 606 points scored last season, and Manning set his own record with 55 regular-season touchdown passes. There are thoughts that Decker is a number-two receiver whose numbers were inflated by the system he was in. Decker has not yet proven otherwise; now it’s his chance to do so.
New York's offense was abysmal, especially when compared to Denver's. However, part of the reason for that was because they had such a limited pass-catching arsenal. Decker theoretically improves that situation.
Still, Smith is no Manning at quarterback, and Decker's production will likely be far less efficient as a result. Even if he garners a similar target count—he saw 135 last season—it stands to reason they will be lower quality targets.
A dip in fantasy production is in order for Decker, though his stock might crash enough for him to become a bargain in fantasy drafts when August rolls around.
Stock Up: Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
Despite his shortcomings as a NFL quarterback, Matthew Stafford has been a good fantasy football option in recent years. His stock should be on the rise after the first week of free agency.
Normally adding one non-elite player shouldn't be that big of a deal, but that is not the case for Stafford and the Lions.
Receiver Golden Tate made his way over from the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, inking a five-year, $31 million deal to combine powers with Calvin Johnson in a pass-heavy offense, per Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com.
Over the last two seasons in Seattle, Tate has been a part of an offense that ran the ball 52 and 55 percent of the time, respectively. That’s a big change over his first two seasons in Seattle when the offense passed it 56 and 60 percent of the time, respectively.
Yet Tate has seen his catches and yards increase every year, despite the fact the Seahawks offense has steadily gone away from the pass since his arrival in 2010.
That should bode well for the Lions. Tate is coming off a career-high 64 catches for 898 yards.
For the first time since Megatron graced us with his presence in the NFL, the Lions have a bona fide No. 2 receiver, unless Roy Williams counts. Kris Durham was Stafford's No. 2 target last season, and he dropped 12 percent of his targets, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Tate spent the first four years of his career in Seattle, where he got off to a slow start but steadily improved each season.
Tate was the top receiver in a run-first offense last year, and he had his share of big moments for the champion Seahawks. The best part about the deal might be that Tate is a mere 26 years old, about to head into his prime.
As far as Stafford's fantasy stock goes, having someone reliable to throw to besides Johnson will do wonders for him and the offense.
Stock Down: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Not that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was going to be high on many fantasy football lists, but his stock is certainly going nowhere but down this offseason.
The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback is missing two of his top weapons from last season—receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery—after a week of offseason transactions. Now, the Steelers might do something about that in the coming weeks, but Roethlisberger is down to receiver Antonio Brown and aging tight end Heath Miller.
Pittsburgh figures to replace those two with viable alternatives, but for the time being Roethlisberger is losing a combined 103 catches for 1,342 yards and 16 touchdowns—over half his touchdown production.
Stock Up: Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
He is in the same tier of fantasy quarterbacks as Ben Roethlisberger—that is to say, second-rate—but quarterback Joe Flacco's arrow is pointing in the opposite direction.
Flacco was left without two of his top options last year when receiver Anquan Boldin was traded to the San Francisco 49ers and tight end Dennis Pitta went down with a hip injury that knocked him out for most of the year.
Pitta is back on a shiny, new five-year, $32 million contract, per Yahoo Football's Anwar Richardson. Hopefully he can stay healthy this year.
Perhaps more importantly, the Ravens got Flacco some help at wide receiver when they signed longtime Carolina Panther receiver Steve Smith to a three-year, $11.5 million contract, according to Yahoo Football's Eric Edholm.
The grizzled veteran gives Flacco and the Ravens a legitimate No. 1 option, something Torrey Smith proved incapable of being last year. The Smith Bros. should give Flacco a nice combination at receiver.
Stock Down: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
Poor Cam Newton.
At this rate, Carolina's capital quarterback might be throwing to himself this season. The Panthers have not only lost Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn to free agency, but they decided to part ways with veteran Steve Smith.
Now, the Panthers had an opportunity to stem the blood flow from that nasty cut by signing a receiver or two in free agency. Sure, they didn't have much room under that cap to do so, but they could have made a sincere effort.
Instead, the Panthers head into the second week of a dwindling free agency class with a wide receiver corps that has five collective NFL catches. There is still a chance to grab a couple of bargain bin receivers—perhaps Kenny Britt can finally live up to his potential in Carolina, for example—and draft a few, but it doesn't look promising for Newton or his fantasy owners in 2014.
To add injury to insult, news recently broke that Newton would undergo ankle surgery this week, per USA Today's Lindsay Jones:
The team said the surgery will address lingering soreness that Newton has experienced since the Panthers' playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers in January.
"We wanted to see if rest would calm it down, but it is still bothering him and the decision was made to address it," head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion said in a statement.
The team said Newton is expected to be fully recovered from the surgery in four months, a timeline that would have Newton ready for the start of training camp in late July.
Poor Cam Newton. Poor Carolina Panthers.
Stock Up: Rashad Jennings, RB, New York Giants
It was a sad state of affairs in the New York Giants backfield last season, a stable riddled with injuries and a plodding disposition.
As I detailed in a free-agent profile for Jennings after he landed in New York, big things are in store for the running back. That is, of course, if he can stay healthy and the Giants don't add someone that will seriously contend for playing time.
Jennings did well when pressed into the starting gig last season for the Oakland Raiders, and he's going to a better team. His fantasy stock is skyrocketing as we speak.
Stock Down: Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers
It was the stealthiest of 1,200-yard seasons for San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews last year. The four-year veteran bucked his critics—particularly those like yours truly who didn't think he could make it through the entire season—to turn in a fine year.
The Chargers have so much faith in Mathews that they signed Donald Brown away from the Indianapolis Colts. That puts Mathews in a three-way timeshare with Brown and Danny Woodhead, who figures to be the pass-catching back he has been throughout his career.
It's difficult to believe the Chargers handed out one of the top running back contracts to Brown to have him be strictly a backup. Brown signed in San Diego so that he would be a part of a "three-headed monster," per Michael Gehlken of UTSanDiego.com.
That might be good for the Chargers, but bad for the fantasy prospects of all three in that backfield, particularly Mathews.
Stock Up: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Thanks to injuries, last season ended with the Indianapolis Colts featuring Griff Whalen, Lavon Brazill and Da'Rick Rogers alongside the electric T.Y. Hilton. While there is some potential in that group, it was a rather underwhelming arsenal for quarterback Andrew Luck.
The Colts have done something to improve that situation, and it could prove to be a huge addition if it pans out. Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star writes that Hakeem Nicks signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal to come play with Luck—one of the quarterback he specifically targeted at the beginning of free agency—and bolster that group of receivers.
With Luck presumably getting Reggie Wayne and tight end Dwayne Allen back from injury, his group of pass-catchers is suddenly looking robust.
We have already seen how explosive Hilton is, and Wayne is as reliable as they come, even at 35 years old. Nicks always had big potential but was hampered by injuries in New York. That was the case until last season, however, when Nicks was healthy bit simply unimpressive.
If Nicks can turn it around, Luck will have a host of talented receivers at his disposal.
Stock Down: Danny Amendola, WR, New England Patriots
First came the rumors the New England Patriots might cut wide receiver Danny Amendola after one season despite the fact it wouldn't save them any money this year. Those rumors proved overblown, but the Patriots haven't sat on their hands, either.
New England brought back Julian Edelman on a four-year deal, per ESPN's Field Yates—a predictable move. Edelman was already eating into Amendola's fantasy value last year when he became a favorite target for quarterback Tom Brady after Amendola was injured early, amassing 105 catches for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns.
The Patriots then added Brandon LaFell on a three-year contract, according to NESN's Doug Kyed. LaFell hasn't had a spectacular career thus far—he had his best year in 2013 when he caught 49 passes for 627 yards and five touchdowns—but he is a solid secondary receiver who will further eat into Amendola's playing time.
Then there is the fact tight end Rob Gronkowski should be back—and hopefully stay healthy this year—along with the pass-catching prowess of running back Shane Vereen. If everyone stays healthy, Amendola might be fourth or fifth in line for targets, putting his fantasy stock into the tank.
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