That is why receivers broke the bank in free agency this offseason, scooping up millions of dollars from teams looking to upgrade their receiving corps. Eric Decker was the top free-agent receiver on the market and signed for multimillions with the New York Jets, but will he have the best fantasy season out of the bunch?
Here are Decker and five other wide receivers who signed with new teams and what they should give fantasy football owners in 2014:
Eric Decker, New York Jets
Decker goes from being a secondary option in Denver to being the main man in New York’s passing offense. Sounds like a plus, right? More targets means more receptions, more yards and more touchdowns, right?
The problem is that Decker also goes from having future first-ballot Hall of Famer Peyton Manning throwing pinpoint passes to him to having Geno Smith throwing passes at his feet, over his head and into the arms of awaiting safeties.
Decker racked up 2,352 receiving yards and 24 touchdown catches with Manning passing to him, but Decker has proven he is not totally useless when he is paired with a subpar quarterback. He had eight touchdown receptions in 2011 when Tim Tebow was his QB for much of the season.
The Jets will probably remain a run-first team until Smith or newly acquired Michael Vick establishes that he can throw passes over 10 yards accurately. And extra opportunities will not translate into a career year for Decker when Manning is not the one throwing the passes, especially when Decker will be facing more double coverage than he has ever faced before.
Projection: 1,010 yards and seven touchdowns.
Steve Smith, Baltimore Ravens
At almost 35 years old, Smith cannot escape double-teams or separate from premier cornerbacks anymore. He needed to be in a situation where he was the second or third option in the passing attack, not the first. The Carolina Panthers did his fantasy value a favor by cutting him.
Smith is not going to have 90-catch, 1,200-yard years in Baltimore like he did during his prime, but having Joe Flacco as his quarterback instead of Cam Newton and having receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta as his running mates instead of Brandon LaFell and Greg Olsen will make Smith’s life easier.
Smith will want to show his old team what a mistake it made by releasing him, so look for him to come out blazing early in the season. But Father Time will slow him down, and Flacco’s penchant for picking Smith and Pitta for passes will keep Smith from being a 1,000-yard guy again. Smith will still be helpful on fantasy rosters as a No. 3 or No. 4 WR, though.
Projection: 845 yards and six touchdowns.
Hakeem Nicks, Indianapolis Colts
Nicks had one of the most interesting seasons in the NFL in 2013. No receiver had more yards without scoring a touchdown in the league. Having this distinction ranks right up there with being the least annoying Real Housewife on the Bravo network.
Even though he entered the campaign as one of the top-20 receivers in fantasy football and only missed one game, Nicks not only did not score but failed to crack the 900-yard mark for the second straight season. He seemed a step slower, so his patented sideline sprint routes ended with incomplete passes instead of 30-year gains like in years past.
Signing with Indianapolis should be a help more than a hindrance to Nicks’ fantasy value. With Andrew Luck as his quarterback and playing his home games indoors rather than at the windy MetLife Stadium, Nicks could really be in for a career turnaround.
The only things standing in Nicks’ way are his brittle body and fellow receivers Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton, who will prevent Nicks from being targeted as often as he was with the Giants. Look for him to have his best season since 2011, but he will still stop short of the 1,000-yard mark.
Projection: 985 yards and six touchdowns.
Brandon LaFell, New England Patriots
LaFell has never been confused with Calvin Johnson. If Johnson is “Megatron”, LaFell is “Mediocretron.”
LaFell has 13 touchdown receptions in four years and has never caught 50 passes or had 700 receiving yards in any season. But those seasons were spent in Carolina. Now he will be in New England with a quarterback who makes all the pass-catchers around him better.
LaFell should find more open space in a high-powered offense where defenses will be more concerned covering Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola in the slot and tight end Rob Gronkowski whenever he returns from his torn ACL. That should open up room on the outside for LaFell, and that Tom Brady guy who quarterbacks the team has a knack for completing passes to open receivers.
The problem is there is no guarantee LaFell will even start. Youngsters Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Tompkins showed flashes of talent in their rookie campaigns last year. Is LaFell an upgrade? Training camp and the preseason will answer the question. If he's not on the field full time, it does not matter how accurate Brady is or how potent is the passing attack.
Projection: 720 yards and five touchdowns.
James Jones, Oakland Raiders
Not having Aaron Rodgers throwing to him is going to severely hamper Jones’ fantasy value this upcoming season. It is like Mario Chalmers not having LeBron James on the Miami Heat to boost his fantasy basketball value.
Jones did not show the nose for the end zone in 2013 that he had in past years. After scoring 14 touchdowns in 2012 he got into the end zone only three measly times last season, although his 814 receiving yards were a career high.
But Jones always had to fight for Rodgers’ attention like the youngest child in a family of 14. He will not have to do that with Oakland. Can anyone even name another Raiders receiver right now? Many may think Darius Heyward-Bey and Jacoby Ford are still there. They are not.
Jones will be targeted more than he ever has in his career. The trouble is Rodgers will not be doing the throwing; Matt Schaub will. While Schaub helped Andre Johnson to some 1,400-yard years in Houston, he is not Rodgers, and Jones is not Johnson.
Projection: 855 yards and seven touchdowns.
Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos
Sanders is going to slip into the Decker role in Denver’s vaunted passing attack, and that right there makes him the luckiest free-agent receiver this offseason. Just like fast food makes a person’s calorie count go up, having Peyton Manning as your quarterback ups a receiver’s fantasy value.
Sanders will have to be patient when it comes to having his number called for pass plays, though. With Wes Welker and the two Thomases, Demaryius and Julius, firmly in front of him on the target chart, Sanders might only see six targets per game.
This is Sanders’ chance to show he is more than just a complementary receiver. If one of the other receivers goes down with a major injury, Sanders could move up in the pecking order and end up being a 1,000-yard receiver for the first time in his career. And even if that does not happen he should set new career bests across the board.
Projection: 835 yards and eight touchdowns.
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