Fantasy Football Stars Who Have Been Hurt by NFL Offseason Moves
This time of year can be quite exciting for NFL fans. Over the past few months, hundreds of players have found new homes via free agency and the draft. Over the next couple of months, these new additions will be integrated into their respective rosters as teams prepare for the coming season.
While this is an invigorating time for fans hoping to see their favorite teams improve, it can be a discouraging time for veteran players who are about to see their roles change significantly. Take Dallas Cowboys running back Darren McFadden, for example. He was the Cowboys' lead back and a 1,000-yard rusher in 2015. Now, he will likely be relegated to a limited role, as Dallas drafted Ezekiel Elliott to be the team's new bell-cow back and added veteran Alfred Morris in free agency.
Naturally, McFadden's fantasy value is about to take a huge hit—and he isn't the only player in this situation. There are numerous other players who were fantasy stars in 2015 and are going to be dramatically affected by the moves made this offseason.
We're going to examine these former fantasy stars now.
Some of the fantasy standouts on today's list will have their value hurt by new roster additions. Others have switched teams themselves and don't appear likely to replicate last year's success in their new homes. Either way, these players should be considered with caution—especially in dynasty and keeper leagues, where retaining players is a big part of the process.
We've already taken a look at McFadden, but all other 2015 fantasy producers are fair game.
Chris Ivory, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Chris Ivory was a surprise fantasy superstar for much of the 2015 season. In his third season with the New York Jets, he finally cracked the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his six-year career. He also logged 30 receptions and scored eight total touchdowns.
Ivory made the move to join the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason, and it is likely to put a damper on his fantasy stock.
In New York, Ivory was the primary ball-carrier. Though backup Bilal Powell was a major asset in the passing game, he only logged 70 carries to Ivory's 247. In Jacksonville, Ivory is likely to share more time with 2015 second-round pick T.J. Yeldon, who logged 182 carries in 12 games last season.
According to Hays Carlyon of the Florida Times-Union, Jaguars general manager David Caldwell admitted earlier this offseason that Ivory and Yeldon would “probably split carries."
This backfield split should keep Ivory fresher on the field, but it isn't going to help his fantasy value.
Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets
We already mentioned that Jets running back Bilal Powell was a large piece of the passing game in 2015. He caught 47 passes last season for 388 yards and two touchdowns to go with his 313 rushing yards. In points-per-reception (PPR) leagues, Powell had tremendous sleeper value.
Unfortunately for Powell, the Jets added veteran running back Matt Forte this offseason, who is himself a capable pass-catcher. In fact, Forte logged 44 receptions in 13 games last season and caught 102 passes the year before.
Forte could very well own the majority of running back work in New York, and that includes on passing downs.
"They see me as an every-down back," Forte said after joining the Jets, per Darryl Slater of NJ.com.
Based on last year's numbers alone, Powell looks like a terrific mid- to late-round target in PPR leagues. However, this won't be the case if Forte emerges as a workhorse running back.
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
In the 13 games before he suffered a season-ending thumb injury, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was one of the more reliable fantasy quarterbacks available.
In those 13 games, he racked up an impressive 3,250 yards, 28 combined touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Pro Football Focus rated Dalton eighth overall among quarterbacks for the 2015 season.
Last year was Dalton's most efficient season by far, but replicating it is going to prove incredibly difficult.
For starters, the Bengals lost receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones in free agency this offseason. Those two represent 1,210 yards and four touchdowns of Dalton's 2015 production. Dalton also lost offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who left this offseason to coach the Cleveland Browns. This means he, along with the Bengals offense, will have to adjust to the schemes created by new coordinator Ken Zampese.
It's safe to assume there will be at least a small adjustment period for Dalton, and it could have a major impact on his efficiency. Dalton committed 28 turnovers in his two seasons under Jackson. In the two seasons before Jackson, Dalton turned the ball over 43 times.
It also isn't going to help that star tight end Tyler Eifert recently underwent ankle surgery, though NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported that his "worst-case scenario is to be out for the first few games."
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos produced a Super Bowl victory in 2015. The team also produced a pair of standout fantasy receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
Thomas hauled in 105 passes for 1,304 yards and six touchdowns in the regular season. Sanders added 76 receptions, 1,135 yards and six scores of his own. The duo managed to deliver whether it was Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler under center.
Unfortunately, neither Manning nor Osweiler will be in Denver this season. Manning retired earlier this offseason, while Osweiler signed with the Houston Texans in free agency.
As a result, Sanders and Thomas are likely looking at either rookie Paxton Lynch or journeyman Mark Sanchez to start the 2016 season. The competition at quarterback is "wide-open," according to Andrew Mason of the Broncos' official website.
Though Manning and Osweiler each had their issues in 2015, the quarterbacks also had chemistry with their receivers—both joined the Broncos in 2012. Sanchez has never established himself as a quality NFL starter, while Lynch is completely unproven. More importantly, both are new to Denver and lack experience with Thomas and Sanders.
Don't be surprised if head coach Gary Kubiak decides to lean heavily on the running game early and often this season while allowing his quarterback to play the game-manager role.
The Broncos may get a quarterback to hit his stride and to develop chemistry with guys like Thomas and Sanders at some point in the 2016 season. However, the passing game could be a struggle early, and Thomas and Sanders are likely to see a significant dip in fantasy value as a result.
Pierre Garcon, WR, Washington Redskins
Washington Redskins wideout Pierre Garcon may not have been an elite fantasy option in 2015, but he was a quality starter—especially in PPR leagues. Garcon finished the year with 72 receptions, 777 yards and six touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Garcon will likely be looking at a reduced role this season. Having a healthy DeSean Jackson on the field—Jackson missed seven games in 2015—will likely cut into Garcon's production, but a bigger threat could be the drafting of first-round rookie Josh Doctson.
Doctson is dealing with a foot injury, but is expected to be fine by training camp. According to Mike Jones of the Washington Post, Washington head coach Jay Gruden expects Doctson to remain sidelined for about a week.
The addition of Doctson means the Redskins are looking at a receiver group comprised of Garcon, Doctson, Jackson and 2015 fourth-round pick Jamison Crowder. Washington also has emerging tight end Jordan Reed, who caught 87 passes for 952 yards last season.
Finding enough footballs to go around could prove extremely difficult this year. It's equally difficult to envision Garcon, or any other Washington wideout, being a PPR star in this deep receiving group.
Gary Barnidge, TE, Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns tight end Gary Barnidge was the surprise veteran in fantasy football last year. After six mostly forgettable seasons in the NFL, Barnidge exploded onto the scene with 79 receptions, 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015.
Barnidge somehow became a must-start fantasy option every single week.
However, Barnidge's production may have as much to do with the state of the receiving corps in Cleveland in 2015 as it does his own growth and talent. Aside from deep-threat receiver Travis Benjamin and running back Duke Johnson, Barnidge was Cleveland's receiving corps in 2015.
According to Pro Football Focus, Barnidge saw 119 targets last season. The only tight end to be thrown at more was Delanie Walker of the Tennessee Titans.
Don't expect Barnidge to see as big a workload in 2016. The Browns drafted a total of five pass-catchers this offseason, including first-round pick Corey Coleman and project tight end Seth DeValve.
We can still expect Barnidge to play a large role in new head coach Hue Jackson' offense—Tyler Eifert produced 615 yards and 13 scores under Jackson last year in Cincinnati. However, an influx of receiving talent and uncertainty at quarterback will likely see Barnidge fall from the ranks of fantasy superstars.
*Update: Andrew Gribble of the Browns' official website reported on Thursday that Barnidge underwent sports hernia surgery, but will be back in time for training camp.
Travis Benjamin, WR, San Deigo Chargers
We already mentioned that Travis Benjamin was one of the only threatening pass-catchers the Browns put on the field last season. The situation Cleveland had at receiver is largely why Benjamin became a breakout fantasy producer.
Benjamin hauled in 68 passes for 966 yards and five touchdowns in 2015. He was also a big producer in leagues that awarded points for long receptions—his six receptions of 40-plus yards were fourth-most in the NFL.
Unfortunately, Benjamin isn't going to be the only receiver Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers can target this season. San Diego has talented guys like Keenan Allen and Steve Johnson at the position. This could lead to a big drop in production for Benjamin, who was often the only Browns wideout to get looks last season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Benjamin saw 116 targets in 2015. This means Benjamin saw more than 36 percent of the balls thrown to a Cleveland wideout. He isn't likely to be targeted nearly as often in San Diego.
Expect Benjamin to still produce a few big plays, but don't expect him to be a go-to target in 2016.
Ben Watson, TE, Baltimore Ravens
Tight end Benjamin Watson had the best season of his 12-year career in 2015. He found an unbelievable amount of chemistry with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and became a surprise fantasy sensation in the process.
For the year, Watson caught 74 passes for 825 yards and six touchdowns.
This offseason, however, Watson joined the Baltimore Ravens. Though the Ravens have their own quality quarterback in Joe Flacco, the move is likely to hurt Watson's fantasy value.
In New Orleans, Watson was essentially the primary pass-catcher at the tight end position. Fellow tight ends Josh Hill and Michael Hoomanawanui combined for just 27 receptions on the year. In Baltimore, Watson will be sharing time with talented tight ends like Crockett Gillmore and 2015 second-round pick Maxx Williams.
Gillmore and Williams combined for 65 receptions in 2015.
In the four years prior to last season, Watson averaged 31 receptions, 318 yards and two touchdowns. His production this season is likely to fall more in line with these numbers than with what we saw in last year.