Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Don't Swallow the (Salary) Cap, 2015 Edition

In my "Way Too Early" rankings article in February, I gave you some key dates to keep an eye on in the coming months.  The first of these was March 10th (the start of free agency).

This is what I said then:
Both of these guys will be in different uniforms in 2015...
"While I don't think DeMarco Murray and Adrian Peterson will end up with anyone other than the Cowboys and Vikings (respectively), it could happen.  And there are other RBs like Mark Ingram and CJ Spiller who I think WILL be elsewhere....It sure seems like Randall Cobb or Jeremy Maclin could end up donning different uniforms in 2015.  And just think what that would do for the value of Davante Adams/Jordan Mathews..."

After a mere 48 hours into the free agency period, teams were making deals left and right.  It was unlike any start to free agency I could remember.  Adrian Peterson may still end up in Minnesota, but he might not.  As for DeMarco Murray, he landed in Philly within like 24 hours of the Eagles signing Ryan Mathews I believe.  And while Randall Cobb re-signed with the Packers, Jeremy Maclin is heading home to Missouri to play for the Chiefs.  Things have settled down a bit now, but there are still a few players out there who will likely land with new squads.  The draft is still over a month away (April 30th), but teams will continue to put some pieces together between now and then.

Anyway, let's talk about the guys who are moving around in free agency and what that could mean for their fantasy value.  Not only that, but with someone leaving a team or joining a new one, we need to consider the impact to other players on both of those teams.  Last year in this article, I gave you names like Golden Tate (STOCK UP with his move to Detroit) and Eric Decker (STOCK DOWN leaving Peyton Manning for the Jets).  This isn't a 100% complete list of free agent signings, but it should give you a pretty complete list of fantasy-relevant guys in 2015.  And it doesn't include defenses, but the Patriots lost some key pieces and the Dolphins gained some big ones (literally, as in the case of Suh).

First, let me list the guys who I feel remain relatively unchanged (whether they switched teams or not).

UNCHANGED (with new teams) DeMarco Murray, LeSean McCoy, Brandon Marshall, Mike Wallace, Jordan Cameron, Charles Clay, Trent Richardson, DeAngelo Williams, Roy Helu, Bernard Pierce, Percy Harvin, Cecil Shorts, Kenny Stills, Dwayne Bowe, Stevie Johnson, Harry Douglas, Brian Hartline, Eddie Royal, Brian Hoyer

UNCHANGED (stayed with current teams) Randall Cobb, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Justin Forsett, Greg Olsen, Kenny Britt, Marques Colston, Mark Sanchez

Sure, you could argue that the value of McCoy or Marshall is slightly down.  But I'd only consider lowering either maybe a spot or two at their positions.  That's negligible to me.  And before you trash the Jets, just remember that Marshall has produced wherever he has played.  As for Murray, he was already the best RB in the league in 2014.  Maybe he'll be even better in that offense.  Maybe Chip Kelly will actually spread the ball around a little more.  There is just too much unknown there for now.  But again, I'm not moving DeMarco around drastically in my rankings either.

STOCK UP Darren McFadden to Dallas
With that being said, let's start with someone who will try to fill some pretty big shoes in Dallas with DeMarco Murray gone.  I'm not sure McFadden can still fill them, but he'll have a shot and will be behind one of the best offensive lines in the league if he can make the squad and stay healthy.  Either way, I think his stock is definitely up from being behind Latavius Murray on the depth chart in Oakland to having a legitimate opportunity to win the starting role for the Cowboys.  Of course we'll see what happens next month, as I have a feeling Dallas might try to make a splash in the draft with someone like Melvin Gordon...

STOCK DOWN Jimmy Graham to Seattle and Julius Thomas to Jacksonville
There's no denying what Russell Wilson and the Seahawks have done in the win column, but they haven't exactly been doing it with their aerial attack.  Graham goes from being the #1 target in a high octane Drew Brees offense to probably the #3 or 4 option in a run-first scheme.  I'm sure he'll still get some redzone touchdowns, but I don't expect elite numbers from him with the move.  As for Julius Thomas, he's leaving an elite QB/offense for a ton of cash and to play with 2nd-year QB Blake Bortles in one of the league's most stagnant offenses.  I think he'll fade out of the top-10 fantasy TEs in 2015.

STOCK UP Sam Bradford to Philadelphia
I'm not sure how I feel about Nick Foles in St. Louis (stock up/stock down), but I DO know how I feel about Bradford now in Philly.  No one runs more offensive plays than the Eagles, and they've ranked near the top in most offensive categories since Chip Kelly's arrival.  I'd like to see Philly add another WR either in the draft or free agency, but I don't think it matters much in that scheme.  Bradford definitely gets a fantasy upgrade with the move to the city of brotherly love.

STOCK DOWN Ryan Mathews to Philadelphia
Let's stay in Philly and talk about Ryan Mathews.  This was looking more like "STOCK UP" until the Eagles signed DeMarco, what with the whole high-powered offense and all.  And while I think Mathews still has some value because of that offense, let's be real here.  Mathews was "the guy" in San Diego.  Now he's more of a complementary piece.  If you draft DeMarco Murray, you're probably going to want to also draft Mathews if the price tag isn't too high.  I can't think of a better handcuff in the league right now, and he's actually a little more than that if both are healthy.  As for Sproles, I doubt he'll be drafted in many leagues now.  There aren't THAT many touches to go around, even in Philly.  As for the RB situation that remains in San Diego?  If it stays more or less as it is now, it's tough to rank their RBs...but I'd probably go with the following: Donald Brown, Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver.  If the Chargers decide to get rid of Donald Brown though, I could easily see Branden Oliver being the #1 fantasy running back in San Diego.

STOCK UP Owen Daniels to Denver
I think I read that Daniels hasn't played a snap in the NFL that wasn't under Gary Kubiak in some capacity.  Now he's following him from Baltimore to Denver, and he'll have Peyton Manning throwing to him for at least 2015.  I don't see Owen putting up numbers like Orange Julius, but I think he could still have a career year.  If nothing else, he's likely to set a career high in TDs (his current best was 6 in 2012).  I think a healthy Daniels in Denver could produce 700+ receiving yards and 8 TDs.

STOCK DOWN Torrey Smith to San Francisco
Speaking of former Ravens, there seem to be a lot of them again this offseason (and my wife is NOT happy).  Torrey is a guy I like a lot both on and off the field, but I think his fantasy stock goes down with the move out west.  He had a bit of a down year in 2014, but his touchdown total actually ended up being a career high (11).  He'll be reunited with Boldin, but I'm guessing Crabtree will end up elsewhere.  Either way, I think he'll struggle a bit while being in a new environment with a new offense.  And if the 49ers actually DO re-sign Crabtree, then his stock falls even more.  As for the WRs still in Baltimore, I guess Steve Smith's stock stays pretty high...and should actually even go up.  We'll see if Marlon Brown's stock goes up or if Baltimore will actually draft a WR somewhere in round 3 or 4 (as I'm sure the first two rounds will be reserved for defense).

STOCK UP Frank Gore to Indianapolis
The writing was on the walls for the Carlos Hyde era to begin in San Fran, so I feel like this move keeps Gore's stock higher than it would have been in the bay area.  He'll have every opportunity to be the main running back in one of the best offenses in the league.  This obviously hurts Ahmad Bradshaw and Dan Herron in Indy, but Carlos Hyde gets a huge boost in fantasy value with the departure of Gore.  I also think new 49er addition Reggie Bush (who was signed to just a one year contract) has his stock falling.  I don't think he'll have much impact, as Hyde should be the bell cow for San Francisco and Bush will continue to see a decreased workload.

Maclin's happy, but fantasy owners won't be.
STOCK DOWN Jeremy Maclin to Kansas City
I mean, going from Chip Kelly's offense to the place where fantasy WRs go to die.  It couldn't be much worse for Maclin fantasy owners, but at least in reality it's a homecoming for Jeremy.  The real winners are those still in Philly...Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz!  I think Matthews gets an instant boost in fantasy value, and Ertz continues to get that speculative boost.  Many people though Ertz would break out in 2014, but now it's even more likely he does so in 2015...

STOCK UP Mark Ingram re-signing with New Orleans and CJ Spiller to New Orleans
The Saints let Pierre Thomas and Travaris Cadet go, and they re-signed Ingram to a 4-year $16 million deal.  They also signed Spiller to a 4-year deal worth $18 million.  I have no doubt that Sean Payton will utilize Spiller better Marrone did in Buffalo.  Of course health is always an issue with CJ, so Khiry Robinson remains a decent handcuff.  I just feel like his value is only there in the event of an injury to Ingram or Spiller.  As for Cadet, don't forget about this move.  He landed in New England and could be Shane Vereen's replacement...

STOCK DOWN Shane Vereen to the Giants
I'm all about the segues in this article, and I'll also be all about lowering ALL running backs for the G-Men now.  It's getting crowded back there with Jennings, Williams, and now Vereen.  I'm sure they'll all get used in some capacity, but it's hard to say how the split will be at this point in time.  I might be staying away from this 3-headed monster when it comes to my fantasy draft.

STOCK UP Andre Johnson to the Colts
In terms of yards/catch, touchdowns/game, or pretty much any other category...Andre Johnson had his worst season in ten years in 2014.  It was clear that DeAndre Hopkins had emerged as the #1 WR in Houston, and his stock probably only goes up now that Johnson is no longer there.  That being said, I think the old guy still has a little left in the tank.  He'll be turning 34 in July, but he'll also have Andrew Luck now throwing the ball his way for the next three years.  TY Hilton will likely still be the #1 WR for the Colts, but I think Johnson could get back to 1000+ yards receiving and could haul in 7 or 8 TDs as well.  As for Donte Moncrief, you can likely forget about him for your 2015 fantasy draft.  And seeing as how the Colts have forgotten about Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks, I'm guessing the same will be said for them as well.

STOCK UP Antone Smith re-signing with the Falcons
Pardon the pun, but don't let this one fly under your radar.  As of right now, Smith is the only other running back Atlanta has on their roster other than Devonta Freeman (who will be entering just his second year in the league).  OK, I think technically they signed Jerome Smith off their practice squad at the end of last year, but I'm not counting him...at least for now.  If you paid attention in 2014, you may recall Antone Smith having several weeks of fantasy relevancy.  You may also recall he was impossible to play because he only touched the ball like 3 times a game.  But when he did, he made BIG plays and found the endzone.  If the Falcons don't re-sign Jacquizz Rodgers, bring in a free agent RB, or get one in the draft...?  Keep an eye on Antone Smith!

Here are a few more guys who may end up on different rosters in the coming weeks:

Stevan Ridley
Pierre Thomas
Chris Johnson
Steven Jackson
Ahmad Bradshaw
Jacquizz Rodgers
Knowshon Moreno
Ben Tate
Adrian Peterson (not a free agent, but still belongs on the watch list)

Michael Crabtree
Denarius Moore
Greg Jennings
Reggie Wayne
Wes Welker
Nate Washington
Hakeem Nicks

None to speak of, unless you count guys like Michael Vick or Jermaine Gresham

Stay tuned for an updated top-168 rankings in the weeks to come...