Over the past few days, a number of highly sought after signees inked exorbitant deals. Suffice it to say, in a league fixated on the pass, it's good being a wide receiver ($32.5 million to Laurent Robinson? Really Jacksonville? Really?). However, wideouts aren't the only ones that benefited greatly. From a fantasy perspective, here are six of the biggest winners so far in the mad free agency dash.
Robert Meachem, WR
Former Team: New Orleans
New Team: San Diego
Fantasy Spin: For most, leaving arguably the NFL's most prolific passing attack for anyone would be a rather substantial downgrade, but the former Saint's virtual value actually improves. In 'Nawlins, Meachem was merely a number on Drew Brees' constantly spinning roulette wheel. He was deployed almost exclusively as a streak receiver, averaging under four targets per game per year since 2009. But, assuming Malcom Floyd moves on, it appears the fleet-footed vet is destined to receive a significant uptick in targets. Norv Turner has confidence Meachem can become "a complete receiver." At this point, he deserves an upper-tiered WR3 label in 12-team leagues. If he emerges as the main man in the post-Jackson era, which seems likely, it's conceivable he finishes inside the top-20 at his position. Remember, Philip Rivers has averaged above 33 attempts per game in consecutive seasons. And Dr. Scholls would have a hard time fixing Antonio Gates' constantly throbbing feet.
Josh Freeman, QB
Current Team: Tampa Bay
New Toy: Vincent Jackson
Fantasy Spin: Last season, The Fro experienced a sophomore slump a year late. Rarely mistake-prone in 2010, he did his best Rex Grossman impersonation in 2011, coughing up the pill 27 times (22 INTs, 5 FLs). Interestingly, his flaws masked improvements in other key categories. His completion percentage rose from 61.4 to 62.8 while his passing yards per game increased from 215.7 to 239.5. He also contributed nicely via the ground, rushing for 238 yards and four touchdowns. An exploitable offensive line, inconsistent ground game and regression of No. 1 Mike Williams were the primary reasons for the backward step. But now with one of the game's premier downfield weapons on roster and a remastered O-line — the addition of guard Carl Nicks was huge — the passer should revert to '11 form. Come August, Freeman, the 15th-best QB in virtual pigskin a year ago, is deserving of QB1 consideration in 12-teamers.
Brandon Lloyd, WR
Former Team: St. Louis
New Team: New England
Fantasy Spin: Lloyd and Josh McDaniels are attached at the hip. The pair first teamed up in Denver where the well-traveled wideout flourished under the coach's direction, totaling career bests in receptions (77), receiving yards (1,448) and touchdowns (11). Though Lloyd failed to replicate that success in St. Louis, understandable when A.J. Feeley and Kellen Clemens were throwing him wounded ducks, he could undergo yet another career revival, this time in New England. Tom Brady hasn't had a viable long-distance weapon since Randy Moss' heyday. Lloyd, despite being on the wrong side of 30, fits the deep void perfectly, and then some. He's the playmaker Chad Ochocinco was expected to be. And, most importantly, he has a full grasp of McDaniels' system. With Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez on roster, touchdowns will likely be few and far between for the vagabond. But because of the Pats' pass-heavy demeanor, he has 60-1000-7 potential. Cast him as a borderline WR2/3 in 12-team leagues.
Former Team: Baylor
New Team: Washington (expected)
Fantasy Spin: Prior to 2011, conventional wisdom always warned owners about the perils of inexperience. "Thou shall not draft a rookie QB" was a commandment carved in stone. But Cam Newton's inaugural campaign rewrote the rulebook. Griffin and, to a lesser extent Andrew Luck, are worth weighing as QB1s in deeper formats. The reigning Heisman winner, in particular, is highly desirable. His remarkable accuracy, foot-speed, athleticism and Elway-esque smarts represent everything a team is looking for in a franchise quarterback. Even though he's yet to sign on the dotted line, the 'Skins have already provided him with a nourishing environment. After selling an arm, leg and kidney in draft picks to lock him up they should. With Pierre Garcon now in tow, Mike Shanahan has a nice bevy of offensive weapons, including Jabar Gaffney, Roy Helu and underrated tight end Fred Davis. Josh Morgan could also surprise in his new digs. Griffin is unproven, but, mark the Noise's words, the projected mid-round fantasy pick will turn a sizable profit, possibly finishing inside the QB top-10, Cam Newton Part II.
Peyton Hillis, RB
Former Team: Cleveland
New Team: Kansas City
Fantasy Spin: Cursed a season ago, the Madden 2012 coverboy suffered through myriad injuries and a contract dispute that proved to be a major locker-room distraction. Even when Hillis was healthy and focused the Browns' disjointed offense did him no favors. His dramatic 6.2 points per game decline turned him into wasted space. However, his brief revival during the fantasy playoffs showed he wasn't a one-year wonder. Though it's highly unlikely he'll reclaim RB1 value, he could produce quality FLEX numbers in deeper formats. The brutish back should thrive as the thunder to Jamaal Charles' lightning. The coaching regime may be different, but it's quite possible this year's KC backfield will greatly resemble 2010's, when the JC of KC and Thomas Jones both finished inside the RB top-30. Because of his versatility and short-yardage muscle, he could finish in range of 1,000 total yards with 6-8 TDs, a Mike Tolbert-type. Don't immediately write him off come draft season.
Doug Baldwin, WR
Current Team: Seattle
New QB: Matt Flynn
Fantasy Spin: If one-game wonder, Flynn, percolates in the Starbucks City, the object of Brandon Funston's affection could soon be loved by all. Sidney Rice, recovering slowly from two major shoulder surgeries and a string of concussions, may not be fully healed in time for the start of training camp making him a possible PUP candidate. Even if he recuperates in time, Baldwin could become the apple of Flynn's eye. Last year as a rookie, the undrafted Stanford product was one of the season's biggest surprises hauling in 51 passes for 788 yards and four touchdowns. And that was with Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst under center. The jury is still out on Flynn, but he understands and has shown brilliant flashes in a similar West Coast brand, granted with superior surrounding talent. Still, if he transitions seamlessly and Rice isn't available Week 1, the route savvy Baldwin could storm out of the gates. Consider him a strong breakout candidate in 2012.
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- Robert Meachem