• For more fantasy football analysis from John Hansen, visit FantasyGuru.com
It’s been a very busy offseason of free agency, and we've reached a point that the number of truly impactful free agents still on the street is very low. There are no viable starters at this point at QB, and Ahmad Bradshaw is really the only truly intriguing name left at RB. Receiver would have been almost completely dried up, but veteran Brandon Lloyd was released, so he’s now available to sign with any team. At TE, if we’re talking about legit fantasy prospects, then we’re really only talking about Fred Davis, who is coming off an Achilles injury. We also still have a good number of high-end restricted free agents, but RFAs rarely change teams, so we won’t see much action there.
There will still be some fairly interesting signings to come, but some of the moves may not go down until we’re as deep into the league year as June or July. So really, at this point, we’ve seen almost all the notable skill player movement we’ll see this year, so it’s time to break it down.
In looking back at all the skill players who changed teams last year, the number of options who truly made a significant fantasy impact was low. We’re talking only three guys in terms of making a major impact: Peyton Manning, Brandon Marshall, and Vincent Jackson. After that, cases could be made for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Brandon Lloyd, and Martellus Bennett, so as you can see we’re already reaching a bit for impactful performances from those who switched teams last year. Washington’s Pierre Garcon was a good bet to put up excellent numbers for the whole season had he not been injured in Week 1, but overall the lesson learned from last year was to not get too excited about players who change teams. However, this year’s group is definitely better than last year, and it looks like up to 10 players will make a significant fantasy splash this coming season. So for the purposes of this offseason e-mail report, we’ve narrowed this year’s movement to the top-10 moves to date. We’ve attempted to consider many factors in term of the rankings, so we’re not focusing solely on the individual player’s fantasy impact but also the impacts of those around him who are affected by his movement.
1. Percy Harvin (Traded to Seattle from Minnesota)
Fantasy Analysis: With obvious discontent in Minnesota, the relationship between Harvin and the Vikings was apparently beyond repair after an injury-shortened 2012 season. In Week 9, Harvin dealt with hamstring and ankle issues, which would force him from the game multiple times. It would be his final appearance for the Vikings, as they put him on the injured reserve about a month later. Through the first nine weeks of the season, Harvin was considered an MVP candidate, thanks to his versatile play as a receiver, runner, and return man. At the time of his injury, Harvin was 11th among WRs with 11.3 FPG, thanks to 62/677/3 on 85 targets and 22/96/1 on the ground. Going into Week 9, through half the season, he was on a pace for 120 catches. He also added value to the Viking D/ST and in return-yardage leagues with 574 yards and a score on 16 returns, for a whopping 35.9 yards per return. While Harvin dealt with various injuries in his three previous seasons, including bouts with migraines, he’d missed only three games over that span before missing the final seven of 2012.
Harvin joins a Seahawks team that had a lot of success in 2012 on the shoulders of RB Marshawn Lynch, but also due to the great play of rookie QB Russell Wilson. We’ve seen the Seahawks roll Wilson out to take their shots down the field to guys like WRs Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, so we’d expect more of the same with Harvin. Plus, Wilson became even more effective down the stretch when the read option was introduced, and with Harvin’s ability to work out of the backfield, it should add another explosive element that will be very tough for defenses to handle. This move is certainly good news for Wilson’s fantasy value. If there was still doubt as to whether or not Wilson was a viable fantasy starter in a 12-team league, that doubt should be gone now. Clearly, despite his lack of ideal height, Wilson will be able to get Harvin the ball all over the field due to his movement and ability to see the whole field. We also have to believe the presence of Harvin will help Lynch as well, since the offense will be one that should severely test defenses due to the QB and Harvin’s movement and versatility. We’re certainly excited about Harvin’s prospects in this offense, but it is fair to temper expectations since the Seahawks attempted the fewest passes in the NFL last season and primarily relied on Lynch to carry the offense.
Now that he’s got his big money, and is away from QB Christian Ponder (one of Harvin’s apparent beefs with Minnesota), let’s hope he explodes. But heading into 2013, we’ll have to consider Harvin as only a No. 2 fantasy WR. But he’s one with real upside at this early stage (obviously higher in a PPR), depending on what the team decides to do with their other receivers, like Rice (who might be cut due to his salary). We have to remember that none of their current receivers had even 50 catches last season, while Harvin had 62 in nine games with a lesser quarterback. He’s someone head coach Pete Carroll coveted dating all the way back to his time at USC (he tried to recruit Harvin there), and Harvin played for Seahawks OC Darrell Bevell for two seasons from 2009-2010, so it’s clear the Seahawks have big plans for Harvin and the wherewithal to take advantage of his unique skills and dynamic versatility.
2. Wes Welker (Signed by Denver from New England)
Fantasy Analysis: While Welker’s fantasy value will drop based on this move, the ramifications for his QB and Denver’s other receivers – not to mention some key players in New England – is significant. Over the years, we’ve learned that if something seems too good to be true in the NFL, it usually is. Welker in Denver definitely seems too good to be true, but in this rare case, it probably isn’t. QB Peyton Manning is widely regarded as one of the hardest-working players in league history, and Welker’s preparation and professionalism are also stellar, so this marriage can’t fail. Manning obviously excels throwing the ball inside the numbers, and he can make a fantasy star out of a no-name slot receiver, as he essentially did with Austin Collie in 2009 and 2010.
In Welker, Manning now has the most prolific slot receiver in league history on his side and a player who’s averaged a mind-numbing 112 receptions per season his last six seasons. Welker is a very intuitive player from the slot, and given the two work ethics involved, the pair should quickly develop great timing. Welker’s role won’t likely be as expansive in Denver as it’s been in New England, but we can be sure to see more action from the slot in Denver this year, and Brandon Stokley was certainly a factor in 2012 with 57 targets and 45 catches (an impressive 80% catch rate). Stokley had only 5 red-zone pass targets, according to our numbers, but he still caught 5 TD passes and seemed to be a big factor when Peyton badly needed someone to make a play. Welker hasn’t been a big TD guy over the years, but it’s not like he doesn’t get red zone targets. He’s been averaging about 20 a season in New England, and that’s not too far off from Demaryius Thomas (21) and Eric Decker (25, tops in the league) in 2012.
It’s going to take some time to sort through the ramifications of this epic acquisition, but the obvious benefactor is Manning. Manning completed 68.6% of his passes last year after a year layoff and on a new team, so we have to think he'll be over 70 percent now for the season. Even though it was very high at 7.99 last year, you also have to assume his pass attempts will go up as will his yards per attempt (Welker led the NFL in YAC last year, with 619 yards). Even with just slight upgrades in attempts, completion percentage, and YPA, Manning’s numbers seem to be headed north of 5000 yards passing and 40 TDs.
There should be fewer targets for Thomas and Decker, but it’s Decker who seems to be hurt more by the Welker pickup. Thomas is a gifted specimen who is nearly unstoppable on bubble screens and in the red zone, whereas Decker at times seemed to lose some looks inside and in the red zone to Stokley. There’s a lot of production to go around, but Welker is going to spread it among three players much more than it was last year. As for the Bronco TEs, with Joel Dreessen always seemingly involved (including last year), top guy Jacob Tamme seems much less appealing. Despite the admission by Manning that Tamme was a guy who dictated how defenses played Denver, Tamme was still a mediocre fantasy performer. Welker should now be that guy that Tamme was, that movable chess piece.
Obviously, the Broncos will still run the ball, but right now their pecking order at tailback is still a little unsettled. For now, Willis McGahee is still on the roster and should be this summer, and Ronnie Hillman’s role should increase. The hardest player to handicap here is Welker himself. Last year, Stokley had only 57 targets to Welker’s 173. If you doubled Stokley’s targets from 2012 for Welker in 2013, that gives him only 114. Even at a crazy catch rate of 80 percent, that’s still “only” 91 catches. Welker was actually at just under 70 percent last year, which would put him at 79 catches. That seems high, but it does seem possible with Manning pulling the trigger. At 12.0 YPC, that’s about 950 yards. So unless Welker surprises with 8-9 TDs, which is certainly possible, he could be an average option in a non-PPR league. As great as this signing is for Manning and Denver’s offense, it’s impossible to dispute that Welker’s value has taken a hit.
3. Reggie Bush (Signed by Detroit from Miami)
Fantasy Analysis: While Bush has done a solid job the last two years proving he can be a legitimate “lead” back with 225 carries per season on average, the real key to his fantasy value in Detroit could be whether or not you’re in a PPR league. Bush will likely be handed the “starting” job for the Lions, but Detroit is still fairly committed to Mikel Leshoure, who was very effective as a goal-line back in 2012. If Leshoure can regain some of the explosiveness that was missing in 2012, another year removed from his Achilles injury, there should be an active role for him as their power runner/closer as well as their short-yardage and goal-line back. Leshoure scored a TD in five of their last seven games, and he had a very high TD conversion rate on his goal-line carries this past year. So while Bush should be a lock for 15-plus touches per game, he might not score a lot of TDs, since the Lions do like to run inside the 5, and last year they liked to run it with Leshoure.
It’s also worth noting that Bush did seem to regress as a runner last year, as he wasn’t as decisive and seemed to lose some patience while attempting to bust too many runs outside. So ironically, while the Lions have failed to have a legit base running attack for years, we’re not sure they will now with Bush in the fold. However, what they have on the roster now is a versatile weapon who will clearly give their offense a big boost. Bush had only 78/588/3 receiving in 31 games as a Dolphin, an average of only 2.5 receptions and 18.9 receiving yards per game. That’s after posting 295/2148/12 in 60 games as a Saint, an average of 4.9 receptions and 35.8 yards per game. We have to think his role will shift more toward being a jack-of-all-trades in Detroit, and, most important, a very active receiver. Detroit RBs totaled 98 receptions in 2012 (led by the surprising Joique Bell, who had 52 catches), and since this is an offense that indisputably throws the ball a ton – QB Matthew Stafford put the ball up an obscene 727 times last year – Bush’s reception totals should be soaring.
If Bush is relatively healthy, about 200 carries should be a low-end projection, with slightly more than 4 catches per game on average also being a conservative estimate. At slightly more than his 2012 YPC average of 4.3 YPC (he averaged 5.1 in 2011), 200 carries would give Bush around 900 rushing yards. With 65-70 catches almost a certainty if Bush doesn’t miss a lot of time, Bush would likely end up with roughly 475-500 receiving yards -- 1400 total yards and 5-6 TDs would have placed him around 15th at RB, which is almost exactly where he finished in 2012. However, if you added 65-70 points for each reception, that would slot him as a top-10 back in a PPR league.
Injuries are still a concern for Bush, but he’s surprisingly been more durable the last two years with a larger role. He appears to be a lot safer pick in PPR on the Lions. If you’re not in a PPR league, you’ll be relying on his ability to score TDs, and that could be a tricky proposition on this team and based on the fact that he’s never scored more than 8 TDs total in a season or more than 6 rushing scores in a season. It would be risky to consider him a No. 1 RB in any format, but he could easily produce as one in a PPR. As for Leshoure, his value tumbles from being a viable flex starter in any format, to a depth player.
4. Steven Jackson (Signed by Atlanta from St. Louis)
Fantasy Analysis: This is one of those fits that made just too much sense, and it’s good to see it happen. The Falcons will replace the plodding Michael Turner with Jackson, who absolutely gives them more juice at the position, even though Jackson’s lost some himself. Last year showed that Jackson still has plenty in the tank. Jackson, who will turn 30 in July, reached 1000 yards for the eighth consecutive season. He finished with 1042 yards and 4 TDs on 257 attempts, and he added 38 catches for 321 yards. He may not be as dynamic as he once was, but he still runs extremely hard, and he’s still productive. He’ll also contribute much more as a receiver to the Falcons than Turner ever did. The Rams attempted to save Jackson a bit for the end of the year by cutting down on his snaps earlier in the 2012 season. The Falcons can do the same with Jacquizz Rodgers. While this signing all but confirms what we knew already in that Rodgers blew his chance to earn more of a full-time role in 2012, he’s still a solid rotational guy. But if anything, his role probably decreases given Jackson’s solid receiving ability, and it certainly won’t increase much more than the 147 offensive touches he had last season.
As for Jackson, he gives the Falcons a strong short-yardage runner who still can do much more than that, unlike Turner. Although he’s done it only once in his career (2006), it wouldn’t be out of the question to see Jackson score double-digit rushing TDs if he gets the same opportunities Turner got. This is a far better offense than Jackson has really ever played in, and that alone should increase his scoring opportunities. Remember, he’s had only 19 rushing TDs over the last four seasons combined, an average of fewer than 5 per year. It’s not exactly going out on a limb to say that will go up in 2013. His yards per carry could be on the rise, as well. While the sluggish Turner did fall to only 3.6 YPC in 2012, he was at a healthy 4.5 clip just one year earlier. With one of the best downfield passing games in the league, as well as the best WR tandem in the league in Julio Jones and Roddy White, Jackson will finally get some chances to run on defenses that are not stacking the box to stop him, so we should see his YPC bumping back up to the 4.4-4.5 range. So really, Jackson’s ability to stay on the field is by far the biggest question. He’s absorbed a lot of hits, but Jackson’s been able to play in 62 of 64 possible games the last four years, so he’s actually been very durable. All things considered, a top-12 finish is within reach for Jackson, but he would be a very good choice as a No. 2 RB.
5. Danny Amendola (Signed by New England from St. Louis)
Fantasy Analysis: The comparison between Amendola and Wes Welker may seem lazy, but it just so happens to be accurate, and it’s clear the Patriots saw it as legit, given that they locked up Amendola hours after Welker bolted for Denver. And it’s a bigger deal than the one Welker received in Denver in terms of years and average annual value, so it’s entirely likely the Pats were simply ready to move on to a younger option. Amendola has shown that he can be a really good NFL wide receiver when he can stay on the field. The “staying on the field” part has proven to be a huge problem, though, as Amendola struggled with injuries all year long in 2012, and has throughout his career, most likely due to his reckless playing style with relation to his small stature. Amendola missed five games and was limited in three other games because of foot and collarbone injuries in 2012. He still posted 63 catches (63.6% catch rate) for 666 yards for the second-highest totals of his career. Amendola added 3 TDs to finish 36th among WRs this year 7.8 FPG. But he has now missed 20 of a possible 32 games over the last two seasons, and Amendola seems to always be playing through an injury when he is on the field.
Amendola proved by far to be Sam Bradford’s favorite target, posting seven games with at least 5 catches, including games with 11 and 15 catches, which is a ridiculous total. Amendola this past year evolved into being more than a slot receiver, and he played significant snaps on the outside in 2012, with success. So he’s a little more versatile than Welker, but still an easy fit into the Welker role with the Patriots. It’s tempting to just transfer a regular Welker projection to Amendola, but we have to consider the durability factor, and Amendola may not be quite as good after the catch and in this particular offense. The good news is that Tom Brady will ease the transition period, and Amendola is familiar with Josh McDaniels’ offensive system from their time together with the Rams, although Amendola played only one game that year (2011) due to his nasty dislocated elbow injury. To be certain, if he can manage to play 15-16 games, Amendola could absolutely nab triple digits in catches this year. Amendola caught 85 passes in 2010, his last healthy year, and he did that with a rookie QB in Bradford. That season, he also finished second to Larry Fitzgerald with 24 red-zone targets. We’d also expect his yards per catch, less than 9.0 in St. Louis, to rise a bit with the Pats simply because he’ll get better QB play and will be running routes on the field with two pro bowl caliber TEs. He can work inside and outside, he’s effective in the red zone, he’s fantastic with subtle moves, and he’s tough as nails, despite a small frame. Sound like anyone else you know?
The Patriots will absolutely continue to build their passing offense around TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. But remember, those guys aren’t exactly Cal Ripken Jr. clones, either. If Amendola can stay on the field, a top-10 PPR finish isn’t out of the question, and it might be expected. To be safe, he’s probably in the 15-20 range, accounting for the dings and dents he’s sure to deal with and a conservative estimate of two games missed. Given the upside, we’d certainly be willing to roll with him as a No. 2 in a PPR, and a No. 3 in a non-PPR.
6. Greg Jennings (Signed by Minnesota from Green Bay)
Fantasy Analysis: Although he’s turning 30 in June and has had injury problems for two straight seasons, this move absolutely had to be done for the Vikings, who were perilously thin at receiver after trading Percy Harvin to the Seahawks. Jennings was limited to just eight games in 2012, thanks to a groin injury that ended up turning into sports hernia surgery. He finished the season with 36/366/4 on 62 targets in eight games (five starts), but was just 40th among WRs with 7.6 FPG. Jennings also missed time late in 2011 with a knee injury, so durability is a concern. But previously, Jennings had played all 16 games from 2008-2010.
Jennings will immediately step in as not only the No. 1 WR, but the face of the receiving corps. He’ll deal with a huge drop-off at QB going from Green Bay to Minnesota, and his impeccable timing with QB Aaron Rodgers was a big part of his success in Green Bay. But the fact is Jennings is still a very good receiver and a complete receiver. He will finally give them a dangerous presence on the outside and down the field, but he can also play inside, so he’s versatile. His runs great routes, his hands are generally strong, and he’s an effective red zone receiver. He’s a good leader and teammate, and the hope is that Jennings can speed up Christian Ponder’s maturation process, which hasn’t moved as swiftly as Viking fans would have hoped for. Ponder’s up-and-down play could hurt Jennings at times, but there’s also a lot to be said about Jennings moving into a major featured role in the passing game, which wasn’t always the case in Green Bay. Jennings will also benefit from the attention all-world RB Adrian Peterson commands, and the Vikings haven’t had a player on the outside take advantage of the single coverage often afforded to him since Sidney Rice back in 2009 (8th in WR scoring that year).
Ponder’s play has been disconcerting, but at least he’s shown that he can play well enough to get Jennings the ball, and he did show promising flashes in his rookie season and early in 2012. Knowing Jennings will be the foundation of the passing game, and even knowing his QB is less than stellar, we believe a top-24 finish is very doable, and that would make Jennings a viable No. 2 fantasy WR. What could make Jennings more appealing is some skepticism from fantasy owners due to Ponder, which could drop Jennings into Round 6-7 in a 12-team draft. The Vikings will almost certainly continue to revamp their receiving corps in the NFL draft, and if they get a chance to draft slot receiver Tavon Austin with one of their No. 1 picks, we’re convinced they would pull that trigger. That would give them a pretty nice receiving corps on paper along with TE Kyle Rudolph, so Ponder does have a chance to be relevant for fantasy if he can put it all together and play consistently.
7. Mike Wallace (Signed by Miami from Pittsburgh)
Fantasy Analysis: Wallace was arguably the most sought-after wide receiver to hit the market, and the Dolphins placed Wallace as their No. 1 priority this offseason. They got their man shortly after free agency opened on March 12. The Dolphins were desperate for a big-name player and playmaker on the perimeter, and Wallace will bring some flash and profile to South Beach and the Dolphins offense for young QB Ryan Tannehill. Wallace is one of the top vertical threats in the league, and he immediately brings explosiveness to the Dolphins wide receivers, which has been missing since Brandon Marshall was traded to the Bears. The Dolphins had one of the weakest groups of wide receivers in 2012, and Wallace will significantly bolster the group and allow Brian Hartline to become the No. 2 WR, where he belongs.
Wallace’s 2012 season got off to a shaky start from the moment he decided to hold out of training camp after turning down an extension from the Steelers. He also never really fit into OC Todd Haley’s new offense, one that didn’t take enough advantage of his special vertical abilities. A number of key drops during the season overshadowed the big plays he made in 2012, and the fact that drops really haven’t plagued him over the course of his career. Wallace finished 28th among WRs, with 8.8 FPG on 64 catches (55.2% catch rate) for 838 yards and 8 TDs. Wallace equaled his TD production from 2011, but he finished with 355 fewer yards, and his YPC dropped from 16.6 in 2011 to 13.1 in 2012, perhaps a symptom of the quicker and shorter passes that Haley implemented into the offense with fewer deep throws.
The Steelers were about $10 million over the projected 2013 cap, and Steelers president Art Rooney II said all the pieces didn’t fit. The Steelers decided to spend their money on WR Antonio Brown instead of Wallace. That’s bad news for Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, but it is good news for Tannehill, who has a strong arm and the potential to deliver the ball deep down the field to his new toy. But certainly, a path to fantasy glory could take some time in Miami. Tannehill showed all the traits you want to see from a young QB, but he’s still a work in progress. He developed a good rapport with Hartline last year, and the team will also look to get the ball to new TE Dustin Keller each week, plus they also added former Ram Brandon Gibson in free agency and as of now they still have a good slot receiver who will command targets in Davone Bess. Wallace definitely commands the ball and will get consistently targeted down the field. But unless he and his new QB surprisingly start connecting on big plays right out of the gates, there may not be a ton of production to go around for Wallace on a weekly basis this year in Miami, so he could be a little hit-or-miss. He’s a worthy fantasy pick as aNo. 2 wideout, but it’s probably best to approach his first season in Miami with some skepticism.
8. Brandon Myers (Signed by NY Giants from Oakland)
Fantasy Analysis: Myers had a complete breakout season in 2012. He had just 16 catches for 151 yards in 2011 in 16 games, but he jumped up to 79 catches for 806 yards and 4 TDs to finish 11th among TEs this past year, with 6.5 FPG. Although he’s more of a possession guy than dynamic threat, and a great deal of his production came in “garbage time,” he showed excellent rapport with Carson Palmer, and his hands made him an ideal weapon in short yardage for the Raiders. He did, however, fade significantly down the stretch. He posted only 10/85 receiving on 17 targets over his last four games, after posting 14/130/1 in Week 13 alone. However, while Myers has only one good season to his name, it’s fairly safe to say his drop in production was a function of the disjointed Raiders offense more than anything else. His catch rate in the second half of the season fell to 71.6 percent (which was still solid), but for the season his 76 percent catch rate was second to only Tony Gonzalez among TEs with 30 or more catches.
Playing for the Giants is indisputably a terrific environment for a TE. Not only do they have an extremely evolved offense with tons of continuity and a future Hall of Fame QB in Eli Manning, they have one of the best TE coaches in the business in Mike Pope. While Pope’s guidance hasn’t produced a fantasy stud in the recent past, he’s been able to transform three no-name players into viable fantasy options. And he’s actually done it the last three years, as Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard, and Martellus Bennett were impactful for fantasy in 2010, 2011, and 2012, respectively. Of the three, and also including Myers, Bennett is the most talented, but Myers takes on the starting TE job for the Giants with the best resume. Myers wasn’t a great TD guy last year for the Raiders, catching a TD pass every 20 times he haul in a grab, but in this offense and system he should get a few more looks in the red zone, as Manning likes to look down the seam and to the TE inside the 20. While Myers was actually tied for 8th with 14 targets inside the 20 last year, Bennett had two more, and starting Giants TEs have scored at least 4-6 TDs in each of the last five years.
Myers will have to compete for the ball with a couple of very high-end talents in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, but Myers was a guy the team targeted if bringing Bennett back wasn’t meant to be, so they are high on him. Myers might not be as good of a blocker and the dynamic red-zone threat that Bennett was, but he has a better chance to emerge as a consistent producer in terms of catches and yardage totals. He did, after all, finish 4th in the NFL in TE catches this past year. There’s a chance he’ll merit a top-12 ranking this summer in standard formats, and he almost certainly will in PPR leagues.
9. Rashard Mendenhall (Signed by Arizona from Pittsburgh)
Fantasy Analysis: Coming off an ACL injury in 2011, Mendenhall had a lost season in 2012, with just 51 carries for 182 yards and 9 receptions for 62 yards and 1 TD. Back in 2010, Mendenhall was a foundation of the Steelers offense, with 324 carries in 16 games (20 carries a game), yet the following year current Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians and the Steelers didn’t commit to him as much, and Mendenhall averaged only 15 carries per game (228 carries in 15 games). Arians is known as being a pass-happy coach, but we were told that HC Mike Tomlin wasn’t a big Mendenhall fan, so that could have been a limiting factor for Mendenhall. Arians is obviously not down on Mendenhall, but the veteran got only a one-year deal, so Arizona hasn’t made a big commitment to him, either.
The Cards have cut veteran Beanie Wells, and while Arians at the combine said he “loved” RB Ryan Williams, it’s fair to guess that a healthy Mendenhall will emerge from training camp as the team’s top back. Of course, Arizona’s running game last year was miserable, thanks in large part to one of the worst run-blocking lines in the league. Their four backs averaged a measly 3.1 YPC in 2012. Mendenhall is a bigger power back, but while he’s got some wiggle for a bigger guy, he’s not exactly a creator, and his YPC average has been stuck in a mediocre range the last three years, as the Steelers OL hasn’t exactly been stellar, either. At times, he was caught dancing behind the line of scrimmage with Pittsburgh, and that could be an issue with the Cards. Mendenhall has also been underutilized in the passing game in Pittsburgh, and we have to assume that trend will continue in Arizona, since Arians ran the offense in all but one of Mendenhall’s five seasons.
Still, Arians told the Arizona Republic that he believes Mendenhall to be an every-down guy, especially considering he can block – we’ve always been fans of his overall talent, so we agree – so it certainly looks like he’ll at least have a chance to lock down a major role. But even if Mendenhall can regain some of his old form after five NFL seasons, he’s hardly a slam-dunk for fantasy in this offense. If all is going well in the summer, he’ll be worth a mid-round pick for depth. There is tangible upside for this talented back if the planets align for him in what will once again be a contract year. But until he proves healthy and the Cardinal offense emerges with a capable QB, he won’t be someone fantasy owners can truly count on.
10. Jared Cook (Signed by St Louis from Tennessee)
Fantasy Analysis: Considered to be the top TE on the market heading into free agency, Cook reportedly narrowed his choices down to the Dolphins and Rams, but chose to reunite with HC Jeff Fisher in St. Louis. Cook in some ways took a step back in 2012 from 2011’s promising career year, and while he flashed at times, he never put together a dominant performance, capping out at 77 yards in Week 3 and topping 50 yards only four times. In 13 games, Cook posted 44/523/4 on 71 targets (11.9 YPC, 62%), and he ranked 16th among all TEs with 5.9 FPG. Cook’s season ended prematurely with a torn rotator cuff, but that’s not expected to be an issue going forward.
Although he’s a TE, Cook lined up in the slot or out wide for more than 60 percent of the snaps last year, and as a big, fast player, he may immediately step in as Sam Bradford’s top target in St. Louis, who lost go-to guy Danny Amendola to free agency and will be relying on some very young WRs in 2013. While TE Lance Kendricks won’t necessarily fall by the wayside, there’s no doubt Kendricks’ lack of production was a factor in bringing in Cook. The production of Cook under Fisher in the past may be a bit disconcerting, and Rams OC Brian Schottenheimer didn’t have a great track record with the Jets with a guy like Dustin Keller. But St. Louis has a very good QB in Bradford, so if Cook is up for it and the Rams make him a focus, Cook should produce and offer upside as a downfield threat down the middle.
The Rams now have a lot of money tied up in Cook, so he should be a huge focus of the Rams offense. The real question is whether or not the talented Cook can completely bust through or if he’ll continue to underachieve. As the season draws nearer, we should have a better idea as to whether Cook is a viable No. 1 fantasy TE or merely a high-end backup. We’ve always loved his raw physical talent, but other than a few “flash” performances, he’s left us a little underwhelming and wanting a little more the last three seasons.
Just missed the cut: QB Alex Smith (signed by KC), TE Dustin Keller (signed by Mia), RB Mike Goodson (signed by NYJ), and RB Shonn Greene (signed by Ten).
Note: For a comprehensive look at all of this year’s signings, check out our Free Agency Tracker.