2014 Free Agency: How the WRs Fared

Eli Nachmany examines how last year's free agent wide receivers performed in 2014.

| 2 years ago

2014 Free Agency: How the WRs Fared

BRONCOS_STEELERS_2JA2975The NFL free agent frenzy is almost upon us. As general managers across the league contemplate the risks and benefits associated with bringing in new talent for hefty contracts, fantasy owners are attempting to make sense of the roster moves.

Last season, a good number of star wide receivers switched colors and signed deals with new teams. Among these were DeSean Jackson moving from the Eagles to the Redskins and Eric Decker bolting from Denver to New York.

The question on any fantasy player’s mind is as follows: What can I expect from a free agent signing on a new team? I looked into the way 11 of the top receiver signings from last season fared in their new homes.

The pass catchers we considered were DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia to Washington), Eric Decker (Denver to New York), Hakeem Nicks (New York to Indianapolis), Golden Tate (Seattle to Detroit), Steve Smith (Carolina to Baltimore), James Jones (Green Bay to Oakland), Andre Roberts (Arizona to Washington), Emmanuel Sanders (Pittsburgh to Denver), Brandon LaFell (Carolina to New England), Dexter McCluster (Kansas City to Tennessee), and Kenny Britt (Tennessee to St. Louis).

I calculated each receiver’s rough 2013 and 2014 fantasy point accumulation (in a non-PPR format) and plotted the differences. Any difference that broke out to less than 32 points (under two points per game) went in as a “negligible increase” or “negligible decrease.” By that same token, any increase or decrease of over 32 points was seen as a “substantial increase” or a “substantial decrease.” The data showed an intriguing trend.

Name 2013 Points 2014 Points Difference
Eric Decker 194.8 126.2 -68.6
DeSean Jackson 187.2 152.9 -34.3
Golden Tate 119.8 157.1 +37.3
Emmanuel Sanders 110 194.4 +84.4
Steve Smith 98.5 142.5 +44
Hakeem Nicks 89.6 64.5 -25.1
Andre Roberts 59.1 57.3 -1.8
James Jones 99.7 102.6 +2.9
Brandon LaFell 92.7 137.3 +44.9
Dexter McCluster 38.8 26.9 -11.9
Kenny Britt 82.9 92.8 +9.9

Of the 11 receivers, five had a negligible stat line change. Hakeem Nicks’ change from 89.6 points in 2013 to 64.5 points in 2014 was the highest of the negligible gainers/losers at -25.1.

Past that, just two of the 11 receivers saw a substantial decrease in output. DeSean Jackson lost 34.3 points from his 2013 total of 187.2, while Eric Decker had the steepest tumble from 194.8 points in 2013 to 126.2 points in 2014 (-68.6).

The most interesting part of the research was that four of the 11 receivers in the survey actually posted a substantial increase in output. Golden Tate, Steve Smith, Emmanuel Sanders, and Brandon LaFell each improved their stats a good amount. Sanders led the way for all receivers with an 84.4-point gain.

Nine of 11 marquee free agent receivers either stayed about the same or made huge strides in terms of fantasy points with their new teams. The reasons for this are two-fold.

First, teams tend to throw money at receivers who fit their respective systems. The Ravens knew that their vertical passing offense was a better fit for Steve Smith than was the Panthers’ scheme, so they pursued the wideout. It’s well-known that Golden Tate got a much higher offer from the Lions than he got from the Seahawks.

Second, receivers tend to look for destinations in which they’ll thrive. Leave it to Emmanuel Sanders to land in an ideal situation in Denver with Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ record-setting offense. Brandon LaFell traded a run-heavy scheme in Carolina for Tom Brady’s high-flying Patriots offense.

In 2015, the following star wide receivers (among others) are set to hit free agency: Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Randall Cobb, and Michael Crabtree. While it’s reasonable to see each one of them back with their original teams, don’t be surprised if they leave home for greener pastures (a monetary pun is intended there).

The odds are decent that a very good free agent receiver with a new team in 2015 will be able to maintain or outperform his 2014 numbers, as long as that new team doesn’t feature Geno Smith under center (sorry, Eric Decker). This fantasy season, don’t be afraid to take a chance on Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, or any established free agent receiver if he ends up on a different roster this offseason.

  • RONBO19

    Eli, I’m a big fan off PFF although I have zero interest in ‘fantasy football. That said the numbers in this case don’t tell the entire story. Due to injury and the constant change and struggles at the QB position I don’t think Decker’s season should be judged to harshly. He missed one full game and played in three or four others dealing with a fairly significant leg injury. I don’t think any rational person expected him to put up Denver like stats on a team with a struggling 2nd year QB and no other threats to occupy opposing defenses. Frankly, I thought his season was remarkable considering all factors.