Pre-free agency wide receiver fantasy landscape
After examining the pre-free agency landscape for running backs Saturday, it’s time to move on to wide receivers. The big question this offseason is where Alshon Jeffery will land, but there’s plenty of intrigue beyond just Jeffery.
Let’s get to it.
High impact potential
These receiving corps could see some major fantasy-relevant changes via free agency.
New England Patriots — I initially had the Patriots in the low-impact group, but on Saturday, two news stories broke: The Patriots are apparently interested in Brandon Marshall, and they also reportedly offered a trade package to the Saints involving Brandin Cooks. So the Patriots appear interested in a big-name receiver. It’s crowded in New England — especially with Rob Gronkowski returning in 2017 — but a top-notch wideout talent would obviously be a major fantasy factor with Tom Brady as his quarterback.
Dallas Cowboys — With Brice Butler and Terrance Williams both hitting free agency, the Cowboys will need a No. 2 to complement Dez Bryant. Williams might stay in Dallas, but he’s an underwhelming talent, so from a fantasy perspective, that’s probably the least enticing outcome. The No. 2 spot in this efficient offense could carry a great deal of fantasy relevance if they land a capable player.
New York Giants — You might be surprised to see the Giants here considering the team already has Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard — a favorite of mine to have a breakout season in 2017 — but with Victor Cruz is out of town, the No. 2 wideout spot opposite Beckham is open for the taking. Shepard plays almost exclusively in the slot (he ran 86.1 percent of his routes from the slot). In this high-volume offense, the fantasy potential is high.
Philadelphia Eagles — The Eagles have no receivers leaving via free agency, but this team might still be the neediest team out there in terms of receivers. A true No. 1 in Philadelphia could pay big dividends in fantasy here. Kenny Stills is an option, though he’s not really a true No. 1. Alshon Jeffery is the “dream splash” signing for the Eagles.
Washington Redskins — DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon are both hitting free agency. If both leave town, this pass-happy offense becomes a fantasy breeding ground. Josh Doctson would presumably take over the No. 1 role, but Kirk Cousins (assuming he sticks around) spreads it around enough that a new face could still carry fantasy value.
Baltimore Ravens — Steve Smith retired and Kamar Aiken is a free agent, so the Ravens are in desperate need of a wideout. There are also rumors Mike Wallace could be cut, though those have quieted. It may not seem like it, but this is a potentially high-impact landing spot for a free agent. Joe Flacco attempted 672 passes last year — second-most in the league behind Drew Brees’ 673. Could Pierre Garcon be on their radar?
Cincinnati Bengals — Brandon LaFell was excellent for the Bengals in 2016, but he’s hitting free agency. The Bengals could try to retain him, or they could make a play for someone like DeSean Jackson. The No. 2 wideout spot in Cincinnati has been profitable for fantasy players, so keep close tabs on this one. This offense is much more than just A.J. Green.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Vincent Jackson is hitting free agency, as are Russell Shepard and Cecil Shorts. Tampa Bay desperately needs a complement to Mike Evans. Alshon Jeffery would be the dream pairing — and it would immediately vault Jameis Winston’s draft stock and the fantasy appeal of this offense overall. Even if Tampa Bay doesn’t land Jeffery, the fantasy potential here is big. Given the lack of outside weapons besides Evans, a No. 2 receiver should immediately command a significant amount of looks.
Tennessee Titans — Kendall Wright is a free agent, and the Titans need to get Marcus Mariota some more help in the passing game. Delanie Walker is a great tight end, and Rishard Matthews performed exceptionally well in 2016, but the Titans need a more prototypical No. 1 wideout. This is yet another potential landing spot for Alshon Jeffery. Additionally, if Terrelle Pryor escapes Cleveland, he could land in Tennessee. With Mariota under center and an established ground game in place, the fantasy potential for a stud wideout is high in Tennessee.
Medium impact potential
These receiving corps could see some meaningful, but not game-changing, fantasy-relevant changes in free agency.
Buffalo Bills — Robert Woods is Buffalo’s “must re-sign” player of the offseason — even though he’s really not that good. That’s how bad Buffalo’s wideout situation is. The Bills have almost no answers at the position. With that said, the fantasy value of this spot is somewhat capped given Buffalo’s uncertainty at quarterback.
New York Jets — With Brandon Marshall gone, the Jets become an instant option for free agents. Given that they released Marshall to “get younger,” we can probably rule out the aging vets as possibilities. Eric Decker is still in town, but if they sign the right player, this could actually be a fairly fantasy-relevant positon. After all, Marshall was a fantasy WR1 just two years ago.
Arizona Cardinals — Larry Fitzgerald isn’t getting younger, Michael Floyd is already gone and John Brown struggled last year. The Cardinals could use some help at the wideout position. The fantasy value of this potential landing spot is up in the air, given Fitzgerald’s agelessness, David Johnson’s amazingness, and the potential for a bounceback season from Brown. But a new complementary piece could find himself on the fantasy radar if Carson Palmer is able to rebound in 2017.
Los Angeles Rams —The wildly underrated Kenny Britt is set to hit free agency, leaving a void at receiver in Los Angeles that desperately needs filling. Unfortunately, the Rams offense is so bad that the fantasy potential is capped — at least in 2017. It’s possible Pierre Garcon or DeSean Jackson land here.
San Francisco 49ers — Alshon Jeffery could be a fit for this wide receiver-needy team. But the 49ers aren’t just wideout-needy — they are everything-needy. Even after re-signing Jeremy Kerley, the awfulness of the 49ers limits the upside to a free agent wideout signing here. But given that the right receiver could step into a No. 1 wideout role right away, there would be some fantasy impact.
Chicago Bears — Speaking of Jeffery, he was clearly off in 2016, which might scare Chicago away from going after him again. (We say he’s their must re-sign player of the offseason, for what it’s worth.) We know that Jeffery is a legitimate No. 1 receiver when he’s on his game. If Jeffery leaves, it opens the door for Kevin White — and a free agent. Given the current quarterback situation in Chicago, I’m rating this a medium-impact spot. But if the Bears are able to land someone like Jimmy Garoppolo, the fantasy potential here skyrockets.
Detroit Lions — The aging Anquan Boldin is actually Detroit’s must re-sign player of the offseason. He was an effective weapon for Detroit out of the slot, where he ran 82.9 percent of his routes. If Boldin does leave, the Lions will likely look to replace his slot role with someone else. That proved to be a mildly profitable role to hold from a fantasy position in 2016, so there’s legitimate fantasy intrigue here.
Minnesota Vikings — The Vikings should be able to keep restricted free agent Adam Thielen around, and Stefon Diggs has proven capable, albeit somewhat inconsistent. Laquon Treadwell’s future is anyone’s guess at this point. Depending on how the chips fall, the Vikings could be in the market for a wideout this free agency, but it’s a bit crowded in Minnesota, so the fantasy potential is limited.
Cleveland Browns — Terrelle Pryor is hitting free agency, but the Browns will likely want him back. Pryor is Cleveland’s must re-sign player. The Browns could also potentially get Josh Gordon back, though it’s doubtful the team still wants him around. This is certainly a potential landing spot for some wideouts in free agency — especially if Pryor slips town — but it’s not a high-impact spot by any means.
Pittsburgh Steelers — Markus Wheaton is hitting free agency, Sammie Coates can’t catch anything (league-high 25 percent drop rate), and Martavis Bryant can’t see the field. The Steelers could be in the market for a wideout this offseason, even with Antonio Brown now secured long-term. There is fantasy potential here, but this offense will continue to flow through Brown and Le’Veon Bell — and Bryant, if he can return — so the ceiling is somewhat capped.
Carolina Panthers — Ted Ginn is hitting free agency, but from a fantasy standpoint, he’s probably best served staying in Carolina with the rocket-armed Cam Newton. If he does leave and the Panthers look to replace him, the void carries moderate fantasy appeal. It would carry more if the Panthers didn’t spread the ball around so much.
Low impact potential
These receiving corps probably won’t see a fantasy-relevant change as a result of free agency.
Miami Dolphins — Even with Kenny Stills hitting free agency, the Dolphins have Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker to hog most of the targets. They also have a young prospect in Leonte Carroo.
Seattle Seahawks — There are no fantasy-relevant changes expected in Seattle’s receiving corps.
Denver Broncos — There are no fantasy-relevant changes expected in Denver’s receiving corps.
Kansas City Chiefs — Jeremy Maclin struggled to stay healthy, and Tyreek Hill might or might not be the real deal, but at least for 2017, no impactful additions are expected.
Los Angeles Chargers — There are no fantasy-relevant changes expected for the Los Angeles Chargers receiving corps, except for the fact that it’s still weird to type Los Angeles Chargers.
Oakland Raiders — Andre Holmes is hitting free agency, and while he stole an annoying amount of touchdowns from Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree in 2016, his potential void won’t matter much from a fantasy perspective.
Green Bay Packers — Even though some people wrote off the Packers receivers early on in 2016, no fantasy-relevant changes are expected here in 2017.
Atlanta Falcons — No major changes are expected to the Falcons group of receivers in 2017.
New Orleans Saints — Brandin Cooks might be on the trading block, but that’s not exactly free agency. If he leaves through a trade, there’s a potentially high-impact void. But as of this writing, there’s no room for a big new name.
Houston Texans — There are no major changes expected to Houston’s receiving corps in 2017.
Indianapolis Colts — There are no major changes expected to Indianapolis’ receiving corps in 2017.
Jacksonville Jaguars — There are no major changes expected to Jacksonville’s receiving corps in 2017.