2011 Fantasy Football: Players Who Benefited from the NFL’s Free Agency Frenzy
I hope you’re not one of those guys (or gals) that relies on a fantasy magazine for his (or her) rankings. Most years it’s just dumb — mags often contain excellent articles, but the actual rankings are fluid. Since those mag rankings have to be submitted early in the off-season, they don’t reflect player value on the day of your draft.
This year, however, using mag rankings far surpasses dumb and ventures into the territory of suicidal. Several mags were on the shelves before the lockout lifted, and after a week of trading and free agency, the fantasy landscape right now is far different than it was when those mags were published.
So, in order to help the less fortunate of you that have gotten your hands on some old rankings, we’re going to tell you the winners and losers of this week of free agency with regards to fantasy football. We’ll also tell you how much each player’s fantasy stock has changed, better preparing you for your draft (which I’m sure is just around the corner).
Here we go. Winners coming at you now, with the losers up in Part II later this week.
Ray Rice. He was already a top five pick, but his offseason went from good, with the loss of Willis McGahee, to better, with the acquisition of Vonte Leach to clear holes. He had 1,220 rushing yards, 556 receiving yards and six TDs last year. I’d expect at least 200 more rushing yards and 4-6 more TDs this year. He’s my No. 2 running back behind Foster right now in PPR leagues, and I’m very close to making him my No. 2 in standard leagues as well. Before: No. 5 overall. After: No. 2 overall.
Larry Fitzgerald. The fact that Fitzgerald managed to catch 90 passes for 1,137 yards and score six times while dealing with Larry, Curly and Moe at QB was one of the most impressive things of 2010. Now he has a potential franchise QB at the helm. Even if Kevin Kolb is just average, that’s still a big upgrade for Fitz. I’d be happy with him at the beginning of Round 2. Before: Top 20 overall. After: Top 15 overall.
Felix Jones. The Cowboys are used to having a pretty crowded backfield, and it’s one reason Jones has had trouble finding consistent fantasy value. He’s managed just eight TDs in two and a half seasons of work. However, the Cowboys cut Marion Barber and now have two injured backs behind Jones. Tashard Choice should be fine for the regular season, but it’s hard to imagine DeMarco Murray stealing time in his first year. That makes Jones a rock solid RB2. Before: Mid 6th. After: Mid 5th.
Knowshon Moreno. Rice had a nice offseason, but Moreno’s wound up pretty good as well. It looked like Denver would bring in a feature back to replace Moreno and shift him to the third-down role. Instead, the Broncos signed Willis McGahee for short-yardage work and left Moreno the unquestioned starter. He now justifies the fourth-round tag he’s carried all offseason. Before: Mid 4th. After: Mid 4th (but worth it!).
Percy Harvin. The Vikings failed to re-sign Sidney Rice, then failed to add a quality receiver to replace him, instead inking Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu. That should leave Donnie Mac to load Harvin with targets, virtually assuring he sees a boost to his 71 receptions of last year. He was a borderline fantasy WR2 before FA week; now, I think he’s a top 20 guy. Before: Late 6th. After: Mid 5th.
Mario Manningham. After Steve Smith was forced to miss most of the second half of 2010, Manningham went off, particularly in the last three games, topping 100 yards in each while scoring four TDs overall. Smith’s health may preclude the Giants from signing him at all; even if he does re-join the team, he’s going to take time to heal. That leaves the door open for a huge campaign from Manningham. Before: Mid 8th. After: Late 6th.
Beanie Wells. Last year was supposed to be his breakout, but Wells suffered through a tortuously bad year while dealing with knee problems, averaging 3.4 yards per carry and only scoring twice. The Cardinals drafted Ryan Williams, further lowering Wells’ stock. But then Tim Hightower was traded and the coaching staff named Wells the starter. A better passing game should give Wells more room to run. His ADP is sure to climb. Before: Mid 8th. After: Early 7th.
Kenny Britt. An offseason of poor decisions has soured the stock of Britt, but that just means you can pick up a guy with WR1 ability as your third receiver. He was able to score nine TDs in 10 games of work last year with Kerry Collins as his QB. Tennessee upgraded to Matt Hasslebeck in the off-season, so Britt could be in for a big year while he’s on the field. Before: Mid 8th. After: Early 7th.
Detroit Defense. The Eagles are going to get all the hype — and rightfully so — but they’ll cost a premium pick to land on draft day. Instead, you can get a defense that may be just as good toward the end of the draft. The Lions have a monster pass rush, and they upgraded the back seven considerably this offseason with Stephen Tulloch, Justin Durant and Eric Wright. I think they lead the league in sacks. Before: Early 15th. After: Mid 13th.
Alex Henery. I know, I know — kickers don’t have a place in an article about fantasy football. However, I couldn’t resist cluing you in on Henery. As a rookie, he has the chance to be undrafted in your league. If you do as I do and load up on lottery picks during the draft instead of drafting a kicker, that means you could scoop him up once camp plays out. Since the Eagles aren’t bring David Akers back, Henery is a great kicker target. Before: Free agent. After: Last pick of the draft.
Other winners: Kevin Kolb (QB2), Matt Hasselbeck (QB2), Darren Sproles (RB4), Willis McGahee (RB4), Tashard Choice (RB5), Chad Ochocinco (WR3), Lance Moore (WR4), Mike Sims Walker (WR4), Roy Williams (WR5), PHI Defense (DF1).