Old Faces New Places: Fantasy Implications for Free Agent Receivers

By Brandon Murchison – Fantasy Football Columnist.
This 2014 crop of free agent wide receivers has a little more star power that is affecting the fantasy landscape than the other skill positions.  Some big names have moved to new teams, and while they may not be tier 1 guys, they could make or break your fantasy season.  In today’s NFL of spread offenses and big numbers being put up by quarterbacks, some receivers have garnered as much value as running backs by year’s end.  Let’s take a look at the top  free agent receivers on my board:
1. Julian Edelman (re-signed with the Patriots)– After testing out the free agency waters, Edelman decided to stay put in New England, and re-sign with the Patriots.  Which is a good thing, because I believe his fantasy value would have been hurt had he went somewhere else.  Edelman had a breakout season in 2013, with 105 catches for 1,056 yards and 6 TDs while assuming the Wes Welker role in the Patriots offense.  With New England is still in need of wide receiver help, Edelman should again enjoy success catching passes from Tom Brady. A healthy Gronkowski could only help matters, as it will open some single coverage for Edelman to thrive on.  I would expect a very similar season from Edelman in 2014, and if he gets into the end zone a few more times, he could sneak into the WR1 discussion.  But for now, I would draft him as a WR2.
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2. Eric Decker (signed with the Jets)– Eric Decker signed a 5 year, $36 million deal to leave the safe confines of a Peyton Manning led offense for the very questionable offensive scheme of the New York Jets. Decker had a career year in 2013, with 87 catches for 1,288 yards while getting into the end zone 11 times.  Now with the Jets, it will be safe to say that those numbers will not be matched with Geno Smith throwing him the ball.  There will be owners that will reach for Decker as a number 2 WR this year, but I’m saying, don’t be that guy.  He will have up and down weeks in 2014, and I would value him as low end 3 as it stands now.
3. Golden Tate (signed with the Lions)– Tate has moved on from the Super Bowl champs to go to the Motor City where he signed a 5 year, $31 million deal to play opposite Megatron.  These new surroundings could pay huge dividends for Tate, as even in a simplistic offense that is run in Seattle, Tate hauled in 64 catches for 898 yards and 5 TDs.  Now with the Lions, he should get more consistent QB play from Matt Stafford, not to mention more volume.  The increase in chances, and the fact that he will contribute in the return game as well, could see Tate finish the year with solid numbers.  I like him to finish the year ranked as a lower end number 2 receiver, but at the draft, he should come off the board as a number 3.
4. Riley Cooper (re-signed with the Eagles)– Riley Cooper is staying put in Philadelphia after signing a 5 year, $25 million deal.  Cooper finished strong in 2013 after a very slow start.  His 47/835/8 stat line possibly helped propel some owners to a title last year, as a majority of his numbers were compiled in the 2nd half of the season.  Now he returns to the Eagles, but so does Jeremy Maclin, who is returning from a torn ACL.  With one more mouth to feed, how will this impact Cooper’s numbers?  Another factor will be the play of 2nd year starter Nick Foles.  Can he build off of last year’s performance, or will he come back down to Earth?  I expect Cooper’s stat line to look very similar by year’s end, but for the TDs to come down, which will limit his potential.  Cooper should be looked at as a low end 3rd receiver come draft day.
5. Steve Smith (signed with the Ravens)– Steve Smith is no longer a Carolina Panther, after being cut, he lands in Baltimore on a 3 year, $11.5 million deal.  Smith is entering the twilight of his career, and his numbers in 2013(64/745/4) reflect it.  Being cut, will he now find the fountain of youth and play with a chip on his shoulder in Baltimore?  It will all come down to the play of Joe Flacco, who has shown he is more of an average QB than stat sheet stuffer.  You will probably see flashes from Smith in 2014, but nothing that you can count on to be an every week starter for you.  His value will come as a bye week filler, or someone to play in great matchups, but nothing more.  His draft value should be as a 4th or 5th wide receiver.
6. Hakeem Nicks (signed with the Colts)– Hakeem Nicks has been one of the most frustrating players in fantasy football over the last 2 seasons.  Now he finds himself in Indy on a very motivating 1 year, $3.5 million deal to add depth to a thin Colts receiving core.  Nicks had an injury riddled 2013, hauling in 56 passes for 896 yards.  That’s right, no touchdowns for Hakeem last year with the Giants, which is a death nail for fantasy owners.  Motivation has always been an issue for Nicks, as he tends to play less than 100% for most games.  That will have to change with the Colts and Andrew Luck, as he has the chance to turn in a good year and cash in in 2015 free agency.  I could see Nicks cracking into some starting lineups this year at points, but on draft day, I would not suggest reaching for him until you are rounding out your subs.
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