Old Faces In New Places: Wide Receivers
John Tuvey
July 25, 2012
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Vincent Jackson swapped coasts, Brandon Marshall rejoined Jay Cutler in Chicago, and Peyton Manning is now a horse of a different color. As your summer wraps and you return your undivided attention to football, here’s your one-stop shop for all the notable fantasy players who changed teams this offseason.

Vincent Jackson, Buccaneers

Seems like Jackson has been trying to get out of San Diego for years, and this offseason he finally succeeded by inking a free agent deal with the Buccaneers. Jackson arrives in Tampa along with new head coach Greg Schiano and a new offense under the direction of former Giants QB coach Mike Sullivan. Jackson immediately supplants Mike Williams as the team’s WR1, and with the Bucs trending away from the dink-and-dunk days of the West Coast offense he’ll give strong-armed quarterback Josh Freeman a reliable deep threat. Schiano may be of a run-first mentality, but this edition of the Bucs won’t be afraid to take shots down the field—especially with Jackson in the fold. V-Jax has topped 1,000 yards each of the last three seasons in which he’s played more than half the season; the Bucs haven’t had a wideout reach that number since Antonio Bryant in 2008, but a revitalized offense should be just the ticket to push Jackson past that milestone. And with Kellen Winslow no longer in pewter, Jackson becomes the passing game’s primary red zone target as well. It’s a solid combo platter that has Jackson checking in at 16 in the Huddle performance scoring rankings.

Brandon Marshall, Bears

New coach Joe Philbin arrived in Miami and decided his take on the West Coast offense didn’t require a WR1 because all the roles were equally important. More likely he decided Marshall was more headache than he was worth to a team with serious quarterback questions. In any event, Marshall heads to Chicago to solve the Bears’ WR1 dilemma, reuniting with Jay Cutler; in Denver that duo teamed up for the two most productive (catch-wise) seasons of Marshall’s pro career. It’s no longer a Mike Martz offense, but in Chicago Marshall will have a talented quarterback and an offensive coordinator in Mike Tice who may look like a big tough run guy but threw 65% of the time in Minnesota and even coined the “Randy Ratio” to quantify how badly he wanted to get the ball to his top receiver. While Marshall and Cutler may not return to the 100-catch Denver days, his 22 Huddle ranking indicates we like him to upgrade the 80-catch, 1,000-yard seasons he posted in Miami.

Robert Meachem, Chargers

With Vincent Jackson exiting, San Diego went looking for a more reasonably priced target for Philip Rivers. Meachem was looking for more work (and money) than the Saints were willing to throw his way, and the Chargers… well, at least they offered more money. Meachem in theory is the Bolts’ WR1, but that’s a role Malcom Floyd handled ably in the face of myriad WR injuries the past two seasons so they’re more like WR1.5s. Tight end Antonio Gates takes a bite as well, and youngster Vincent Brown looms. There’s also Norv Turner’s fondness for the running game, something Meachem didn’t really encounter in New Orleans. So while Meachem may get a larger share of the attention in San Diego, the pie in New Orleans was so much bigger that Meachem’s overall fantasy production isn’t likely to change much. More catches, maybe more yards, similar or fewer TDs… Meachem’s current Huddle ranking of 25 puts him on the cusp of WR2s; unless he steps significantly ahead of Floyd and Brown in training camp, that feels about right.

Laurent Robinson, Jaguars

Robinson picked the right season to stay healthy for a change, posting 54-858-11 in Dallas and earning a big payday from the receiver-starved Jaguars. But while L-Rob no longer has to battle Dez Bryant and Miles Austin for looks, he also takes a significant step backwards in moving from Tony Romo to Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. The Jags also spent a first-round pick on Justin Blackmon so Robinson isn’t the only show in town. With a Huddle ranking of 36 Robinson isn’t the lowest-ranked WR1, but he’s close; playing for a run-first team with quarterback issues certainly doesn’t help.

Randy Moss, 49ers

After being a no-show for three teams in 2010 and taking last year off, it looked as though Moss would be content to let the countdown to Canton begin. Instead, he hooked up with the 49ers and has thus far been, according to Jim Harbaugh, the best receiver in OTAs. Moss was a 1,000-yard, double-digit touchdown guy as recently as 2009, but he’s also 35 years old. Outshining Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham in shorts is one thing; actually being a fantasy factor once the pads go on—especially when Alex Smith is your quarterback and you’re toiling in an extremely run-heavy offense—is quite another. The Huddle’s 38 ranking makes Moss an intriguing guy to stash after you’ve filled your primary WR slots. And why not? The last time everyone wrote Moss off he roared back with 98-1,493-23.

Pierre Garçon, Redskins

The Redskins mortgaged their future to move up and draft Robert Griffin III, then spent a bunch of Dan Snyder’s money to give him to targets to throw to. Washington’s biggest purchase was Garçon, who failed to record a 1,000-yard campaign or top six TDs in a season during his time in Indy. Is he a legit WR1? In Mike Shanahan’s offense and with a supporting cast that includes Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, and Josh Morgan he’ll have an early opportunity to answer that question. At 42 Garçon is the top-ranked Redskin receiver on the Huddle board, but it’s a ranking that indicates he has plenty to prove before you can bank on him for fantasy results.

Jerome Simpson, WR, Vikings

Seems fitting that as the Vikings take the mantle of “most arrested team” from the Bengals, they also bring Simpson from Cincinnati. He’ll miss the first three games of the season thanks to last season’s ill-advised drug delivery, but once he hits the field he’s exactly the kind of player Minnesota’s offense needs. Simpson’s speed and athleticism were on display during OTAs, and he’ll provide the perfect foil to defenses stacked at the line of scrimmage to stop Adrian Peterson and/or Toby Gerhart. You’ll get nothing from him until Week 4, but Christian Ponder won’t waste time putting him to good use. At 47 in the current Huddle rankings, he’s a WR4 you can stash until he returns to action—with the upside to produce like a fantasy WR3 or better.

Brandon Lloyd, WR, Patriots

Once Josh McDaniels landed in New England, it was only a matter of time until Lloyd followed him there. After resurrecting his career under McDaniels in Denver, Lloyd was dealt to the Rams (where McDaniels was offensive coordinator) and posted a second straight 150-target season. The good news with this reunion is that Lloyd will see a dramatic upgrade in quarterback with Tom Brady. With that upgrade, however, comes a far better supporting cast of receivers; instead of being Option #1 as he was in Denver and St. Louis, Lloyd now falls in line behind Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, and Aaron Hernandez. Tempting as it is to love Lloyd’s relationship with McDaniels and his upgrade at QB, his opportunities will be reduced dramatically; hence a 56 Huddle ranking commensurate to a secondary—even tertiary—target.

Josh Morgan, WR, Redskins

Dan Snyders’s spending splurge on targets for RG3 wasn’t limited to Pierre Garçon, as the Redskins added Morgan to the depth chart as well. The former 49er has never topped 700 yards or scored more than three touchdowns in a season, but at present he’s in the thick of a battle with Santana Moss and Leonard Hankerson for a key spot in the Redskins’ receiver rotation. Mike Shanahan likes to throw the ball around, but with a rookie under center it’s tough to see multiple wideouts having significant fantasy value. Morgan currently sits at 72 in the Huddle rankings, but if Moss shows flashes of past greatness and Hankerson gets healthy he could tumble down the charts in a hurry.

Donnie Avery, Colts

Avery’s name has been followed by “IR” more than any team abbreviation; he’s missed 24 games over the past two seasons. But just about everything is new in Indy this year, except for the two guys ahead of Avery on the wide receiver depth chart: Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie. That makes Avery a third wheel to begin with; factor in the Colts breaking in a rookie quarterback and Avery hardly a lock to stay on the field it’s tough to bank on him for any meaningful fantasy contribution this season. The Huddle has him rounding out the top 100 receivers based on a strong showing in OTAs and the fact that Collie may be almost as injury-prone as Avery.

Louis Murphy, Panthers

The Panthers added Murphy to flesh out a receiving corps that, opposite Steve Smith, is severely lacking. Murphy enters camp with a hamstring issue, so it may take him a while to move into position to battle Brandon LaFell for wingman duties. As the 110 Huddle ranking suggests, he’s a deep roster stash or a guy you can wait on until your first bye week moves.

Mario Manningham, 49ers

Phased out in New York, Manningham swapped coasts for the other NFC favorite. However, in the process he traded Eli Manning for Alex Smith and a pass-heavy offense for the Niners’ run-first attack. Mario’s path to catches didn’t clear much, either; instead of playing third fiddle to Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz Manningham now finds himself running behind Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss. Add in San Francisco’s propensity for throwing to talented tight end Vernon Davis and the fact that the Niners spent their first-round pick on wide receiver A.J. Jenkins and you can see why at 112 Mario is a fantasy afterthought this season.

Lee Evans, Jaguars

Jacksonville’s WR1 barely cracks the Huddle rankings as a fantasy WR3, so you can’t expect Evans—who had just four catches in nine games with the Ravens last year and will be at best the Jaguars’ third receiver—to garner much fantasy love. The Jags still don’t know what they have (or don’t have) in quarterback Blaine Gabbert, but the current game plan calls for plenty of Maurice Jones-Drew; when they throw, it will be to Laurent Robinson, Justin Blackmon, Mike Thomas, or tight end Marcedes Lewis. In retrospect, 113 seems a generous ranking for Evans, one likely to slip as the season draws closer.

Eddie Royal, Chargers

Chargers coaches raved about free-agent signee Royal during the team’s OTAs; that’s nice and all, but once things start to get real he’s still at best the third receiver in an offense that also features an elite tight end and threw 100 balls to its backs last year. Norv Turner said Royal’s cut of catches might come from that backfield number, but he’s behind fellow new Bolt Robert Meachem, Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates, Ryan Mathews, and maybe even Vincent Brown in the passing game pecking order. That “list to leapfrog” is a big reason why Royal currently sits at 119 in the Huddle rankings.

Steve Smith, Rams

After an injury-shortened 2010 in New York Smith tried to bounce back with limited success in Philly last year. Now he’s one of a gaggle of wideouts in St. Louis all battling for Sam Bradford’s attention. Even the top targets in Brian Schottenheimer’s run-first offense have limited fantasy potential, and right now Smith is currently logjammed in the middle of a depth chart that also includes Danario Alexander, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Greg Salas, Austin Pettis, and rookies Brian Quick and Chris Givens. Flashing some of the skill that earned him 107-1,220-7 in New York in 2009 would certainly move Smith up, but even then there’s a ceiling to this situation and it comes well before fantasy relevancy.

Chad Johnson, Dolphins

Ochocinco moves to South Beach and loses the Spanish surname? Yep, Chad Johnson is back, boys and girls. The good news is that only guys like Davonne Bess and Brian Hartline stand between CJ and major playing time. There’s a whole lot more bad news, however, including the Dolphins’ serious quarterback questions and just how much Johnson has in the tank. His name suggests a late-round flier, but if he couldn’t become a factor with Tom Brady throwing what are his chances with David Garrard, Matt Moore, and/or Ryan Tannehill? Not enough for him to crack the Huddle rankings.

Jacoby Jones, Ravens

Jones was never able to turn a cushy gig opposite—and, due to injuries, in place of—Andre Johnson into much in the way of fantasy juice. Things aren’t going to get any better in run-happy Baltimore where he’ll take up the afterthought role vacated by Lee Evans. On the bright side, only three or four injuries in Baltimore and he might pop up on the fantasy radar.

OTHER POSITIONS:  Quarterbacks  |  Running Backs  |  Tight Ends

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