2011 NFL free agency fantasy impact

BY Ryan Fowler • July 26, 2011

With the NFL lockout so focused on money, it's only fitting that even the league's free agents are anything but on the house.  As we know football's free agency period is normally spread out over five months, but thanks to the "extended vacation" we are about to enjoy a free agent frenzy like we've never seen before. To keep owners informed, we'll be updating all major fantasy acquisitions, adds, cuts, depth charts changes and personnel moves right here in this running blog.

Be sure to check back often for the latest NFL transactions and fantasy analysis.



***UPDATE 3:20p August 1***

Transaction: Ahmad Bradshaw re-signs with Giants.

Fantasy Impact: Bradshaw re-upping with the G-Men preserves New York’s standing as one of the best backfields in the NFC. Bradshaw had a breakout year in 2010 with 1,235 yards and eight touchdowns, although his seven fumbles were cause for concern.

Bradshaw is projected to see the bulk of the workload in 2011, with Jacobs serving as backup. Although his explosiveness and participation in the passing game make Bradshaw an intriguing option, the anxiety over his ability to hold onto the ball pushes Bradshaw’s ranking into the teens at the running back position. Furthermore, the Giants employ Jacobs in the red zone, meaning Bradshaw is less likely to contribute touchdowns.

As for Jacobs, his nine touchdowns and 823 yards from last season are enticing figures for a second-stringer. Currently ranked in the mid-30s at the position in most fantasy forecasts, give Jacobs a slight bump as Bradshaw’s fumble issues could correlate to more playing time.

- Joel Beall

***Update 11:30am Aug. 1***

Transaction: Cedric Benson signs with Bengals

Fantasy Impact:  With a new quarterback and a young receiving corps, Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis has to be thrilled to see a familiar offensive weapon back for 2011.  Even if that person is running back Cedric Benson, who just last month had another run-in with the law.

Benson has rushed for over 1,000 yards back-to-back seasons with 13 touchdowns (plus one receiving).   His average rushing yards per game fell from 96.2 in 2009 to 69.4 last season, but expect that to change with Bruce Gradkowski and/or Andy Dalton taking most of the snaps over the course of 16 games.  Benson owners could be in for a treat if they are willing to take a gamble on the veteran RB entering his seventh season.

Benson is currently ranked as the 21st-best available running back (40th overall), but I'd bump him into the top 15 with the lack of experience and options in Cincinnati.  That is, of course, if he doesn't miss any time due to suspension.

- Ryan Fowler

***UPDATE 11:30a July 31***

Transaction: Plaxico Burress signed by Jets

Fantasy Impact: I wonder how I would write this blurb had I not witnessed Michael Vick last season. 

From 2005-2007, Burress racked up over 200 receptions for 3000 yards and 29 receiving touchdowns with the Giants.  Before being placed on New York's non-football injury list, following his now infamous gun shot wound to the leg, Burress scored four touchdowns in ten games, but only averaged 45 receiving yards per game.

Still, with Santonio Holmes on one side and Burress on the other, Mark Sanchez's fantasy stock has received a nice bump and I would draft the newest New York Jet as a low #2 WR or flex play.

- Ryan Fowler

***UPDATE 10:30p July 30***

Transaction: Marion Barber signed by Bears

Fantasy Impact: Bears second-string running back, Chester Taylor, vultured three touchdowns away from Matt Forte in 2010. I could see Barber snatching one or two over the course of Chicago’s 16-game season.

Barber is a shell of the running back who rushed for 4.8 yards per attempt back-to-back seasons in 2006 and 2007 (not to mention 28 touchdown in those two years). Last season in Dallas, his YPA sank to 3.3 as Jerry Jones and the coaching staff began to pass the torch to Felix Jones.

Barber’s value is slightly higher in deep touchdown-heavy leagues, but I wouldn’t touch him.

- Ryan Fowler

***UPDATE 7:00p July 29***

Transaction: Nnamdi Asomugha signed by Eagles

Fantasy Impact: Darrelle Revis remains alone on his island. The Eagles signing of Asomugha pairs him up with the team’s other monster signing, no not Donald Lee, but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie aka DRC. You have to wonder if Asante Samuel will be left without a seat.

The Eagles were tied for 14th in pass defense last season with the Cincinnati Bengals (217 yards per game). They ranked 18th in pass yards per attempt, 11th in opposing QB rating and third in interceptions. Philly is ranked as our seventh-best fantasy defense available, but with the addition of these two cornerbacks, they hop inside my top five and probably crack the top three.  One thing to remember fantasy owners, Asomugha is not known for interceptions - he's (un)known for forcing quarterbacks to look the other way.   

- Ryan Fowler

***UPDATE 2:10p July 29***

Transaction: Willis McGahee to Denver

Fantasy Impact: The advent of McGahee into the Denver offense downgrades the value of Knowshon Moreno, as McGahee will cut into Moreno’s goal line opportunities. Moreno will still be a factor in the Bronco passing game, and is projected to receive the bulk of carries. However, McGahee does have 55 touchdowns in his seven-year career and routinely foiled Ray Rice owners last season by spelling the starter in the red zone.

As for McGahee, Moreno’s injury-prone history suggests the former Hurricane is worth the pickup strictly as insurance. Even if Moreno stays healthy, McGahee has the ability to post six-to-eight scores and will be one of the more active backups in the league.

- Joel Beall

***UPDATE 11:05a July 29***

Transaction: Michael Crabtree out 4-6 weeks

Fantasy Impact: With Jim Harbaugh’s West Coast attack, many tabbed Crabtree as a breakout fantasy star in 2011. Those predictions will have to be paused, as a foot injury is expected to sideline the former Red Raider for four-to-six weeks.

Crabtree’s timetable for return is unclear, equating to a downgrade in fantasy drafts held in the upcoming weeks. By default, Josh Morgan becomes San Francisco’s No. 1 receiver, although Vernon Davis remains the primary target in the passing game. Morgan’s stock upsurges, but with Alex Smith still at the helm, view Morgan as a third-to-fourth stringer on your fantasy WR depth chart.

Judging by the current names on the roster (Dominique Zeigler, Ronald Johnson, Kyle Williams…what, no J.J. Stokes?) one would have to assume San Fran will obtain a veteran wideout in free-agency or via trade. The Niners do have Ted Ginn, Jr., but he’s better suited for a special teams role. Monitor this situation closely.

- Joel Beall

***UPDATE 8:20a July 29***

Transaction: Darren Sproles to New Orleans

Fantasy Impact: To fill the void of the recently exiled Reggie Bush, the Saints have signed the diminutive Darren Sproles from San Diego. Sproles is a multipurpose back who excels in the passing game, hauling in 104 receptions the past two seasons, and on special teams, where he’s posted four touchdowns off of returns in his career.

While Sproles won’t see enough time to warrant fantasy selection, his arrival means the explosive Saints offensive attack won’t miss a beat without Bush, who was an integral part of the scheme as a receiver and decoy. Drew Brees remains in the upper echelon of fantasy performers at the QB position, and Sproles’ versatility could make the New Orleans’ offense more dynamic.

Sproles’ presence won’t affect Mark Ingram’s standing, as Sproles will be featured more on third downs and passing situations. That said, don’t select Ingram too early in your draft, as the Saints’ backfield is crowded with viable options in Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory (Ivory is recovering from a broken foot - coach Payton says he'll miss the first few weeks of camp).

- Joel Beall

***UPDATE 6:15p July 28***

Transaction: Chad Ochocinco traded to New England

Fantasy Impact: Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick will not put up with any bull, even if Chad Ochocinco attempted to ride one. The Patriots’ inking both Albert Haynesworth and Ocho on Thursday is just another example of this team reloading by taking “headaches” off the hands of those who are sick of the drama.

We know about Wes Welker and his PPR fantasy value, but the team was looking at 32-year-old Deion Branch as WR #2. Tom Brady required more to lead the Pats to the Super Bowl and boost his value as a fantasy quarterback. Brady revitalized Randy Moss’ career until he got “bored,” and the same could/should happen with Ochocinco. One area that could ding Ocho’s value is tight end. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski had a huge hand in the Pats' offense a season ago.

In his final three seasons with the Bengals, Ochocinco averaged 64 receptions, 806 yards and nearly six touchdowns per season. He’s currently ranked as the 44th-best wide receiver in our composite rankings, but cracks my top 25 with Brady throwing to him. He’s a low #2 WR / high #3 WR in my book.

In Cincinnati, the values of Jordan Shipley, Andre Caldwell and Jermaine Gresham get a slight bump. The Bengals are green at quarterback.

- Ryan Fowler

***UPDATE 3:30p July 28***

Transaction: Kevin Kolb traded to Arizona

Fantasy impact: Here are some fun facts - John Skelton has started four games at quarterback in the NFL (62.3 QB rating), Max Hall has started three games at quarterback in the NFL (35.7 QB rating) and Kolb has started seven games at quarterback in the NFL (73.2 QB rating). One of these guys is set to make $63-million over the next five years.

Kolb is the guy NFL fans want to embrace and love and say they were the first to say I knew he was special. I think many fantasy owners possess the same rationale, but I don’t think we’ve seen enough to draft him as our #1 QB. He’s currently ranked 25th (list created pre-trade). In 12 games over the last two seasons, Kolb has thrown 11 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions with 2082 passing yards to his credit.

Larry Fitzgerald is happy. Cardinals’ fans are happy. Fantasy owners what say you?

I say draft Kolb as a late #1 QB or as an early #2 quarterback.  Remember he has basically a month to learn the offense.

- Ryan Fowler

Fantasy Impact
In his abbreviated appearances, Kolb has illustrated that he has the necessary tools to become one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league. The Cardinals might be restricted with a limited playbook for the first few weeks as Kolb tries to assimilate into a new offense, but expect the Arizona aerial attack to be full throttle by the middle of October. Any bumps Kolb experiences with the transition will be negated by his pinpoint accuracy.

Kolb’s presence immediately raises the stock of Larry Fitzgerald, whose value had dropped thanks to the putrid play behind center in Arizona in 2010. Feel free to place Fitzgerald inside the top 12 in your wideout rankings. The running back situation remains murky with no clear-cut favorite, so avoid Beanie Wells, Ryan Williams and Tim Hightower until the later rounds.

As for Kolb, he currently falls somewhere in the 11-15 range at the quarterback position standings. I don’t doubt his ability, but with Steve Breaston setting up shop in Kansas City, my only concern is his lack of playmakers outside of Fitzgerald. If Arizona acquires another threat in the passing game, Kolb will be a must-start in fantasy this season.

- Joel Beall

***UPDATE 12:40p July 28***

Transaction: Steve Smith staying in Carolina

Fantasy Impact: After reports surfaced in April that Smith cleared out his locker in Bank of America Stadium, all indications pointed to the disgruntled wideout finding a new home in 2011. Yet sources are reporting that Smith has stated his intention to stay in Charlotte to Panthers GM Marty Hurney, giving Carolina another victory during this active acquisition period.

Despite having his worst season since becoming a full-time starter (46 receptions, 554 yards, two touchdowns), Smith remains Carolina’s number one option in the passing game. The addition of Jeremy Shockey should alleviate some of the pressure over the middle for Smith, as well as the continued growth of Brandon LaFell and David Gettis.

Smith should fall in your fantasy draft because of his rising age, poor production in 2010 and Carolina’s uncertainty at QB. However, Smith still has the capability to submit solid fantasy numbers and is undoubtedly worthy of a sleeper selection. The attainment of Smith also increases Cam Newton’s prospects, as the rookie signal caller now has an established commodity at his disposal.

- Joel Beall

***UPDATE 9:20a July 28***

Transaction: Reggie Bush to Miami

Fantasy Impact: Bush has failed to live up to lofty expectations, rushing for just 2,000 yards in five seasons in New Orleans. Bush was effective in the Saints passing game, hauling in 294 receptions for 2,142 yards, but was never a consistent contributor in the fantasy forum.

Things should remain par for the course in Miami, where the Dolphins will mix Bush with rookie Daniel Thomas in the backfield. Bush himself won’t be a relevant fantasy option. However, if the rumored Kyle Orton trade to Miami materializes, Bush will provide a safety blanket for Orton on short routes and third-down situations. With Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess and Bush, Orton becomes an attractive late-round signal caller in fantasy drafts.

Bush’s arrival shouldn’t impact Thomas’ standing, although be cautious when drafting rookie running backs.

- Joel Beall

***UPDATE 8:55a July 28***

Transaction: Steve Breaston signs with Chiefs

Fantasy Impact: Maybe the most underrated offensive signing in this tumultuous two-day frenzy, Breaston immediately makes the Kansas City aerial assault effective, joining Dwayne Bowe, Tony Moeaki and Dexter McCluster as viable weapons. Add in the impact of rookie Jon Baldwin, and the Chiefs suddenly have one of the better passing attacks in the AFC.

While Breaston isn’t considered an elite fantasy receiver, he will put up the stats to serve as a practical backup in most leagues. Breaston’s presence boosts Bowe’s value, taking some of the opposing defense’s attention away from the Pro Bowl receiver. Matt Cassel also becomes an intriguing option, possibly vaulting into starter status in deeper leagues.

One possible pitfall of Breaston’s arrival: is Todd Haley trying to recreate the pass-happy attack he installed in Arizona? If so, Jamaal Charles’ stock could free-fall. For now, Charles remains one of the top backs in the league, but don’t be surprised if the running opportunities become reduced in favor of the pass.

- Joel Beall

***UPDATE 8:15a July 28***

Transaction: Donovan McNabb traded to Minnesota

Fantasy Impact: Although the rumors have been flying around all offseason, the McNabb Era ended in Washington after just one season. The former Pro Bowler heads to a Minnesota team that still has most of the integral pieces intact from a squad this close to making the Super Bowl in 2009, although Sidney Rice’s departure to Seattle won’t help matters.

While the public perception maintains that he had a down year in 2010, McNabb suffered from incompetent receivers and a nonexistent backfield. Still, McNabb managed to throw for 3,377 yards and 14 touchdowns in 13 ballgames.

McNabb is a safe and solid choice as a backup, and could easily fill a starter’s role in deeper fantasy formats. More importantly, McNabb’s presence solidifies Adrian Peterson’s top spot at the running back position. Whereas teams could have solely focused on the Vikings rushing game, McNabb behind center will keep opposing defenses honest, theoretically allowing Peterson more room to run.

- Joel Beall



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