NFL Offseason Moves, Part 1

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This is part 1 of a multi-part series catching everyone up on where we’re at in the NFL in the dog days of May and soon to be June.

It’s been said that there is no offseason for the NFL, but rather the “playing” and “not playing” season. True to form, we are in the middle of one of the wildest “not playing” seasons in recent memory, with a large volume of high-profile players moving around.

You don’t need me to tell you Wes Welker is going to have a good season playing in Denver with Peyton Manning, or that he’s going to help you in your fantasy league this fall. Here are some moves that do warrant some discussion, however. This is as it relates to each team’s overall outlook for the season, as well as the individual player’s fantasy prospects so you don’t reach for someone overrated or sleep on someone that can help you out.

 

Steven Jackson

2012 Team: St. Louis Rams
2013 Team: Atlanta Falcons

It was plain to see that Michael Turner’s time in Atlanta had come to an end after a lackluster 2012 campaign. His yards after contact were practically zero, and a record number of analysts referred to him as “cement-footed”, “sluggish” and said he doesn’t fit in with the up-tempo Atlanta offense.

When you think of explosive, productive Running Backs, Steven Jackson is not the first guy to come to mind. In fact, some spoke of Jackson with the same dismissive tone as Turner, saying his best days were behind him. Jackson has been held back by a struggling offense for most of him time in St. Louis, always averaging 4 yards per carry but not scoring more than 7 Touchdowns in a season since 2006.

Now imagine his bruising, workhorse style in an offense where you need to respect the passing game thanks to Roddy White and Julio Jones. Michael Turner kept his name on the stat sheet by getting plenty of goal line opportunities, 22 to be exact. He converted touchdowns on 7 of them. Steven Jackson converted 2 of 9 opportunities. While the percentage is slightly lower (22% to 31%), the difference in opportunity speaks to the Falcons’ ability to move the ball and the Rams’ glaring deficiency to do the same.

From a fantasy perspective, Jackson was drafted 36th overall in average draft position (ADP) last year, mainly as a number 2 running back.  This year, you may be lucky to get him that low. I’d reach a few picks early for a guy who hasn’t had less than 1,000 yards his whole career on a mostly bad offense but averages only 6 TDs over his career.

From an NFL perspective, the Falcons have improved the only lacking aspect of their offense – the running game. They always seem to roll through the regular season, but the NFC South has collectively improved through the draft on the defensive side of the ball. There are yards to be had on the ground, and I think Steven Jackson takes advantage of that.

 

Danny Amendola

2012 team: St. Louis Rams
2013 team: New England Patriots

For someone living in New England, this was an earth-shattering development. Wes Welker, after being involved in contract disputes for the better part of 3 years, departed for rival Denver, and another Welker-like receiver takes his place the same day.

The biggest downside to a guy like Danny Amendola is his durability. An otherwise-forgettable Rams-Cardinals Thursday night game last season was highlighted by Amendola making a beautiful 40-yard catch down the left sideline only to break his clavicle in a way that was life-threatening. When he’s healthy, he has been a lone bright spot on a struggling, young Rams team, catching 85 balls in 2010, and that was Sam Bradford’s rookie year.

Transfer his results from that year, but substitute Tom Brady in Bradford’s place. No team has gotten more production out of their slot receiver position than the Patriots. More to the point, and this is my main reason for wanting to take him a little higher than everyone else in fantasy and why I’m not as up-in-arms over this deal as everyone else in Boston, Belichick and Brady will get him the ball. A lot. They did draft a few receivers, but historically, young homegrown receivers don’t often produce in New England, and neither of them project to take away from Amendola’s snaps.

Volume doesn’t always equal production, but as the de facto General Manager of the Patriots, Bill Belichick is going to prove that he doesn’t need an All-Pro receiver to win. The team and ownership took a lot of heat for the move. If he stays healthy, he may league the league in receptions. As we say up in New England, “In Bill We Trust.”

If you’re not risk adverse, put Amendola right next to Welker on your draft board, no more than a round later, especially in point-per-reception leagues. It may be crazy for a guy who is usually no more than a late-round flier, but as I said at the top of the article, you don’t need me to tell you to “draft Wes Welker.” Safe, obvious moves have no place in this column.

As far as a real-world perspective, the Patriots will always be there in January as long as Tom Brady is under center. You have to wonder, with Welker’s high-profile drops in the postseason, if someone like Amendola can put them over the edge, hungry for the playoffs after spending the first four seasons of his career on a team that went 17-46.

 

Mike Wallace

2012 Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
2013 Team: Miami Dolphins

There’s a saying in fantasy sports, maybe more applicable to baseball than to football. Don’t pay for a career year. It feels like that’s what Miami did. Almost immediately after the new league year began, the Miami Dolphins signed Mike Wallace to a market-setting 5 year deal for $60 million. Half of it is guaranteed, and I highly doubt he sees the end of that deal as it’s written. Either he’ll perform at a high level forcing Miami to rip up the deal, or that $25 million over 2014-2015 will prove to be too much for a one-trick receiver.

I’ve never been a Mike Wallace fan. Much has been made of his attempt to learn more than just a “go” route over the last couple seasons, while he wasn’t even the best all-around receiver on his own team last year when paired with the more dynamic Antonio Brown. Wallace’s best year was in 2010 when he caught 60 balls on 100 targets for 1,257 yards and 10 TDs. Exceedingly impressive for a receiver’s second year. He then put up a very good 72/1,193/8 stat line the following year as Antonio Brown emerged halfway through the year. After his holdout in the 2012 preseason, Wallace finished last season with only 836 yards on 64 receptions while still scoring 8 touchdowns. You can argue Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t healthy all year, or that Wallace missed training camp. I say it’s because when the deep ball isn’t working, Wallace isn’t working.

Now, Wallace makes a move to sunny Miami, Florida to play with second year QB Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill finished last year with 3,284 yards, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He didn’t have much of a receiving corps in his rookie year, so Mike Wallace will unquestionably help Tannehill. Tannehill has a big arm and can get the ball downfield, but he’s not Ben Roethlisberger in terms of being able to run an offense and extend a play. Miami did not spend a lot of draft capital on the offense, so they really expect Wallace to be an elite receiver. I don’t see this being more than a lateral move for Wallace in terms of statistics and efficiency, and there’s plenty of bust potential.

Personally, I’m not touching Wallace in fantasy in 2013. If he falls to the 6th round or later and he’s the best receiver on the board, think about it, but the days of taking a deep threat receiver like Wallace or DeSean Jackson early – unless you’re in a TD-heavy scoring system – are over. We don’t know how the Miami offense will run yet, but their other offseason acquisitions – Dustin Keller, Brandon Gibson – have been underwhelming at best. Wallace may be out on an island getting to know the league’s safeties very well all year.

From an NFL perspective, the AFC East still goes through Foxboro. Miami did finish 7-9 last year and their offseason spending spree, which resembles Dan Snyder and the Redskins, shows that they’re serious about winning now, or at least interested in playing some defense. I wouldn’t go blowing your life savings on the over for Miami’s regular season win total however.

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