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2012 Early Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterbacks

By: — March 30, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

With the NFL becoming more of a passing league, the strategy of grabbing a lower-tier starting quarterback for your fantasy squad is becoming obsolete. Look no further than the massive passing yardage and touchdown totals put up by the upper-tier quarterbacks in 2011, with three players throwing for more than 5,000 yards, ten players topping 4,000 yards and seven players throwing for 29 or more touchdowns.

And we haven’t mentioned what Cam Newton did rushing the ball in his rookie season.

The chic fantasy strategy at quarterback in 2012 will be to grab a top five quarterback and it won’t be a surprise if three quarterbacks are taken in the first round in drafts for 12-team leagues.

And the numbers back up that this is likely a smart strategy. The top five fantasy quarterbacks in 2012 averaged 28.4 points per game whereas the quarterbacks ranked 6th through 10th averaged 22.2, a not insignificant difference of 6.2 points per game.

With the first wave of free agency over, here are my initial 2012 fantasy football quarterback rankings:

The Top 12

1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers – Only a Week 17 day off prevented Rodgers from being the top-ranked fantasy quarterback in 2011. With his key weapons back for 2012, expect more of the same.

2. Tom Brady, Patriots – Gains a deep threat in Brandon Lloyd making the New England offense even more unstoppable.

3. Drew Brees, Saints – More of a risk with head coach Sean Payton suspended for the 2012 season, the only key loss the team suffered on offense. Robert Meachem left town but he is replaceable.

4. Matthew Stafford, Lions – After his breakout 2011 season with over 5,000 passing yards and 41 touchdown passes, the only concern with Stafford is his health and that of wide receiver Calvin Johnson. With nothing of significance added to help replenish the team’s rushing attack, expect plenty of passes from the Lions once again next season.

A repeat of 14 rushing TDs from Cam is too much to expect.

5. Cam Newton, Panthers – Newton burst onto the scene with 854 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and a pair of rushing scores in his first two games on his way to finishing the year as the fourth ranked fantasy quarterback. There are only two red flags. He threw for under 200 yards in each of his last three games (478 yards in those games) and it is highly unlikely he will reach 14 rushing touchdowns again – a league record for quarterbacks he set last season.

6. Michael Vick, Eagles – With Vick, it’s all about the injuries. If you peg him as missing one or two games, then he is close to being a top-five fantasy quarterback. If it’s four or five games, knock him down to somewhere between 10th and 12th.

7. Eli Manning, Giants – In leading the Giants to another Super Bowl victory, Manning enjoyed the finest year of his career with 4,933 passing yards, 29 passing touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Mario Manningham left town but he wasn’t a key cog in the Giants regular season passing success in 2011.

8. Philip Rivers, Chargers – The weapons are leaving the Chargers offense with wide receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Mike Tolbert skipping town one year after the departure of Darren Sproles. That hurts as does having injury issues amongst his receivers (Antonio Gates, Robert Meachem and Malcom Floyd). But, can Rivers possibly be as bad as he was last year?

9. Matt Ryan, Falcons – Expect less from tight end Tony Gonzalez and running back Michael Turner but more from wide receivers Roddy White and especially, Julio Jones. Net result should be career-highs in passing yards and touchdowns.

10. Peyton Manning, Broncos – Broncos are sure to add to their offense but at this point they are missing a slot receiver and a running back capable of making big plays in the passing game. Check back later on this one.

11. Tony Romo, Cowboys – Star third wide receiver Laurent Robinson left town for the Jaguars, Jason Witten started looking old down the stretch and Miles Austin has hamstrings tighter than a steel bar. Oh, Dallas also found a running game last year with DeMarco Murray.

12. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers – The Bucs were a mess last year and Freeman suffered because of it. However, Vincent Jackson is in town to provide him with his first real deep threat and Mike Williams should benefit from drawing less attention. Freeman’s rushing prowess makes him the 12th ranked fantasy quarterback over other options such as Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler and Robert Griffin III.

Running backs up next…

Good Depth or Bad Business? Bears Land Bush, but Alienate Forte

By: — March 23, 2012 @ 3:44 pm

In a somewhat surprising move, the Chicago Bears agreed to terms on a four-year, $14 million contract with Michael Bush.

Forte is none too happy with the signing of Bush.

From a personnel standpoint, it is hard to blame the Bears for making a move to protect themselves in negotiations with Matt Forte, who has been seeking a long-term deal for some time. In his short time as the GM, Phil Emery has executed two bold moves, trading for Brandon Marshall shortly after the start of the new league year and signing Bush. From a business prospective, though, Chicago has made it clear it has no intentions to reward a player who has done as much in a short time and with as much class as Forte has.

However, the surprising parts to this signing are that: 1) Bush would sign anywhere that he didn’t have a clear path to the starting job after his rather impressive performance over the second half of the 2011 season, 2) Chicago would sign the best free-agent running back in the class, understanding they already had Kahlil Bell as a capable reserve and 3) knowing that acquiring a back in his prime like Bush would not only undermine and upset the offense’s centerpiece, but also force him to share touches if/when he returns from a likely holdout.

At the start of free agency, two destinations seemed to make the most sense for Bush – Cincinnati and Cleveland (assuming the Bengals were going to part with Cedric Benson and the Browns would let Peyton Hillis walk, both of which seemed likely). Both teams execute a version of the West Coast Offense that will not hesitate to lean on the running game when necessary. The WCO has also long rewarded running backs who possess the receiving skills Bush does. And let’s not overlook the small detail that Bush was born, raised and went to college at Louisville, which is not a long drive from the two Ohio teams, particularly Cincinnati.

In case you haven’t been keeping count, Forte has been in the league for four years and has been forced to deal with high-profile backups (Kevin Jones, Chester Taylor and Marion Barber) every season. Granted, Jones didn’t help much during his injury-plagued stay in Chicago, which allowed Forte to post a 1,715-total yard, eight-touchdown debut in 2008 and 1,616-yard, nine-score follow-up effort in 2009. Now, Forte has to deal with the 27-year-old Bush, who is easily the best back of the four players Chicago has brought in over the years to “compete” with Forte and will now command most of the goal line touches and a sizable chunk of the passing game work.

Fantasy Impact

Even though Chicago will run the ball earlier in the season and with more conviction than it ever did under former OC Mike Martz, it is hard to like this signing from a number of perspectives.

The most obvious reason to dislike Bush in Chicago from a fantasy standpoint is because he is a poor bet to ever become the feature back. In Cincinnati or Cleveland, Bush would have been a strong bet for 325-350 touches with injury-prone second-stringers like Bernard Scott and Montario Hardesty picking up the rest of the work. There was little doubt in my mind the Bengals would have been the best fit for Bush, but they opted for BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

On the other hand, Forte played in 60 consecutive games to begin his NFL career before the knee injury he suffered in Week 13 knocked him out for the remainder of the season. Forte’s running style is not one that exposes him to injury on a regular basis, meaning a repeat of 2011 is unlikely.

Assuming both players are healthy (and/or not holding out) all season long, neither back is a likely candidate for 300 touches now. Certainly, sharing the load is not uncommon in today’s NFL, but in Forte and Bush, the Bears have two players who are certainly more than capable of being feature backs. When both are healthy, expect the same kind of workload split that Bush had with Darren McFadden, albeit in a much less dynamic offensive scheme under new OC Mike Tice.

In summary, it’s hard to believe any of the running backs involved benefits fantasy-wise from this transaction. It’s hard to imagine Forte being anything more than a low-end RB1 with 5-6 TD upside or Bush receiving enough opportunity to be anything more than an inconsistent RB3 due to Forte’s durability. What little fantasy value Bell had entering the 2012 season as Forte’s handcuff is gone as well.

Déjà-Vu – Seahawks Land another Former Packer, Matt Flynn Joins Seattle

By: — March 20, 2012 @ 4:08 pm

With a hole at the quarterback position since the departure of Matt Hasselbeck, the Seattle Seahawks have acquired former Green Bay backup Matt Flynn.

Has Seattle finally found it's Quarterback?

Flynn joins Seattle after having served as a backup with the Packers for four years, following essentially the same path to a starting position that Hasselbeck did before leading Seattle for several years. The only difference is that the Seahawks had to trade for Hasselebeck whereas Flynn has joined the team as an unrestricted free agent.

Reports indicate that Flynn will sign a three-year, $26-million with $10-million in guarantees.

It was expected that Flynn would be a hot commodity as a free agent but the market for his services never really materialized. Flynn ended up choosing Seattle over Miami, where he would have joined former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, entering his first season as the Dolphins head coach.

Seattle is taking the chance that Flynn’s impressive performances in his two career starts will translate into solid production leading the Seahawks offense. The Flynn-led Packers nearly upset the Patriots in 2010 and he broke the Packers record for passing yards in a game during his Week 17 480-yard, six-touchdown performance against Detroit this season.

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll stated that Flynn would compete with incumbent Tarvaris Jackson for the starting quarterback position but it is expected that Flynn will lead the Seahawks offense in 2012.

Fantasy Impact

Will the Seahawks once again strike gold with a former Packers backup? Or will Flynn flop much like Kevin Kolb did in Arizona last season?

While Kolb was a checkdown king in his first year as a starter, Flynn has shown a willingness to throw the deep ball so it isn’t likely that defenses will be able to clamp down on him they were they were able to with Kolb at the controls of the Arizona offense.

That being said, Flynn doesn’t possess an outstanding skill set. He has shown solid decision-making skills and accuracy but he lacks arm strength on deep passes.

In Green Bay, he looked good playing with the league’s most feared group of pass catching wide receivers and tight ends that the league has to offer.

In Seattle, he will play with injury-prone wide receiver Sidney Rice, 2011 free agent tight end bust Zach Miller and whoever wins out at the wide receiver position opposite Rice. That’s not just a step down in offensive weaponry; it’s a flight or two stairs going in the wrong direction.

Of course, Rice could revert back to his 2009 form, when he topped 1,300 receiving yards while scoring eight touchdowns. Likewise, Miller could become the receiving threat he was in Oakland and again top 60 receptions. And Mike Williams could rebound from his poor showing last season and youngsters such as Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and Deon Butler could step to the forefront and become consistent playmakers.

The key theme there is “could”, not “should”.

Seattle’s solid rushing attack, led by Marshawn Lynch, figures to relieve some of the pressure Flynn will be under during his first year as a starting quarterback. Carroll has shown a propensity for running the ball and there is a strong likelihood that he will feature Lynch, the team’s top offensive threat last season, once again in 2012.

With so much uncertainty in his supporting cast and his lack of natural athletic ability, Flynn needs to morph into Drew Brees to become a fantasy starter in 2012. Consider him a low-end fantasy backup.

Move Rice into the WR2 category, albeit at the low end, and Lynch’s status as a top 10 fantasy running back remains unchanged.

As for the Seahawks other offensive weapons, monitor their production in training camp and act accordingly.

Peyton Manning to Join the Denver Broncos

By: — March 19, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

Various news outlets are reporting that former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning will be joining the Denver Broncos for the 2012 season.

Is the AFC West Denver's division to lose?

The Manning sweepstakes began when Indianapolis chose not to pay their future Hall of Fame quarterback a $28-million bonus payment, releasing him on March 7th and setting in motion the biggest free agent frenzy for one player in the history of the league.

After his release, reports indicated that up to 12 teams had inquired as to whether Manning was interested in signing with them. Presumably the only teams that didn’t inquire were those with Pro Bowl quality quarterbacks, outstanding young players at the position or teams that knew they had no chance to land the player regarded as arguably the best to ever play the position.

In the end, Manning’s decision came down to three teams – the Broncos, the Titans and the 49ers.

Manning’s agent, Tom Condon, must still finalize contract arrangements with the Broncos, a process that could take some time in order to protect the Broncos in the event Manning’s prior neck injuries reoccur. However, Manning has repeatedly stated that he wants to protect his next employer in the event that he is injured, making prolonged negotiations unlikely.

In Denver, Manning will join an offense that features a solid offensive line and a pair of promising young wide receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. The Broncos have holes at running back where Willis McGahee was productive in 2011 but has complained about his contract and at tight end.

Interestingly, the Colts released running back Joseph Addai and tight end Dallas Clark this off-season and both players remain unsigned.

Fantasy Impact

The Broncos have largely sat on the sideline for the beginning of free agency, signing former Browns safety Mike Adams and re-signing linebacker Joe Mays. Reports have indicated that the team planned to continue building through the draft with Tim Tebow at quarterback unless Manning decided to join the team.

With Manning in the fold, the Broncos are expected to become more aggressive in free agency and the expectation is that a number of former Colts could join Manning in Denver.

There can be little doubt that the team will add a multi-dimensional threat out of the backfield as well as a pass receiving tight end and perhaps a slot receiver to the roster. Since that hasn’t happened and we don’t know who those players might be and whether those areas will be addressed through free agency or the draft, it is difficult to ascertain Manning’s fantasy football value for the 2012 season.

Let’s consider his age and health.

Manning will turn 36 this month and while that is clearly old for most positions, recent history suggests that quarterbacks can be very productive at such an age. The most recent example is Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, who remained productive until 38 years of age.

Health-wise, Manning’s nerve damage to his neck is clearly cause for concern but not necessarily an indicator that he is more susceptible to injury going forward.

Keep in mind that Manning’s ability to recognize coverages was the main reason the Colts regularly ranked near the bottom of the league in sacks allowed. His ability to get the ball out before being pressured reduces his likelihood of suffering an injury.

Manning’s performance over the 2009 and 2010 seasons do not suggest any drop off from his performance over the earlier part of his career. He established a career-high in passing yards in 2010 with 4,700 and threw for the 3rd highest yardage total of his career in 2009 (4,500).

In addition, he threw for 33 touchdowns in each of those seasons and a touchdown interception-ratio of two to one while finishing as the top ranked fantasy quarterback in 2010 and 4th at the position in 2009. It is safe to conclude that Manning’s performance did not suffer in either of those seasons as a result of his advancing age.

In Denver, Manning will inherit a pair of young, talented receivers entering their 3rd seasons in the league. While Decker was more productive last season (44 receptions for 612 yards and eight touchdowns), Thomas (32 receptions for 551 yards and four touchdowns) is the more exciting talent of the two. However, neither player has reached the heights of Reggie Wayne, Manning’s top wide receiver in Indianapolis.

As for comparing the tight end positions for the two teams, there’s simply no comparison. Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme were far better receiving options than what currently resides on the depth chart in Denver (a pair of second-year players in Julius Thomas and Virgil Green as well as Cornelius Ingram).

As the Denver roster currently stands, Manning would shape up as a low-end fantasy starter, perhaps sneaking into the top 10 but only barely. Lump him into the tier of fantasy quarterbacks that includes Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger but consider moving him up once we see what types of additions the Broncos management has planned on the offensive side of the ball.

Consider Thomas, a player with perhaps more physical ability than any wide receiver Manning has ever played with, a mid-tier WR2 with upside and Decker a low-end WR3.

As for Tebow, his fantasy value in redraft leagues plummets to zero and it isn’t much above that in dynasty formats.

Patriots Land Brandon Lloyd

By: — @ 1:07 pm

The wide receiver signing most expected to happen entering free agency has finally occurred.

The New England Patriots have signed Brandon Lloyd to a multi-year deal. Reports indicate that Lloyd will sign a three-year, $12-million contract, a discount from what he was expected to sign for, particularly considering the free agent contracts that similar wide receivers have signed for this offseason.

Lloyd is a significant upgrade for the Patriots at the WR position.

In New England, Lloyd will be reunited with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. McDaniels was Lloyd’s head coach when he had a breakout season in 2010 and last season in St. Louis, where he served as the Rams offensive coordinator.

Lloyd posted career highs in every receiving category in 2010, finishing the season with 77 receptions for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns. Traded by the Broncos to the Rams in 2011, he finished last season with 70 receptions for 966 yards and five touchdowns.

The Patriots were in the market for a wide receiver capable of stretching opposing defenses and Lloyd has proven capable in that role over the last two seasons. He will start opposite Wes Welker and join a receiving cast featuring four Pro Bowl quality players including Welker and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Fantasy Impact

Let the hype machine start rolling and it is going to be based on Lloyd’s stellar 2010 production with McDaniels in Denver combined with Randy Moss’ other-worldly production with McDaniels in New England.

Let’s run down the reasons why Lloyd could bust out once again in 2012.

Moss consistently topped 1,000 yards and double digit touchdowns as the Patriots main deep threat, the role that Lloyd figures to fulfill this season. It is also worth noting that Lloyd’s breakout season came with Kyle Orton at quarterback and Tom Brady is several notches up the quarterback food chain from Orton.

Let’s also throw in that BenJarvus Green-Ellis remains unsigned so the Patriots current running back depth chart features a pair of unproven second-year players in Steven Ridley and Shane Vereen as well as Danny Woodhead, whose main role is as a receiver out of the backfield. If that situation doesn’t change, we can assume even more passing attempts in New England in 2012.

Time to switch to the cup is half-empty mode.

In his 2010 breakout season, Lloyd wasn’t just the Big Dog in Denver, he was the only dog. The team’s other wide receivers were Jabar Gaffney, a slumping Eddie Royal and a pair of largely unproductive rookies in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.

That factor combined with the fact that Broncos finished 4-12 that season and spent plenty of time playing from behind helped Lloyd finish fourth in the league in targets.

Although the Patriots throw the ball plenty (the 3rd most in the league last season), Lloyd won’t be the Big Dog and there’s a chance he might be the Little Dog behind Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez.

Not helping matters is that Lloyd certainly won’t be the Red Zone Big Dog given the Patriots preference to either throw underneath to Welker or utilize the size of Gronkowski and Hernandez in red zone situations.

You see where I’m going on this one. The chances of Lloyd finishing as a top ten fantasy wide receiver in 2012 are very low. There certainly won’t be a repeat of his marvelous 2010 production. Consider Lloyd a mid-tier WR3 in 2012.

Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez are the fantasy losers with Lloyd’s signing as well as Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, at least if you were under the impression that Lloyd was considering re-signing with the Rams.

Welker should no longer be considered a top five fantasy wide receiver, except in PPR leagues.

In Gronkowski’s case, he remains the top ranked tight end but with lower overall production. Hernandez slides down a few notches but remains a top ten option.

The biggest fantasy football winner with Lloyd’s signing? Well, that has to be Brady. The fair-haired one comes out on top once again.

Jacksonville Gets a No. 1 Receiver?

By: — March 15, 2012 @ 9:52 am

With a dearth of talent at the wide receiver position and numerous free agent options going off the market quickly, the Jacksonville Jaguars entered the fray by signing former Dallas wide receiver Laurent Robinson.

Robinson has landed in a fantasy wasteland.

Reports indicate that Robinson will sign a five-year, $32.5-million contract that contains $14-million in guarantees.

Robinson enjoyed a career-year in Dallas in 2011. Despite playing a reserve role behind Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, he caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns, establishing career-highs in each category.

While Dallas was satisfied with his production, they made little effort to re-sign him, likely in the belief that his production came as a result of being the team’s fourth option in the passing game behind Austin, Bryant and tight end Jason Witten.

In Jacksonville, Robinson ascends to the top of the team’s depth chart at the position and will be paired in the starting lineup with Mike Thomas, barring another free agent addition or the team using a high draft pick on the position.

While Robinson possesses solid size and speed, he has failed to remain healthy and the Jaguars will be his fifth team as he enters his sixth season in the league.

Fantasy Impact

First off, let’s take a shot at the Jaguars business acumen, particularly when it comes to the wide receiver position.

The Jaguars decided to sign Mike Thomas to a three-year, $18-million extension ($9-million in guarantees) that runs through 2015. That amounts to $6-million per season for a 5’8”, 198 pound receiver who should play out of the slot.

Of course, in Jacksonville, he was their top wide receiver in 2010, catching 66 passes for 820 yards and four touchdowns. After signing the extension, Thomas become persona non grata, catching 24 passes for 203 yards and failing to find the end zone over his next 11 games (he missed one game with an injury).

So, after that abysmal failure, do the Jaguars learn to pay a player for his ability as opposed to his performance given favorable circumstances? Not a chance.

Enter Robinson, who gets guaranteed money similar to what far more established receivers such as DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon received. This for a player who was waived by the Chargers in training camp last year, remained unsigned entering the season, has missed 28 games over the first five years of his career and has failed to establish himself as a number two receiver, let alone the top dog.

Don’t for one second make the assumption that Robinson will match his 2011 production with the Jaguars while catching passes from second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert. It ain’t gonna happen.

Unless the Jaguars are planning on trading up to acquire Justin Blackmon in the draft, Robinson’s signing is foolhardy. Even then, it might still be.

Somebody in your league will reach or overpay for Robinson. Please don’t let it be you.

And don’t drink the Thomas or Gabbert Kool-Aid either.

Peyton Hillis Signs with Kansas City

By: — @ 8:51 am

The Kansas City Chiefs made their first foray into the 2012 free agent market, signing former Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis.

A change of scenery may do Hillis some good.

Reports indicate that Hillis has agreed to a one-year, $3-million contract with the Chiefs. He is coming off an injury-marred, drama filled 2011 season in which his rushing yardage plummeted after a career-high 1,177 rushing yards in 2010.

In Kansas City, Hillis will be reunited with the team’s new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who filled that position with Cleveland in 2010. The Chiefs will pair Hillis in the backfield with Jamaal Charles, who also enjoyed a breakout 2010 campaign before missing 14 games last season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

The Chiefs were in the market for a power back after the combination of Thomas Jones, Jackie Battle and LeRon McClain failed in that role last season. Hillis will fill that role in 2012 and also provide insurance if Charles struggles in his return from injury or isn’t ready to assume a large workload early in the season.

Hillis established himself as the Browns key offensive weapon during the 2010 season, gaining 1,177 yards on 270 carries and catching 61 passes for 477 yards while scoring 13 touchdowns.

However, he struggled during his last five games of the season and suffered through a miserable 2011 season in which he topped 100 rushing yards just once while being criticized for complaining about his contract, missing a game due to strep throat and angering the team’s management due to missing treatment for his various injuries.

Reports out of Cleveland indicate the Browns were so disenchanted with his behavior that they failed to make him a contract offer.

Fantasy Impact

The good news for Hillis is that he will be playing for an offensive coordinator who believes in him and has had success rushing the ball over the last two seasons (witness career seasons for Hillis in 2010 and Reggie Bush in Miami this past season). It is also nice that Hillis will be motivated to perform in order to secure a more lucrative long-term deal after the 2012 season.

However, there is no sugarcoating that Hillis would have been given every opportunity to compete for the starting job with Montario Hardesty in Cleveland but in Kansas City, he has almost no chance of unseating Charles as the team’s starting running back.

While Hillis had an opportunity to enter 2012 as a mid-tier RB2 in Cleveland, he will be no better than an RB3 or flex option in Kansas City. For reference, take note of Thomas Jones’ 2010 production as Charles’ backup when he gained 896 rushing yards and six touchdowns. That production is Hillis’ upside for the coming season, assuming Charles remains injury free.

Given that it was known that the Chiefs were in the market for a power back and his production splitting time with Jones in 2010, Charles’ value remains static as a top 10 fantasy running back, again assuming he is sufficiently recovered from the knee injury that ended his 2011 season.

Since that injury occurred early in the season, expect Charles to be ready to assume a full load early in 2012 although he is unlikely to produce at his 2010 levels until mid-season at the earliest.

In Cleveland, quarterback Colt McCoy, the team’s current starter but with no guarantees that will remain the case on opening day, loses his best pass catching threat out of the backfield while Montario Hardesty immediately climbs to the top of the depth chart.

Unfortunately for Hardesty and his fantasy owners, the Browns are almost certain to replenish their running back depth chart and there is a possibility the team will use the 4th overall pick in the draft on Alabama running back Trent Richardson. In addition, they could look to the free agent market where the options currently include Michael Bush, Cedric Benson, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mike Tolbert, Ryan Grant and Brandon Jacobs, amongst others.

Vincent Jackson Joins the Bucs

By: — March 14, 2012 @ 11:20 am

The Buccaneers have joined the 2012 free agency fray, landing the top available free agent wide receiver in former Charger Vincent Jackson.

Jackson will reportedly sign a five-year, $55-million contract with Tampa Bay that includes $36-million in payments over the first three years of the deal.

With second-year players Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn suffering through sophomore slumps in 2011, the Buccaneers were in the market for a big play wide receiver and Jackson figures to take over as the team’s top threat at the position in 2012.

The former Division II player out of Northern Colorado possesses excellent size (6’5” 230 pounds) and speed, as his career average yards per catch of 17.5 indicates. Jackson has also shown the ability to out jump defenders on deep balls.

Removing his injury-marred, suspension and contract holdout shortened 2010 season, Jackson caught 187 passes for 3,371 yards and 25 touchdowns during the 2008, 2009 and 2011 seasons.

Despite his solid production, the Chargers were unwilling to sign him to a lucrative long-term contract given their belief that he had failed to reach his potential, his constant injury issues and their concerns regarding his off the field behavior.

Fantasy Impact

Jackson's move to Tampa may not improve his fantasy stock.

Off the top, this move has to be viewed as lowering Vjax’s fantasy value. He goes from catching passes from one of the top quarterbacks in the league and playing in the league’s 5th ranked scoring offense to playing with a far more inexperienced quarterback coming off a horrible season and playing in the league’s 27th ranked scoring offense. Let’s get one of those pointing down arrows and stick it beside his name.

Jackson was the 10th ranked fantasy wide receiver in 2011 but he rates as a mid-tier WR2 in 2012. Simply put, Josh Freeman is coming off a horrendous season and has not proven to be as accurate on deep passes as Philip Rivers and those plays have been Jackson’s bread and butter throughout his career in San Diego.

Freeman obviously wins out as he now has a true number one wide receiver for the first time in his career and the Bucs receiving depth chart rounds out nicely with Williams, Benn, Preston Parker, Dezmon Briscoe and Sammie Stroughter. Freeman ranks as a high-end fantasy backup with upside in 2012.

Williams wasn’t a complete bust last season but he was clearly a huge disappointment, as his yardage and touchdown totals plummeted from his solid rookie season in 2010 when he caught 64 passes for 955 yards and 11 touchdowns. Given Jackson’s size and ability to stretch the field, Williams figures to be featured on more short and intermediate routes in 2012 and his red zone opportunities also figure to be diminished.

Williams rates as fantasy backup in 2012 but is worth taking a flier on provided he shows a renewed dedication and reports to training camp in better physical condition than was the case in 2011.

Outside of deep leagues and dynasty formats, Benn’s fantasy value basically drops to nil. Unless he beats out Williams, he is waiver wire material in most formats.

However, the biggest fantasy loser is Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who loses his top wide receiver and arguably San Diego’s top receiving option ahead of tight end Antonio Gates. While Robert Meachem will take over for Jackson in the Chargers starting line-up, he is an inconsistent player and both Gates and Malcom Floyd, the team’s other starting wide receiver, have proven to be injury-prone. Rivers moves to low-end starter status in 2012.

Both Meachem and Floyd see their fantasy values rise but neither should be relied on as a starting option in 2012 until they prove otherwise.

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