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Day 2 free-agency fantasy roundup

3/13/2014

If there was any confusion, let me clear it up for you: Yes, I know the difference between fantasy football and "real" football.

I like the Eric Decker signing for the New York Jets. He got $15 million guaranteed, which in light of Mike Wallace getting $30 million guaranteed last winter feels like an acceptable price. Decker is a good player, the kind the Jets should be adding in their effort to rebuild an embarrassing wideout corps. He's big (6-foot-3, 214 pounds), he has good straight-line speed that occasionally lets him separate deep, he's a red zone beast, and save for some poorly timed national TV drops (including a bad one in the Super Bowl), he has decent hands.

But for fantasy, moving from Peyton Manning to Geno Smith hurts.

I'm not saying Smith won't get better in Year 2. Plus if he stays healthy, as the Jets' top WR Decker will almost assuredly eclipse his career-high 136 targets from 2013. He can make big plays that win you weeks, and there will be some high marks in 2014. Heck, Jeremy Kerley had three double-digit fantasy-point days last year.

But, boy, a whole lot would have to improve in Gotham to see Decker reach 1,000 yards this season. He'll need a big change for the better at quarterback -- and that's true even if the Jets sign and start injury-prone Michael Vick -- and he'll have to show he can handle more defensive attention.

I like this move from an NFL perspective because you have to start somewhere. And there are rumors that the Jets will also go get James Jones, which would help too. But Decker takes a dive in my WR ranks. As of right now, he's way down at No. 30 on my list.

Here are your other key Day 2 transactions:

Darren Sproles to Philadelphia Eagles

OK, technically this one happened at the beginning of Day 3, but cut me some slack: It's fascinating! Sproles was a diminished version of himself in 2013, especially in the season's second half when he was limited by an ankle sprain and Pierre Thomas became Drew Brees' favored target out of the backfield. At age 31 next season, it's not certain Sproles can return to top form, but he becomes an intriguing toy for Chip Kelly and a potential problem for fantasy owners of LeSean McCoy.

Make no mistake: Shady is still the man in Philly. In fact, I had McCoy rated No. 2 among RBs before this transaction, and for the moment I haven't budged him off that spot. As I mentioned Wednesday, Jamaal Charles, the man who might leapfrog McCoy, has major offensive line questions.

Shady played 833 snaps last year, second among RBs behind only Matt Forte's 887. It would be naïve to contend Sproles won't cut into that number. No, he's not a traditional halfback, and yes, Kelly will use Sproles in the slot or even split out wide a bunch. (In '13, the New Orleans Saints used Sproles as a WR on nearly 40 percent of his snaps.) But Sproles will also play some halfback, and anyway, a pass to him -- and he had 71 catches in a down campaign -- is one fewer touch for McCoy.

In other words, you're allowed to be concerned, but don't consider this a major downgrade for Shady. As for Sproles? He jumps from 49th to 35th on my RB list, now that I know he'll be with an offense that puts a premium on his in-space abilities as a pass-catcher. Meanwhile, Bryce Brown is officially on notice. Already considered a shaky fit for Kelly's offense, Brown could wind up behind Chris Polk -- or even released -- next season.

Golden Tate to Detroit Lions

Obviously Tate is mighty pleased he stuck with the Seattle Seahawks and won a Super Bowl ring last season. But I can't help feeling that, for his fantasy value, he would have been better off joining the Lions last year. That's because pass-happy offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was still in the Motor City, setting all kinds of usage records with Matthew Stafford. New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is no shrinking violet when it comes to the pass -- coming over from the Saints -- but to all appearances (including re-signing Joique Bell for $4.3 million guaranteed, more guaranteed money than Reggie Bush got!) new coach Jim Caldwell plans on balancing out his offense a bit in 2014.

Of course, Calvin Johnson comes first, and he's the no-brainer No. 1 wideout in fantasy. It's fair to assume he'll hover right around 10 targets per game again in 2014. What kind of workload will be there for Tate as a second banana? It will still be robust (people not named Megatron saw 195 targets last year) but perhaps not enough to make him an every-week stud.

Regular readers know how much I've liked Tate since his rookie year. He may have the best hands in the NFL and is a handful when he gets the ball in space. This is a liberation for him, away from Seattle's conservative attack. But it's not enough for me to endorse Tate as a no-doubt fantasy starter. He moves up to No. 26 on my WR list, but no higher.

Jonathan Dwyer to Arizona Cardinals

I know, I know: Dwyer has been a bust in his four NFL seasons. It's unconscionable that a 229-pound runner with 230 career carries has two TDs. So I'm not here to sell him to you as anything close to a fantasy option. But I do think Dwyer is a better player than Stepfan Taylor, the guy who until yesterday looked like Andre Ellington's backup.

Remember how Rashard Mendenhall frustrated Ellington's fantasy owners last year? Expect more of the same from this new Pittsburgh Steelers castoff. Bruce Arians knows these guys, and more importantly he seems committed to not relying on one RB. Ellington is still the special talent, elusive with breakaway speed. In the right circumstance, his ceiling is in the Charles/C.J. Spiller/Giovani Bernard range. But it's too easy to connect the dots: Dwyer comes in, siphons off 100-plus early-down carries, steals a few goal-line looks and basically makes a nuisance of himself, more than I think Taylor would have done by himself. I still like Ellington in the receiving game. I'm still thrilled I own him in a dynasty league, and I'll admit that it could have been much worse for him had Arizona signed a better player than Dwyer. But I did lower Ellington a few spots on this news. He's my No. 23 RB at the moment.

Josh McCown to Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Apparently, Lovie Smith doesn't play around with young QBs. Mike Glennon was the NFL's best rookie signal-caller last year, but in 2013 that was something like being the best-tasting Brussels sprout. Smith has already declared McCown his Week 1 starter over Glennon.

How do I think this will go? I'm dubious. Sure, McCown had a strong four-game stretch for the Chicago Bears last season and kindled a minor QB controversy with Jay Cutler, but I've watched too much floundering from his Cardinals and Oakland Raiders days to imagine he's ready to be a franchise pillar. Yes, he's a better player right now than Glennon is, and in theory he provides a safer situation for Vincent Jackson, who ebbed and flowed with the rookie QB last year. But I'm not ready to pronounce Tampa Bay a safe fantasy offense because a 35-year-old journeyman is at the helm. It strikes me that Lovie will want McCown to play it close to the vest, the way Smith's Bears teams often did. I have McCown No. 28 in my QB ranks, and Glennon stays close by at No. 32. Doug Martin is still the player to watch here, as he returns from shoulder surgery and hopes to get better blocking than he did last year.