Welker joins Broncos, falls in ranks
Signing helps Broncos, but sharing targets diminishes fantasy values
To see Christopher Harris' rankings for the 2013 fantasy football season, click here for updates throughout the offseason.
Day 2 of free agency brought a few more impact signings. Here is a breakdown of those and other transactions:
Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos: It's a blockbuster. The fact that the New England Patriots didn't match a reported two-year offer for $12 million is stunning (even if that total is fully guaranteed by the Broncos). After all, the Pats paid Welker the franchise tag of $9.5 million in 2012 alone and supposedly offered him two years and $18 million last offseason. In Denver, Welker joins a crowded receiver corps that includes Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. As efficient a passing game as this figures to be, each man's fantasy value probably diminishes. According to Pro Football Focus, Welker ran 82.2 percent of his routes from the slot last season; Brandon Stokley was his equivalent player with the Broncos, running 93.9 percent of his routes from slot and catching 45 of 57 targets. So I can't argue that Welker directly threatens the roles of Thomas or Decker. But in the end, there are only so many targets to go around. Thomas had 141 in 2012, and Decker had 123. Consider a healthy Welker is definitely eclipsing Stokley's 57 targets next season; that means Thomas and Decker likely see some target erosion, to say nothing of the fact that Welker probably can't see the 175 he had in 2012. Does Jacob Tamme come way down from 85 targets? Do the running backs come way down from a combined 82? In the end, as much as I love the move for the Broncos as a team, I had to lower the three wide receivers in my ranks. Thomas drops from No. 5 to No. 8, Welker drops from No. 14 to No. 17, and Decker drops from No. 12 to No. 22. (I boosted Peyton Manning up a spot, from No. 6 to No. 5 among QBs.)
Danny Amendola to the Patriots: As for what's left behind in New England? The Pats didn't waste any time, agreeing to terms with Amendola for a guaranteed $10 million. That amounts to a $2 million savings for a similar player. Amendola ran 80.3 percent of his routes out of the slot for the St. Louis Rams last year, though he is probably a bit faster than Welker. He is also almost five years younger, a couple inches taller and the same weight and even went to Texas Tech as Welker did, but Amendola comes up short in one key area: toughness. He has missed 20 of 32 games over the past two seasons. That will be a constraining factor for Amendola's 2013 fantasy value, and until we see the kind of otherworldly connection between him and Tom Brady that Welker had, it's folly to guarantee that he'll exceed 100 grabs. But it's a possibility. Mashing together all these factors and considering the Patriots' reliance on Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, I wound up with Amendola as my No. 21 fantasy WR, up from No. 35. I can see someone taking him higher than that, but I don't think I would. I tend to be risk-averse until a player has shaken his injury history for multiple seasons.
Reggie Bush to the Detroit Lions: I've never been his biggest fan, but it's hard to argue this isn't a relatively perfect fit for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 draft. Bush's game tape changed for the worse after a Week 4 hit to his knee. While his jump-cut quickness was still occasionally apparent, he also did a lot of straightforward plowing into tacklers. In the first three games of 2012 and the final month of 2011, however, we saw what Bush's upside looks like: A speed/quickness combo that's impressive, if just shy of elite. On Wednesday, the Lions and Bush gave lip service to the notion that the new Detroit RB will be a three-down back, but I don't believe it; I think we'll see Mikel Leshoure scoop up some early-down and goal-to-go carries from Week 1 forward. But that's probably to Bush's benefit. He is not a durable player, and he's not overly physical. With the Miami Dolphins, he had 52 targets each season, but that figures to as much as double in 2013. After all, Joique Bell and Leshoure combined for 103 last year. (Bell was sixth among all NFL RBs with 52 grabs.) That's where Bush figures to impact the Lions' bottom line. If he stays healthy (a big if), he is suited for the Jahvid Best role in the NFL's most pass-oriented offense and could threaten 1,500 combined yards from scrimmage. I don't think he leads Detroit in rushing touchdowns and I always worry about overdrafting him because of the injury factor, but Bush did jump from No. 28 to No. 23 on my RB list. Leshoure dove from No. 23 to No. 32. And now that it's official Bush won't return to Miami, I bumped Lamar Miller from No. 33 to No. 27.
Rashard Mendenhall to the Arizona Cardinals: Here's another player who never thrilled me. Mendy's fantasy relevance always hinged on stout performances on an opponent's goal line; despite poor explosiveness and uselessness in the passing game, he produced 30 total TDs from 2009 to '11, 28 of which came from inside an opponent's 10. Suffice it to say that Mendenhall doesn't exactly get an upgrade in offensive talent moving from the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Cardinals. Can I believe that his surgically repaired right ACL will be better two years removed from surgery? Yes. And he is familiar with Bruce Arians' system from their time together with the Steelers. But considering the Cards averaged a league-low 75.3 rush yards per game in 2012, the offensive line is still a mess and the team doesn't know who its quarterback is (more on that in a moment), this doesn't look like a recipe for career resuscitation. I still prefer Ryan Williams, though he has failed to stay healthy in either of his two pro seasons. I did drop Williams from No. 27 to No. 30 on my RB list, but Mendenhall rises from No. 37 to only No. 35.
Shonn Greene to the Tennessee Titans: This one is a head scratcher, not so much because I think Chris Johnson shouldn't have a complementary back but because Greene has done little to prove he can be that guy. I never understood the fantasy world's infatuation with Greene, all the way back to his rookie year when some players were taking him in the first round. To me, he's a sluggish 226-pounder who rarely moves the pile or makes anyone miss. The fact that he got $4.5 million guaranteed after multiple seasons of pedestrian play is weird. There's every reason to believe that the Titans will give Greene first crack at being their thumper, which makes him a candidate to vulture between six and eight TDs from CJ1K. But there's also a chance he flops in the role. I did bump Greene up to the No. 40 RB slot on my list but didn't move Johnson at all. He was already No. 15 on my rolls under the assumption the Titans were going to add another running back. If anything, he dodged a bullet that the team didn't grab someone more accomplished.
Drew Stanton to the Cardinals: Believe it or not, Stanton may be the favorite to start under center for the Cards in Week 1. He learned Arians' system as Andrew Luck's understudy last year with the Indianapolis Colts, and he has the big arm and strong athleticism required to fire deep, an Arians requirement. Alas, he's also a career 55.6 percent passer, and the Lions tried to have him win their job in their pre-Matthew Stafford days only to see him fall behind more noodle-armed options. In a best case, Stanton would unleash the full potential of Larry Fitzgerald and get Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd working deep. In a worst case, he flops in training camp and loses the job to Kevin Kolb (if Kolb doesn't get cut), John Skelton or Ryan Lindley.
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