There was a lot of movement this NFL offseason. That means there will be many different teams and players impacted in the fantasy football landscape. I’ve put together this series “Familiar Faces in New Places,” and you can view the rest of the series by clicking on the links below:
Now, let’s take a look at some familiar wide receivers in new places:
Jeremy Maclin, Kansas City Chiefs
Maclin leaves the up-tempo Chip Kelly offense in Philadelphia for safe haven with Andy Reid in Kansas City and, while Maclin may be a good match for KC, the question is if Maclin will experience the same level of fantasy success with the Chiefs that he had with the Eagles.
The Eagles ran 70.7 plays per game, 38.9 of which were passing plays. Kansas City ran 60.1 plays per game, 30.8% of which were pass plays. So right from the jump, Maclin loses 20% opportunity just in plays per game.
KC’s target leader was Dwayne Bowe with 90 and he played 15 of 16 games for the Chiefs. In total, the Chiefs threw to WRs 207 times. The Eagles threw to Maclin, specifically, 144 times. In total, the Eagles threw to WR 367 times. And this was a team that also boasted Darren Sproles, LeSean McCoy, Zach Ertz and Brent Celek, so there were no shortage of other positions to throw to for the WR to get so many.
In short, Maclin is sure to lose opportunities just in the possible volume of targets. But that’s not all, he’s sure to miss big play opportunities, too. Eagles QBs (Sanchez and Foles) combined for 96 passes that were classified as deep by Pro Football Focus. Alex Smith, who played every week but Week 17, attempted 24 all season long. That’s an amazing lack of downfield passing.
Summary: While Maclin was a high profile WR leaving Philly, where he landed almost guarantees that he’ll have to focus on quality, not quantity, which is not good for fantasy.
Brandon Marshall, New York Jets
Big name, New York City. Marshall will surely be celebrated as he enters the Big Apple, but what exactly are the Jets getting?
Marshall ran almost half of his routes out of the slot, whereas his running mate, Alshon Jeffery, ran 15%. He’ll surely be an upgrade over Jeremy Kerley, who was the Jets main slot runner last season. That is, if they leave use Marshall the same way.
Chicago threw the ball 38.1 times per game last season, a rate of 65% of all Bears plays. Looking at new Jets OC Chan Gailey’s last season in Buffalo, we see they threw the ball 55% of the time.
Another potential variable is the QB. Last season, Marshall had Jay Cutler while the Jets employ Geno Smith. But before you laugh out loud at the comparison, both were similarly rated by PFF, meaning that Marshall’s situation may be the same, except for the possible volume of passes. And while Eric Decker may not be at the same level as Jeffery (ok, he’s absolutely not), he’s still a high volume target.
Summary: Expect less numbers for Marshall based on system change from 2nd highest passing rate to probably somewhere in the middle.
Mike Wallace, Minnesota Vikings & Kenny Stills, Miami Dolphins
On the surface, these two seem the same: Vertical receivers who make their dough on the deep pass. So why would Miami think that Stills could succeed where Wallace couldn’t? And which of these two might have the better fantasy season?
Wallace may not have mixed with the Dolphins, but it wasn’t because he wasn’t effective. Wallace scored the 14th best Wide Receiver Rating from Pro Football Focus. This, a year after being one of the worst by the same metrics in 2013. What changed?
First, the Dolphins look like they didn’t try to force things with Wallace down the field. Wallace’s targets went down to 108 from 141 from the year before. Half of these missing targets came out of the deep downfield bucket, a pass that Ryan Tannehill isn’t exactly at his best at throwing. Tannehill’s accuracy is a middling 37% on such passes and was 32% the season before, perhaps also pointing to forcing the ball to Wallace when it wasn’t the best time to do so.
So what will change in Miami with Kenny Stills there instead of Wallace? Well, for one thing, the Dolphins may have figured out that Wallace wasn’t the deep threat they thought he was when they signed him. In his last season with Pittsburgh before going to Miami, Wallace was among the worst in deep passing rating. One of the explanations of Wallace not fitting in with the Dolphins was that he had lost a step. The metrics, starting with his last season with the Steelers and carrying forward, point to the same.
Stills, however, comes off the #1 rated season in deep passing, after being #14 the season before. Some of that, though, has to be attributed to Drew Brees, who simply won’t mind passing underneath if the big play isn’t there, thereby raising efficiency. Ryan Tannehill is a far cry from Brees, but he’s at least average. Stills could provide that component of a deep threat that Wallace may have been a season or two too far removed from.
Both receivers, however, are in for a downgrade is passing systems than the one they were signed up with previously. The Vikings, where Wallace now resides, passed on 32.3 plays per game last season. That’s five pass plays per game less than the Dolphins, where Stills replaces Wallace. And the Dolphins ran four pass plays per game less than the Saints, where Stills was able to receive those gifts from Brees.
Summary: Both may be upgrades for the teams where they are headed, but neither is an upgrade to their fantasy profiles.
Torrey Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Ok, you’re going to wonder when we’re going to get to some WR that is going to a place that’s better than the one he left and reap fantasy glory.
We would like to think that guy is Torrey Smith, who leaves Baltimore for the Bay area. Play stats from last season is moot because the 49ers have a new regime and new OC Geep Chryst doesn’t have any relevant OC data on him since his last OC gig was at the turn of the century and his QBs were Ryan Leaf and…wait for it…Jim Harbaugh.
Smith is a deep threat and a good WR by the metrics. Smith is leaving Joe Flacco, who had his best season in long passing last season for Colin Kaepernick who was one of the worst. But Kaepernick has been much better in previous seasons, so there is hope that the whole reason for the change and Kaepernick’s endorsement of Chryst for the OC role is so the offense can be loosened up a bit to take advantage of Kaepernick and, by proxy, Torrey’s skill set.
Summary: The jury is out on how much the 49ers offense will change, but believe that Smith will be as solid as his seasons in Baltimore were, which is to say, he’ll be good, but not great.
Two Familiar Faces for the Road
Percy Harvin, Buffalo Bills
Harvin can’t stay healthy, is consistently overrated in fantasy and needs a lot of volume to make an impact, save for that spectacular Super Bowl with Seattle.
Harvin goes to Buffalo where Sammy Watkins is WR1 and Robert Woods is the dependable possession receiver type guy. But Harvin is used to getting the ball when he’s on the field, consistently leading the league in Target to Route percentage. He’s always delivered, too, always hovering near the top of the league in yards per route run.
With Watkins in place as the LWR and Woods as the RWR, Harvin may be slipped into the slot, where he had his best years as a Viking. This would be good for Harvin, considering that current QB1 E.J. Manuel goes for about 6.4 yards per attempt, meaning he looks short. And with the Bills bad offensive line situation, that’s not likely to change in 2015.
Summary: If healthy (HUGE IF) and he has a steady role in the slot with the Biills, Harvin could produce 4-5 catches, 60-70 yards and .4-.5 TDs per game, which would be a solid fantasy target, though his name value always has his value above where his production is.
Andre Johnson, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts were sixth in the league in Passing Play Percentage, throwing on 62.48% of their plays. This has to be when Andre Johnson quickly picked up the virtual pen and signed with the Colts, because the Texans threw on only 48.07% of their pass plays, dead last in the league.
Nothing will make WR look old faster than an offense with no quarterback and that doesn’t pass. Johnson is still a serviceable WR and scored better than last season’s Colts WR Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks last season, meaning he could be an upgrade for Andrew Luck.
And Luck will most certainly be an upgrade for Johnson, who now has a Top 10 QB passing to him for the first time since Matt Schaub’s last good season in 2012.
Summary: Johnson will get the opportunity to show that he’s not done, as Luck will certainly see what he has for a target to go-to other than T.Y. Hilton. And such opportunity puts Johnson in a better fantasy position than last year by a long shot.