End of lockout will shake up rankings
Which players will see the biggest value swings once moves start being made?
Save the hallelujahs. It's time to get to work.
The NFL lockout is over, and your fantasy football draft can proceed as planned. That's the great news. The scary news is that we're about to be swarmed by a bevy of roster transactions with fantasy implications that will almost certainly be far reaching. Star running backs will change cities. Star receivers will get new quarterbacks. Trades likely will take place. Big names probably will get cut.
What follows is an overview of the players in the top 160 of ESPN Fantasy's Top 300 I expect to be most affected once NFL teams start wheeling and dealing. (The players are ordered by their current rank in our Top 300, though those ranks almost certainly will suffer seismic shifts once guys start changing teams.)
24. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals. Fitz needs a QB. Of course, that's what we all said last year, and the Cardinals proceeded to cut Matt Leinart and let Derek Anderson start, torpedoing their season before it began. Speculation is rampant that they will deal for Kevin Kolb; although I'm no huge Kolb fan, he'd be a vast improvement over Anderson and John Skelton. Provided his team gets some semblance of a decent, veteran signal-caller, Fitzgerald should see his fantasy value rise, perhaps back into the top five among all WRs.
26. Vincent Jackson, WR, and 96. Malcom Floyd, WR, San Diego Chargers. No, Jackson's contract situation still isn't worked out. The Chargers have franchised him, and he's reportedly willing to play for the one-year franchise tender (which likely would exceed $10 million), but until that deal is signed, anything can happen. It doesn't sound likely that V-Jax will get his massive long-term deal from San Diego, and he definitely could still get traded. Fantasy owners know his best-case scenario would be to stick with Philip Rivers for at least one more year. If he doesn't stay, perhaps Floyd would inherit his job. He did a passable V-Jax impersonation before he got hurt last year, leading all NFL receivers in yards-at-the-catch (16.1). But it actually could be Floyd who's on the move, landing somewhere as a situational deep threat. Each of these guys will be less attractive if he leaves San Diego.
27. Jonathan Stewart, RB, and 38. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers. This might be the most significant open question for fantasy players, as the Panthers' backfield has been a frustrating committee mess for three seasons. Presumably, Carolina will let D-Willy -- a five-year free-agent veteran -- walk, and put their faith in Stewart as a full-time starter. That elevates Stew Beef into the conversation as a top-10 fantasy RB, though certainly the Panthers must also solve their QB issues (will they start rookie Cam Newton, second-year man Jimmy Clausen or an as-yet-unsigned veteran stopgap like Matt Hasselbeck?). As for Williams, his potential landing places are far-flung, and he likely will sign for big dollars. Could his new team justify paying him all that money and then stick him in another straight platoon? It's possible. A landing spot such as Miami or Denver would see D-Willy paired with a strong young RB. Meanwhile, ending up in, say, Cincinnati (if the Bengals don't re-sign Cedric Benson) or Indianapolis (ditto Joseph Addai) could lead to pure No. 1 RB value for Williams.
33. Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos. Under new coach John Fox, the Broncos are thought to be serious about pursuing DeAngelo Williams, which would put a major cramp in Moreno's value. This summer, a couple of local beat reporters have written that the team views Knowshon as a complementary back and that, under an ideal scenario, the Broncos would use another guy a whole bunch on first and second downs. Clearly, if you see Denver sign a legit, load-carrying player such as Williams, Moreno no longer would be a starter in 10-team fantasy leagues.
35. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants. Bradshaw signed on with agent Drew Rosenhaus this spring, thus giving every indication that he plans to hit the open market. The Giants reportedly plan to match any offer Bradshaw gets, but realize that Brandon Jacobs is under contract for $4.7 million this year. I expect Bradshaw to stay in Gotham at the head of a platoon with Jacobs, but that's not a fait accompli. Not many teams would place Bradshaw -- a guy with a sketchy injury history -- in a pure No. 1 RB role, but it only takes one. Still, his fantasy value is probably at its highest with the Giants.
49. Santonio Holmes, RB, and 85. Braylon Edwards, WR, New York Jets. The Jets risk losing both of their top wideouts, but all reports indicate that Holmes is the guy Rex Ryan wants to keep. Frankly, it probably would be better for Holmes' value if he went elsewhere, given the Jets' run-first tendencies and Mark Sanchez's continued accuracy issues. I can think of a dozen pass-heavier teams with more attractive QBs. But Holmes probably will stay in the Meadowlands, although insiders strongly expect Edwards to change teams. The question is: Do you trust mercurial Edwards to produce like a No. 1 receiver, as he did back in '07? It's very possible that Edwards could land in a nominally better passing situation than Holmes (Rams? Bears? Redskins?) yet still produce worse numbers. Under a best-case scenario, Edwards could become someone's true No. 1 again and be a top-10 guy in targets. We'd have to raise him on our WR list if that happens. But at this point, I still don't trust him enough to draft him onto any of my teams.
51. Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati Bengals. Benson had a hate-hate relationship with departed Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, so Jay Gruden taking over can only help Cincy's chances of retaining Benson. But should it want to? Benson went right back to a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry after his stellar '09, and his career average is 3.7. Exactly two of his 321 carries last year went for more than 20 yards. And he's coming off back-to-back 300-plus-carry seasons. Bengals beat reporters maintain that the team wants Benson back as the clear No. 1. I'm quite skeptical that will work out well.
66. Sidney Rice, WR, and 68. Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings. Rice is the free agent here and is perhaps the most coveted WR on the market. He turns 25 on Sept. 1 and has a 1,300-yard season under his belt. Of course, he's also coming off a hip injury that ruined his '10 season, so his value could be diminished. Still, with ascending Harvin already in the fold, will the Vikings get into a bidding war? If Minny really plans to go with Christian Ponder in Week 1, it probably would be better for Rice's fantasy value if he leaves the Twin Cities. A bevy of teams could use a field-stretching No. 1 WR, including the Rams, Seahawks, Bears, Redskins and Jaguars. Of course, not many of those offenses have elite passers right now, either. As for Harvin, you wouldn't typically put his skill set in the "No. 1" category, as his most effective role has been out of the slot. But if Rice is gone, there's little question Harvin would lead the Vikings in catches, especially in new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's short-pass-intensive West Coast system. Each of these receivers is probably best cast as a flex at the moment; Rice has higher upside than that depending on where he lands -- and how healthy his hip is.
67. Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins are nearly certain to add another RB this summer. Thomas is a second-round rookie with every-down potential, but Miami won't want to give him a true No. 1 RB's touches right away. The question is: What level of rusher do the Dolphins sign? Will they be players for DeAngelo Williams? Will they pursue a more complementary back, such as Darren Sproles? Or will they re-sign Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams? In the former case, Thomas' value would be crushed. But barring a major free-agent RB landing on South Beach, Thomas should lead the Dolphins in carries, assuming he stays healthy.
83. Joseph Addai, RB, Indianapolis Colts. It's been written a lot this summer, but it's true: Addai's value is much higher for the Colts than for most other NFL teams. He's a superior pass-blocker and a versatile all-around offensive player. But he's also an injury risk, and Indy selected potential short-yardage specialist Delone Carter in April's draft. In his five-year career, Addai has exactly two carries of more than 30 yards, so his primary value is as a TD-maker. I can't envision a scenario in which he lands anywhere, including Indianapolis, as a clear No. 1 RB. As such, he's not a week-to-week fantasy starter.
84. Santana Moss, WR, Washington Redskins. The Redskins voided Moss' contract before the lockout but haven't ruled out bringing him back under a cap-friendlier deal. Moss underwent a career renaissance as a high-volume slot receiver under Mike Shanahan last season, but I have real doubts about his ability to be a fear-provoking outside guy ever again. At least if he stays in D.C., you can rest reasonably sure that he'll be an asset in PPR leagues despite Washington's uncertainty at QB. If he signs with a team that wants to revisit his 2005-08 heyday, I have a strong feeling he'll be too inconsistent to be relied on in any fantasy league.
89. Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers. Smith was held hostage by the Panthers' execrable pass offense last year, and The Gaston Gazette reports that he'll push for a trade out of Carolina. He's only 32 and has five 1,000-yard (and two 1,400-yard) seasons in his brilliant career. Smith's preferences are reportedly to go to the Chargers or the Ravens; if he lands in Baltimore, he'd have a better QB and some decent upside, but San Diego would be the true bonanza, as he might replace Vincent Jackson as Philip Rivers' No. 1 guy. Of course, he also could wind up getting traded to another team with an offensive morass.
93. Zach Miller, TE, Oakland Raiders. Miller is the top tight end on the free-agent market, but the Raiders' beat reporters indicate he'll be a top priority for the team. Frankly, Oakland is probably the best place for Miller's fantasy value, as he has grabbed at least 56 passes for at least 685 yards in each of the past three seasons, though he has yet to break out on the touchdown front. I'd have a hard time coming up with a TE-friendlier offense that doesn't already have a clear starter in place.
94. Randy Moss, WR, Tennessee Titans. Can Moss turn around another nadir in his storied career? He's 34, which isn't prohibitively old, and he won't be back with the Titans. Someone will take a low-risk shot with him. Although his long speed is somewhat diminished and route running has never been a specialty, we're still talking about a dude who has reached double-digit TDs eight times. The Jets have been a rumored landing spot, particularly if Braylon Edwards leaves. But that wouldn't be a recipe for fantasy glory, given the team's run-first mantra and Mark Sanchez's current limitations. That said, Moss isn't entering the season as anyone's No. 1 WR, so taking him in fantasy drafts will be speculative no matter where he plays.
110. Tim Tebow, QB, Denver Broncos. As long as Kyle Orton remains on the Broncos' roster, Tebow's fantasy value is uncertain. But Orton might not remain for long. With more than a handful of teams looking for "bridge" veteran starters, there's rampant speculation that Orton will get dealt, opening the way for Tebow to be Denver's Week 1 starter. That development would make Tebow ownable in all leagues if only for the possibility that his running upside will outweigh his passing deficiencies. If Orton remains in the Mile High City, there's a chance he could (a) win the starting gig in training camp or (b) loom as a possible replacement if Tebow struggles.
112. Lance Moore, WR, New Orleans. Insiders expect Moore to re-sign with the Saints and remain part of their deep, varied passing attack. There's little doubt his fantasy value would dip in any other offense, but if by chance he does go elsewhere, it likely would mean more week-to-week stability for guys such as Marques Colston, Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson. By far the most likely scenario here is that Moore will continue to be a decent bye-week fill-in as a regular red zone threat in New Orleans.
116. Mike Goodson, RB, Carolina Panthers. Goodson proved to be a fine third-down back late last year, a role he likely would reprise if DeAngelo Williams leaves the Panthers. In that case, Jonathan Stewart would be the clear starter and TD maker, and Goodson would provide a change of pace (and be quite a valuable handcuff). If Williams sticks in Carolina for some reason, Goodson loses all semblance of fantasy value.
119. Ronnie Brown, RB, Miami Dolphins. Brown hits the magic age of 30 in December and saw his per-carry production dip egregiously last year. The Dolphins reportedly are likely to move on, and although Brown obviously would prefer to sign on as someone's clear starter, it just doesn't seem likely. He probably will be part of a platoon. It's not hard to imagine teams such as the Redskins or Buccaneers making a play for him, and the Patriots have always respected his abilities. His best case is probably a team that likes to throw to its backs. Perhaps the Colts would make a good fit.
120. James Jones, WR, Green Bay Packers. Jones is a wideout whose stock probably will rise almost no matter where he signs, provided it's not back with Green Bay. (And given the postseason emergence of Jordy Nelson and the Packers drafting Randall Cobb in April, that doesn't seem likely.) First of all, he probably will sign for relatively big dollars, meaning his new team would consider him an important cog. And second, he has an underappreciated size-speed combo and is a terrific route runner. His major impediments are his flighty hands, but my guess is he'll get a chance to lead a receiving corps in '11.
130. Kevin Kolb, QB, Philadelphia Eagles. It sounds as though the Eagles are strongly considering dealing Kolb for a combination of picks and players, and obviously his fantasy value jumps if he's no longer trapped behind Michael Vick. But I'm resisting the urge to hike him into the QB elites. I think he's a competent West Coast offense player. But even when others were hyping his momentary stint as Philly's starter back in '09, I was wary. He's a pure timing guy who hasn't shown any improvisational skills in his pro career, and he's not likely to land on a team with a top O-line. If he winds up with, say, the Cardinals, well, he'd have Larry Fitzgerald to throw to, and that's a good thing. But even in that case, I think he'll be a fantasy backup at best.
131. Chad Ochocinco, WR, Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals reportedly are ready to part ways with the human distraction, Mr. Eight Five. He wasn't terrible last year, and he's only 33, but his on-field complaining seemed to reach epic proportions while at the same time his willingness to go over the middle waned. That said, he has always had great hands and was once an elite red zone weapon. Bill Belichick has always said The Ocho is one of his favorites, so New England could make a play on the cheap. That's probably the best ol' Chad can hope for.
137. Donovan McNabb, QB, Washington Redskins. I never bought McNabb as a fit in Mike Shanahan's offense, and the Redskins will cut Donnie Football within days. If the 34-year-old QB is willing to take a "mentoring" role for a squad with a young signal-caller, he could find himself in a decent '11 fantasy position. For instance, I think he'd be a strong fit in the Pat Shurmur/Jay Gruden attack in Cincinnati, serving as a bridge for Andy Dalton, and you can probably say the same about Christian Ponder in Minnesota. Those offenses more closely resemble Andy Reid's attack from McNabb's halcyon days. But if he goes someplace such as Miami sniffing the possibility of becoming a longer-term starter, I don't think things will go as well.
138. Vince Young, QB, Tennessee Titans. Meanwhile, Young seems like a significantly better fit for the Shanahans in D.C. There's little question that the Titans will part company with VY, and if the Redskins are actually serious about heading into the season with John Beck as their starter, well, they deserve what they get. It's also possible Young could land with the Dolphins as a threat to Chad Henne. Talent is never going to be the problem with VY. The issue will always be attitude.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.