Remember when the San Diego Chargers' pass offense was unstoppable? Philip Rivers would drop back and have the luxury of looking for Antonio Gates, LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles and/or Vincent Jackson? Those were the days. Another one bit the dust Tuesday afternoon, as V-Jax left Southern California for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leaving behind only Gates as a link to the glory years. I'll get to the Buccaneers in a moment, because Jackson was the only true No. 1 wideout on the free-agent market this winter, and he does change the Bucs' offense. But the more marquee fantasy force over the past five seasons has been the Chargers, and I think you can argue that's no longer the case.
Is Rivers even close to being an elite fantasy QB going into 2012 drafts? He's coming off his worst campaign in four years, during which he threw 27 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, though he did also fling it for a whopping 4,624 yards, so it's not like he suddenly turned into Derek Anderson. But with Jackson and his 1,106 receiving yards gone, and with Gates a perpetual injury risk and showing far less life in his legs in '11, it's fair to wonder whether the downfield weapons are there for Rivers anymore. Vincent Brown is a promising second-year player. Malcom Floyd is a big guy who's shown glimpses but who's missed nine games the past two seasons and has never caught more than 45 passes in a year. Considering Mike Tolbert is also expected to leave San Diego, it's quite arguable that Ryan Mathews will now wind up being the focal point of this Chargers offense, and while Mathews has scads of all-around ability, he's yet to prove he can avoid the injury bug himself. On the heels of this news, I now have Rivers barely hanging onto top-10 fantasy status, coming in at No. 10 among quarterbacks. Floyd and Brown get slight bumps, but they have much to prove before you can definitely rely on them.
Now for Tampa Bay. Josh Freeman was a fantasy darling headed into '11 and there are no two ways about it: He was terrible. He went from 25 touchdowns and six interceptions in '10 to 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions last year. Certainly Mike Williams' mammoth sophomore slump -- which insiders link to him being out of shape after the lockout -- had something to do with Freeman's regression. But it doesn't explain it all. Still, a huge, fast player like Jackson will mean great things for Freeman, who now deserves to be rated among the top 15 at his position, last year's awfulness notwithstanding. As for Jackson himself? I think we have to view this as a step back for his fantasy value. Certainly, anyone who has owned Jackson over the past few years has been flummoxed with his health and/or playing time. Whether he was holding out for more money or nursing a seemingly constant string of pulls and tears, Jackson never put together a statistical season to match his reputation or his physical tools. He's never caught more than 68 balls or nine TDs in a season. Heck, he's never topped 1,167 receiving yards, which is a fine number, but is shy of elite. And now no matter what you think of Rivers, you have to admit he's a more accomplished passer than Freeman. Yes, I think this hurts Jackson and hurts him rather badly. He'll still make a bunch of plays and submit teaser games that make you believe a true breakout is coming. But I don't think he gives you anything close to top-10 wide receiver value in Tampa. I've lowered him all the way down to No. 17 on my receiver list. And clearly, this just about clobbers Williams' potential for a major rebound campaign, and Arrelious Benn's potential value as a sleeper.
Redskins sign Garcon, Morgan
With one fell swoop, the Washington Redskins attempted to remake their receiving corps. First they signed Pierre Garcon, late of the Indianapolis Colts. Then they followed that move up by signing Josh Morgan, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers.
This certainly represents a changing of the guard. Garcon and Morgan were signed to be starters, and incumbents Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney seem likely to be headed elsewhere. (Eddie Royal has been linked to the Redskins and could serve as a replacement for Moss in the slot.) But is it an effective changing of the guard? Neither Garcon nor Morgan has the pedigree or experience to be a No. 1 NFL wideout coming out of the gate in '12. Garcon has had some fine games for the Colts over the past two years; he grabbed 67 and 70 passes in '10 and '11, grabbed six TDs each year, and notched a career-high 947 receiving yards last season. But while he's a good downfield runner who can separate from defensive backs, he's had fairly regular hands problems. As for Morgan, he's coming off a season that was almost entirely lost to a broken leg, and has never amassed more than 44 catches, 698 yards or three TDs in a season. He would figure to be an even bigger stretch as a No. 1 receiver than Garcon.
The caveat in all this analysis, of course, is draft prospect quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is widely seen as Washington's starter under center this year. Is Griffin ready to produce as a first-year player the way, for instance, Cam Newton did in '11? If so, certainly Garcon and Morgan (along with tight end Fred Davis, who received the Redskins' franchise tag) would number among the beneficiaries. And suffice it to say that scenario is far more believable now than it was a year ago, and thank you for that, Mr. Newton. Still, that's a lot of ifs. If Garcon's hands prove more reliable than they've been in the past (and he's only 26 this season, which certainly gives him time to become a more complete player). If Morgan stays healthy. If Griffin is as ready as his most ardent backers believe he is. And if they all can get on the same page in Mike Shanahan's fairly complex offense. For those reasons, I hesitate to elevate either of these new Redskins receivers too high. Garcon was already inside my top 30 fantasy WRs for this season, and I'm bumping him up to No. 27. And Morgan stays outside my top 100 overall players, though I'm certainly tempted to list him among my top 40 receivers. (He'll definitely be in the top 50.) There's promise and potential here, and far more upside than was with 2011's offensive administration.