WR Free Agent Impact - Welker, Jennings, Ammendola
As the NFL transitions to a pass-first league, one of the obvious side effects is an increased onus on acquiring talented receivers. As a result, several receivers were among the most sought after free agents on the market during the offseason, including a few that are in the upper echelon of the position as far as fantasy football is concerned. Of course, change brings uncertainty, but knowing what to expect out of the receivers that did land in new home in the offseason will go a long way to helping you prepare for fantasy drafts. With that in mind, here is a closer look at the outlook for three receivers that figure to be fantasy contributors in the upcoming year.
Wes Welker, WR, DEN: After six ridiculously productive seasons in New England, Welker signed a two-year deal with the Denver Broncos worth $12 million. Normally, leaving behind a quarterback like Tom Brady would almost guarantee a drop in production. However, Welker is just exchanging one future Hall of Famer in Brady for another in Peyton Manning. The move also teams one of the NFL's best slot receivers with a QB that led the league in completion percentage to slot receivers as recently as last year. As a result, it isn't out of the question that he could replicate the production he managed as a Patriot that included per-year averages of 112 catches and 1,243 yards. His touchdown totals are never huge, but Welker should remain a top-20 receiver in all formats and an even better option in PPR leagues.
If it is even possible, Welker's arrival should actually boost Manning's value. After all, he had his two best seasons in terms of quarterback ratings and touchdowns in 2004-05 and last year when had Brandon Stokley in the slot. Welker should be an upgrade at the position, and it is scary to think of what Manning will do with more weapons and another year removed from his round of neck surgeries. Pencil Manning in for another season as a top-five fantasy quarterback.
As for the rest of the receiving corps, fantasy owners need not worry about Welker infringing on Demaryius Thomas' rise to the ranks of elite receivers. Despite Manning's love for slot receivers, his No. 1 targets have always put up big numbers whether it was Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne. Thomas' 141 targets from a year ago should be par for the course, and more importantly, he will continue to see a majority of the downfield targets and plenty of red zone looks. On the flip side, Eric Decker's numbers could suffer a bit. Keep in mind that Stokley was only targeted 58 times last year, and Welker is going to get a lot more looks. Decker won't exactly be the odd man out because Denver's offense can support three productive receivers, but he is likely to become the third option for Manning. As a result, another 1,000-yard season could be tough to come by, and Decker's week-to-week production will become a bit more inconsistent.That being said, he is still worthy of a starting gig in leagues that use three receivers, and he is a strong backup in other formats.
Greg Jennings, WR, MIN: Jennings believed in his "Smelf" enough to leave Green Bay and sign a four-year, $45 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings in the offseason. Obviously, trading Aaron Rodgers for Christian Ponder is a downgrade at the quarterback spot, but since the Vikings plan to give Jennings the same role that Percy Harvin had in the offense, opportunities to make plays should be plentiful. After all, Harvin was targeted 80 times through eight games last year before going down with an injury. Like Harvin, Jennings is 5'11' and can line up wide or in the slot and run a variety of routes. However, it is worth nothing that Harvin never reached 1,000 yards or had more than six receiving touchdowns in a season, and in the Vikings' offense, Jennings could find himself in a similar situation.
Keep in mind that Adrian Peterson is still the workhorse, and Ponder doesn't exactly throw a great deep ball. Until his injury last year, Jennings had topped 900 yards in five straight years with the Packers, totaling at least 1,100 yards three times and at least nine touchdowns four times. Minnesota doesn't stretch the field as much with their passing attack, and the Vikings certainly aren't going to trust Ponder to make a ton of red zone throws when Peterson is waiting in the backfield. As a result, don't be surprised if Jennings fails to approach the yardage and touchdown totals he posted in his best years in Green Bay. On the flip side, he should surpass his previous career high in receptions of 80 thanks to his new role as the main weapon in a passing game that features afterthoughts Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright. Overall, Jennings value is going to take a hit in all formats, dropping him from a potential No. 1 receiver to a No. 2. That being said, the hit will be substantially less in PPR leagues.
Danny Amendola, WR, NE: When Wes Welker left New England for Denver in the offseason, the Patriots wasted little time signing Amendola to a five-year, $28 million dollar deal, essentially replacing one slot receiver from Texas Tech for another. Leaving Sam Bradford behind in exchange for future Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady is an obvious upgrade for Amendola, but as hard as it is to believe, the move may actually be an upgrade for the Patriots, as well. After all, Amendola is younger than Welker, and he is also taller than his predecessor, making him a more versatile weapon in the downfield passing game. Add it up, and a big year could be on tap for the former St. Louis Ram.
Let's face it. The Rams' offense has been a joke in recent years, but Amendola has found his way to more than 600 yards and more than 100 targets in both 2010-11 and 2012-13, averaging 74 catches in those years. Now, he is filling the shoes of a guy that averaged 112 catches and 1,243 yards per year for the past six seasons. While the differences in the physical abilities of Welker and Amendola can be debated, the differences in the offense Amendola is joining and the one he is leaving cannot. Last year alone, New England averaged 34.8 points per game, 291.4 passing yards and 40.1 pass attempts per game compared to 18.7 points, 236.4 yards and 34.8 attempts for St. Louis. Stepping into a key role in a juggernaut offense, it is hard to imagine a scenario where Amendola's numbers don't improve across the board this season. His days of being a sleeper option in PPR leagues are over. Amendola could end up being a top-10 option in PPR formats this season and a fantasy starter in all formats.