NFL free agency enters week number three, with the majority of the big name, big expectation offensive skill position players having already been signed to their new teams (or resigned by their previous franchises). Let us now turn our attention to taking a two minute drill, quick hitting style look at the top names and their fantasy potential heading into the 2012 season.
#1 Peyton Manning, QB, DEN: The obvious name at the top of this list. John Elway has gone all in with the signing of Manning in Denver. Health concerns, rapport with new receivers and a new offensive system all combine to make Manning the ultimate high risk/high reward fantasy option. Will not reach his 4700 yards, 33 touchdown totals of 2010, but remains a top 8 fantasy quarterback (if he is actually able to suit up and play week one).
#2 BJ Green Ellis, RB, CIN: The undisputed number one running back in Cincinnati is guaranteed to see an uptick in carries per game from the 12 he averaged in New England. Remains a sure handed (0 fumbles in his career) goal line threat in the Bengal offense, but will see much tougher fronts from defenses that are not spread out by the potent New England offensive formations. Yards per carry may be a bit low, but as the goal line option out of the backfield in an offense that likes to run, could possibly surpass his career high 13 touchdowns back in 2010.
#3 Robert Meachem, WR, SD: This could be the sneaky good free agency move for fantasy owners to take advantage of. Meachem finally gets his chance to shine as the number one receiving option in a pass happy Charger offense. Meachem averages a touchdown per every 6 receptions, look for Phillip Rivers to make him the primary deep threat in San Diego. Will easily improve on his career best 45 receptions (2009) and reach double digits in touchdowns.
#4 Michael Bush , RB, CHI: Something is fishy in Chicago with the Bears bringing in the big back from out west. Matt Forte still does not have a long term deal worked out, and now Chicago brings in a player with the capability to be an every down back. Bush had a career year in 2011 for the Raiders as he saw extensive playing time in place of the injured Darren McFadden, racking up nearly 14oo total yards and 8 touchdowns. A sneaky feeling tells me that Michael Bush will end 2012 with more total touches than Matt Forte.
#5 Vincent Jackson, WR, TB: Jackson moves from Rivers to Freeman and the highflying Charger offense, to the run oriented attack in Tampa Bay. This is not a good fantasy situation for Jackson, who has always been a week to week, boom or bust option at wide receiver. There were 13 weeks in 2011 in which Jackson had 5 receptions or less, and 8 weeks where he failed to top 50 yards receiving. He is too erratic fantasy wise to be a top 15 fantasy wide receiver heading into 2012.
#6 Brandon Lloyd, WR, NE: This is a match made in fantasy football heaven. Floyd flourishes under Josh McDaniels, and Tom Brady had his best season ever, with Josh as the offensive coordinator in New England back in 2007. 50 touchdowns and 4800 yards passing for Brady in 2007, bodes very well for Brandon Lloyd in 2012. Lloyd will never be confused with Randy Moss circa 2007, but he will be the receiver running the same routes Moss did for that team. Gronk and Hernandez will get theirs, but Lloyd could still see 1100 yards and 10 touchdowns in the New England offense in 2012.
#7 Pierre Garcon , WR, WSH: Garcon has seen his reception total climb in each of the last 3 seasons, and parlayed that into a fat contract from the Redskins. Garcon will benefit from two things next season in Washington. Number one, there is a good chance that the Redskins will get a lot of opportunity for garbage time fantasy stats as they struggle through 2012. Number two, Robert Griffin III will get continue to get better and more comfortable in the Washington offense as the season progresses. If only by attrition, Garcon will be the new number one receiver for the Redskins in 2012, and he will be a viable #2 fantasy wide receiver, with #1 upside.
#8 Martellus Bennett , TE, NYG: Here is the red light special, super sleeper, shark him from your league mates special of the 2012 free agent signings. There are simply no tight ends on the New York Giants roster to throw the ball to, other than Bennett. Bear Pascoe is a glorified full back, so we won't consider him a threat to steal grabs from Bennett. Bennett never reached the heights in Dallas that were expected, and will have the opportunity to resurrect his career. The Giants threw the ball to the tight end 17 times last season in the red zone, and as it stands now the man receiving those targets will be Martellus Bennett.
#9 Peyton Hillis , RB, KC: Hillis screwed the pooch last season in Cleveland, missing a few games with injuries and under achieving in the games in which he did participate. He averaged 3.6 yards a carry, and scored only 3 touchdowns in 10 games in 2011. Hillis did still manage to haul in 22 receptions for 130 yards in his limited action and remains a potential PPR fantasy threat out of the backfield. The health of Jamaal Charles and the drive to redeem himself after becoming basically a league joke last season will push Hillis forward into a productive 2012 fantasy season.
#10 Mike Tolbert, RB, CAR: This high of a ranking is based purely on the idea that I believe the Panthers will move Jonathan Stewart before training camp 2012 opens. Tolbert is such a versatile weapon out of the backfield, with over 50 receptions, 900 total yards, and10 touchdowns that Carolina will not waste his talents in a 3 back rotation. Tolbert is also likely to step in as the primary goal line option in Carolina, which further boosts his fantasy value.
#11 Matt Flynn, QB, SEA: Pete Carroll is talking about an open competition at the quarterback position in Seattle heading into the 2012 season, and I don't buy it. Flynn will be the opening day starter for the Seahawks, bank on it. An injury free, full 16 games from Sidney Rice would do wonders for the fantasy potential of Flynn. Even if Rice comes up lame again (and smart money says he does), Seattle has the receiving corps to help Flynn be fantasy relevant, with forgotten tight end Zach Miller due to bounce back, Golden Tate starting to fulfill on some of his promise late in the season, and Doug Baldwin emerging with 51 receptions and 4 touchdowns.
#12 Jacob Tamme , TE, DEN: Tamme is in a fine position to have a breakout fantasy season for the Broncos in 2012. He put up 671 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2010 while filling in for the injured Dallas Clark. Reunited with Manning in the Mile High City, look for this converted wide receiver out of Kentucky to shine. Do not worry about Denver also signing Joel Dreessen from Houston, as he will be the primary blocking tight end, freeing up Tamme to have a big year.
#13 Randy Moss, WR, SF: Alex Smith better feed Moss the ball early and often or else Randy is going to check out San Francisco as quickly as he did New England, Minnesota and Tennessee back in 2010.
#14 Laurent Robinson, WR, JAX: No history of being a number one receiver, long history of injuries, and no Jason Witten or Dez Bryant to draw coverage away from him. Oh yeah, Blaine Gabbert is no Tony Romo.
#15 Mario Manningham, WR, SF: This signing has 'Alvin Harper' written all over it. Manningham is a complimentary wide receiver that will always struggle in a prominent role.
A few players who may have a fantasy impact remain unsigned, such as Cedric Benson, Dallas Clark or Brandon Jacobs so this list remains a fluid one. Once the dust completely settles, we will have a more definitive view of the fantasy impact of free agency 2012.