clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Fantasy football 2015: A look back at key offseason NFL transactions

Trades and free agency shook up both real football and fantasy in the offseason. Let's give us a quick reminder on who went where and what it means.

I don't know about you, but when I picture Jimmy Graham, I still see him in a New Orleans Saints uniform. When I am labeling players with their team names, it takes a conscious effort to not write "CHI" next to Brandon Marshall. And the other day, I started to write about the DeAngelo Williams-Jonathan Stewart timeshare in Carolina.

I heard somewhere once that it takes seven repetitions of information for it to lodge in your memory. Maybe it's three, maybe it's five. I don't know, I only heard it once, so it didn't lodge. Anyway, consider this your last warning entering fantasy drafts: A bunch of dudes who were on some teams last year are on some other teams this year.

Below, we'll be running through 15 of the biggest player moves of the offseason, taking a look at the takeaways from each move, not just for the players who moved, but for the players who were left behind to fill the void.

Here we go. Hope it lodges in your memory this time:

Saints send TE Jimmy Graham and a fourth-round pick to Seahawks for C Max Unger and a first-round pick

This one kind of came out of nowhere in early March, with New Orleans sending the three-time Pro Bowler Graham to Seattle in exchange for Unger, a center who has made two Pro Bowls himself. With Drew Brees in New Orleans, Graham was a fantasy force any time he was healthy, with 51 touchdowns and 4,752 receiving yards in five seasons. All that while being one of several mouths to feed in a potent New Orleans offense; every year the Saints had two or three potent wide receivers and another couple running backs. In Seattle, Graham becomes the mouth from a pass catching perspective. He remains among the position's elite; a notch below Rob Gronkowski, but a notch above the rest of the field. Luke Willson, who had a mini-emergence late last season as the Seahawks' tight end, sinks back to basic irrelevance, though Graham's injury history means Willson could have flashes of playing time over the course of the season.

Back in New Orleans, Josh Hill and Benjamin Watson remain to fill whatever Graham role remains, with Brandin Cooks, Marques Colston and C.J. Spiller catching more passes as well. Hill will be the tight end you want in New Orleans if you're trolling deep, but he's a low-end TE2 at best.

Now, Unger. The center was an elite run-blocker in Seattle, and his absence makes the Seahawks' O-line more of a work in progress entering this season. That could spell trouble for Marshawn Lynch out of the gate, at least until the Seahawks get everything ironed out. He's still a top-end running back, but this could ding him a few spots in the rankings. Conversely, Unger's move to New Orleans could spell big things for Mark Ingram and/or Spiller, while possibly also leaving Brees to throw a bit less than is his norm.

Eagles trade RB LeSean McCoy to the Bills for LB Kiko Alonso

Another out-of-nowhere trade from March, the Eagles dealt McCoy to Buffalo in a trade that kicked off a summer of weird talk about Chip Kelly's biases. On the field, though, this trade appears to really hurt McCoy's fantasy value. He moves from a potent offense behind a stout offensive line to a Buffalo team that has a much worse line and in the best-case scenario will be quarterbacked by Matt Cassel. McCoy, a popular comeback choice when he was an Eagle, now slots in the second- , or third-tier of running backs -- still a starter, but no longer nearly so exciting.

Eagles sign RBs DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews

I'll be honest and say that I'm unlikely to end up with Murray in any leagues this year. He scares me, as a running back with 497 touches (counting postseason) the prior year should scare anyone. That said, he's coming off his first healthy season, and goes from one elite offensive line to another, to say nothing of the Eagles' apparent ability to make any offseason player look at least competent. Murray is still a low-end RB1 or high-end RB2. Part of what keeps him that low, though, is the presence of both Mathews and Darren Sproles, who promise to be important parts of the Philadelphia offense. Mathews has never been able to stay healthy; a backup role without the workload of a bellcow should help him with that. Meanwhile, if you told me Sproles had zero carries all year, I would believe that, but he'll catch plenty of passes.

Back in San Diego, Melvin Gordon should comfortably take over as the team's No. 1 running back, with Branden Oliver spelling him some and Danny Woodhead returning from injury to be the Chargers' own Sprolesian-type player. Gordon is the only one with much standard-league relevance, though Woodhead could be fringe-interesting in PPR leagues.

Bears trade WR Brandon Marshall to Jets for fifth-round draft pick

Marshall has always been a guy who wears out his welcome, as he left Denver, Miami and now Chicago with some level of hard feelings at each stop. Still, when healthy, he's never had fewer than 1,000 receiving yards in a season, and had back-to-back years with double-digit touchdowns before being held to 13 games last year (and still scoring eight even then). Marshall and Eric Decker make for a potent one-two punch for the Jets; I'd prefer Decker, but it's close enough between the two that either one is reasonable. Both are low-end WR2 plays or flex options.

Back in Chicago, Marshall's departure means Alshon Jeffery will certainly be the featured receiver in that offense, solidifying him as a low-end WR1. Rookie first-rounder Kevin White looked promising coming into training camp, but he's injured and will miss at least the first six games. Free-agent signee Eddie Royal and holdover Marquess Wilson both could be interesting sleepers in a Chicago offense that has known how to make room for two receivers.

Jaguars sign TE Julius Thomas

Thomas' broken hand, suffered Friday in camp, doesn't appear likely to have him out for the start of the season, but he won't be participating in any more of the preseason. There isn't much more dropoff for a pass catcher than going from Peyton Manning to Blake Bortles, and it takes Thomas from an upper-tier tight end to just another guy; there's no chance he can repeat last year's rate of 12 touchdowns on 43 receptions. Still, Thomas is big and talented; the Jags will do what they can to feed him the ball. He's a low-end starter at the position at best.

Back in Denver, the Broncos brought in Owen Daniels to pair with head coach Gary Kubiak in their third stop together. Kubiak has shown a penchant for using Daniels, and Manning has shown a love for his No. 1 tight end over the years, so I can totally see Daniels slotting in as a starting fantasy tight end. Perennial "what if" guy Virgil Green is also hanging around in Denver, but absent a Daniels injury, I don't expect a lot there.

Colts sign WR Andre Johnson, RB Frank Gore

You'd be forgiven for thinking the Colts were really going for the 2010 title with these additions, as Gore enters the season at 32 years old and Johnson is 34. Still, there is reason to think both ex-stars still have that star value in them, and even if not, this is a Colts offense that promises to be deep enough that they don't have to be stars.

Johnson slides in behind T.Y. Hilton and ahead of Donte Moncrief and Duron Carter among Colts receivers. With that receiving core, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen at tight end, and Andrew Luck throwing the ball, there should be plenty of scoring from this unit. Johnson, while he's not the player he once was, could benefit. His days as a surefire WR1 are over, but as a high-end flex, he's fine. Gore, meanwhile, will slot ahead of Dan Herron and Vick Ballard as Indianapolis running backs, and should be a low-end RB2.

With Gore gone from San Francisco, Carlos Hyde will take the reins, and he looks like a high-end RB2 with a shot at RB1 status. Meanwhile, in Houston, DeAndre Hopkins enters the season as the team's clear top receiver. Cecil Shorts III will catch some balls, but overall, Hopkins could threaten for WR1 status this season.

Chiefs sign WR Jeremy Maclin

It almost feels bad to keep bringing this up, but seriously, the Chiefs had zero touchdowns out of wide receivers last year. That ought to be impossible. Maclin will help that, even if the depth chart behind him in Kansas City isn't anything special. Maclin, Travis Kelce and Jamaal Charles make for a very strong top three offensive weapons, and the Chiefs could look be strong on that side of the ball this season, so I have Maclin slotted as a solid WR2.

Back in Philadelphia, Maclin's absence means some combination of Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Nelson Agholor and Riley Cooper will be the team's primary receivers. Matthews would be my first choice, with Agholor logical as a lottery-ticket sort of pick.

Eagles trade QB Nick Foles to Rams for QB Sam Bradford

This is an interesting trade, if not one that has tremendous fantasy impact. In St. Louis, Foles just needs to not be a disaster, as that could be a tremendous defense, and a quarterback who doesn't screw things up could be enough. Foles, for his failings, has historically avoided turnovers well. I wouldn't go anywhere near him in fantasy, but the Rams can at least hope for the best.

Meanwhile, Bradford brings his considerable potential and considerable injury history to Philadelphia. If there's a team you think could make the most of a quarterback like that, it's the Eagles, with Chip Kelly's scheme and that offensive line. Bradford is still a scary proposition -- health is not his strong suit -- but his new location could give him some relevance as a mid-to-low QB2.

Saints trade WR Kenny Stills to Dolphins for LB Dannell Ellerbe and a third-round pick

Stills was the leading receiver for the Saints last year, with Jimmy Graham and Brandin Cooks both getting injured and Marques Colston getting older. Despite his 931 yards, though, Stills managed only three scores. Now, he moves to Miami, where he will again be the field-stretcher, this time for Ryan Tannehill and a Dolphins offense that was more filled with slot guys like Jarvis Landry. Stills will be a better standard option than PPR, but he should still catch enough long passes to be a reasonable flex play.

Giants sign RB Shane Vereen

Vereen leaves New England for the Giants, joining what I see as a potential powerhouse offense. Vereen, Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams at running back, Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle at receiver, and Larry Donnell at tight end makes for one of the best groups of offensive weapons of any team in the game. Like he did in New England, Vereen will fill the role of pass catching back. He'll be a low-end flex in standard games, but a definite flex play in PPR leagues. Jennings will still run the ball ahead of Vereen, with Williams becoming little more than an injury fill-in.

With the role of pass catching back now open in New England, either Travaris Cadet or James White is likely to fill the job. My money is on Cadet, but we all know how predicting New England and running backs can go in any direction.

49ers sign WR Torrey Smith, RB Reggie Bush

San Francisco reunites the 2012 Baltimore Ravens receivers, pairing Smith with ex-teammate Anquan Boldin. Smith is famous for his ability to draw pass interference, which is absolutely beneficial to the team that employs him, but is much less so to his fantasy owners. With Colin Kaepernick such a wild card at this point, I would find it hard to have Smith on my fantasy team as much beyond an end-of-roster filler.

As for Bush, he'll be the handcuff to Carlos Hyde out of the backfield, and will catch some passes, but his deterioration and increased proneness for injury makes him tough to trust outside of deep PPR games.

Steelers sign RB DeAngelo Williams

Despite his reputation, Williams actually played 47 of a possible 48 games in Carolina from 2011-13 before being limited to six games last season. The downside to that, though, is he wasn't special in any of those seasons. He had a historic 2008, a decent 2009, and hasn't had more than 843 rushing yards in a year since. And at this point, you can't really count on him being healthy for 16 games.

Lucky for the Steelers (and fantasy owners), Williams doesn't need to have 16 games of health to be helpful; he needs two. With Le'Veon Bell still suspended the season's first two games, Williams will be the Pittsburgh bellcow to start the year. For two weeks, he'll be a potential starting running back -- especially for Bell owners -- and after that he becomes an afterthought, ownable only as Bell's handcuff.

Raiders sign WR Michael Crabtree

The Raiders will see a full turnover at the top of their receiver depth chart, with Crabtree and draftee Amari Cooper replacing James Jones and Denarius Moore. If quarterback Derek Carr can continue to develop, those two, along with Andre Holmes and Kenbrell Thompkins, could be a decent group of receivers, but still a step below elite.

Crabtree's career has stalled out since his strong 2012. He played all 16 games in 2014, but managed fewer than 700 yards and only four scores. Considering his question marks, you can't go into 2015 relying on Crabtree, though he could be an interesting late-round lottery pick.

Bills sign QB Matt Cassel, WR Percy Harvin

If you told me neither of these guys were in the NFL in 2016, I would believe it, albeit for slightly different reasons. Cassel has never been a good NFL quarterback; his two success stories came with good teams around him in New England and Kansas City, and an unsustainable level of luck which hasn't repeated in the seasons since. In Buffalo, with EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor his competition for the job, he might earn the starting gig, but he'll have to prove himself quickly if he wants his career to continue.

Harvin, meanwhile, wore out his welcome in Minnesota, Seattle and New York quickly, and injuries have cost him as well. Since starting 2012 looking like an MVP candidate, Harvin has played 14 games in two seasons and scored three total touchdowns. Buffalo looks like his last shot at a real gig; if he doesn't perform well and make at least a cursory effort to get along, he might not get another shot.

Neither guy is much of anything for fantasy, though if everything breaks right, there's super-deep sleeper potential.