Fantasy Football: Ben Tate, Emmanuel Sanders Are Headliners
By: Scott Engel
Here are my latest Fantasy insights on some of the recent prominent skill position player moves in the NFL.
Ben Tate to Cleveland: The former Texans backup finally gets the starting shot both he and Fantasy players have longed for. Tate’s notorious propensity for being an injury risk will concern a lot of his prospective owners in 2014 drafts. Still, he should produce quality Fantasy totals when healthy and should be drafted with some confidence as a RB2. Tate is a physical runner who dishes it out as well as he takes it, which will lead to both quality TD totals and some missed time. Get some insurance for him later on and you will like what you get when he is active. Brian Hoyer can move the offense and will help Tate get some consistent scoring opportunities. The Texans now have Dennis Johnson and Jonathan Grimes behind Arian Foster, but the team could add another reserve in the draft, so the handcuff situation is unclear for now.
Darren Sproles to Philadelphia: The Eagles get a very reliable and still dynamic playmaker in their passing game and ensure that LeSean McCoy does not get overworked, especially on passing downs. Sproles should still have a lot of appeal as a flex in PPR leagues with his new team. The move actually is a positive for McCoy, as he will get needed reps off and can make the most of his touches, increasing the odds he can stay healthy enough to maintain elite status at RB. Sproles is not much of a running option, so continue to view Bryce Brown as McCoy’s prime handcuff. The Saints will continue to work Pierre Thomas into the passing game, and Travaris Cadet may also get a shot to play a role. The New Orleans RB picture remains crowded and unpredictable, though.
Jonathan Dwyer to Arizona: A physical complement for Andre Ellington was needed after Rashard Mendenhall called it quits. Ellington’s upside is apparent, but he is not suited for a heavy workload. Dwyer could steal some TD runs and may have some decent Fantasy outings here and there. He can be drafted as a Fantasy reserve in the late rounds.
Anthony Dixon to Buffalo: Do not draft him, but keep him in mind as a possible free agent addition during the year. If C.J. Spiller or Fred Jackson go down, which has happened before, Dixon could give you some nice TD production, as he is a very good short-yardage runner.
Steve Smith to Baltimore: The signing is a good fit for the Ravens, who have gotten the best output possible out of very experienced veteran wideouts such as Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin in recent seasons. Smith gives Joe Flacco a proven, dependable target who can still make things happen after the catch. Smith is no longer a prime defensive focus for opposing secondaries, and he should be productive enough to be a quality WR3 in 2014, especially in PPR formats. Smith’s arrival also bodes well for Torrey Smith, who can take another step forward in terms of consistency and reliability. Dennis Pitta can also benefit, as teams cannot focus extra attention on him on key passing downs. Joe Flacco remains a Fantasy backup, but adding Smith makes him a bit of a safer play with some more minor upside for TDs overall. The Panthers have been stripped clean so far at WR in free agency, but the offseason is not over and they still have time to patch the holes. The Cam Newton ankle injury, however, hurts any newcomers in terms of getting needed reps with their new QB.
Emmanuel Sanders to Denver: This is the obvious prime Fantasy signing after the Eric Decker news dropped. Some experts believe Sanders could even be a better fit in the Denver offense than Decker was. He is both explosive and versatile, and now he has instant appeal as a WR2 in Fantasy with upside. You should not expect any real significant drop-off from Peyton Manning in 2014, and he always makes his receivers play above natural expectations. The Denver offense is plug and play for any respectable WR type. Sanders has open-field gears and can make tacklers miss. You should be looking at some impressive yardage totals in some games for him in 2014. Markus Wheaton now gets an expected boost in value in Pittsburgh and has some of the upside that Mike Wallace did in his best Steeler days. He can really separate and soar to the end zone when he gets the ball downfield, and Ben Roethlisberger can still throw a good downfield pass. Wheaton has WR2 promise and gunpowder in the arrow pointing up for him.
Hakeem Nicks to Indianapolis: Nicks wanted a one-year deal to prove that he can still play at a high level and hooking up with Andrew Luck is the ideal situation. Nicks will be surrounded by quality complements, and his QB spreads the ball around effectively. Obviously, health has been an issue for Nicks, and he has to prove to Fantasy players that he can stay on the field. There was talk in New York that Nicks did not play to his potential in 2013, as he wanted to preserve himself for 2014. Nicks has much to do to renew confidence in his abilities and will likely be drafted as a WR3. But if it turns out motivation was his biggest issue this past year, he could be a terrific bounce-back selection. The Giants did bring Mario Manningham back, but the stage is now set for Rueben Randle to have the opportunity to break through in 2014. Draft him as a WR3 with some real potential if Eli Manning can rebound.
Brandon LaFell to New England: He was an annual disappointment in Carolina, to the point where they did not retain him to remain with a depleted WR corps. LaFell may turn out to be the third WR in the pecking order in New England, which means he can have an occasionally productive Fantasy day. He could benefit more from playing with Tom Brady as other WRs have done, so you can certainly draft him as a WR4. LaFell initially doesn’t project to be more than a Fantasy reserve, but he could always get an opportunity to shine more because of injuries or other wideouts not playing up to expectations.
James Jones to Oakland: His value will take the apparent draft day hit with a big downgrade in his QB, and lesser complements at WR. But Jones is tough, has a high football IQ and may welcome the challenge of being a more prime focus of opposing defenses. He could also become a top TD threat in the passing game for the Raiders, as he has always been a red zone receiving threat. Jones can be drafted as a WR3 in Fantasy, and he should at least serve you well when the matchup is right. Do not write him off because of the team change. Jarrett Boykin can now be viewed as a WR3 who can make a real Fantasy impact, as he takes over behind Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in Green Bay.
Andre Roberts to Washington: The ex-Cardinal is not explosive, but can really help Robert Griffin III move the chains when he has to. Draft him as a respectable later-round reserve with extra appeal in PPR formats.