2012 NFL Free Agency: Breaking down the Wide Receivers

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson celebrates a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills in the fourth quarter of their NFL football game in Orchard Park, New York October 9, 2011. REUTERS/Doug Benz (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Free agency in the NFL begins on March 13 and leading up to that date I’ll go position by position while highlighting the best players, best bargains, as well as the riskiest investments.

Best in Class: Take your pick.
This is the deepest pool of free agent receivers that I’ve seen in a long time. Wes Welker, Mike Wallace, Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston, Brandon Lloyd, Stevie Johnson, DeSean Jackson, Reggie Wayne and Robert Meachem comprise the top 10 free agents, but Mario Manningham, Laurent Robinson and Harry Douglas could also be available next month. Welker seems like a perfect fit for the Patriots’ offense and will likely stay in New England, but Wallace could be available if the Steelers can’t figure out a way to fit him under their cap. When healthy and not in the midst of a contract holdout, V-Jax is one of the more versatile receivers in the league in that he’s a vertical threat with soft hands who can also block in the running game. Bowe, Colston, Lloyd, Johnson, Jackson and Wayne have been, or still are No. 1 options in the passing game and Meachem certainly has the talent to be a No. 1 given his skill set. Teams needing a receiver have no excuse not to address that hole this offseason.

The Biggest Risk: DeSean Jackson
Jackson is only 25 and is drenched in big play ability. But he has 35 drops over the last four seasons, was a ghost at times last year because he was seemingly worried about his contract situation, and sometimes costs his team on the field with his immaturity. Because of his big play ability and success as a punt returner, plenty of teams will be interested in Jackson’s services next month. But with so many other free agent receivers available, teams weary of his inconsistency and maturity issues can cross his name off the list if they want to. His agent must pull his hair out thinking about how much money Jackson has cost himself over the past year.

The Best Value: Brandon Lloyd
Lloyd is still going to be paid like a low-end No. 1 but at 31 he’ll be cheaper than guys like Welker, Jackson, Bowe, Wallace and Colston. He didn’t post the same numbers in 2011 as he did in 2010 but don’t forget that the quarterback situation in Denver was brutal and Sam Bradford couldn’t stay healthy in St. Louis (the team Lloyd was traded to midseason). Even at 31, Lloyd is an explosive downfield threat who also has a large catch radius. The Rams would be wise to keep him in St. Louis but if he were to hit the open market, he could turn out to be a real value for his eventual production.

Best Cost-Effective Bargain: Robert Meachem
Meachem doesn’t have the numbers or name power as other receivers that could become available next month but at 27 his ceiling is still somewhat high. He’s consistent, as he’s averaged a touchdown every 10 receptions in the regular season and has just 11 drops over the last four years. He may never develop into a No. 1 but he’s worth a shot for a team like Jacksonville that is thin at receiver and has other holes to address this offseason (and thus, might not want to spend big at one position). Meachem could wind up being a cost-effective alternative to Jackson, Bowe, Colston and the other big-name receivers in this free agent pool.

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2010 Fantasy Football Awards

Now that Week 16 has come and gone, it’s time to hand out a few awards for the 2010 season. Let’s jump right in…

Most Valuable QB: Michael Vick, Eagles
While I believe that Tom Brady deserves the real-world MVP, Vick is without a doubt the top fantasy QB of the year. He finished QB1 despite missing three-plus games due to injury, and the best fantasy playoff numbers of any QB, scoring 27.1, 42.1 and 28.5, respectively.

Most Valuable RB: Arian Foster, Texans
It’s amazing to think that Foster was going in the 5th or 6th round (or even later) in fantasy drafts in late August. Through W16, Foster racked up 2,030 total yards and 16 TDs, becoming (out of necessity) one of the few every-down RBs in the league. He didn’t have the greatest fantasy playoff by his standards (321 total yards, one TD), but he dominated the competition throughout the season and none of the other top RBs had good enough playoff numbers to trump Foster’s regular season exploits.

Most Valuable WR: Roddy White, Falcons
Just like Foster, White didn’t have eye-popping numbers in the playoffs (18 catches, 187 yards, two TDs) but he didn’t lay any eggs, either. In PPR leagues, he finished 30 points ahead of the next best WR and no other top WR had a great W14-16 run to offset White’s performance in the regular season. He’ll likely be the top fantasy WR heading into next season given his age and consistency.

Most Valuable TE: Jason Witten, Cowboys
Antonio Gates was well on his way to winning this award, but a midseason foot injury knocked him out of the stretch run. Meanwhile, Witten raised his game down the stretch, posting 40-395-5 over the last five games and 25-254-4 during the three-week fantasy playoffs. In fact, I’d argue that Witten outperformed his competition during W14-16 more than any other player at any other position this season, at least in PPR formats.

Most Valuable DT: New England Patriots
The Steelers were a little better for the entire season, but the Patriots really came on down the stretch, scoring 60 fantasy points over the final four games (and 48 in W14-16). What’s funny is that a midseason swoon made the Pats available on the waiver wires in a lot of leagues, so owners who were fortunate enough to pick the NE DT up (and hold onto them), gave themselves a big boost during the fantasy playoffs.

Most Valuable K: Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders
Janikowski started the season strong, scoring 10+ in seven of his first nine games (and 6.9+ in the other two) before his bye. Over the next three games, he failed to score more than 5.0, but turned it on during the fantasy playoffs, scoring 7.0, 17.1 and 21.3 over the final three weeks of the season, finishing as the top fantasy kicker in the process. Despite all the uncertainty at QB, Janikowski was a dependable weapon this season for fantasy owners. And it just goes to show how much depth there is at kicker — he was the #14 kicker off the draft board back in August.

Biggest Surprise: Brandon Lloyd, Broncos
All due respect to Michael Vick, Peyton Hillis and Marcedes Lewis, Brandon Lloyd became fantasy’s #2 WR just one season removed from an eight-catch 2009. As the 93rd WR off the draft board, he was the definition of a waiver wire gem, finishing with 72 catches for 1375 yards and 10 TDs. I was admittedly slow to get on the Lloyd bandwagon, as I had been burned by him before (in San Francisco, and then in Washington), but those owners with short memories who managed to snag him off the waiver wire enjoyed his fine play for much of the season. He did crap the bed in W13 and W14 (totaling just five catches for 63 yards), which gave this writer a certain sense of satisfaction, but he turned it on again in W15-16, racking up nine catches for 190 yards and a TD with Tim Tebow under center.

NFL Week 10 MVP power rankings

Well, this sure got interesting, didn’t it? Michael Vick had an MVP type game, maybe the greatest game statistically for a quarterback in NFL history on Monday night against Washington. There is no argument here — Michael Vick is the MVP, and he’s going to have to have a total collapse in the next few games for anyone to claim that perch. Injury? Even if he’s injured Sunday and misses the rest of the season, Vick is still the MVP, because of this past game and because of his entire body of work this year, which is absolutely sick.

1. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles—In just six games, Vick has thrown for 1350 yards with 11 TDs, 0 interceptions; and 44 carries for 341 yards rushing with 4 more rushing scores. Most of all, he makes the Eagles a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

2. Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons—He hasn’t played a game since we last did this, so why penalize him except to let Vick take the top spot?

3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots—Did you see Brady screaming at his offensive linemen in the middle of a rout of Pittsburgh on the road? Dude is not messing around.

4. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers—Quietly has his team contending again, despite guys off the street to throw to.

5. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts—Like Rivers, Manning is getting it done without a strong receiving corps.

6. Eli Manning, New York Giants—Little brother deserves love too. Why? The Giants are 6-3 and he has 19 TD passes. And half of his 13 picks were not his fault.

7. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons—Yeah, we’re QB heavy, but aren’t the real voters?

8. Arian Foster, Houston Texans—On pace for 2202 all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns.

9. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers—Off last week, so we’ll let Matthews and his 11 sacks hang out here some more.

10. Brandon Lloyd, Denver Broncos—Really? 48 catches for 968 yards? That’s a ridiculous 20.2 yards per catch

NFL Week 6 MVP, COY and ROY Power Rankings

Every week we have different candidates here, because the 2010 NFL season has been wacky. And that’s okay, as it makes ranking MVP, Coach of the Year and Rookie of the Year candidates more fun. Anyway, here we go….

MVP Power Rankings

1. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts—Okay, so Philip Rivers and Kyle Orton have more yards per game, but they play for 2-4 teams. Manning’s Colts are 4-2, and check out these numbers through six games—1916 yards, 67.3 completion percentage, 319.3 yards per game, 13 touchdowns (leads NFL) and just 2 interceptions, for a QB rating of 103.4. As usual, Manning sort of defines what the term MVP is all about.

2. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers—I heard someone on NFL Network the other day call Matthews the “best defensive player in the NFL.” Not bad for a linebacker in his second year, who was selected after 25 other players in the 2009 draft. Anyway, Matthews has 9 sacks to lead the NFL, and 21 tackles through five games…and the Packers sorely missed him last Sunday in a loss to Miami when Matthews sat out with a hamstring injury.

3. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers—We’re leaving Antonio on here this week because he left the game against the Rams last Sunday with an ankle injury, leaving Philip Rivers without his favorite target. And then the Chargers lost the game. To the Rams. Gates only had 2 catches for 12 yards in that one, but on the season he still has 31 receptions for 490 yards and 7 TDs (which leads all tight ends and receivers).

Honorable mention: Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles (thanks to Kevin Kolb’s performance last Sunday, Vick got bumped off the list); LaDainian Tomlinson, New York Jets; Brandon Lloyd, Denver Broncos; Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos; Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers; Osi Umenyiora, New York Giants; Arian Foster, Houston Texans

Coach of the Year Power Rankings

1. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers—If you start the season without your star quarterback for four games, and have the likes of Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon, and Byron Leftwich at the helm, coming out of that 2-2 would be a huge moral victory. Well, Tomlin came out of that stretch 3-1 and it could have been 4-0 if not for that last-gasp drive by Joe Flacco and the Ravens a few weeks ago. Of course, the D led by a healthy Troy Polamalu and hard-hitting-to-a-fault James Harrison, has helped, but let’s give Tomlin some huge and well-deserved props here.

2. Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis Rams—Has anyone noticed that the Rams are 3-3, having already equaled their win total from 2008 and 2009 combined. And they’re giving up less than 19 points per game after allowing 27 per game last year—something that has much to do with the Rams’ defensive whiz of a coach.

3. Tom Coughlin, New York Giants—How do you go from the scorching hot hot seat to a coach of the year nomination? Ask Tom Coughlin, who the New York media had being replaced by Bill Cowher a few weeks ago when they lost badly to the Colts, and then beat themselves badly in a loss the Titans at home. The Giants rallied around Coughlin and squashed the previously unbeaten Bears, then crushed the upstart Texans in Houston 34-10, before not allowing the dreaded trap game against Detroit ruin his team’s winning streak. So from 1-2 to 4-2, and tied with the Eagles for the division lead. That’s why Tom Coughlin is on here.

Honorable mention: Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks; Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay Bucs; Todd Haley, Kansas City Chiefs; Rex Ryan, New York Jets; Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles

Rookie of the Year Power Rankings

1. Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions—Suh leads all NFL defensive tackles with 5 sacks, and he also has 21 tackles through six games, plus an interception—a pretty rare feat for a DT. Is there any doubt that this young big man is the real deal?

2. Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions—Injury may have slowed Best down, but how about the fact that to go along with 249 rushing yards, Best has 31 catches for a league-high 285 receiving yards among running backs. That’s 534 all-purpose yards through six games.

3. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams—He’s way down the list of quarterbacks stat-wise, but Bradford is averaging 226 yards per game and has 7 TD passes. We’ll let the 8 picks slide for now, because let’s face it—the kid is helping to lead the Rams to respectability.

Honorable mention: Max Hall, Arizona Cardinals; Rolando McClain, Oakland Raiders; Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys; Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati Bengals

NFL Week 5 MVP, COY and ROY power rankings

You think it’s hard to predict the games and standings from week to week? Try picking MVP candidates. There are five or six different candidates emerging every week. We’ll do this as one post again today and start separating them out next week. And I’m sure by this time Tuesday everything will be turned upside down again. Enjoy the games today everyone!

MVP Power Rankings

1. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles—He didn’t play last week and yet the Eagles still won, but barely, on the road in San Fran. Against a team that still hasn’t won a game yet. And hence my case is made again. And when Kolb and the Eagles lose at home to the Falcons today, fans in Philly will be chanting Vick’s name, which will have made my case again.

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