These NFL GMs must think they’re playing fantasy football. In a league usually bereft of significant trades, we’ve seen 2 big-name deals go down in the past 4 days. First it was the McCoy-Alonso swap. Now it’s Brandon Marshall to the Jets.
So what’s the fantasy football impact of this latest trade? Let’s dig in.
Marshall in the Big Apple
Marshall has been an elite fantasy WR with Jay Cutler. He’s been a few tiers worse with other QBs. Check out the numbers:
The non-Cutler QBs Marshall played with were Kyle Orton, Chad Henne, Matt Moore and Josh McCown. Certainly not a star-studded group. But it’s also no worse than what Marshall will be working with in New York. Geno Smith and his 57.5% career completion rate currently sits atop the Jets depth chart. There’s no substantial upgrade available in free agency. Gang Green might be able to land Marcus Mariota in the draft, but he’ll have a significant adjustment to make to the NFL game.
To put that fantasy production into perspective, 17.4 PPR points per game would have ranked 9th among WRs this past year. The 13.4-point average would have only been good for 27th. We’re talking about a slide from a WR1 to a WR3.
Beyond the QB issue, Marshall looks like a player past his prime. He turns 31 later this month and is coming off a 2014 season that saw him average his fewest catches (4.7) and yards (55.5) per game since his 2006 rookie campaign. He also battled ankle, rib and lung injuries. Marshall ranked 38th among 78 WRs in Pro Football Focus’ 2014 receiving grades.
It’s not all bad news, though. Marshall is joining a new-look Jets offense that will be piloted by OC Chan Gailey. Although he’s certainly not a pass-heavy play caller, he figures to chuck it more than the Jets have in recent seasons. Gailey’s last 4 offenses finished 9th, 19th, 10th and 23rd in pass attempts. By comparison, the Bears ranked 9th, 16th and 7th the past 3 years.
Marshall should remain plenty busy when the Jets take to the air. Unless they restructure, New York will be paying B-Marsh $7.5 million this year. They’ll want to get their money’s worth. And Eric Decker has always seemed best-suited for a #2 WR role. (Decker, for what it’s worth, is making $5 million in 2015.)
Marshall has topped 100 targets in 8 straight seasons and is a good bet to make it 9 in a row. Decker saw 114 looks as the Jets’ top dog last season -- and that was with the team ranking 27th in pass attempts.
But Marshall is a declining player who will be learning a new offense and dealing with a significant QB downgrade. We’ll see what the rest of the offseason brings to New York, but we’d consider Marshall no more than a lower-end WR2 for now
The rest of the Jets
The Jets now boast 1 of the bigger WR tandems in the league in 6’4 Marshall and 6’3 Decker. That’s good news for whoever is under center, especially if it’s Geno Smith, whose inaccuracy could be mitigated by his WRs’ large catch radiuses. If the Jets end up giving Smith another shot this season, we’ll again be interested in him as a late-round fantasy flier. He’s a nice fit in Gailey’s spread system.
Marshall’s arrival is probably about a wash for Decker. His targets might take a slight hit, even if New York’s pass attempts rise. Decker garnered 23% of the Jets’ targets last year. That figures to dip by at least a few percentage points in 2015. But Marshall’s presence will also mean less defensive attention for Decker. He thrived in a similar situation in Denver.
Percy Harvin’s Jets days are numbered. He’s due a non-guaranteed $10.5 million in 2015 and will be cut within the next couple of weeks. That’ll leave Jeremy Kerley as the #3 WR. He and TE Jace Amaro will fight for targets behind Marshall and Decker, but it’s tough to imagine there being enough to go around to make either guy a reliable fantasy option.
Chicago sans Marshall
Only 3 WRs have seen more targets than Marshall’s 462 over the past 3 seasons. That’s a ton of opportunity he’s leaving behind.
Alshon Jeffery figures to pick up a chunk of the leftovers. His 145 targets last year represented 23.8% of Chicago’s total. That percentage could spike to around 30% in 2015. That should at least offset the loss of pass-happy HC Marc Trestman. We’d bet on another 150 targets or so for a studly 25-year-old who finished 10th among WRs in PPR points last season. Jeffery has top-5 upside in 2015.
Marquess Wilson is the current favorite to start opposite Jeffery. His 6’4 frame and 4.5 speed give him the potential to emerge as a fantasy factor. Wilson totaled 12 catches, 100 yards and 1 TD in the 3 games Marshall missed at the end of last season. He remains largely unproven, though, so look for Chicago to bring in competition through free agency and/or the draft.
Regardless of who wins that #2 WR spot, TE Martellus Bennett is a good bet to finish 2nd on the team in targets this season. He ranked 2nd among TEs with 128 looks last year and should be right around that mark in 2015.
Finally, QB Jay Cutler’s fantasy stock continues to sink this offseason. He’s now lost his favorite WR and a pass-happy HC over the past few months. Then there’s the fact that Chicago’s new regime doesn't appear to be high on him. It’s not difficult to imagine Cutler imploding this year. He should only be drafted as a QB2 in fantasy.