Editor's note: This column will be updated throughout the early portion of the free-agent signing period, so come back often to see the latest analysis.
RB Eddie Lacy to Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks have signed running back Eddie Lacy to a one-year, $5.55 million contract, which includes $3 million guaranteed.
The 26-year-old ex-Packer is entering his fifth NFL season. Lacy is a good bet to slot in as the team's primary early-down and short-yardage back, with second-year option C.J. Prosise handling change-of-pace and passing-down duties. Thomas Rawls is also in the mix but will need to beat out Lacy in order to carve out a significant offensive role.
Lacy won't add much as a receiver, which limits his fantasy upside, but the volume he'll see on early-downs and at the goal line are enough to put him in the RB2 mix. Both he and Prosise are best viewed as flex in PPR.
For more on the signing, check out my ESPN Insider piece, which explains why Lacy's reputation as an overweight, injury-prone, unproductive player is mostly misguided.
Clay's early 16-game projection for 2017: 233 carries, 1,028 yards, 7 touchdowns; 19 targets, 15 receptions, 124 yards, 1 touchdown.
RB Latavius Murray to Minnesota Vikings
The 27-year-old back was selected in the sixth round of the 2013 draft and spent the first four years of his career with Oakland. Murray played sparingly during his first two seasons in the pros, but emerged down the stretch in 2014 and stepped into a full-time role in 2015. He went on rack up 461 carries for 1,854 yards (4.0 YPC) and 18 touchdowns, as well as 74 receptions for 496 yards (5.6 YPR) during the 2015-16 seasons. His efficiency during the span, which included 1.83 yards after contact per attempt, was pedestrian at best.
Murray now joins the Vikings' offense as a power complement to 5-foot-9, 205-pound super-athletic and agile Jerick McKinnon. Murray is a good bet to get the first crack at early-down and goal-line work, but his efforts may be in vain if Minnesota doesn't improve an offensive line that allowed 1.9 yards before initial contact last season (second worst). The line struggles were a problem for McKinnon last season. He posted a horrific 3.4 YPC after averaging an exceptional 4.9 during his first two seasons.
McKinnon is already a quality pass-catching back, but he's an A-plus athlete who should get a fair shot to emerge as the team's lead back. That supplies the 24-year-old with plenty of fantasy upside. Of course, the most likely outcome here is Murray working early downs and short yardage, with McKinnon plenty busy in a change-of-pace and passing-down role. Murray is pretty good in pass protection as well, which could buy him occasional third-down snaps.
Clay's early 16-game projections for 2017:
Murray: 187 carries, 770 yards, 7 TD; 25 receptions, 197 yards, 1 TD. He's a flex option with limited upside.
McKinnon: 150 carries, 625 yards, 3 TD; 47 receptions, 317 yards, 1 TD. Viable as a flex player in PPR leagues.
WR Brandin Cooks to New England Patriots
The long-rumored departure of Brandin Cooks from New Orleans is finally official.
The explosive wide receiver was shipped along with a 2017 fourth-round pick to the New England Patriots in return for 2017 first- and third-round picks.
Cooks -- a first-round pick back in 2014 -- has three NFL seasons under his belt, but incredibly is only 23 years old. He adds an every-down speed component to a Patriots offense that has relied heavily on short and intermediate passing in recent years. Cooks joins New England having posted back-to-back 1,100-yard receiving seasons, including a total of 17 touchdowns during the two campaigns. He was fantasy's No. 12-scoring wide receiver in 2015 and improved to eighth last season.
Cooks is obviously a terrific player, but it's no secret that he's benefited from playing in the NFC South, especially with half of his games played in the comforts of the Superdome. Cooks' home/road splits are notable, but not particularly alarming: 161 targets, 13 touchdowns, 69 percent catch rate, 10.2 yards per target at home. 152 targets, 7 touchdowns, 68 percent catch rate, 8.0 yards per target on the road. Cooks hasn't been quite as effective after the catch (home: 4.8, road: 3.6) on the road, but has fewer drops (home: 6, road: 1) and has dealt with worse quarterback play (home: 15 percent off-target rate, road: 20 percent).
A bigger dive into the numbers shows that Cooks has yet to play in an NFL game with a temperature below 55 degrees. The average temperature for a Patriots game last season was 53 degrees, which was ahead of only the Giants (52 degrees) for coldest in the league. History shows that statistics (including completion rate, yards per attempt and drop rate) are better in warmer temperatures. Considering Cooks' impending drastic change in playing environment, this is something that certainly needs to be accounted for.
What also needs to be accounted for are roughly 35 targets per game in the New England offense. During his three seasons in the Saints' pass-heavy offense, Cooks averaged an 18 percent target share. That worked out to 7.5 targets per game. In New England's more-balanced offense (a result of many second-half leads), Cooks will be competing for targets with Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, James White, Dion Lewis, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Dwayne Allen and potentially Danny Amendola. Cooks will obviously be near the top of the priority list, but it's hard to do the math and come away expecting more than a similar share to what he saw in New Orleans. For what it's worth, a 20 percent share of 35 targets is seven per game, which is solid, but not quite WR1 material.
Clay's early 16-game projection for 2017: 114 targets, 75 receptions, 967 yards and 6 touchdowns. Add in the effects of the quarterback and weather change, and Cooks is best-viewed as a solid WR2.
As for the impact of the trade on the Saints' wide receivers, it's important to consider the history of the Sean Payton/Drew Brees offense. In a nutshell, they like to spread it around. The two arrived in New Orleans in 2006, and check out the target share of the team's top wide receiver during their 11 years of work: 20, 23, 19, 20, 20, 17, 20, 18, 16, 20, 19.
That's pretty telling. Only one season is above 23 percent, and that was Marques Colston's career year in 2007. Why is this important? Because Cooks handled 18 percent of the Saints' targets last season, which was not far off what Michael Thomas (19 percent) and Willie Snead (16 percent) saw in 15 games. It's easy to project a big boost in usage for both players, but history shows it's unlikely. Instead, expect a slight boost for both, with most of the remaining targets headed to new No. 3 wideout and certified lid lifter Ted Ginn Jr.
Clay's early 16-game projection for 2017: Thomas was already in the WR1 discussion, and so he remains a top-10 fantasy wide receiver in 2017. Slot man Snead is a quality WR3 option, especially in PPR formats. Ginn will step into a chunk of Cooks' workload and has the look of a flex option with some additional upside when New Orleans is at home. We'll need to monitor his average draft position in the hopes that he'll make for a potential late-round steal.
TE Martellus Bennett to Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers' seemingly annual tradition of changing tight ends continues.
On Friday, the Packers signed Bennett to a three-year, $21 million contract. He replaces Jared Cook, who remains a free agent, and guarantees that the Packers will have a new leading receiver at the tight end position for the fourth consecutive year.
Cook enjoyed a strong first (and only) season in Green Bay, but he's certainly known more for his pass-catching than he is his blocking. In fact, Cook lined up at wide receiver on 54 percent of his snaps in 2016. He was asked to block on 30 percent of his snaps and ran a route on 94 percent of the pass plays he was on the field for.
Bennett is one of the game's better two-way tight ends (solid as both a receiver and blocker). He lined up at wideout on 33 percent of his snaps last season. New England asked Bennett to block on 54 percent of his snaps, and he ran a route on 82 percent of pass plays.
Bennett is now 30 years old and coming off a strong season in which he caught 55 passes for 701 yards and 7 touchdowns. Six tight ends scored more fantasy points in 2016. Bennett was limited to 78 percent of the Patriots' offensive snaps last season but had been on the field for at least 90 percent of his team's snaps, when active, during each of the previous four seasons. The message, of course, being that he's a capable and experienced every-down player.
Bennett will likely fall in place as Green Bay's No. 4 target behind Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. That's not ideal in most offenses, but this unit scored 3.3 touchdowns per game (third), called pass 69 percent of the time (highest) and scored 78 percent of its touchdowns through the air (third) last season. As long as Aaron Rodgers is under center, Bennett is surely a mid-to-back-end TE1 option.
Clay's early 16-game projection for 2017: 94 targets, 66 receptions, 672 yards, 6 touchdowns.
WR Alshon Jeffery and WR Torrey Smith to Philadelphia Eagles
In a matter of just a few hours, the Eagles vastly improved one of the league's worst wide receiver units.
Jeffery immediately slots in as the team's top wide receiver and supplies second-year quarterback Carson Wentz with a go-to weapon. The 2012 second-round pick has missed quite a bit of time during his career, but his durability woes are probably a bit overstated. He missed six games due to injury as a rookie, none in 2013 and 2014, and seven in 2015. He sat out four games last season, but it was due to a suspension.
Jeffery has been a super-productive and heavily-utilized target when healthy. Over the past four seasons, he's averaging 9.0 targets per game. His average of 10.75 fantasy points per game during that span would've ranked seventh at the position last season. Jeffery's usage near the goal line has certainly helped boost his fantasy production. Even with the 11 missed games, he sits third in the entire NFL in end zone targets over the past four years (63).
Smith was a second-round pick in 2011 and enjoyed a tremendous first four seasons in Baltimore. During that time, he didn't miss a single game and averaged 106 targets, 53 receptions, 898 yards and 7.5 touchdowns per season. Incredibly, he finished a season no better than 19th and no worse than 23rd among wide receivers in fantasy points during that span. Smith then signed with the 49ers, but didn't have nearly as much success during his two years in the Bay Area. He caught a grand total of 53 balls for 930 yards and 7 touchdowns in 28 games in San Francisco.
Smith is one of the game's top deep threats and thus sure to nail down a significant role. Granted, he struggled in San Francisco, but some of that can be traced to gross underutilization. Jeffery is in his prime at age 27 and shouldn't struggle to push for 8-to-10 targets per game in Doug Pederson's and Frank Reich's balanced attack.
Jeffery and Smith will primarily work the perimeter, with Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz and Trey Burton inside. Wentz is far from a sure thing, but it's fair to expect a jump forward in his second year, especially with a much-improved supporting cast.
Clay's early 16-game projection for 2017:
Jeffery: 142 targets, 83 receptions, 1,135 yards and 7 TDs. That's enough to put him in the WR1 discussion.
Matthews: 76-848-5. His production takes a hit, which makes him more of a flex.
Smith: 49-785-5. Smith's production falls, but his big-play ability also makes him worth flex consideration in non-PPR leagues.
Ertz: 66-689-4. He also will lose some targets and now has the looks of a fringe TE1.
Wentz: 380-of-607 for 4,333 yards and 27 total TDs. He is certainly a candidate for a breakout second season, but he's best-viewed as a good QB2 in 10- and 12-team leagues.
WR Terrelle Pryor Sr. to Washington
The Washington Redskins' wide receiver corps will look quite different in 2017. DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon are gone and will be replaced by Josh Doctson and the team's latest addition -- Terrelle Pryor Sr.
Pryor spent the early part of his career as a quarterback, but has made an impressive transition to wide receiver over the past few years. He worked as Cleveland's top wide receiver last season and hauled in 77 passes for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns. A versatile offensive weapon, Pryor also attempted 11 passes and carried the ball eight times for 21 yards and one touchdown. Pryor was on the field for 92 percent of Cleveland's pass plays and handled one quarter of the team's targets. He finished the year as fantasy's No. 18 scoring wideout.
Pryor is in his prime at 27 years old and adds some serious size to the perimeter in Washington. He will primarily work opposite 6-foot-2 Doctson -- the team's first-round pick in 2016 who missed the entire year with an Achilles injury -- and Jamison Crowder will return as the team's slot man. Throw Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis into the mix and Washington is positioned for another productive offensive campaign.
Pryor is unlikely to match his 25 percent target share in a better Redskins offense (Garcon led the team at 19 percent last year), but he's the best bet to lead the unit in targets should easily improve in the touchdown department. The Browns' offense found pay dirt 28 times last season, compared to 42 for the Redskins.
Clay's early Redskins 16-game projections
Pryor: 117 targets, 68 receptions, 1,032 yards, 6 touchdowns. In Washington, Pryor is a borderline WR2 with upside.
Crowder: 69-837-4. Crowder is a regression candidate best viewed as a flex, but who should be upgraded in PPR formats.
Doctson: 57-796-5. The TCU product is best viewed as a mid-to-late round upside target.
QB Mike Glennon to Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears addressed their quarterback void by signing Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million contract, which includes $19 million guaranteed.
It's a generous payday for someone who has played a grand total of 14 snaps (all in 2016) since the Buccaneers selected Jameis Winston first overall in the 2015 NFL draft.
Glennon was selected by Tampa Bay in the third round back in 2013. He made his debut in Week 4 and played out his rookie campaign as the team's starter. He took a lot of sacks, dealt with 18 drops and got very little help after the catch, but still managed 19 TDs and just 9 INTs and a 59 percent completion rate, all solid marks for a midround rookie. Glennon lost the team's starting gig to Josh McCown in 2014, but appeared in six games. Drops and sacks remained an issue, but Glennon completed 58 percent of his throws and posted a 10-to-6 TD/INT mark. Glennon registered as off target on 17 percent of his attempts in both 2013 and 2014, which is right at the league average.
Considering he has barely seen the field the past two years, it's hard to know what Glennon will bring to the table, but his pedigree and previous work suggests league-average production is likely his ceiling. That may suffice for a Chicago offense that already includes Jordan Howard, Cameron Meredith, Kevin White, Zach Miller and potentially Alshon Jeffery.
The Bears' offense leaned on the run last season, finishing 30th in plays per game (60.4) and 27th in touchdowns per game (1.8). It's conceivable that Glennon will be an improvement over the combination of Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, but it's far from a sure thing.
Clay's early 16-game projection for 2017: 316 of 511 for 3,743 yards, 20 TDs and 12 INTs. In terms of per-game fantasy production, that would place Glennon near the basement of the league, especially since he offers very little with his legs. He has little fantasy appeal in 10-and-12-team leagues, especially since Alshon Jeffery is not returning to the team.
WR Ted Ginn Jr. to New Orleans Saints
At this point, it will be a major surprise if Brandin Cooks is not traded in the next few days. Further evidence of an impending trade is the Saints' signing of Ginn. The 31-year-old lid-lifter was a relative disappointment during the early portion of his career, but enjoyed a ton of success in Carolina in recent years. He posted a career-best 44-739-10 line in 2015 and followed up with 54-752-4 last season. Assuming Cooks is out the door, Ginn will work as the team's second perimeter receiver opposite Michael Thomas, with Willie Snead in the slot. In that role, and with Drew Brees under center, Ginn will be a sneaky late-round target and flex option.
WR Robert Woods to Los Angeles Rams
The Rams were desperate for help at wide receiver and perhaps the best evidence of this is the fact that they've agreed to sign longtime secondary Bills receiver Robert Woods to a whopping five-year, $39 million contact.
Woods was selected by Buffalo in the second round of the 2013 draft and is still relatively young at 24 years old. The Rams likely aren't done adding at the position, but with Woods (6-foot, 190 pounds) and Tavon Austin (5-foot-8, 176 pounds), their top two wide receivers form the smallest duo in the NFL.
Woods' time in Buffalo doesn't offer much to get excited about. He was a versatile weapon, lining up in the slot on 39 percent of the 1,859 routes he ran with the team. He was used primarily in the short area and never eclipsed 699 receiving yards in a single season. Woods struggled with injuries as well, missing at least two games during three of the four years. His size hasn't led to much work near the end zone; he has only 12 career receiving touchdowns on his resume.
Woods joins a Rams offense that was nothing short of horrific last season. The unit produced a league-low 1.4 touchdowns per game and ran 60.0 plays per game (31st). New head coach Sean McVay may help the team take a step forward, but a lot of its success will depend on how well 2016 first-overall pick Jared Goff fares in his second season. Goff was brutal during his first 231 dropbacks, competing 55 percent of his passes, averaging 5.3 yards per attempt and more INTs (7) than TDs (5).
Woods' paycheck assures him a big offensive role, but, at least in the short term, consistency, efficiency, big plays and scoring opportunities are likely to elude him.
Clay's early 16-game projection for 2017: 108 targets, 65 receptions, 799 yards and 4 touchdowns. He's worth a look late in your fantasy drafts, but is not quite in the WR3 discussion.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers re-signs with Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Rodgers is currently positioned to work as the Buccaneers' lead back during Doug Martin's three-game suspension to open the 2017 season. Of course, it's still possible the Bucs move on from Martin, or that Rodgers straight-up steals the job away. The Bucs' running back situation will be one to monitor in the coming months, but Rodgers is a potential RB2 if the chips fall the right way.
WR Kenny Stills re-signs with Miami Dolphins; TE Anthony Fasano joins him
Stills was a highly-coveted free agent, so it was a bit of a surprise that the Dolphins were able to retain him with both Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker on the roster. Of course, even with those two around last season, Stills was on the field for 91 percent of the team's pass plays. He was utilized primarily as a deep threat, posting an unsustainable 42-726-9 stat line. He entered the season with 11 career touchdowns on 122 receptions. Stills will need to see more volume in order to repeat as a top-30 fantasy receiver. That might be hard to achieve with Parker entering his third season and Julius Thomas now in the mix. Speaking of Thomas, he's the team's passing-down tight end, which will allow newcomer Fasano to focus on his specialty: blocking. Fasano won't see many targets, but provides a slight boost to Jay Ajayi's fantasy prospects.
Clay's early 16-game projection for 2017: 87 targets, 49 receptions, 730 yards and 5 TDs.
WR DeSean Jackson to Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As offseason roster voids go, there weren't many clearer than the No. 2 wide receiver job in Tampa Bay.
Jackson is a terrific fit for the Buccaneers' improving offense, but there is a major concern here: durability. Jackson has missed at least one game during seven of his nine NFL seasons, including eight missed games during the past two years. Jackson's frame (5-foot-10, 178 pounds) and the fact that he recently turned 30 years old only adds to that concern.
Still, when he's on the field, Jackson will add a new element to the Bucs' offense. He missed one game and the better part of two others, but still managed the fifth 1,000-yard season of his career in 2016. Jackson will join Evans as the Bucs' every-down perimeter receivers, with Adam Humphries manning the slot and Cameron Brate at tight end.
From a fantasy perspective, Jackson will continue to provide boom/bust production. After averaging at least a 20 percent target share during each of his six years with the Eagles, Jackson came in below 20 percent during his three years in Washington. He's eclipsed six touchdowns in a season twice in his career (both with Philadelphia) and has scored exactly four touchdowns in each of his past two campaigns. With Evans (20 end zone targets, most in the NFL) and Brate (6.8 OTD, third among tight ends) likely to continue operating as Winston's primary targets near the goal line, touchdowns may continue to elude Jackson.
Clay's early 16-game projection for 2017: 102 targets, 61 receptions, 1,049 yards and 5 touchdowns. That's enough to put him squarely in the weekly WR2 discussion. Mike Evans (165-89-1,272-9) remains a top-five fantasy receiver and Winston is very much in the top-10 discussion at quarterback.
WR Kenny Britt to Cleveland Browns
The Browns continue their annual overhaul of the wide receiver position, this time signing Kenny Britt to a four-year, $32.5 million contract.
Often labeled as one of Jeff Fisher's "guys," Britt was drafted by Fisher's Titans in 2009 and signed on with and played for Fisher with the Rams during the past three seasons. Britt has been in the league for eight years, but he's younger than you probably realize (28 years old). He enjoyed what was, by far, the best season of his career in 2016. One of the Rams' only productive offensive players, Britt caught 68 of 110 targets for 1,002 yards and 5 touchdowns. He didn't provide much upside in fantasy (just five top-30 weeks), but still finished 27th at the position in fantasy points in 15 games of work.
Britt's breakout campaign is especially impressive when you consider that his quarterbacks were Case Keenum and 22-year-old rookie Jared Goff. Britt dropped only two passes and averaged a healthy 9.1 yards per target. He finished tied for 47th in the league with seven end zone targets, which obviously limited his scoring chances.
Of course, his scoring chances may not increase much in Cleveland. The Browns scored a grand total of 15 passing touchdowns last year, which was only one ahead of the Rams' mark. Hue Jackson's offense ranked 27th in plays per game (61), 29th in touchdowns per game (1.8) and 29th in the percentage of those touchdowns scored through the air (53.6).
The Browns may not be done at wide receiver, but considering they spent four draft picks on the position during the 2016 draft, they could be. At least for now, Britt joins up with 2016 first-round pick Corey Coleman to form a solid one-two punch. Assuming he takes a second-year leap, Coleman is a reasonable bet to pace this team in targets, but Britt won't be far behind and his 6-foot-3, 223-pound frame should allow more opportunities near the goal line.
As fantasy prospects go, this is not an ideal landing spot for Britt. The Browns have yet to make a decision on Robert Griffin III's future and don't appear to view Cody Kessler as a viable starter. That said, we don't know who will be under center Week 1 and, regardless of who it is, this is an offense unlikely to make more than a slight leap forward in 2017.
Clay's early 16-game projection for 2017: Britt's early 16-game projection is 106 targets, 61 receptions, 865 yards and 5 touchdowns. Cleveland's newest weapon is best viewed as a flex option with some WR3 appeal in 12-team leagues.
RB Danny Woodhead to Baltimore Ravens
Woodhead missed most of last season with a torn ACL and is now 32 years old. It was expected that he'd return to the Chargers, but the Ravens -- looking to add a passing-down specialist, especially after losing Kyle Juszczyk -- swooped in and signed him away. Considering his age, injury woes and new home, Woodhead's effectiveness and role are certainly tough to predict, but it's hard to imagine him coming anywhere close to the 78.5 receptions he averaged during his two full seasons in San Diego. Consider him a flex option in PPR leagues. Kenneth Dixon remains atop the depth chart at tailback and in the RB2 mix.
TE Dwayne Allen traded to New England Patriots
One year into a head-scratching four-year, $29.4 million contract, Indianapolis traded Allen and a sixth-round pick to the New England Patriots for a fourth-round pick. The move leaves Jack Doyle, a 2013 undrafted free agent, as the Colts' top tight end. Doyle signed a three-year, $19 million extension with the team Tuesday.
Allen enjoyed a terrific rookie season in which he was on the field for 77 percent of the Colts' offensive snaps. He caught 45 passes for 521 yards and was dominant as a run blocker. The wheels fell off from there. A hip injury cost him all but one game in 2013, and he missed at least two games because of injury during the following three seasons. Since that strong rookie campaign, Allen has seen his blocking fall off quite a bit, and he has caught a total of 81 passes for 930 yards and 16 touchdowns, half of which came in 2014. Now 27, he heads to New England, where he replaces Martellus Bennett as the team's No. 2 tight end behind Rob Gronkowski.
Gronkowski is the league's best tight end, but durability is a major concern. He has missed 24 regular-season games during the past five years, including at least five games in three of those seasons. The Patriots are obviously taking a risk here; Gronkowski and Allen have combined to miss 57 regular-season games because of injury during the past five years. Allen should be viewed as a borderline TE2 and top-end handcuff at the position. New England is unafraid to use two tight ends on passing plays, but Allen won't see enough targets and will be too touchdown-dependent to warrant TE1 consideration.
Doyle, meanwhile, is easily one of the biggest winners of the week. Following his big extension and the Allen trade, Doyle is positioned as an every-down player in a pass-first offense led by Chuck Pagano, Rob Chudzinski and Andrew Luck. Despite the Colts' struggles last season, Luck led his offense to 2.8 touchdowns per game, which was ninth-most in the NFL. During the past 10 years, Pagano and Chudzinski's offenses have directed a minimum of a 20 percent target to the tight end position. Chudzinski's average is 26 percent and Pagano's is 23 percent during the span; the league average is 20 percent.
Doyle shared time with Allen last season but was still on the field for 68 percent of the team's snaps, including 55 percent of the pass plays. He converted that workload into 75 targets, 59 receptions, 584 yards and five touchdowns. Twelve tight ends managed more fantasy points.
With Erik Swoope as the only other tight end on the roster, the Colts aren't done adding at the position, but Doyle is currently very much in the TE1 mix.
Clay's early 16-game projection for 2017: 88 targets, 62 receptions, 641 yards and seven touchdowns.
WR Brandon Marshall to New York Giants
The former Broncos, Dolphins, Bears and Jets wide receiver turns 33 years old this month and is coming off a career-worst season in which he caught 59 of 125 targets for 788 yards and 3 touchdowns. Despite his age and the Jets' rough season, Marshall was on the field for 94 percent of the team's pass plays and handled one quarter of the targets when active.
Marshall's landing spot all but guarantees he'll see a similar workload in 2017. During head coach Ben McAdoo's three seasons with the team, the Giants have ranked either first or second in the NFL in three-plus wide receiver sets when passing. That includes an NFL-high 97 percent in 2016.
Marshall joins Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard to form one of the NFL's best wide receiver trios. Barring injury, the three receivers will be on the field for nearly all of the team's pass plays next season. Expect Marshall and Beckham to spend most of their time on the perimeter, with Shepard working from the slot. Marshall lined up in the slot on 20 percent of his routes last season. Beckham's mark was 15 percent and Shepard's 85 percent.
Although it's likely Marshall will see a slight down-tick in target share, his dominance near the goal line certainly keeps him in the WR2 discussion. Consider that even during a rough 2016 campaign, Marshall racked up 15 end zone targets, which ranked seventh among wide receivers. He has now finished sixth or better in that category in five consecutive years and, with 180, he paces the entire NFL in that category during the past decade (Larry Fitzgerald is next closest among active players with 117).
Considering his age and rough 2016, it's fair to wonder if Marshall is "done" or if we can expect a rebound this season. A deeper look at his numbers shows a player who struggled as a result of poor quarterback play. Marshall caught only 47 percent of his targets last season, which was well below his previous career-low of 57 percent. An astounding 31 percent of balls thrown his direction registered as "off target," which was nearly triple his 13 percent rate in 2015 and nearly double his previous career mark of 17 percent. In fact, that 31 percent mark was highest in the NFL among players who saw at least 70 targets.
Marshall also suffered some unfortunate "luck" in the touchdown department. He registered a 6.8 receiving OTD (16th-highest in the NFL) but scored only three touchdowns. Marshall caught three (or 20 percent) of his 15 end zone targets after catching 20 percent the previous nine years.
Eli Manning is now 36 years old and coming off a down year in which the Giants' offense managed only 1.9 offensive touchdowns per game (23rd in the NFL). Of course, with the upgrade from Victor Cruz to Marshall, Shepard entering his second year, the return to health of passing-down back Shane Vereen and a probable upgrade at tight end, this is an offense in line for a bounce back.
Clay's early 16-game projections for 2017:
Beckham Jr.: 166 targets, 102 receptions, 1,323 yards, 9 TDs (first-round pick and top-end WR1)
Marshall: 131 targets, 74 receptions, 930 yards, 7 TDs (borderline top-20 fantasy wide receiver)
Shepard: 107 targets, 66 receptions, 735 yards, 5 TDs (flex option who should be upgraded in PPR leagues)
WR Brandon LaFell re-signs with Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals brought back LaFell after he was on the field for 97 percent of the team's pass plays last season. He was targeted 103 times, although he averaged 5.1 per game during the nine games A.J. Green was healthy and 8.1 per game during the seven Green was out. LaFell ended up 33rd at the position in fantasy points, but he's a strong candidate to take a step back this season. Barring disaster, Green and Tyler Eifert will open the season healthy and 2016 second-round pick Tyler Boyd will be a candidate for a bigger role. LaFell is barely worth late-round consideration in fantasy drafts.
WR Pierre Garcon to San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have kicked off the reconstruction of their wide receiver corps by agreeing to sign veteran Pierre Garcon to a multi-year contract.
Garcon, who turns 31 in August, is coming off what is arguably the best season of his career. That might sound surprising, considering he paced the NFL with 113 receptions in 2013, but Garcon was super efficient during a 79-catch, 1,041-yard 2016 campaign. He caught a career-high 71 percent of his targets and averaged 9.4 yards per target, which is easily his best average during the seven seasons in which he played at least half of his team's snaps.
Garcon brings his sure hands -- he's dropped a grand total of three passes over the past three seasons (320 targets during the span) -- to the Bay Area. Garcon has also shown exceptional durability during his career. Aside from 2012, when he missed five games, Garcon has been on the field for at least 83 percent of his team's pass plays in seven of the past eight years.
As statistical production goes, Garcon's biggest issue has been touchdowns. In nine campaigns, he's yet to score more than six touchdowns in a single season (he's hit that mark three times). He sports a career receiving OTD (opportunity-adjusted touchdowns) of 40.4 and has caught 37 touchdowns, which means that a lack of usage near the goal line has been the primary culprit. Since 2009, he ranks eighth in the NFL in targets (902), but 20th in end-zone targets (65).
Garcon's scoring deficiencies have been the primary reason why he's struggled to get over the hump as a fantasy producer. The aforementioned 176-target 2013 season marks the only season during which he finished better than 23rd among wide receivers in fantasy points (even then, he scored only five touchdowns). Consistently a back-end fantasy starter, however, Garcon has finished a season no better than 23rd and no worse than 36th during five of the past eight seasons.
We should expect similar fantasy production in 2017, but the obvious disclaimer here is that there are still many questions related to the 49ers' offense that need to be answered. Garcon and Jeremy Kerley have been signed, but is the team done adding impact players at the position? How heavily will coach Kyle Shanahan lean on Vance McDonald, who signed a five-year extension late last year? Will the team add a pass-catching running back to pair with early-down enforcer Carlos Hyde? And, of course, the biggest question: Who will be the quarterback come Week 1? As of this moment, the 49ers are the only team in the NFL with zero quarterbacks under contract. When all is said and done, expect him to land in the weekly WR3 discussion.
Clay's early 16-game projection for 2017: 120 targets, 79 receptions, 891 yards and 5 TDs.