The NFL has had a busy offseason in terms of signing wide receivers to multi-million dollar deals. The NFL is now officially a pass-first league—just look at the participants of the past four Super Bowls—so that’s why teams are loading up on premium pass catchers.
But not every free-agent wide receiver signed with a team that will help his fantasy value go through the roof. Here are two examples:
Laurent Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Robinson took a page out of Brandon Lloyd’s playbook by being an underwhelming journeyman receiver for his first few years only to turn his career around when nobody expected it.
Robinson was the Dallas Cowboys’ third receiver (and fourth-best pass catcher behind tight end Jason Witten) last season and not projected to do much considering he had scored four touchdowns in his first four years and had never had 500 receiving yards in a season before.
Yet Robinson thrived, especially when Miles Austin came up lame with a hamstring injury. Robinson destroyed his previous career-highs by catching 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was dependable over the middle, in the red zone and deep downfield, and quarterback Tony Romo and Robinson clicked immediately with a chemistry reminiscent of Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.
Now instead of being the fourth-best option in a high-powered passing attack, Robinson is the No. 1 target in one of the lowest-octane, run-first offenses in the NFL. Jacksonville ranked dead last in passing in 2011, partially because rookie QB Blaine Gabbert could not hit the broad side of a stadium, partially because the Jaguars had the worst receiving corps in the league and partially because Maurice Jones-Drew ran the ball 60 times per game.
Jacksonville’s offense should be different this season, though, and hopefully improved with new head coach Mike Mularkey running things. Mularkey is known for his innovative offenses and for molding quarterbacks, so his main focus will be turning Gabbert into an NFL QB.
If Jacksonville’s offense gets itself out of the stats cellar and Gabbert starts throwing like fellow pro sophomore Andy Dalton, that can only mean good things for Robinson. But is Robinson a one-year wonder or a breakout star? And should he have stayed in Dallas or signed with a team with at least an average passing attack?
Lloyd proved me wrong last season after he was traded to the St. Louis Rams. He still managed 966 receiving yards despite having subpar passers like Tim Tebow and A.J. Feeley throwing flailing fish at him at various times. So Lloyd was not the "one-year-wonder-and-then-fantasy blunder" many pundits thought he would be.
I am not as confident that Robinson will not be a fantasy blunder.
Jacksonville has a recent history of giving millions to pedestrian receivers (hello, Mike Thomas!) and you have to think about how much better Romo, Dez Bryant, Witten and Austin made Robinson look last year in Dallas.
2012 Projection: 830 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Too many question marks surrounding Robinson, Gabbert and Jacksonville’s new offense to pencil Robinson in for 1,000 yards, but he will be the receiver getting the most targets and he should pile up some late-game yardage since the Jaguars will be trailing in most of their games.
Anthony Gonzalez, New England Patriots
Tom Brady can do a lot of special things. He can turn Wes Welker into one of the greatest receivers in the NFL. He can throw for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns without breaking a sweat. He can make a terrible hairstyle the talk of TMZ.
But can Brady keep Gonzalez healthy for an entire season?
That is the big question. Peyton Manning was never able to pull off the feat and he has some pretty special powers himself. Gonzalez has been an injury-prone catastrophe since getting drafted in the first round in 2007. He has only suited up for 10 games over the past three years and has only caught five passes over that span. He is a lower-body injury waiting to happen.
New England’s strategy at receiver this offseason has been to throw a lot of spackle against the wall and see how many holes it covers up. Besides Welker, the Patriots brought back Deion Branch, convinced Chad Ochocinco to restructure his contract, signed the aforementioned Brandon Lloyd and also inked Donte Stallworth and Gonzalez to deals.
Not all of these receivers will make New England’s final roster, though, and Gonzalez is one of the guys going into training camp the on bubble. The Patriots did not spend a lot of money on Gonzalez, and he is a former first-rounder, so this is a low-risk, high-reward situation for them.
The best season Gonzalez ever had was in 2008 when he had 57 receptions for 664 yards and four touchdowns. A lot of time has passed and a lot of ridiculous Ted Nugent quotes have been spoken since then.
2012 Projection: 260 yards and one touchdown. It may be a stretch to even think Gonzalez makes the team, but something tells me Gonzalez will turn into New England’s newest reclamation project.
The Pats might have Gonzalez playing on special teams and at cornerback before all is said and done. But there are not enough balls to go around in New England, even with Brady throwing the ball 40-50 times per game. Therefore, Gonzalez’s fantasy value is nil.