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What Happens When Star Receivers Move, Part One

With rumors circulating that Atlanta Falcons star wide receiver Julio Jones wants out, an article about star wide receiver moving seems apropos. It’s not often we see the best of the best on the move, but Jones definitely fits in that category. What can we expect from Jones on a new team? Let’s try to use similar cases from the past to see if moving affects players at all.  

In the interest of not making a 20 page article, this will be part one covering 2012-2016.

(Data taken from FantasyPros.com. Draft data taken from FantasyData.com)

2012

Marshall succeeded immensely after his move to the Bears.

Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins to the Chicago Bears

Brandon Marshall went from one of the game’s best wide receivers to having one of the best years of his career as he moved on from the Dolphins. He posted his career high in receptions and yards and had eleven touchdowns, finishing second amongst WRs in PPR that season. Clearly the move agreed with him, and spoiler alert this isn’t the first time Marshall will be here.

Vincent Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jackson was a Pro Bowler in 2011 with the Chargers and made the Pro Bowl again in his first year in Tampa Bay. He had a career high 1384 yards and eight touchdowns, good for WR 11. 

Those were the most high-profile players that switched teams, and both were successful. Both guys had some of the best years of their career following their move. Marshall was a clear improvement, while Jackson stayed about the same.

2013

Anquan Boldin, Baltimore Ravens to the San Francisco 49ers.

Boldin had some lackluster years with the Ravens, but in his first year on the 49ers he broke 1000 yards for the first time since his Arizona Cardinals days. He also nabbed seven touchdowns, a solid mark and caught 85 balls. That was good for WR 17 in 2013.

Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers to the Minnesota Vikings

Jennings was a star for the Packers for many years, but his last year in Green Bay was injury plagued and not that productive. He went on to the Vikings the year after, and was alright. Jennings played 15 games and had just 805 yards and four scores. He did catch 68 balls which let him be a decent WR 32, but it was far from the heights of his Green Bay days.

Wes Welker, New England Patriots to the Denver Broncos

Welker didn’t quite see the highs he did when in New England, but that could due to age as much as the move. He still thrived in Denver, going for 778 yards and ten scores. His 73 catches also helped propel him to a WR 18 finish in 2013. Not bad at all for a 32 year old. 

Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers to the Miami Dolphins

Wallace had a great three year run with the Steelers, averaging over 1000 yards and nearly nine touchdowns in that span. His last year of that run wasn’t nearly as good as the first two though, and maybe that’s why he was allowed to move on. He put up similar numbers in his first year in Miami to his last in Pittsburgh, going for 100 more yards but three less scores which placed him WR 29. A usable flex, so not bad, but not great either. 

Much more of a mixed bag in 2013. A few more examples too, but unlike say Brandon Marshall most of these guys were older stars towards the end of their careers. Then again, with Jones being 32 that may be his situation right now. One guy improved after moving, one guy was worse and two guys were about the same.

2014

Sanders move to the Broncos led to a career year

Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers to the Denver Broncos

This one just barely makes it as Sanders was WR 30 in 2013, just on the border of relevancy. He exploded onto the scene in Denver, immediately posting his career high receptions, touchdowns and yards and finishing as WR 5 in 2014.

Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers to the Baltimore Ravens

Smith was one of the best receivers in the 2000’s but by 2014 was very old (35) and on a bit of a decline. Even though he posted 1000+ yard seasons in 2011 and 2012, he had just 745 and four scores in 2013. This led to the Panthers letting him walk, and the Ravens picked him up and he had a career renaissance. He went over 1000 yards (1065 to be exact) and scored six times. That was good for WR 20.

Eric Decker, Denver Broncos to the New York Jets

Decker was one of the league’s best receivers in 2013 finishing as a top ten wide receiver in fantasy. His first year as a Jet was much worse. 962 yards and five scores isn’t bad per se, but it did drop him out of fantasy relevancy to WR 37. Decker was good again in 2015, but there was clearly some adjustment needed. Could that be Julio Jones’ future?

DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles to the Washington Football Team

Jackson went from his best year as pro in 2013 to still being pretty good in his first year away from the Eagles. 1169 yards and six scores is nothing to sneeze at, neither was his WR 23 placement.

There were a couple guys that could be on this list like Golden Tate and Brandon LaFell who moved in 2014 and had great years. The reason they aren’t is because they weren’t really stars or particularly fantasy relevant in their careers yet, so it’s not really the same situation as Julio Jones. 

Overall though, we again had four relevant wide receivers move teams, and the results were again mostly positive. Sanders and Smith were both much better after moving, while Jackson was more or less the same with just Decker producing noticeably less.

2015

Mike Wallace, Miami Dolphins to the Minnesota Vikings

Wallace appears again, but this time it was a clear decline. Wallace was WR 17 in 2014 on the back of 10 touchdowns but Minnesota was his worst year as a pro. He played 16 games (started 12) and was only able to come up with 39 catches for 473 yards and two touchdowns. This isn’t the last time Wallace will be here however.

Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears to the New York Jets

Another repeat member, but a very different result. The first time Brandon Marshall moved teams he had one of the best years of his career. This time he had another outstanding year, his highest fantasy scoring season in his illustrious career. He caught 109 passes for 1502 yards and 14 touchdowns. Marshall was a guy that moved around a lot in his career, and he clearly relished in it. 

Andre Johnson, Houston Texans to the Indianapolis Colts

While Johnson had not been terribly relevant in 2014, he still put up 936 yards on 85 catches, but his three scores really let him down. He was also entering his age 34 season. That being said he was moving on to the Indianapolis Colts who had just been the number one passing offense and Andrew Luck had gotten elite production out of Reggie Wayne when he was 34. That, combined with Johnson’s stellar history led him to be drafted as WR 17 in 2015. He did not deliver on that. Despite starting 14 games, he only had 503 yards and four scores, not even close to being a fantasy asset.

Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens to the San Francisco 49ers

Smith had a pretty nice four year run preceding his move, averaging 900 yards and 7.5 scores in Baltimore. His 2014 had him finding paydirt 11 times, a career high. His move to San Francisco ended all of that however, as he would never really come close to his Ravens’ numbers again. He played in all 16 games (started 12) for the 49ers and caught just 33 passes for 663 yards and four touchdowns.

Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles to the Kansas City Chiefs

Maclin performed almost identically to the other Philly receiver that moved teams the year before. He had a career year in 2014 with 1318 yards and ten touchdowns which was good for WR eight. In 2015 he was not as great, but still pretty good posting a 87/1088/8 line which put him at WR 15.

Five names this time. For the first time, the high profile wide receiver moves were more negative than positive. Three guys were major disappointments for their new clubs and just one guy massively improved, leaving Maclin as the sole guy to stay relatively the same. 

2016

Mike Wallace, Minnesota Vikings to the Baltimore Ravens

It’s debatable if Wallace really counts here, as he was not even close to relevant in 2015, and he wasn’t on anyone’s fantasy radar in 2016. Wallace was good enough in his career to deserve some hype on his name alone, and if you took a speculative flier on Wallace you were rewarded. He went over 1000 yards for the first time since 2011 and managed a WR 22 finish.

Marvin Jones Jr, Cincinnati Bengals to the Detroit Lions

Another guy that barely makes the relevancy charts. Jones had a solid two years in Cincinnati before being signed by the Detroit Lions where he had a solid first year with them. There was enough hype for him to be the 29th WR drafted in 2016 but he failed to meet those expectations. His 55/930/4 line was only good for WR 42 in PPR.

Travis Benjamin, Cleveland Browns to the Los Angeles Chargers

This was a pretty weak WR free agency class if you couldn’t tell. Benjamin was again just relevant enough in 2015 to make it on, finishing WR 30. He did not repeat that performance, finishing WR 57 in 2016.

Overall just three names, and you’d be hard pressed to call any of them stars. Still there was one of each category, with Wallace improving, Jones staying about the same and Benjamin regressing.

Conclusions

In the five years examined, we had 18 relevant wide receivers move to a different team. Miraculously, it was an even 6-6-6 split in guys that improved upon moving, guys that stayed the same and guys that regressed. We can slightly focus the dataset by looking only at guys that moved when they were 30+ which is probably more accurate to Julio Jones than say Marvin Jones, who moved early in his career. Those guys were Greg Jennings, Anquan Boldin, Wes Welker, Steve Smith, Brandon Marshall the second time and Andre Johnson. Three guys improved, one guy stayed the same and two regressed.

Considering how good Jones is, staying the same is a win here, so we’re looking at a 66% chance to succeed if he moves. That’s not bad at all. We’ll see if that number stays the same in part two, looking at 2017-2020.