They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Jeremy Maclin has been on both sides of that fence.
Maclin’s debut season with Kansas City was everything he could have hoped for. He took the bull by the horns in 2015, leading the playoff-bound Chiefs with 1,088 receiving yards on a career-high 87 catches. It wasn’t so much a breakout season as a continuation of the dominance he displayed during his five-year tenure in Philadelphia. But soon the honeymoon gave way to frustration as Maclin battled injuries and ineffectiveness in 2016. Maclin’s regression, combined with a dire cap situation led to his release from Kansas City earlier this month.
The release came at an odd time, both for Maclin and the Chiefs. In his wake, the Chiefs now have only a few months to groom Tyreek Hill into a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Hill’s ascension is already a divisive topic in fantasy circles with many expressing skepticism in his ability to function as a true go-to receiver, particularly given the struggles of similar gadget players like Tavon Austin, Percy Harvin and Cordarrelle Patterson. All three of those players have proven their merit as big-play threats—or at least Harvin did while he was still playing—but transitioning from a sporadically used gimmick player to an offensive focal point remains a Herculean task.
With that said, it’s hard to bet against a player as explosive as Hill. A controversial fifth-round draft pick out of West Alabama (he was dismissed from Oklahoma State following a domestic violence arrest), Hill exploded for 12 touchdowns as a rookie including six as a wide receiver. Hill spent most of the year as a complementary receiver but was given free reign during Maclin’s four-week absence, averaging 61.8 yards on 8.5 targets per game over that span. You’ll be hearing a lot about that four-game tidbit in the coming weeks (the guys have already devoted a podcast to this subject) because it’s the most concrete data we have in projecting Hill’s role in a post-Jeremy Maclin Kansas City. Even with Alex Smith’s limitations as a game manager and Travis Kelce’s booming presence as one of the league’s more active receiving tight ends, Hill can be safely employed as a WR2 on volume alone (he was drafted as such in a PPR mock you’ll see if you purchase our Draft Guide, which is coming together nicely). The question is if he’ll be consistent enough to stay there.
But let’s steer the subject back to Maclin for a minute. Being a household name doesn’t always guarantee you a job in the NFL, but for Maclin, it did. He resurfaced in relatively short order, joining the Ravens on a two-year, $11 million contract 10 days after being let go by Kansas City. Even with the Bills and Eagles applying pressure, landing with Baltimore was always the expected outcome for Maclin. On paper it made too much sense. The Ravens were desperate for receiver depth after losing Steve Smith Sr. to retirement and Kamar Aiken in free agency, not to mention the melancholy departure of tight end Dennis Pitta, who was cut after suffering a serious hip injury during OTAs.
Despite the strange circumstances under which he was cut—teams don’t usually cut their best receiver in June—the Ravens never wavered in their pursuit of Maclin and quickly distanced themselves from his other suitors. Clearly the Ravens are operating under the mindset that Maclin’s disappointing 2016 was an injury-marred aberration and not a sign of things to come.
Not that he had it so bad in Kansas City, but Baltimore should be an ideal fantasy destination for Maclin. He’ll fill the Steve Smith role as the Ravens’ primary slot receiver while deep threat Mike Wallace and former first-round pick Breshad Perriman will man the outside. Smith Sr. averaged 8.35 targets per game during his three seasons with Baltimore and it’s reasonable to expect a similar workload for Maclin. Multiplied over a full 16-game slate, that computes to 133.6 targets, which is more than Maclin saw in either of his two seasons with Kansas City. With PPR emerging as the industry standard, Maclin makes for an appealing mid-round pick, though it may take a few weeks for his ADP to reflect that.
Maclin shouldn’t be a major strain on Wallace’s production. He’s always been boom-or-bust and Maclin’s presence is unlikely to affect that narrative. Perriman may not be as fortunate, however. A plus athlete with ample size (6’2’/215) and 4.29 speed, Perriman has endured a frustrating career to this point. Injuries kept him from seeing the field at all in 2015, calling his durability into question. A year later, he labored through a deeply mediocre debut season, pulling in just 33 of his 66 targets from Joe Flacco for 499 yards and three touchdowns. Finally out from underneath the shadow of Steve Smith, Perriman’s fantasy stock began to pick up steam this offseason. He earned rave reviews in OTAs and appeared poised for a breakout season … until Maclin came and rained on his parade. Perriman will still have opportunities to contribute but with Maclin eating away at his targets, his moment as a trendy sleeper has officially passed.
Now that the terms of Maclin’s deal have been released, it’s surprising that more teams didn’t jump into the fray. Maclin’s contract is identical to the one Markus Wheaton signed with the Bears this offseason. To compare Wheaton, a perennial underachiever coming off a four-catch season, to Maclin would be like comparing the Beatles to Hoobastank. They’re worlds apart.
Baltimore’s need at wide receiver was well-documented but so was Buffalo’s. At a price that will make him the league’s 30th-highest-paid receiver, how did the Bills let Maclin get away? Buffalo seemed like a logical fit given the Bills’ shoddy play at receiver and Maclin’s ties to LeSean McCoy, a long-time teammate of his in Philadelphia. The Bills were the first of Maclin’s two visits during his whirlwind free agency but the sides haggled over salary and eventually reached an impasse. Maybe the Bills were never that serious about signing Maclin, but it seems like a missed opportunity for a team relying on injury-prone Sammy Watkins and untested rookie Zay Jones as its top wideouts.
With Maclin squared away, the next domino to fall will be Eric Decker. Released by the Jets on Monday, Decker will likely be pursued by many of the teams that courted Maclin. That means the Bills and Eagles should be right in the thick of things. There was early speculation the Ravens could go all-in by signing both Maclin and Decker but team owner Steve Bisciotti dismissed that notion on Tuesday. If a dark horse emerges, don’t be surprised if it’s the Colts. Evan Silva suggested Indianapolis as a fit for Decker in last week’s Rotoworld Podcast and it’s certainly an interesting idea. Pairing Decker, a big, veteran body who can handle his business in the red zone, with T.Y. Hilton, a burner known for stretching the field, would create a matchup nightmare for opposing secondaries. It’s probably too good to be true, but a man can dream, can’t he?
Quick Hits: The future is now, Cleveland fans. Second-round rookie DeShone Kizer received first-team reps at Tuesday’s minicamp practice and is reportedly “picking up the offense quickly.” Meanwhile Cody Kessler, who started nine games as a rookie last year, has been struggling with “batted balls.” Kessler stands at only 6’1” compared to the 6’4” Kizer … According to Browns coach Hue Jackson, Corey Coleman is “very close” to returning from a nagging hamstring injury. Coleman’s rookie season was derailed by a hand injury and poor quarterback play as the Baylor alum was limited to 33 catches for 413 yards on 74 targets … Dolphins OC Clyde Christensen expects DeVante Parker to have a “gigantic year” in 2017. Parker has earned immense praise from coaches this offseason despite an inconsistent 2016 campaign that included 56 catches for 744 yards and four touchdowns … Greg Olsen has indicated that he wants a raise. He probably deserves one after reaching 1,000 yards for the third straight season in 2016. Olsen’s $7.5 million annual salary ranks seventh-highest among tight ends … Le’Veon Bell has been absent from Steelers minicamp week. Under normal circumstances Bell would be fined for skipping mandatory practices but he has yet to sign his franchise tender with the team. The Steelers have until July 15 to sign Bell to a long-term contract but there doesn’t seem to be much optimism on that front … Ravens veteran Ben Watson took a hefty pay cut on Tuesday, agreeing to slash his salary from $3 million to $1.25 million. The 36-year-old tight end sat out all of 2016 after suffering a torn Achilles during preseason play … First-year Saint Adrian Peterson expects to be utilized more in the passing game this season. “It’s all about having a guy that’s going to get the ball to you and without a doubt I know [Drew] Brees is going to,” said AP. The last time Peterson topped 300 yards receiving was 2010 with Brett Favre as his starting quarterback … T.Y. Hilton won’t suit up for this week’s mandatory minicamp. Neither will quarterback Andrew Luck. Hilton is nursing a hamstring injury while Luck continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. Once considered a sure thing for training camp, Luck’s status is looking more uncertain than ever … Antonio Gates readily admitted he won’t be the Chargers’ featured tight end this year—that title belongs to Hunter Henry—and that’s alright with him. “He’s the guy,” said Gates of Henry. “I have no problem with saying that. Hopefully, I can get situations and matchups I can take advantage of.” Gates needs one more touchdown to pass Tony Gonzalez for the all-time record among tight ends … There was speculation contract-year DT Aaron Donald would be a no-show for Rams mandatory minicamp, but he put those rumors to bed with his arrival on Tuesday. Donald has earned first-team All-Pro status each of the last two seasons … Julio Jones won’t be on the field for mandatory minicamp this week. He’s still recovering from offseason foot surgery, but should be good to go by the time training camp rolls around next month … Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes that Zach Ertz has been Carson Wentz’s preferred target at spring practices. On average, Ertz is being drafted as a ninth-round pick in 12-team leagues … Most fantasy owners are expecting a big leap forward from Josh Doctson this year. Despite his first-round pedigree, Doctson has been working behind Ryan Grant at offseason practices. Recurring Achilles issues limited Doctson to 31 snaps as a rookie in 2016.
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