So far I've touched on the Early Risers and the guys Trending Down in this space. Today I'll keep with the theme of offseason movements and discuss some impact free agent signings. In an effort to keep some drama to the list, I'm eliminating the obvious choice of Manning. There's no doubt if he's healthy he'll have a major impact on his new teammates, and the AFC West as a whole. When calculating who to include in this group of players I didn't focus solely on those who will score the most fantasy points, but who will have the greatest impact on his respective team overall. These guys might not necessarily put up huge numbers, but each should have a dramatic affect on the look of their respective units.
5. Brandon Lloyd - WR - New England Patriots
Lloyd is a perfect place to start, as I'm not particularly high on his individual prospects for 2012 based on where he's likely to be drafted, but he should add a new dimension to the Patriots arsenal and have an impact on several players. The numbers for Wes Welker (122 catches, 1,569 yards, 9 touchdowns) and Rob Gronkowski (90 catches, 1,327 yards, 17 touchdowns) were probably due to come down anyway, but with Lloyd's arrival adding yet another legitimate weapon it's all but a certainty. His presence also relegates Deion Branch undraftable in most leagues, and could deflate Aaron Hernandez' opportunities as well. Tom Brady is the only beneficiary, as Lloyd's ability to track the deep ball (15 20-plus yard receptions in his last 15 games, and 23 of 20-plus and 9 of 40-plus in his monster 2010) is something Brady has been without since Randy Moss left town. Look for the Pats to resemble the Packers receiving corps, extremely talented, but frustrating when there's a different top producer on a weekly basis.
4. Mario Williams - DE - Buffalo Bills
Outside of Manning's relocation to Denver, Williams' move to upstate New York was probably the most publicized signing of the offseason. I had no intention of placing a defensive player on this list, but when evaluating the list of free agent transactions, his potential impact warranted his inclusion. His addition could take the Bills defensive unit from a complete afterthought in fantasy circles, to a likely starting group in most leagues. In 2011 Buffalo had an opportunistic secondary, finishing tied for sixth with 20 interceptions, but their pass rush was anemic. Tackle Marcell Dareus led the team with 5.5 sacks, while Williams on the other hand, registered five in his five games alone before injury cut his year short, and he posted 9.6 per in his first five seasons. With Mark Anderson, and his career-high 10 sacks with New England last season, added to play the other side to keep protections honest, and cornerback Stephon Gilmore drafted in the first round to add to the talent in the back end, their defense should be improved across the board. I wouldn't take them in the top five units off the board, but when it comes to the mass of teams in the middle, the Bills could have significant upside.
3. Pierre Garcon - WR - Washington Redskins
Once Washington made the trade with St. Louis to secure a top quarterback in the draft, they wasted little time to acquire a corresponding upgrade on the outside. Garcon was signed to a monster five year, $42.5 million deal and will be given his first opportunity to be the number one option. He has improved in each of his four seasons in Indianapolis, and finished with career-setting or tying marks of 70 receptions, 947 yards, and six scores last year with sub-par quarterback play. Thus far Garcon has been a boom or bust guy who has struggled with consistency, so expecting a leap into the elite is ill-advised, but he should be a solid starter in all formats and add a balance to the Redskins passing attack that has been lacking for years. Santana Moss, long the sole playmaker in Washington, will be trying to rebound from his least productive season in 10 years and should benefit from less defensive attention. Throw in Josh Morgan, also signed off the free agent market, promising tight end Fred Davis, and solid receiving backs and Robert Griffin III should be orchestrating a pretty potent offense that finally seems well-suited to compete in the talent-laden NFC East.
2. Matt Flynn - QB - Seattle Seahawks
In handling the ball on each snap and orchestrating the offense, the quarterback has the greatest potential impact on his peers, and Flynn figures to be second to Manning in terms of an upgrade in 2012 as far as new (non-rookie) starters go. We all know his story by now as an unproven commodity with a total of two NFL starts who then signed a 3-year, $24 million deal with Seattle. His one chance to start last year was quite impressive however, as he racked up franchise records of 480 passing yards and six touchdowns in the fourth quarter come-from-behind victory over the Lions in Week 17. He obviously can't live up to those standards, but he should improve a unit that ranked 22nd in passing yards, 28th in passing touchdowns, and had only three games with 250 yards or more through the air. Seattle has a solid running game headed by Marshawn Lynch to protect the inexperienced Flynn, and a solid group of talent on the outside in Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, Mike Williams, Ben Obomanu, and Kellen Winslow for him to work with. Look for Flynn to have his share of mistakes in his first year as the man, but to lead a more balanced and explosive attack for the Seahawks this season.
1. Vincent Jackson - WR - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sometimes, there's just that one missing piece that makes everything click and drives improvement exponentially. For that reason, Jackson gets the top nod today. He could be that final element to rocket the Bucs offense up the power rankings. In three of the last four years he led the Chargers in receiving, and proved himself as one of the best deep threats in the game, posting at least 1,098 yards and seven scores in each of those campaigns. While a slew of injuries in the backfield were damaging, it was the lack of a go-to playmaker that was chiefly responsible for Tampa's 27th-place finish in scoring, and Josh Freeman's 22 interceptions in 2011. Mike Williams couldn't repeat on his eye-popping rookie campaign in which he hauled in a franchise-record 11 touchdowns, but with Jackson taking away the double-coverage he should get back on track in 2012. Jackson's presence should also open up the running game, which will be further enhanced by first-rounder Doug Martin. In a division that is littered with superstars and dynamic one-two combinations like Matt Ryan and Roddy White, Drew Brees and Marques Colston, and Cam Newton and Steve Smith, the Buccaneers now have one of their own. Look for Freeman to record his first 4,000 yard campaign and the Bucs to be much higher up the scoring ranks with their new ace wideout in tow.