When the New England Patriots acquire a new wideout, it's tempting to get carried away. It's understandable. Some dude named Randy Moss landed in Foxborough back in 2007 and caught 23 touchdown passes. That year, Tom Brady threw for 50 scores, and in his past two seasons he's managed 36 and 39 TDs. Brady has made fantasy stars of Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, and made us all re-learn the name Deion Branch. Heck, he tempted the unfortunate among us to take a chance on Chad Ochocinco last year. So now that Brandon Lloyd has landed in New England, visions of fantasy championships are dancing in many folks' heads.
I'll throw around a little cold water in a paragraph or so. But to join in the hype train, I should note that Lloyd has really only ever been productive in his NFL life when he's been coached by Josh McDaniels, who is the Pats' new offensive coordinator. Just a couple of seasons ago, McDaniels helped make Lloyd fantasy's No. 1 receiver mostly with Kyle Orton flinging it to him. This just in: Brady > Orton. Considering the plethora of offensive weaponry that already exists on the Patriots' roster, it's easy to imagine that Lloyd will see a lot of one-on-one coverage when he runs routes outside the numbers, which just happens to be his specialty. And he's scored seven times on plays that went for at least 30 yards in the last 25 games he's played for McDaniels.
Let me be clear: I like this move much more than I liked the Ochocinco signing. The Ocho was entering his age-33 season; Lloyd will be 31 in July. And whereas Ocho hadn't proven he could work in careful synchrony with an improvisational QB, Lloyd has already done exactly what McDaniels will ask him to do. He may not be a true deep-speed burner, but he makes terrific plays on the sidelines and on jump balls. However, there are 409 reasons not to overrate Lloyd this year. That's the number of targets combined registered by Welker, Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez last season, three guys who aren't going anywhere in '12 (whereas Branch and Ochocinco will most assuredly be gone). Combined last year, Branch and Ocho had 112 targets, which seems like a fair starting point when projecting Lloyd this year. Unfortunately, the past two years he's had 153 and 150 targets.
You get where I'm going with this. If Lloyd sees something on the order of seven targets per week (compared to the nine or 10 he's grown accustomed to getting), it's probably not realistic to think he'll threaten the top 10 fantasy WR list this season. And that's to say nothing of the touchdowns. Yes, Lloyd has gained a solid rep the past couple of years for big plays, which have often included times where he's beaten the kind of deep-safety help that he might not face while he's got a Flying Elvis on his helmet. But he's also scored nine times from inside the red zone in the past two seasons, and it's hard to imagine that rate staying constant with guys as devastating in close as Gronk and Hernandez on this roster.
Simply put, because of the tight ends in New England, it's not realistic to think that both Lloyd and Welker can be top-10 fantasy options, and with both of them around, it may be that neither of them will rate that high. Right now, I still prefer Welker to Lloyd because his production should be steadier, whereas Lloyd will likely ebb and flow more. But while another legit, prime-of-his-career weapon will only help Brady's cause and the cause of the entire New England offense, it's fair to say that the incumbent individual receiving pieces all take hits to their fantasy values for '12. Lloyd creeps up to my No. 21 WR spot from No. 29, but Welker drops from No. 4 to No. 7, which takes him down nearly a round and a half in my overall ranks. I also moved Gronkowski down one spot overall (behind Marshawn Lynch), but took Hernandez down several pegs; he's now No. 93 overall and No. 8 on my tight end list.