Brace yourselves, the free agency frenzy is finally upon us. Brandon Marshall is joining the New York Giants on a two-year, $12 million deal (first reported by Newsday, confirmed by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport). We wondered what the Giants would do to bolster their passing attack after parting ways with Victor Cruz, and now we know. So what does Marshall's arrival mean for Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, and Eli Manning? And what value will he have as a soon-to-be 33-year-old coming off a 788-yard, three-touchdown season? Let's take a look.
From a pure football standpoint, this is a great signing for the Giants. Marshall can immediately slide into the other outside receiver role in McAdoo's three-wide receiver offense (which the team ran on roughly 90 percent of their offensive plays last year). He'll replace Cruz, who was playing a bit out of position as his best years came from the slot. Marshall is also just a year removed from a 1,500-yard season, and while he looked gassed at times last year, he was consistently battling injuries. All in all, this is a pretty perfect fit for what the Giants needed. With that in mind, let's skip past reality and dive into how this impacts the wonderfully weird world of fantasy football.
For starters, we need to get a sense of the Giants offense and the role Marshall could play. In three years under Ben McAdoo (two as offensive coordinator, one as head coach) Manning has posted the three highest attempt totals of his career, averaging roughly 606 per season. McAdoo has turned New York into a pass-first offense, which is encouraging for Marshall's prospects. However, since 2012, Marshall averages roughly 10 targets per game, and in his three most recent full seasons as a fantasy stud (2012, 2013, 2015) he commanded an average of 176 targets per year. Those are No. 1 wide receiver numbers, and no one should expect him to get that many looks with the Giants because of some guy named Odell Beckham Jr. Perhaps you've heard of him. In Beckham's three pro seasons he's averaged 153 targets per year, and his target totals have risen each year (130, 158, 169). This passing attack runs through him first and foremost, but we also can't ignore the emerging talent of Sterling Shepard, who saw 105 looks from Manning last year as a rookie. That's a crowded, but talented group for Marshall to join up with, which leads us into a bit of a target distribution dilemma.
While Marshall likely won't see 150-plus targets in Big Blue, the bigger question to ask is can he, Beckham and Shepard all survive in this offense, or will someone fall by the wayside target (and fantasy) wise? Matt Harmon did a great study last offseason and found 120 targets to be a relatively predictable threshold for a wide receiver to produce top-24 (WR2) numbers in fantasy. Over the last five years, only two offenses have produced three 120-plus target players in the same year -- the 2014 Bears (Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett) and the 2012 Falcons (Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White). Furthermore, during that time frame only 10 teams fielded three 100-plus target players in the same season. That's a meager 6.3 percent of NFL teams in the sampled years. All of this speaks to the fact that NFL passing offenses are becoming more varied and less concentrated, favoring a plethora of playmakers over a few target hogs. This isn't to say the OBJ-Marshall-Shepard trio can't join this exclusive group, just that they face an uphill battle with a declining/aging Manning under center.
With all of this in mind, it appears Brandon Marshall is destined for mid-tier WR2-3 value. There are reasons for optimism with OBJ commanding top cornerbacks and double teams, but Manning's arm strenth appeared to be waning last year, dampening the good vibes that could otherwise be surrounding this signing. The Giants did lose 136 targets already this offseason with Cruz, Rashad Jennings and Will Tye not currently on the roster, but Shane Vereen should be returning to health and Paul Perkins figures to see a few more looks as well. Temptation will arise to draft Marshall early because of his name value and that of the Giants as well, but the onus will be on Manning to keep all of his talented wideouts happy by feeding them catchable targets. That worries me, which is why while I like the signing, I'd advise everyone to be patient before pulling the trigger on Marshall too early in offseason best ball leagues or fantasy drafts later this summer. There's a chance for a big reward, but the risk factor is quite high as well.