Fantasy Football Stars Set to Bounce Back Big in 2013

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystApril 11, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 23:   Maurice Jones-Drew #32 of the Jacksonville Jaguars runs the ball as he's tackled by Jerrell Freeman #50 of the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 23, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

In fantasy football, the only emotion more powerful than the joy felt by a player that wildly exceeds expectations is the disgust when a player drafted as the cornerstone of a fantasy franchise falls flat on his face.

An early pick that busts can sink a fantasy campaign before it begins, leaving fantasy owners to curse that player's name and swear they'll never draft that player again before making a dash for the liquor cabinet.

The players listed here all disappointed in a big way in 2012. However, for each there's reason to believe that a second chance could be in order, as the table would seem to be set for a big-time fantasy football rebound this season.


Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants

 Heading into the 2012 season, the New York Giants the defending NFL champions, and after coming off of the best fantasy finish of his career, quarterback Eli Manning was viewed as the perfect sort of signal-caller for fantasy owners who didn't want to invest a high pick on one of the so-called "elite" options at the position.

Well, you see, what had happened was...

Things didn't go at all according to plan. For the first time since 2008, Manning threw for fewer than 4,000 yards, the Giants missed the postseason altogether, and Manning posted his worst fantasy finish since his rookie year.

With that said, there's reason to be optimistic where Manning is concerned. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who was banged up for most of the 2012 season, should be fully healthy. Also, while the contract situation of fellow wideout Victor Cruz is still up in the air, Manning told ESPN that he expects the matter to be resolved soon.

"I know he wants everything to get finished and be with the Giants and get back to work. It's great to get him for a few days," Manning said of working with Cruz at Duke University this week.

Granted, Manning's sixth-place fantasy finish among quarterbacks in 2011 may well be just about his ceiling, but it's not unreasonable to expect a fourth top 10 fantasy season in five years in 2013.

That would make the 32-year-old at the very least a more-than-viable platoon option, whose asking price in fantasy drafts should be very reasonable this summer.


Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars

The writing was on the wall with running back Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012, but even his contract stalemate with the Jaguars in training camp a year ago didn't stop many fantasy owners from investing in the 28-year-old as at least a high-end fantasy RB2.

In fact, many people believed that Jones-Drew's holdout would end, making him something of a value pick when all was said and done.

It turns out the holdout was the least of their problems.

Jones-Drew played in only six games last year before a foot injury cut his season short, topped 100 yards on the ground in only one of those games and ended up with a career-low 414 rushing yards and only one touchdown for the season.

That injury, the fact that Jones-Drew still hasn't been cleared for workouts and the amount of wear and tear that the eighth-year pro has already endured in his NFL career have led some to theorize that Jones-Drew is a prime candidate for the sudden drop-off in production that some running backs experience.

However, as long as Jones-Drew is cleared in time for training camp, there's also reason to feel he could be set for a rebound season.

After all, he is still only 28, and while Jacksonville may have found a pair of quality young receivers in Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon, the fact remains that whether it's Blaine Gabbert or a rookie under center, the Jaguars appear to be a team that will rely heavily on the run if at all possible this year.

Jones-Drew did just lead the NFL in rushing in 2011 and had top-five fantasy finishes (in leagues that award a point for receptions) in three of four seasons preceding last year. So, while there may be a bit of risk involved with drafting him, top 10 upside at a fantasy RB2 price tag is a risk that's generally well worth taking.


Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals

Even though the quarterback situation in Arizona was far from ideal entering the 2012 season, fantasy owners far and wide still drafted Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald as their WR1.

After all, Fitzgerald had always been productive, even in the seasons without Kurt Warner at the helm. Before last year, the 29-year-old had posted five straight seasons of more than 1,000 receiving yards, and in four of those seasons, Fitzgerald had finished inside the top 10 fantasy options at his position.

Well, it turned out that even Larry Fitzgerald has his kryptonite. That kryptonite was the worst quarterback play west of Mark Sanchez, and the abysmal play under center in the desert led to Fitzgerald putting up the second-lowest yardage total and fewest touchdown catches of his nine-year NFL career.

This year, however, there's a sheriff in town at quarterback for the Cardinals, and while Carson Palmer may not be the player he once was, he's still a huge improvement at the position for the team.

That's music to Fitzgerald's ears, who told Darren Urban of the team's website that he both welcomes Palmer to the Valley of the Sun and is determined to put last year's debacle squarely in the rear-view mirror.

“I’m coming off the most disappointing season of my career and I’m in ‘Prove it’ mode,” Fitzgerald said. “Anyone who can come to our team and help us reclaim the division, I’m all for.”

Add in that new head coach Bruce Arians favors a vertical passing offense that should mean a ton of targets for Fitzgerald in 2013, and not only is the seven-time Pro Bowler an excellent bet to work his way back into the top 10, but his potential compared to his asking price could also make Fitzgerald quite the value pick in fantasy football drafts this summer.