8 Players Who Will Have Bounce-Back Fantasy Football Years in 2014
Either due to injury, split duty or mere ineffectiveness, these eight players disappointed fantasy owners in 2013. That means they offer a golden opportunity to produce value on draft day, with each of them poised for a bounce-back season in 2014.
Whether written off as overhyped (Robert Griffin III) or over the hill (Roddy White) or simply unable to stay healthy in the course of normal duty (Hakeem Nicks), prevailing opinion has dropped these players down draft boards, meaning owners who enjoy value from their picks can capitalize in a big way.
Presented here with their disappointing 2013 stats listed alongside 2012's robust production, these eight players will enjoy a fantasy resurgence, and deft drafters can reap the benefits.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
2012 stats: 15 games, 3,200 passing yards, 20 TDs, 5 INTs; 815 rushing yards, 7 TDs
2013 stats: 13 games, 3,203 passing yards, 16 TDs, 12 INTs; 489 rushing yards, 0 TDs
As a rookie, before Robert Griffin III's knee gave way during a playoff game, he scampered into the end zone seven times and ran for 815 yards.
That's a solid season for a running back, and it's a large helping of fantasy gravy from a quarterback, but RGIII remains one of the most divisive players in all of fantasy football.
His workload as a ball-carrier cannot be sustained by a QB with a such a slight frame. He has the speed to gain yards on the ground, but he does not have the body to withstand the punishment of getting tackled by hard-hitting safeties and marauding linebackers.
Griffin will operate from the pocket with greater regularity, as the Washington Redskins seek to protect their franchise player during his third season in the pros. Griffin displayed proficient pocket presence in his heyday at Baylor, and his more conservative deployment this season will come as a boon for his passing stats.
While RGIII likely will not threaten as often with his ground game, his mobility still makes him more dangerous and versatile as a passer. Keeping Griffin in the pocket won't be a seamless transition, but at least it will ultimately help him stay on the field and fully ambulant.
Moreover, the addition of DeSean Jackson gives Griffin a burner to look for down the field or even on sneaky routes with a quick release, like WR screens. Following a forgettable 2013 season, Griffin will improve as a passer and grow more opportunistic as a runner, as the team remains hopeful he can turn in a 16-game season.
2014 projection: 3,800 passing yards, 26 TDs, 12 INTs; 400 rushing yards, 3 TDs
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants
2012 stats: 59.9 completion percentage, 3,948 passing yards, 26 TDs, 15 INTs
2013 stats: 57.7 completion percentage, 3,818 passing yards, 18 TDs, 27 INTs
Last year's patchwork offensive line never gelled for the New York Giants, and the running game never materialized. That put a significant dent in Eli Manning's effectiveness as a quarterback.
2013 saw Eli throw for his lowest yardage total since 2008, his worst completion percentage since 2007 and the most interceptions in his career. However, it's worth noting that Eli threw 20 picks in 2007 when he won his first Super Bowl.
Now operating under new offensive coordinator Bob McAdoo and QB coach Danny Langsdorf, Manning has received a new mandate: complete 70 percent of his passes:
Interesting, Danny Langsdorf said the #Giants are trying to push Eli to a 70 percent completion rate this season. Very few QBs have done it.— Conor Orr (@ConorTOrr) July 28, 2014
Manning fits as a fantasy backup except in two-QB leagues, but he's very useful on the bye week or against a favorable matchup or if your starter gets hurt.
Big Blue's new West Coast-style offense will result in more of a possession passing game instead of the downfield attack favored by former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.
The only season other than 2013 in which Manning threw at least 25 interceptions came in 2010. He followed that season up by tossing 29 TDs to 16 INTs and tallying a career-high 4,933 yards. Eli has a short memory and the skill set to produce major late-round value at the position.
2014 projection: 66.0 completion percentage, 4,200 yards, 28 TDs, 15 INTs
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans
2012 stats: 16 games, 1,424 rushing yards, 4.1 yards per carry, 15 TDs
2013 stats: 8 games, 542 rushing yards, 4.5 yards per carry, 1 TD
After three consecutive seasons with double-digit touchdowns and an average of at least 89 yards per game, Arian Foster saw his 2013 season cut in half. This will be the year that decides the prevailing narrative on his skills, between redemption and fragility, vindication and devastation.
Foster's stock has taken such a significant hit that Denver Broncos runner Montee Ball has a higher average draft position than the three-time Pro Bowler, who will be 28 when the regular season begins.
After Foster led the league with 351 carries in 2012, a workload-induced dropoff in production seemed inevitable. Instead, a back injury landed him on injured reserve, which came as a scary development, but it also saved the wear and tear of two successive seasons shouldering the full workload in Houston.
Foster's former handcuff Ben Tate joined the Cleveland Browns in the offseason, and Foster will be the focal point of the offense, which will now be led by former Harvard QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Drafting Foster comes with significant injury risk, not just because of last year's back injury, but also due to his history of hamstring ailments, an issue that once again reared its ugly head this preseason. However, don't fret, as he's back at practice already.
Acknowledge the injury risk, but get on board for the Foster bounce-back season instead of leaping for the likes of Montee Ball in the early rounds.
2014 projection: 1,200 yards, 12 TDs
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2012 stats: 16 games, 1,454 rushing yards, 4.6 yards per carry, 11 TDs
2013 stats: 6 games, 456 rushing yards, 3.6 yards per carry, 1 TD
Doug Martin's 2013 season ended abruptly with a torn labrum, a sad turn of events after he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He still offers tremendous all-purpose ability as a runner and pass-catcher, so don't be fooled by doom-and-gloom predictions for the Tampa Bay Buccaneer.
Last year, Martin vaulted into the top five RBs in fantasy drafts, similar to the spike in value experienced by Green Bay Packers back Eddie Lacy this year.
Now Martin has gone from being overvalued to undervalued, and astute fantasy drafters can snag him in the fourth round. As of August 18, Martin was the 15th running back drafted in standard Yahoo leagues, after the likes of Zac Stacy and Andre Ellington.
Affectionately known as the "Muscle Hamster" (but don't call him that, instead try "Dougernaut, Dougernator or Muscle and Hustle"), Martin will see more action now that rookie back Charles Sims will miss at least three months due to ankle surgery.
Bobby Rainey and Mike James will get their touches, but Martin will cut a blue streak through the backfield once again.
2014 projection: 1,200 yards, 8 TDs
Stevan Ridley, RB, New England Patriots
2012 stats: 16 games, 290 carries, 1,263 yards, 12 TDs
2013 stats: 14 games, 178 carries, 773 yards, 7 TDs
After sharing the workload with LeGarrette Blount in 2013, Stevan Ridley can have the backfield mostly to himself this year if he can eliminate mistakes.
Blount joined the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Ridley's primary competition will come from Shane Vereen, with Brandon Bolden and fourth-round rookie James White also pressing for carries.
Ridley remains the most potent fantasy back on New England's roster. He rushed for more than 1,200 yards and 12 scores in 2012, but he carried the ball 112 fewer times last season.
This year, Ridley is actually getting drafted after Vereen in Yahoo leagues, partly because Vereen offers much greater versatility as a receiver.
Two major issues detract from Ridley as a fantasy asset. First, he's not a pass-catcher, with just 19 career receptions. Second, he suffers from a debilitating issue that affects certain running backs: fumble-itis.
Ridley laid the ball on the ground four times in each of the last two seasons, and he got himself benched after his first playoff game in January 2012, when he lost a fumble against the Denver Broncos.
As head coach Bill Belichick said in a conference call Saturday, via WEEI's Mike Petraglia: “We always talk about ball security, taking care of the ball. There’s nothing that correlates more to winning and losing than turnovers, so that’s always a high priority for us."
Fortunately, fumble-itis is a curable disease. Just ask Tiki Barber.
Ridley will remain a risky pick, but that will ward off skittish owners and make the potential reward even sweeter for those who draft him. Want a guy who scored 19 TDs the last two years? Yes, please!
2014 projection: 240 carries, 1,100 yards, 9 TDs
Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons
2012 stats: 16 games, 92 receptions, 1,351 yards, 7 TDs
2013 stats: 13 games, 63 receptions, 711 yards, 3 TDs
Roddy White is only 32, so age cannot be the primary factor that dropped him from 92 catches for 1,351 yards to two-thirds of those receptions and nearly half the yardage just a season later.
Simply put, White needs Julio Jones—one of the best WRs in the league—on the other side to help draw some attention away. Last season, a broken foot sidelined Jones for good in just the fifth game.
While Harry Douglas used his opportunities to impress coaches last season (85 catches for 1,067 after 38 catches for 396 yards the previous season), he won't detract significantly from White's targets with Jones back in the mix.
For any fantasy drafters concerned about the lingering effects of White's ankle injury from last season, here are his stats solely from the last five games of the season in December: 43 catches, 502 yards, two TDs.
Matt Ryan remains a top-10 fantasy QB for a reason, and White will break out once again with Jones distracting defenses.
2014 projection: 80 receptions, 1,100 yards, 6 TDs
Hakeem Nicks, WR, Indianapolis Colts
2012 stats: 53 receptions, 692 yards, 3 TDs
2013 stats: 56 receptions, 896 yards, 0 TDs
Hakeem Nicks will essentially have to return to 2011 (76 receptions, 1,192 yards, seven TDs) for a meaningful bounce-back, and that will require him to avoid the copious foot and leg injuries which have slowed him in recent years.
Incredibly, he did not catch a single touchdown during his contract year, but the Indianapolis Colts took a flier on him and landed a big-time fantasy sleeper.
Nicks, still just 26 years old, will battle T.Y. Hilton for Andrew Luck's targets this season. That much looks certain. The biggest question looming over Indy concerns the knee injury which continues to keep franchise pillar Reggie Wayne away from game action.
For all the injury concerns regarding Nicks, which New York Giants fans know all too well, the 35-year-old Wayne has a tall task ahead in coming back from a torn ACL suffered in October. And Wayne did not exactly exude confidence in his knee heading into preseason, per Kevin Bowen of Colts.com:
Reggie Wayne: "I really don't want my 1st tackle to be in a regular season game." Says he isn't sure whether he will play in the preseason.— Kevin Bowen (@KBowenColts) July 31, 2014
Nicks won't have to be the No. 1 receiver; the breakout Hilton can handle that. And beyond Wayne, not much stands in Nicks' way.
LaVon Brazill fell victim to the NFL's insane, inane suspension standards after violating the league's substance abuse policy for a second time. That leaves Da'Rick Rogers as Nicks' primary competition at WR beyond Hilton and Wayne.
Nicks will benefit greatly from the change of scenery as long as he can stay on the field. Look for more touchdowns from him in his new AFC gig.
2014 projection: 60 receptions, 800 yards, 6 TDs
Heath Miller, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers
2012 stats: 71 catches, 816 yards, 8 TDs
2013 stats: 58 catches, 593 yards, 1 TD
What on earth is Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley doing? While most other teams are scoring more touchdowns with their tight ends, Heath Miller found the end zone exactly once last year.
The good news is that David Paulson, he of the six receptions in 2013, stands as Miller's primary competition at tight end.
And the Steelers have seen a significant decline in the quality of their pass-catchers heading into this season. Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery have departed after accounting for more than 1,300 receiving yards and 16 TDs last year. That will mean more targets for Miller, especially in the red zone.
Miller is getting drafted 26th among tight ends at time of writing. But if you seek late-round value from a player who has compiled strong fantasy seasons in the recent past, then take a bite out of Heath.
2014 projection: 65 receptions, 700 yards, 5 TDs