With every new season comes breakout targets, regression candidates, sleepers and deep sleeper articles plastered all over the fantasy communities billboards. Bounce back candidates can easily be over-looked as everyone seems intent on talking up the shiny new rookies that could explode onto the scene or the new power offense team opening up opportunities for the high-profile players. But who remembers Todd Gurley’s season in 2016? Yeah, hard to imagine that he was the RB20 that season isn’t it. Or how about DeAndre Hopkins? He managed to transform 197 PPR points in 2016 (WR26) in to 310 PPR points in 2017, becoming the second best receiver in fantasy football only behind the seemingly invincible Antonio Brown. So who should you be focusing on for the upcoming season to take advantage of tarnished ADP’s thanks to an uneventful 2017, let’s break down some options.
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Mariota should be able to benefit from the offensive coaching overhaul this off-season in Tennessee. New quarterback coach Pat O’Hara joins from divisional rivals Houston Texans where he had great success at the beginning of last season with the emergence of rookie sensation DeShaun Watson. Offensive Coordinator Matt LeFleur will be tasked to reinvigorate the whole Titans offense after a mediocre season in 2017. That starts with Mariota. The weapons are all in place – last years’ first round pick Corey Davis will likely be the main receiver for Mariota to target, a partnership which was slow to get going last year but ended up gathering steam in the playoffs where Davis racked up 98 yards and 2 touchdowns.
With Delanie Walker commanding his role across the middle of the field and the ever-present Rishard Matthews on the flank, Mariota will have plenty of opportunities to move the ball through the air. But it’s with the mobility of his legs where he will quench the thirst of fantasy owners. He has averaged 304 rushing yards per season since his emergence into the NFL in 2015. If he can repeat last seasons’ 5 rushing touchdowns, Mariota is automatically in the top 10 discussion within fantasy football.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
After his huge 2016 campaign where he finished as the QB2 in fantasy football, Matty Ice was flying off draft boards in the 5th/6th rounds this time last year. But unfortunately that didn’t pan out so well for all of those owners as he regressed and finished as the QB15, behind the likes of Case Keenum, Blake Bortles and Jared Goff.
It just didn’t go Ryan’s way last year, but that was by far and away his floor. 4,095 yards is the fewest he’s thrown since 2010 and the 20 TD’s were his least since his rookie season in 2008. Like i said, that’s his floor and he still managed to finish in the top half of starting quarterbacks. With that in mind and with the addition of exciting rookie Calvin Ridley to pair with the super stud Julio Jones out wide, Matt Ryan should be able to get back to his mean and back into the top 10, at least.
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
Defining a bounce-back candidate doesn’t necessarily mean the player under the microscope performed terribly in the previous season. Such is the case for Minnesota’s 2017 second round draft pick who was ruled out for the majority of last season when he sustained a nasty ACL tear in week 4 against Detroit. Before this setback, Cook managed to break the Vikings rookie debut record in week one against New Orleans when he rushed for 127 yards on 22 carries. The record was previously held by none other than future first ballot hall of famer, Adrian Peterson. Over the four game span as a rookie, Cook manage to clock up 354 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns, with a healthy 4.8 yards per carry. Had he been able to carry on producing these kind of numbers, he would have finished in the region of 1,400 yards, which would have led the league, by a mile.
Looking forward into 2018, Cook’s strength of schedule to start the season is mouth-watering. In the first five games of the season he will face San Francisco, Green Bay, Buffalo, Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia. Out of these teams, only one was outside of the bottom 10 in 2017 against the run and they went on to win Superbowl LII. In fact – the Bills had the worse rush defense in the league after giving up 1,796 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. The Rams and 49ers weren’t far off either, ranked 27th and 29th respectively.
Lamar Miller, Houston Texans
The former Dolphin is a frustrating character for fantasy football owners. He never seems to get into top gear and seems to be a stereotypical RB2/Flex, year after year. Yet last season was the first season in his career where he finished the season under 4 yards per carry (3.7). When Houston grabbed D’Onta Foreman in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft, some analysts thought the writing may have been on the wall for Miller’s career. Although it didn’t help, the situation developed into a committee situation with neither back running away with the starting job.
However, heading into this season, Foreman has still not recovered from a torn achilles suffered in week 11 on an impressive 34 yard touchdown run against the Arizona Cardinals. He will likely not play the first couple of weeks of the season and may even find himself on the PUP list meaning he will be out until week 7. So here is the chance for Miller to bounce back and claim that starting position and make it his. With all of the touches inside the 20 likely being his, Miller could prove a great pickup with his current 5th round ADP in 12 man, PPR drafts.
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Evans endured a frustrating season last year. Whether it was down to inconsistent quarterback play, or down to the tough end of season schedule which saw him locked down by the likes of Darius Slay, Desmond Trufant and rookie sensation Marshon Lattimore. Nevertheless, Evans finished a disappointing 17th among wide-outs in PPR formats which was a severe regression considering his 2016 campaign which saw him score an impressive 208 PPR points, leading all receivers.
But I love nothing more than a trend to follow when entering a fantasy draft season and Mike Evans has a good one to look at. In his four seasons in the NFL, he’s alternated top 10 finishes. This trend dictates that Evans will once again be a top 10 WR this year, just like he did in 2014 and 2016. But if you are not one for following trends, Evans finds himself with a good run of defenses in the middle of the season. Between weeks 4 and 11, he will face the likes of Chicago, Atlanta, Cleveland, Carolina, Washington, New York Giants and San Francisco – all of which ranked outside the top 10 against wide receivers in 2017. With Jameis Winston set to return from his ban after week 3, Evans will hope to benefit if Jameis can maintain his 316.8 yard average he had over the last 5 weeks of 2017.
Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
Robinson made it into a lot of “bounce-back” articles this time last year, but it was over before it had begun as he missed the year with a torn ACL. ARob possesses massive upside thanks to his 1,400, 14 TD season back in 2015 and it was surprising that Jacksonville made the decision not to re-sign the talented receiver.
At just 24 years old, he has proved in the past he can be a reliable target and will feature highly in a new look Matt Nagy offense in Chicago. It’s likely that the Bears will be a high volume passing offense and as Robinson is clearly the top option for sophomore quarterback Mitch Trubisky, a true bounce-back season could well be on the cards.
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Olsen, like Dalvin Cook- is another player that wasn’t able to deliver in 2017 thanks to injury. It ended up being a broken foot which meant he missed 9 games in total throughout the season. Before 2017, Olsen hadn’t missed a single game since his rookie year, 11 years ago– the guy is a machine. Expect him to be back to full health come week one and firing on all cylinders. Carolina don’t have any stand out receivers on the depth chart with rookie D.J Moore likely to be the guy out wide although Devin Funchess will challenge for that honor after a very respectable season last year with a career high 111 targets which was translated into 840 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Olsen however, is Cam Newton’s go to guy and has thrown over 100 targets his way every season that they have played a full season together. This chemistry is one of the most devastating partnerships in football and it’s likely to be fruitful once again this season for fantasy owners. Forgetting last year, Olsen has finished in the top 5 of TE’s in fantasy football the last 4 seasons– something i fully expect to be repeated again this year. Currently being targeted by fantasy owners in the 5th/6th round, go grab yourself a player who has one of the highest guaranteed floors in fantasy football with a 1,061 yard average in his last 3 complete seasons with a total of 16 touchdowns over that same time and ride his bounce back season to a fantasy title!
By Rob Grimwood – @FFBritBaller
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