One of the keys to a successful fantasy season is identifying players in your league’s draft that are likely to “bounce back” from a disappointing season the previous year. In many cases, the player has played through a nagging injury, helping his pro team — but hurting his offensive numbers and killing your squad in the process. In other cases, players have to deal with injuries to important teammates (like a wideout losing his star QB — think Randy Moss and Tom Brady in 2008). Sometimes, the player has to deal with a coach that inputs a new offense or scheme that doesn’t suit that particular player. Whatever the reasons, knowing what players will rebound from an off year and have a chance to revert back to previous form is an important edge to have on your fantasy rivals. They may accuse you of “reaching” on these players during the draft, but rest assured, it will be their mistake for ranking these players too low on their lists based on last year’s stats.
Here are my top “bounce-back” candidates for 2010:
Matt Forte, RB – Chicago
Played through a knee injury in 2009 and as a result saw his TD total slip from 12 in 2008 to four last year. Forte suffered as the Bears adjusted to the Jay Cutler era, and now passing guru Mike Martz has been brought in to further develop the passing game in Chicago. Forte is a great receiving back that last season had only six less receptions and six less yards than in his rookie year in 2008. Martz may actually bring out more in Forte. I would still expect Forte to hit the end zone 8-10 times next year and catch 70 passes. If you are in a PPR league, Forte has even greater value. Do not be concerned about Chester Taylor’s arrival — he will take carries from Forte, and a few TDs, but not enough to diminish Forte’s value as a bounce-back player in 2010.
Calvin Johnson, WR – Detroit
After being teased in 2008 with a breakout season, fantasy owners were disappointed with Johnson’s lackluster performance last year of 984 yards and five TDs in 14 games. A knee injury contributed to his reduced numbers. There is no reason not to expect Johnson’s return to fantasy prominence. Detroit’s first overall pick last year, QB Matthew Stafford, returns healthy. Also, the Lions have added some passing weapons with WR Nate Burleson and TE Tony Scheffler, which should result in less double-coverage on Johnson. A return to double-digit TDs and 1,200+ yards receiving is in the cards for ‘Megatron’ in 2010.
Owen Daniels. TE – Houston
Daniels was having a monster season last year when he went down in Week 8 with an ACL tear in his knee. He finished with 40 catches, 519 yards and five TDs. Daniels should return healthy this year to a high-powered Texans’ offense, led by NFL passing yards leader, QB Matt Schaub. If Daniels returns to form and plays a full season, you can basically double his numbers from last year. So is an 80-catch, 1,000-yard, 10-TD season in the works for Daniels? Possibly, and savvy fantasy owners will not skim over Daniels’ average-looking totals from last year. Consider Daniels a top-six TE for 2010.
Brandon Jacobs, RB – N.Y. Giants
Jacobs had an injury-plagued year in 2009, with only 885 yards and five TDs, so it’s no wonder many owners are down on him coming into this season. However, Jacobs knee appears to be fine and he’s ready to assume his role as the Giants’ go-to RB. Coach Tom Coughlin has a conservative syle and he will get the ball to the powerful Jacobs, especially at the goal line. I expect Jacobs’ TD total to double from last year. And remember, he was coming off two straight 1,000-yard seasons heading into last season. Don’t worry about backfield mate Ahmad Bradshaw — Jacobs will lose some carries to Bradshaw, but not in the red zone. Bradshaw’s presence should keep Jacobs fresh and healthy.
Matt Ryan, QB – Atlanta
Ryan had a disappointing and injury-plagued 2009, missing two games, but he also had 2,916 passing yards, 22 TDs and 14 INTs. Bigger things are expected in Ryan’s third season. Last year’s regression made many people forget Ryan’s 2008 season was the best for a rookie QB since Dan Marino. He has reliable receivers with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, and a proven runner with Michael Turner.
Anquan Boldin, WR – Baltimore
Boldin played in 15 games for Arizona in 2009 but played hurt in many of them. He has moved to the Ravens where he becomes a true No. 1 WR. The Ravens are not known for a passing attack, but they have pledged to change that. Boldin will be a huge end-zone target for QB Joe Flacco and is sure to expand on his four-TD effort from last year, as he averaged 10 TDs from 2007-08. Injuries are the problem with him — Boldin has missed 11 games the past three years.
Jay Cutler, QB – Chicago
After the Bears emancipated him from the Broncos last year, Cutler found that life in the Windy City wasn’t so fun. With a group of inexperienced receivers and a patchwork offensive line, Cutler struggled. In fact, if it weren’t for his four-TD day in Week 17, Cutler would have finished ‘09 with more interceptions than passing touchdowns. But Mike Martz has been installed as the Bears’ offensive co-ordinator for 2010, and Cutler’s stock is up. He still has some project receivers with Aromashodu, Knox and Bennett, but Martz’s schemes should bring out the best in them — along with RB Matt Forte. Cutler is sure to improve on his 3,666 yards passing and perhaps his 27 passing TDs as well.
Greg Jennings, WR – Green Bay
It’s not that Jennings had a bad year in 2009; it was just less than his fantasy owners would have anticipated. Being the undisputed No. 1 receiver in one of the best passing offenses in the NFL should have resulted in big numbers for Jennings. It didn’t. With only 68 catches, 1,113 yards and a minuscule four TDs, Jennings disappointed. While the receiving yards were good, the lack of TD production was a head-scratcher. My advice is to disregard Jennings’ red-zone failures and look to the bright side. His QB, Aaron Rodgers, is a fantasy monster and the Packers look to pass often. Jennings is still his go-to guy and had a combined 21 TDs over 2007-08. It is more than likely Jennings will get back to double-digit TD numbers in 2010. He’s a sure-fire top-10 fantasy WR.
Dwayne Bowe, WR – Kansas City
It was disappointing for Bowe’s owners last year when he was suspended four games due to failing a drug test. He missed Weeks 11-14, and when he returned for Weeks 15-17, he averaged just over four fantasy points per game. But don’t allow that to sour you on Bowe. The Chiefs have a new offensive co-ordinator in Charlie Weis, and Bowe is a big part of their plans. Remember, despite last year’s issues, Bowe averaged 1,000 yards and six TDs his first two seasons, and he should get back on track in 2010.
Eddie Royal, WR – Denver
A lot has changed for Eddie Royal since his rookie season in 2008. Gone are his head coach, Mike Shanahan, his QB, Jay Cutler, and the go-to WR in his offense, Brandon Marshall. After Denver’s purging the last two seasons, Royal is left as the only target from the Shanahan era. Royal didn’t exactly ‘get it’ in 2009 with the transition to HC Josh McDaniels’ offense. He turned in a brutal 27-catch, 345-yard, zero-TD season in 14 games. It was so brutal, in fact, that you almost forget Royal was a fantasy darling two seasons ago with 91 catches, 980 yards and five TDs. Considering that Royal is coming into his third NFL season and that he has had success in the past, consider him in the later rounds of your draft and hope he puts it back together in 2010.
Chris Cooley, TE – Washington
It’s hard to figure what to expect of Chris Cooley for 2010. He missed nine games with a broken ankle last year and didn’t seem to click in Jim Zorn’s offense. Also, Fred Davis excelled at the TE position for the ‘Skins during Cooley’s absence. Not to worry, I say. Cooley will benefit from the addition of QB Donovan McNabb, and new HC Mike Shanahan. In his Denver days, Shanahan used multiple TE formations and likes to get the ball to his TE. McNabb, on the other hand, may struggle to look downfield for targets due to the woeful Washington offensive line. Cooley could be in store for a lot of dump off receptions when McNabb scrambles. These combining factors make Cooley an excellent bounce-back candidate. With just 382 yards and 2 TDs in 2009, he may be off your opponents’ radar in your draft. You may be able to grab Cooley as your second TE, which is an absolute steal. Expect Cooley to get 70 receptions, 800 yards and seven TDs next year.
Tom is from Toronto, Ontario, Canada and attended Ryerson University's Journalism School. After two years working for Hockey Night in Canada after graduation, he decided to go into the private sector for employment. He still has a passion for sports, and he's completely hooked on Fantasy Football.
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