There are a ton of players who have the chance to have a bounce-back year after a sub-par season. Circumstances change every year and so fast in the NFL, and players deserve to be re-evaluated with a clean slate before prior to each season. It’s hard to see a player who killed your team last season as a value the following season, and having that player on your team again doesn’t even sound like something you’d be willing to do; I get it. However, if you’re willing to do it, it can pay dividends for your team, especially if that potential superstar you drafted in the first or second round last season didn’t pan out, but he kills it this year for you when you draft him in the third or fourth. Here are a few bounce-back candidates for 2017.
Jeff Fisher is gone. I don’t want to blame a player’s efficiency and fantasy performance on a head coach, but I think a change from Fisher to Todd McVay will add some benefit to this Rams offense. Gurley went from a 4.8 yards per carry in 2015 to an atrocious 3.2 last year. He had 278 carries along with 43 receptions; those are a ton of touches, and he ended the year as a high-end RB2 in PPR leagues. Some people took Gurley with the first overall pick last year, just because he was guaranteed the volume. This year, it appears as though he will receive a very similar volume, and even gain a few more receptions as well. McVay was planning on having Lance Dunbar handle 3rd down and passing-down duties, but he’s out indefinitely with a knee injury. This presents Gurley with a huge opportunity, as if he gets that job, he can be presented with even more touches in 2017.
Gurley is a talented player who was stuck in an inept offense with a rookie QB and a head coach who just ran him into a brick wall all game long without any offensive modifications. McVay led the third-best offense in the league last year in Washington, and will need to set up the run game in order for Jared Goff to mature the right way, and to not force him into as many bad situations. The offensive line has taken a step forward as well, most notably signing Andrew Whitworth at the left tackle spot. Once Gurley gets some good running lanes, he should be able to do his thing. Despite his bad performance last year, he had the 4th highest percentage of yards generated after contact at 68.5%, according to Pro Football Focus.
His ADP is in the back of the 2nd round, and with the amount of touches he should be getting, I’ll gladly draft him at that point as a true workhorse RB. Hopefully these changes on offense proves he is the guy everyone hoped he was when we drafted him in the first round in fantasy drafts last year.
Hopkins had the worst starting QB in all of football last year throwing him the ball. Brock Osweiler was ranked at the bottom of the league in almost all efficiency and productivity categories. His air yards per attempt was 3.6, which was 33rd in the league. That’s not going to get it done for Hopkins when it comes to fantasy output. Osweiler loved his tight ends, and didn’t seem comfortable enough to pass it anywhere else; tight ends Ryan Griffin and C.J. Fiedorowicz combined for almost 30% of the target share, and had an combined average catch rate of 64.5%. Hopkins had a 26.2% target share, but his catch rate was only 51.7%. Osweiler was an anomaly at QB, and we have to expect better this year no matter who the starting QB. Hopkins was also only targeted in the red zone 11 times; that’s 14.7% of the red zone target share. These numbers have to improve, and Hopkins should see a nice bump in production with better QB play. He ended the year as a high-end WR3, but is a WR1 talent. At the beginning of the 3rd round, I’m willing to balance a low-risk team with a guy like Deandre Hopkins, who can easily return 1st or 2nd round value.
Everyone’s down on Brandon Marshall this year, just like they were in 2015 fantasy drafts when he was being drafted in the middle rounds and returned 1st round value. Marshall is an exception talent, and works harder than most receivers in the league. He’s 33 years old, but he still has a lot left in the tank. He wants to win a Super Bowl, and he’s on a team that has a chance to do that, so the motivation is there. Last year, Marshall had the misfortune of an early knee injury, horrible QB play, and Eric Decker being out for the season after injuring his shoulder in Week 3. The odds were against him, and the Jets quickly looked forward to their young wide receivers and quarterbacks.
On the Giants, Marshall is lining up on the other side of the field from one of the best receivers in the game. When we have a very capable quarterback in Eli Manning with two very capable receivers on the outside, good things are bound to happen. Opposing defenses are not going to be able to stop both of these receivers, and chances are they will try their best to stop Odell Beckham, leaving Marshall in one-on-one coverage most of the time. In 2015, Marshall was 6th in receptions, 4th in receiving yards, and tied for 1st in touchdowns. I can’t judge Marshall on last year’s situation, and I think he will surpass 1000 yards and has the ability to grab 10 touchdowns; the Giants have been desperately in need for a red zone target, and Marshall fits that mold to a tee. Beckham’s target share has been around 27-28% the last two years, and I can see that coming down a bit to 25% with Marshall in town. I can see Marshall having close to a 20% target share, which translates to about 120 targets, plus red zone targets in this pass-heavy offense. Marshall is a value in the 6th round of drafts this year. I see Beckham having an even better year than last, with better quality targets thrown his way because of the attention defenses need to pay on the other side of the field. It’s a win-win for the Giants offense.
Maclin is one of my favorite late round values this year. You can grab him in the late 7th round, and he can return high-end WR2 numbers for you by the time the year comes to an end. Who’s Joe Flacco’s #1 receiver going to be this year? And why is he going in the 7th round? Probably because of Maclin’s lack of productivity in the Chiefs’ offense the last couple of years. With Steve Smith gone, Maclin can come in and take over as Flacco’s #1. When Steve Smith played a full season with Flacco in 2014, he had 134 targets and ended up as a WR2. Remember, Maclin had a few great seasons in 2014 and 2015. He can come in and command a 20-25% target share in this offense. Flacco tied Drew Brees for the most passing attempts last season, while Alex Smith was 21st, so Maclin has some real opportunity to be a solid starter for you all year with that type of volume. He did get hurt for a few games last season, but he wasn’t a fit for what they were capable of doing and what they were trying to do on offense. Mike Wallace isn’t a true #1, but we’ve seen Maclin in that #1 role for a few years now, and as long as he stays healthy, he can be Flacco’s favorite receiver. You can read another article I wrote on how I think Maclin will fit into this offense.