Comeback Players

Just like on Wall Street, you don’t turn a profit in fantasy football by buying high and selling low. As we preach here at the National Football Post time and time again, it’s all about value. Finding the right players at the right price will go a long way in helping owners build a quality team from top to bottom.

One place to find some serious value is in the “comeback players” department. When good players turn in a mediocre or lousy year, it sours several owners on their potential the following season, thus, decreasing their value in the eyes of the public. It’s important to be able to identify players with upside who are coming off a disappointing year for one reason or another.

A perfect example of this philosophy can be found when analyzing Green Bay running back Ryan Grant. Grant ranked 22nd in fantasy scoring among running backs in 2008, which led many owners to pass on his services last summer. That turned out to be a bad move as the four-year veteran scored six more touchdowns in 2009 and turned in a top-eight fantasy finish.

Let’s take a look at 15 players the NFP expects to make a comeback in 2010:

1. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions (2008 Rank: 3rd, 2009 Rank: 22nd): We all know that Johnson is a stud, but his numbers took a serious hit last year for a variety of reasons, most notably the arrival of rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford. Detroit went out and got Megatron some help this past offseason by signing wide receiver Nate Burleson and tight end Tony Scheffler and also drafted dual-threat running back Jahvid Best. Now, opposing defenses won’t be able to give as much attention to the Pro Bowl wideout for fear of getting beat elsewhere. In addition, another offseason of work with the developing Stafford will go a long way towards a potential top-ten finish for Johnson.

2. Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears (2008 Rank: 3rd, 2009 Rank: 11th): What did you expect? Cutler went from Brandon Marshall to Devin Hester, so you had to figure the downgrade in supporting talent was going to take it’s toll. However, that’s no excuse for throwing a league-leading 26 interceptions. The Bears brought in offensive mastermind Mike Martz to run the offense in 2010, so expect Cutler to take a step forward as a quarterback under the guy who developed future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner. In addition, young receivers Johnny Knox and Devin Aromashodu now have some legitimate NFL experience under their belts, so look for J-Cut’s supporting cast to deliver more in 2010.

3. Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta Falcons (2008 Rank: 2nd, 2009 Rank: 22nd): Turner got hit by the injury bug in 2009, which lead to an 11-game campaign that disappointed many owners (myself included) who used a top-five pick on the former San Diego Charger. In addition, the Pro Bowl running back admitted in June that he was overweight and out of shape entering the 2009 season, something no fantasy owner wants to hear a year later. However, despite all of the setbacks, the Burner still averaged 4.9 yards per carry and scored ten touchdowns in just 11 games. Expect the 28-year old to regain his top-ten form this year and eclipse 300 carries for the second time in his last three seasons. The Falcons are going to lean on him.

4. John Carlson, TE, Seattle Seahawks (2008 Rank: 7th, 2009 Rank: 11th): Carlson was poised to break through as one of the game’s top young tight end targets in 2009, but a slight reduction in receptions and receiving yards—not to mention a ridiculously strong showing from a loaded TE class—prevented the 26-year old from cracking the top-ten for a second straight season. The good news here is that Johnny C actually produced more fantasy points in 2009 than he did in 2008 due to his increase in touchdowns (he went from 5 to 7). Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck now has an improved offensive line (the Seahawks drafted Oklahoma State OT Russell Okung in the first round) and another weapon at wideout in Golden Tate, which should help take some of the coverage away from Carlson this season. He’s not a candidate to crack the top-five in scoring among tight ends, but he comes at an excellent, late-round value and knows how to find the end zone.

5. Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City Chiefs (2008 Rank: 16th, 2009 Rank: 54th): Bowe’s a risky prospect that we aren’t sold on yet. Why? Anytime a player gets suspended (for whatever reason) and also gets called out for a lack of commitment and dedication, it raises a big, red flag at the NFP. However, he’s worth a mid-round selection this year for exactly those reasons. Offensive mastermind Charlie Weis has been brought in to run the offense and you know the Chiefs are going to be throwing the ball all over the lot in 2010 due to their below-average defense. If Bowe can keep his head on straight and turn in 16 respectable games like he did in 2008, there is no reason this guy can’t crack the top-15 in fantasy scoring among wide receivers. Remember, there is some risk here and that is precisely why you won’t be targeting him early.

6. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons (2008 Rank: 15th, 2009 Rank: 19th): Matty Ice took a slight step back in 2009 and didn’t make the same progress fellow second-year QB Joe Flacco did, but this guy is as focused and committed to his craft as any quarterback in the game. He’s surrounded by top-tier talent that includes Pro Bowlers Roddy White (WR), Tony Gonzalez (TE) and Michael Turner (RB) and plays in a relatively soft division when it comes to defense (NFC South). Ryan’s TD:INT ratio improved last year despite playing in two less games and his QB rating was a decent 80.9 even though he was battling some injuries for part of the year. The Falcons are a team on the rise and Ryan is sure to take the next step forward in 2010 as he enters his third professional campaign. He has a legitimate shot of cracking the top-ten in fantasy scoring.

7. Pittsburgh Steelers, D/ST (2008 Rank: 1st, 2009 Rank: 15th): We know many of you are concerned about the Steelers this season due to the 4-6 game suspension quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is facing to open the year, but defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is back and Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu is healthy, which makes all the difference in the world. In the five games that Polamalu played last season, the Steelers went 4-1 and allowed an average of just 13.8 points per game. In the 11 games the stud safety missed due to injury, Pittsburgh went 5-6 while giving up a whopping 23.1 points per game. If Polamalu is in the lineup, this unit is going to produce. The beauty is that due to last year’s underwhelming stat line and the Big Ben suspension, many owners are worried about drafting the Steelers as their defensive anchor. Don’t be.

8. Steve Slaton, RB, Houston Texans (2008 Rank: 6th, 2009 Rank: 35th): There’s no other way to say. Slaton was an absolute bust in 2009 as the former West Virginia Mountaineer averaged a pathetic 3.3 yards per carry and scored just three rushing touchdowns in 11 games for the Texans. Let’s also not forget that he fumbled the ball seven times, losing five of them. Owners who wasted a top-ten pick on Double S last season feel jaded, which is why the Houston running back is going to plummet on draft day. In addition, the Texans used a second-round pick on between-the-tackles bruiser Ben Tate (Auburn), so Slaton won’t even be the primary ball carrier this season. However, he’s still a dynamic pass-catcher coming out of the backfield (44 receptions for 417 yards and four TDs last year), so expect Houston to take advantage of his skill set. You can snag this guy in the middle to later rounds. He’ll make a solid flex option and if something were to happen to Tate, you’ve now got yourself a starting RB on a high-octane offense for a very low price.

9. Antonio Bryant, WR, Cincinnati Bengals (2008 Rank: 8th, 2009 Rank: 52nd): Talk about a disappointing 2009 season. Bryant battled a knee injury and spent the year playing with a plethora of inexperienced quarterbacks that dropped him close to 50 spots in fantasy scoring among wideouts from 2008 to 2009. The upside here is that the seven-year veteran signed with the Bengals in the offseason, meaning A) he’ll be playing with a veteran, Pro Bowl quarterback in Carson Palmer and B) won’t be facing double-coverage as Chad Ochocinco will be lining up on the opposite side of the field. The Bengals love to run the football and fantasy owners recognize that Bryant is the No. 2 in Cincinnati and is coming off a bad year, meaning his draft value will be relatively low. However, he’s got the talent and the supporting cast to serve as a rock-solid WR3 with the upside to become an every week starter.

10. New York Giants, D/ST (2008 Rank: 6th, 2009 Rank: 25th): The New York secondary may be the first thing fantasy owners think about when recapping the debacle that was the 2009 season for Big Blue, but the normally sack-happy G-Men brought down the opposing quarterback only 33 times last year, good for 19th in the NFL. Not only that, but the Giants ranked 30th in the league in points allowed last season (26.7 pts/gm). That just isn’t going to cut it. Head coach Tom Coughlin made it very clear to the NFP and the rest of the media in attendance at the NFL Combine this past February that the offseason was going to be dedicated to improving the defense. Bill Sheridan was fired as the defensive coordinator after just one season and was replaced by former Buffalo boss Perry Fewell. In addition, New York used five of their seven draft picks to select defensive players, not to mention signed safety Antrel Rolle at the start of the free agency period. This unit will be back in a big way in 2010, and will come at an excellent price.

11. Eddie Royal, WR, Denver Broncos (2008 Rank: 22nd, 2009 Rank: 98th): It’s hard to imagine a switch from Jay Cutler to Kyle Orton could have such an amazing impact, but Royal’s stat line took a serious nose dive in 2009 as the two-year vet caught only 37 passes for 345 yards and failed to find the end zone in 14 games. Here’s the good news: Now that Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall has been traded to Miami, somebody has to catch the football in Denver. Rookie first-round pick Demaryius Thomas is going to need some time making the transition from the NCAA to the NFL and veteran Jabar Gaffney is nothing more than a glorified No. 2 at best. That leaves Eddie Royal as one of Orton’s main receiving weapons. He may not put up monster numbers, but Royal should see plenty of targets this season.

12. Tony Scheffler, TE, Detroit Lions (2008 Rank: 12th, 2009 Rank: 22nd): Much like quarterback Jay Cutler and wide receiver Brandon Marshall, Tony Scheffler and Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels butted heads from day 1, which led to a reduced role and an offseason trade to Detroit. Former first-round pick Brandon Pettigrew (TE) is coming back from a torn ACL, so the pass-catching Scheffler should see plenty of snaps and targets on an offense that is going to roll up the garbage time stats. Fantasy owners are advised to target Scheffler as a TE2 at best. He’s got the talent, but the 2010 tight end class is so deep that there is no reason to reach. However, we fully expect an improvement on the 31-416-2 stat line he produced last season.

13. Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (2008 Rank: Only appeared in four games, 2009 Rank: 18th): This comeback has been three years in the making which is why the NFP has put the “sleeper” tag on Palmer this season. Remember the 2005-2007 stretch in which the Cincinnati quarterback topped 3,800 passing yards and 26 touchdowns each season? We do. And despite the fact that the Bengals love to run the football, this offense now has plenty of weapons for Palmer to utilize. The Bengals dumped bust free agent signing Laveranues Coles and signed former Buccaneer wideout Antonio Bryant to pair with Pro Bowler Chad Ochocinco. In addition, Cincinnati finally upgraded the tight end position by drafting Oklahoma stud Jermaine Gresham in the first round. If head coach Marvin Lewis decides to open up the passing game a little more in 2010, Palmer could be set for a serious fantasy campaign. The great thing about this is that very few people are targeting Palmer this summer, meaning he can be had for a great price.

14. Lee Evans, WR, Buffalo Bills (2008 Rank: 26th, 2009 Rank: 35th): Let’s face facts here: With either Trent Edwards, Brian Brohm or Ryan Fitzpatrick running the offense, Evans is never going to have an opportunity to become an elite NFL wide receiver. However, now that Terrell Owens is gone, who else is left on the Bills roster that can make plays? James Hardy and rookie Marcus Easley have little experience, as does Chad Jackson and Stevie Johnson. Buffalo is going to struggle in the AFC East this year, which means they are going to have to throw the football for four quarters if they want a chance to win. Yes, that means garbage time stats with Evans as the No. 1 target. His touchdown total will likely be limited, but he should see enough targets to warrant a starting roster spot at a good value.

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