Every year someone in every fantasy league in the country takes a player too high and they turn out to be a bust. Throughout the offseason they convince themselves this is their year. They say things like, “No one is safer than Matt Ryan.” Or, “Mike Wallace is a great fit in Miami.” Or even worse, the fantasy owners who said, “Coach said he is gonna give C.J. Spiller the ball until he pukes. How could I not take him?”
When these players turn out to be a bust, no one wants any part of them the next season. Their draft stock falls and the league scorns anyone who takes them. That is, until they make a comeback. Then whoever drafted last season’s bust is heralded as a fantasy guru.
Need examples? Adrian Peterson was picked in the second round of my draft following his knee surgery and everyone knows how that turned out. What about Peyton Manning two years ago who a friend of mine picked in the sixth round? Yea he worked too. How about 2013 Comeback Player of the Year Philip Rivers? He wasn’t even picked in my draft.
Every year there are some players who make a comeback. They rise from the ashes of their failed season and come back stronger than ever. The best part is, if a fantasy owner can predict who these players will be, they can get a safe, value pick. This is the first of a series of articles detailing comeback players for the 2014 fantasy season. It starts with comeback fantasy quarterbacks.
Matt Ryan- Atlanta Falcons
Ryan was an absolute bust last year. After being drafted as the fourth ranked quarterback, Matt Ryan finished ranked 15th at his position behind the likes of Alex Smith and just one spot above Ryan Tannehill.
So why will he do better this year? Because so much had to go wrong for Ryan to finish 15th. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find anything that went right.
Let’s recap. Last year saw an injury-hampered Roddy White fail to reach 1,000 yards for the first time in six years. Julio Jones, Atlanta’s number one wide receiver, suffered a season ending injury in Week 5 (by which time he already had amassed 580 yards). The injury to Steven Jackson helped the Falcons rank dead last in rushing yards with a mere 1,247. Lastly, due to an atrocious offensive line, Ryan was the 3rd most sacked quarterback in the league and was the league’s most pressured quarterback according to ESPN. In conclusion, nothing went right for the Ryan and the Falcons’ offense last season.
This year is very different. Julio Jones says he is back to his old self and it’s not too much of a stretch to think White will be able to return to his usual form if he can stay healthy. Last season’s injuries had one positive: It allowed fifth year wideout Harry Douglas to develop into another offensive threat. Douglas eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career last season after being forced to be Ryan’s primary target and looks to improve an already loaded wide receiving corps.
As for the running game, after hitting rock bottom last season it can only get better. A healthy Jackson will give Atlanta a legitimate threat at running back, forcing defenses to respect the run. Lastly, through the additions of guard Jon Asamoah from Kansas City and drafting All-American rookie tackle Jake Matthews from Texas A&M, Atlanta made a much-needed improvement to their offensive line.
In 2013 everything went wrong for Matt Ryan causing his fantasy stock to plummet heading into the 2014 fantasy season. He is currently being drafted in the late seventh round, which is insane value for someone who could turn into a top seven quarterback. With a healthy receiving corps, a much improved running game and a revamped offensive line expect to see a resurgent season from Matt Ryan.
Jay Cutler- Chicago Bears
Last season, Cutler was sidelined with a groin injury that forced him to miss six games. He was replaced by Josh McCown, who debatably played better than Cutler leading to some people question whether the Bears should let Cutler walk.
Half a year and $126 million later, McCown is gone and the Bears are once again all in on Cutler. And fantasy owners should be as well.
According to Matthew Berry’s 100 Fantasy Football Facts, if you combined Cutler and McCown’s fantasy numbers they would have been the third ranked fantasy quarterback last season. Clearly there is something going right in the Bears’ offense. This comes from several things.
First, the Bears have arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the league with Brandon Marshall and last year’s breakout star Alshon Jeffery. The pair combined for 2,716 yards 19 touchdowns. With Marshall promising a career year and Jeffery already looking like a star coming into his third season, their production will only increase in the 2014, giving Cutler plenty of chances to produce big time fantasy numbers.
Secondly, the Bears are one of the few teams blessed with a consistent running game. In his first season under head coach Marc Trestman, Matt Forte exploded for 1,339 yards on the ground. He has failed to reach 1,000 yards just twice in his career. Defenses cannot ignore the consistency and explosiveness of the Bears’ running game. More importantly for Cutler, Forte had 600 receiving yards last year and three touchdowns, providing him with yet another receiving threat.
Last, and I know it is really early to judge, but Cutler’s schedule provides ample opportunities for huge fantasy weeks. Based on last season’s statistics, Cutler has the fourth best schedule for fantasy quarterbacks.
This partially comes from playing the weak secondaries of the NFC North twice a year. Last season the Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers ranked 32nd, 24th and 23rd respectively in passing yards allowed. The Bears will also face the 30th ranked Cowboys, 22nd ranked Jets and the 21st ranked Falcons this season. Right there are nine games where Cutler has the opportunity to excel. Even better for fantasy owners is during the last four weeks of the season, the playoffs for most fantasy leagues, the Bears play three of the weakest pass defenses: the Cowboys, Lions and Vikings.
It is also worth noting that Cutler is currently being drafted late in the ninth round in standard 10-team leagues. So, like Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler has the potential to be the ultimate value quarterback this year. In an offense loaded with weapons under the direction of a hot, new head coach, last season should have been a breakout year for Jay Cutler. Before he was hurt, Cutler was on pace to throw for 4,347 yards, setting a new franchise record. If he can stay healthy, Cutler should break that record this season, while helping fantasy owners win their championships.
Robert Griffin III- Washington Redskins
This may be obvious to some people, but it needs to be said. When healthy, Robert Griffin III is a top five fantasy quarterback. I know it’s obvious, but I think some people need to be reminded that this is the same guy that shocked the league when he threw for 3,200 yards and rushed for 817 yards while accounting for 27 touchdowns in his rookie campaign. This season should be a return to form for Griffin, who, after missing the entire preseason before rushing back for Week one, finished as the 18th ranked quarterback last year.
He only played 13 games and still threw for 3,203 yards, rushed for 489 and accounted for 16 touchdowns. And that was amidst an alleged riff between Griffin and head coach Mike Shanahan.
Enter new head coach Jay Gruden. In 2011, when Gruden was hired as offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals, he took over a team that ranked 22nd in points. With Gruden running the offense, they climbed all the way to sixth by the end of last season. Under Gruden, Andy Dalton, who in my opinion is an average quarterback, threw for 4,293 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2013. If Dalton can put up those kinds of numbers, I don’t see why Griffin can’t too.
I understand the argument that Dalton has one of the league’s best receivers in A.J. Green, but while the Redskins have no one of Green’s quality, they have quantity on their side.
Pierre Garcon, who topped the league in reception and targets last year, is primed to have a monster season catching balls underneath while newly acquired DeSean Jackson blazes by opposing safeties looking for the deep ball. As if those two were not enough, Washington also went out and got a guy who has always had potential in Andre Roberts. Meanwhile, if second-year tight end Jordan Reed stays healthy he will provide Griffin with a massive red zone and short yardage target. That is without even bringing up the thing that put Griffin on the map: his legs. While rumors coming out of camp emphasize that Griffin will depend more on his arm this year, his big play ability when he tucks the ball cannot be ignored.
Even if he runs less than his rookie year, he can still provide fantasy owners with valuable rushing touchdowns, as well as a few yards because let’s be honest; this is RGIII he’s going to find a way to run the ball, especially now that his knee over a year removed from surgery.
Most importantly, Griffin has been quiet this offseason. There hasn’t been a documentary or “All in for Week One” tee shirts and commercials. It has been an offseason focused on the only thing that matters: football. With a full offseason to prepare, Griffin should be able to develop his mechanics and chemistry with new receivers and old in ways he wasn’t last year while rehabbing from surgery. The reports coming out of the Redskins’ camp have been stellar. Jay Gruden has raved about Griffin’s work ethic and coachability. Griffin, who was criticized by fans and teammates for his leadership last season, has rediscovered the importance of his role as a leader for his team.
Like the other two quarterbacks on this list the biggest reason to draft Griffin this year is the value. He is being taken toward the end of the sixth round in a 10-team draft, yet by the end of the season I think he’ll be in the top five among quarterbacks and not too many points behind the leaders. The talent and the mindset of this team and Griffin himself are too great to be ignored and, by the end of the season, it won’t be.
The whole reason to draft Ryan, Cutler or Griffin is to stock up on talent in the early rounds. Hoard running backs, load up on wide receivers. Heck, take a shot at a top tight end. Then, once the rest of the team is full of studs, take one of these quarterbacks late in the draft and laugh all the way to the ‘ship. Or don’t; just don’t be surprised if someone who does wins the league.