Fantasy Football 2016: The Bouncebacks

Eddie Lacy and Randall Cobb look to bounce back from disappointing 2015 seasons. (Getty Images)

Eddie Lacy and Randall Cobb look to bounce back from disappointing 2015 seasons. (Getty Images)

– Jim Bearor

“Fool me once, shame on – shame on you.  Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.” –  Former President George W. Bush

It isn’t easy to trust someone who has betrayed you in the past. Sometimes – most of the time, probably – it isn’t wise either.  However, redemption makes for some of the best stories, broken bones can mend and become stronger than before, and you can’t have a heroic comeback without an ugly struggle beforehand. These satisfying, full-circle tales don’t come to fruition nearly as often in football as they do in movies or television, but it does happen – just not often enough to count on.

There is no justice or satisfaction in career-ending injuries and some players never reach their potential, even if they’re in a great environment. On the other hand, you have tales like Adrian Peterson coming back from a torn ACL to win the MVP, Drew Brees redefining his career in New Orleans, Pacman Jones somehow still being relevant in 2016 despite everything, Peyton Manning’s stint in Denver, and countless others. The football gods are frequently cruel, sometimes benevolent, and almost always unpredictable.

That being said, there are some players that I believe could be in line for a bounce back fantasy season after a disappointing 2015. I feel comfortable predicting them not only because I’m a heathen who spits in the face of these football gods, or because my tea leaves have told me so, but also because there are others who have forsaken the pigskin deities to try to find reason in numbers, trends, and analysis, and they don’t always come up empty handed.

So here’s what I have come up with, draft at your own peril. I’m sorry and you’re welcome.

5. Randall Cobb

Like everybody else in this article, Mr. Cobb had a less-than-stellar 2015. Unlike most of the others in this article, his lack of success can be mostly attributed to circumstances outside his control.  I’m talking about the season-long absence of Jordy Nelson, who tore his ACL in the preseason, and left an unfillable void in the offense.

The effects were apparent in everyone’s statistics, but the most noticeable differences were in the numbers of Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb.  Nelson was coming off an incredible 2014 season where he caught 98 balls for a franchise-record 1,519 yards and 13 TDs.  Cobb thrived as the WR2 in that season as well, pulling in 91 catches for 1,287 yards and 12 TDs.  The two complement each other, and Jordy’s ability to draw extra attention down the field has an undeniable effect on Cobb’s opportunities. Cobb saw virtually the same amount of targets in 2015 as he did in 2014 (129 and 127, respectively), but his yards per catch dropped from 14.1 to 10.5 and his receptions dipped from 91 to 79.

It doesn’t take much investigating to see why Cobb had a rough 2015, and it seems pretty obvious that Jordy Nelson’s return will help Cobb’s cause. Right now, the consensus seems to be that he’s somewhere around #20 on the WR board, but some have him as the 14th best guy at the position, and that’s closer to my opinion on him. I’d rather have him than Eric Decker, T.Y. Hilton, Brandin Cooks, and maybe Demaryius Thomas. You could make the case for any of those guys though, and I’d understand, but if Cobb slips into the fourth or fifth round, I’d snatch him up.

4. Lesean McCoyBuffalo+Bills+v+Kansas+City+Chiefs+su3y3ECRaSzl

Everything considered, Shady McCoy didn’t have a bad 2015, but between his health, an inconsistent workload, and a couple bad games, he made for a frustrating and unreliable fantasy running back.  If you can’t overlook his bumps and bruises – which is t0tally understandable when it comes to a feature back, especially when they’re all lower body injuries – then you might as well move on to the next guy on the list.

If you’re willing to roll the dice on the health of this 28-year-old who has only missed ten games in his seven year career, there is value to be had here. According to FantasyPros.com, McCoy is currently sitting at about the #11 spot for running backs, and #23 overall.  An astounding 81% of experts think he’s better than his present ADP (Average Draft Position), and again, I’m with them on this one. Karlos Williams wasn’t going to steal his job to begin with, but his offseason weight issues certainly don’t help. The addition of Reggie Bush may mean a few less receptions on third downs, but I doubt it will be anything considerable enough to seriously harm McCoy’s value.

I think he’s a surer bet than Thomas Rawls, and he could prove to be more valuable than guys like Mike Evans or Amari Cooper if he can stay on the field.  In my opinion, once you’re in the third round, don’t feel bad about giving Shady a chance.

3. Eddie Lacy

We all know the Eddie Lacy story of last season. Insert fat joke here. I get it, and there’s no real excuse to be made, but that’s all in the past now. As of a few weeks ago, he had supposedly lost 22 pounds, and he has continued to do his P90x workouts throughout training camp.  The biggest threat to him being a top-tier fantasy RB1 is his workload, or lack thereof. James Starks has proven himself to be a solid option in the backfield, compiling a career-high 148 carries for a career-high 601 yards, and if you didn’t take into account Lacy’s issues, you’d think the hierarchy might continue to be a little murky in 2016. This may end up happening, but I doubt it, and I’m willing to risk my chance at a couple fantasy titles and a good chunk of money on it if given the opportunity.

Lacy was drafted to be the bell-cow of this offense in 2013 (no pun intended) and in the first two years, he was exactly that, while also adding some value as a pass catcher. To me, it really can be simplified to his weight loss and apparent new outlook on his career.  I think McCoy may be more of a sure thing to be productive than Lacy in 2016, but I think Lacy will make a bigger jump, especially if you think the return of Jordy Nelson and his ability to stretch the field will have an effect on Green Bay’s run game (I do).

As is the case with McCoy, there is no shame in taking Lacy once the third round comes along, and you could probably even justify taking him in the second.

2. Jeremy Hill

There’s no way to put it lightly: Jeremy Hill was a big ol’ bust last year.  He was a first round pick in most fantasy leagues, and he followed through with an abysmal 794 yards on  223 attempts (3.56 YPC) and didn’t top 100 yards one single time.  It was touchdown or bust to fantasy owners, and a five week dry spell in the middle of the season crushed many people’s dreams of winning their equivalent of The Shiva Bowl Trophy.

Here’s why he’s going to turn it around: he’s young, he’s the starter in a great offense, he’s going to continue to get a ton of carries, and he’s due for a little bounce back in productivity.

He’s due?! How insightful!

I know, I know, I know. It sounds stupid to put any faith in a third year player who has done nothing but disappoint since becoming the main dude in the backfield, but if you’re a believer of the eyeball test – and I am – then chances are, you see what I’m talking about. Giovani Bernard is all well and good – he’s inarguably more consistent than Hill right now, and he’s a premier third down back with awesome highlight reel-type ability, but he’s also 5’9″ and of slighter frame than Hill, which means he’s better suited for the RB2 role, and he’ll probably continue to shine there. The 23-year-old Hill, at 6’1″ 230, looks the part of a RB1 and I think he’s going to rebound, but the real reason he’s so high on this list is because of where he seems to be falling in drafts this year.

Fantasy Pros sees him going somewhere in the neighborhood of #47 overall, which is pretty wild to me. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather take my chances with Hill than guys like Demarco Murray, Greg Olsen, and Carlos Hyde.  Obviously, the decision is up to you, but I think there is serious value and upside in Hill, especially if he really does slip into the fifth or sixth rounds.

1. Frank Gorefrank-gore-colts

Throughout his career, Frank Gore has been synonymous with reliable.  The dude has only missed 13 games in his 11 year career, and 2015 was the only year he averaged less than 4.1 YPC. I wholeheartedly believe (and I’m sure I’m not the only one with this opinion) that his dip in efficiency last year was almost entirely due to the absence of Andrew Luck, and not the wear on his tires. That being said, it’s natural to be a little skeptical of a 33-year-old running back who has toted the rock upwards of 2,700 times in his career, but this is no ordinary human we’re talking about here, and his quarterback is coming back.

Even if he does see a decrease in touches in 2016, I don’t think he’ll have any issue topping his stats from 2015 as long as he remains healthy.  Gore is my number one bounce back fantasy player of 2016 partially because I expect a full season out of Luck, but mostly because it looks like he’s going way under the radar in a lot of drafts so far.

His ADP is hovering around #75, which is absurd to me.  About 90% of the experts from Fantasy Pros are with me on this, so I’m definitely not crazy – at least not when it comes to Gore’s value. Guys like Melvin Gordon, Jeremy Langford, and Matt Jones are going way earlier than him for some reason.  The way I see it, it can be boiled down to whether or not you can trust an old running back with a ton of mileage who is coming off his least efficient season, and for me, the answer is absolutely.  Depending on how my drafts go, If I have an opportunity to “reach” for Frank “The Inconvenient Truth” Gore in the fifth or sixth round, I’m not thinking twice about it.

Honorable Mentions (these guys are very liable to break your heart again):

Carlos Hyde – Talent, upside, injuries, and a bad team. Feeling Lucky? Go for it.

Jamaal Charles – If torn ACLs don’t scare you, have at it.

Melvin Gordon – Microfracture knee surgery ended his 2015 campaign, and he plays behind a terrible offensive line that hasn’t gotten any better.  He’s still a starter in the NFL though, so who knows.

 

– Jim Bearor (@JimBearor)jimbearor

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