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Winston, Evans among top 2018 fantasy bounce-backs

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Everybody loves a comeback story. Except for Warriors and Falcons fans. They'd rather not talk about it. But for the rest of us, it's fun to watch a team or player rise from the ashes like ... like an ash-rising bird of some sort. We should come up with a name for something like that.

Anyway, I dug through the ashes of the 2017 fantasy football season to come up with a list of players who could shake off their past disappointments and rebound with fantasy seasons that could make you a winner. Or at least make you feel like you did a good job drafting. We can't all be winners, okay?

A little housekeeping ... I avoided players who missed significant time with injuries. I'm pretty sure we're all in agreement that Odell Beckham, Jr. is going to bounce-back just fine as long as he stays healthy. In the meantime, here are 10 guys who could make your fantasy year a lot more fun.

Phoenix! Damn. That's the word I was looking for.

Jay Ajayi, RB, Philadelphia Eagles


There is plenty of debate over what Ajayi's role will be in the Eagles offense this season. Numerous reports have suggested that Ajayi is in line to be a workhorse but there is hope that Corey Clement could work into a bigger role. Regardless, Ajayi will get a full year in an offense in which he began to assert himself late in the season. As long as he stays closer to the 16 touches per game he averaged in the final three 2017 regular season games -- he averaged eight touches per game in his first four games with Philly -- he could push for 1,300 total yards and 5-7 touchdowns.

Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers


I get it. For the past couple of years, you've probably read plenty of hypebeast fantasy pieces about a Randall Cobb revival. Hell, I even wrote one myself two years ago. So what's the difference between then and now? Quite simply ... no more Jordy Nelson. Over his last four seasons, Nelson averaged 130 targets per year. A good number of those will go to the newly-acquired Jimmy Graham. But the Packers (or, more importantly, Aaron Rodgers) have shown that their offense can support multiple receivers. If even a small portion of Nelson's targets get funneled to Cobb, it should easily push him past 100 opportunities this season. In the end, that opportunity is all you can really ask for.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Green Bay Packers


Speaking of Jimmy Graham ... is there a fantasy enthusiast alive that didn't get excited about the prospect of Graham catching passes from Aaron Rodgers? If you are, I neither believe nor trust you. I hope you can live with the decisions you've made. It's been said ad nauseum by now but Graham is the tight end the Packers have been waiting for for years. There will be targets. There will be red zone targets. Hopefully, that will keep Graham's touchdown total from last season pretty steady (or maybe even improve it!) while pushing his reception and yardage numbers back closer to where they were during Graham's successful 2016 season in Seattle.

Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders


I can already see you searching my NFL.com archives and preparing your angry tweets. "But Marcas, you said Amari Cooper was a player to avoid." You're right. I did. But I also prefaced that article by saying it should really be called Players to Avoid Until You Reach An Appropriate Spot In Your Draft. I also conceded that Cooper would be better this year than last. Mostly because talent and opportunity portend more than 680 receiving yards. This will have to be one, though, where you might have to avoid reaching too early for him in your draft.

Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns


Count me among the many who have bought a ticket to the Josh Gordon Hype Train. I know it's weird considering my years-long aversion to even speaking his name aloud. In my defense, I wanted to wait until he was actually, y'know, reinstated before I used a wish coin on him. But he's back and he dazzled in a short stint at the end of last season. Everything coming from the southern shores of Lake Erie this summer has been nothing but glowing about Gordon. Then there's this photo. If that doesn't get you hyped about Gordon this year, I just don't know what to tell you.

T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts


The first thought will be that Hilton makes this list ... because Andrew Luck. That's partially true. But even with Jacoby Brissett running the offense last season, Hilton finished the year just shy of 1,000 yards. If Brissett is forced to start even a portion of the season, there's hope that Hilton can turn last season's occasional blowup games into more consistent week-to-week production. But if Indy's franchise quarterback can truly be a contributor for most of the season then, yeah, Hilton will bounce back ... because Andrew Luck.

Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers


After knocking on the door of being a top 10 fantasy quarterback, Winston took a big step backward in a disappointing 2017. A shoulder injury that kept him out of three games definitely didn't help. Yet his QB22 finish belies a player who averaged 317 passing yards per game over his final five contests and finished the year with the highest completion percentage of his three-year career. Ideally, Winston would figure out how to cut down on some of the maddening turnovers -- 57 giveaways in 45 games -- though, at this point, that might be a feature and not a bug. Nonetheless, Tampa's talented wideouts and Winston's DGAF attitude toward chasing big plays gives him a realistic chance to bounce back this year.

Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers


If Winston is due for a bounce-back, it can only help his top receiver. Evans was a fringe first-round pick in a lot of drafts last season, so when he finished as the WR20, there were plenty of unhappy fantasy managers. If I believed in weird "trends," I'd tell you that because it's an even-numbered year, Evans is due to score 12 touchdowns (like he did in 2014 and 2016). Realistically, though, Evans has had a safe seasonal floor and could be set for a huge year if Winston truly does improve.

Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons


Some level of negative regression was to be expected of Ryan after his incredible 2016 campaign but a tumble from QB2 to QB15 had a lot of people's heads spinning. The image of 2017 wasn't exciting but the facts of the case bring reason for optimism. The Falcons had one of the league's more efficient offenses, finishing second in yards per drive and seventh in points per drive. The problem is that they had the fewest drives in the league. That last part seems unlikely to happen again. With the same level of efficiency in 2018 and a few more opportunities, Ryan could sneak back into the top 10.

Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals


Joe Mixon taught plenty of people a lesson last season. Talent is less important for running backs than situation. Mixon was arguably the most talented rookie running back in the NFL last year but playing behind one of the league's worst run-blocking lines depressed much of his production. The team added center Billy Price in the draft to try and address the issue. Combine that with expectations that the second-year back will carry a larger share of the offense and there's room for a Mixon sophomore breakout.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com and a man who wishes Wakanda was in the World Cup so he could have a decided U.S. replacement soccer team in this tournament. Send him your futbol hot takes via Twitter @MarcasG. If you read all of that, congrats. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat (marcasg9).

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