Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
It's a miracle RGIII emerged from the dumpster fire that was the Washington Redskins offense last season unscathed, even if he was partly at fault for starting the fire in the first place. He battled to get his recovering knee to full strength all season amidst growing distrust between him and the coaching staff. This led to a disappointing season made worse when he was shut down at the end of the year. Now, Jay Gruden and his pass-happy offensive approach have arrived in town along with speedster DeSean Jackson to give RGIII a new scheme and new weapons. With his knee back at full health, RGIII's arrow is pointing upward in 2014, but after a lackluster preseason you won't want to reach too high for RGIII.
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan had been on the cusp of becoming an "elite" fantasy quarterback for years, finishing seventh in 2012 and eighth in 2011 in fantasy scoring among signal-callers. Unfortunately, last season Ryan suffered the most sacks, interceptions and lost fumbles of his career, while posting his lowest touchdown total since 2009 (his second year in the league). During the offseason the Falcons have bolstered the offensive line with the addition of Jon Asamoah from the Chiefs and drafted Jake Matthews. Ryan will also have a fully healthy Roddy White and Julio Jones (more on them later), and a new playmaker out of the backfield in rookie Devonta Freeman. People are likely to sleep on Ryan in 2014 (current ADP of Round 8), so if you wait on a quarterback snag Ryan and ride his potential bounce-back to fantasy paydirt.
Trent Richardson, RB, Indianapolis Colts
After finishing 2012 as the ninth-highest scoring running back, Richardson fell of the face of the earth -- with two separate teams. After struggling with the Cleveland Browns, they shipped him to the Colts where his struggles mounted exponentially. Early signs in the preseason are showing us more of the same Richardson from last season (which is disconcerting), however, with an ADP of Round 9 and a dearth of other options in the Colts' backfield (Ahmad Bradshaw is still on his way back from a neck injury, and I believe I'm third on the depth chart) Richardson has the opportunity for a bounce-back campaign. It might not be the prettiest of bounce-backs (built on frustrating 1- to 3-yard carries) but it could happen nonetheless.
Houston Texans defense
Don't be disheartened by the team's 32-0 whooping by the Arizona Cardinals. It's the preseason. After back-to-back top-10 fantasy finishes, the Texans dropped to dead last in the NFL last season. That was partly due to injuries, partly due to their quarterbacks throwing more touchdowns to the other team than their own wide receivers (I know it wasn't that bad, it's hyperbole, settle down). Fast forward to 2014 where the Texans have paired the best defensive player in football (J.J. Watt) with the top defensive prospect from the draft (Jadeveon Clowney). Add in new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and a healthy Brian Cushing and this defense is ready to turn back the clock and become a fantasy monster again. The best part is fantasy owners won't have to reach for this unit, either.
C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills
Expectations were enormous for Spiller coming off his breakout 2012 campaign. Those were shattered in a hurry in 2013. Spiller was dogged all season by an ankle injury that took away his burst and cutting ability, or, basically what made him a dynamic back in the first place. Spiller enters 2014 as the top option in the rushing attack for the Bills, and figures to return to his game-breaking ways once he's able to get outside the tackles or in space. He's being drafted as a low-end RB2 but has low-end RB1 upside.
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans
After three straight years of outrageous fantasy production, all of those injuries Foster typically played through finally caught up with him. He only played in eight games last season, hampering his fantasy value and ruining countless fantasy owners' first-round draft picks. However, Foster should be good to go in 2014, and despite his meager production last year, Foster still had his highest yards per carry average (4.5) since his breakout campaign in 2010. The team will need to lean on Foster, and if he stays healthy he should be able to put up RB1 numbers again.
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Between nursing a lingering hip injury and rushing behind an incompetent offensive line, Rice posted his worst statistics since his rookie season (when he was a rotational player). Looking ahead to 2014, Rice will be out for the first two games of the season serving a suspension by the NFL, but once he returns he should also return to fantasy relevance. Rice looked sharp and faster than last year in the team's preseason opener, and although he'll likely be in a timeshare with Bernard Pierce, there should be plenty of touches to go around in Gary Kubiak's offense for Rice to put up solid RB2 production.
Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers
Before suffering a leg fracture in Week 5, Cobb was on pace for 96 catches, nearly 1,600 scrimmage yards and eight touchdowns, which would have put him right in the middle of top-10 fantasy scoring wide receivers. Cobb will once again be lining up with the best quarterback in football and an offense loaded with top skill position players. Head coach Mike McCarthy is one of the better play-callers in the league and will no doubt continue to find ways to put the ball in Cobb's hands whether through the air or on the ground. Oh, and let's not forget he's playing for a new contract as well.
Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants
Cruz had the most disappointing season of his career after salsa-dancing his way into our hearts back in 2011. He failed to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards for the first time, and three of his four touchdowns came in Week 1. The Giants brought in former Packers' quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo to right the offensive ship, but so far signs in the preseason are that the waters are still a bit rough. Still, Cruz is the No. 1 option for the G-Men, and Eli Manning's most trusted target. If the Giants offense hopes to go anywhere in 2014, Cruz will need to be a big part of that.
Julio Jones, Roddy White, WRs, Atlanta Falcons
Part of the reason Matt Ryan struggled so mightily was because he was often without his pair of dynamic wide receivers. Julio Jones was lost for the season in Week 5 when he re-broke a bone in his foot, and Roddy White played in 13 games but never looked like himself as he endured various injuries. Now, both are back healthy and Jones is looking for a new contract as his current deal expires in 2015. The Atlanta offense should be back to its old air-it-out ways, which means big bounce-back seasons should be in store for both White and Jones.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Where oh where has Hakeem Nicks gone? In 51 games from Week 4, 2009 to Week 14, 2012 Nicks had 27 touchdowns. In 18 games since then, he has none. Part of that was due to injuries, but part of that was also due to overall ineffectiveness. Nicks seemed to lose his edge last season, and if you ask Victor Cruz, all of the criticism heaped on Nicks was part of that. Now, Nicks has a chance for a fantasy comeback as he lines up with T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne in the Colts offense. He won't be bouncing back to WR1 value, but he's a solid option to target as a fourth or maybe even third receiver.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
It's hard to say Maclin is "bouncing back," as his best fantasy finish among wide receivers was 13th in his breakout sophomore season in 2010. Since then, he's finished outside the top 25 every year. However, Maclin is being counted on by the Eagles' brass to help fill the void left by DeSean Jackson, who enjoyed a career-year last season in Chip Kelly's offense. Maclin has been off the fantasy radar for a while, so consider this a nod to him bouncing back to fantasy relevance as a WR3.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings
Rudolph scored the ninth most points among tight ends in 2012, so many looked at 2013 as his big coming out party. Er ... it seems we might have been a year off. A combination of injuries and quarterback ineptitude turned Rudolph's season into one to forget. Aiding his bounce-back candidacy in 2014 is the arrival of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, under whom tight ends have flourished. Rudolph has a new contract in his pocket, has reported to camp in better shape, and is poised to set the stat sheets on fire in 2014.
Dennis Pitta, TE, Baltimore Ravens
Speaking of tight end-friendly offensive schemes, Pitta returns to the Ravens fully healthy once again and ready to thrive in offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's system. Kubiak made Owen Daniels into a fantasy star while in Houston, and Pitta seems to be next in line for an extreme fantasy makeover. Pitta is Joe Flacco's most trusted target, and he'll be moving all over the field for Kubiak. It's only the preseason, but early signs point to Pitta being a monster in fantasy football this season. If fantasy owners miss out on Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, Pitta's name should be one of the next ones to be uttered on draft day.
More Photo Essays:
- Prospects matched to pros based on measurements
- NFL Scouting Combine: Prospects with plenty to prove
- Mind-blowing stats for 2015 NFL Scouting Combine
- 11 current NFL players who weren’t invited to the combine
- Who pulled the fire alarm?
- Ranking the Super Bowls
- Top 10 fantasy Super Bowl performances
- Mind-blowing stats for Patriots vs.Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX
- Mind-blowing stats for Super Bowl XLIX