The fantasy football landscape ebbs and flows like the tide, year after year. Stocks rise, stocks fall, and occaisonally the final page of a player's career book gets written before he has the final say. Whether because of injury or ineffectiveness, these 10 players are being overlooked to some degree in fantasy football, and I believe they're in line for huge bounce-back seasons. Below are my top 10 bounce-back candidates for the 2015 fantasy football season. Enjoy, and let me know how much of an idot I am on Twitter @AlexGelhar.
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
On the surface, Green's 2014 campaign was a disappointment. After back-to-back top-four finishes among WRs, Green fell to 23rd thanks to an injury-plagued season. Back at full health, and playing for a new contract, everything is lining up for Green to post a monster season.
Last year under offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, the Bengals finished 17th in total plays run, but just 25th in pass attempts. That's due largely to the absence of several key pass-attack options for much of the season, including Green, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard. The offense HAD to funnel through Jeremy Hill, even though Jackson had preached a run-heavy approach in the offseason.
With a full complement of weapons back around Andy Dalton, Jackson should balance out his offense a little more, meaning the pass attempts are almost certain to rise. Green was a target monster when healthy, eating 30 and 31 percent of Dalton's pass targets in 2013 and 2012, respectively. His current ADP of Round 3 is an absolute steal. Owners should feel confident grabbing Green in Round 2.
C.J. Spiller, RB, New Orleans Saints
After a seventh-place finish among running backs in 2012, the fantasy world thought C.J. Spiller was on the verge of superstardom. Unfortunately, he turned out to be just a flash in the pan, finishing 25th in 2013 and outside the top 50 in 2014. Despite this track record, countless analysts are on board with Spiller rebounding in 2015. Here's why.
Spiller's biggest advantage is in PPR formats, but he presents great value in standard leagues as well. While Mark Ingram will remain entrenched as the early-down, goal-line back for the Saints, Spiller will fill the role as the pass-catching back on a team that led the NFL in backfield targets a season ago. Sean Payton and Drew Brees have turned their pass-catching backs into fantasy studs before, too (think Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas). With the team refocusing on the run and short-passing game after shipping Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills out of town, Spiller seems the likeliest candidate to eat up those vacated targets.
He certainly carries some risk (including the mysterious injury that has kept him out of recent practices) but if you can target him as an RB3-4 in standard formats (or RB2-3 in PPR), consider it a worth-while investment.
Andre Johnson, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Too old. Washed up. Past his prime. Yada yada yada. The narratives surrounding Andre Johnson have gone on far too long -- longer than a George R.R. Martin book. Sure, some of the signs are there: Johnson's yards per reception have dropped in each of the last four years, and he hasn't scored more than five touchdowns since 2010. Let's not forget, however, that each of those seasons was marred with subpar quarterback play, and Johnson still netted 1,400-plus yards in two of those campaigns. Yet, there's one big, neck-bearded reason why you should believe in Dre in 2015: Andrew Luck.
So far in training camp, no receiver has caught more passes from Luck than Johnson. He has been thriving in the intermediate area of the field, which is where he should live during the season, too, with T.Y. Hilton, Phillip Dorsett and Donte Moncrief blowing the top off of defenses. Johnson is currently being drafted as the 20th wide receiver in NFL.com leagues (sixth round ADP), behind DeSean Jackson and Julian Edelman. I like Johnson more than both of them this year. He's motivated, wants a ring, and is playing with the best quarterback he's ever seen in his 12-year career. What's not to like?
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Life comes at you fast in the NFL. Doug Martin set the fantasy world on fire in his rookie season with a second-place finish among RBs. Two ineffective, injury-riddled seasons later and his career is basically over, depending on who you ask. However, there's reason to like Martin for a bounce-back campaign in 2014 -- especially at his current Round 15 NFL.com ADP.
Martin has already been anointed the team's starting running back, and this is after a season of puff pieces from the coaching staff praising Martin's new work ethic, quickness, and recent weight loss. Dirk Koetter, the team's new offensive coordinator, fought to keep Martin around after watching his game tape this offseason when joining the Bucs. Look, I'm not expecting Martin to recapture the magic he had bottled in 2012. However, when you can get a motivated starting running back playing for a new contract in the double-digit rounds, you absolutely do not want to pass that up. The Bucs have invested in rebuilding their offensive line, and with Jameis Winston and his trio of tree-like pass-catchers stretching the field, there could be plenty of room for Martin to run.
Brandon Marshall, WR, New York Jets
I was more bullish on Marshall when Geno Smith was under center, as the pair had been working out together all offseason, but I still believe in Marshall with the Amish Rifle (Ryan Fitzpatrick) leading Chan Gailey's attack. Fitzpatrick had his best years under Gailey while in Buffalo, where his top target (Steve Johnson) averaged 1,041 receiving yards and eight touchdowns per season. That production would put Marshall firmly on the WR2 radar. With his current ADP in Round 10 (WR29), that'd be tremendous value for a veteran being wrongly overlooked.
Michael Crabtree, WR, Oakland Raiders
Speaking of overlooked veterans, it seems the fantasy world is ready to write off Michael Crabtree after he failed to live up to the potential he flashed in his breakout 2012 campaign over the last two years. However, his poor statistical performances were due more to a rash of injuries and ineffective quarterback play from Colin Kaepernick, than his own abilities.
So far, word out of Raiders camp is that Crabtree (on a one-year contract, too) has looked phenomenal. Our own Matt Harmon profiled Crabtree on his website, saying that the former Texas Tech star was exactly what the Raiders needed. Maurice Jones-Drew also recently talked about how the Raiders offense is very similar to the one Chip Kelly runs in Philadelphia -- which had two top-25 fantasy wide receivers a season ago (Jeremy Maclin, Jordan Matthews). With Derek Carr (hopefully) taking the next step forward under center for the Silver and Black, and Amari Cooper providing a dangerous threat on the other side of the field, Crabtree should be in line for a solid statistical campaign. His current ADP of Round 14 on NFL.com paints him as a true bargain who could return WR3 or even WR2 production for your fantasy squad.
Brian Quick, WR, St. Louis Rams
What?! A Ram? Blasphemy! Yes, a Ram, and a Ram wide receiver no less. Quick was quietly lighting up the scoreboard to start the 2014 season. Over the first four games he averaged 7.8 targets, 5.3 receptions, 80.5 receiving yards and just under one touchdown per game. That's an average of over 12 fantasy points per game -- from a wide receiver in St. Louis.
Unfortunately, Quick's season was cut short by a shoulder injury that some in St. Louis thought might cost him his career. Quick has recovered, thankfully, and is working his way back to starting form. He's currently so far under the fantasy radar that he's basically non-existent in most common fantasy circles (Round 15 ADP). Nick Foles should bring stability under center for the Rams, and Quick will be his most talented and versatile target with the size, speed and polish to thrive in the NFL. Quick will undoubtedly improve upon his output from 2014. He has WR3 potential and can be selected at the end of drafts -- that's an investment worth making.
Steve Johnson, WR, San Diego Chargers
I've been pounding the table for Steve Johnson in San Diego for months now, as he appeared on my very first offseason deep sleeper list. However, the more reports I read from Chargers training camp, the more worried I become that Johnson won't remain a deep sleeper for long. Much like Crabtree, Johnson suffered in 2014 because of the erratic play of Colin Kaepernick and the entire 49ers offense. Johnson seems like an aging veteran because of his early career success in Buffalo, but he'll only turn 29 in November and still appears to have plenty left in the tank.
Watching his tape, Johnson still has the speed and shiftiness that made him a fantasy threat in Buffalo. And much like the other Johnson on this list, Steve will be playing with the best quarterback of his career. He's already shown an early rapport with Philip Rivers, and might just be his top target when 2015 is all said and done. I don't buy into a Keenan Allen bounce-back at all, and think he and Johnson will finish with closer fantasy seasons than many expect. Allen is the WR26 on NFL.com drafts thus far (Round 8), while Johnson isn't even being drafted in standard leagues (Round 16 ADP). If I'm buying a bounce-back from one San Diego wideout, it's going to be Johnson at a price that's basically free.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
Each year, there's one late-round pick I try to get in all of my drafts, and this year that player is Tyler Eifert. The former Notre Dame product (and first-round pick) only played one quarter in 2014, but secured all three of his targets in that quarter for 37 yards. He looked to be a big part of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's scheme, and there's no reason to believe that won't be the case again in 2015.
Eifert has rare athleticism and size for a tight end, making him a mismatch wherever he lines up on the field. We've been writing about the potential of the Bengals offense a lot on this site, and Eifert's return is one of the key reasons why. He has the potential to be a top-10 fantasy tight end in 2015, and is currently going in the 15th round. That is fantasy theft, friends.
Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers
Remember Week 1 last season, when Vernon Davis caught two touchdown passes and scored 16.4 fantasy points? It seems like such a distant memory, largely because Davis only scored 36.9 fantasy points all season -- or 20.5 more than he did in Week 1 alone! The deck seems stacked against Davis, as he's playing on a team that has seen an exodus unlike any other in NFL history this offseason and is entering his 10th year. However, Davis is playing for a new contract and under a new offensive coordinator, which could be the biggest reason for a late-career turnaround.
Davis has openly blamed play-calling and scheming last season for his statistical cliff dive, and so far it seems he might have been telling the truth. Davis' former offensive coordinator Greg Roman took his scheme to Buffalo, where Charles Clay has been doing his best Susan Richards impersonation (i.e. turning invisible) in training camp, much like Davis did last year. Davis, meanwhile, has been looking faster and catching tons of passes in 49ers camp. With an ADP of Round 14 on NFL.com, Davis is a great late-round flier for owners who are OK with banking on his potential bounce-back campaign. He's also a trendy late-round pick in MFL10s, too.