We remember the heroics of Tom Brady, LaDainian Tomlinson and Terrell Owens last season, but we tend to forget about the prominent players that had down seasons due to injuries or other intangibles. Their decreased statistics sticks in our minds and in some cases, make us less likely to remember their names in the following season's drafts.
Rather than pass on such players after less than stellar seasons, however, clever owners should target them. That's right, in certain cases these forgotten men can turn into some of the best draft values on the board. With that in mind, here's 15 players who faltered last season but are primed to produce increased numbers for the 2008 season.
Ronnie Brown, RB, Miami: Before he tore his ACL against New England in Week 7, Brown was the most productive runner in fantasy football last season. Based on the numbers he recorded in his seven starts, Brown would have projected to finish a full 16-game season with 89 receptions, 2,265 all-purpose yards and 11 total touchdowns. His recovery from the surgical procedure to repair his damaged knee has gone well, so he should be back in time for training camp. He'll be worth a first- or second-round pick across the board.
Marc Bulger, QB, St. Louis: Bulger endured a difficult 2007 season, as he lost several offensive linemen, including Orlando Pace, and sustained injured ribs that cost him four starts. He'll be fine for the start of training camp, however, and his line should be back to 100 percent and much more effective. In fact, it could be fortified if St. Louis drafts Michigan OT Jake Long in April. With new offensive coordinator Al Saunders at the helm, Bulger should rebound and be a much more consistent No. 1 fantasy quarterback.
Isaac Bruce, WR, San Francisco: Bruce and Darrell Jackson both fit into the list of players who could help fantasy owners despite a lack of production last season. Bruce will be re-united with offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who loves to throw the football week in and week out, so the veteran will be worth a late-round selection in most drafts. The same can be same for Jackson, who is slated to start opposite Bruce. The one factor that hurts their value is the quarterback situation, but each is still worth the risk.
Laveranues Coles, WR, N.Y. Jets: Coles missed significant time last season with an injured ankle, but he still recorded 55 catches and scored six touchdowns in 12 games (10 starts). While there have been some offseason controversies between Coles and New York in the offseason, GM Mike Tannenbaum appears to want the veteran wideout back with the team in 2008. Jerricho Cotchery has come on and become a nice option in fantasy land, but Coles, 30, still has the skills and abilities to make some noise between the white lines.
Alge Crumpler, TE, Tennessee: A reliable and consistent veteran out of North Carolina, Crumpler saw his numbers fall in what was a tumultuous final season in Atlanta. He missed Michael Vick, who was suspended for off-the-field issues, and never gained a rapport with the carousel of Falcons quarterbacks. Now in Tennessee, Crumpler will be utilized as a short- to intermediate option for Vince Young and as a threat in the red zone in the team's offensive attack. He could re-emerge into a viable fantasy starter in some formats.
Jake Delhomme, QB, Carolina: Believe it or not, Delhomme would have finished with 3,328 yards and 43 touchdowns based the numbers from his three starts before he injured his elbow last season. Of course his numbers would have evened out as the season rolled on, but the fact that he was even on pace to record such numbers proves he can be a viable option in fantasy land. Delhomme should be fine for the start of training camp, and his experience and rapport with Steve Smith will make him worth a roster spot in most leagues.
Marvin Harrison, WR, Indianapolis: Harrison was considered the top wide receiver in fantasy football headed into last season, but an injured knee cost him 11 games and his place among the elite fantasy players at his position. Reports indicate he had an arthroscopic procedure on his right knee back in January, but the left knee is the one that caused him to miss such significant time. What's more, Harrison's status for training camp is uncertain. These issues will push him down draft boards, but Harrison could be a bargain if he makes progress and is 100 percent for the start of the season.
Todd Heap, TE, Baltimore: Heap entered last season as one of the better tight ends in fantasy football, but a problematic hamstring cost him 10 contests and decreased his value in the minds of some owners. However, a 27-year-old player who had averaged 74 receptions, 810 yards and more than six touchdowns between 2005-2006 still has quite a bit left in the tank. Heap should still be considered one of the better options at his position and could become an absolute steal for fantasy owners in the middle rounds if he falls.
Matt Leinart, QB, Arizona: While most fantasy owners would rather see Kurt Warner under center in Arizona next season, that role is Leinart's to lose. The former Southern California standout was considered a viable sleeper headed into last season, but a fractured collarbone landed him on the injured reserve list after five starts. He is still considered one of the most talented young quarterbacks in the NFL, but his failures in 2007 have made him more of a No. 2 fantasy option. With a tremendous arsenal at his disposal, however, Leinart could become a nice draft value.
Rudi Johnson, RB, Cincinnati: It's hard for me to believe that Johnson, a 28-year old runner that averaged 1,407 yards and 12 touchdowns from 2004-2006, all of the sudden is past his prime. He won't be worth a first-round selection whether he remains in Cincinnati or moves on to another team, but Johnson should be 100 percent back from a problematic hamstring and able to make some noise in 2008. The Bengals backfield situation is one to watch in the months to come, but Johnson is still the current favorite to be the starter.
Donovan McNabb, QB, Philadelphia: McNabb recorded 608 passing yards and four touchdowns in his final two starts of last season, so he seemed to regain mental and physical confidence in his reconstructed knee. He should be able to improve on his 2007 statistics with Kevin Curtis, Reggie Brown, Jason Avant and L.J. Smith in Philadelphia's pass attack, and the possible addition of Chad Johnson or Roy Williams would make him that much more attractive in fantasy land. McNabb is still a surefire No. 1 fantasy quarterback.
Santana Moss, WR, Washington: Moss has seen his numbers fall in recent seasons, but the addition of new head coach Jim Zorn could be good for his statistical woes. Zorn called Moss a "tremendous talent" in last month's press conference and sees him as a home run hitter in the team's vertical pass attack. Moss also finished 2007 on fire with one touchdown in his final three contests (regular season and postseason), so don't be at all shocked if he records around 900-1,000 yards and five to seven touchdowns.
Jerry Porter, WR, Jacksonville: Porter quietly recorded 705 yards and six touchdowns in what was an anemic Oakland offense last season, so his numbers are certain to rise after a move to Jacksonville. The veteran out of West Virginia will be the team's new No. 1 wideout, and the underrated David Garrard will look to him often in the pass attack. He won't post enormous numbers in what will continue to be a run-based offense, but Porter will be worth a middle- to late-round selection as a borderline No. 3 or 4 fantasy receiver.
Matt Schaub, QB, Houston: Schaub showed some real flashes of potential in his first season as a starter in Houston, but injuries limited him to 11 contests. He did build a tremendous rapport with Andre Johnson when he was on the field, and that duo could become lethal for fantasy footballers in 2008. There will be some real excitement in the team's offensive attack under new coordinator Kyle Shanahan (Mike Shanahan's son), so Schaub could emerge into a viable low-end No. 1 fantasy quarterback in leagues with 12-plus teams.
L.J. Smith, TE, Philadelphia: Smith, who was franchised by the Eagles this offseason, should bounce back and make an impact for the team after a difficult 2007 season. He missed six games last season with an injured groin, and his numbers weren't so terrific when he was on the field. However, owners shouldn't forget that Smith averaged 55.5 catches and 647 yards with a combined eight touchdowns from 2005-2006, so he can make an impact in fantasy land. He could become a nice late-round value as a No. 2 fantasy tight end.