(Photo Credit: Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI)
In the 2013 season, there were several players who disappointed either because they performed below expectations or were injured, who should bounce back in 2014 and return to fantasy football relevance.
Numbering below does not necessarily indicate the ranking of these players.
1. Matt Ryan, Falcons
In 2012, Matt Ryan set career highs in pass attempts (615), completions (422), yards (4,719), and pass touchdowns (32). With the addition of RB Steven Jackson, Ryan was supposed to get the short passing game going too. Many expected Ryan to finish top-five or close to top-five, including The Fantasy Greek. The season started with Roddy White being limited by a high ankle sprain for the first five games of the season and then missing the next three. Then, Ryan lost Steven Jackson for five games and upon his return, Jackson never lived up to expectations as he struggled in both running and catching the ball, without a single rushing game of over 100 yards. Then, Ryan lost Julio Jones for the season after just five games due to a foot fracture. While Ryan set career highs in pass attempts (439) and completions (651) in 2013, he regressed in pass TDs (26) and he threw a career high 17 interceptions. It didn’t help that Ryan was sacked a career high 44 times, eighth most in the NFL. Expect the Falcons to improve their offensive line and for Ryan to rebound.
2. Eli Manning, Giants
After a career 2011 season (4,933 pass yards, 29 touchdowns, 15 INTs), Manning had a similar season in 2012 like three of the past four seasons where he posted on average, roughly 4,000 yards passing, 28 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions. Draft Eli Manning accordingly in fantasy football. In 2013, Manning regressed severely. Besides throwing for under 3,900 yards, Eli threw just 18 TDs which was a career low since being named the full-time starter in 2005. He also threw for a career-high 27 interceptions. It didn’t help that Manning was sacked 39 times. Like Matt Ryan, expect the Giants to take steps to improve their offensive line play. Hiring Ben McAdoo, who has been with the Packers the past eight seasons, two of which were as quarterback coach, can’t hurt either.
3. CJ Spiller, Bills
In 2012, CJ Spiller finally had the sort of breakthrough season (1,703 APY, 8 TDs, 250 touches) that fantasy football players (and Bills fans) had come to expect from him. So, in 2013, many were calling for Spiller to have an ever better season. Unfortunately, Spiller missed a game and battled an ankle injury for a good part of the season, both of which helped contribute to a subpar season (1,118 APY, 2 TDs, 235 touches). Fred Jackson turns 33 this offseason. Plus, expect the Bills to pass the ball a bit more as their young receivers look to take the next step.
4. Arian Foster, Texans
2013 was Arian Foster’s second worst season as a pro. In 2012, Arian Foster ended up with 391 touches for 1,641 APY, and 17 TDs in 16 games. In 2013, Foster fought pre-season calf and back injuries, and then only played half the season (143 touches, 725 APY, 2 TDs), hampered by a hamstring injury and back issues, finally placed on injured reserve due to a herniated disc. Foster underwent a microscopic lumbar discectomy and he must rehab now. Unless there is some setback (there is no reason to believe that there will be one at this point), Foster should be in line to return for the 2014 season and be the Texans starter as Ben Tate will likely leave in free agency. With a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, and a new quarterback, likely to be drafted with the Texans first overall pick in the upcoming May draft, Foster should continue to be a focus of the offense. However, he will likely see his overall touches scaled back.
5. Doug Martin, Buccaneers
Doug Martin stunned the fantasy football world with his breakout rookie season for 1,900+ APY, 12 touchdowns, on 368 touches. So, when Martin finished his sixth game of the 2013 season with just 522 APY and 1 TD, many were disappointed. It was also disappointing that Martin only played six games in 2013 before landing on injured reserve with a torn labrum. While new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford has indicated that he could use a two or even three running backs in the backfield, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Tedford was successful with player like Marshawn Lynch playing with other good running backs when he coached Cal. Besides, sharing the load keeps players healthy. But, whether his numbers approach his rookie season numbers remains to be seen. One way or another, Martin should play much better than he did in 2013.
6. Julio Jones and Roddy White, Falcons
This is a two-for-one. As noted above, the Falcons Matt Ryan struggled without his two primary receivers sidelined due to injury. Before being lost for the season due to a broken foot, Julio Jones thrived in the offense as expected, catching 41 balls for 580 yards and 2 TDs in five games. For Roddy White, 2013 was the first season in seven seasons he hadn’t caught more than 80 receptions, 1,100 yards, and at least 6 TDs. Expect both to get back on track in 2014.
7. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
Jeremy Maclin missed the 2013 season because of a torn ACL. Heading into the 2013 season, Maclin was one the Eagles most electric wide receivers, with big play ability including a 50-plus yard reception in each of his season’s as a pro. He was coming off a 69 reception, 857 yard receiving and 7 TD season in an offense that struggled. Maclin was due to benefit in the Chip Kelly offense much like DeSean Jack did. Jackson almost doubled his receiving yardage and more than quadrupled his touchdown receptions in one season in the Chip Kelly offense. Maclin will be a free agent in March. Maclin’s best season was in 2010 where he had 70 receptions for 964 yards, and 10 TDs. Maclin can play any of the wide receiver positions.
8. Victor Cruz, Giants
Despite catching 73 footballs, Victor Cruz disappointed with just 998 yards receiving and 4 TDs. Besides missing the last two games of the season, Cruz had 12 games where he failed to score a TD, 10 games of 86 yards receiving or less, and 7 games of 50 yards receiving or less. Compared to the 2011 and 2012 seasons, where he posted 86 rec. 1,092 yards, 10 TDs, and an 82 rec., 1,536 yards, and 9 TD stat-line, respectively, Cruz was a 2013 fantasy bust. With an improved offensive line, and improved quarterback play, Cruz should bounce back to be a top option again in 2013.
9. Hakeem Nicks, Giants
In five seasons as a pro, Hakeem Nicks has had injury issues and in the past two seasons, production issues. In 2012, even if Nicks was healthy all season (he missed three games), he was projected to fall short of 900 yards receiving and 5 TDs. In 2013, the numbers were worse with Nicks actually falling short of 900 yards receiving (896 yards) and scoring ZERO touchdowns. However, Nicks has been productive in his career with two seasons of 1,000-plus yards receiving and three seasons of 6 or more touchdowns. Nicks will be a free agent in March. Regardless of the source of Nicks’ struggles these past two seasons, some team will seek to sign him to a team friendly contract. Nicks should make a comeback wherever he goes.
10. Dennis Pitta, Ravens
Before suffering a hip injury that kept him out of the lineup for the first 12 games of the 2013 season, Pitta was expected to be a top tight end, coming off a solid 2012 season: 61 receptions, 669 yards, 7 TDs, 11.0 YPR. Unfortunately, the Ravens passing offense struggled, ranked 18th in the league (224.4 YPG, 19 pass TDs). So, even though Pitta made it back for the last four games of the season, his impact was likely less than many expected (20 rec., 169 yards, 1 TD, 8.4 YPR). The Ravens are expected to keep Pitta even if it means using the franchise tag. With Gary Kubiak the new offensive coordinator for the Ravens, Pitta should benefit. When Kubiak was with the Texans, the tight end position was highly involved in the offense. Indeed, Pitta should be in line for 70 receptions, 800 yards receiving, and 6 TDs.