Bounce Back Candidates to Target By: Kenny Stevens
Sitting in the middle to late rounds of the draft each year, value is the key term to focus on. Analyzing players’ stats from the season prior seems logical but what about guys who struggled mightily for one reason or another, whether it be an injury (see Devonta Freeman) or awful play calling and coaching changes (i.e. David Johson)? In 2019, who’s poised to bounce back and help win your fantasy league?
QB – Kirk Cousins – Minnesota Vikings
Seems weird to call Cousins a bounce back candidate when he had a career-high in passing attempts, touchdowns and a career-low in interceptions (10) through a full 16 games. Now with John DeFilippo gone and Kevin Stefanski back as the OC, Cousins could vastly improve. Despite the strong year on paper, Cousins only finished as the QB13 with only three top-six finishes on the season.
With a healthy Dalvin Cook who broke out in Week 15 against MIA with Stefanski’s play calling, a youth infusion at tight end in Irv Smith Jr. and a first-round investment in center Garrett Bradbury, the Vikings offense is rejuvenated. Currently going outside the top-24 QB’s in dynasty startups, hammer the buy signal on Cousins this offseason.
Rookie tight end Irv Smith offers intriguing upside to Cousins when you look at the quarterback’s three-season period from 2015-2017. Cousins was the most efficient quarterback in football when two tight ends were on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group. He averaged nearly three fewer passing yards (7.37) when not equipped with two tight ends in the formation. If you were to prorate Cousins’s two-TE production over a full season, he easily tops Hall-of-Famer Kurt Warner’s record for most yards per attempt in a single season since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. Let’s hope Stefanski is a fan of analytics.
QB – Jimmy Garoppolo – San Francisco 49ers
The Wonder Kid. Jimmy GQ. Injury Prone. Just a few labels that have stuck on Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers need their investment in Garoppolo to pay off very soon as he is the main cog in the offensive machine. While some may think Jimmy is secure long-term, the 49ers have an out after this season and could save $25.2 million against the cap. Doubt SF makes that move but if the 49ers can’t put it together this year, the highly touted quarterback class of 2020 will certainly have some fans calling for a change. All the more reason for Jimmy to show up.
There were plenty of things to be excited about when Garoppolo went 5-0 as a starter to finish 2017. But hope took a hit in Week 3 of 2018 when he tore his ACL. Currently on track to be ready for training camp, the former second-round pick has a lot to prove this year. The 49ers went out and tried to add some weapons this offseason, signing the explosive pass catcher Tevin Coleman, drafting wide receivers Deebo Samuels and Jalen Hurd. They also signed former Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews. Matthews was on track to make the Patriots roster last spring before a “significant” hamstring injury ended with him being cut. Can Jimmy G unlock the potential of this crew? Don’t sleep on 2017 standout Marquise Goodwin who put up 29/384/1 in five games with Garoppolo at QB.
RB – Kerryon Johnson – Detroit Lions
Kerryon, May wayward Son, For there’ll be peace when you are done. The Lions are counting on the second-year running back to take a big step forward this year. His rookie season was marred by misuse, bad play calling, a pointless committee to start the year and injury. After going 70 games without a 100-yard rusher Kerryon did it twice last season. He also finished the season with 39 targets in ten games which should be music to fantasy owners’ ears. The Lions did sign free agent CJ Anderson to a one-year deal and that move may cut into KJ’s carries but the dual-threat ability of Johnson should keep him on the field.
After Week 3, Johnson got 12-plus carries in six of the next eight games. He also got three-plus targets in five games. One additional reason Johnson should rise up boards is new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Bevell’s offense is known to be “run-first” (except at the one-yard line with the Super Bowl on the line) so Kerryon could be a big beneficiary in this system.
In Seattle, Bevell’s teams averaged 131.9 yards per game rushing. In Minnesota under Bevell, the Vikings averaged 133.2 yards a game. Johnson averaged 5.4 yards per carry last season and should see plenty of opportunities for increased production in 2019. Factor in the tight ends they signed this offseason, all who are all average to above average run blockers, giving even more reason to be all in on Johnson. Currently going as the RB15 in dynasty startups, Johnson has a lot going for him to finish as a top-ten RB this year.
RB – Aaron Jones – Green Bay Packers
I really wanted to go with Derrius Guice here, but there’s too much in his way from a crowded backfield to the ACL rehab and questions at QB for me to give my stamp of approval. Enter the workhorse in Green Bay. Aaron Jones is criminally underrated right now. Jones played in 12 games and still finished as RB24. He led the entire NFL last season with 5.47 YPC. Now firmly cemented as the RB1 in Green Bay without a committee, we expect BIG things from the third-year running back out of UTEP.
Jones is currently going in the fourth round as the 17th RB off the board in dynasty. He only started eight games last season but has a chance to explode and take the Packers offense to the next level. According to Jones, he cut his body fat in half. He said he’s down to 5.3% from more than eleven last season, all while maintaining his playing weight of 205 pounds. This should allow him to stay on the field more in Matt LaFleur’s new run-heavy offense. “In OTA’s somebody puts their arm out there and running through it, it won’t turn my body or torque my body like it used to,” Jones said. “I just feel stronger in the legs.”
Finishing with nine touchdowns in 12 games, expect a lot of involvement from Jones in the red zone. I would also expect him to also push north of 40 receptions this year. Aaron Jones has serious top-ten upside this season so buy now.
WR – Keke Coutee – Houston Texans
After missing the first three games of 2018 due to a hamstring, Keke exploded onto the scene with eleven receptions and 109 yards against Indianapolis and then went 11/110/1 in a wildcard game loss against the same team. Dealing with injuries throughout the season, he still showed his impact as the Texans went 6-0 in regular season games Coutee played in. Watson has been talking him up, and at his current ADP of 10.12, the 22-year-old is too valuable to ignore.
If he had played all 16 games, his pace put him on track for over 100 targets, 75 receptions and 700-plus yards. With Watson’s growing potential, Coutee could easily become a top-20 WR. With a college dominator rating of 30.8%, and a 4.43 40-yard dash, the speedster is ready to take the NFL by storm.
WR- Cooper Kupp – Los Angeles Rams
In the midst of a fantastic 2018 season, Cooper Kupp tore his ACL. But his 16-game pace put him on track for 225.2 fantasy points, which would have had him finish as the WR16.
The Rams hope Kupp will be ready for Week 1 and he’s currently going as the third Rams WR off draft boards. I am not saying that he will be the 2018 Kupp right away but don’t be afraid to buy this year especially if you can get a discount.
TE – Chris Herndon – NY Jets
Currently being drafted as TE19 off the board, it seems people forget Herndon quietly had a solid year for a rookie. Tight ends more than any other position, struggle the most in their first season. Rob Gronkowski only had 546 yards but his godly ten touchdowns inflated his total stat line. In 2018, Herndon put up 39/502/4, earning him the rank of TE16 as a rookie. Nothing flashy on the surface but Herndon ended up leading all NFL rookie tight ends in both receptions and touchdown catches in 2018.
With Darnold set to hopefully improve this year the 6-4, 253lb tight end could see a lot of action in the red zone. Already this offseason, Herndon has been impressing at OTA’s and could easily become a go-to target for Darnold.
TE – Hunter Henry – Los Angeles Chargers
The fourth-year tight end tore his ACL last May at the beginning of OTA’s. Now already a full year removed from the injury at 24 years old, Henry is primed for a big year. We saw the Chargers outperform expectations last year and if they expect to make the playoffs again, Henry will be a big part of that. Henry is a major red zone threat that the Chargers need to compliment Mike Williams and Keenan Allen. Melvin Gordon could be due for some touchdown regression especially with the knee concerns. Henry was a matchup nightmare for opponents in 2017, owning the ability to beat defenders on short crossers or deeper sideline patterns. His presence on the field opens up options for Philip Rivers and the rest of the offense
Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates were one of the best QB-TE duos of all-time. Rivers is comfortable throwing to tight ends as evidence shows a 26% target share to the TE position in 2016. Good enough to be tied for fourth in the league in that category. This stat declined for Rivers the last two years but with a fully healthy Henry I expect that target share to be north of 20% again.