One of the ways to win fantasy football leagues is to draft players who end up gaining more yards and scoring more touchdowns than anyone else predicted.
Preseason football games are less than a month away, and the fantasy projections for hundreds of players for the upcoming season are being tabulated as we speak. But while fantasy experts and owners may agree on what certain players are going to do, there are some players who should be in for bigger years than most people predict.
Here are five fantasy football stars guaranteed to exceed expectations in 2012:
Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers (RB)
Mathews has had three major things going against him since entering the league, namely being injury-prone, fumble-prone and having Mike Tolbert vulture his touchdowns.
But in 2011 Mathews missed two fewer games than he did in his rookie season, his fumble-to-touch ratio went down and now Tolbert is no longer around to steal his scores after signing with the Carolina Panthers.
Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders (QB)
Palmer was erratic and his fantasy value was sporadic after he was traded to Oakland during the 2011 campaign. But what would you expect considering the guy had no training camp, had not played in almost a year and had to learn a new playbook and get comfortable with a new set of receivers as he went along in the middle of a season?
With a full offseason of OTAs and a whole training camp under his belt, Palmer should be a lot better than he was last year when he threw 13 touchdown passes compared to 16 interceptions. He did average 275 passing yards per game, though, so he was useful for fantasy.
Palmer is lined up for a huge bounce-back season and should not be the interception-laden hot mess he was in 2011 now that he has shaken off the passing rust and gotten familiar with Oakland’s system and players.
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs (WR)
Bowe will be so motivated this season you will think Tony Robbins is barking at him. With Kansas City franchise tagging him, multi-millions are hinging on what Bowe does in 2012, so look for him to do everything in his power to post career-highs in every category.
Bowe’s 2011 stats were speared thanks to Matt Cassel’s season-ending injury. Tyler Palko could not get the ball to Bowe inside the red zone, so that is why Bowe dropped from 15 touchdowns in 2010 to only five in 2011.
If you think Bowe will have 1,100 yards and eight to 10 touchdowns this season, I believe you are selling him short. He will be leaping like LeBron James for any pass thrown to him in the end zone and will put up the best numbers of his career.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons (WR)
Jones battled Houston’s Andre Johnson for the "most hamstring pulls" title in 2011, but even with two cranky legs he still gave fantasy owners 959 yards and eight touchdowns during his rookie season (in only 13 games).
When Jones’ body was right he was virtually unstoppable, especially deep downfield. And with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez diverting defensive backs’ attentions, Jones gets single-covered more times than you would think. Jones is primed to dominate in distance leagues where long touchdowns bring extra bonus points.
No need to worry about a sophomore slump or jinx with Jones. His hamstrings are stretched and ready to go, and he looks to be a lock for not just a 1,000-yard season but a 1,200-yard season.
Greg Little, Cleveland Browns (WR)
Cleveland has not had a decent receiver since the Braylon Edwards era, and even Edwards should have some sort of asterisk next to his name because of all the passes he dropped while he was Cleveland’s main man.
Little is a monumental upgrade over the likes of Mohamed Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs and is well on his way to a 1,000-yard year. The North Carolina product might be projected for fewer yards than that by many pundits since he only had 709 yards in his rookie campaign and first-year player Brandon Weeden will be his quarterback. But I think going from Colt McCoy to Weeden is a good thing for Little. A very good thing.
Look for Little to be taken in the middle-to-late rounds in fantasy drafts come late August, but he will be selected a few rounds higher in 2013.