The 2012 season was not full of unicorns and rainbows for some superstars. The NFL might be an offensive league, but not all of its top skill-position players had superb seasons that made fantasy owners happy.
But there were different reasons why certain superstars failed to deliver the same yards and touchdowns that they had in the past. And there are signs that some of these 2012 disappointments should return to their former fantasy glory in 2013, thanks to offseason improvements, player additions and other factors.
Here are three players poised for bounce-back seasons for fantasy football owners:
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers (QB)
Try to steer your eyes away from Newton’s mediocre first 10 games of the 2012 campaign and concentrate on what he did over his final six contests. He had an 11-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, averaged 245 passing yards and 57 rushing yards per game, and he also added four rushing touchdowns.
While Carolina has yet again failed to upgrade Newton’s receiving corps (Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn Jr. will have minimal impact), its franchise quarterback has proven in the past that he can post all-world fantasy numbers with just top target Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen at his disposal, if need be.
So, let fantasy owners in your league take Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick in the early rounds, while you sit back and draft Newton afterward. He could rack up 5,000 combined yards and over 35 total TDs in 2013.
Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans (RB)
Fantasy owners are so spoiled by what Johnson has done in the past that many of them consider what he did in 2012—1,243 rushing yards and six touchdowns—a pretty disappointing season.
And some more fantasy owners might be concerned over Tennessee signing former New York Jets starting tailback Shonn Greene to a multi-year contract. Well, everyone should put away their ulcer medicine. Greene’s arrival might be a godsend for Johnson and his fantasy worth.
Fantasy-wise, Johnson was at his best when LenDale White was there sparing him for a few plays per game. That kept Johnson fresh and kept defenses off-balance. Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards and added 503 receiving yards to go along with 16 total touchdowns in 2009 when White was there to chug along for his 3.5 yards per carry.
Greene can now fill that role as a running back with a different skill set, and he can help keep Johnson’s legs from tiring out over the course of a game and season so that Johnson will have more burst to break big runs.
Greene will probably get the carries down by the goal line, but that has no effect on Johnson, who has not gotten many touches inside the 5-yard line the past couple of years anyway. And Greene is no threat to take Johnson’s job. In terms of talent, his lack of hands, speed and elusiveness puts him behind Johnson.
Another plus for Johnson is that Tennessee has upgraded its horrendously hopeless offensive line this offseason, which should mean more gaping holes for Johnson to sprint through. Johnson complained vociferously, and at times rightly so, that he had no room to run because of the poor blocking up front. It might have been a jerk move to point that out, but he gets points for being honest and right.
Tennessee drafted guard Chance Warmack in the first round and signed guard Andy Levitre to a multi-million dollar deal in the offseason, so Johnson’s line will definitely be better than it was in 2011 and 2012, when his numbers dipped due to less room to run.
Look for Johnson to prove to his doubters and critics that he still has life in his legs this season, even though his 27-year-old body has been battered due to too much of a workload in recent years. It would be no shock to me if Johnson ran for 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals (WR)
Fitzgerald cannot be fully faulted for the sub-par season he had last year. Jerry Rice, Lance Alworth, Lynn Swann or Cris Carter would have probably fared no better if they had been in the same situation during their playing days.
Fitzgerald had to try and catch passes thrown from the misfiring foursome of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer last year. Things were so bad that even though he was targeted 153 times, Fitzgerald only caught 71 passes for 798 yards and four touchdowns, his worst fantasy output since his rookie season back in 2004.
Carson Palmer is no Tom Brady or Drew Brees, but he is better than the quartet that threw balls at Fitz’s feet and over his head last season. If Palmer stays upright and healthy behind Arizona’s revamped offensive line, he will get the ball to Fitzgerald enough to get the former Pro Bowl player around 90 receptions for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Fitzgerald finished 41st in receiving yards in 2012, trailing guys like San Diego’s Malcolm Floyd, Indianapolis’ T.Y. Hilton and New York’s Jeremy Kerley. Yes, Jeremy Kerley! This will not happen again in 2013 to Fitzgerald and his fantasy owners. He should return to being a top-10 fantasy receiver this season.