With the NFL preseason about to commence, fantasy football fanatics are already in full gear as they closely watch all of the developments leading up to the regular-season opener. Everyone knows that the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson are essentially locks to have big fantasy seasons, but true value comes in the form of drafting productive players that aren't so obvious.
One syndrome that many fantasy owners suffer from is refusing to draft a player after he performed poorly for them in the past. Hell hath no fury like a fantasy owner scorned, but it's important to treat each season individually. Some players who disappointed last year will struggle again this season, but others will bounce back. It's important to distinguish between those two groups.
Here are three players who will make up for a miserable 2012 campaign by becoming fantasy monsters in 2013.
After he passed for more than 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns in 2011, many considered Detroit Lions gunslinger Matthew Stafford one of the NFL's best quarterbacks in both fantasy and reality. He was a consensus second-round pick last season, but he fell off in a major way.
Stafford still racked up the yardage, as he fell just short of the 5,000-yard mark, but his touchdowns were more than cut in half while his interceptions increased, as he found pay dirt just 20 times but got picked off 17 times.
Despite that massive drop-off, Stafford is definitely worth investing in this season. His stock is surprisingly low, as he ranks behind unproven quarterbacks such as Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III in most formats. Stafford was elite just two seasons ago, so it isn't as if he has a long way to go in order to reach that level again.
Many fantasy experts expect a return to prominence, including Michael Beller of Sports Illustrated, who believes that Stafford will outperform his draft position.
It's tough to explain Stafford's drop in production last season, but ESPN's Matthew Berry brings some interesting numbers to the forefront. Stafford's top target, Calvin Johnson, was tackled five times at the one-yard line last season. Also, all Lions receivers were stopped a total of 23 times inside the five-yard line. That means Stafford was incredibly unlucky last season.
Even if the Lions improve their red-zone offense just a little bit, Stafford shouldn't have much trouble eclipsing 30 touchdowns again in 2013.
Perhaps no coach in the world knows how to utilize his weapons better than new Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. That is a big reason why the Eagles decided to fire longtime head coach Andy Reid and make the switch to the former Oregon head man.
While with the Ducks, Kelly orchestrated the most innovative and exciting offense in all of college football. He had a myriad of explosive playmakers on offense, and he somehow found a way to keep them all involved and happy.
The Eagles have a large contingent of playmakers in their own right, but running back LeSean McCoy tops that list.
Two seasons ago it seemed like McCoy was on track to be the best running back in football, as he eclipsed 1,300 rushing yards and scored a total of 20 touchdowns. Injuries and inconsistent play ravaged him last season, though, as he barely eclipsed 800 rushing yards and found the end zone a mere five times. McCoy is no longer considered a surefire first-round fantasy pick, but he should be.
Complacency was a big issue for Philly last season, as everything seemed to be stale. Also, with quarterback Michael Vick missing time, McCoy's effectiveness took a hit. All signs point to Vick being the starter this season, which should bode well for McCoy in Kelly's high-octane offense.
Kelly made running backs like LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner into stars at Oregon, and he already has a star on his hands in McCoy. There is simply no way that Kelly will let that type of gift go by the wayside.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been one of the NFL's best pass-catchers since he entered the league, but it's fair to say he fell on hard times last season.
Fitz easily had the worst season of his career, although it wasn't all his fault, as he had to deal with quarterbacks such as Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer. With Carson Palmer now in the fold, Fitzgerald now has at least a halfway-competent quarterback throwing him the ball.
Ability has never been a question with Fitzgerald, but his production has been up and down since Kurt Warner retired a few seasons ago. Fitzgerald did manage to thrive with an unstable quarterback situation in 2011, when he racked up more than 1,400 yards and eight touchdowns, but his production was essentially cut in half last year. It was a nightmarish campaign for Fitzgerald, but at least he is able to joke around about it.
For most of Fitzgerald's career, it took a second-round pick to get him in fantasy. That is no longer the case, as he can probably be had in the fourth round this year. That makes him a low-end No. 1 receiver or high-end No. 2 receiver.
In terms of production, though, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him return to his former elite level. Even if Fitzgerald doesn't quite reach that point, there is no chance that he falls short of 800 yards again, provided he plays a full season.
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