It is never too early for fantasy football owners to start thinking about next season.
They know one of the best ways to have a great draft is to pick guys who are primed for bounce-back years and youngsters who are ready to take their games to the next level. Many mediocre fantasy owners put too much stock in the numbers and do not take into account why players may have had subpar seasons.
Whether it is improved health, a better supporting cast or a bigger role in the offense, there are reasons why certain players are primed to have big numbers next season. So here are three players whose fantasy values should skyrocket in 2014.
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
On the surface, Ryan did not have a terrible 2013 when you see his 4,515 passing yards and 26 touchdown passes. But that was his lowest amount of TDs since 2009, and he also threw a career-high 17 interceptions. Fantasy owners who penciled him in as their No. 1 quarterback were probably disappointed.
The reasons for his so-so season were plentiful. He entered the year with arguably the most talented wide receiver duo in the NFL in Julio Jones and Roddy White, a prodigious pair that racked up 2,549 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2012.
But thanks to serious injuries, they were limited to 1,291 yards and five touchdowns this past season, so Ryan’s receiving corps was reduced to retiring tight end Tony Gonzalez and No. 3 receiver Harry Douglas on many weeks.
Ryan also had to contend with a leaky offensive line that allowed 44 sacks and provided little running room for the worst rushing attack in the NFL. And free-agent running back Steven Jackson (543 rushing yards) was a non-factor thanks to an early-season thigh injury that had him running like Peyton Manning.
2014 will be a brand-new year for Ryan and his teammates, though. He is the quarterback of a pass-first offense that plays its home games inside a pass-friendly dome, plus he is blessed with two Pro Bowl-caliber receivers.
If the organization addresses the glaring needs along the offensive line and in the backfield, few quarterbacks will be better equipped to succeed than Ryan. Look for him to throw for 4,700 yards and 35 touchdowns as long as everything does not go wrong for the Falcons for the second season in a row.
Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Williams was a solid rookie receiver in 2013, catching 44 passes for 736 yards and five touchdowns while only being a part-timer starter. And there are a couple things that bode brightly for what 2014 could bring for him and the fantasy owners who draft him.
Look at how many second-year wide receivers exploded this past year. Cleveland’s Josh Gordon led the NFL in receiving yards, and Chicago’s Alshon Jeffrey, Tennessee’s Kendall Wright and Arizona’s Michael Floyd all broke the 1,000-yard barrier in their sophomore seasons after having mediocre rookie campaigns.
Plus, Williams should be a larger part of Dallas’ passing attack next season. ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer reports that oft-injured Miles Austin will most likely get cut, which should open the door for Williams to start full time. And with opposing defenses concentrating so much on top target Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten, Williams should face single coverage.
He could pull a Laurent Robinson and have a magical season in 2014. With Tony Romo throwing to him as the third option in a pass-first offense, Williams’ numbers should be on the uptick.
Shonn Greene, RB, Tennessee Titans
Greene’s first season with Tennessee was as disappointing as Serena Williams’ Australian Open ouster. He missed five games with a knee injury and then had limited fantasy value as he watched Chris Johnson triple or quadruple his carries during some games. Greene finished with a paltry 295 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
But Robinson Cano has a better chance of returning to the New York Yankees than Johnson does of returning to the Titans. That means Greene should be handed the ball more often in 2014 and could be the same performer for fantasy owners that he was a couple of years ago.
He is no LeSean McCoy when it comes to shiftiness or agility. Peyton Manning probably broke more tackles than Greene did this past year. But he is a good plower. He puts his head down and runs inside, and usually he gets four yards per carry and can find the end zone when near the goal line. He had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with the New York Jets in 2011 and 2012 and scored 14 touchdowns during that span.
Tennessee will likely draft or acquire a Johnson-like speed back to be the yin to Greene’s between-the-tackles yang, so do not expect him to carry the ball 25 times per game next year. But if Tennessee’s offensive line keeps improving and Greene is given more of the workload, he could be a 1,000-yard back again, and that is a gigantic step up fantasy-wise over last season.