Fantasy Football Predictions 2014: Analyzing NFL's Top Bounce-Back Candidates

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 23:  Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons warms up during pre-game prior to playing the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on December 23, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Every fantasy owner has a blacklist of players they refuse to draft after getting burned by them one year earlier. With that said, there is no room for closed-mindedness in fantasy football.

Many players have a down year every once in a while, but it isn't always their fault. Having a productive fantasy season requires many things to go right, and some of them have absolutely nothing to do with the players themselves. 

If the conditions around those players improve from one year to the next, though, there is a good chance that they can return to fantasy prominence. Here are three players who struggled in 2013, but will rebound with excellent statistical campaigns in 2014.


Matt Ryan

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 07: Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates a third quarter touchdown by running back Jacquizz Rodgers #32  against the New York Jets during their game at the Georgia Dome on October 7, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons had an awful 2013 campaign, and quarterback Matt Ryan's numbers dipped because of that. Although he finished the season with more than 4,500 passing yards, his 26 touchdowns were his fewest since 2009 and his 17 interceptions were the most in his career.

Ryan still managed to complete over 67 percent of his passes, but he averaged less than seven yards per attempt. That had everything to do with the injuries that struck his supporting cast. Wide receiver Julio Jones missed all but five games due to a foot injury. Wideout Roddy White was hampered by a high-ankle sprain for much of the season. Even running back Steven Jackson struggled to stay on the field.

In addition to that, Ryan was under pressure often behind a leaky offensive line, so essentially everything that could have gone against him did. Ryan wasn't a top fantasy quarterback last year, but he was still a low-end starter, which is incredible considering all the issues he had to deal with.

With Jones, White and Jackson now all healthy, Ryan will have his full allotment of weapons. The retirement of tight end Tony Gonzalez could hurt since Gonzo was a key safety valve, but having two elite outside threats should make up for it.

The Falcons should also have an improved offensive line after drafting Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M. Count Ryan among those who are excited about the potential progress of the line and the offense as a whole, according to Gary Mihoces of USA Today.

"I'm certainly confident with the guys that we have," Ryan said. "I think (general manager) Thomas Dimitroff and Coach (Mike) Smith have done a great job evaluating what parts of this team needed to be changed."

With everything around Ryan taking shape, NFL Network's Michael Fabiano is very high on his fantasy prospects:

Far less accomplished fantasy quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Nick Foles, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson are being drafted before or in the vicinity of Ryan in most leagues. Ryan could easily outperform all of them and come at a much cheaper price.

Fantasy projection for 2014: 4,750 passing yards, 35 passing touchdowns, 15 interceptions and one rushing touchdown


Doug Martin

TAMPA, FL -  AUGUST 29:  Running back Doug Martin #22 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers warms up for play against the Washington Redskins August 29, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

On the heels of a transcendent rookie year, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin was considered one of the top players in fantasy entering 2013. Unfortunately, a torn labrum caused Martin to miss 10 games and prevented him from coming anywhere near the production he put up during his first professional season.

The injury is largely what derailed Martin's season, but it should be noted that he was struggling even before that. Martin had just over 500 total yards and one touchdown in parts of six contests. He was also averaging a mere 3.6 yards per carry, so there is understandably concern among fantasy owners that Martin won't be a top fantasy producer this season regardless of his health.

The Bucs' situation has improved since last year on offense with Josh McCown now under center. Also, wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins were drafted to lend support to Vincent Jackson in the passing game. With Tampa Bay having some semblance of a vertical threat offensively, that should open things up for Martin.

Martin also seems to be totally healed and ready to roll this year. According to NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, Martin appears to be in fine form with the regular season approaching:

Although Martin may fall short of the nearly 2,000 total yards and 12 touchdowns he scored in 2012, he is well worth a pick late in the first round or early in the second. He will be particularly valuable in point-per-reception leagues after making 49 catches as a rookie, so don't hesitate to pick him even higher in that format.

Fantasy projection for 2014: 1,300 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns, 44 receptions for 350 yards and two receiving touchdowns


Victor Cruz

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 08:  Wide receiver  Victor Cruz #80 of the New York Giants gestures against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 8, 2013 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The New York Giants experienced a roller-coaster season in 2013, as did wide receiver Victor Cruz. Unfortunately for the former Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion, that roller coaster was essentially all downhill after the first month of the season.

Cruz had three touchdown receptions in the first game of the season and three 100-yard receiving performances in his first four games. He didn't find the end zone at all after Week 4, and he had just one 100-yard contest after that point. With quarterback Eli Manning struggling and no running game to speak of, Cruz was essentially doomed to fail.

Even so, he managed a respectable 73 catches for 998 yards in 14 games. His touchdowns dipped considerably from 10 to four, but that is a volatile statistic on a year-to-year basis. If he can rebound in that regard and find a little more consistency in 2014, then he should have no problem returning to the form he displayed in 2011 and 2012.

There are several things that should help him do that. For starters, it is difficult to imagine Manning playing as poorly as he did last season. Also, the addition of Rashad Jennings along with the drafting of Andre Williams should give Big Blue a much more formidable running game to keep opposing defenses honest.

Above all else, however, Cruz is excited about the pace at which the Giants offense will operate in 2014, according to CBS Sports Network:

Cruz is at his best operating out of the slot, and fast-paced offenses benefit slot receivers. Manning will look to get the ball out quickly, and Cruz is quite capable of getting open almost immediately after the snap.

While Cruz is being drafted as a No. 2 fantasy receiver in most leagues, he has all the makings of a No. 1 at a discounted price.


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