Fantasy Football Sleepers 2011: Top 5 Likely Comeback Players in the NFL
Every year, fantasy owners spend hours upon hours scouring fantasy football magazines and on-line "expert" fantasy draft sites in hopes that they will find the upcoming season's big sleeper.
Usually top sleeper picks focus specifically on impact rookies or young players that will finally get a chance to succeed and have a breakout campaign. These players are supposed to exceed expectations and allow whomever selected them the chance to rub it in the face of the rest of the league while riding said player's coattails to the promised land.
Yet quite often these unproven sleepers do not work out so well. (See Aromashodu, Devin and Celek, Brent)
That is why this article instead highlights some former fantasy studs that are ready to make a comeback in 2011. So rather than focusing on discovering the next new superstar, maybe you should take a look at these proven veterans that can be had much later in the draft than in previous years but that seem primed to re-discover their formerly outstanding production.
This is not to say that these players were not at all productive last season. In fact, each of them were once ranked within the top ten of their respective positions, but their numbers from last season were certainly not on par with their previous track records.
However, each of these five guys is set to come back in a big way in 2011.
1. Steven Jackson (St. Louis Rams)
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Steven Jackson has been one of the most frustrating running backs to own over the past couple of years due to inconsistency and nagging injuries that have caused him to miss some significant time during the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
But in 2010, he played in all 16 games for the first time in four years, and his six straight 1,000-yard seasons (including an outstanding 1,738 total yards in 2009) prove that he's still got it.
Newly hired offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels knows how important Jackson is to the Rams' offense, and has even stated that Jackson will see an increased role this season. That means that Jackson could not only see more carries this year, but he will almost certainly see more passes thrown his way as well in McDaniels' pass-happy offense. Remember, Jackson has been one of the best receivers out of the backfield throughout the last decade (327 career receptions), and this increased role could become especially noteworthy in leagues using a PPR format.
Furthermore, quarterback Sam Bradford should excel in McDaniels' system, which will only open up the field more for Jackson to dominate.
Steven Jackson truly has a chance to become a top three running back in the NFC this season, and could end up being the steal of your draft if he makes it past the first couple rounds.
2. Anquan Boldin (Baltimore Ravens)
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Anquan Boldin has been one the league's premier wide receivers for quite a few years now. But a mediocre 2010 season (64 rec, 837 yds, 7 td's) has many claiming that he will never see the success he once had in Arizona playing along side the great Larry Fitzgerald.
While it is true that his receptions and receiving yardage took quite a dip last season, he was still able to haul in seven touchdowns, which was nearly double the amount that he had in 2009 with the Cardinals.
Many people also forget that he was playing alongside aging wide receivers Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh last year, which caused opposing defenses to focus specifically on Boldin. Now with the recent addition of wide receiver Lee Evans from the Buffalo Bills, Boldin has a much younger and more dynamic compliment that will be able to stretch the field and take some pressure off of him.
The addition of Evans coupled with the continued progress of young quarterback Joe Flacco (as well as a solid running game led by Ray Rice) makes Boldin a strong candidate to come back and surprise a lot of people this season.
Boldin should be one of the first 12-15 wide receivers taken in this year's draft.
3. Jay Cutler (Chicago Bears)
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Many people are completely opposed to ever drafting Jay Cutler due to his inconsistency as well as the fact that his interception totals throughout his career are simply too much to bear (no pun intended).
It certainly is true that Cutler has given the ball away to opposing defenses way too much during his career, but he only threw 16 picks last season, which was actually the lowest total that he has had since his solid 2007 campaign.
Though the interceptions have always been the main focal point of Cutler's career, there is no denying his immense talent. Cutler is always a safe bet for roughly 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns each year with the potential for even greater totals.
This will also be the second year that Cutler will be running offensive coordinator Mike Martz' system which often takes quite some time to completely comprehend. If Cutler can learn to master this system and if his offensive line is actually able to protect him this season, he could have some serious value in the middle rounds of this year's draft.
The addition of wide receiver Roy Williams is also noteworthy because Williams' best years came under Martz during their days together in Detroit. Last year, wide receivers Johnny Knox and Devin Aromashodu did not live up to expectations, but Cutler may finally have a decent option to throw to in Williams. Furthermore, the resurgence of running back Matt Forte will only open up the passing game even more, and Cutler's numbers truly have a chance to skyrocket this season.
Though Cutler should not be one of the first ten quarterbacks taken off the board, he could provide some great value in the middle rounds.
4. Wes Welker (New England Patriots)
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Wes Welker is an interesting fantasy player. Depending on the league you're in he could have tremendous value or he could simply be a solid number two or three wide receiver.
He has never been one to post great touchdown totals (although he did bring in seven touchdowns last season), and his role in the Patriots' offense limits his potential for high yardage totals.
But in leagues that use a PPR format, Welker is an absolute beast. Though he only brought in 86 receptions last season, many forget that he was playing on a knee that was not fully healed from ACL//MCL surgery performed just seven months before last season began.
With a full offseason of recovery time and a solidified receiving corps in New England this season, Welker should be able to surpass the 100 reception mark once again just like he did for three straight seasons from 2007-2009.
If you're in a PPR league, he should be gone well before the sixth or seventh round.
5. Brandon Marshall (Miami Dolphins)
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Much like Wes Welker, Brandon Marshall has been a PPR league god throughout the vast majority of his career, bringing in over 100 catches each year from 2007-2009 just like Welker did. But unlike Welker, he has posted much higher receiving yard and receiving touchdown totals giving him great value in virtually any type of fantasy league.
Unfortunately, Marshall was unable to control his immaturity last season, and quickly fell out of favor with head coach Tony Sparano in the midst of his first season in Miami. The fact that Miami was also suffering through growing pains with young quarterback Chad Henne at the same time did not help matters much, and the combination of the two led to a subpar performance from Marshall last season.
Yet Marshall came into camp this year with a new attitude, and openly admitted that he had actually been diagnosed with a personality disorder this off-season that was said to have caused much of his deviant behavior. If Marshall continues to mature and does not fall back into old habits, it would not be too much of a stretch to believe that he could once again reach the 100 reception mark even with Henne throwing to him this season. After all, he did have 86 receptions last year, and his tremendous talent and incredible size makes him a nightmare matchup for any opposing defense.
Marshall is undoubtedly a top 15 wide receiver this season, and it would not be surprising to see him actually finish within the top 10 in terms of points by seasons end if all goes well in Miami in 2011.