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Every year there are those players that you draft for a good value because they’ve either had an injury or their production the previous season wasn’t so good. In this week’s fantasy report, I thought I’d come up with my list of the top 10 players I expect to rebound from their less than satisfactory 2011 campaigns.
10th equal – Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, QB/WR combo, Chicago Bears
In 2011 there were high hopes for this pair as both found themselves in good situations for fantasy purposes. Cutler had one of the most diverse and potentially talented receiving corps in the NFL with the likes of Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester while Marshall was now a Miami Dolphin and in a position to become a genuine #1 receiver.
Marshall’s trade to Chicago this summer brings back together one of the most formidable combinations of the 2007 and 2008 seasons and many believe that a renaissance of sorts is in the cards. I don’t quite see Cutler getting back to 4500 yards or Marshall suddenly being able to score touchdowns regularly but I do see a nice uptick in numbers from both players.
9th – Tim Hightower, RB, Washington Redskins
Last preseason there was much interest centered around Hightower as having found himself traded to the Redskins he found himself able to quickly adapt to Mike Shanahan’s one-cut running system. When you look at Hightower over his career this has always been his most predominant strength and I expect Hightower, once confirmed as being fully healthy from the ACL tear that sidelined him in 2011, to be the lead back of the Redskins committee. Considering you can easily get him in the 12th-14th round of most standard drafts the expectations are so low that I feel very confident placing him on this list as I expect him to surprise many by having similar fantasy value as teammate Roy Helu – while once again leaving owners struggling to come to terms with Shanahan’s forever changing offensive plans.
8th – Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
When I released my top 150 rankings, I was surprised to find that I ended up with Peyton Manning just outside my top 50 overall. Despite having serious nerve damage that is still regenerating, despite that it will continue to so as the season progresses, despite his recovery likely affecting his arm strength and despite all this putting a fear of being hit in Peyton’s mind that I doubt he’s experienced since he was a rookie, I found myself rather bullish on his chances. In mocks and drafts I have participated in so far many have been reluctant to draft him and I have continually seen him fall as far as 80th or more.
My honest opinion is simple – this is Peyton Manning we are talking about and if he can play he going to play well. I don’t necessarily expect huge things from him but for where he is being drafted I fully expect Manning to not only exceed his draft day value but also to exceed the expectations of many and remind us why he’s a four-time NFL MVP.
7th – Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans
Another season down and another season where injuries hampered Andre Johnson. It’s become a theme of the fantasy superstar’s career that just when he’s looking invincible he has some type of injury that brings him down to Earth. Last season he started off well enough but persistent knocks kept him down and he finished the season under 500 yards for the first time in his career. Things are looking rather shaky this year too as in early May he had arthroscopic surgery to scope his knee which caused Johnson to miss OTAs and minicamp.
Even with the continual injury concerns there’s no way AJ could sink as low as he did in 2011. His talent is undeniable and you know that the Texans are gonna give him all the help they can. The emergence of the power running game with Foster and Tate can only help Johnson find openings downfield but should also allow Houston to rest Johnson occasionally. Finally, despite his poor overall numbers he still managed 14.9 yards per catch in the seven games he played – the second highest of his career. So while he’s a risk I am optimistic that Andre Johnson will return to his old ways in 2012.
6. Peyton Hillis, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
In 2011 Hillis was simply overworked on a Cleveland Browns team that had no offense – the Madden Curse didn’t help either. He got banged up often and week to week fantasy owners were continually left wondering whether the bruiser would play or not. This year however Hillis will not be required to carry the load as he shares the backfield on his new Kansas City team with the dynamic Jamaal Charles plus he has a very capable fullback in Le’Ron McClain. Couple those two with hybrid RB/WR Dexter McCluster and talented rookie Cyrus Gray and there is plenty of support which will allow Hillis to do what he does best – plow the line on the obvious running downs and terrorize opposition defenses in the redzone. Expect A LOT of touchdowns out of Hillis this season.
5. Jahvid Best, RB, Detroit Lions
Best is one of the riskiest fantasy plays out there this season as it seems like one more concussion could end his career. There have been all sorts of medical opinions written about whether the uber-talented back should even be allowed to take the field. Personally I think that with the support of Mikel Leshoure – after his two game suspension – and the resurgence of Kevin Smith there should be a similar situation to that of Hillis but in reverse with the other two bearing the brunt of the harder work while Best comes in and makes the game-breaking plays we have seen from him so far in his career. This guy is a playmaker and if he can stay healthy he is going to be a superstar for your team this season.
4. Randy Moss, WR, San Francisco 49ers
It’s been a long career for Randy Moss and despite many believing he was down and out after some truly horrific performances last year one last team has rolled the dice and signed him. Now I have read the reports of Moss being made the number one receiver in San Fran and while I have a big fan of the likes of Crabtree, Jenkins and Davis I can’t help but be excited about the prospect that perhaps Randy Moss has one more year of good production left.
Right now I am choosing to believe that some remnant of the superstar who helped Tom Brady to 50 touchdowns in a season is still there and as Moss is an undrafted free agent in most leagues I believe he could be the one guy who defies all the odds and has that outstanding season to finish his career.
3. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans
When it comes to Chris Johnson, which do we see in 2012 – the dazzling CJ2K of 2009 or the wimp who shocked fantasy owners and Titans fans alike with his poor performances in 2011? When it comes right down to it, Chris Johnson is still an amazing talent and unlike others who have reached the 2000 yard milestone he doesn’t appear to have suffered injuries as a result of his high carry totals.
Last month it was announced that the Titans will focus less on the run in 2012 and to me this is very good news for Chris Johnson. If the passing game can perform he should find himself coming up against defenses less prepared to deal with him but also it could give him some nice fantasy points through the air. Couple this with the improvements to the Tennessee offensive line – yes I do believe in veteran left guard Steve Hutchinson – and Johnson’s undeniable ability will shine through in 2012 making him a fantasy superstar once again.
2. Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears
First of all I will say this – Matt Forte will not be holding out this season. From what sources have told me I fully expect a contract to be signed by him in the very near future whether it be his franchise tender or a long term deal. As it stands, July 16th is the deadline for a longer deal to be reached so we’ll know the answer on that very soon.
The other reason there is cause for concern is the major injuries that Forte has sustained. Personally I believe Forte has been overworked by the Bears in the past but I also believe that that is about to change with the arrival of former Oakland Raider Michael Bush. I have high expectations that the combination of Bush and Forte is going to light up NFL defenses this season and become one of the best running back combinations in the game. Add on the highly talented but underrated Kahlil Bell to the mix and Forte should find himself with a workload he can handle much better and increased production as defensive coordinators try and fail to respond to the new offense in Chicago.
1. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Here we have one of the most fundamentally gifted receiving backs in the NFL today whose agility is up there with the very best in the league. His ACL injury so early in the 2011 season was a serious blow to many fantasy teams out there who had drafted Charles highly based on his 2010 performance and many owners pointed to this injury as single-handedly killing their championship chances.
This year Charles has a new companion in the backfield in the form of Peyton Hillis who should be able to bear the majority of the tough running and leave Charles to do what he does best – making elusive runs around defenses and being a deadly part of the Kansas City passing game. For all those who kept faith from last year, prepare to be rewarded – this could be the #1 pick in many 2013 fantasy drafts.
Got a player you think should have been on this list? Tweet me @chrissmithsz or leave a comment below. Also, if you have a fantasy question why not send an email to [email protected] and you could be a part of an upcoming fantasy mailbag.
Until next week, this is the Fantasy Guru signing off.