Fantasy: 7 bounce-back candidates to target in 2019

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It’s impossible not to let emotions affect your fantasy decisions. If a player let you down last year, you’ll likely pass on drafting him this season – but that’s not always a wise choice. Here are seven players coming off disappointing campaigns who we expect to rebound in 2019.

Average draft position (ADP) data courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator and is based on 12-team leagues with PPR scoring.

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Jameis Winston, QB, Buccaneers

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A suspension to start the year derailed Winston’s season more than anyone could’ve anticipated. After Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for more than 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns over three straight September games, Winston returned to the lineup and tossed eight interceptions in a three-week span before the coaching staff benched him.

Given a second chance in Week 11, Winston’s performance improved dramatically, leading to top-eight fantasy QB numbers over his final seven contests. It also restored hope that Winston may still develop into the franchise quarterback the Bucs thought they were getting with the first overall pick in 2015.

Winston and Fitzpatrick’s combined stats from 2018 resulted in the second-most fantasy points among quarterbacks behind only Patrick Mahomes. Normally, replacing the coaching staff behind that kind of offensive production would be worrisome, but Bruce Arians has a resume filled with prolific passing attacks and has long been a fan of Winston.

The 25-year-old signal-caller has been working hard to upgrade his conditioning and learn the new system this offseason, drawing praise from both Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich in the process.

Tampa has one of the most dangerous sets of playmakers in the league with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard leading the way. If Winston can play a full season alongside his talented supporting cast, he could be this year’s Mahomes – the late-round quarterback who rises to the top of the fantasy world.

Bounce-back potential: ?????
ADP: 9th round (QB13)

Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons

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Freeman is just one year removed from finishing as the RB13 with over 1,100 yards from scrimmage, 36 receptions, and seven touchdowns in 2017. That was despite missing two games due to injuries.

A variety of ailments stifled the 27-year-old’s 2018 campaign, sidelining him for nearly the entire season and leaving fantasy owners questioning his ability to withstand the physical punishment an NFL running back faces. That’s dropped his 2019 fantasy stock into the third round.

During his first three years in the league, though, Freeman only missed one outing – it might be premature to write him off as a depreciating asset who can’t stay on the field. By all accounts, Freeman is back to full health, with head coach Dan Quinn expressing excitement over having his veteran back in the lineup.

“He’s having such an awesome offseason,” Quinn told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “When you get to see the team out here this spring, I think you’ll feel the energy at running back, certainly, with Free leading the way.”

Tevin Coleman’s departure in free agency allows Freeman to return as the unquestioned lead back, spelled occasionally by the winner of a camp battle between Ito Smith, Brian Hill, and rookie Qadree Ollison – none of whom are a significant threat to his touches.

In an effort to continue their offensive success, the Falcons invested heavily in the offensive line, adding a pair of first-rounders in Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. The duo will solidify Atlanta’s blocking unit and ensure Freeman has every opportunity to recapture his fantasy stardom.

In the third or fourth round, any risk associated with Freeman is minimized while his fantasy ceiling as a potential top-10 back remains.

Bounce-back Potential: ?????
ADP: 3rd round (RB16)

Tevin Coleman, RB, 49ers

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Prior to 2018, Coleman was viewed as an explosive player capable of breaking a game open on any given touch. When Freeman was placed on injured reserve early in the season, Coleman was positioned to take over the lead back’s duties in his contract year, and expectations hit a high point.

Unfortunately, the Falcons stumbled, as injuries on defense forced them into unfavorable game scripts for the running back. Coleman managed 800 rushing yards, 276 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns, but fantasy owners were left wondering if he’d ever reach his ceiling.

In San Francisco, Coleman is reunited with Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons’ offensive coordinator during his breakout 2016 campaign. The former third-round pick put up 941 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns in 13 games that season, sharing time with Freeman.

Though some might be concerned about a crowded Niners backfield featuring Coleman, Jerick McKinnon, and Matt Breida, the more confident among us don’t fear a situation we know will produce big numbers.

Even in a difficult year that saw the team lose its starting quarterback to a torn ACL, the 49ers’ running backs compiled the fifth-most yards from scrimmage in 2018, according to Rotoworld’s Rich Hribar.

At worst, Coleman will be part of a two-man committee. The last time we saw him in that role under Shanahan, he finished as a low-end RB2 in fantasy. Don’t be scared to draft him in the sixth and then safeguard your selection by taking Breida several rounds later. Give me a piece of the Shanahan rushing game every season.

Bounce-back Potential: ?????
ADP: 6th round (RB30)

Allen Robinson, WR, Bears

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Matt Nagy took a defibrillator to the Bears’ offense and brought them back to life in 2018. Sadly, that shock to the system didn’t return Robinson to the 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown form he displayed with the Jaguars in 2015.

Robinson’s first year in Chicago had its moments, including a 10-catch, 143-yard, one-touchdown effort in the Bears’ wild-card loss to the Eagles. But big outings like that were few and far between. Coming off a torn ACL in 2017, he ended last year with 55 receptions, 754 yards, and four scores over 13 appearances.

Despite his modest totals, the 25-year-old was the clear No. 1 option in the Bears’ passing game, dominating in both targets and air yards.

“For me, a big difference (this year) is not being injured,” Robinson told the Chicago Tribune. “Being able to come in and work on stuff that I want to work on.

“This is only the second time in my career that I went into another season with the offensive coordinator that I had the year before. I’ve been learning new offenses seems like every season. To be back in one that’s very familiar is definitely a plus.”

Mitchell Trubisky’s inconsistent play in 2018 was the biggest issue for the pass-catching corps, a group that featured several new faces. A collective familiarity with the scheme and each other, coupled with Trubisky’s natural development as a third-year passer, suggests untapped future upside for everyone in the offense.

Robinson may never get back to being a top-six fantasy wideout, but we should see him deliver low-end WR2 numbers after falling into the WR4 range a year ago.

Bounce-back Potential: ?????
ADP: 7th round (WR30)

Golden Tate, WR, Giants

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It’s easy to forget just how consistent Tate was before a bizarre 2018 campaign that saw the Eagles trade for him midseason – seemingly without a plan for his deployment.

Prior to that, the veteran slot receiver posted yearly stat lines of 99-1331-4, 90-813-6, 91-1077-4, and 92-1003-5 over four seasons with the Lions; he never finished worse than WR24 during that stretch.

The Giants signed the 30-year-old in free agency, hoping he can help with the unenviable task of replacing Odell Beckham Jr.’s production. Jettisoned to the Browns in the offseason, the flashy wideout averaged over 10 targets per outing and was the centerpiece of New York’s passing attack.

Tate should siphon off a good chunk of those targets, running most of his routes in the short-to-intermediate range and playing to Eli Manning’s “strengths.”

I’m projecting Tate to haul in around 80 receptions, giving him a shot to flirt with low-end WR2 fantasy stats once again.

Bounce-back Potential: ?????
ADP: 8th round (WR34)

Devin Funchess, WR, Colts

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Funchess’ playing time last season was drastically reduced once the Panthers decided they weren’t re-signing him.

Before that, though, the former second-round pick set career highs with 840 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 2017. Then, prior to the Panthers’ seven-game losing streak that began midway through the 2018 season, Funchess was on pace for 77 catches, 997 yards, and another eight touchdowns.

But as playoff hopes slipped away, Carolina elected to reduce Funchess’ playing time in favor of long-term assets like D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel. After missing Week 12 with a back injury, Funchess saw just 11 targets the rest of the way.

It’s true that Funchess was miscast when the Panthers asked him to be a No. 1 receiver. With the Colts, though, he can thrive as a big-bodied outside threat for Andrew Luck while playing alongside speedsters T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell and overachieving tight end Eric Ebron.

Targets will ultimately cap his ceiling, but Funchess has the potential to crack WR3 status if he can steal some of Ebron’s red-zone work, which should be expected.

Bounce-back Potential: ?????
ADP: 11th round (WR48)

Delanie Walker, TE, Titans

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Walker only played 39 snaps before suffering a broken ankle in the 2018 season opener, but he caught four passes for 52 yards on seven targets before he went down. It was a glimpse of what could have been had the 35-year-old stayed healthy.

Though he remains without a timetable for recovery, all signs point to Walker being ready for Week 1.

Coming off a serious injury is difficult at any age, but the degree of difficulty heightens for an athlete in his mid-thirties, especially with the younger Jonnu Smith waiting to take the starting role. The Titans also signed slot man Adam Humphries in free agency and drafted receiver A.J. Brown in the second round, crowding a depth chart that already had top option Corey Davis fighting for targets.

But Walker has been a staple of the Titans’ offense since he showed up in 2013. We already mentioned Tate’s span of reliable production, and Walker wasn’t far behind him with four consecutive 800-yard campaigns.

At a position where fantasy owners struggle to find a set-it-and-forget-it starter, Walker offers exactly that as long as he’s on the field. His offseason rehab will need to be monitored, but if reports stay positive, Walker will secure a top-10 spot in my tight end rankings.

Bounce-back Potential: ?????
ADP: 10th round (TE12)

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