Every season there are players that we expect to perform well in fantasy. Every season some of those players fall short of those expectations. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at a few players who massively underperformed last year but will more than likely have a great bounce-back season in 2018. So without further ado, let’s look at the bounce back candidates.
Bounce Back Candidates
David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
I’m going to start off with some low hanging fruit here. Coming out of the 2016 season David Johnson was being highly touted as the next big thing in the NFL. He ended his 2016 campaign with 2,118 yards from scrimmage and 20 total touchdowns. He averaged 77 rushing yards, 54 receiving yards, and 25.5 fantasy Points Per Game (PPG) in that span. A big reason that led many people to draft him first overall in fantasy leagues in 2017.
Unfortunately for those owners who did draft him, Johnson suffered a season-ending wrist injury that required surgery. Fast forward to the 2018 season and some people still have a bit of a bitter taste in their mouths from losing him last year. Johnson is currently going around the 1.04 pick which is still very high but not as definitive as a pick from last year.
The chart above is a consistency chart showing Johnsons 2016 weekly finishes. Using the chart we can see that Johnson finished as a fantasy RB1 over 80% of the time in 2016. Although he had a bit of a mishap last season, Johnson should still be valued as a top, if not THE top, back in fantasy football this season. His ability to catch the ball and run between the tackles with efficiency is something that should still be highly valued.
So far in this preseason, Johnson is picking up where he left off. Also, with injury-prone Sam Bradford at the helm this season, the Cardinals will likely count on Johnson’s skillset to help keep him upright. New addition WR Christian Kirk should also help open up the run game for Johnson.
It’s worth noting that Johnson’s injury was of the upper body and not considered to be detrimental to his ability to play football in the future. If you have an early pick in your draft and are thinking about drafting Johnson, don’t overthink it. This guy is still a league winner.
Jay Ajayi, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Last season was one that many fans expected to be a good one for Jay Ajayi. Ajayi was being drafted in fantasy with a 2.02 Average Draft Position (ADP) as the RB7. Rightfully so coming off a 1272 yard and 8 touchdown season. Many fantasy owners believed that he would continue as the bell cow back in Miami for the foreseeable future. However, that was far from the truth.
Ajayi started the first seven games of his 2017 season with no touchdowns and only three weeks with double-digit fantasy points. This caused people to lose hope that Ajayi would return on their early draft pick investment. Then came the news. Just before the NFL trade deadline, Miami decided to move on from Ajayi and send him over to Philadelphia.
Fantasy owners saw a massive dip in his workload due to the sporadic nature of the trade and being thrust into an already crowded backfield led by LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement, and Wendell Smallwood. However, the outcome of the trade didn’t completely diminish Ajayi’s fantasy value. He did post 540 yards and 2 touchdowns over his eight games with Philadelphia resulting in some meaningful fantasy weeks.
Ajayi totaled 208 carries last season. The heat map above shows his efficiency level as well as Yards Per Carry (YPC) on those carries. As we can see on the map, Ajayi didn’t garner a ton of touches anywhere except the middle and his highest YPC was to the left of the line. The average touch attempts is likely a combination of both the trade and the lack of efficiency of the entire Miami offense in his first seven games. However, he did flash the ability to maintain being above or at the league average in YPC despite the situation(s) happening around him.
This offseason we saw the departure of LeGarrette Blount to Detroit leave a door wide open for Jay Ajayi to reclaim a sizeable workload in Philadelphia. The only mentionable person behind him is Corey Clement, who had a fantastic postseason but will likely fill a change of pace/receiving back roll. Couple the departure of Blount with the fact that Ajayi was traded from a team that ranked 29th in rush attempts last season (Miami) to the team that ranked third in rushing attempts (Philadelphia), and the future looks bright for Ajayi. After an unproductive and unconventional 2017 season, the table is set for Jay Ajayi going forward. Expect a bounce back in his walk year, especially in a run-heavy offense and little resistance for opportunity in the upcoming season.
Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders
Last offseason Amari Cooper’s fantasy ceiling was sky high. In 2016 he had his best statistical season in both yardage and touchdown production. He averaged 14.18 Fantasy Points Per Game (PPG) and finishing as the WR14 in Points Per Reception (PPR) scoring formats. Cooper was also drafted as the WR10 in most drafts last season. Oh, how we were wrong.
2017 brought nothing but trouble for the young receiver as he saw a decline in targets, receptions, yardage, and touchdowns. Copper seemingly fell off the fantasy map last season but it wasn’t all Cooper’s fault. The entire Raiders offense seemed to take a large step back after having their best season in almost a decade in 2016. Derek Carr saw a career low in both completions and attempts in 2017 under Offensive Coordinator Todd Downing. Couple those stats with Carr’s love for Michael Crabtree and the outcome was a bit of a disaster for owners who took Cooper early in their drafts.
Despite a horrible showing for Cooper in 2017, there’s always an explanation for why a player has underperformed. In the above chart, we see Coopers yearly fantasy finishes since entering the league. At the bottom in a numerical form, we see Cooper had over 200 fantasy points in his first two seasons. In 2017 he had far less. The chart shows just how bad of a decline. He finished 2016 as the WR13 and then finished 2017 as the WR33 in fantasy.
The use of the chart above is to help indicate last season as a major outlier for Cooper. also flashed his well-known talent last year to remind us what he can still do. In week seven against Kansas City, he completely took over. He totaled 19 targets for 212 yards, two touchdowns, and 44 fantasy points. A monster performance.
The drop off in production was a result of the offense declining as a whole. With Michael Crabtree now in Baltimore, Cooper is a virtual lock to be the WR1 in Oakland’s offense. Derek Carr is expected to improve under new head coach John Gruden. If he does, you can expect Cooper to be a major beneficiary of Carr’s improvement. Gruden has also expressed that Cooper will be the focal point of Oakland’s offense. A statement that bodes well for Coopers fantasy owners. Draft Cooper with confidence this season and watch him return the favor.