Whether it’s a change of scenery, additional weapons or an extra year of good health, many players are optimistic about improving their production from last season. Just like every year, fantasy players will get drafted too early as well as too late. So, which players will be in an improved environment from last season and have a high chance of bouncing back from a struggling 2018 season?
David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Many factors led to David Johnson’s drop off from his MVP candidate-form in 2016. Midseason coaching changes, a weak offensive line, and a rookie quarterback proved to be tough to overcome for the Arizona Cardinals in 2018. However, heading into 2019, the Arizona running back is perhaps the most popular candidate for a bounce-back season.
The optimism surrounding the Cardinals’ offense stems from an “it can’t get any worse” mentality. Arizona finished dead last in both passing and rushing last season. The additions of offensive-minded coach Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray will be pivotal for Johnson’s success. In 2018, defenses zeroed in on Arizona’s most dangerous weapon as he averaged just 3.6 yard per attempt.
It is hard to predict Johnson to finish much higher in the ranks considering he finished as a top-10 running back despite his struggles last season. However, considering his usage, it may be a smart bet to make. Last season, Johnson finished third in rushing attempts, and with Kingsbury’s air raid offense, he’ll likely be closer to his 80 catches in 2016 opposed to just 50 catches last season. While Johnson may never be as productive as he was in 2016, expect him to take a big leap from a season ago.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
If you’ve ever had Watkins on your fantasy team, it may be difficult to convince you of this one. Watkins has missed 15 games in the past three seasons, but that is just scratching the surface. Each week, Watkins’ owners are faced with a ‘questionable’ designation, which provides even more uncertainty surrounding the flaky receiver.
However, the opportunity for Watkins has opened up severely with the Tyreek Hill situation. This could be looked at as a positive or a negative. On one hand, Watkins will likely draw opponents’ best cornerback. On the other hand, he will almost certainly get more volume, not to mention teams will likely zero in on Travis Kelce more than Watkins.
Despite the improvements that the Chiefs have made on defense, I suspect they will continue to give up a lot of points. Therefore, Pat Mahomes and the Kansas City passing offense will have to light up the scoreboard once again this year, which bodes well for both Watkins and Kelce. In 2018, Hill had 87 catches on 137 targets. For the time frame that he is out, those targets will have to go elsewhere. If Watkins gets a good chunk of those, he is a possible candidate to bounce back to his 2015 form as a top-20 receiver.
Devin Funchess, WR, Indianapolis Colts
I’m going to preach caution on this one because I’m really not sure how good Funchess actually is as a player. What I do know is that he upgraded to a better offense and a better quarterback than last year. The phrase “bounce back” might seem ironic for Funchess because he hasn’t really been very effective in the league so far. However, in 2017, Funchess finished as the 21stbest receiver in fantasy and was a very playable option for owners.
His size, alongside the opportunity for a lot of red zone targets in an improved offense, Funchess has the potential to catch double-digit touchdowns (that’s extremely optimistic). Just a season ago we weren’t sure about how good Eric Ebron was, but when he was inserted into the Colts’ offense, he had a career season.
Not sold yet? I don’t blame you. But think about this. Last year, Funchess only caught about 55 percent of passes thrown his way. To compare, Michael Thomas led the league with an 85 percent catch percentage. Although he improved in the area this season, Cam Newton has a 59.7 completion percentage throughout his career. This year it increased, but his willingness to throw the ball downfield decreased. His average intended air yards (IAY) was just 7.1, which was a direct reflection on his completion percentage. Funchess now moves to a more accurate downfield passer to accommodate his 6’4”, 232-pound stature.