If there's a lesson to take from the 2019 NFL season, it's that bounce backs aren't plentiful. Two quarterbacks (Jameis Winston, Carson Wentz), three running backs (Dalvin Cook, Aaron Jones, Mark Ingram), two receivers (Cooper Kupp, Allen Robinson) and a lone tight end (Hunter Henry) qualified as bounce-back heroes, but that's about it.
Last year's Fantasy disappointments are this year's bounce-back candidates. You drafted them with high expectations. They left you with a broken heart. They're the guys who got injured, or played behind a bad offensive line, or had a stinky quarterback, or had some terrible thing happen that kept them from being a big part of why you won your league.
Which ones deserve a chance? Which don't?
The good news is that this year's bounce-back candidates will come at a Draft Day discount, and even if they don't finish in the top 12 at their positions, they can help your team march to victory. It's up to you to determine whether they deserve a second chance.
What happened in 2019: A troublesome hamstring injury and a whole bunch of games with fewer targets than expected turned Thielen into a touchdown-or-bust receiver.
What has to go right in 2020: A lot already has — Thielen was healthy for two playoff games and had 12 catches for 179 yards. The Vikings also traded Stefon Diggs, clearly putting Thielen in position as the team's top receiver, even after drafting Justin Jefferson. Thielen could average close to the 9.2 targets per game he had in 2017-18.
Odds of a bounce back to a top-12 receiver: 65% Not only is it a slam-dunk that Thielen will be Kirk Cousins' most trusted target, but the Vikings defense might decline after losing four starters and four key backups this offseason. That could mean more passing for the Vikings, who finished 29th in pass attempts last season.
Fantasy draft value: There will be a couple of people in every Fantasy league who view Thielen as a No. 1 option, particularly in PPR formats. Those folks will target Thielen between 20th and 30th overall.
What happened in 2019: The Jets' offensive line was a horrible fit for Bell's running style, leading to a nauseating 3.2 rushing average and just 12 rushes of 10-plus yards (only one over 15 yards). A drop-off in target share from what we've been accustomed to also contributed to a career-low 20.7 touches per game.
What has to go right in 2020: The Jets' offseason additions on the offensive line must produce dramatic results, and the Jets' offseason addition of Frank Gore must be a total non-factor. Neither one is guaranteed -- the line still has plenty of question marks even with rookie beast Mekhi Becton at left tackle, and Gore has inexplicably averaged nearly 11 carries per game in his past two seasons. There's no reason to believe that will change, so it could be harder for Bell to come close to the 20.7 touches per game he had last year, which was already a career low.
Odds of a bounce back to a top-12 running back: 25% Adam Gase and top-12 running backs haven't gone together since 2016, and Bell's supporting cast and age (he's 28) don't produce rainbows of optimism. The thought of Gore taking work from Bell, including potentially at the goal line, is nauseating but likely. Gore's been ruining other Fantasy backs' production for years, including in 2018 when he was with Gase in Miami.
Fantasy draft value: It's harder than ever to imagine Bell as a stud Fantasy rusher. With age catching up to him, this might be his last solid season. No one should oppose taking him with a pick starting around 35th overall as a No. 2 running back, but no one should be excited about it either.
What happened in 2019: The whole Steelers offense imploded, but Conner still had decent totals until a shoulder injury limited him for the second half of the season. Before the injury he was on pace for over 1,400 total yards and double-digit touchdowns, which was something, because he averaged under 3.4 yards per carry in all but three of those outings.
What has to go right in 2020: This is a prove-it year for Conner — he has to show he can stay on the field and improve his efficiency if he wants to land a contract extension from the Steelers. Sharing touches with other backs, including rookie speedster Anthony McFarland, won't make it easy. Staying involved in the passing game (2.4 receptions per game in 2018-19) is a must.
Odds of a bounce back to a top-12 running back: 40% Conner can find that efficiency boost just by having a healthy Ben Roethlisberger forcing defenses to respect the pass. That'll open things up for the power back, who then must avoid serious injuries to cash in good statistics. It's easier said than done, but Conner's overcome the odds before in his life.
Fantasy draft value: Round 4 is the sweet spot to take Conner as a No. 2 running back.
What happened in 2019: Groin and hip injuries clearly impacted Beckham's speed and ability to separate. His deep-ball receptions were down and he was a non-factor in the red zone (one catch!). It sure didn't help that Baker Mayfield played terribly in a poorly schemed offense with a bad offensive line.
What has to go right in 2020: Aside from staying healthy? Beckham needs more targets — the 8.3 he just averaged per game were a career-low by two per game. Mayfield must be put in a better spot by new offensive-minded coach Kevin Stefanski and he must play better. He was off-target on 34% of his throws to Beckham last year!
Odds of a bounce back to a top-12 receiver: 35% Cleveland added tight end Austin Hooper and boasts an incredible running back duo in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, plus Jarvis Landry is still around. That's a lot of teammates for Mayfield to feed the ball to, especially when he has to play better himself. It feels like there's too much that must go right for Beckham to be a stat monster.
Fantasy draft value: Round 3 at best. Don't get carried away with Beckham just because he was an amazing receiver three years ago on a different team with a different quarterback and a healthier body.
What happened in 2019: How about everything? Roethlisberger played six quarters and his backups combined for 18 passing touchdowns — JuJu had three. Smith-Schuster averaged just 5.8 targets per game, dealt with a toe injury in the early part of the year and then missed four games with a knee issue and a concussion.
What has to go right in 2020: Um, how about everything? If Roethlisberger isn't back to his old self and throwing as much as he used to, Smith-Schuster has no shot at putting up huge numbers. But even if Roethlisberger is fine, Smith-Schuster still hasn't proven he can be a weekly smash-hit as the Steelers' No. 1 receiver. The additions of Eric Ebron and giant rookie Chase Claypool as well as the upside second-year receiver Diontae Johnson offers suggest a further dilution of targets.
Odds of a bounce back to a top-12 receiver: 35% There are just too many questions about Roethlisberger and Smith-Schuster's target share to feel good. To be fair, if one or both of those questions get answered positively this preseason, his odds will rise.
Fantasy draft value: Expect him to go in Round 3 in a bunch of leagues, but don't buy in until all seems well in The Burgh. That means until Smith-Schuster is in line to regularly see at least eight targets per game and Roethlisberger's arm is good to go.
What happened in 2019: Green hurt his ankle on the first day of training camp and didn't play at all. The Bengals' horrible 0-11 start — and Green not wanting to risk injury in a meaningless season — may have also contributed to his absence.
What has to go right in 2020: Hopefully there are no health issues or disenchantment with the franchise to keep Green from coming back to the field. He also must develop chemistry with rookie Joe Burrow if he's going to have a chance at being a great Fantasy receiver again.
Odds of a bounce back to a top-12 receiver: 30% It's tough to give the benefit of the doubt to a 32-year-old receiver who's missed at least six games three times in his past four seasons. If Burrow wasn't a wunderkind there would be no shot at Green hitting it big in 2020.
Fantasy draft value: Green's worth a look no earlier than the end of Round 4, and that's assuming Burrow's preseason performance matches the hype. Most cautious drafters wouldn't look Green up until Round 5 as a No. 2 option.
What happened in 2019: Andrew Luck shockingly retired just before the season and Hilton was sabotaged by quad and calf injuries. Jacoby Brissett helped Hilton find the end zone early on, but he peaked at 87 yards in Week 1.
What has to go right in 2020: Hilton and Philip Rivers must work together seamlessly and frequently. The trust has to be there — Rivers has funneled 100-plus targets to his top receiver in six of his past seven years. Hilton was already running short- and mid-range routes last year, so keeping that up for Rivers is a must. And he actually has to be there each week, too.
Odds of a bounce back to a top-12 receiver: 30% There's a clear path to Hilton as an easy top-24 receiver if he stays healthy, but Rivers would have to play cleaner than he did last year and Hilton would have to get to 15 yards per catch and over 8.0 targets per game in his age-30 season to really challenge for the top 12. That's tough to expect. Michael Pittman's arrival to Indianapolis is sure to cost Hilton some touchdowns.
Fantasy draft value: He'll be one of the last receivers taken who Fantasy managers will feel OK about starting. That should happen in Round 5.
What happened in 2019: It wasn't just injuries this time — Johnson proved to be a bad fit for the Cardinals offense, especially once it looked like his speed was a liability in the second half of 2019.
What has to go right in 2020: Johnson has to find the fountain of youth ... or at least a foot-bath of youth. The 28-year-old has displayed slower-moving feet over the past two seasons, leading to a dull 3.7-yard rushing average with 20 of 29 outings under 80 total yards. Johnson also must keep busy in the passing game, an uncertainty since Texans running backs have combined for 54.0 catches per season with Deshaun Watson under center — and Duke Johnson is still on the roster.
Odds of a bounce back to a top 12 running back: 20% About the only factor working in Johnson's favor is a better offensive line in Houston than what he ran behind in Arizona. Everything else — age, speed, health, offensive scheme and touch share — leaves him needing a whole bushel of touchdowns in order to reach Fantasy dominance.
Fantasy draft value: Johnson must be thought of as a low-end No. 2 runner or a flex. Assume someone in your draft will think more of him and overpay with a top-40 pick. If not, holding off until Round 5 is probably the best move.
What happened in 2019: Two concussions in four weeks cost Cooks three games, and when he returned he saw limited opportunities.
What has to go right in 2020: Cooks has to establish himself as the top target in the Texans offense over incumbents Will Fuller and Kenny Stills. That's possible, maybe even probable, but not guaranteed. The Texans must rely on him as his previous teams did, which would mean close to a DeAndre Hopkins-like target share from Deshaun Watson. And, of course, he has to avoid injuries.
Odds of a bounce back to a top-12 receiver: 15% Cooks floated between the top 10 and top 15 during his four-year peak, so getting back to that level seems unlikely. It's hard to even put favorable odds on Cooks landing in the top 24 given his serious concussion issues.
Fantasy draft value: Round 8 is a terrific time to target Cook since it carries only modest risk with a shot at a good return if things go right.
What happened in 2019: The same thing that went wrong in 2018 — he got hurt just as he was taking off as the Lions' primary running back. He notched at least nine non-PPR Fantasy points in four of his first five, then needed knee surgery, missed eight games and got in 22 touches and a touchdown in the last two games of the year.
What has to go right in 2020: The ship may have sailed on Johnson landing a feature-back workload in Detroit after they drafted D'Andre Swift in the second round. It would take Swift falling on his face and Johnson playing his best football ever while staying healthy for him to be a good Fantasy starter.
Odds of a bounce back to a top 12 running back: 5% He's never been a top-12 running back and he's not about to become one now. Furthermore, no one can confidently call him a reliable top-24 running back with Swift around.
Fantasy draft value: At best, Johnson's draftable as someone you can start to begin the year and hopefully find a replacement for before he is replaced. Those types of players are not top-70 picks. Round 7 is the absolute earliest point Johnson should get picked, but you might not feel good about him unless it's Round 8 or 9.
Bounce back or bounce out?
- Ben Roethlisberger: Bounce out. Until there's clear evidence that his arm is back to normal and his receiving corps is genuinely dangerous, no one should expect him to resemble his peak form.
- Cam Newton: Bounce out. When he finds a gig, Newton's job security might be stronger than his bones and tendons, but both are susceptible to cracks, tears and benchings.
- Baker Mayfield: Bounce back. The addition of Hooper should especially help Mayfield in the red zone. Throwing more to his running backs might make the difference between a top-16 quarterback and the top 12.
- Philip Rivers: Bounce out. Rivers is a good September streamer because he tends to put up strong numbers early. Keeping them up over time has been a problem, and a less-talented receiving corps in Indy won't help.
- Derrius Guice: Bounce out. Two seasons of watching Guice get sidelined, combined with the deep running back group Washington has assembled, makes him hard to trust as anything more than a No. 3 guy.
- Sony Michel: Bounce out. The Patriots may try to lean heavier on the run game moving forward, but Michel will constantly be under the microscope by his coaches. One fumble, one injury or one bad series at the goal line could cost him work.
- Tarik Cohen: Bounce back. What choice will the Bears have if David Montgomery still stinks? Cohen's speed and versatility in the passing game (70-plus catches each of the past two years) make him dangerous.
- Tevin Coleman: Bounce out. Coleman did score in five of the eight games in which he got 10-plus carries (playoffs included), but that just means he didn't do much else in his other nine. You know that backfield will be a big mess, even without Matt Breida.
- Sammy Watkins: Bounce out. Watkins had a golden opportunity to prove he was still a great receiver last year when Tyreek Hill was out. Didn't do it. His inconsistency will drive you crazy.
- Will Fuller: Bounce out. Fuller has value as a No. 3 receiver, but it's asking too much to rely on him on a week-to-week basis as anything more than a flex.
- Alshon Jeffery: Bounce out. 30 years old, coming off a broken foot, and under 15 PPR points (10 in non-PPR) in 14 of his past 23 games. No thanks.
- DeSean Jackson: Bounce back. We didn't see much of it last year, but Carson Wentz-to-Jackson was a lethal combination. Health is a massive risk, but he's worth the late-round spend.
- Sterling Shepard: Bounce back. It's a crowded receiving corps in New York, but Shepard had the highest catch rate on Daniel Jones' passes among wideouts last season. He'll need volume to serve as a good bench receiver.
- Evan Engram: Bounce back. Engram has sky-high potential but specifically has a consistent track record of modest PPR results. If that's the floor, then the ceiling is delightful, but he's gotta stay on the field.