Fantasy Football: 12 bounceback candidates for 2020 include Kerryon Johnson, T.Y. Hilton and A.J. Green
Ben Gretch names 12 players who are good bets to bounce back at their early ADPs.
It's always tough to name bounceback candidates. They are, by definition, coming off some type of underperformance, which creates an easy rebuttal to any argument. But players fail to meet expectations for a variety of reasons, and recency bias can lead to overcorrections in their Draft Day price.
There are a lot of players who could qualify for 2020. For some, it's as simple as being healthy, but in this article I only chose that type of player where I believed a healthy season presented considerable upside relative to their early ADP. Cost always matters, and if the market is correctly valuing the risk of the player, it's not particularly helpful to point out upside that everyone knows exists.
You won't find Odell Beckham, Le'Veon Bell and James Conner on the below list. All may be bounceback candidates, but I have concerns. I still buy into Beckham's talent, but a return to an elite No. 1 target share doesn't appear to be in the cards playing alongside not just Jarvis Landry, but now Austin Hooper and multiple pass-catching backs. There's a lack of clarity on what new coach Kevin Stefanski might bring but it seems plausible Beckham is looking at a target shortage in a similar way that Stefon Diggs got one under Stefanski last year.
Bell and Conner both appear to be easy bets to beat depressed ADPs if their roles don't change, but I'm concerned both could lose work in 2020. We talked about both on today's episode of the Fantasy Football Today podcast:
Here are 12 other bounceback candidates to consider for 2020:
CLE Cleveland • #6
Age: 25 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Mayfield took a huge step back in 2019, but the big question all offseason will be how much of it was due to a woefully overmatched coaching staff? Freddie Kitchens made questionable decision after questionable decision, and had media, players and even members of his coaching staff like Todd Monken openly questioning him. The case for Mayfield makes itself — he's a young recent No. 1 pick with even more firepower than last year. One way to buy into a potential Beckham rebound is wait until the later rounds and nab Mayfield as your starting quarterback.
Todd Gurley RB
Age: 25 • Experience: 6 yrs.
Gurley's production isn't in question. Even in a down 2019, he scored 14 touchdowns, and over the past three seasons he has 15 more total touchdowns than any other player in the NFL. The issue is his arthritic knee, and what his future workload looks like. But he's still just 25 years old, and the change of scenery comes as the cap-strapped Falcons were willing to shell out $6 million to grab him just one day after he was released — despite reported offset language in his Rams contract that will bring his total 2020 salary over $10 million. He may not score quite as many touchdowns in Atlanta as he has with the Rams over the past few seasons, but they do seem committed to making him their clear lead back.
DET Detroit • #33
Age: 22 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Johnson's price in early drafts is considerably cheaper than it was heading into 2019, and he'll turn just 23 in late June. Heading into 2019, there was concern C.J. Anderson would take a significant share of the backfield, but after two games where Johnson played snap shares of 57% and 55%, the Lions released Anderson and turned over snap shares of 77%, 70% and 71% in Weeks 3-5 before Johnson's Week 6 injury. In that span, Johnson averaged over 20 touches and 87 yards from scrimmage per game, with two scores. He played sparingly upon his return in Weeks 16 and 17, and we can't ignore that he got hurt after seeing an elevated share of the backfield work or that guys like Bo Scarbrough stepped up for the Lions in his absence. But I still think Johnson has more touch upside in 2020 than the market seems to.
HOU Houston • #31
Age: 28 • Experience: 6 yrs.
Johnson is 28 and four years removed from his world-beating 2016 season, but the skill set that made him a Fantasy powerhouse is still there. The question is how much of his lack of burst in 2019 was due to injury, because if he has some gas left in the tank, there's reason for optimism. Bill O'Brien acquired Johnson in what some have called the worst trade in NFL history, and the only way to begin to make sense of that deal is if the Texans believe Johnson is still an elite back (you're right, it still wouldn't make sense). David Johnson has to compete with Duke Johnson for catches, which isn't a great setup for his Fantasy value, but David Johnson's ability to split out wide might be something O'Brien plans to utilize. If David Johnson can replicate something close to what Carlos Hyde did on the ground for Houston last year, even a depressed receiving line from his heyday will create a strong Fantasy season.
Nyheim Hines RB
IND Indianapolis • #21
Age: 23 • Experience: 3 yrs.
This one might seem odd, but that's only if you forget Hines had 63 catches and over 700 yards from scrimmage in his rookie season before those numbers dropped to 44 catches and 519 YFS last year. The comparisons to Austin Ekeler are aggressive, but Philip Rivers has indeed targeted his running backs at a high rate throughout his career, and Hines has 4.38 speed and decent size for a shorter back. Hines' upside is limited behind Marlon Mack, but he's one of my favorite change-of-pace backs to target in PPR leagues.
PIT Pittsburgh • #19
Age: 23 • Experience: 4 yrs.
The best comp for Smith-Schuster is Amari Cooper, who similarly came into the league at a very young age and had two great seasons before turning 23, then had a wildly disappointing third year as a borderline first-round pick. Players with the collegiate track record and early-career production of these two don't just lose it overnight, and we've seen Cooper re-ascend the wide receiver ranks in an improved situation. Smith-Schuster will have to do that also, but Ben Roethlisberger should be back in 2020, and the Steelers now have an improved supporting cast in Diontae Johnson and James Washington — not to mention the Eric Ebron addition that should help at tight end — which should allow Smith-Schuster more freedom to roam in his high-volume underneath role. Injuries to Smith-Schuster and his quarterback held back his 2019, but don't forget the 111-1426-7 season he posted in 2018.
Robert Woods WR
LAR L.A. Rams • #17
Age: 28 • Experience: 8 yrs.
Woods set career highs in targets and catches in 2019, so I'm going to make this quick because he doesn't have much to bounce back from at all. He's listed here because he scored just three touchdowns last year and that has made him undervalued headed into 2020. I like the entire Rams offense to bounce back in 2020, and Woods is among the best options to target.
T.Y. Hilton WR
IND Indianapolis • #13
Age: 30 • Experience: 9 yrs.
Prior to his 501 receiving yards in 2019, Hilton's previous career lows were 861 in his rookie year and 966 in 2017. He'd otherwise hit 1,000 yards in each of his other five seasons, and while he turns 31 in November, he's less than a year older than Adam Thielen who tends to go higher in drafts. But the Colts have lost more target competition so far this offseason than they've added, and Philip Rivers is a significant quarterback upgrade. Hilton also played hurt last year, finishing with snap shares over 80% in five of 10 games but under 70% in his other five, including each of his final four after returning from a lengthy absence. His per-game numbers in 2019 don't do him justice, and as the clear No. 1 in his offense, he is the discount Thielen in early 2020 drafts.
A.J. Green WR
CIN Cincinnati • #18
Age: 31 • Experience: 10 yrs.
Green will be 32 in July, and didn't play a game last season. But lest we forget, he entered 2018 as a second-round Fantasy pick, and for good reason. While injuries have certainly become an issue, Green's career 16-game pace including everything back to his rookie season is 148 targets, 87 catches, 1,284 receiving yards and 7.9 scores. You can scale that down to 14 games and it's still a borderline WR1 season last year. There is considerable risk both in terms of health and a potential deterioration of skill, but Green has always been a considerable producer. And it's plausible Joe Burrow is a hit and an upgrade over Andy Dalton at quarterback, which could help mitigate any decline in efficiency.
GB Green Bay • #11
Age: 26 • Experience: 6 yrs.
Would you believe me if I told you Devin Funchess is only 25? He'll turn 26 in May, and he only has one season over 600 receiving yards to his name, but the Packers taking a chance on the big-bodied Funchess isn't necessarily akin to other perceived washed-up signings. I'm a big fan of Allen Lazard, but with Jimmy Graham moving on and the Packers seemingly ready to move past their trio of receivers from the 2018 draft, Funchess is a decent bet on a skill — red zone production — that Aaron Rodgers always elevated for his receivers in his best years.
O.J. Howard TE
TB Tampa Bay • #80
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Howard was one of the bigger busts of 2019, but even after that season, among all tight ends with at least 100 targets since they were first tracked in 1992, his career yards per target ranks... first? Much like Rivers, Ekeler and Hines, it's not necessarily fair to project Tom Brady's success with Rob Gronkowski onto Howard. And it's more than clear Bruce Arians was not a fan of Howard, who has some work to do to earn back trust there. But the next six tight ends in career yards per target behind Howard are Gronkowski, George Kittle, Mark Andrews, Darren Waller, Travis Kelce and Hunter Henry (you see so many active players because efficiency typically dips toward the end of one's career). Setting aside the concerns, that stat says something — Howard still looks like a great bet to be a significant Fantasy asset if he gets enough targets. That's a much bigger "if" now than it was last year, but he's also much cheaper to take a shot on in Fantasy drafts.
NYJ N.Y. Jets • #89
Age: 24 • Experience: 3 yrs.
The Jets have no one to catch passes. They will likely enter 2020 with a wide receiver trio of Jamison Crowder, a seemingly inevitable high-profile rookie and Breshad Perriman, who closed 2019 with the first three 100-yard games of his career. But even considering that group and Le'Veon Bell, there is room for a tight end to play a significant role here. Both Adam Gase and Sam Darnold raved about Herndon last offseason after Herndon's 502-yard, four-score rookie year where the fourth-rounder came on late. He lost his second season to injury, but he's another late-round, post-hype bet at tight end if you choose to wait at the position.
Which players are poised for breakouts, which sleepers do you need to jump on, and which busts should you avoid at all costs in your Fantasy football league? Visit SportsLine now to get early rankings, plus see which WR is going to come out of nowhere to crack the top 10, all from the model that out-performed experts big time last season.
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