Between surgeries and quarterback struggles, will Eric Decker have a bounce-back year?
When one fantasy football season ends, most owners take a little break and then start looking ahead to the next season. One of the key elements to look for is to see what players may have a change in value – for better or worse – in the next season. These players are usually those that are free agents, and their 2017 value is dependent on what team they land on, or players returning from injury.
Fantasy owners usually look at the previous season to determine the value for the following season. While this logic does work in most cases, it's tough for those that missed time in the previous season. Often those players return and make a fantasy impact; equally as often those players those players come back and struggle. Keep in mind a change in fantasy value is not always a positive change.
Here are 10 players (in alphabetical order) whose situations and fantasy outlook could change between now and draft day.
Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers
Fantasy owners draft Allen each year hoping for a top wide receiver. He should be a clear-cut WR1, but he hasn't been able to stay on the field over the past two years. After suffering a lacerated kidney in 2015, Allen tore in his ACL in Week 1 this past season. He's reportedly ahead of schedule in his recovery and should be ready to go come the fall. He's the No. 1 wide receiver in San Diego, if he can stay healthy. He will likely fall in drafts based on his injury history, but he certainly has the potential to exceed his draft position.
C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos
Anderson is just 26, although it probably seems he’s older than that. He’s had success in Denver, but he’s also been a disappointment. A meniscus injury ended his 2016 season after just seven games, and fortunately for him no one stepped up and seized the job in his absence. Rookie Devontae Booker looked good early, but then struggled mightily and saw his role reduced as the season progressed. Kapri Bibbs couldn’t handle the lead back role either, as the Broncos brought in veteran Justin Forsett in December. Assuming no major change is made at the position, the No. 1 job should be Anderson’s to lose in training camp. When healthy, he’s been successful, and he could end up a value pick depending on far he falls in drafts. He’s no more than a RB2 for now, but the upside is there, especially if he’s given a full workload and Denver shores up its offensive line.
Sam Bradford, QB, Minnesota Vikings
The early reports on Teddy Bridgewater are that he will miss the entire 2017 season recovering from the devastating knee injury he suffered last preseason. Following his trade from Philadelphia, Bradford actually put together a decent campaign, despite the Vikings’ offensive woes. He set a new career high with 3,877 passing yards, while posting a very impressive 20:5 TD-to-INT ratio. He threw a touchdown pass in every game but two, and he ended the season with two 3-TD games. He's not going to be a fantasy stud, but if Stefon Diggs can step up and Laquon Treadwell can put together a decent sophomore season, Bradford will have QB2 value.
Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns
Coleman's rookie season was marred by injury, poor quarterback play, and offseason issues. Assuming the off-field stuff works itself out, Coleman should have a solid role in the offense in 2017. It seems likely that Terrelle Pryor will return, so the pair will be the Browns’ primary targets. Who will be throwing them the ball, however, is the million dollar question. With a solid quarterback, Coleman is a clear WR2. He had a great game in Week 2 with two touchdowns and more than 100 receiving yards before injuring his hand, which cost him almost two months. By that point, Pryor was the focal point of the offense and Coleman couldn't get going again. With both receivers as part of the game plan, they both can have value. It just will depend on who’s at quarterback.
Eric Decker, WR, New York Jets
Decker is coming off both hip and shoulder surgeries and is hoping to be ready for the start of the 2017 season. A touchdown machine when healthy, it's going to be hard to trust him unless some big changes occur within the Jets offense. They need a quarterback who can get him the ball in the end zone, to start with. Also, Brandon Marshall may or may not return, depending on if the team wants to pay him at his current salary. It's hard to gauge Decker's value right now with all of these factors at play. But with a solid quarterback and plenty of targets, he has potential to be a WR1, even with the injury history. However, it's much more likely that he's a WR2 with games that will be great and weeks that will be brutal.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
Technically, Gronk played in eight games this season, but fantasy owners only wanted to start him in four of those. He had a disappointing season, especially for those who drafted him in the first round. While Gronkowski's contract isn't up, the Patriots have to be frustrated with their top tight end who can't stay on the field. Gronkowski will no longer be a first-round tight end. It is debatable if he is even the best tight end to draft. There is no question that when he's healthy, he's great, but at this point, it's hard to imagine him not missing some time. Is half a season or less of Gronk worth drafting him as a TE1 as long as you get the other half? He's going to fall in drafts and be avoided by the risk-averse, or those who simply have Gronk fatigue.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears
Jeffery is a pending free agent, but it is possible that he will re-sign with the Bears. He played under the franchise tag in 2016, and he didn't exactly put together a spectacular season. While he did manage to stay healthy, he also missed four games because of suspension. In the 12 games he played, he had only 14 more receiving yards than he did in nine games last season with two fewer receptions. He had a career-low two touchdowns and struggled to find chemistry with quarterbacks not named Jay Cutler. Cutler also may not be back with the Bears, so Jeffery’s fantasy value could depend in large part on where he ends up. He’ll turn 27 on Valentine’s Day, so he's still young enough to be a fantasy difference-maker.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
After a disappointing 2015 season, Lacy lost some weight and came back ready to prove his worth. He played five games, got hurt and wound up on injured reserve because of an ankle injury that required surgery. In those five games, he had just one 100-yard effort and zero touchdowns (in 75 total touches), although he did average 5.1 yards per carry. He’s a pending free agent, and the Packers have said that they are open to re-signing him. There’s plenty of familiarity and he’ll be 27 at the start of the season. Green Bay struggled to run the ball all season, as the team ended up turning to converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery to serve as the primary ball carrier, Montgomery had good games, but he also had poor outings, so there’s still a “need” for someone like Lacy to lead the way on the ground. If he returns, he’ll be a relatively safe RB2 with upside.
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It's certainly no guarantee that Martin returns to the Buccaneers after he ended the season with a four-game suspension. He's 28 years old and the Bucs can easily move on from him, even though they don't have a lot to turn to. Martin had a solid 2015 campaign, but couldn't live up to his own expectations this past season. His production plummeted across the board, especiallyi in rushing yards (1,402 in 2015, 421 in ’16), although playing in just eight games because of the suspension and some hamstring issues certainly played a factor. Durability is another concern with Martin, as outside of his rookie season in 2012 and ’15, he has played in a total of 25 games. When healthy, he has produced, but given all that transpired last season he’s no longer a safe RB1 and depending on where he lands, he may not even be a RB2.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
It seems likely that Peterson has played his last game in a Vikings uniform. However, a change of scenery does not mean he will immediately return to the top of the running back ranks either. For starters, Peterson will be 32 years old at the start of the 2017 season, and is coming off a knee injury. He will be fine to play, but a 32-year-old running back is a hard sell. Peterson did have a solid season in 2015 before the disaster that was this past year. He was a first-round pick, and ended up as one of the bigger disappointments of the year for fantasy owners. Even when he was healthy to start, he managed just 50 rushing yards on 31 carries in the first two games. He has shown that he has the work ethic to get in football shape and has come back strong from injury before, but he may be just a RB2, at best, in 2017.
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.