Who are the 2016 Fantasy Football Bounce Back Candidates?

Nothing is worse than drafting your favorite wide receiver in your fantasy league only to see him go down with a season-ending injury. The one silver lining is that there may be a chance to get him cheap the following year, but will he be worth it? Doug Moore reveals who is worth it with his 2016 fantasy football bounce back candidates.

The 2015 fantasy football season flipped expectations for players and fans alike. We saw a lot of NFL players projected  to do well and help teams win their leagues fail to meet those predictions, either because they performed well below expectations or they suffered an injury that caused them to miss significant time. This list will look at some of those players who are primed for big bounce-back years in 2016.

[Editor’s note: All average draft positions (ADP) and positional rankings are according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com.]

Randall Cobb – WR, Green Bay

The wide receiver is one of three Packers on this list. After having a terrific 2014 season (91 receptions, 1,287 yards, 12 touchdowns) expectations were high for Cobb coming into last season. When Jordy Nelson went down in August with a major knee injury, the expectation was that Cobb would be able to possibly improve upon his 2014 stats. Unfortunately, since Cobb saw a lot of attention from opposing defenses and the other WRs were unable to consistently produce, Cobb didn’t have the 2015 many had hoped. He tallied 79 receptions, 829 yards, and six touchdowns, and while this isn’t by any means a bad season when you consider that he was the primary target for Aaron Rodgers in a typically high-performing offense, it was a letdown.

Cobb finished last season as the 28th best wide receiver in standard scoring leagues and 25th in point-per-reception (PPR) leagues in 2015. That is high-end WR3 value where his average draft position (ADP) was the 7th wide receiver overall taken in 2015. Cobb was a major disappointment for fantasy owners in 2015, but things are looking up for him in 2016 in a major way.

With Nelson expected to be 100% by Week 1 and resuming his role as the 1A wide receiver to Cobb’s 1B wide receiver in Green Bay, this should allow for Cobb should be on the field with more favorable matchups and less double coverage. When you consider that Green Bay will likely roll out a stronger run game in 2016 (see Eddie Lacy further down on this list), Cobb is in for a major bounce-back season in 2016. Cobb’s ADP is the 21st overall wide receiver taken in 2016 fantasy football mock drafts thus far. He is a steal at that price.

Andrew Luck – QB, Indianapolis

There were high hopes for Luck entering the 2015 season with a plethora of pass-catchers like T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, Andre Johnson, Coby Fleener, and Dwayne Allen. Unfortunately, Luck missed more than half of the season because of injury. But even before his injuries, Luck was having an off year with only 15 touchdowns in seven games to go with 12 interceptions. Additionally, he finished with the lowest completion percentage of his career outside of his rookie season (55.3%). He also had no rushing touchdowns despite scoring 12 through his first three seasons.

But there is a lot to love about Luck going into 2016. He has an improved offensive line with first-round pick Ryan Kelly taking over at center. The team also drafted an extremely talented but raw offensive tackle in Le’Raven Clark as well as well-seasoned North Dakota State product OL Joe Haeg. The team also fired offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, promoting associate head coach Rob Chudzinski. With an entire offseason to start implementing his offensive strategy with the team, Chudzinski will head into 2016 with an offense he helped construct.

As for Luck, he will have Hilton, Moncrief, Dorsett, and Allen to look forward to in 2016 along with the old but reliable Frank Gore as his lead running back. He will have had an entire offseason to recover and should enter 2016 with nearly the same high expectations because of the amount of solid pass catchers he has at his disposal along with the high amount of natural talent he has as well. Currently sitting behind Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers as the #3 quarterback taken in mock drafts, Luck will enter 2016 with high hopes of bouncing back.

Jamaal Charles – RB, Kansas City

Charles was off to a great start in 2015 before he suffered a major knee injury that ended his season. With more than 500 yards from scrimmage (364 rushing, 177 receiving) in only five games along with five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving), he looked to be well on his way to another terrific season. He tore his ACL in Week 5, which was a  huge blow to fantasy owners as he was the 4th running back taken in mock drafts for 2015. The team would still find success in their run game with Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware picking up the slack.

As we approach training camp, Charles is nearing a return to the field and it appears as if he will be all systems go for Week 1 of the regular season. After his second ACL tear in the past five seasons (he tore his right ACL in 2011), there is some skepticism about whether or not Charles will be able to come back and produce to the level he had been in previous seasons. He is 29 years old with more than 1,600 touches in his career and two major knee injuries. The team also re-signed both West and Ware to contract extensions this past offseason as well.

But with an improved offensive line including offseason addition tackle Mitchell Schwartz, there is reason for optimism for Charles in 2016. If healthy, he will be the usual workhorse for Kansas City. His ADP is the 6th overall running back taken in mock drafts and while he may not produce a top-six season, he still should be counted on as a RB1 in fantasy football for 2016.

DeVante Parker – WR, Miami

After being drafted 14th overall by the Dolphins in last year’s NFL Draft, there were high hopes for Parker locking up a starting wide receiver role with Miami as a rookie. Unfortunately, he had issues with a troublesome foot injury that required surgery and that he later re-injured. Parker also dealt with scar tissue in the same foot during the season that sidelined him for a couple games as well.

But now as we approach 2016, Parker is dealing with a minor injury that coach Adam Gase has said is not foot related. Parker is expected to be ready for training camp. With a new coaching staff and a higher place on the depth chart (most likely the other starting wide receiver alongside Jarvis Landry), the sky is the limit for Parker, as his quarterback Ryan Tannehill said a few weeks ago.

Parker showed flashes in 2015,  even while injured, so it will be interesting to see how he will perform in 2016 now that he appears to be over his foot ailment(s). Currently, his ADP is as a mid-tier WR3 (31st overall wide receiver) and he has the opportunity to out-produce that as a starting wide receiver on the team. Ryan Tannehill had the 9th most passing yards in 2015 with a dysfunctional coaching staff, so he has the chance to improve in 2016. Parker would have nothing but to gain from that.

Jordy Nelson – WR, Green Bay

Nelson’s injury was a huge loss since he suffered it in preseason and provided no value for fantasy owners in 2015. As discussed before, his injury significantly hurt the Packers WR group and directly contributed to Cobb’s off year in 2015. Nelson was coming off a terrific 2014, where he finished as the 2nd overall wide receiver in fantasy football (standard scoring), so his injury was catastrophic in the fantasy football world. He recently declared himself game-ready and will be taking part in the team’s 11-on-11 drills at training camp, which is an encouraging sign for his status come Week 1.

Despite being 31 years old when the season starts, he will return to being Aaron Rodgers’ 1A wide receiver. Excluding 2015, Nelson had played in all 16 games in four out of the five previous seasons. Health is usually not an issue for Nelson and he has had no reported setbacks or issues this offseason.

It is not out of the question that Nelson could go right back to having a top-five wide receiver season in fantasy football this season considering his health and who is throwing to him. Nelson’s ADP thus far has been as the 8th overall WR, so he may actually provide some value at that draft slot. I don’t have one bit of worry for Nelson in 2016 and he should return to being a top fantasy football wide receiver in 2016 as if the injury never happened.

Torrey Smith – WR, San Francisco

“Torrey Smith? What? Why?” That is a very good question. Smith signed a large contract with the 49ers last offseason (five years, $40 million, $22 million guaranteed) and was expected to be a big part of the 49ers offense in 2015. Unfortunately because of what seems now like an interim coaching staff with Jim Tomsula and Geep Chryst and disappointing quarterback play from Colin Kaepernick, Smith did not perform well in 2015. But there is reason for hope.

New coach Chip Kelly runs an up-tempo offense that saw the Eagles run the 2nd most plays from scrimmage in 2015 (1,102) and the most in 2014 (1,127), which will be a big step up from the 969 plays that San Francisco ran in 2015 (tied for 29th in the NFL). Regardless of who plays quarterback for the 49ers in 2016, whether it be Kaepernick or Blaine Gabbert, Smith is expected to be a strong candidate to bounce back in 2016.

He will be the unquestioned #1 wide receiver on a depth chart that includes Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, DeAndre Smelter, and DeAndrew White. Smith is currently being drafted as the 49th overall wide receiver on average. That would be a high-end WR5 in 12-team leagues. It is easy to say that Smith has some serious value at that spot and will be worth grabbing there as he could have a top-30 wide receiver potential with Kelly at the helm.

Philip Rivers – QB, San Diego

From Weeks 1-8 of the 2015 fantasy football season, Rivers had the 2nd most points of any quarterback. During Week 8 of the season, San Diego’s number one wide receiver, Keenan Allen, went down with a kidney injury that forced him to miss the rest of the season. From Weeks 9-17, Rivers had the 22nd most points out of all fantasy football quarterbacks. Clearly the loss of Allen (along with injuries to Malcom Floyd and the offensive line) hurt Rivers’ production.

But as we approach 2016, there is a lot to be excited about in San Diego. Allen is healthy and the ink is still drying on his new four-year contract extension. The team also brought back Antonio Gates along with drafting rookie tight end Hunter Henry. San Diego also signed WR Travis Benjamin from Cleveland, drafted center Max Tuerk from USC, and signed free agent guard Matt Slauson to help improve its offensive line. Also a plus is that receiving running back Danny Woodhead returns to the SD backfield.

With a solid wide receiver and tight end corps (Allen, Benjamin, Stevie Johnson, Gates, and Henry) along with Woodhead, Rivers will have plenty of targets. Currently being drafted on average as the #10 quarterback in mock drafts, Rivers has some value there as he could have a top six-to-eight season in 2016 for a quarterback.

Dwayne Allen – TE, Indianapolis

Yes, it’s hard to get excited about Allen, considering he has only played 27 games the past three seasons. Or that he has just 91 receptions, 1,045 yards receiving, and 13 touchdowns over his four-year NFL career (22.75 receptions, 261.25, yards, and 3.25 touchdowns per season). But after the team let Coby Fleener go in free agency to the Saints and re-signed Allen to a four-year, $29 million contract this past offseason, it appears the Colts have big plans for him.

Chudzinski said in March that Allen will have a larger offensive role in 2016. The new OC is a former tight ends coach who has worked with the likes of Antonio Gates, Greg Olsen, and Kellen Winslow, so he probably has a good understanding of how to use a TE in the passing game. With the return of Luck, Allen only stands to gain from his star quarterback being back. Along with that, Allen may not have much competition at the position when the depth chart boils down to Erik Swoope, Jack Doyle, Michael Miller, and Darion Griswold.

The TE position is often unpredictable in fantasy football, as well as being likely the thinnest position. . Currently being drafted as the 16th overall tight end in mock drafts, Allen could be the Gary Barnidge or Tyler Eifert of 2016, where he puts his name on the map in fantasy football. The Indianapolis passing attack will be strong this season, and Allen may have a big part in that.

Ladarius Green – TE, Pittsburgh

As discussed above, there were many injuries in San Diego last season and they gave opportunities for other players to step up. Unfortunately, Green dealt with his own injuries and did not have a chance to take advantage. He dealt with multiple reported concussions and also suffered an ankle injury that hindered him for several weeks before eventually having surgery in the offseason. Green is currently rehabbing, but it’s not with the Chargers

Green signed a four-year, $20 million contract with the Steelers over the offseason after Heath Miller unexpectedly retired. Green will slot right in as the starting tight end for the team and be the team’s #3 or #4 target in the extremely high-powered offense. He is expected to be on the field for training camp and be all systems go for Week 1.

Green is in a terrific spot with the Steelers as the team finished 3rd in the NFL with 287.7 passing yards per game and tied for 4th highest point per game last season (26.4). After losing Martavis Bryant for the entire season because of suspension, the Steelers could be expected to rely heavily on the returning Le’Veon Bell, star wide receiver Antonio Brown, and Green. Green has top-five tight end upside in 2016 and while he is being drafted as the 8th overall tight end on average, there is a possibility he could do better than being the 8th best tight end in fantasy football this season. He is going to put up big numbers in Pittsburgh.

Follow Doug on Twitter @DMooreNFL. Check out Doug’s articles on drafting a wide receiver in the first round and the top fantasy football rookies.

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