First Down: Colston, Kaepernick, Mathews worth catching on the rebound

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As any person with a pulse can attest, relationships are complicated, bonds that tug at heartstrings and take us on emotional rollercoaster rides.

Sometimes they bloom into lifelong love affairs. Other times they extinguish almost as quickly as they began.

Fantasy gamers certainly understand their complexities.

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Three years ago Doug Martin entered the league on a lightning bolt. The thunderous boom he levied on defenses soared him to incredible fantasy heights. His 251-yard, 4-TD annihilation of the Oakland Raiders in Week 8 had everyone hot for the Muscle Hamster. Smashing the Falcons for 160-total yards and a TD fantasy Super Bowl Week (16) only fanned the flames. Overall, he amassed 1,926 combined yards and scored 12 touchdowns, the sixth-greatest rookie campaign by a running back in NFL history.

Drool …

Drafters and fanalysts alike were head over heels for Martin the following August. Spellbound by his versatile skill set, youth and long-term potential, many suckers, including this supposed ‘expert’ with authoritative football knowledge, argued he was worthy of the No. 1 pick.


Martin pulled a Wile E. Coyote in 2013 and 2014 as his fantasy worth fell off a cliff. A torn labrum curtailed his sophomore campaign to a mere six games. Even before the setback he was on a downward slide. Not only did his outward numbers suffer so did his underlying stats. A top-10 rusher in breakaway percentage, elusive rating and yards per route run his rookie year, in Year 2, he was the second or third best in each category among rushers ON HIS OWN TEAM.

Even healthier last year Martin’s production remained in park. Over 11 contests he averaged a pedestrian 3.70 yards per carry and totaled just 6.2 fantasy points per game, an output that ranked him outside the RB top-50 in the category. Backup turned starter Bobby Rainey was far more effective. Tampa’s erratic pass game and woeful defense certainly didn’t help, but the club’s No. 8 ranking in run blocking according to Pro Football Focus showed just how feckless he was. How bad has he been the past two years? On his 261 carries from 2013-2014, 36.8 percent went for negative, zero or 1-yard. 

Despite back-to-back hellish seasons, Martin is a rebound candidate this year. The offensive line is again expected to be one of the NFC’s best. That coupled with Jameis Winston and a deadly receiving arsenal (Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Austin Seferian-Jenkins), the table is set for the ground game. Charles Sims will replace him at times on pass/third downs, but the former Pro Bowl selection is coming off his best offseason in three years cutting weight to improve his initial burst and short-field quickness. Equally important, he has the support of head coach Lovie Smith and new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, at least on early downs. Last year's outward numbers were hideous, but he did gain 58.2 percent of his yards after contact. The man still packs a wallop. At his very affordable 71.2 ADP (RB32), Martin is worth a third chance. Keep in mind he’s only 26.

Like the widely perceived sword-less Buccaneer, what other commodities, not named C.J. Spiller who has been written about ceaselessly this summer, are primed to bounce back? Here are my top-six: 

Marques Colston, NO, WR
Average draft position: 115.4 (WR47), $1.5 (Average Auction Value)
For those who endured Colston last year, no amount of frosty beverages on Bourbon Street washed away the disappointment. But the rangy veteran is on track to intoxicate the fantasy masses, in a good way. The exits of Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills, Pierre Thomas and Travaris Cadet leave a ton of targets up for grabs. Last year, the foursome accounted for 47.6 percent of Drew Brees' looks. Everyone anticipates Brandin Cooks, C.J. Spiller and Josh Hill to earn the majority of those intended passes, but Grandpa Colston will entice his fair share.

Admittedly, the slot man has slowed a bit, struggled with drops (No. 76 in drop rate in '14) and has been wildly undependable on a week-in, week-out basis in recent years, but he's missed only two games since 2012 and has finished inside the WR top-36 nine-straight seasons. For his downsides, the dude is consistent. The veteran revealed in May his 2014 decline left a bitter taste. That chip combined with more managed practice reps should greatly assist him in rebooting his career.

The Saints have expressed a desire to run the ball more, but the increased opportunities matched with Colston's red-zone usefulness imply he's a screaming good deal in the later rounds. Drew Brees is his quarterback for crying out loud. A 70-1000-9 campaign isn't some unimaginable prediction. 

Pierre Garcon, Was, WR
ADP: 110.8 (WR45), $1.2 (AAV)
Garcon's 2014, like most Washingtonian fantasy commodities, was largely rubbish. His WR54 finish was a far cry from the projected top-20 effort most banked on. Despite his abrupt downturn, there's hope for a Frenchy renaissance. Jay Gruden is plotting to revive his wideout's production. In mini-camp Garcon moved from "X" to "Z," a position designed to prominently feature the pass-catcherDeSean Jackson is still the primary downfield threat, but Garcon, who typically operates underneath, will routinely get his hands dirty. He isn't Sheldon-Richardson-behind-the-wheel-of-a-Bentley fast, but his refined routes, sharp cuts and quick initial burst are outstanding attributes. Recall he's only two years removed from a 113-catch campaign.

Many believe Robert Griffin III will improve measurably in Year 2 under Gruden. If that occurs, Garcon has respectable odds of landing in the 80-85 reception range with 1,000-plus yards and a handful of TDs. Don't forget Joe Barry's newly installed hybrid 3-4 defense is a major work in progress. In other words, Washington should be involved in numerous shootouts. Reinvest confidently in the still spry 29-year-old, especially in PPR settings. 

Colin Kaepernick, SF, QB
ADP: 138.6 (QB18), $1.3 (AAV)
Inaccurate. Flawed mechanics. Failed execution. That pretty much sums up Kaepernick's 2014. After signing a seven-year, $126 million mega deal before the season, the overpaid passer left San Fran in the red. Those fantasy owners who trusted him as their QB1 can certainly empathize. Predictably, statistical imperfections blemished his profile. He ranked in the bottom half of NFL QBs in accuracy percentage, deep-ball percentage and play-action effectiveness. He ran the ball well, netting 6.10 yards per carry, but, for all intents and purposes, he was a worse version of Russell Wilson.

To correct his defects, Kaepernick worked extensively with Kurt Warner and biomechanics guru Dennis Gile this past spring. His altered delivery reportedly stunned Vernon Davis in mini-camp who said the signal-caller "looked like a different quarterback." The fantasy setup in San Fran is actually quite good. This offseason, the Niners added long bomber Torrey Smith and safety valve Reggie Bush to accompany Anquan Boldin and Davis. The offensive line lost considerable punch, but the patchwork unit may actually enhance Kaepernick's ground production. Ideally, the organization wants him to be more pocket tied, but when pressured he's sure to tuck and run.

Toss in the possibility of more read-option looks, SF's loose defense and the sixth-most favorable schedule and a resurgence could be in the works. Roughly 4,200-4,300 combined yards (700 rushing) with 20-23 total touchdowns are on the horizon.  

Injury concerns attached to DeMarco Murray makes Ryan Mathews a must-grab mid-rounder. (AP)
Injury concerns attached to DeMarco Murray makes Ryan Mathews a must-grab mid-rounder. (AP)

Ryan Mathews, Phi, RB
ADP: 91.7 (RB38), $2.2 (AAV)
I know what you're thinking, Mathews would probably suffer a catastrophic injury playing chess. His lengthy history of setbacks is evidence enough. But fantasy football is a game defined by opportunity and environment. Though the former is tricky in his situation, the latter is quite enriching.

The Eagles are an explosive, high-octane offense, one that ranked numero uno in run-blocking last season. Even with slow Sam Bradford at the wheel, Chip Kelly will maintain a frenetic pace to keep defenses exhausted and bewildered. Prized free agent DeMarco Murray, who Philly shelled out $21 million guaranteed to sign, is the unrivaled starter. However, as offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur remarked earlier this summer "it takes a village" to foster a consistent, productive ground game in today's NFL. That means thoughts of Murray gripping the pigskin anywhere close to last year's burdensome 497 touches (playoffs included) are a pipe dream.

Mathews will be a rotational back, but in a zone-based scheme that averaged 29.6 rush attempts per game last season, he's a sound bet for 10-12 carries per week, a dosage that should maximize his efficiency. On his first 1-10 in-game carries in his career he's averaged a stout 4.44 yards per tote.

And we can't overlook Murray's enhanced injury risk. Historically, of the 29 rushers who've shouldered 370 or more carries in a season 71.4 percent missed at least one game the following year. It isn't misguided to think Mathews starts 2-4 games. No, I can't quit the guy, but push the stigmas aside and look at his 2015 potential. For a player going around pick No. 90 overall, it's blindingly bright. 

[Fantasy Draft Guide: Safest Bets | Busts | Sleepers | Breakout Candidates | Top Rookies]

Stevie Johnson, SD, WR
ADP: 151.9 (WR59), $1.0 (AAV)
In his brief San Francisco career, Johnson's fantasy value remained incarcerated on Alcatraz. After an uneventful 13 games in red and gold, Johnson traveled south this offseason in an attempt to reinvent himself in San Diego. As a Buffalo Bill from 2010-2012, he was a highly employable WR2/WR3 in 12-team formats. During that stretch, he suited up all 48 games and amassed 79 receptions, 1,041 yards and 7.7 touchdowns per season. Reliable.

Unfortunately, various nicks and scrapes combined with the Niners' run-heavy scheme derailed his career shortly thereafter. Now expected to slide into the slot with the Chargers, a role vacated by Eddie Royal, Johnson is a prime rebound candidate. Though a circuitous route runner at times, he possesses terrific separation skills and versatility. He and Philip Rivers, who've reportedly already established a percolating chemistry, are sure to hook up often. In Mike McCoy's high-efficiency offense, the pair have solid odds of connecting some 65-70 times on roughly 110-120 targets.

Keep in mind Malcom Floyd turns 34 in September, Keenan Allen is coming off a sophomore slump and Antonio Gates will miss the first four games of the season due to suspension. In the penultimate phase of drafts, there may not be a more attractive receiver, though the guy he replaced, Royal, is also a screaming good deal (166.7 ADP). Don't be surprised if Johnson occasionally ventures into WR2 territory, particularly in Weeks 1-4.

Jordan Cameron, Mia, TE
ADP: 97.1 (TE9), $2.6 (AAV)
Two years ago Cameron was fancied by fantasy owners. He was an integral target in a Browns offense on the verge of respectability. That season he tallied an 80-917-7 line, good enough for the fourth-best fantasy output at TE. Then disaster struck. Norv Turner said "Adios!" and Josh Gordon couldn't stay out of trouble. Instability at QB ensued. And the ground game became a point of emphasis. As a result, Cameron's looks and overall production suffered. Even when healthy – he missed six games due to post-concussion issues – he finished outside the TE top-15 in fantasy points per game.

A fresh start in what should be an electrifying Dolphins offense could have him rejoin the elite. When on the field, Cameron boasts superb size, dexterity and athleticism. He's an excellent deep-ball threat who should benefit greatly from the weapons around him. A repeat of 2013 is achievable. Recall last year, Charles Clay averaged a notable six targets per game with the 'Fins. Unlike pricier options Owen Daniels (90.3 ADP) and Julius Thomas (79.5), he's exudes more reliability.

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