The idea behind the "Last Year's Bum" theory of drafting is that you target guys that have proven themselves to be stalwarts of the fantasy game but are, for one reason or another, coming off disappointing seasons. When a high draft pick lets an owner down, that leaves an indelible impression upon that owner, and it's hard for that owner to look at that player in a positive light again, even if said player had valid reasons for the dropoff. Of course, the by-product of this collective feeling of disappointment is that the player usually drops significantly in value on draft day compared to where he was a year earlier. The key then becomes to target those players that you think have everything in place to return to greatness, and enjoy a draft-day discount in the process. Myself, and the rest of the Yahoo experts, offer up five such comeback candidates:
Funston stumps for Roddy White: (Yahoo ADP WR rank 22; Funston WR rank 12 ) — Please don't let White's sub-par '13 season lead you to believe that the tentacles of old age have taken hold of a player that has been one of the most consistently spectacular receivers of the past decade. White's problems last season had much more to do with the fact that he was dealing with a myriad of injuries (ankle, hammy, knee) for about the first two-thirds of the season while also taking on the added burden of extra defensive attention as the go-to receiver when Julio Jones (foot) was lost for the year in Week 5. If you look at White's final five weeks of '13, a point when he claimed he finally felt healthy, he was his usual productive self, averaging more than 100 yards per contest en route to finishing among the top 10 receivers in fantasy points in that span.
Prior to last season, White had strung together six straight seasons with at least 1,153 receiving yards, averaging 8.2 touchdowns per year in that span. In '12, alongside Julio Jones, he tallied 92 catches, 1,351 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. With Jones back, the duo is already talking of challenging Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey for the title of top receiving tandem in the league. Said Jones, ""I feel like me and Roddy, we're the best when we step on the field. We take it as a challenge every year: We want to go out and show everybody we're the best one-two in the league."
With Tony Gonzalez retired, there's 120 targets from last season (second-most targeted TE in the NFL in '13), that will be redistributed to White, Jones and the rest of the aerial crew. But, have no doubts, White and Jones will soak up the vast majority of Gonzo's vacated looks. And another 90-catch, 1,200-yard, 7-9 TD performance is coming Hot Roddy's way.
Andy Behrens campaigns for Arian Foster (Yahoo ADP RB rank 13; Behrens RB rank 7 ) — Foster averaged 4.5 yards per carry for Houston in an injury-shortened 2013, and he's still only 27 years old. He's at full strength right now according to all reports, recovered from surgery, plus he's unchallenged in the Texans' backfield. We're talking about a proven upper-tier fantasy commodity, in line for 320-plus touches. This setup is beautiful. Much of Foster's usage in 2014 should be as a receiver, so he clearly gets a PPR bump. No one should be surprised if he gives us another top-five fantasy season, assuming good health. Draft and enjoy.
Brad Evans rides the RGIII bandwagon (Yahoo ADP QB rank 9; Evans QB rank 5 ) — Two years and two Shanahan dismissals removed from mesmerizing the fantasy sports world, RGIII is on a fast-track to return to his former glory. Discarding the bulky knee brace during minicamp, he resembled, according to offensive coordinator Sean McVay, the explosive runner/confident passer that splashed onto the scene in 2012.
After being mishandled by Lucifer Shanahan, Jay Gruden has made it clear he wants RGIII to play freely. That allowance means more improvisational running, more fantasy points. Adding DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts will only bolster his contributions. Recall that last fall, outside Pierre Garcon and, for eight games, Jordan Reed, he had no viable deep threat. Jackson's presence changes that. Also recall in 2013, the QB was a ghastly 12-for-46 on pass attempts beyond 20 yards, awful when compared to his rookie season (18-for-36). More connections, both long and short, are in the offing, especially if Washington's D again creates numerous come-from-behind situations.
In a system that made Andy Dalton a legit QB1 last year and playing on a team with an ultra-sketchy defense, the arrow points to a top-five resurgence. He’s the perfect target if you choose to exercise patience at QB on draft day.
Dalton Del Don plays the homer card for Colin Kaepernick (Yahoo ADP QB rank 13; Del Don QB rank 7 ) — Colin Kaepernick was no doubt a fantasy disappointment last season, finishing as the 18th scoring QB on a per-game basis, behind the likes of Sam Bradford, Alex Smith and Ryan Tannehill. Kaepernick was saddled by some things though, as a foot injury that went unreported at the time led to fewer rushing attempts, and the 49ers arguably fielded one of the worst WR groups in the NFL.
Let’s not underrate this aspect, as newly acquired 33-year-old Anquan Boldin (WR is typically one of the more difficult positions to transition to when joining a new system) easily led all San Francisco wideouts in snaps. The second highest on the team was Kyle Williams, whose 328 snaps ranked 105th in the NFL. Kyle Williams! Quarterbacks almost always make wide receivers and not vice versa, but there’s a breaking point (see Tom Brady over his first six games last season).
The 49ers vastly improved their weapons during the offseason, as Michael Crabtree should return at 100 percent to go along with Boldin and newcomers Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd as well as TE Vernon Davis. Moreover, a developing Quinton Patton and/or rookie Bruce Ellington suggests this team’s WR depth has gone from a major weakness to arguably a strength.
With the secondary in flux, NaVorro Bowman missing half the year, Aldon Smith looking at a suspension, Justin Smith aging and naturally regressing, it’s a safe bet SF’s defense takes a step back, leading to a more aggressive passing approach on offense.
Kaepernick has started just 23 regular season games during his career, resulting in a 31:11 TD:INT ratio and a 7.9 YPA mark (to go along with six rushing scores). During his six starts in the postseason (presumably against the league’s top competition), he’s gotten 8.5 YPA while rushing for 507 yards and four touchdowns (want to have your mind blown? Joe Montana and Steve Young were a combined 1-6 in road playoff games during their careers. Kaepernick is 3-1). He’s basically just now learning to move to his second and third reads. Kaepernick is ready to explode in 2014, and his ADP doesn’t even remotely reflect this.
Scott Pianowski does a salsa for Victor Cruz (Yahoo ADP WR rank 17; Pianowski WR rank 13 ) — I want Victor Cruz on a bunch of my teams this year, as I mostly blame others for his fade last season. Eli Manning went into a ridiculous funk, the offensive line crashed and burned, Hakeem Nicks couldn't run away from a lawn chair. The Giants still don't have an obvious No. 2 to help Cruz avoid attention (and Nicks is gone altogether), but it might not matter anyway. Cruz owners welcome the extra reps and volume that come with being the team's overwhelming No. 1 option. And I dare Manning to play as poorly as he did last year. Regression can be a positive term, too.
Similarly, new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo can't be any worse than forced-into-retirement Kevin Gilbride. I love knowing Cruz will play exclusively in the slot, running in a West Coast offense - a scheme that targets his skills perfectly.
Cruz was fantasy's No. 4 wideout in 2011, and he was No. 13 in 2012 (despite a late-season slump). If you land him around his current Yahoo ADP (40th overall, No. 17 receiver), you're welcoming tons of upside. Count me in.