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Fantasy Football 2023 Bounceback Candidates

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Fantasy football is a notoriously fickle game. Countless hours are spent by analysts (and fantasy gamers) alike to figure out the players destined to have big seasons or breakouts, only to have those hours wasted by an underwhelming performance or injury. This article will highlight a few of the disappointing players from 2022 who could bounce back and deliver on the promise we thought they had (and likely at a discount) during the 2023 season.

 

The dust has barely settled after a fantastic Super Bowl, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start looking ahead to next season’s fantasy drafts. Read about 2023’s bounceback candidates below.

Quarterback

Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos

Expectations were absurdly high for Russell Wilson after his offseason trade to the Denver Broncos. Unfortunately, those expectations were not met in real life and fantasy football last season. Wilson had his lowest career completion percentage (60.5%) and passing touchdowns (16), while also throwing the second-most interceptions (11) of his career.

However, there are reasons to believe that Wilson can come back. The veteran quarterback was QB4 in fantasy points per game from Weeks 14-18 last year, averaging 21.64 points per game. He also got a massive coaching upgrade when the Denver Broncos secured a trade for Sean Payton from the New Orleans Saints.

Russell Wilson QB Denver Broncos

The veteran quarterback will have an excellent offensive coach with two legitimate wide receivers (Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy) and a versatile receiving tight end (Greg Dulcich) in the passing game. The offense also features a good, but not great offensive line, and will hope that Javonte Williams can return from his midseason knee injury.

Wilson may never return to the prime we grew accustomed to during his Seattle days, but that doesn’t mean he can’t find real-life and fantasy success in a QB-friendly passing attack in 2023.

Running Back

Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers

Najee Harris was a locked and loaded first-round pick in 2022 fantasy drafts but ultimately finished as RB18 in fantasy points per game with 13.1 (minimum 12 games played). Digging into his season shows that the running back’s season was a tale of two halves.

Harris didn’t miss a game in his second season with the Steelers despite suffering a foot injury in training camp that limited his effectiveness to start the year. From Weeks 1-8, Harris averaged just 13.5 carries a game and 3.3 yards per carry while scoring just 10.9 fantasy points per game. After Pittsburgh’s Week 9 bye, Harris looked a bit more explosive on the ground. Harris’ fantasy points per game were 15.1 from Weeks 10-18, as his workload jumped up to 18.2 carries at 4.1 yards per carry.

The Steelers clearly like Jaylen Warren’s ability as a change-of-pace back, which will likely keep Harris in a 60/40 backfield split going forward given the final nine games of the Steelers’ 2022 season. However, a healthy offseason should allow Harris an opportunity to bounce back next year as an efficient rusher with a touchdown upside.

 

J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens

It always seemed likely that J.K. Dobbins would end up as a disappointment at ADP given the nature of his knee injury. The third-year running back missed two games to start the season as he struggled to come back from the ACL tear that forced him to miss his 2021 season. Dobbins wound up playing in four underwhelming games (35 carries for 123 yards and a touchdown, six receptions for 39 yards and a receiving touchdown) before getting his knee cleaned up again.

The reason Dobbins finds himself on this list is due to the big-play ability he flashed throughout his final four games of the season. From Weeks 14-17, Dobbins had 57 rushing attempts and averaged 6.9 yards per carry. Dobbins was RB19 in PPR leagues during that stretch despite a lack of receiving work (just two targets) and a four-week snap share that never exceeded 50%.

A full healthy offseason will likely allow Dobbins to regain the explosiveness that made him an exciting prospect coming out of Ohio State. While there is some ambiguity in the offense due to a new offensive coordinator (Todd Monken from the University of Georgia) and Lamar Jackson’s contract situation, Dobbins has the explosive speed to overcome a minimal target share if he’s the lead back in the offense.

Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts

I typically try to avoid identifying injured players as bust candidates, but Jonathan Taylor was trending that way regardless of the ankle injury that plagued him throughout the season. The veteran running back was averaging a career-low 4.4 yards per carry in his third season and had just four total touchdowns on 220 touches out of the backfield. Indianapolis was mired by inconsistent offensive line play, poor quarterback play and questionable playcalling for most of the year.

Jonathan Taylor RB Indianapolis Colts

Taylor is primed to bounce back in 2023 thanks to a new offensive coordinator (Shane Steichen, former Eagles offensive coordinator) and a top-5 pick in the NFL draft that will likely be used to find stability at the quarterback position. A healthy offseason, a new play-caller and the hopeful return to prominence by the Colts offensive line should have Taylor poised to capitalize on his slight ADP discount for the upcoming season.

Wide Receivers 

Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos

The stars seemed aligned for Courtland Sutton heading into the 2022 season. He was a year removed from his ACL tear and was seen as the primary receiver for one of the best deep passers in the NFL (Russell Wilson). Unfortunately for fantasy managers, that promise was never realized. Sutton wound up finishing the 2022 season with 64 receptions on 109 targets for 829 yards and just two touchdowns.

However, there is still hope for Sutton heading into the 2023 season. As previously mentioned, the Broncos hired Sean Payton, one of the NFL’s best offensive minds, to be their head coach going forward. There is a chance that Payton could utilize his new big-bodied outside weapon similarly to the one he used during his time with the Saints (Michael Thomas). At the very least, Sutton should see some positive regression in the red zone with a play caller who will put him in positions to win.

Sutton may never reach the hype many hoped for after his 2019 season, but he is still a big wide receiver entering his prime with a coach who can scheme him up to win. He has an excellent chance to bounce back after an underwhelming 2022 season.

Michael Pittman, Indianapolis Colts

Like Sutton, many tabbed Michael Pittman as a breakout candidate ahead of the 2022 season thanks to a perceived upgrade at the quarterback position. However, the Colts offensive line regressed, Matt Ryan (and Sam Ehlinger/Nick Foles) struggled and head coach Frank Reich got fired. That led to Pittman seeing career-highs in targets (141) and receptions (99) while regressing in receiving yards (925), yards per reception (9.3) and touchdowns (4) from his previous seasons. FTN’s Expected Fantasy Points Tool shows that Pittman finished with 18.5 fewer fantasy points than he should have during the 2022 season thanks to all of these factors.

A bit of touchdown luck would allow Pittman to improve on his WR20 finish in 2022. However, if this offense solidifies along the offensive line and picks the right quarterback in the draft, Pittman will hit the levels that many fantasy managers envisioned (albeit a year after the fact).

Marquise Brown, Arizona Cardinals

Marquise Brown was traded to the Arizona Cardinals during the 2022 NFL Draft with the expectation that he would gel with Kyler Murray and unlock downfield chunk plays with DeAndre Hopkins. Brown shined to start the season without Hopkins while functioning as the team’s WR1 before a foot injury caused him to miss five games. When Brown returned, he found himself struggling to earn a significant role before Kyler Murray’s season-ending knee injury.

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Fast forward to 2023, and the Cardinals will have a new head coach and seem to be actively shopping DeAndre Hopkins so the team can attempt to rebuild on the fly. That means that Brown will be poised to be the team’s WR1 once again, a role that he successfully navigated in Arizona once already. Kyler Murray will likely miss time to start the season, but Brown should still earn a healthy target share and have all of the opportunity to improve upon his WR44 finish in 2022.

Tight End

Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders

A lingering hamstring injury cost Darren Waller a majority of the 2022 season, forcing the veteran tight end to miss eight games. When healthy, Waller showed the ability to earn targets (at least five targets in seven of eight games played) despite the team’s addition of Davante Adams to the receiving corps.

There will be plenty of uncertainty at quarterback for Las Vegas in 2023 given Derek Carr’s release. The team could opt to move up for a young quarterback in the draft, target a priority free agent in a solid class, or roll with Jarrett Stidham after he got a shot to start at the end of last season. Whatever direction the team chooses to take, Waller will likely be their second target in the passing attack behind Adams.

There are plenty of variables that will leave fantasy managers reluctant to draft Waller after he burned them in 2022. However, it doesn’t take much to finish as a top-5 tight end in fantasy football, and Waller (if healthy) will have the role and target share we look for at tight end to bounce back from an injury-riddled 2022.

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