There's no bigger player who bounced back in a big way in 2009 than Tom Brady. The Patriot passer's knee was shredded early in 2008, leading to months and months of rehab and speculation. Other than for a couple of instances when there was overwhelming pressure on him in the pocket, he was essentially the same passer we came to know him as before the injury.
Bounce-back players make for great stories. Calling them out before they bounce back is even better.
In Fantasy Football, the best part of eyeballing a bounce-back player is that you'll almost definitely get him at a discount in drafts based on where you got him a year ago. The worst part? There's a chance he'll be deserving of that draft status, if not worse. But let's be optimistic and zoom in on seven players who I believe will return to Fantasy glory in 2010.
Matt Cassel, QB, Kansas City
2009 projections: 3,261 yards, 19 TDs, 14 INTs; 121 rush yards, two rush TDs
2009 actual: 2,924 yards, 16 TDs, 16 INTs; 189 rush yards, no rush TDs
What's the story? ... Expectations weren't overly high for Cassel heading into 2009, but the idea of him being a solid backup Fantasy passer wasn't ridiculous. After a sprained knee messed up the start of his season and a lack of time in the pocket hurt his early-season numbers, Cassel was on waiver wires from coast to coast. His numbers perked up once he had Jamaal Charles helping him out of the backfield and Chris Chambers rejuvenating his career, and his best stats came once he had those weapons and an active Dwayne Bowe all on his side. With a season of work under his belt, his offensive line expected to improve, his receiving corps seemingly stabilized and offensive guru Charlie Weis coming to work his magic in Kansas City, Cassel should see much improved stats. His schedule certainly doesn't hurt his cause, either.
2010 Fantasy draft outlook: Well worth a late-round pick as a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback.
Chris Cooley, TE, Washington
2009 projections: 75 catches, 792 yards, five TDs
2009 actual: 29 catches, 332 yards, two TDs in seven starts
What's the story? ... Cooley's '09 campaign ended early because of a broken ankle, but the rehabilitation for an injury like that is not very long. Furthermore, new head coach Mike Shanahan has never been shy about using sure-handed tight ends in his offense (Shannon Sharpe is an example) and should lean on him. It also helps that new Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan helped the Texans offense and utilized Owen Daniels regularly. The only catch is the presence of Fred Davis, who played well in Cooley's place.
2010 Fantasy draft outlook: With all the great tight ends emerging in Fantasy Football last season, Cooley will be lost in the shuffle. If you whiff on other tight ends early you can pick up Cooley with a fairly late-round choice and be just fine.
Matt Forte, RB, Chicago
2009 projections: 1,163 rush yards, eight TDs; 397 receiving yards, two rec. TDs
2009 actual: 929 rush yards, four TDs; 471 receiving yards, no rec. TDs
What's the story? ... The way Forte ended his 2009 season combined with some surgery he had after the year suggests that the Bears' offensive line isn't as big of a mess as first believed and that Forte played hurt for much of the season. He tore a hamstring before the season and had a knee problem during the year but played through both injuries, so a healthy return should yield healthier results. Forte also figures to be the key running back in the Chicago offense, putting him on par for 300 total touches -- a rarity for running backs in today's NFL. And if Jay Cutler can get the passing game to be a serious threat again, Forte will never see more than seven defenders in the box.
2010 Fantasy draft outlook: Forte won't fall too far in drafts -- think third-round pick as a good No. 2 Fantasy running back.
Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore
2009 projections: 3,202 yards, 18 TDs, 15 INTs, 135 rush yards, two rush TDs
2009 actual: 3,613 yards, 21 TDs, 12 INTs, 56 rush yards, no rush TDs
What's the story? ... Flacco got off to an amazing start, averaging over 20 Fantasy points per game (standard scoring) over his first six games. Then he slumped after his bye, posting no 300-yard games and two multi-touchdown outings over his final 10 contests. Even opponents like the Browns and Lions gave him trouble. The Ravens have to spend some time this offseason looking to give Flacco another dependable target -- and possibly two if Derrick Mason opts to retire. If Flacco can pick up some help when he throws downfield, he's going to erupt.
2010 Fantasy draft outlook: Flacco will be a trendy sleeper this summer, making him a middle- to late-round pick. If the Ravens add a good receiver, it will be warranted. If the Ravens add two good receivers, he will be a steal.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit
2009 projections: 92 rec., 1,396 yards, 11 TDs
2009 actual: 67 rec., 984 yards, 5 TDs
What's the story? ... Injuries both to him and rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford made Johnson's season a nightmare. But the silver lining is that Johnson played his best ball with Stafford (46 catches for 728 yards and three scores) than without him (19 catches for 256 yards and two scores). Stafford's not going anywhere and neither is Johnson, but the Lions' offense should continue to add talent around them in the next few months. Even with this awful season on his record, the expectations are that Johnson's radical ability combined with Stafford's strong arm can produce at least very good totals.
2010 Fantasy draft outlook: There will be someone eye-balling Johnson in every league this summer, but not with a Top-15 pick like last summer. He'll probably be a consensus late second-round pick, but the upside makes him worth it.
Eddie Royal, WR, Denver
2009 projections: 72 rec., 896 yards, six TDs
2009 actual: 37 rec., 345 yards, no TDs
What's the story? ... Royal admittedly struggled in his first year under head coach Josh McDaniels and couldn't adapt to learning to play all over the field instead of one spot. Blame the coach, blame the playbook, blame the offense and blame the player, but don't expect this to happen again in 2010. While Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler appear to be on the outs with the Broncos, Royal is the guy in McDaniels' crosshairs; the coach even said that Royal's production "will change dramatically next season."
2010 Fantasy draft outlook: Royal will definitely slip compared to where he was taken last year, but that's a good thing since he'll best serve Fantasy owners as a low-risk, high-reward Fantasy receiver who can be penciled in as a reserve player in standard formats. Once draft rounds get to double digits, Royal will come off the board.
Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta
2009 projections: 1,275 rush yards, 12 rush TDs; 67 rec. yards
2009 actual: 871 rush yards, 10 rush TDs; 35 rec. yards in 11 games
What's the story? ... In general, Turner didn't have a bad year -- his trainers did. In treating a high-ankle sprain suffered in Week 10 poorly and then rushing him back two weeks later, Turner's last seven games were wiped out and the Falcons' run game was hot and cold without him. While it took Turner time to get hot on the ground (one game with over 100 yards in his first six), he was a touchdown magnet in his first nine games when he didn't score in just two of them. Then in his seventh, eighth and ninth games he turned up the juice and got rolling until his ankle sent him crashing. After racking up 394 carries last year (including postseason), Turner's 178 in '09 seems like a vacation. It doesn't hurt Fantasy owners knowing that he's been "resting" since just before Christmas.
2010 Fantasy draft outlook: Turner is still entrenched as the starting running back and will see lots of work behind a very solid offensive line. While it's debatable whether or not he belongs in the Top 5 as he did in 2009, he's still an easy first-round choice.
Who are your bounce-back candidates for 2010? Drop us a line and tell us about them at email@example.com. Be sure to put Attn: Bounce-backs in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state and we'll respond to as many as e-mails we can.