The mid to late-rounds of your draft are where you're looking for upside and possibly the lottery tickets that vault you into fantasy supremacy. The first few rounds of the draft are supposed to be about safe plays - the guys who will form the bedrock of your team. It doesn't always work out though, and it happens every year. The bedrock players end up being the types who shake your team like an earthquake shaking a city. Just ask anyone who drafted Todd Gurley, Alshon Jeffery, or Sammy Watkins just how safe those picks were last year. Plenty of factors including injuries, poor play by surrounding players, and off-field troubles can come into play when a player experiences a down year. The mere fact that a player had a less-than-productive season doesn't necessarily mean that you should pass on that player when this year's draft comes. Here are a few of those players that we like to have a bounce back in 2017.
Demaryius Thomas (DEN)
Demaryius Thomas was off the boards by the end of the second round last year. I should know. I drafted him in the FFN Users Leagues II hosted by my friends at Fleaflicker.com. He didn't turn in a terribe performance, per se, but my expectations for him were much higher than what he eventually turned in. He just skimmed the 1,000 yard mark last year after averaging 1,447 yards for each of the previous four years. That's an extra 25 yards per game plus an additional reception or two each game. In that particular league, we award bonus points for hitting 100 yards receiving in a game. Those extra 25 yards per game should have translated into weekly bonus points.
Thomas is currently ranked 29th on FFN (24th in PPR) which means that he'll likely go in the 3rd round of 12-team drafts. If he's on the board in the mid to late 3rd-round, I'm not going to hesitate to draft him again. If he makes it to the 4th-round, he's an absolute steal. This will be Trevor Siemian's second year as the starter and all indications are that he'll be focused on getting Thomas the ball. Thomas was one of the most targeted receivers in the redzone last year, and he still has the talent to capitalize on that.
Russell Wilson (SEA)
The annual FFN Charity League allows for a QB in the flex spot which means more often than not, it's a 2-QB league. Last year I went all-in at the QB spot by drafting two Top-5 quarterbacks early (Drew Brees and Wilson). Brees, as always, was pretty consistent, but Wilson disappointed. Ranked 4th among QB's last season, he finished the year 11th among them. Given the weekly production value at the position, I would still take a gamble with top-flight QB's, and if Wilson is available to me in this year's draft, I'll take him. Why? Part of it may be due to the fact that I am a glutton for punishment, but it's more likely because he no longer has the knee and ankle issues that he did last year.
I was banking on his ability to scramble and gain yards on the ground in addition to his production through the air. His knee and ankle saw fit to shatter that expectation. He had a career-low in rushing attempts, rushing yards (259), and scores. He actually threw more yards last year but also threw 5.5 fewer touchdowns than he had averaged the previous four seasons. A healthy Wilson is a recipe for fantasy goodness. The Seattle ground game faltered last year, but should gain additional legitimacy with the addition of a trimmed-down Eddie Lacy. Along with a talented receiving corp led by Doug Baldwin, there's no reason to think that Wilson won't finish near the Top 5 among QB's in 2017.
DeAndre Hopkins (HOU)
A first round pick in most fantasy drafts last year, Hopkins was expected to put up similar numbers to the previous season (111 receptions for 1,521 yards and 11 scores). In fact, after putting up serious money for Brock Osweiler, many fantasy owners expected the Texans to pound opponents through the air. On paper, it looked fantastic, but we all know how that turned out. The Brocketship is now in Cleveland and that's good news for Hopkins who is currently ranked 20th (21st in PPR) on FFN but has an ADP of 29th which tells us that he's likely being undervalued by owners who felt burned by him last year. That's good news as it means that he may very well fall to you somewhere in the 3rd round.
The key here will be the QB play. It will likely be a combination of both Tom Savage and heir-apparent Deshaun Watson under center. Hopkins saw his targets drop under Osweiler from 192 targets in 2015 to 151 last year, but the real problem was not so much the targets as it was the efficiency and touchdown production. He saw more defensive attention last year and saw less than half the redzone targets than he did the previous season resulting in 7 fewer touchdowns. The change at QB should benefit Hopkins' production in 2017, and if you look at the FFN fantasy football wide receiver projections, it wouldn't be surprising to see him finish the season in the Top 12 among his peers. He has an uptick across all statistical categories and should bounce back nicely.
Lamar Miller (HOU)
Staying with the Texans theme, there are plenty of fantasy owners who had much higher expectations for Miller than what he delivered. He was drafted as an RB1 in virtually every scoring format last year. He topped the 1K-yard mark last season but needed an extra 74 carries from the previous season to do it. Like Hopkins above, Miller suffered from poor quarterback play in addition to missing two games. This year we anticipate his volume to come down only a tiny bit from his career high of 268 carries last year and the addition of 3rd-round draft pick D'onta Foreman will likely eat a bit into that. This is not necessarily a bad thing though. Miller will still be the starter, and if you look at the FFN fantasy football running back projections, you'll see that Foreman is slated to handle just 91 carries to Miller's anticipated 261.
Miller is ranked 17th overall this year and with an ADP of 7 spots later, he's a value at his average draft position. He finished last year as the 17th best running back (19th in PPR), and he will have every opportunity to finish the season in the Top 12 this year. The offensive line in Houston is strong and an upgraded QB situation bodes well for his production. Don't let last year's experience sour you on 2017. Go ahead and click the Draft button.
Eli Manning (NYG)
Try not to shake your head as you read this and let's give Eli a chance. Anyone who has listened to the pundits on Sirius XM Radio or read any of the millions of fantasy football related articles over the past few years has likely heard the chant to wait on quarterbacks. Generally, Eli's name is the one mentioned when they say that given the depth at the QB position, Eli is always available in the mid to late rounds. That has been true and it will likely be even more true this year. He certainly underwhelmed last year as he declined almost across the board from the previous two seasons. He finished the season 21st among fantasy quarterbacks last year, so why would we consider him to be a bounce back candidate in 2017?
Perhaps the biggest thing that Eli has going for him this season is his upgraded receiving corp. Brandon Marshall replaces Victor Cruz, and even though this is Marshall's 12th season in the NFL, he is still a talented player who will command defensive attention. He also really opens up the field opposite Odell Beckham Jr. With legitimate threats on either side of the field, Eli also has the services of TE Evan Engram underneath. Engram is fast, and if he can get on the same page as Manning early in the season, he could be a nice surprise for both fantasy owners and Giants fans. If you are waiting on a QB this year, and guys like Philip Rivers and Dak Prescott are off the boards, Eli could still be that guy. At the very least, he's a solid bye-week or QB2 with upside. In either event, he should bounce back from his 2016 numbers.