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Fantasy Football Bounce-back Candidates for 2022: Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Allen Robinson, More

Fantasy Football Bounce-back Candidates for 2022: Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Allen Robinson, More article feature image
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Getty Images. Pictured: Christian McCaffrey (left), Saquon Barkley (right)

  • Injuries held back some of the biggest names in fantasy football last season.
  • Our staff breaks down who they're backing the rebound in a big way this season below.

Bad seasons happen in the NFL. It’s the nature of the game. But that doesn’t mean you should shy away from players when they suddenly disappoint.

The players listed below are all former Pro Bowlers – or have the potential to be – and could carry your fantasy football team to a championship this season. Our experts here at Action Network (Chris Raybon and Samantha Previte) make the case for guys with big-time pedigree coming off down years.

Chris Raybon

RB Saquon Barkley

Barkley was an easy fade for me last season, as he was entering the year at less than 100% and running behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines. This year, however, I’m back in on Barkley. After adding some pieces, the Giants’ offensive line should be average instead of the worst (ranked 18th by PFF after 32nd heading into 2021).

Barkley showed glimpses of his upside in 2021, posting 22 touches, 94 yards and one TD in Week 3 and 18 touches for 126 yards and 2 TDs in Week 4 before a freak ankle injury set him back in Week 5. He also posted a 100-yard rushing game as late as Week 17. Overall, he was solid when he got something resembling close to a full workload. In the 10 games in which he played at least 50% of the snaps, he averaged 17.4 touches for 79.2 yards and 0.5 TDs – mid-range RB2 numbers.

Unless a player is coming into the season with a known ailment, it’s futile to try and predict injuries. As long as Barkley enters the year healthy, he is one of the last RBs by ADP that will be a true three-down workhorse from Day 1, and he has the best offensive line and offensive coaching staff of his career. While Barkley may never replicate his 2018 rookie campaign when he went ham for 2,028 yards and 15 TDs, it’s not out of the question for him to regain his 2019 form, a year in which he posted 1,441 yards and 8 TDs. I have Barkley projected as my RB11 with roughly 1,300 total yards and 8-9 TDs.

WR Courtland Sutton

Upgrade at QB that perfectly matches his skillset? Check. Another year removed from injury? Check. On the field almost every snap? Check.

Let’s start with the Russell Wilson factor. Sutton runs the majority of his routes downfield – his aDOT of 15.8 was second highest among WRs with at least 50 targets – but his starting quarterback last season, Teddy Bridgewater, has never been an effective downfield thrower. According to PFF, Bridgewater’s 63.7 rating on throws 20 or more yards downfield was 25th of 28 passers with at least 40 attempts; Wilson’s 114.9 mark was third. Sutton suffered through a litany of uncatchable targets, with his 37.9% uncatchable target rate clocking in at 11th among 89 WRs with at least 50 targets.

Now let’s talk about his ACL injury. Sutton managed to play all 17 games and was on the field for 90% of Denver’s pass plays, but he clearly wore down as the season progressed. He averaged 5.6/77/0.29 in his first seven games before a 10-game disappearing act that saw his average stat line plummet to 2.1/24/0. In Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception profile, he notes that Sutton’s success rates against man and zone were down from his 2019 peak, and that “some players’ success rates drop in their first year back from a torn ACL before getting back closer to their peak form in future seasons.”

While playing 90% of the snaps might have ultimately been a detriment to his production last season, it bodes well for his outlook now that he’s two years removed from injury. Being on the field as one of Wilson’s top two WRs all but guarantees fantasy success. Wilson has had each of his top two WRs finish inside the top-30 in each of the past three seasons. Since 2014, his WRs have beat their ADP 75% of the time.

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WR Jerry Jeudy

It needs to be repeated: Russell Wilson has had both of his top two WRs finish inside the top 30 in each of the past three seasons, and 75% of them have beat their ADP since 2014.

While Sutton needs Wilson for the deep ball, Jeudy, who has just three TDs on 190 career targets through two seasons, needs Wilson for his ability to get his pass catchers into the end zone. Since Wilson came into the league in 2012, 157 quarterbacks have attempted at least 500 passes, and Wilson’s 7.2% TD rate is higher than all but four of them.

After a shaky rookie campaign, Jeudy’s underlying metrics checked out in Year 2: He was targeted on 21.2% of his routes, posted a 70% catch rate and averaged 4.8 yards after the catch. A season similar to the one Doug Baldwin had in 2015 (78/1,069/14) is squarely within Jeudy’s range of outcomes.

WR Allen Robinson

A-Rob is forever cursed with poor QB play. Sometimes, he overcomes it (1,400 yards with Blake Bortles in 2015, 1,100-plus yards in 2019 and 2020 with Mitch Trubisky). Other times, such as last season’s dismal 38/410/1 showing in 12 games, he does not.

But now for the first time in his career, he doesn’t have to worry about his QB. In his first season under Sean McVay, Matthew Stafford ranked in the top four in passing yards per attempt (8.1), yards per completion (12.1), yards per game (287.1) and TD percentage (6.8%). Robert Woods and Odell Beckham combined to post 72 catches, 861 yards and nine TDs in 17 games working as the Rams’ WR2. While those aren’t as good as A-Rob’s best seasons as his team’s WR1, they would have been good enough for a WR25 finish and certainly qualify as a bounce back.

When a veteran WR posts a season like Robinson did in 2021, some will wonder if he’s washed. Robinson’s 81st percentile success rate against man coverage and his 96th percentile success rate versus press in Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception charting suggest that is not the case.

Samantha Previte

RB Christian McCaffrey

McCaffrey is the most obvious bounceback candidate after missing 23 games over the last two years due to a seemingly never-ending litany of injuries.

McCaffrey, 26, has been plagued with ankle, shoulder and hamstring injuries, but prior to that, he was an absolute league-winner for fantasy. His best season came in 2019 when he finished as the RB1 in all scoring formats, tallying 1,387 rushing yards and 1,005 receiving yards. He crushed his competition, tallying 123 more points in half PPR than the RB2 (Aaron Jones). The only player to score more points in fantasy that year was Lamar Jackson.

Injuries are always a risk in football, but the upside a dual threat like McCaffrey offers is nearly unparalleled. He was the RB1 in points per game in 2020 and the RB8 in points per game in 2021. McCaffrey will also have a better quarterback (Baker Mayfield) than in recent years, and the team has not added any legitimate competition to the depth chart (D’Onta Foreman was the most significant offseason RB acquisition).

McCaffrey is currently being drafted as the RB2 in most formats behind Jonathan Taylor. Taylor has a lower injury risk, but lower ceiling – especially in PPR formats – than McCaffrey. The investment is costly, considering you’ll have to give up an early first-round pick to secure him, but his upside, as in previous years, remains sky high.

Allen Robinson

There’s no sugar coating how horrendous Allen Robinson was last year. After posting back-to-back WR10 finishes with the Bears, the 2014 second-round pick caught just 38 passes for 410 yards and one touchdown and finished as WR88.

This year, Robinson finds himself in a superior situation after signing with the Rams. The move should be a significant boost after spending the first eight seasons of his career catching passes from suboptimal quarterbacks in Jacksonville and Chicago. The Rams, of course, are fresh off of a Super Bowl victory. Their quarterback, Matthew Stafford, is an astronomical upgrade from the likes of Blake Bortles and Mitch Trubisky. He won’t be the WR1 in this Rams offense, as that distinction belongs to Cooper Kupp, though that may not be a bad thing, especially at this stage of Robinson’s career. The 28-year-old will not draw elite coverage, but he should still see a steady volume of targets.

Robinson’s ADP in half PPR is WR28, which I think is a touch low albeit understandable. Many in the fantasy community – myself included – were burned by him last season. That said, I would much rather have the Rams’ WR2 than the Bears’ WR1. I expect Robinson to have a huge bounceback campaign and return on investment as a low-end WR2.

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