Conlin Postma @ConlinFF
This is part two of a three-part series. If you happened to miss part one, go back and read it, so you get an understanding of this series. Looking ahead to this article, you’ll find a common denominator between all three of these athletes. The reason they’re all on this list is that each of them failed to play more than four regular-season games. One player suffered a torn ACL, another had a dislocated ankle in Week 1, and the last person couldn’t overcome reoccurring injuries. The main benefit of all their returns is that they’re all coming back as Week one starters with no competition.
The key takeaway from this part of the article will be that Fantasy Football is unpredictable and you must have reliable backups or substantial bench depth. Injuries can happen out of nowhere, a wrong cut, a low hit from a defender, or nagging injuries can end a player’s season. If someone has a key starter such as Saquon Barkley, Todd Gurley, or Ezekiel Elliot it’s beneficial having their backup.
In Fantasy, one of the most essential keys to building a team is preparing for the worst. When building a team and the first pick is an RB such as David Johnson, you want to take his backup, Chase Edmonds, in the later rounds. We call that a handcuff in Fantasy terms. Never assume that every player will start all 16 games. Just the wrong twist of the knee trying to evade a defender and that player’s season could be finished. A soft tissue injury can be worst because it could linger all season and the player is never fully healthy.
That leads into the first player that will be talked about, Atlanta RB, Devonta Freeman.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
If there is one player who has a strong chance of winning Comeback Player of the Year, it’s this man. Freeman is returning to a much-improved Falcons team, it’s better than any other year when he was the starter. The receiving group is much deeper and Atlanta has its best offensive line in years. It was clear in the offseason that Atlanta has the utmost confidence in Freeman. Atlanta is so confident in fact, that the Falcons allowed Tevin Coleman to sign with the San Francisco 49ers.
Devonta Freeman hasn’t been fully healthy over the last two seasons. The injuries he sustained were to his knee, groin, and foot. Back in 2017, he hurt his knee and that carried over into the start of the 2018 season. Once his knee started to heal, Devonta was placed on the Injured Reserve list with both foot and groin injuries. If the Falcons had any doubt or second thoughts about his health then they would’ve resigned Coleman.
Many are forgetting just how efficient he is because of his lack of games played over the last couple seasons. Back in 2015, Freeman had over 1,600 all-purpose yards as well as 14 total touchdowns. Fast forward to 2016, he had another sensational season with over 1,500 all-purpose yards and 13 total touchdowns. Those seasons were quite a while ago, but the numbers don’t lie. In two seasons, Freeman had 3,175 total yards and reached the end zone 27 times on only 619 touches.
There shouldn’t be any questions about whether he is returning as the starter. He has been the starter since 2015 and there’s no indication to think otherwise. If Freeman is able to play 13 or more games this season, he has top seven upside and right now is a great RB2 option.
Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans
It was only Week one when the three-time Pro Bowler suffered a fractured and dislocated ankle. His one game played was the fewest since his rookie season back in 2006. Without Walker playing most of the season, Tennessee finished with a 9-7 record and was a playoff contender until the very end. Now, with Delaine’s return, Tennessee will be a serious contender to take the AFC South or Wild Card spot. The offseason moves made by Tennessee should help elevate the offense and Delaine Walker.
The Titans only made two significant moves on offense, signing former Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR, Adam Humphries, and drafting Ole Miss WR, A.J. Brown. Humphries will be playing in the slot and Brown will be opposite of Corey Davis. Even with those two signings, there is still one key fact that helps Walker’s potential. Tennessee didn’t sign another TE, and just like Devonta Freeman, he’ll return as the definite starter for his team.
Walker failed to play in double-digit games or have more than 60 catches for the first time since 2013. His return will have benefits all away around for the Titans. His presence will help Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, and rookie A.J. Brown be in favorable matchups. He is also an underrated blocker and will help both Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. When it comes to his impact with Marcus Mariota, it’s safe to say that Delanie is his safety blanket.
Marcus Mariota entered the league back in 2015 and up until last season, Delanie Walker has led the Titans in receptions. On top of that, there has been only one year that Walker didn’t lead the team in targets. Those two facts show that there is clearly a connection between Mariota and his TE.
In Fantasy, his value is being overlooked because he only played one game last season and Mariota’s recent struggles. In his sole game last season, Walker had four catches on seven targets for 52 receiving yards. As long as Mariota is under center, the 14-year-old vet is still a top 10 TE option.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers’ franchise QB had a choice to make, either fight for more yards or go out of bounds. Jimmy G decided to fight for extra yards and it cost him his season. In his third start with San Francisco, Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL. During those three games, however, he had 718 passing yards for five TD’s but also threw three ints. If you average that out over a full 16 game season then he would’ve thrown for 3,829 yards, 27 TD’s, and 16 ints. His turnovers are very concerning, but the fact he was on pace for over 3,800 yards and 27 TD’s shows he has a lot of potentials.
This time last year, the 49ers were still just trying to figure it out, but entering 2019 it’s a different story. In 2018, Jerick McKinnon was lost due to a torn ACL before the preseason, Matt Brieda was a backup, Dante Pettis was an unknown rookie, George Kittle was still trying to break through, and Pierre Garcon was a shell of himself. Fast forward one year and we have a completely revamped offense.
San Francisco has McKinnon returning, signed Tevin Coleman, who is one of the most underrated dual-threat RB’s in the league, and Matt Brieda, who led the team in rushing last season. They also took two explosive rookie wideouts in the first three rounds of this year’s draft. Pierre Garcon was released, Dante Pettis established himself as the team’s best WR and Marquise Goodwin is still one of the best deep threat receivers. Finally, George Kittle erupted last season for 1,377 receiving yards on 88 catches and scoring five TDs and is now a top three TE. There is so much young talent on this team and Garoppolo should benefit highly from it.
The two rookies that the 49ers selected in this year’s draft were Deebo Samuel (second round) and Jalen Hurd (third round). Come week one, Samuel should be the starting slot receiver for the 49ers. As for Hurd, his significant size of 6’4 and 227 lbs. will prove difficult to contend with in the end zone and goal line.
Overall, Jimmy G has some of the most fantasy upsides for a QB. The surrounding young talent could catapult him into the top 10 QB’s at the end of the season. The only QB’s that should be taken ahead of him are Mahomes, Luck, Watson, Ryan, Rodgers, and Mayfield. After that, it’s a tossup of who else will finish inside the top 10, but the upside with Garoppolo makes him an intriguing draft selection.
What’s Next to Come
Looking ahead to the finale, it will be highlighted by three of the nine biggest names out of the group. On the list, you’ll have two receivers and one back, who are all in the AFC. The RB is returning from a one-year hiatus. One of the receivers couldn’t stay healthy for the whole season but was highly effective when he was on the field. The other receiver suffered a torn ACL while scoring a TD. Be on the lookout for part three coming soon.