We give up on players too often after one bad season. Not all players go into the tank after a down year.
Last season proved that. Eli Manning, Steve Smith, Brandon Marshall, Reggie Bush, Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch and Willis McGahee are good examples of bounce-back players who came up big in 2012. There are plenty more.
Here are three players who stand to get back to the level they were at heading into the 2011 season:
Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman
It would stun us if Freeman doesn’t at least approach the breakout numbers he put up in 2010 (25 passing touchdowns, six interceptions) and pick himself up after a mostly disastrous ’11 season (16 TDs, 22 INTs). Part of it has to do with him throwing fewer times — stay with us here — but also throwing smarter under this new coaching staff that will demand nothing less. The run game is in far better shape with first-round RB Doug Martin and (the Bucs hope) a motivated LeGarrette Blount, and that likely means Freeman’s attempts will not be nearly as high as they were last season (551 pass attempts), settling in closer to what he had two seasons ago (474). The previous coaching staff gave Freeman too long a leash, and he got sloppy and a bit lazy with his technique. New coordinator Mike Sullivan helped make Eli Manning a more disciplined QB and can do the same with Freeman. Plus, with checkdown security blanket Kellen Winslow gone (a net positive) and WR Vincent Jackson arriving to open things up downfield, there should be far better throwing windows this season.
Chiefs RB Peyton Hillis
His downfall started about the time his face hit the cover of the Madden video game. After a transcendent season in 2010 in which he charmed the city of Cleveland and made himself into a household name, Hillis fell — fast and hard. His problems were myriad with the Browns, but Hillis gets a fresh start in a good situation with the Chiefs. It’s too soon to give up on a player who is still only 26, has barely more than 500 carries in the NFL, will be reunited with his coordinator from his breakout season in ’10 (Brian Daboll) and has a perfect complement in Jamaal Charles. Hillis will not touch the ball 331 times, as he did two seasons ago, but he could be a 150-200-carry back who catches 30-50 passes. The Chiefs have to be creative on offense to be successful, and they will monitor the workload of Charles, who is coming off ACL surgery. Hillis’ hard-running style will make him a fan favorite in Kansas City (sound familiar?), and his exodus from Cleveland will end up being the best thing that happens to him. Expect more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage and double-digit touchdowns, making Hillis a quality fantasy contributor.
Packers WR Greg Jennings
It feels a bit silly putting Jennings on this list considering how well he’s regarded throughout the league, as well as in fantasy circles. But watching his receptions (from 76 to 67), yards (from 1,265 to 949) and TD catches (from 12 to nine) fall somewhat noticeably from 2010 to last season — not to mention a late-season knee injury and Jordy Nelson’s breakout season — have some wondering what Jennings’ ceiling might be in 2012. Wonder not. Jennings is the Packers’ No. 1 receiver, no questions asked, and he should find himself back in that ’10 territory again. With the possible emergence of Randall Cobb as the Packers’ third receiver, that’s one more option that Aaron Rodgers has and that defenses have to think about taking away. (As if they need more help.) Jennings, who turns 29 in Week Three, is going to cash in one way or another after this season, either with the Packers or another high-paying team if he hits the market (not likely). He’s motivated to get back to elite status and elite statistics, and the Packers know that Nelson is not likely to be running wide open so many times again this season. Expect Jennings to post some of his best career numbers. He’s in his prime, durable (the three games he missed in ’11 were his first ones since 2007) and ready to roll again.