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Identifying bounce-back or breakout players for the following season is a long-standing strategy to maximizing roster value in the offseason. Here are my favorite bets for a value uptick in 2017:
Russell Wilson: He labored through a balky ankle early in the year, plus missed a run game presence and a healthy Tyler Lockett for weeks at a time. Wilson has seven weeks outside the top-20 fantasy quarterbacks this season. Having full mobility to start 2017, C.J. Prosise, and a bevy of receiving weapons, Wilson is a strong bet for next season.
Carson Wentz: For a rookie quarterback, showing competence is important. With Wentz, he has shown pocket acumen, accuracy, movement, and moxie. The weapons have been underwhelming with Dorial Green-Beckham and Nelson Agholor contributing little beyond Jordan Matthews (better as an ancillary target) and Zach Ertz. There are strong odds Wentz has an added skill position weapon or two come Week 1 via free agency or the draft. Wentz has five weeks inside the top-15 this season and has had plenty loaded on his plate to run the offense compared to most rookie signal-callers.
Cam Newton: It has been a trainwreck season for Newton and the Panthers. Newton has just four games of top-12 production. Newton is QB15 in points-per-game and after a breakout 2015 throwing the ball (35 touchdowns), Newton is on pace for less than 20 scores and a career-worst 53% completion rate. Devin Funchess is developing and buying mid-career established quarterbacks coming off a down year is a quality bet with recent examples of Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Matt Ryan.
Kenneth Dixon: The Day 3 metric marvel rookie continues to gain market share of the Baltimore backfield, especially dominating on passing downs. Terrance West is a restricted free agent and Dixon has run well between the tackles, showed power against contact, and eluded defenders in space since starting his season late due to injury. While most backfields are subject to 2017 incoming rookie risk, I view Dixon as reasonably insulated heading into Week 1.
C.J. Prosise: The dynamic positional convert from college rookie flashed in his few games of note, logging three top-20 weeks before his season ended due to injury. Thomas Rawls is a grinder and the depth chart is thin beyond Rawls. Prosise is a PPR play at a minimum with the build to develop more interior chops with more playing time.
Todd Gurley: Viewed as one of the bigger fantasy busts considering his lofty talent and expectations heading into 2016, Gurley has rarely seen goal line cracks on a limited Rams offense and a well-defined interior hole is an infrequent occurrence for him. Gurley is outside the top-20 backs in points-per-game and his best week of the season topped out at RB10. The boost in receiving production is promising, but 3.3 yards-per-carry is likely to rise with any offensive line (or pass game) improvement by the Rams offense overall.
Derrick Henry: The well-regarded rookie back played a clear second fiddle to workhorse DeMarco Murray on run-first Tennessee's offense. Henry had just two weeks of RB20 or better production this season. However, Henry has flashed three-down ability and starter-in-the-waiting upside heading forward. Murray is essentially on a one-year deal despite three years left on his free agent contract with the Titans with no guaranteed money due beyond 2017. Henry, at worst, will build on his usage in 2017, and be an injury away from top-10 production.
Allen Robinson: This season has been a forgettable one after a breakout 1,400-yard and 14 touchdowns 22-year-old season last year. Robinson is outside the top-36 receivers in points-per-game through 14 weeks and has just four weeks higher than WR30 on the season. However, Robinson is still in the rarified air of 23 or younger career starts in NFL history. Here is the list of 2,500 yards and at least 20 touchdowns through age 23: Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, Hakeem Nicks, Allen Robinson, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham. I will take Robinson as a buy low this offseason to rebound in 2017 and beyond on this historic track.
Corey Coleman: On a limited (to be kind) Browns pass game, Coleman has flashed as expected in his rookie season. Coleman has a top-5 week plus a few notable highlight plays despite missing about half the season thus far. Terrelle Pryor is a free agent and whether a free agent or incoming rookie, Cleveland is likely to upgrade the quarterback position with which Coleman can grow in Year 2.
Kevin White: His second year ended with injury nearly as soon as his rookie season. Alshon Jeffery is an upcoming free agent and Matt Barkley under center is likely a worst case scenario for the Bears quarterback situation Week 1. The talent to cost ratio is high for White this offseason as an upside stash.
Sammy Watkins: Watkins has been a non-factor through injury this season, logging a top-30 week for the first time all year in Week 14 after missing two months in the middle of the season. Invest in the talent and Buffalo upgrading their limited depth chart beyond Watkins heading into 2017.
Sammie Coates Jr: Martavis Bryant is an off-field wild card this coming offseason. Coates has been active, but a designed non-factor considering his broken fingers. Coates had two top-25 weeks early in the season and a big play threat any given snap.
Devin Funchess: Like Cam Newton, I expect an uptick from Funchess next season. With the instant success of the 2014 class, much of the 'Year 3 breakout' receiver talk has turned into 'this guy has not been an impact player by his mid-second season so he is a bust' talk. Funchess has averaged 15.3 and 16.5 YPC in his two season with nine scores on 53 receptions. Funchess may be the best 'bang for the buck' receiver talent bet heading into 2017.
Hunter Henry: Antonio Gates is running on fumes at this point with a very cuttable contract heading into 2017 (San Diego would save $5 million by moving on). Gates is averaging a by-far career-low 9.9 YPC this season and just 56% catch rate - also a career low. Henry had three straight top-5 fantasy weeks early in the season, a taste of what is to come from the Round 2 rookie, and has added three top-18 weeks in the second half of the season even with Gates in the lineup.
A.J. Derby: The Broncos acquired the former Patriots tight end for a Day 3 pick midseason. Derby has lapped Virgil Green in pass game involvement quickly and garnered attention in key pass situations this season. Expect Derby to be the Week 1 starter and, at a minimum, to be a TE-premium format value play.
Seth DeValve: The metric marvel rookie has flashed for a downright bad Browns team this season. While Gary Barnidge is still the starter, he has fallen off from his career year in 2015 to about half the yardage total and just a single touchdown through 14 weeks. In his 30s, Barnidge is looking like a one-year wonder. On the contract front, Barnidge is a decent value in 2017, but his low dead money in 2018 points to a one year play from the franchise's view. DeValve is an injury (or year) away from a pronounced uptick in playing time.