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Bounce Back Busts
Matt Ball
July 7, 2008
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When you draft a player in the first five or six rounds of your fantasy draft, you have certain expectations for him.  You are probably hoping that he has an MVP-caliber season and will escort your fantasy team to the league championship, which will ideally provide you with a nice payday as well as earn you the adulation of your league mates and provide you with bragging rights during the offseason.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  Well even if these lofty goals are not met by your first several selections in the draft, you need these players to at least have solid seasons in order to keep your team competitive.  Unfortunately, things do not always work out this way.  Inevitably, many team owners are hit with a major bust or two from the early rounds of their draft.  Depending upon the magnitude of the bust as well as the general preparedness of the team owner to deal with said bust, a season can be virtually derailed. 

If you selected Cedric Benson in round two of your league's draft last season, believing him likely to run for 1,200 yards and 10 TDs, and if you did not devise a strong backup plan, then you likely had trouble keeping your head above water in 2007.  Or maybe you drafted Lee Evans in the fifth round last year, expecting him to serve as a solid WR2 for your squad.  If that was your story from 2007, your team may have struggled to get solid WR production throughout the season.  Both of these players were clearly busts, stinging many team owners.  Sadly, there are many of such stories from 2007.  Identifying busts after the fact is a fairly simple task.  The real question at hand for any given bust from the prior year is, “Can he bounce back?”

When examining the likelihood of a bust bouncing back, the first step is to consider what the causes for the poor season may have been.  Was it an injury that slowed him down?  Did any of his key teammates sustain injuries that negatively impacted his production?  Was there a change in the offensive scheme or coaching staff last year?  There has to be some sort of reasonable explanation and it very likely is a combination of several things.  The first step is simply to identify what factors may have caused or contributed to this player’s disappointing season.

After determining why a player ended up being a bust last year, the next item to give thought to is what, if anything has changed to improve this player’s outlook for the new season.  Or sadly, maybe the picture has gotten uglier for the player in question.  Regardless, this assessment must be made before moving forward.  Maybe an upgraded offensive line, a new QB or a greatly improved offseason conditioning program has this player primed to have a great 2008.

Along the lines of identifying what has changed for the bust, determining the relative significance of that change is important as well.  For a QB, a small upgrade in talent at RG likely will not yield the statistical benefit that hiring a new, pass-happy offensive coordinator would.  Obviously some change is more important than other change, and most certainly, not all change is good change.  Once you determine the net impact of the change for the bust in question (or possibly lack thereof), you can then come to a reasonable conclusion regarding the likelihood of him actually bouncing back.

With all of this in mind, below you will find analysis of a few busts from 2007 that I believe are primed for strong bounce back seasons in 2008.  Hopefully this analysis will not only stimulate thought regarding the players detailed below, but other busts from last year as well.  Using this simple line of thought to analyze other busts could be beneficial for you as you prepare for your league’s draft.

Of note, I did not consider players that produced well below expectations primarily due to significant injury issues to be busts for purposes of this analysis.  So guys like Larry Johnson and Marvin Harrison would not qualify.

Steve Smith

2007 Expectations vs. Reality

Coming off of a huge season in 2006, most thought Smith was the cream of the WR crop in 2007.  His average draft position (ADP) typically had him being drafted as one of the top two players at his position.  Unfortunately, Smith underachieved and finished as the 16th ranked WR in total points scored in 2007 (using standard scoring at The Huddle).  While it is difficult to label a 1,000 yard season as a bust, when a player is drafted in the 2nd round there are high expectations for him, and Smith simply failed to live up to them.

Reason(s) For Bust

QB play was the primary reason for Smith’s statistical struggles last year.  When Jake Delhomme went down early in the season with injury, Smith’s production plummeted.  The combination of David Carr, Vinny Testaverde and Matt Moore simply did not get the job done.  Combining for 13 starts in 2007, the group threw for 11 TD passes and 13 INTs in these games.  Considering how horrible the Carolina passing game actually was, Steve Smith fared reasonably well; just not good enough to justify being the #1 or #2 WR selected in most fantasy drafts.

What Has Changed

Delhomme is not exactly a world-beater at QB, but if he is close to fully recovered from elbow surgery, then the QB situation in Carolina will be dramatically improved.  Also of note on the offensive side of the ball is the addition Jonathan Stewart at RB. 

Likelihood of Bouncing Back

Smith's odds of bouncing back are closely tied to the health of Delhomme.  As the preseason progresses we should get a much better feeling for how Delhomme is feeling, but for now it looks as though his elbow should be fine in 2008.  With Delhomme chucking passes and the potential for better RB play (with the addition of Stewart) keeping opposing defenses honest, Smith should have a much better season.  A top seven season at WR seems likely.

Marc Bulger

2007 Expectations vs. Reality

Heading into the 2007 season, no one was expecting Bulger to be a top 3 fantasy QB.  However, he was in the next tier of players at the position and team owners that drafted him believed they had their QB position pretty well locked down for the season.  As we're all aware, this was not at all the case.  Bulger ended up as the 21st ranked QB in total points scored (using standard scoring at The Huddle).  Bulger's production was likely crippling for fantasy teams that did not draft a strong backup or acquire an adequate replacement through a trade or via the waiver wire.

Reason(s) For Bust

Injuries.  Bulger himself was fighting through injuries much of the season, the St. Louis offensive line was banged up (including All-Pro Orland Pace) and stud RB, Steven Jackson missed significant time due to injury issues in 2007.  The Rams offense was a complete mess last season.

What Has Changed

Hopefully, the Rams offensive unit is much healthier this season, Marc Bulger in particular.  While this team cannot be expected to post numbers anything like the Rams of five years ago, it should be much improved if the aforementioned key players can remain largely healthy.  However, the poor play of the line remains a valid concern as we enter 2008.  Yet despite the chance that it may be a below average group, it should be much improved this year if Pace is playing.

Likelihood of Bouncing Back

Bulger has a real shot of finishing in the top seven or so in points scored at QB.  The Rams still have some weapons on offense and simply need better play from the line to put their weapons to full use.  Injuries all around the offensive side of the ball are what really cut into Bulger's production last year.  Better health should result in considerably better numbers.

Julius Jones

2007 Expectations vs. Reality

With the increasing role of Marion Barber III in the 2006 season, most people understood that Julius Jones would be sharing the rushing load for Dallas in 2007.  However, not only did Jones lose goal line and 3rd down work to Barber in 2007, he also eventually lost his starting job.  For a player that most team owners drafted to serve as their RB3, Jones left much to be desired, finishing as the 44th ranked RB in total points scored (using standard scoring at The Huddle).  Drafting Jones likely did not destroy fantasy teams, but it severely hurt their depth at RB.

Reason(s) For Bust

Jones was outplayed by Barber.  It's as simple as that.  You can look at the stats or watch the game film, either way, Jones comes up lacking.  This is not to say that Jones is not capable, it is more a statement about how well Barber played in 2007.  Barber deserved to be on the field more than Jones did.

What Has Changed

Jones was not re-signed by Dallas and found himself a new home in Seattle.  Jones will get another shot to be significantly used in an NFL team’s rushing attack.  And while Seattle's offensive is not on the same level as Dallas', it is reasonably productive.

Likelihood of Bouncing Back

Shaun Alexander and Maurice Morris combined to rush for over 1,300 yards last year.  And frankly, neither player looked all that great.  While Jones is definitely not an elite NFL RB and it is debatable if he is even marginally better than Seattle’s RBBC from last season, he is likely to see a good portion of the carries for the Seahawks.  Admittedly, Jones had a poor 2007 for a prolific Dallas offense.  However, his first three seasons in Dallas were productive and may be more indicative of what he is capable of in the right situation.  He should post solid yardage totals this year and do a decent job as a fantasy RB3.

2007 Busts With No 2008 Bounce

Shaun Alexander - Currently without an NFL home, the best-case scenario for him is to land in a place where he can contribute in a running-back-by-committee.

Cedric Benson - Cut by the Bears and even if a team gambles by giving him a roster spot, he will not likely be fantasy relevant this year.  Benson has not proven he has the talent or head for the NFL game.

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