2014 Comeback Player of the Year Candidates

The greatest champions have the shortest memories. Many of these nominees burned fantasy owners in 2013 and may have even cost you a shot at your league championship. Don't hold a grudge in this game.

This is a new season and last year's trash could become this year's treasure. Their struggles may have been due to injury, performance or situation; however, these issues change drastically from year-to-year. We compiled a list of players who under-performed in 2013 and will rebound statistically in this upcoming season. These candidates once proved they can carry a fantasy team to victory and we here at FFToolbox think they can do it again.

QB Eli Manning, NYG
Manning is coming off back-to-back sub-par seasons. 2013 was his worst fantasy season since 2004 (his rookie year in which he only appeared in nine games). The two-time Super Bowl champ did not manage to reach the 3,900-yard mark for the first time since 2008. The most alarming statistic of all was Manning's 18:27 touchdown to interception ratio. His 27 interceptions were enough to lead the NFL. He threw five more picks than both Carson Palmer and Joe Flacco. While Manning cannot be let off the hook for his poor performance, other factors did however come into play.

The Giants had a putrid offensive line. He was sacked 39 times and hurried into many bad throws. In addition, his WR corps was uninspiring to say the least. Victor Cruz was struggling to gain separation, while an always banged-up Hakeem Nicks appeared disinterested. There was no running game to speak of, so the focus was always on the passing game.

Manning needs time in the pocket and a running game that can create play-action opportunities down the field. The former first overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft is not one of the Top 20 quarterbacks coming off draft boards according to his current ADP (179.91). There should be no doubts Manning can be a Top 20 fantasy QB. Confidently draft him as your backup because he will be a fringe QB1 starter in 2014.

RB Doug Martin, TB
As a rookie in 2012, Doug Martin was a breakout star. He dominated with over 1,900 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns. Last year failed to replicate or build upon his rookie momentum. The Boise State standout struggled mightily in his sophomore campaign. Through six games, Martin only managed 522 yards from scrimmage and one TD. His YPC came down a full yard to 3.6. His season was then-ended prematurely due to a shoulder injury. What is most puzzling about Martin's struggles was how well no-name backs like Mike James and Bobby Rainey played in his absence. Martin's struggles are virtually inexplicable.

Knowing he has competition chomping at the bit to steal his job, Tampa's former first round pick must stay healthy in order to maintain order in the backfield. Despite rumors about new head coach Lovie Smith wanting to use a rotation of running backs, Martin is the potential feature back. He is a dual-threat talent as both a runner and receiver. According to his 24.16 ADP, the potential Comeback Player of the Year is the 11th back drafted. No one should be surprised if he ends the season among the Top 5 RBs. With the additions of monstrous rookie pass-catchers Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, defenses will not be able to stack the box and must respect the pass. Giving Martin an inch of daylight to hit the hole can lead to huge gains.

RB Trent Richardson, IND
Richardson is the long shot on this list after a very underwhelming season. He was a first round pick in the majority of fantasy leagues last year. The 2012 NFL Draft's third overall pick was at times the worst starting running back. After being traded to the Colts after Week 2, Richardson averaged a nightmarish 2.9 YPC. His longest run to date is 32 yards.

One reason for a turnaround will be his expected high volume of touches. Richardson has proven to be a tough, durable back, while fellow backfield comrades Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard have not. Bradshaw is as injury prone as you can get, and Ballard is returning from ACL surgery. Richardson will earn roughly 250 carries and 70 passing targets. The Colts have made it clear they want to run the ball and prove that they did not make a mistake trading away a first round pick for the former Alabama star. Even at less than 4.0 YPC, lots of touches add up to lots of fantasy points. If he could add a few more short touchdowns, it would go a long way to improve his fantasy value. In this offense, with weapons across the board, he has the potential to be a Top 15 back. Richardson's 59.72 ADP makes him a possible low RB2 or very high RB3.

RB C.J. Spiller, BUF
Spiller was one of the most hyped fantasy running backs entering 2013. The reality was that veteran teammate Fred Jackson split the workload and was often the more productive back. Jackson had more yards from scrimmage, receptions and eight more touchdowns. One reason for optimism regarding Spiller is that Jackson will be 33 years old. Spiller has proven what he is capable of doing on a football field. In 2012, the Clemson alum averaged an outstanding 6.0 YPC. He rushed for 1,244 yards on just 207 carries, and added 43 receptions and eight touchdowns. It's clear why everyone was so high on the blossoming star when drafting in 2013.

The 26-year-old back is heading into a contract season and motivated to prove he is not just a flash in the pan. Expect Spiller to look a lot more like he did in 2012 than he did in 2013. He is as quick and as dangerous in open space as anyone in the league, especially when healthy.

WR Michael Crabtree, SF
Coming off an 85 catch, 1,105 yard and nine touchdown season, Crabtree ruptured his Achilles' before the start of the 2013 season. He managed to return for the last five games of the season, but was never quite 100-percent. With veteran wideout Anquan Boldin turning 34 in October, Crabtree has a real chance to pull away from the pack.

Considering Boldin finished 2013 as the 15th-best fantasy WR, Crabtree could do just as well, if not better. It is almost a perfect situation because Vernon Davis and the WR corps, coupled with a strong rushing attack, is enough to take some focus off of Crabtree, but not enough to hurt his fantasy numbers. The former Texas Tech star will build upon his 2012 campaign. Crabtree will finally have a full season with Colin Kaepernick as his quarterback. After a slow start to his career, up-and-down quarterback play and his recent injuries, it's been a long wait for the former No. 10 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

WR Jeremy Maclin, PHI
After tearing his ACL in camp last offseason, Maclin missed the entire 2013 season. Reports out of Eagles camp are that Maclin is not only back to full health, he is actually feeling faster and better than ever. The absence of DeSean Jackson will only increase Maclin's value as the offense shifts to maximize his skill-set.

Even when Jackson did play alongside Maclin in 2012, Maclin had superior statistics in almost every major category. Maclin led the Eagles in receptions, targets, yards and touchdowns at that time. The sixth-year receiver now has a chance to show what he can do as the undisputed top guy. His 69.11 ADP has him drafted as the 29th WR. With value like that, a healthy Maclin is a bargain. Maclin may be the strongest contender for Comeback Player of the Year. The 2009 first-round pick is my prediction to win this award at year's end.

TE Dennis Pitta, BAL
Dennis Pitta dislocated his hip last preseason and missed the first 12 weeks of 2013. Joe Flacco most certainly missed the presence of his favorite big target. In 2012, Flacco targeted Pitta 93 times and they connected for seven touchdowns. In the final four games of 2013, Pitta averaged five catches and collected double-digit targets twice.

Pitta should very easily see the second-most targets of any pass-catcher in Baltimore. The Ravens are lacking a viable No. 2 WR behind Torrey Smith. This leaves the door wide open to pick up where he left off before his injury. Pitta declared himself 100-percent healthy and doesn't even think about the injury anymore. The expectation last year was that Pitta could further become an elite TE and the same is true for the BYU alum in 2014. He is the eighth TE drafted with an ADP of 89.52. There isn't a lot of room for value, so be sure to not reach for this potential 2014 Comeback Player of the Year candidate.

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