Every year there are star players that go down and have a profound impact on their team and the league. These are the five players last year that suffered a season ending injury, but are poised for a bounce-back year.
Joe Burrow, quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals
Reason for inclusion on this list– Burrow went down in week 11 last year witth tears in both his left ACL and MCL. Luckily, he is on track to be the starter week one for the Bengals.
2021 Outlook– Burrow was on pace for an incredible year. He may have even been in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. He was on pace for roughly 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions before the injury. Beyond just the volume stats and surface level analysis, there are other reasons he is set up for a great comeback year.
One reason Burrow is on pace for a great year is because of opportunity. He averaged around 40 passing attempts a game last year. This came even while playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. He was sacked 32 times in just 10 games, which was 10th in the league, but was by far the most for someone who did not play the whole season. They were able to add to the line in the offseason with Guard Riley Reiff and the Bengals also drafted two linemen to bolster the unit. The improved line play should give him the chance to be even more productive and push the ball further downfield for more yards and touchdown opportunities.
The addition of former college teammate Ja’Marr Chase, through the draft will be immensely helpful for the offense with a legitimate weapon on the outside.
With Burrow in the lineup, the Bengals were held under 10 points just once in his nine full starts before his injury. After his injury though, they were held under 10 points three times in just six games. This was a dramatic drop in offensive production. This showed the true importance Burrow has to the Bengals. They averaged roughly 20 points per game with him, and only 15 without him. Cincinnati also ran the ball more without him to try and compensate for the lesser play at QB. The Bengals averaged about 22 rushes per game with him under center, and almost 30 after his injury. When you put all of this together, his fantasy football stock should be even greater this year than last.
Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver, Cleveland Browns
Reason for inclusion on this list– Beckham went down in week 7 last year when he tore his ACL. Beckham is a dynamic receiver who relies on speed and agility. He utilizes quick cuts to beat opposing corners and is an elite route runner. This type of injury might worry people that his agility will be compromised. However, all reports are that he is back to himself and ready for the year.
2021 Outlook– There are a lot of people though that think the Browns were better last year without Bekham. I would like to push back against this narrative though. With someone as talented as Odell, the offense lost a true deep threat outside of Jarvis Landry.
Before his injury, Beckham was receiving seven targets a game for the Cleveland offense. This is a really good number for someone who has the game breaking ability he possesses. He is a threat every time he touches the ball. I would also expect his targets to stay the same this year with no real additions in the receiver room to speak of. This will also coincide with the improved play of Baker over the second half of the year. He should be the number one option at receiver, or at worst option 1A alongside Landry.
The offense regressed in overall production after his injury as well. They went from averaging about 27 points a game with him, to around 23 without him. This is a full four point drop when he was not on the field. This might not seem like much, but that could be the difference between winning and losing. People think the Browns were better because Baker was more efficient without him. There is no reason that Baker cannot be just as efficient with Odell on the field as well.
Cleveland is a run-first team. The ground attack is highlighted by the stud backfield duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. This could open up more big play opportunities off of play-action in the passing game. This will allow Beckham more room to operate on the outside or in the short to intermediate game. With the game breaking ability of Bekham, he can make those shorter targets and turn them into long gains.
Saquon Barkley, running back, New York Giants
Reason for inclusion on this list– Barkley suffered a torn ACL in week 2 last year. He has had a full year to recover though and there is little doubt he will be back to his old self.
2021 outlook– Barkley is going to be the number one option on offense for the Giants this year. Despite getting Daniel Jones the best receiver on the market in Kenny Golladay, Barkley remains the go to guy. He should see the ball early and often. He is proficient out of the backfield and offers big upside when healthy. The offense sputtered without him, and scored the second fewest points per game in the league — often looking downright putrid.
Jones was not good enough with his arm to beat teams on is own. This is why they started 0-5 and finished 6-10. Barkley cannot singlehandedly carry the offense, but he can greatly improve it in all areas. In 2019, he played in 13 games and was able to reach 1,000 rushing yards. He averaged 20 touches a game and while that number might not seem like much, that is more then enough to give you great production for fantasy football purposes. He was averaging four catches a game which is an immense boost to any running back and their respective fantasy value.
Saquan’s touches could go up to around 25 this year. If the Giants learned their lesson with Daniel Jones being so turnover prone, we may see a heavier emphasis on the run game. Barkley is going to be heavily involved and receive the lion’s share of the work in the backfield. He will also be a real contributor in the passing game. Barkley will allow the Giants to run the ball more and control the clock. This may not matter for fantasy, but his huge workload and dual threat talent sure does.
Dak Prescott, quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
Reason for inclusion on this list– Dak went down with a gruesome leg injury in week five last year. He has had almost a full year to rehab and has said repeatedly over the offseason he is 100% and ready to go for the year.
2021 outlook– The most obvious reason he is on this list is because of the complete difference and utter ineptitude of the Cowboys offense last year after he went down. They shuffled through numerous QB’s from Andy Dalton to Ben DeNucci. Dak had three games where he threw for over 400 yards and only played in four full games. Without him, the Cowboys had only one game over 300 yards the rest of the year. This included one of the worst offensive performances ever against Washington in Week 7. In that game, they passed for a grand total of 59 yards.
Their passing attempts per game were cut in half after Dak went down. He was averaging around 50 attempts per game. They had to leaned heavily on the run game because of the struggles throwing the ball. This was even while playing from behind in most games because of how historically bad the defense was.
When Dak returns, the talent at receiver should allow him to do big things. CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and Amari Cooper should all put up huge numbers. Do not forget about Zeke either. He will be catching passes out of the backfield and helping take some heat off Dak.
The Cowboys did add to the defense, but Dak will still be throwing the ball a ton and has the receivers to make those attempts count. This will give him the potential to put up massive fantasy numbers. The offense will run through him and they should pick up right where they left off before he was injured last year.
Christian McCaffrey, running back, Carolina Panthers
Reason for inclusion on this list– McCaffrey went down last year in week two last year with an ankle injury that sidelined him for almost two months. He came back and played in one game in November against the Chiefs. He was still severely hampered by the injury though and Carolina shut him down for the remainder of the year after that.
2021 outlook– McCaffrey has the potential to be tthe best overall player in Fantasy Football. McCaffrey is the ultimate PPR stud with added numbers through the air. This potentially makes him the top guy all formats. He caught 17 balls out of the backfield in just three games last year. This includes 10 against the defending champion Chiefs in his game in November. On top of averaging about six targets a game, he was averaging 20 rushes a game as well.
Sam Darnold will be the new starter in Carolina, but he will be someone that is more of a game manager than a guy who will be carrying the offense. McCaffrey will see ample opportunities because of this and his touches should be astronomical as a result.
The All-Pro has the chance to be the number one option in the passing game along with DJ Moore. They had to throw the ball a lot more last year than they probably wanted to with Bridgewater. He was attempting nearly 33 passes per game. I would be shocked if Darnold is even over 30 this year. They will let McCaffrey do the bulk of the work on offense.
Even though he only played three games, he was still second on the team in rushing yards. He was also second for running backs in receiving yards. His value to the Panthers and fantasy owners is on display every time he plays.