Fantasy Football: Is Diontae Johnson the biggest bounce-back candidate of all time?

Fantasy Football: Is Diontae Johnson the biggest bounce-back candidate of all time?

Predicting the players set to do a 180 in the fantasy football department isn’t as easy as it might seem at first glance. Antonio Losada reveals his top candidates for the 2023 season.

WR Diontae Johnson, PIT

Is Johnson the biggest bounce-back candidate in the history of football, let alone fantasy sports? That could very easily be the case!

Johnson had never stopped improving his numbers in the prior two years following his rookie campaign. He went from scoring 130+ half-PPR fantasy points as a rookie to 175+ in his sophomore season and 220+ in 2021 on his way to a WR1 finish and top-25 league-wide without positional constraints.

Then, 2022 happened.

Now, check this out: Johnson finished last season with barely 135 fantasy points through the regular season while playing all 17 games, getting 147 targets and catching 86 passes (for 886 yards) — but none went for a touchdown.

Since the turn of the century, absolutely nobody had gotten more than 107 targets on a season without scoring a touchdown. Johnson beat that mark by 40 freaking targets. Only three other WRs (all of them between 2004 and 2021) got 100+ targets without a single touchdown.

Never chase touchdowns because those are oddities in the grand scheme of things. However, this feels like a really weird glitch in the matrix and something that should get fixed by the time we reach October.

WR DK Metcalf, SEA

I haven’t seen Metcalf’s name around that much this summer. That makes at least some sense, considering the fourth-year wideout finished last year as a borderline top-15 player at the position and top-50 player overall in most fantasy leagues. Not bad!

Metcalf enjoyed a really good and unexpected year with QB Geno Smith, who truly experienced a renaissance of sorts while leading the Seahawks offense. Even then, Metcalf scored fewer than 11 FP per game in half-PPR leagues for the first time since his rookie season. He failed to break the 200-FP barrier for the first time since 2019.

In 2022, Metcalf racked up 141 targets, of which he hauled in 90 for 1,048 yards and six TDs. Looking at data from 2000, as many as 179 pass catchers have put up a player season with 140+ targets and 90+ receptions. Metcalf’s 2022 yielded the 11th-fewest fantasy points among all of those stat lines, and that’s even accounting for his six touchdowns!

With defenses now having to keep their eyes on three capable wideouts after Seattle drafted rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Metcalf will have a chance to get some opportunities to improve on his 2022 season. While not everyone has such a rosy 2023 outlook for Metcalf, I see him bouncing back to WR1 levels of play in 2023.

QB Aaron Rodgers, NYJ

This feels like cheating if only because the context has changed entirely for uber-veteran QB Aaron Rodgers entering his 19th (!) season in the NFL and 16th as an established starter. Gone are the frozen tundra and the cold confines of Green Bay, and welcomed is the media frenzy that comes with New York (and some “Hard Knocks” spotlight).

Gang Green will have Rodgers as their starting QB in 2023, and although the hype is so wild and the expectations so high, it won’t be hard for Rodgers to rebound back to his usual self even in a potential worst-case scenario (not including a season-ending injury, of course).

Rodgers is coming off his worst season since 2017 when he only played seven games for the Packers. Back then, he still scored almost 130 FP. Just for context, Rodgers ended 2022 with 239 FP. If you’re not that much into mathematics, that means Rodgers was averaging 18+ FPPG in 2017 compared to barely 14 FPPG last year.

Yes, that latter figure and average is the worst in Rodgers’ near-20-year pro career.

The soon-to-be-40-year-old passer might be naturally regressing, but last year looks like more of an outlier than anything else. Rodgers completed fewer than 65% of his pass attempts for the first time in three seasons. He went from throwing 37 touchdowns and four interceptions in 2021 to 26 and 12 respectively last year. His touchdown rate cratered to 4.8% after hitting paydirt on 7% of his throws the year before.

Not only is Rodgers bound for a regression to the (positive) mean but he will also be commanding an offense that features a plethora of riches in its backfield and boasts the 2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year in Garrett Wilson as well as long-time partner-in-crime Allen Lazard and speedster Mecole Hardman. Nothing to hate about this situation.

TE Darren Waller, NYG

Waller came out of left field and had an explosive 2019 season, as nobody counted on him to launch his career late after spending four years between Baltimore and Oakland without doing that much.

From 2015 through 2018 (he missed 2017 entirely), Waller caught 18 of 29 targets for 178 yards and 2 TDs combined. In 2019 alone he put up a silly 117/90/1,145/3 line only to improve on it one season later thanks to a Pro Bowl-caliber year; he went for 1,196 receiving yards and nine TDs while hauling in 107 receptions on 145 targets.


The injury bug hit Waller in 2021 and then again in 2022, so this is a little bit more risky than some of the other players I’ve included in this column. However, on a per-game basis, Waller’s 2022 season was one to forget and his worst year ever since his first season in Oakland back in 2018.

Waller has had back-to-back years of averaging fewer than 10 FPPG but he now finds himself in a fresh environment after Big Blue traded for him. He got to build some nice connections with New York Giants QB Daniel Jones through the summer too.

While it is possible that Waller (now on the wrong side of 30) fails to keep producing top-five seasons at the position, he should have no problem playing at TE1 levels if he can stay healthy for at least three-quarters of the upcoming season.

The tight end position isn’t overloaded with talented players, so even raising the bar to 12+ FPPG while playing around 14 games should be more than enough to finish inside the top 10 players at the position.

RB Najee Harris, PIT

As a former first-round pick (24th overall) by the Steelers as recently as 2021, it made sense for Harris to hit the ground running (pun intended) and rack up fantasy goodies in his rookie season. Most rushers picked on Day 1 hit high marks, and Najee Harris was one of them.

Last year, though, Harris regressed as part of a middling Pittsburgh Steelers offense that never truly got things right under the guidance (for the largest part) of rookie QB Kenny Pickett. Collective growing pains, I call it.

Harris rushed the rock 272 times compared to his 307 totes as a rookie, but the per-carry average was virtually the same with Harris gaining 3.8 yards per carry last year to his 3.9 figure as a rookie. That’s actually good news, and calls for believing in a solid bounce-back.

Not only that but what hurt Harris the most was his target count in the passing game. He went from getting 94 looks to only 53 in 2022. That said, his efficiency was as good as advertised, with 4.3 Y/Tgt to his 2021 figure of 4.9 on the same stat while catching 77.4 percent of his targets after catching 78.7% of his looks a year before.

If the volume returns to Harris in the slightest of ways on both the rushing attempts and receiving targets, he should be good for 250+ FP without much trouble after reaching 260+ as a rookie just a couple of years ago.

RB Antonio Gibson, WAS

After putting together eerily similar campaigns in his first two seasons in the NFL, Gibson tanked the 2022 season and left his fantasy GMs in the cold after failing to break the 180-FP barrier for the first time since he entered the league in 2020.

Gibson went from scoring 184 fantasy points as a rookie and 208 as a sophomore to barely 140 in 2022, something that had him as both a borderline top-30 RB and top-100 player in the league as a whole.

The volume of targets didn’t decline, however, as he got targeted a career-high 58 times, also catching his most-ever passes with 46 for 353 yards (another high) and a couple of touchdowns. The low number of carries was the main problem for Gibson, though, as he failed to even get 150 touches in the backfield; he logged 149 rushing attempts after getting 258 (!!!) the year before.

Brian Robinson Jr. got the bulk of the rushing load in Washington last season, carrying the rock 205 times for 797 yards, but not even that helped him overtake Gibson in the fantasy leaderboard as his use and production on pass plays were virtually nil (12 targets, nine receptions, 60 yards, one touchdown).

While Robinson is going nowhere and that might hurt Gibson’s upside a bit, the truth is that he is about to get an even larger volume of targets with J.D. McKissic off the roster (McKissic got targeted 40 times in 2022) while also having a new offensive coordinator coming to town in Eric Bieniemy who should boost Gibson’s production once his offensive scheme is installed.

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