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Evaluating the fantasy value of returning players
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The list of NFL offensive stars who couldn't finish out the 2013 fantasy regular season due to serious injury was long.

For many, these injuries erased any chance to win a fantasy championship. Don't hold a grudge, however, as they could also be a key in winning back the title in 2014.

For fantasy owners, it's an extremely useful tool, the ability to evaluate a returning player's fantasy value.

Can he win back the starting job? Can he once again be a top-quality contributors?

There are two main factors which come into play when making this evaluation.

1) Is the player completely healthy?

You can't expect a player, no matter the position or talent, to play at his former level if he is still slowed or limited by the serious injury.

2) Is he coming back to the same situation?

In other words, did the team find a replacement, either equal to or better on the depth chart, while he was sidelined? Did the team draft his successor during the 2014 selection process? Did his team trade for or sign a free agent at his position this spring?

Below are eight quality fantasy performers who suffered major injuries in 2013. Let's evaluate what kind of fantasy value they should have in the upcoming season.

QB

Sam Bradford, St. Louis

Bradford played the first seven games in 2013 before tearing his left ACL against the Carolina Panthers. Before the injury, he was playing some of the best football of his career. Bradford averaged 241 ypg and owned a 14-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He should be 100 percent healthy by training camp and while there were rumors the Rams were shopping Bradford over the winter, nothing came of it.

St. Louis didn't use a high draft choice on another quarterback, so Bradford should start all season long, barring another injury. With a Yahoo ranking of 188, he could be a late-round bargain.

RB

Arian Foster, Houston

A back injury cost Foster the final eight games of 2013, but he appears healthy and was a full participant in recent OTAs. He appears ready for an increase in the workload with top backup Ben Tate now the starting RB in Cleveland. Foster is used both in the running game and the passing game and has little behind him on the depth chart to steal carries or receptions and could lead the NFL in touches this season.

Fantasy owners may be scared of his injury history, but if he stays healthy, he's once again going to be a top-five fantasy back.

Doug Martin, Tampa Bay

The good news it that Martin's shoulder is healed. The bad news is that Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford says he believes the running back position is "just too physical" for one back and he's planning on using 2-3 backs to get the job done.

While I don't believe the situation in Tampa will be a full-fledged RBBC, the odds of Martin producing as he did in his rookie season (1,454 rushing yards, 472 receiving yards, 12 TDs) are highly unlikely. Be careful not to "overdraft" him.

WR

Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis

The six-time Pro-Bowl receiver has some gaudy career numbers on his resume (1,006 receptions, 13,566 yards, 80 TDs) and will be welcomed back by quarterback Andrew Luck. That may not be in Week 1 as 35-year-old receivers' knees heal slowly and he's just seven months removed from ACL surgery. In the meantime, the Colts found out that T. Y. Hilton can be a dominant wideout and carry the load on his shoulders. Wayne will also have to deal with the addition of Hakeem Nicks to the receiving corps.

When Wayne does return, hopefully in Week 1, he should end up being the "possession" receiver with Hilton as the explosive deep threat. He will be better in PPR leagues as he hasn't scored double-digit touchdowns since 2009, but he can still be a solid WR3.

Malcom Floyd, San Diego

Floyd (neck) has reportedly looked healthy, but we're talking about a receiver who hasn't played in all 16 games in a season since 2009. In addition, 2013 rookie Keenan Allen became the focal point of the Chargers' passing offense with Floyd sidelined, catching 71 balls for 1,046 and eight touchdowns.

Floyd appears to be a high-risk, low-reward No. 2 receiver ... at best. Quarterback Philip Rivers figures to target Allen, tight end Antonio Gates and even running back Danny Woodhead ahead of Floyd. He's a late-round flier ... if at all.

Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia

The stars have aligned to give Maclin the opportunity of a lifetime. DeSean Jackson was oddly sent packing leaving the fifth-year receiver as No. 1 receiver in Philadelphia. Considering he didn't play a down in 2013, that's quite a big gamble for Chip Kelly. Kelly covered himself by selecting talented Vanderbilt wideout Jordan Matthews, but a healthy Maclin could put up excellent fantasy numbers.

Maclin has never been a 1,000-yard receiver, but he's been a very good red zone target in the past. The up tempo Eagles offense could push Maclin to career-best statistics, but I don't think that will happen. Don't put him in the top-tier receivers as the Chip Kelly system likes to spread it around to his many tight ends and of course LeSean McCoy and newly-acquired Darren Sproles.

Percy Harvin, Seattle

Harvin (hip) actually returned to catch one pass in Week 11 and four balls in the postseason, but for all intents and purposes missed all of 2013. He appears to be healthy again. Harvin is a multi-talented receiver/kick returner/runner who should step right in Golden Tate's old spot.

Harvin is capable of scoring in many ways, but the Seahawks are still a run- first offense, behind Marshawn Lynch and up-and-coming Christine Michael. Having said that, Harvin should be good for 1,200 combined receiving and rushing yards and in fantasy leagues which also use return yards he'll add another grand to his total.

TE

Jermichael Finley, Free Agent

Finley (neck) appears ready to get back on the field ... as soon as he finds a team interested in his services. But the truth is that he was an over-hyped tight end, who rarely produced numbers to match the attention. His career-best season was in 2011 when he caught 55 balls for 767 yards and eight touchdowns. Last season, those same numbers wouldn't get you in the top half dozen and that was his best season with one of the league's best quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers, under center.

His likely fantasy value is to be determined by where he lands, but at this time he shouldn't be considered a starting fantasy tight end.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.


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