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2021 Fantasy Football Comeback Player of the Year

After an injury-saddled 2020 season, this fantasy football stud is primed for a comeback 2021 campaign.

When searching for comeback players, I’m looking for someone who underachieved their previous resume or draft position due to an injury or played in an offense that failed to live up to expectations. In addition, I want to find someone who offers impact potential to a fantasy team. Each season the player pool changes and draft flow fluctuates based on the stats from the previous year. The key to success is finding where opportunity knocks.

RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

After an excellent rookie season (2,028 combined yards with 15 touchdowns and 91 catches in 2018), Saquon Barkley slipped to 11th in running back scoring (244.10 fantasy points in 2019 – 141.70 fewer than 2018). His season started with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games (11/120 and 18/107/1) with some value as a receiver (4/19 and 3/28).

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) is helped off of the field after suffering an injury during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

A high ankle sprain in Week 3 cost him the next three games, plus a step back in production over the following seven contests (117/373/1 – 3.2 yards per rush and 30 catches for 218 yards and a touchdown). However, his star rose again over the final three matchups (63/393/4 and 11/146/1) while averaging 6.2 yards per carry and 13.3 yards per catch. Over this span, Barkley averaged over 31.63 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues.

In 2020, he struggled to make plays in Week 1 (66 combined yards and six catches) while facing a stout Steelers’ defense. Barkley saw his season end in Week 2 due to a torn ACL in his right knee.

His recovery process has gone well in the offseason with no significant setbacks. The Giants want to be conservative with his path to full-time snaps due to Barkley being a critical part of their success. Over the summer, the coach-speak out of New York has gone from limited playing time in September to missing three games.

In one of the high-stakes contests with PPR scoring, Barkley has a low pick of two and a high of 20 in 12-team leagues over the past six months.

For the most part, the fantasy world can agree Barkley is an impact player. His slumping ADP (12.6) comes from the cloudiness of his playing time early in the year and questions with his timetable to regain full strength.

Whenever a player is coming off a significant injury, the best path tends to be to avoid him the following year. The running back position requires so much stress on their body and knees, inviting risk on any given play.

The football season is a sprint with only a limited number of players offering the ability to provide separator stats. The goal is to work your way into the fantasy postseason while delivering your best scoring late in the year.

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Barkley comes into 2021 as a risk/reward player. He works hard to prepare his body each year, and his lower half is powerful. I expect New York to have him on the field in Week 1, but they may only give him the ball 10 to 15 times depending on game flow. His ability to catch the ball sets a high floor while the height of his ceiling falls on the continued development of Daniel Jones at quarterback.

In 2017, Todd Gurley became a free square in the second round of drafts, and fantasy owners couldn’t win an overall championship without having him on the roster. That season, he gained 2,093 combined yards with 19 touchdowns and 64 catches. Barkley almost matched his output (387.3 fantasy points) in 2018 (385.80).

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) carries the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers as offensive guard Kevin Zeitler (70) blocks during the second half at MetLife Stadium.

Also, remember the most valuable skill players in fantasy are running backs that offer value on all three downs with scoring ability. Barkley is the home run swing, while many other options drafted around him can’t match his potential upside.

On the negative side, the Giants play five games (TB, MIA, LAC, PHI, and CHI) from Week 11 to Week 17 on the road.

I don’t expect Barkley to rise in drafts over the next month due to a lack of preseason playing time. He should be a slam dunk at the backend of the first round where the running back options look to have a drop-off into another tier while most of the wide receivers are interchangeable.

One last note, in 2011, Adrian Peterson blew out his left ACL and MCL in December (12/24). Eight and half months later, he was back in the starting lineup in Week 1 (87 combined yards with two touchdowns and one catch) for the Vikings. He finished the year with 2,097 rushing yards with 12 scores and some value in the passing game (40/217/1). A comeback of that caliber can be done.

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Senior analyst Shawn Childs is a multi-sport, high-stakes fantasy legend with lifetime earnings in the high six-figures. He has been providing in-depth, analytical break downs for years all while helping his subscribers to countless titles and winnings across season-long & DFS. A inaugural inductee of the NFBC Hall of Fame, Shawn can teach you how to prep like a champ!

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