2014 FFToolbox Comeback Player: Atlanta Falcons WR Roddy White
Aging is a harsh reality for any NFL player. It's this natural occurrence that everyone has to suffer through. A player comes into the league as a rookie – young, fast and raw with talent. After 10 years, they've developed their talent further, made a name for themselves and have possibly dealt with various injuries as their body has been punished in all sorts of ways.
Obviously, players at certain positions age better than others. Running backs take the most blows as they fight, claw and smash through defenses all game long. On the other side of the coin, the position that ages the best is arguably wide receiver. Just look at Jerry Rice. As the most productive receiver in the history of the game, he played 20 seasons in the NFL and made it through a full season in 18 of those 20 years. It's a position doesn't necessarily require the ability to absorb a lot of contact. That is, unless a wideout finds himself running head first into someone like Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, Kam Chancellor or LaRon Landry.
What this whole age spiel is trying to portray is this: You don't have to be young and fast to be a great receiver. You simply need the skills, knowledge of the game, and opportunity. If you add this all up, you're looking directly into the face of Roddy White, a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year.
White is a 6-foot tall receiver at 211 pounds out of Alabama-Birmingham. He ran a 4.45 40-yard dash in 2005. While he's not necessarily a burner at this point in his career, he certainly has the speed to outrun a few defensive backs. White is a big-bodied receiver with hands, speed and fundamentals. He can line up on the outside and beat his corner or lineup in the slot and gouge the defense through the middle. He's also able to embarrass a few defensive backs through his skilled route running and quickness.
White surpassed the 1,000-yard mark every season from 2007 through 2012. Then everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong for the Falcons last season. White was hobbled for much of the year by a nagging high-ankle sprain that caused him to record the first missed games of his career. Julio Jones was lost for the season after only five games due to a broken foot. Running back Steven Jackson missed significant time because of a hamstring injury. Their defense was racked by injuries, and the list can go on.
If you simply throw on some magical goggles that help you forget the 2013 season, the Falcons are a playoff team. White is only one year removed from posting a 1,351-yard, 92-catch, seven-touchdown season. Those numbers share similarities with what Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall and Dez Bryant produced in 2013, and all of those guys are going in the first or second round of any fantasy draft.
White regaining his pre-2013 production level is no easy task, but he is extremely valuable in every league because of his average draft position. The fact that White is coming off the boards in the fourth round is astonishing. According to our 2014 cheat sheets, which can be found here, White is the 11th-best wide receiver and should be targeted by fantasy owners early in the third round. If you're in the third round and unsure of what to do, here are more reasons to draft White.
He is Matt Ryan's security blanket in high-stress situations. Such usage should only increase with the retirement of tight end Tony Gonzalez. The future Hall of Famer received a whopping 121 targets last year, so where will all of those go now? If you don't know the answer to that question, you're clearly not paying attention to this article or even its title.
Triple-digit targets are nothing new for White. He led the league in targets in 2010 and 2011 and ranked 11th in 2012. Considering how the Falcons' defense slightly resembles Swiss cheese already, their offense will probably be in catch-up mode often, leading to even more looks from Ryan to White. And with loads of targets come loads of receptions, so White has the potential to be a front runner in PPR leagues this year. He just needs to stay healthy.
White likely regrets attempting to play through that high-ankle sprain, but he has shaken it off and has been performing in camp as if it never happened. He is ready for this season and should be looking to build off of the success he experienced late last season.
In his final five games of 2013, White showed how much of an offensive weapon he still is in the Falcons' passing attack. In total, he caught 43 passes for 502 yards and two touchdowns. Again, remember that he posted these numbers with a bum ankle and without Jones on the field, meaning White was often matched up against the opponent's No. 1 cornerback. With Jones back in the lineup to stretch the field, White will have an easier time picking apart defenses on the opposite side.
Lastly, while fantasy owners might be dozing on White, the Falcons are certainly expecting a lot more from him, and they've handed him the money to prove it. White and the team agreed to a four-year contract extension in July worth as much as $30 million. Although a four-year deal and $30 million -- $10 million guaranteed – is a lot to give to a 32-year-old receiver, the Falcons must believe White has the capability to continue performing at his previous rates.
If you still don't like White's fantasy value, you may never see the light. You're getting a WR1 with upside in the fourth round of most drafts. Given White's tight relationship with Ryan and his prominent role in a pass-happy offense, he is certainly a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year.