2019 NFL Draft Guide: Fantasy Football Busts
Howard Bender takes a look at the top fantasy football busts for the 2019 NFL season.
Bust. It’s the dirtiest, four-letter word in fantasy sports. There’s nothing worse than seeing your first-round pick labeled as a bust for the year. While it doesn’t necessarily mean you made a catastrophic mistake in your draft, it does mean you probably played from behind most of the season and it took every bit of effort from you to recover from his performance, or lack thereof.
But “bust” is actually a relative term. It doesn’t mean the player was a complete disaster. It simply means he did not return the value expected from where he was drafted. If your first-round pick stays healthy all season and doesn’t return more than a sixth-round value, he’s a bust. If your first-round pick tears his ACL in Week 3, he shouldn’t be labeled as a bust. It’s just an unfortunate occurrence. There is a significant difference.
The list below consists of players who, we feel, will not return the proper value based on where they are expected to go in your draft.
Patrick Mahomes , KC – Yeah, it’s like that. Right off the bat. I said it. The No. 1 fantasy quarterback of 2018 is going to be a bust this year. Now before you get your undies in a bundle and say this is the worst Draft Guide ever, hear me out. Mahomes is an incredibly talented quarterback and, with the right weapons, can blow most others out of the water. But does he have the right weapons to, not only be the first quarterback off the board, but also worthy of being taken in the third round when the position is so incredibly deep? That’s a pretty hefty investment for a guy who lost his No. 1 target in Tyreek Hill and is now trying to replace him with the oft-injured Sammy Watkins and/or rookie Mecole Hardman. We know Travis Kelce will continue to see his usual share of the targets and running back Damien Williams will work as all running backs do in Andy Reid’s system. But Hill saw 23.6% of the targets last season which massively overshadowed Watkins’ 9.5% share, third-highest behind Hill and Kelce. Hardman definitely has talent, but we’ve seen plenty of rookie wideouts fail to live up to expectations, so to realistically think he and Watkins, who hasn’t played a full 16 games since 2014, can be as productive as Hill was (87 catches for 1,479 yards and 12 TD) seems like a tough pill to swallow. I’ll happily draft him if he falls to where Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers are going, but it seems unlikely any league is going to let him fall that far. UPDATE 6/10 -- Things just got a little better for Mahomes as word recently broke that police were dropping the investigation in criminal charges against Tyreek Hill. No word as to why the sudden change of heart for local authorities, but this does changes things somewhat. While this is a big step in the right direction for Hill and the Chiefs, we are not out of the woods just yet. As we've seen in the past, the NFL has no problem levying a suspension against a player for violation of the personal conduct policy regardless of whether criminal charges are filed or not. We will have to wait and see, but as it is right now, Hill is expected to return to the team for training camp. Mind you, at his current ADP, it's going to require a duplicate performance to last year's statitistics for Mahomes to return equal value and that is going to still be very difficult, with Hill on the team or without.
Ben Roethlisberger , PIT – This is more of a friendly reminder that Big Ben threw for a career-best 5,129 yards and 34 touchdowns, also a career-high, and he’s not going to do it again. He’ll be 37 years old this season and he also lost his No. 1 receiving target. Does he have a fantastic rapport with JuJu Smith-Schuster ? Absolutely. But who else is there? I’d say James Washington has potential, but that’s just a code word for parental expectations which will never be met. So let’s call it upside. After that, who are we looking at? Donte Moncrief ? Ew. Eli Rodgers? Come on. Tight end Vance McDonald should see an increase in targets, but this isn’t exactly the weaponry Ben is used to having at his disposal. Between that and Father Time knocking at the door, we’re likely to see closer to 2017 totals which aren’t bad, but there are likely to be several quarterbacks taken after him who could have higher production.
Todd Gurley , LAR – We’re not really going out on a limb with this pick, but it has to be noted. The Rams continue to be cagey with regard to the status of Gurley’s knee, but the bottom line is that there is something wrong. Whether it’s arthritis, as some have opined, or some sort of bone-on-bone situation, there has to be an expectation of a reduced workload this year. Not only did the team re-sign Malcolm Brown , but they also drafted Memphis running back Darrell Henderson in the third round. If at 100%, Gurley will open the season as the every-down back with Brown and Henderson spelling him, but the further we get into the season and the more wear-and-tear the knee endures, Sean McVay will be forced to cut down his touches. This isn’t going to be like when he flopped in 2016 and fell down 2017 draft boards to become a huge bargain, so don’t be fooled. He’s been the fifth or sixth back off the board in current drafts but the risk/reward seems more palatable further down the top-10 at the position.
Leonard Fournette , JAC -- The early-season injuries last season left a bad taste in fantasy owners’ mouths and he didn’t really help his cause with a suspension for fighting during the start of your fantasy playoffs. But it was more than that, actually, as his conditioning was terrible and his performance in games he did play, was inconsistent, at best. The team voided the guarantees in his contract and trade rumors began to swirl. He supposedly cleared things up with head coach Doug Marrone and the Jaguars front office brass, but the team made it abundantly clear that he would still be on thin ice after drafting Ryquell Armstead in the fifth round back in April. Fournette is still expected to lead this backfield, but with questions regarding his work ethic and conditioning and no guarantee he’s going to improve that sad-sack 3.3 yards per carry average, he could fall out of favor fairly quickly.
Mark Ingram , BAL – I’ve long been aa fan of Ingram and thought he was vastly underrated by most over the past few years in New Orleans. Changing teams should have been a plus for him, but the landing spot in Baltimore seems less than desirable. First off, John Harbaugh loves to rotate in multiple backs, as we saw last year with Gus Edwards , Alex Collins , Javorius Allen , Kenneth Dixon and late in the year, Ty Montgomery . For Ingram to thrive, he’s going to need to see the lion’s share of touches and targets out of that backfield and there is zero guarantee of that. Second, there’s Lamar Jackson under center. As a rookie quarterback, he actually led the team in rushing attempts last season and there is little reason to believe he won’t be taking off with the ball just as often this season. And once the Ravens get down inside the red zone, how many touchdowns will he poach from the backfield? Probably too many for us to trust Ingram.
D'Onta Foreman , HOU – I just don’t get it. Sincerely. There are so many out there who champion this guy like he’s the next Galloping Ghost but I just don’t see it. He’s been lauded for his speed and agility, but at 6-foot-1, 235 pounds he should have been a physical presence between the tackles. Was he? Nope. He seemingly tried to avoid contact at every turn until fatty tore his Achilles during Week 10 of his rookie season and had a terrible time trying to recover. So now he’s supposedly lost weight and everything’s going to be okay? Hardly. We’ll have to wait and see how this rebuilt Houston offensive line performs, but if the running lanes don’t open wide enough, you’ll probably see Foreman drop to the ground upon first contact. That’s even if he even gets a legitimate opportunity. Lamar Miller might still be a fantasy turd, but Foreman is still behind him on the depth chart. UPDATE 8/25: Bust status confirmed
Antonio Brown , OAK – It took AB84 three years before he started to click with Ben Roethlisberger and become a household name in fantasy. Three years. But once the rapport was established, he became one of the most dynamic players in the game and crushed it for the Steelers and his fantasy owners. Was it all Brown or was it maybe the combination of him and Big Ben working together for so many years and knowing each other’s tendencies like the backs of their hands? Now he heads to the Raiders where he is learning a new system, a new playbook, different routes and the tendencies of a new and less-talented quarterback in Derek Carr . Based on his behavior last year, growing pains with the Raiders hardly seems like something he is going to handle well and while things may seem like lollipops and rainbows with Carr and John Gruden right now, what happens when the offense struggles? He’ll still see mad targets come his way, but how many of those balls will be catchable and how much will he be able to come down with the impossible grab? He’s coming off the board in the second round of drafts but there should definitely be some concern here.
Adam Thielen , MIN – The guy is incredibly talented and he saw a team-high 155 targets last year, but how many people actually noticed his declining target rate once Kirk Cousins took over under center? In 2017, he held a 27.4% share of the passing targets and dropped to 26.2% last season. Meanwhile, Stefon Diggs went from a 18.2% share in 2017 to a 25% share last year. Now sure, Diggs missed two games with an injury in 2017, but even if you were to add in his 7-targets per game average for those two weeks, he still only held a 20.9% share. Plain and simple, Cousins seems to prefer Diggs. The two established a strong rapport on the field and it showed even more inside the red zone as Thielen saw just five more targets than Diggs inside the 20. If the trend continues, you can expect Diggs to outperform Thielen this season which would contradict the reasoning for why Thielen is still going about a round and a half earlier than his teammate.
Kenny Golladay , DET – Can we just say it’s because Matthew Stafford stinks? It’s actually quite logical. Everyone loves Golladay and while I won’t criticize his overall talent, I’m just not ready to say he’s a top-20 receiver. Maybe with someone more accurate, he could be, but with a declining quarterback, a new offensive coordinator and a head coach who would prefer to run the ball more, the deck seems stacked against a breakout campaign. And let’s not also forget that as the No. 1 receiver, defenses will be keying in on him a lot more than they had in the past when Marvin Jones was healthy and Golden Tate was a Lion.
Sammy Watkins , KC – How about a little low-hanging fruit here? Watkins is being drafted as a top-25 receiver with the expectation of a massive targets increase in the absence of Tyreek Hill . But just as I said above in the Mahomes section, the guy can’t stay healthy and hasn’t played a full 16 games since 2014. Chronic foot and ankle issues have hindered him every year since his rookie campaign and while he’s still just 26 years old, there’s little reason to believe this is suddenly the year it all happens for him. I’ve continuously tried to go back to this well because I’ve always like the overall skill-set, but fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times and you spend the rest of your career on my bust list.
Corey Davis , TEN – Here’s another guy people seem to love and adore but can’t get it through their heads that Marcus Mariota is not a strong quarterback and no matter how talented a receiver may be, if the guy throwing the ball stinks, the receiving totals are going to suffer. Now add in the drafting of A.J. Brown, the addition of slot-receiver Adam Humphries and the (hopeful) return of Delanie Walker , and we’re back to wondering where all the targets are going to come from. Oh yeah…and it’s a run-first offense with a new offensive coordinator who used to be the team’s tight ends coach. Do you really think Arthur Smith is going to be so crazy innovative that Davis is going to see mad targets and produce like an all-pro? If you do, then I’d love to be smoking what you’re smoking.
David Njoku , CLE – I actually wish he wasn’t on this list, but there’s just too much going on in Cleveland for me to believe Njoku is going to see the targets necessary to be a strong tight end option. Believe it or not, there’s actually some pretty good depth at the position -- the best there’s been in more than just a few years – and there are plenty of options out there who don’t have to compete for targets with the guys like Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry . Not to mention they’ve got Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson , both able to catch passes, the impending return of another pass-catching back in Kareem Hunt and they also brought in Demetrius Harris as a back-up tight end. And that’s not even accounting for the array of tertiary wideouts like Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins . Just far too much competition for me here.
Kyle Rudolph , MIN – Sorry, but the only way his fantasy value is salvaged this season is if the Vikings end up trading him to someone who needs an aging, pass-catching tight end. The handwriting was already on the wall late last season and the drafting of Irv Smith was the punctuation at the end of the sentence, even among word that he was offered a five-year extension. Don’t be fooled into thinking an extension means anything. All it does is lower his cap-hit and how many times have we seen a team cut a player even after he signs on for more? His receiving role has diminished from where it was two years ago and while he had more receiving yards in 2018 than the year before, his red zone targets and, subsequently, his touchdowns have taken a hit.
T.J. Hockenson , DET – Not sure why everyone is thinking Hockenson is going to be a fantasy factor this season. Over the past 12 years, there has been only one rookie tight end who shined bright during his first year and that was Gronk. And truthfully, he was only a factor that year because of his red zone targets and touchdown total. He didn’t become a strong yardage guy until the following season. Rookie tight ends tend to struggle during their first year as they learn different blocking schemes and try to acclimate themselves to the speed of the pro game. Couple that with everything I said in the Golladay write-up regarding the Stafford’s ineptitude, the run-first scheme and a new offensive coordinator and the deck is stacked against a breakout campaign even more.