Fantasy football awards season continues at SI.com with our positional MVPs and LVPs. In this column, we look at the LVPs at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end. The weightiest factor here was overall production compared against draft-day price. Another way to think of these players is as the biggest busts of the season. Given that there were few high-profile busts this season, finding LVPs was an especially tough exercise. That’s a good thing.
Players who fell short of expectations due to injury were not considered.
Tom Brady, Patriots
Remember what I said about “few high-profile busts” to open this column? Tom Brady was one of the exceptions, and even he was only a mild bust. Still, he was the second quarterback off the board in a typical draft, behind only Aaron Rodgers. Even in veteran leagues where quarterbacks go late, Brady was almost certainly off the board by the end of the sixth round in a standard 12-team draft. His ADP placed him at the end of the fourth round in 12-team leagues. Brady came nowhere near meeting that price tag.
Brady played all 16 games this season, so he was still technically a QB1, ending the year ranked 11th at his position in standard-scoring leagues. He was 15th in points per game, however, behind Mitchell Trubisky, Josh Allen, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Jameis Winston. Remember, too, that one of his best games of the season, a 250-yard, four-touchdown game against the Jets that marked just one of three times all year that he scored 25 fantasy points, came in Week 17, which is meaningless for fantasy purposes. Brady had a low ceiling this season, putting up more sub-20 than top-10 weeks, and he fell flat in the playoffs, scoring a combined 21.2 points in Weeks 15 and 16.
Here’s another way to think of Brady’s season. If you waited until the 10th round to take your quarterback, you could have nabbed our positional MVP, Patrick Mahomes, gotten 150 more points out of your quarterback, and take someone like Lamar Miller or Brandin Cooks where you took Brady. We don’t even have to get that extreme. Trubisky went off the board 10 full rounds after Brady. Even if you wanted a big-name quarterback, you could’ve taken Andrew Luck or Ben Roethlisberger four rounds later. Or you could’ve played the stream all season, and taken advantage of great mid- and late-season matchups for players like Baker Mayfield, Dak Prescott and Lamar Jackson. Brady was no better than fine this season, and that makes him a fantasy bust.
Dishonorable Mention: Matthew Stafford, Marcus Mariota
Royce Freeman, Broncos
David Johnson is very lucky to sidestep this ignominy. He absolutely deserved it, due almost entirely to his draft-day price. When it became clear that Le’Veon Bell’s holdout would drag on into the season, Johnson became a consensus top-three pick, with the second-highest ADP in the league, behind only Todd Gurley. Fantasy owners didn’t draft him for the pleasure of suffering through the most agonizing, frustrating RB1 season of all-time, but that’s what Johnson gave them. He may not have been a pure bust, but he certainly was a value bust, and that nearly made him the 2018 running back LVP.
Royce Freeman spared Johnson, though, by being the one true bust among the top-20 backs by ADP. The most hyped rookie during draft season, Freeman was believed to be not only the clear starter in Denver, but also a potential workhorse. That propelled him into the fourth round in 12-team leagues by ADP, ahead of Lamar Miller, Mark Ingram, Deshaun Watson, Drew Brees and Brandin Cooks. That quickly proved to be a mistake.
Freeman’s season started innocently enough. He ran for 71 yards on 15 carries in Week 1, a decent start for any rookie running back at face value. That same week, however, fellow rookie Phillip Lindsay also ran for 71 yards on 15 carries, and also caught two passes for 31 yards and a touchdown. Within a few short weeks, Lindsay grabbed the starting role and never looked back, running for 1,037 yards, racking up 35 receptions for 241 receiving yards, and scoring 10 touchdowns. Freeman, meanwhile, totaled 521 yards and five touchdowns, ending the year ranked 46th among running backs, behind Frank Gore, Wendell Smallwood and Duke Johnson, just to name three. Freeman was essentially a wasted pick at a fourth-round ADP.
Dishonorable Mention: Johnson, Jordan Howard, Dion Lewis
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
Johnson wasn’t the only Cardinal who came up well short of expectations this season. Larry Fitzgerald put together three straight 100-catch, 1,000-yard, six-touchdown seasons from 2015 through 2017, and he did so with largely substandard quarterbacks over the blanace of those three years. It was always possible that would be the case again in 2018, with Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen the top two quarterbacks on Arizona’s depth chart to start the year, but that didn’t cost Fitzgerald in terms of ADP. He was the 14th receiver selected in a typical draft, going ahead of Juju Smith-Schuster and Brandin Cooks.
Arizona ranked last in total offense, last in scoring and last in yards per play this season. That completely sapped Fitzgerald of all his fantasy value. He played all 16 games, but caught just 69 passes for 734 yards and six touchdowns. It was the worst 16-game season of his career, with the reception and yardage totals his lowest in any season in which he played at least 15 games. He ranked 30th at his position, thanks largely to slightly favorable touchdown luck, and the fact that he remained healthy all year. On a points-per-game basis, Fitzgerald ranked 44th, behind Sterling Shepard, Adam Humphries and Curtis Samuel. For many Fitzgerald owners, the sting of taking him over Smith-Schuster lasted all season.
Dishonorable Mention: Chris Hogan, Amari Cooper, Golden Tate, Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas
BELLER: Fantasy Football 2018 MVPs
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
Two Patriots in a fantasy LVP column? Are we sure these are still the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick Patriots? Not only are Brady and Rob Gronkowski worthy of being considered LVPs this season, the latter was the easiest choice among the four players featured in this space.
Gronkowski had the 19th-highest ADP of any player this season. The players immediately behind him by ADP were Davante Adams, A.J. Green, Travis Kelce and Mike Evans. Green had the least productive season of those four, but only because of injury. The Bengals’ star receiver still averaged 15.7 points per game, seventh among receivers, ahead of Adam Thielen, Evans and Odell Beckham. As for the three behind Gronk who played full seasons, they averaged 100 receptions, 1,415 yards, and 10.3 touchdowns.
Gronkowski, on the other hand, had 47 receptions for 682 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games. He had fewer catches than David Njoku and Vance McDonald, fewer yards than Jared Cook and Eric Ebron, and fewer touchdowns than Chris Herndon, Jordan Thomas and Dallas Goedert. That’s not exactly where someone who sunk a second-round pick into Gronkowski expected him to be among his peers.
In what was a terrible season for the tight end position, Gronkowski still managed to rank 11th at the position. The opportunity cost associated with taking him, however, made him this season’s biggest fantasy bust. It likely also represented the beginning of the end, at least in our corner of the football world, for one of the most prolific tight ends in fantasy football history.
Dishonorable Mention: Jimmy Graham, Evan Engram