June has arrived and with it another year of fantasy football draft prep. We’ll have you covered all summer as you get ready for your drafts and auctions, running forwards and backwards across the entire fantasy football landscape. To start, we’ll spend the next few weeks setting the scene with sleepers, busts, breakouts and bouncebacks.
I wrote in our sleepers column that, in the modern era, the term really means “undervalued.” Similarly, there are two types of busts. True busts are players who simply fall apart for one reason or another. Value busts, which are the busts we’ll mostly deal with in this column, are overvalued players who will not come close to delivering on their price tags based on their average draft position we’re already seeing in early drafts.
ADP data is courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs (ADP: 30.7)
Why not start with a bang? Mahomes was the NFL MVP last year, throwing for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns, and running for 272 yards and two more scores in his first season as a starter. He was a staple of fantasy championship teams, and had the Chiefs one win away from the Super Bowl. One year later, he’s a prime fantasy bust candidate. Here’s why.
First, Mahomes tallied an 8.6% touchdown rate last year. Even in an era of heightened scoring where it has never been easier on offenses structurally to pass the ball, that’s an impossible feat to duplicate. Among quarterback seasons with at least 400 passing attempts, Mahomes’s 8.6% touchdown rate ranked fourth in NFL history. There have been just 10 instances of a quarterback hitting a touchdown rate of 8% or better. Dan Marino, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Daryle Lamonica and Russell Wilson are the only quarterbacks in league history with multiple seasons with touchdown rates of at least 7%, a number that would represent significant year-over-year regression for Mahomes. History suggests Mahomes is due for a major step back in touchdown rate, even if he had the same personnel around him. As we know, that almost certainly won’t be the case.
It appears likely that Tyreek Hill won’t play a down of football for the Chiefs, or possibly any other team, this season, and rightfully so. Hill was as necessary an element to the Chiefs’ offense as anyone last year, catching 87 passes for 1,479 yards and 12 touchdowns, and running the ball 22 times for 151 yards and a score. Seven of his 12 receiving touchdowns were from at least 25 yards out, and four were 58-yard scores or longer. That explosiveness typified the Chiefs’ offense, and helped carry Mahomes to his MVP campaign. Without Hill, that explosiveness is, at best, significantly curbed and, at worst, completely gone. It’s going to be a new world for Mahomes this year, one in which grabbing him at his ADP will hamstring a fantasy team.
Todd Gurley, RB, Rams (ADP: 8.9)
The bet here is that Gurley’s ADP drops to a safer point by the time most people are drafting their fantasy teams. No matter where it lands, fantasy owners should be fading him aggressively in the first two rounds of drafts, and possibly even longer depending on what we learn about his knee this summer. What we know now is that the arthritic knee that forced him to the sidelines at the end of the regular season and made him an afterthought for most of the playoffs, including the Super Bowl, has likely ended his days as a bell cow running back. The Rams have made as much obvious by matching an offer sheet from Detroit for Malcolm Brown, and then trading up to draft Darrell Henderson early in the third round of this year’s draft. That’s as sure a sign as any that 250-carry, 80-target seasons are a thing of the past for Gurley.
That’s what we know. What we don’t know, specifically as it relates to the health of his knee and the Rams’ plans for managing his workload, could be even worse. Given the depth of the first two or three tiers of running backs and receivers, it’s borderline roster malpractice to take Gurley inside the top-30 picks of a typical draft.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars (ADP: 26.5)
The fantasy community keeps giving Fournette a pass for his obvious demerits, the latest evidence of which being that he has a higher ADP at present than Keenan Allen, George Kittle, Derrick Henry and A.J. Green. Going back to Fournette’s last year at LSU, he has missed a total of 16 games over the last three seasons, and at least three every year, all due to various leg injuries. He has rushed for 3.69 yards per carry in his NFL career, and is no more than a modest contributor as a receiver. The Jaguars likely upgraded under center this offseason, but it’s not as though Nick Foles is a slam dunk to be a top-20 quarterback, let alone the type of player who can transform an entire offense. The Jaguars return, mostly intact, an offensive line that ranked 21st in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards last year. In other words, there’s a ton of risk associated with Fournette, as well as a high opportunity cost. Things could change between now and draft season, but this is looking like one of the easiest fades of the summer.
Chris Carson, RB, Seahawks (ADP: 44.2)
Carson is a fine player who earned every bit of his No. 14 ranking among running backs in half-PPR leagues last year. An unlikely starter at the beginning of the season, Carson seized the job in the summer and cemented his status at the top of the depth chart, running for 1,151 yards and nine touchdowns on 247 carries. Carson will enter training camp as the starter, and it would be a shock if he didn’t hold that role going into the season. The problem, though, is that Rashaad Penny still looms, and the same front office and coaching staff that saw fit to make Penny the 27th overall pick in the 2018 draft reigns in Seattle.
Every possible piece fell into place for Carson last summer. First, Penny reported to camp overweight. Then he suffered a broken finger that cost him essentially all of the first training camp of his career. He started the season behind the curve, and by time he caught up Carson had taken hold of the backfield. While Carson is still the team’s top back, Penny will have every opportunity to carve out a meaningful role in the offense this season, and he almost certainly won’t have as star-crossed a summer as he did last year. That makes Carson a risk when players like Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Chris Godwin and Kenyan Drake are typically still on the board.
Adam Thielen, WR, Vikings (ADP: 23.3)
Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings (ADP: 35.7)
Thielen and Diggs are arguably the best receiver duo in the league, but their fantasy status is in serious jeopardy going into this season. Through 13 games last year, the Vikings were one of the pass-happiest teams in the league, with Kirk Cousins attempting more than 40 passes per game. The team ranked second in passing rate overall, and fifth in neutral game script (game within one score), and eighth in neutral plus positive (leading by more than one score) script, according to Sharp Football Stats. After a Week 14 loss to the Seahawks, the Vikings fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and promoted Kevin Stefanski, who dropped the interim tag this offseason. In the three games Stefanski ran the offense, the Vikings ranked 24th in overall passing rate, 27th in passing rate in neutral script, and 29th in neutral plus positive situations. In that time, Cousins averaged 27.3 pass attempts per game.
That’s the reality Thielen and Diggs face this year. We can’t draw any sweeping conclusions on Stefanski’s style based on three games, but that’s all the hard data we have going into this season, and Mike Zimmer made clear last year that he wanted to lean more on Dalvin Cook and the running game. In those three games with Stefanski as the interim offensive coordinator, Thielen averaged four targets, while Diggs checked in at 7.7 targets per game. In the first 13 games of the season, they averaged 10.8 and 10.5 targets, respectively. If Stefanski and Zimmer stick to those guns, it could be a long season for owners who believe in Theilen and Diggs at their ADPs.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Chiefs (ADP: 56)
The case for Watkins this season is logical and obvious. The Chiefs had one of the best offenses in NFL history last year, and return a wunderkind quarterback who ran away with the MVP award. With Tyreek Hill likely gone, 137 targets are up for grabs, including some of the most valuable targets an offense can produce. Rookie Mecole Hardman represents the only meaningful addition to the Chiefs’ pass-catching corps, which means Watkins is comfortably atop the depth chart at receiver.
Yet, even with that sound logic at his back, Watkins is a tough sell at an ADP of 56. To be fair, he has been in less-than-ideal situations for much of his career, but he’s now entering his sixth year in the league, and he has exactly one WR1 or WR2 season to his name, ranking 19th at the position in 2015. He may not have been in great spots with the Bills or pre-Sean McVay Rams, but at some point we should rightfully expect a receiver who was the fourth overall pick in his draft to transcend his circumstances. Watkins has yet to do that.
Additionally, he may be the No. 1 receiver in Kansas City, but Travis Kelce is the team’s best pass-catcher. Damien Williams will ensure a major touch share for the running back position, and Hardman is likely to be the team’s primary deep threat. Watkins has been the Lucy to the fantasy football community’s Charlie Brown too often to trust him, despite an admittedly attractive setup.
Eric Ebron, TE, Colts (ADP: 66.2)
Jack Doyle played four games in between the two injuries that completely ruined his 2017 season. By time he returned from the first one in Week 8, Ebron had emerged as a go-to weapon for Andrew Luck, catching 33 passes for 357 yards and six touchdowns in the Colts’ first eight games. With Doyle back on the field, however, Ebron’s opportunity waned. In the four games before Doyle went down with a season-ending kidney injury in Week 12, Ebron averaged 3.3 targets per game, and had a goose egg against the Titans in Week 11. Doyle out-targeted Ebron in that time, 18-13, pulling down 17 of his targets for 165 yards and two scores. Ebron still had five touchdowns in that time, but Doyle was more productive in every other statistic.
This is not to say that Doyle will be the primary tight end in Indianapolis, or that Ebron should be viewed as a TE2. What it should illustrate, though, is the confluence of circumstances that helped make Ebron fantasy’s No. 4 tight end in 2018. The Colts make excellent use of sets with two tight ends, but it is absolutely foolish to expect Ebron to put up anywhere near the numbers he did last year if Doyle is healthy for all or most of the season. His ADP, however, forces you to expect just that.
Jared Cook, TE, Saints (ADP: 70.7)
Cook’s ADP makes him the eighth-ranked tight end, sandwiched between Hunter Henry and Vance McDonald. That’s a perfectly fair place for him to be in his first year with Drew Brees and the Saints, especially after he racked up 68 catches for 896 yards and six scores with the Raiders last year. I have no problem with where Cook ranks among his fellow tight ends. I do, however, have a problem with where he slots in the full player universe.
Cook’s 70.7 ADP has him coming off the board ahead of Tevin Coleman, Robby Anderson, Allen Robinson, Latavius Murray, Will Fuller and Miles Sanders, among others. That’s an astronomical opportunity cost, notably when you consider that tight ends like Trey Burton, Dealnie Walker and Greg Olsen are available 40 or more picks later.