The 2019 fantasy football season has drawn to a close. It’s a bittersweet time of year, where even league champions wish there was just a little bit more fantasy action. Alas, this is the end of the road. Before you know it, we’ll be evaluating the potential fantasy impact of free agent signings and incoming rookies. Soon after, mock draft machines will open and preparation for the 2020 fantasy season will begin in earnest.
Before all that starts, let’s take some time to reflect on the season that was. No fantasy manager wants to draft and roster a bust or injury-prone player all year, but not everyone gets so lucky. Below are the least valuable players of the 2019 fantasy football season. And check out Frankie Taddeo's 2019 Fantasy MVPs for a more uplifting read.
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
The 2019 season was a colossal failure for the Browns at every level. The offseason Super Bowl champs couldn’t even find a way to make the playoffs. In fantasy, everyone not named Nick Chubb and Jarvis Landry finished far below expectations. No player epitomized the difference between the offseason hype and reality than Mayfield. A trendy pick that went higher and higher in drafts as the preseason wore on, many believed Mayfield was a quarterback fantasy managers could build their team around. By the time fantasy drafts hit a fever pitch, he was going in Round 5 as the fourth QB off the board. Mayfield finished as the No. 18 QB overall and the No. 28 QB on a per-game basis with an average of just 15.1 fantasy points. Players who finished ahead of Mayfield this season in average fantasy points include Kyle Allen, Gardner Minshew and Jacoby Brissett. Those who drafted Mayfield likely moved on by midseason and will very much buy into the wait-on-QBs strategy in 2020 as a result.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Everyone knew drafting Newton was risky. He played so poorly to end the 2018 season and nursed a shoulder injury all offseason. Yet he was still a consensus Top 10 QB, going in the seventh or eighth round of drafts with the hope he’d stay healthy and be a steal. That did not come to fruition. Newton played poorly in two games before a Lisfranc injury in his left foot caused him to miss the rest of the season. We still don’t know if his shoulder is currently healthy, if his foot will be healthy soon or what team he’ll be on next season. It’s truly a lost year for Superman Cam and a lost pick for those who gambled in August.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
This name might surprise you because he was healthy all season and hasn’t played anywhere near as poorly as the other two names on this list. However, his inclusion is all about value. Rodgers was the third QB off the board in most fantasy drafts, going in the fifth round. At that cost of acquisition, the minimum expectation is a Top 8 finish at the position. Rodgers is not even in QB1 territory on a per-game basis. He’s the QB14 with an average of 17.3 fantasy points and the QB9 in total points. That’s… fine. He’s been fine. It’s what fantasy managers missed on that hurts. Here are five players drafted right around Rodgers and where they rank at their respective positions on a per-game basis in full-PPR: Kenny Golladay (WR12), Tyler Lockett (WR23), Chris Godwin (WR2), Cooper Kupp (WR7) and James White (RB20). That’s a ton of talent to miss out on to take a borderline QB1.
Honorable mention: Andrew Luck. Depending on when you drafted you may have spent some significant draft capital on a quarterback who retired before the season began. Whoops.
David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
There was so much hope for Johnson heading into the season and just a sprinkle of doubt. New head coach Kliff Kingsbury was going to introduce his new high-flying offense that would run 70, nay, 80 plays per game! Johnson was healthy now and going to be on the field so often that there was no way he wasn’t a safe RB1. He struggled at times in training camp and the preseason but those games don’t matter, right? By the time the preseason came to an end, Johnson was drafted in the top five. Although things didn’t start out so bad—Johnson was the RB5 through Week 6—everything changed after he suffered an ankle injury against the Giants in Week 7. Johnson missed Weeks 8 and 9, returned in Week 10 and essentially missed Week 11 even though he was technically active. In the meantime, Chase Edmonds looked like a star and the Cardinals traded for Kenyan Drake, who also looked amazing in red. Johnson only had one performance in double figures the rest of the season, scoring 13.3 points in Week 14 against the Steelers. Johnson was essentially useless from Week 7 on and by the end of Week 16 he was the RB28 in average fantasy points per game.
Damien Williams, Kansas City Chiefs
The fantasy community was split on Williams coming into the season. His role as the lead back in Andy Reid’s offense was tantalizing, but the risk of losing his job or ending up in a timeshare was high. He had no track record of being a bell cow, in the pros or college, so his injury risk was high too. Even so, Williams was a trendy third-round pick (sometimes going late in the second round) in fantasy drafts. Williams owners were already less than thrilled with the addition of LeSean McCoy after he was cut by the Bills, but everyone’s worst fears were realized when Williams was already injured by Week 3. He missed the Ravens game and the following week’s game against the Lions with a knee injury. Williams returned in Week 5 but it took him some time to get back up to speed. He looked like he could be the player fantasy managers drafted in Weeks 9 and 10, but was injured again in Week 11 and didn’t see the field again until Week 16. Even when he played he was hard to trust. Williams finished as the RB29 with an average of 11.0 points per game through Week 16. Those who trusted him after going WR-WR to start their draft were more than disappointed with the return.
Ty Johnson, Detroit Lions
Johnson earns a spot on this list because he was a hot midseason waiver wire pickup that many spent most of their FAAB budget on. Kerryon Johnson suffered a knee injury that later forced him to go on IR in Week 7 against the Vikings. Fantasy managers scrambled to pick up Ty Johnson, his presumed backup, only to see Tra Carson lead the Lions in carries against the Giants in Week 8. Ty Johnson had only eight touches and 4.8 fantasy points in that game. Ty Johnson never eclipsed the seven-point mark in any game despite Kerryon Johnson being out until Week 16. It was a complete waste of FAAB budget and it likely cost some fantasy managers down the stretch when they needed a player like Ryan Tannehill, DeVante Parker, Anthony Miller or A.J. Brown.
Honorable mention: Sony Michel. There were high hopes for Michel after his amazing playoff run for the Patriots. He was taken as a low-end RB2 in the late fourth round in many drafts but finished as the RB43 in average fantasy points per game and RB38 overall.
Antonio Brown, Free Agent
The word “drama” doesn’t even begin to describe Brown’s season. An offseason trade from Pittsburgh to Oakland was enough to concern fantasy managers. Then there was Helmet Gate. Then there were the burns on his feet from wearing improper protection in a cryotherapy chamber. Then there was the team-issued suspension. Then he was cut. *Takes deep breath* Somehow, it didn’t end there. Brown gave fantasy managers hope when he landed with the Patriots and had a 4/56/1 performance against the Dolphins in Week 2. But that turned out to be the only game he played this season, as off-the-field issues including sexual misconduct allegations led to him getting cut by New England. Brown was typically an early second-round pick and scored all of 16.1 fantasy points for the season. He is an all-time fantasy bust if you consider all the headaches he caused for those who drafted him.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers
Smith-Schuster is still one of the brightest young stars in the NFL, but his third year in the league will go down as a lost season. The combination of losing starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger so early in the season and suffering a knee injury late in the season was just too much to overcome. Smith-Schuster was the No. 54 WR this season in average points per game with 10.1 and the No. 60 WR overall. Considering he was going off the board somewhere between WR5-7 as a high second-round pick, that’s a massive disappointment. He had only three games all season with 15 or more points and five games with fewer than five points. He could end up being a value in drafts next year, but for 2019 he’s a huge bust.
Brandin Cooks, Los Angeles Rams
Cooks’s downfall this year is almost inexplicable. His situation didn’t change, his quarterback stayed healthy and the other playmakers in the Rams offense had good seasons. Cooks did suffer a midseason concussion that cost him a few weeks, but he wasn’t that productive when he did play. After being a very reliable WR2 for the last four seasons, he bottomed out in 2019. He finished as the WR68 in fantasy points per game and WR65 overall. He was nearly a complete non-factor from Week 5 on, but fantasy managers never really felt comfortable dropping him. He had just four games with double-digit fantasy points this season and only one after Week 4. Taken as a late-third/early-fourth round pick, Cooks completely failed to deliver as the safe option fantasy managers were looking for on draft day.
Honorable mention: A.J. Green. Considered a draft value after suffering a preseason ankle injury, no one could foresee that he’d miss the entire season. A lost year for Green and a lost bench spot for fantasy managers.
O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Howard is by far the biggest bust of the tight end group this season. Fantasy managers typically spent a fifth-round pick on Howard (right around where Evan Engram and Hunter Henry were going) in the hopes that Howard would take the next step in his development under new head coach Bruce Arians. Instead, Howard was a complete non-factor for most of the season. Howard only scored in double figures three times all season and never reached the 15-point mark in any game. It was so bad that Howard didn’t even finish as a Top 30 player at the position. He was a complete bust that was dropped in most leagues by mid-October.
Vance McDonald, Pittsburgh Steelers
McDonald was the safety school of fantasy tight ends going into drafts. He was the “If I don’t get a premier option, I’ll settle for him” player. McDonald was taken as the eighth or ninth tight end off the board in most drafts but could not produce without Roethlisberger. He finished as the TE35 in average fantasy points per game with only two good games all season. Fantasy managers jumped off the McDonald train early and began surfing the waiver wire. Unfortunately, they likely missed out on Darren Waller and Mark Andrews by that point and were in a bind all season at the position.
Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts
A trendy bust candidate in the preseason, Ebron lived up to those expectations in his second season with the Colts. Losing Andrew Luck and the expected touchdown regression from 2018 to 2019 played the biggest role in his downfall, even before ankle injuries ended his season in November. Ebron averaged fewer than eight fantasy points per game, finishing as the No. 22 TE. Aside from one outlier game against the Dolphins, Ebron never had more than five targets in a game this season. He’ll likely be among the undrafted tight ends next season after coming off the board as a Top 10 tight end this season.
Honorable mention: David Njoku. Taken at the bottom of the Top 10 at the position, Njoku played in just three games. A Week 2 injury robbed him of the majority of his season after a solid opening game, but even when he was activated off IR he couldn’t find a consistent role on the team. He was even inactive for a game due to a coach’s decision. He finished with 15.1 total fantasy points.
Ka’imi Fairbairn, Houston Texans
After finishing as the No. 1 kicker (No. 2 on a per-game basis) in fantasy last season, Fairbairn went among the Top 5 kickers in 2019 fantasy drafts. He couldn’t repeat his strong performance. He finished outside the Top 20 kickers this season with an average of 6.9 fantasy points per game.
Honorable mention: Stephen Gostkowski. His extra point troubles coupled with his season-ending injury after only four games lands him an honorable mention here. He was taken as the No. 4 kicker in fantasy drafts.
Fantasy managers were taking the Bears DST in the eighth round in the hopes they could come close to dominating like they did in 2018. That sort of production was only reserved for the Patriots DST this season. Like Chicago’s season as a whole, the Bears DST was disappointing. They finished as the No. 21 option at the position, averaging fewer than six points per game. Given the cost on draft day, anything outside of a Top 3 performance is problematic. Ending up outside the Top 20? That’s a disaster. Here are a few players who were taken within one round after the Bears DST went off the board: Emmanuel Sanders, Russell Wilson, Marvin Jones, Curtis Samuel, Devin Singletary and Christian Kirk.
Honorable mention: Jaguars DST. There was no bounce-back this season. Jacksonville finished as the DST20 after being the second or third unit off the board in fantasy drafts. At least they were taken 3-4 rounds later than Chicago.