Early 2019 Fantasy Football Bust Candidates
The 2018 fantasy football season was one of the lightest on busts in recent memory. Take a look at this final average draft position report from our friends at 4for4 Football, and tell me how many true, non-injury busts you find among the top-50 picks. I count seven unmitigated busts: Rob Gronkowski, Kenyan Drake, Larry Fitzgerald, Demaryius Thomas, Royce Freeman, Josh Gordon and Jimmy Graham. Gronkowski was the only one of the seven taken inside the top 20 in a typical draft, and Thomas, Freeman, Gordon and Graham all ranked 40th or lower in ADP. In other words, we could see an ugly regression-to-the-mean season from a bust standpoint in 2019. Here are five players we’re already planning to avoid.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars
Dating back to Fournette’s last year at LSU, he has missed 15 games over three years because of various leg and ankle injuries. Yet, the earliest 2019 fantasy rankings suggest that you’ll again have to use a top-15 pick to secure his services. Even with his injury history, his bulletproof draft stock would be understandable if he were a force in his first two seasons, but that hasn’t been the case. Fournette has played 21 games in the NFL, totaling 1,479 yards on 401 carries, 487 receiving yards on 58 receptions and 74 targets, and 16 touchdowns. That comes out to 15.31 points per game in half-PPR leagues. This year, nine backs, seven receivers and one tight end bested that per-game mark, and not one of them comes with Fournette’s injury history. He also is stuck in an uncertain team context, with the Jaguars likely to move on from Blake Bortles in the offseason. Just because they move on, though, doesn’t guarantee they will solve their quarterback issues. I won’t even consider Fournette until the third round, which means I won’t have him on any of my teams.
BELLER: 2018 Fantasy Football MVPs
Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons
Freeman missed all but two games in 2019 because of foot, hamstring and groin injuries, the latter of which required surgery. Injuries are an unfortunate reality in all sports, football most especially, and Freeman missed just three games over the first four years of his career due to injury. Still, when a running back suffers three separate lower-body injuries, including one that needed surgery to fix, he has to be considered a greater-than-average injury risk the following season. The Falcons will have Ito Smith on the roster next year, and they’re also considering bringing back Tevin Coleman, which would guarantee that Freeman is playing in a crowded backfield. Even if Coleman is elsewhere next season, the Falcons are likely to split the work between at least two backs, partially to keep Freeman from losing another season due to injury. So long as Freeman is priced as a high-end RB2, he’ll be a prime candidate to be a value bust in 2019.
Jerick McKinnon, RB, 49ers
McKinnon was a fantasy darling during draft season this year, climbing into the third round in typical drafts. Just before the start of the season, though, he tore his ACL, bringing his first year in San Francisco to an abrupt end. There’s great reason to be excited about the 49ers’ offense next year. Jimmy Garoppolo will be back under center after suffering a torn ACL of his own, and he should be able to participate in most of the team’s offseason activities. George Kittle broke out in 2018, and will enter 2019 as one of the three best tight ends in the NFL. McKinnon’s return, too, is reason for optimism in San Francisco, and that’s helping him achieve a slot in early rankings that would suggest he’s worthy of being a fifth- or sixth-round pick in 2019 fantasy drafts. That, however, ignores the presence of Matt Breida, who totaled 1,075 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns on 153 carries and 27 receptions in 14 games this season. Even if McKinnon is the nominal starter for the 49ers, which is no guarantee, Breida is going to have a sizable role in the offense. McKinnon is going to need to come at a major discount from his 2018 price to factor in Breida’s presence.
Corey Davis, WR, Titans
Next season will be just Davis’s third in the league, but he has already reached believe-it-when-you-see-it status. He was a mid-round pick as a rookie, then disappointed by catching just 34 passes for 375 yards and zero touchdowns while losing five games to a hamstring injury. That didn’t cost him at all in 2018 drafts, evidenced by an ADP that made him the 66th player and 27th receiver off the board in a typical draft. He did finish 27th at the position in total points, but that was largely because he played all 16 games. Davis ranked 41st among receivers in points per game in half-PPR leagues, ending the year with 65 receptions, 891 yards and four touchdowns. Early rankings indicate that he again isn’t paying a price for falling short of expectations, with an average slot that suggests his ADP will be on par in 2019 with what it was in 2018. What have Davis, Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee offense shown the last two years that should give the fantasy community any confidence will be different for the third-year receiver? Nothing. Let Davis prove it to you before you buy into his potential.
BELLER: 2018 Fantasy Football LVPs
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
Yes, this one hurts because you cannot claim to be a football fan and not love watching Mahomes play the game. His monster 2018 campaign, which should result in him winning the MVP, already has people suggesting that he has broken the quarterback paradigm, and is worth a first- or second-round pick next season. That could not be further from the truth. If Mahomes puts up another 50-touchdown, 5,000-yard season, lapping the field at his position, then, sure, he’d have been worth a first-round pick. That, however, is what he’d have to do to be worth a first- or second-round pick. Look at the rest of the quarterback position this year. There were eight more quarterbacks who scored at least 20 points per game, and another four who put up 19 or more points in an average contest. You know how many quarterbacks averaged 19 points per game in 2017? Six. Quarterback scoring is flatter and easier to find than ever, and while that may not repeat exactly in 2019, the fact remains that quarterbacks need to do what Mahomes did this year to move the needle in a way that warrants taking them early in fantasy drafts in one-quarterback leagues. A partial list of quarterbacks who did not average 19 or more points in 2018 includes Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, Kirk Cousins and Baker Mayfield. Would you rather use a first-round pick on Mahomes, or get one of those guys in a double-digit round, while using your first-round selection on an elite back or receiver? Unless Mahomes puts up another historic season, he is going to be a value bust in 2019.