2017 Fantasy Football Busts (Non-Injury Related)
Each player’s preseason average draft position (ADP) in point-per-reception formats is in parentheses. ADP numbers were gleaned from Fantasy Football Calculator and MyFantasyLeague. The number adjacent to a player’s ADP is where they finished at the end of 16 weeks. Those figures were gathered from FFToday.
Note that all numbers exclude Week 17 as the majority of fantasy seasons end in Week 16.
Mariota’s endearing offseason nickname — MariGOATa — (goat meaning “greatest of all time” for the uninitiated) quickly transformed into MariWOATa (worst of all time) once the regular season commenced.
Turnovers were largely to blame for Mariota’s hardships. Mariota, Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian, and Cleveland Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer were the only Week 1 starters to throw more interceptions than touchdowns this year. Mariota’s 12 passing touchdowns were a career low while his 15 picks were a career high. What saved Mariota from really plummeting in to the fantasy quarterback cellar dweller were his career-high five rushing touchdowns.
Mariota’s talent, offensive line, and supporting cast are too good. His third year will be the exception rather than the norm — a miniscule flaw on what can be an aesthetically pleasing tapestry of a career. All Mariota can do is use 2017 as a wake-up call and better himself as a veteran and leader going forward. Give him another shot as a QB1 next summer.
Perhaps no one got fantasy owners’ hopes up more to start the year than Mike Gillislee. He stormed on to the scene with his new team to the tune of three touchdowns in Week 1. He managed four touchdowns in his first two games but only totaled 114 rushing yards in that span.
It was all downhill for Gillislee after Week 2 until he found the end zone again on Christmas Eve, more than three months since he last scored. Gillislee was a healthy scratch for much of the year as Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead supplanted him and James White in the backfield.
Both Burkhead and Lewis are impending free agents, but if they re-sign then Gillislee is an apparent non-factor in the fantasy realm heading into 2018.
It was a tumultuous season for Ajayi as he was traded from the Miami Dolphins to the Philadelphia Eagles. Ajayi was supposed to be Miami’s workhorse. As it turns out, he wasn’t even the best running back on their roster (Kenyan Drake).
Ajayi is still only 24 years old, so don’t give up hope on him just yet. Adding to Ajayi’s half-full glass is that all of Darren Sproles, LeGarrette Blount, and Kenjon Barner are free agents next offseason. Time will tell if Ajayi’s 2017 campaign was a blip on the radar or if his 2016 season was a flash in the pan.
In an off-and-on season that mostly consisted of offs, Amari Cooper more often than not played like Alice Cooper. A concussion and ankle injury did force Cooper to miss a couple games, but Cooper’s problems stemmed from more than just missing a couple games.
Ironically, Cooper’s season was the inverse of the aforementioned Julio Jones’ season. While Cooper’s touchdowns remained consistent (6), his targets (90), receptions (45) and yards (565) decreased astronomically. To make matters worse, Cooper, who’s been given a bad rap for drops throughout his career, posted a 50% catch rate, easily the worst of his young career.
Considering how talented Cooper is, odds are his season to forget will be an anomaly. Drafting him as a low-end WR1 to high-end WR2 in 2018 fantasy drafts should be commonplace.
We can’t put all the blame of Nelson’s trials on the shoulders, mainly right shoulder, of Aaron Rodgers. We can put most of it there, though. Nelson tallied six touchdowns in his first five games. Obviously, he wasn’t going to maintain that rate, but Rodgers breaking his collarbone in mid-October was the writing on the wall for Nelson and the Packers as a whole.
After Rodgers went down in Week 6, Nelson never saw more than eight targets and never managed more than 35 yards. It was the Davante Adams show from then on. It seems dramatic to call curtains on Nelson’s career after such a letdown, but he will be 33 years old when the 2018 season commences.
The Denver Broncos’ quarterback situation was one of the messiest in the NFL. Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch all started at least one game whether because of injuries to or poor play by their counterparts. None of them played like they wanted to keep Denver’s starting gig, although much of that can be attributed to an always vulnerable offensive line.
Nevertheless, Demaryius Thomas and the rest of the Broncos’ offense couldn’t help but struggle. DT had his lowest amount of catches (77) and lowest catch percentage (58.3%) in a season since 2011 even though he is currently tenth in the NFL in targets (132 through 16 weeks).
Drops have haunted him throughout his career; he was at the top of the league in the category this season with seven cases of rubber hands. Being fair to Thomas, though, when quarterbacks play the way Denver’s played, there’s going to be regression.
The absence of Ezekiel Elliott for half the season due to suspension ostensibly hurt everyone on the Cowboys’ offense, but Bryant’s season was a particularly bitter conundrum. He did tally four touchdowns in his first six games, but only scored twice in nine games since. Moreover, he has not even managed more than 73 yards in a game in that span.
Bryant’s lack of production does coincide with Dak Prescott’s failures, needless to say. Prescott was a completely different (worse) quarterback when Elliott was not on the field. There were also long stretches of games during which Bryant was not even targeted. For example, he only averaged 5.25 targets in Weeks 12-15.
While Bryant hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2014 and hasn’t eclipsed 1,000 yards since the same year, let’s hope this season was simply an anomaly and that the Cowboys will be back to normal next September. As long as he’s healthy, Bryant deserves to be in the low-end WR1 to high-end WR2 conversation entering 2018 fantasy drafts.
Evans has led somewhat of an up-and-down career through his first four seasons. His rookie campaign saw him score 12 touchdowns, in his sophomore year he only scored thrice, last season he scored 12 times again and in 2017 Evans managed a meager five touchdowns. What’s more, Evans’ 946 yards are the lowest he’s had in his young career.
It’s not that Evans’ targets were even low (123). They took a respectable dip compared to last year, but not low enough for them to be THE culprit for his poor performance. The Buccaneers as a whole just did not play well this season. The good news is that if the pattern of Evans’ NFL tenure so far is any indication, he’ll go for double-digit touchdowns in 2018. Of course, Tampa Bay could be under a completely new regime then, but that may be a good thing for Evans and company.
As Andrew Luck goes so go T.Y. Hilton and the Indianapolis Colts. In 2017, the “T.Y.” could have stood for Tough Year. Hilton was a shadow of himself without Luck, and it might be safe to say he was even a shadow a shadow of himself. After leading the NFL in receiving last year (1,448 yards) and catching a career-high 91 passes, Hilton managed just 952 yards and 54 catches — his lowest totals in those categories since his rookie campaign.
Frankly, as alluded to earlier, Hilton is at his best when Andrew Luck is playing. Fantasy owners were mildly deceived by Colts ownership before the season started regarding Luck’s health. Indianapolis is another organization that could very well have a new coaching staff in the near future. Let’s chalk up Hilton’s down year as an oddity and wait with open arms for both Luck and Hilton to return to 2016 form.
Honorable Mentions: Matt Ryan, Isaiah Crowell, DeMarco Murray, Kelvin Benjamin