2019 Season in Review: Top Busts (Fantasy Football)
The most dreaded word in fantasy football: “bust.” We draft busts every year. We try our best to avoid it, but in a game predicated upon predicting the future, being wrong on occasion is inevitable.
Not all busts are created equal. I drafted a lot of Curtis Samuel in the eighth round. He was a bust, but the impact of him busting wasn’t so bad. Dante Pettis was a popular mid to late-round pick that ended up failing spectacularly. We all wish to avoid these players, but no one is losing their league because of Curtis Samuel or Dante Pettis.
Today, we’re going straight to the top and recapping the most spectacular failures of the 2019 season. Here are the biggest busts of the 2019 fantasy football season.
*Note that for all fantasy point discussions, I am using average PPR points per game from Weeks 1-16.
Baker Mayfield (QB – CLE)
You would be hard-pressed to find a draft where Baker Mayfield fell outside the top five quarterbacks selected. You won’t be able to find a bigger bust at the quarterback position. Mayfield, typically off the board no later than the sixth round, finished as the overall QB27. That’s right. Mayfield wasn’t even a fantasy QB2. He reached 20 fantasy points just twice all season and had a mere three QB1 finishes, two fewer than the number of times he finished outside the top 24.
Aaron Rodgers (QB – GB)
The former elite fantasy quarterback was ranked one spot ahead of Mayfield, mainly based on name recognition. While fantasy owners were largely able to get away from Mayfield after a couple of weeks, they stuck by Rodgers because “He’s Aaron Rodgers.” Anywhere from the second to fifth quarterback taken in drafts, Rodgers finished as the overall QB14, which is actually a bit misleading; he was far worse than that. By midseason, Rodgers had established himself as nothing more than a matchup streamer – someone that genuinely belonged on the waiver wire to be added for pristine matchups.
Rodgers had monster outings against the Eagles, Raiders, Chiefs, and Giants. He was a low QB1 against the Lions. In his other 10 starts, Rodgers never surpassed 14.4 fantasy points. While he probably won his fantasy owners four matchups, he very well may have lost them double that, all the while doing just enough sporadically to dupe fantasy owners into keeping him in that starting spot every week. Rodgers was the worst kind of bust.
David Johnson (RB – ARI)
I try to shy away from attributing the bust label to players that got hurt. Obviously, if you draft a player highly and he ends up not playing, he was a bust. With David Johnson, I do blame injury for him busting, but he the reality is he only missed three games. DJ was rewarding fantasy owners over the first six weeks when he posted five RB1 finishes. Then he hurt his back and sprained his ankle and was downright useless for the remainder of the season. The problem was that his name was still David Johnson so when he was active, he was being started and then barely playing. This happened at least twice if not three times before fantasy owners got the message. Johnson finished as the overall RB49 or lower in five of his last six games. He will be a very interesting player to evaluate for 2020.
Alvin Kamara (RB – NO)
When a consensus top four running back finishes as the overall RB9, that’s not typically worthy of the bust label. In Alvin Kamara’s case, we make an exception. Kamara scored 228.8 fantasy points in the 2019 season. That was good for a respectable 17.6 ppg. However, Kamara scored 28.9% of his season total in just two games. He averaged 14.8 ppg in his other 11 games. That would put him at overall RB15. It’s certainly not season-crippling, but you drafted Kamara to be close to Christian McCaffrey. You may have drafted Kamara ahead of McCaffrey. You got a guy that gave you overall RB17 or lower finishes seven times and also missed two games. Kamara is a prime bounce-back candidate in 2020, but there is no denying that he was a bust in 2019.
James Conner (RB – PIT)
A whole confluence of things worked against James Conner this season. This was a prime example of incorrect process working out. I faded Conner hard because I did not believe there was any true commitment to him and that Jaylen Samuels was a better player. Conner was used like a true three-down back. He was clearly the guy. He busted not because of his usage, but because of injuries to both himself and his quarterback. Conner was the overall RB7 in drafts and finished as the overall RB16 while playing in just 10 games. Adding insult to injury, Conner attempted to play through his shoulder injury and twice departed early, crippling fantasy owners in each of those weeks.
Odell Beckham Jr. (WR – CLE)
You show me a bigger bust than Odell Beckham Jr. and I’ll show you a liar! Beckham epitomized the word “bust” in 2019. The worst kind of bust. Beckham may have been dealing with an abdominal injury, but he was largely healthy for the entire season. He played in every game. Fantasy owners just wish he didn’t. Beckham was part of the “Big 7” wide receivers that rarely made it past the middle of the second round. If we redrafted the 2019 season right now with full hindsight bias, Beckham would likely go somewhere in the late single digits. He finished as the overall WR35 but was even worse than that. He scored 8.6% of his season total fantasy points on one play back in Week 2. For context, there are 15 potential games played for every player in the fantasy season. If a player was perfectly consistent, he would score 6.67% of his fantasy points each week. Beckham scored more than that on one play and was still barely a WR3. Beckham was a WR1 in Week 2 and Week 12. He was a WR2 in Week 6. Every other week, he was a WR3 or worse and you probably started him every week or close to it.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR – PIT)
One of the most polarizing players entering 2019, JuJu Smith-Schuster had people predicting an overall WR1 finish and others predicting he would struggle without Antonio Brown to take away shadow coverage. If this were an actual court case, the verdict would be a mistrial. We can’t properly evaluate JuJu because Ben Roethlisberger went down in Week 2 and JuJu had to deal with some of the worst quarterback play you will ever see. Nevertheless, JuJu played in 10 games (the five missed games at least made it easy for fantasy owners to bench him) and finished around overall WR50. For a guy that typically went early to mid-second round, that’s about as bad as it gets.
Antonio Brown (WR – NE)
I’m labeling Antonio Brown as a Patriot because it’s the only team he played for this season. We don’t have to spend too much time here. AB lost his damn mind and ended up playing just one game all season. He was still a better pick than JuJu or Beckham, though, because at least you knew only to start him in Week 2.
Brandin Cooks (WR – LAR)
Coming off four straight 1,000 yard seasons, Brandin Cooks seemed like a safe bet in the late third/fourth round. Nope. Cooks was immediately demoted to the third option in the passing game and fell even lower as the Rams used more 12 personnel. Cooks was viewed as a WR2 with WR1 upside and a WR3 floor. What we got this season was unfathomable. Cooks finished somewhere in the vicinity of overall WR60. The average fantasy roster will have five wide receivers. If you had Cooks, you wished you didn’t. If we were redrafting 2019 with full hindsight bias, Cooks would legitimately go undrafted.
Adam Thielen (WR – MIN)
While part of this was due to injury, Adam Thielen wasn’t doing much before his hamstring strain either. Thielen reached 20 fantasy points in Week 3 and had a huge Week 5 where he broke 30. He finished as a WR4 or lower in every other week except one. Thielen was a rock-solid third-round pick and he finished as the overall WR40.
A.J. Green (WR – CIN)
The Bengals strung fantasy owners along for literally the entire fantasy season before admitting what we all knew after A.J. Green didn’t play following the Bengals’ bye – that he wasn’t playing a snap in the 2019 season. Burning a sixth-round pick isn’t the worst thing in the world, but you lit it on fire with Green not playing a snap.
O.J. Howard (TE – TB)
It’s hard for tight ends to be busts since they usually don’t go high enough and the ones that do are worth it. The top three tight ends finished top three this season. O.J. Howard was a special kind of bad. Howard actually ended up averaging the same amount of fantasy points per game as Cameron Brate, 6.5. That number placed them outside the top 24. Howard was expected to build on his 2018 breakout. Instead, he took the largest step backward imaginable.