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Top Running Backs & Wide Receivers Most Likely to Bust (2021 Fantasy Football)

Apr 7, 2021

Last week our writers looked at running backs and wide receivers we might want to avoid come draft season. This week we’re discussing bust candidates for players currently ranked as an RB1 or WR1.

Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) referenced is using 0.5 PPR FantasyPros consensus ECR

Check out all of our 2021 NFL Draft coverage >>

Q1. Which RB1 is most likely to bust this season?

Alvin Kamara (RB – NO) Overall ECR: 4
Predicting a fantasy bust is not something I generally enjoy doing. I like to think of myself as a very optimistic person, both in real life and in fantasy analysis. But that being said, the easy choice for the RB1 most likely to bust is none other than Alvin Kamara. I wrote about him last week as someone I’m avoiding in drafts, largely because I just can’t tell what that offense will look like yet. If Jamies Winston is the full-time QB I think that would help Kamara more because Winston won’t eat into the running game and will likely be throwing a lot of passes to a lot of players. On the other hand, if they go with Taysom Hill, even part time, that could eat into the upside of Kamara. True RB1s in fantasy are largely RB1s because of their ceiling, so taking Kamara as your first RB could backfire horribly if all you get is his high floor. Obviously I love Kamara as a second round option, like I wrote about previously, but if I take him as my RB1 I’m going to make sure to add other high upside players behind him just in case he has a down year and I need to pivot. I’m not guaranteeing a bad season for Kamara, but he’s the one I’m most worried about by a landslide.
– Andrew Hall (@AndrewHallFF)

During last week’s collaborative article, I pinpointed Alvin Kamara as a running back I’m avoiding in drafts at his current ADP. This week, Kamara is my choice for RB1 who is most likely to bust in redraft leagues. Kamara has been a consistent source of production in fantasy football with Drew Brees operating the offense for the New Orleans Saints. As the arm of Brees began to decline as his career progressed, checking it down to Kamara became a common trend, which elevated Kamara’s ceiling in fantasy football. In his first four seasons, Kamara averaged 82 receptions, giving him a remarkable floor to bank on every week. But with Brees now gone, and the Saints wavering on whether to start Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill, Kamara’s value takes a slight hit. Whenever you are taking someone like Kamara, you are taking him for his consistent output. The days of Kamara being a weekly stud could be long gone with Winston or Hill under center despite the talent that Kamara possesses. While Kamara is going to have weeks where he proves why he’s an RB1, it’s going to be tough using my first pick in a draft on him due to his limited ceiling in 2021.
– Skyler Carlin (@skyler_carlin)

Antonio Gibson (RB – WAS) Overall ECR: 22
Gibson was one of my favorite sleeper running backs in 2020. I was ecstatic when he broke out with his 13.2 fantasy points per game average as a rookie, totaling 1,042 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns. However, he is no longer being drafted with an ADP of 129. He is the 12th ranked fantasy running back and he is projected to be a third-round pick. That means his numbers have to be scrutinized more because he is going to need great production to live up to that ADP. He had only four games with more than 15 carries and had seven games with less than 12 carries. The reason he was such a fantasy success was 11 touchdowns, five of which came against the awful run defenses of Detroit and Dallas. It remains to be seen if he is going to be able to handle 250 to 275 touches in a season. He had only 170 touches last year and 36 receptions, which means he still has a lot to prove when it comes to being a franchise running back. I loved what I saw last year, but I think he is priced at his ceiling. Considering they have a 40-year-old journeyman quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick and an offensive line that was shockingly good in 2020, it remains to be seen if Washington can duplicate their 2020 season and if Gibson is ready to be a bell-cow back.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)

Derrick Henry (RB – TEN) Overall ECR: 5
I just wrote about Henry in our latest collaborative article. I’m avoiding him strictly because I think he’s the most likely of the early running backs to bust. Looking at the other guys in his tier, he’s the oldest and has the most miles on his legs by far. Including the postseason, Henry has an obscene 782 carries over the last two years. No other running back in the league has seen more than 600 over that stretch. Volume and opportunity in fantasy football are very alluring, but he’s now 27 years old, and that’s the age that we typically see running backs start to trend downward. In 2020, Henry joined the very short list of running backs to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season. Those running backs typically didn’t find success in their subsequent campaigns. They averaged 1,072 yards and 7.8 touchdowns following their historic years. Those numbers are skewed slightly because of Terrell Davis missing 12 games and Jamal Lewis sitting for four. Still, no running back was able to crack the 1,500-yard mark in their follow-up seasons. Also, Henry was the second-oldest of the running backs to hit that historic mark, behind only Barry Sanders. In addition to the likely regression, Henry’s offensive coordinator, Arthur Smith, who was adamant about feeding Henry the rock, left to coach the Atlanta Falcons. The Titans also lost Jonnu Smith and Corey Davis in free agency, two of the best run-blockers at their respective positions. Henry is the oldest RB in the top-12, coming off of a hefty workload, losing a run-first offensive coordinator, and coming off a season that no one has been able to repeat.
– Dave Kluge (@DaveKluge_FF)

Ezekiel Elliott (RB – DAL) Overall ECR: 10
I think there are paths to failure for a couple backs in the top-12 but I can’t help but see some shades of a Le’Veon Bell-esque decline coming here. I don’t think 2020 was a fluke and while a healthy Dak Prescott will keep Elliott relevant in the passing game, there are some red flags. Elliott has racked up over 1,650 touches through his first five seasons, a workload that has lead to a dramatic decrease in productivity for most backs over the age of 25. In fact, only four running backs in the last 30 years have had a 300-touch season by the time they turned 24 and went on to see an increase in rushing yards the next season. While past history is not a foolproof way to predict the future, it is worth noting that historical context should be taken into account if you are thinking about selecting Elliott in the top-10 of running backs. I would much rather take a shot on Austin Ekeler, Antonio Gibson, Miles Sanders or Cam Akers – all four of whom are ranked lower than Elliott in half-point PPR formats and have less wear and tear on their body.
– Jason Kamlowsky (@JasonKamlowsky)

Nick Chubb (RB – CLE) Overall ECR: 7
My top 12 running back who is most likely to bust is one of my favorites to watch: Nick Chubb. He is, at worst, the second-best pure rusher in the NFL, competing with Derrick Henry for that premier spot in the league. Specifically, since entering the league in 2018, Chubb has finished top-two in PFF’s rushing grade twice (second in 2018, first in 2019), while coming in sixth among qualified rushers in 2020 during an injury-plagued season. Furthermore, Chubb has finished top-two in yards after contact per attempt every season of his career (first in 2018 and 2020, second in 2019; Henry was first or second in these years as well) – a metric that reflects a running back’s ability to create yardage on his own independent of his offensive line. So, despite his immense talent, rushing ability, and praise I have for him, why is he listed as my choice for the top 12 running back most likely to bust? I think it comes down to two reasons: split backfield with another great running back and his insane efficiency. First, the Browns employ a split-backfield approach, utilizing both Chubb and Kareem Hunt to move the football. Chubb primarily works as the early-down rusher, while Hunt comes in on 3rd downs and passing scenarios (e.g., two-minute offense and catch-up). Furthermore, Hunt also scored a whopping 11 touchdowns last year – many of which coming while Chubb was also playing – further capping Chubb’s upside. Additionally, I have mentioned Chubb’s immense rushing efficiency since coming into the league in 2018, but how does his fantasy production look if he per-touch averages begin to falter – or at least regress to average running back? I think banking on Chubb’s insane efficiency while also splitting time with another great running back may be a risky proposition in 2020 if you’re planning on taking him early in your draft. I would love him as my RB2, but with him ranked as the consensus RB7 currently, I would prefer a less-risky option.
– Jared Lese (@JaredL_FF)

Check out all of our 2021 NFL Draft coverage >>

Q2. Which WR1 is most likely to bust this season?

Terry McLaurin (WR – WFT) Overall ECR: 33
I’m a huge McLaurin fan and I think that the offseason acquisition of Ryan Fitzpatrick was a great move for him. Unfortunately though, the Washington Football Team made another splashy free agency move by bringing in wide receiver Curtis Samuel. While I think this is all great news for Washington, McLaurin could struggle in 2021 and is the most likely WR1 to bust. He’s coming off his best year as a pro, hauling in 87 of his 134 targets for 1,118 yards and four touchdowns. Those are impressive numbers for a player with four different starting quarterbacks throughout a single season. Last year, no wide receiver besides McLaurin garnered more than 50 targets for the season. Samuel has seen 202 over the previous two seasons while competing with D.J. Moore, Christan McCaffrey, and Robby Anderson. Now he gets the first opportunity of his career to solidify himself as the team’s second pass-catching option. In 2020, Samuel had a catch rate of 79.4%, second-best in the league. He also earned the 19th-most fantasy points per route run with 0.49. In comparison, McLaurin caught just 64.9% of his passes and averaged 0.38 fantasy points per route run, both outside the top-50. McLaurin’s second-year campaign in 2020 was bolstered by being the only respectable wide receiver on the team. I already mentioned McLaurin’s 134 targets, which were 10th-most in the league. The other seven wide receivers in Washington combined for 162 targets on the year. Even though I expect a more pass-heavy approach with Fitzpatrick at the helm, McLaurin will not command the usage he saw in 2020. He was first in route participation, first in snap share, fourth in air yards share. Expect those numbers to regress and make him the most likely WR1 to bust in 2021.
– Dave Kluge (@DaveKluge_FF)

Growing up in the Washington, DC metropolitan area and living here every year of my life except for a short stint up in New York City, it hurts a bit for me to put Washington Football Team’s best young wide receiver prospect in decades (they traded for or signed Santana Moss, Pierre Garcon, and DeSean Jackson after their age 25 seasons, so I wouldn’t consider these “young talents”) on this list. In just two years in the NFL, McLaurin has already impressed with his relatively elite performance, finishing as PFF’s fifth- and 21st-ranked WR overall, despite tepid quarterback play. Since entering the league in 2019, McLaurin has seen Case Keenum, Dwayne Haskins, Jr., Coly McCoy, Alex Smith, Kyle Allen, and fan-favorite, Taylor Heinicke, play quarterback for Washington. With veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick signing with Washington this offseason, McLaurin finally has a quarterback that – to say the least – is willing to push the ball downfield instead of consistently checking down to the running back or preferring other short-yardage passes. However, we all love Fitzpatrick’s persona as a gunslinger and fashionista, but his immense highs also come with incredible lows. Let’s remember that he battled with Jameis Winston – who threw 30 interceptions in the subsequent season – for the starting role on Tampa Bay just a few years ago.
– Jared Lese (@JaredL_FF)

Michael Thomas (WR – NO) Overall ECR: 23
There was a time when Michael Thomas was the safest wide receiver in the league. In 2018 and 2019, he tallied 274 receptions for 3,130 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. He played in 31 of 32 games and he was ranked sixth and first in fantasy points. He had both a ton of targets and a ton of production, a good recipe for a fantasy player. That changed last year when he missed nine games and 11 starts due to injury. He finished the season with only 55 targets, 40 receptions, 438 yards, and zero touchdowns. He no longer has Drew Brees and his quarterback situation is in flux as a result. He could be playing with Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill or some combination of the two where Hill takes away a lot of goal-line looks. That would zap any red zone value that Thomas has with his 6′ 3″ and 212-pound frame. I like Thomas, as he is extremely talented and was the best fantasy receiver in the league in an exciting offense with a future Hall of Fame quarterback. It remains to be seen what his value is after Brees and at 28 years old, there is some worry that last year was a preview to future injury-plagued seasons. There are a lot of reasons why Thomas could end up being a bust that are not being reflected in his current ranking.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)

Similar to Kamara, it’s hard to gauge what we are going to be able to expect from Thomas in 2021.Thomas, who finished as WR1 in 2019, dealt with a variety of obstacles during the 2020 campaign, limiting him to seven games. Despite Thomas being the clear cut No. 1 wide receiver for the Saints, it is undetermined who is going to be throwing him the ball. Brees was able to force feed Thomas on short and intermediate routes, which made Thomas a superstar in fantasy football. However, when Brees was sidelined from Weeks 11-14 during last season, Thomas was catching passes from Taysom Hill. Over the course of those four games, Thomas had 12.4 fantasy points per game (16th among wide receivers in that span) and he recorded zero touchdowns. If Hill is named the starting quarterback for New Orleans in Week 1, then Thomas could see fewer opportunities to produce in the passing game. There’s no doubt that Thomas’ ceiling rises if Winston is given the nod since he’s a quarterback that is more of a traditional passer than Hill. Regardless of who emerges as the starting signal-caller for the Saints, there’s a legitimate chance Thomas leaves his managers disappointed as the No. 9 ranked wide receiver in the Expert Consensus Rankings.
– Skyler Carlin (@skyler_carlin)

A.J. Brown (WR – TEN) Overall ECR: 19
I’m probably on an island with this one, but the WR1 that I think is most likely to bust for the 2021 redraft season is AJ Brown. I know, I can hear you now: “But he’s great, his talent is insane, and he’s proven that he can carry a team!” And you’re right! He IS awesome. He IS talented. But he’s still on a team that wants to run the ball as much as possible with Derrick Henry and who just lost their WR2 in Corey Davis. Say what you want about Davis’ fantasy production or lack thereof, but replacing him with Josh Reynolds, at least so far, is not going to cut it. The team also lost standout TE Jonnu Smith, meaning defenses will be more likely to focus on Brown and send extra coverage his way. Obviously this is pure speculation, and I do hate going against talent, but where things stand right now, AJ Brown is the WR1 that I’m the most worried about in terms of fantasy production. I admit that I could be way off, but he’s the one most likely to bust on the list as it stands today.
– Andrew Hall (@AndrewHallFF)

Allen Robinson II (WR – CHI) Overall ECR: 29
Matt Nagy is calling the plays and Andy Dalton is the quarterback. Do I need another reason? Robinson is one of the best talents at the position but he will be limited once again by Chicago’s general ineptitude on offense. Nagy will see to it that Robinson is fed targets but the quality of those targets will be in question. Is Dalton an upgrade over Mitch Trubisky? Perhaps from a turnover standpoint, but Dalton isn’t going to push the ball down the field and he hasn’t supported a receiver who eclipsed 1,200 yards since 2015. I am skeptical that Robinson will be made to be more of a short-to-intermediate possession receiver. This means his blow-up games will be harder to come by and for a receiver who already is unhappy in his current situation, this has the makings of a potential disaster. I will be passing on Robinson at his current ADP and probably avoiding the Chicago offense altogether.
– Jason Kamlowsky (@JasonKamlowsky)

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