2019 Fantasy Football Busts: Russell Wilson, Sony Michel and Adam Thielen will not live up to expectations
Heath Cummings says you should stay away from these 10 big names in 2019 Fantasy Football drafts.
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The only way to really make a proper bust call is to pick talented players who aren't going to be quite as good as everyone thinks they are. Often, it's not even their fault. Surrounding cast and offensive game plan can be the biggest culprits. While it never feels fun to say names like Drew Brees and Russell Wilson in the same sentence as the word "bust," it's a lot more fun than drafting them were they are in the early consensus ranks.
I referenced the consensus ranks, because this time of year that's the best gauge of perception and what ADP will be as we get closer to the start of the season. In July, when we have more reliable ADP, I'll update this list. But I'm pretty sure these two quarterbacks will still be on it.
We'll get the most painful explanations out of the way early. Russell Wilson is a phenomenal quarterback, one of the best in the NFL. I have no doubt about his skill or his ability. But he was extremely fortunate to be a top-12 quarterback in 2018, and you shouldn't bet on it happening again. Judging by his consensus ranking as the No. 6 quarterback, I'm assuming many will.
Wilson's Seahawks played slow and threw rarely last year, which resulted in just 427 pass attempts for him. Despite how absurdly low the total was, it was only the third lowest of his career. To compound matters, his 67 rush attempts were the lowest total of his career. So how did he do it? Touchdowns. Wilson threw a touchdown pass on 8.2% of his attempts, an absurd rate. For his career he's at 6.0%, the 10th highest mark of all time.
If all you do is normalize his touchdown rate to his career mark, Wilson loses nine touchdown passes from 2018. That would have dropped him from the No. 7 quarterback to No. 15. Maybe he throws a few more passes. Maybe he runs more. He'll have to do one of those things just to be a starter in Fantasy. He certainly isn't someone you should be reaching for.
Almost everything I wrote about Wilson, you could write about Drew Brees. His 489 pass attempts in 2018 was by far the fewest of his time in New Orleans. And it had very little to do with him not playing Week 17. The first problem is the Saints have been trending more run-heavy for the past two years. Their defense is young and improving, so I wouldn't expect that to change. The second problem is that Brees comes off the field for Taysom Hill too often.
Hill only threw seven passes in 2019, but he ran the ball 37 times, scored two touchdowns, and played way too much in the red zone. It may only be three or four plays per game, but that's enough when Brees' volume is already dwindling.
Brees needed a 6.5% touchdown rate to finish as the No. 8 quarterback in Fantasy in 2018. That's a full point above what he's averaged in New Orleans. Take away five touchdowns and he falls to QB12 in a standard CBS league. Now factor in whatever regression you'd like from his career-high four rushing touchdowns.
The most likely outcome is that Brees is not a top-12 quarterback in 2019.
All of my running back busts are based on the PPR scoring system and unsurprisingly, they're all running backs on teams with defined third-down backs. Marlon Mack broke out in 2018 with 1,011 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 12 games. He's a young running back on a very good offense. It's not hard to understand why he's the No. 15 running back in the consensus rankings. It's also not hard to see how he busts at that cost.
Mack has suffered multiple injuries in his first two years in the league. He tore his labrum in his rookie year and battled hamstring issues in 2018. He's also suffered at least two diagnosed concussions in college and the NFL. While I wouldn't call him injury prone yet, I would put his injury risk higher than most backs in the top 20.
The Colts didn't act particularly worried about Mack's durability in 2018, giving him at least 24 carries four different times. But the one place they did limit him was the passing game. Mack saw more than three targets just once all season and had three games with fewer than two. Nyheim Hines dominated work in the passing game, and if that continues it could be tough for Mack to justify a top-15 ranking. Only two of the top-15 backs in PPR last year caught fewer than 35 passes. Mack caught 17 last year.
Mack is going to need another above-average touchdown rate and a full season of good health to justify his current ranking.
You know who would have been happy with Marlon Mack's 17 catches last year? Sony Michel. Michel was only targeted 11 times all season, and it's hard to imagine that changing as long as James White is in New England. We could live with the lack of catches if Michel were guaranteed a feature (and goal line) role. Unfortunately, Bill Belichick is still running the Patriots.
The Patriots backfield looks even more crowded in 2019 with Michel, White, Rex Burkhead and Damien Harris, their third-round pack in the NFL Draft. Harris was getting work with the first team during OTAs while Michel was absent dealing with another knee injury. He had minor surgery to deal with the issue, but this continues a troubling pattern with Michel. He tore his ACL in high school and missed time in college and his rookie year dealing with knee procedures.
With Michel's injury history, lack of involvement in the passing game, and the Patriots' decision to spend a third-round pick on Harris, you can't draft Michel as anything more than a No. 3 running back in PPR.
Josh Jacobs was the first running back selected in the NFL Draft and the only running back taken in the first round. So it makes perfect sense that the industry is excited about him. And Jacobs is a talented back, no doubt. But I have serious doubts about his ability to be a must-start running back in Fantasy in his rookie year. Especially in PPR.
The Raiders did give 17 touches a game to Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin in 2018, but most of the passing down work was reserved for Jalen Richard, who was very good at it. Among backs with at least 50 targets, only Tarik Cohen and Austin Ekeler averaged more yards per target than Richard. He did nothing that would cause the Raiders to want to take that role away from him.
Of course, a high-volume back can be a mid-range No. 2 without much work in the passing game. Just look at Chris Carson. I just wish we'd seen Jacobs handle volume more often. In his three years in college he only had three games with at least 15 carries. Carson averaged 17.6 carries per game in 2018.
The final concern I have for Jacobs, at least in Year 1, is the Raiders defense and offensive game plan. They added a lot of pieces to their defense in the offseason, but I wouldn't call many of them difference-makers. I still expect this to be a below-average defense. That coupled with the money they spent on Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams leads me to expect a pass-heavy attack. The Raiders were one of two teams to pass on at least 60% of their offensive plays in 2018. That's not great if you're the running back who comes off the field on passing downs.
While volume matters to most of the guys in this article, there may not be a better illustration of how much it matters than Adam Thielen. He was a very good receiver back in 2016. He caught 75% of his targets and averaged 14 yards per reception. Unfortunately, he only saw 92 targets and was simply "fine" in Fantasy.
Fast forward to 2018 and you see a superstar with similar, even slightly worse, ratios. A catch rate of 73.9%, an average of 12.2 yards per reception, yet through Week 13 he was the No. 1 receiver in PPR leagues with nearly 100 catches. Then his offensive coordinator got fired, his team went run-heavy, and Thielen earned 12 targets in the season's final three games.
Mike Zimmer is still in Minnesota and John DeFilippo is not. The power struggle was decided, and the verdict was an offense that would pound the ball on the ground. Thielen is still a phenomenally talented receiver, but he's sharing targets with Stefon Diggs, and there aren't enough for either of them to be a No. 1 receiver.
I told you these were going to be very talented players. Antonio Brown may just be the best wide receiver of his generation. But he also benefited from a Hall of Fame quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger and enormous volume in Pittsburgh. It also didn't hurt that he pretty much always had a second superstar on that team who helped his team produce a ton of touchdowns.
In Oakland, Brown will get a reality check, catching passes from Derek Carr and playing on a well below .500 team. If everything goes perfectly I could see him giving us 80% of a typical year in Pittsburgh. But there are so many things that could go wrong. He's a fine option at the end of the second round, but he won't last that long in very many drafts.
Alshon Jeffery was fantastic last year once he was healthy enough to play. That's been the case for a lot of his career. But his volume has been cut significantly since he joined the Eagles. In Jeffery's last four years in Chicago, he averaged 9.1 targets per game, or 145 per 16 games. In two years in Philadelphia, that number tumbled to 7.3, or 117 per 16 games. It's possible to be a top-20 receiver in Fantasy with that type of volume. He did it in 2017 thanks to nine touchdowns. Brandin Cooks, Tyler Lockett, and Amari Cooper did it in 2018.
The problem isn't that Jeffery can't justify his ADP. The problem is that with his volume he needs everything to go right, and he's a player who has rarely had that happen. There are a bunch of young breakout wide receivers with a similar floor and a higher ceiling. Take one of them on Draft Day instead.
Things are about to get really interesting in Cleveland. On one hand, you have Odell Beckham, one of the best receivers in the NFL, who has averaged 10.5 targets per game over his career. One the other hand, you have his good friend Jarvis Landry, who has averaged 9.5 targets per game over the past four seasons. On the third hand (this just got weird), you have Freddie Kitchens and Baker Mayfield. In their eight games together, no receiver averaged more than 6.9 targets per game.
Something has to give, and it's hard to bet against the more talented receiver.
In the second half of 2018, Landry was on pace for 64 catches, 896 yards and four touchdowns, and that's when he was the No. 1 option in the offense. He's never been a particularly efficient receiver, and he's only scored more than five touchdowns once. If the volume isn't there in 2019, he could be a Fantasy disaster.
I think everyone has accepted that Eric Ebron won't score 13 touchdowns again. I'm not sure anyone is prepared for just how bad it could be. Let's start with one seemingly innocent tweet:
OK, I lied. That's not innocent at all. It's terrifying. That's a 70-target pace for Ebron. Or 42 catches for 478 yards at last year's efficiency. He'd need eight touchdowns just to best Jimmy Graham's 2018. Not scared yet? The Colts also added Parris Campbell and Devin Funchess to the passing game. Presumably they'll have T.Y. Hilton for a full 16 games. The defense is better, which could cut into their pass volume.
There is still weekly upside because of the red-zone role Ebron carved out for himself, but he should be drafted as an afterthought because you missed the good tight ends. Anything earlier than that sets you up for a massive disappointment.
So what 2019 Fantasy Football busts should you avoid in your draft? And which superstar QB isn't a trustworthy QB1 option? Visit SportsLine now to get 2019 Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Allen Robinson's disappointing season, and find out.
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