- Offseason mock drafts:
Writing about bust candidates is one of my least favorite things about this job. It's really a no-win situation.
There's a good chance you're going to be wrong about several players if you pick standout guys to fail. And if you're right, that means a player many people were likely counting on actually flopped.
And who wants that to happen?
It's especially difficult to pick bust candidates in February because the best way to judge if a player is going to be a failure is to compare him to his Average Draft Position. And that data isn't exactly accurate yet for re-draft leagues.
For this version of busts -- and I'm going to have three versions between now and the start of preseason games -- we're speculating on where these players will be drafted. We're also looking at their expected situations relative to their finish last season and what to expect for 2018.
Free agency and the NFL Draft will impact several of these guys, but I'm worried about their Fantasy value heading into this season. Again, my hope is these guys all succeed and we get tremendous Fantasy production from everyone.
But that's clearly not realistic, and these are players you might want to avoid in 2018 based on where they could be selected on Draft Day.
Cousins will likely be one of the first players removed from this list when we update the column for version 2.0 if he signs with the right team as a free agent. And really, the two teams that could help his Fantasy value will be Minnesota or Denver given the weapons there. I could potentially support Cousins as a starting Fantasy option in Cleveland, but he would be someone to avoid if he signed with the Jets or Cardinals. I don't love those landing spots for him given the talent there, although it's not like Cousins is going to be a Fantasy disaster in any destination. You have to keep in mind with quarterback that the position is tremendously deep when it comes to Fantasy options. I can make an argument for about 20 starters this year, including Cousins on any team, but clearly I'm looking for someone with upside and consistency. And where Cousins lands as a free agent will determine if he checks those boxes. At best, he'll be a low-end starting option in the majority of leagues, and I would only draft Cousins with a late-round pick, even if he ends up with the Vikings or Broncos.
Smith is an easy choice as a bust candidate this year because it's hard to expect him to repeat his performance from 2017 when he was the No. 3 Fantasy quarterback. He set career highs in passing yards and touchdowns and tied his career low in interceptions. He also had his second-best year in completion percentage and third-best year in rushing yards. While he's going to a good system in Washington under coach Jay Gruden, who has helped Cousins finish as a top-10 Fantasy quarterback in consecutive years, he will get a severe downgrade in weapons barring a miraculous return to health for tight end Jordan Reed. Smith will likely miss Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, and hopefully Chris Thompson (broken leg) is ready for the start of training camp. I don't mind Smith as a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback this season, but there's no way I'm drafting him as a starting option just because of his performance in 2017. I'd expect him to be closer to his 2015 production -- 3,486 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions and 498 rushing yards and two touchdowns -- which made him the No. 15 quarterback that year.
Freeman finished as the No. 10 Fantasy running back in standard leagues in 2017, but it didn't seem like he had a great year. And I'm concerned about his outlook again heading into this season. Under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, we didn't see Freeman as involved in the passing game as he was during the past two seasons. He went from 73 catches in 2015 to 54 catches in 2016 to just 36 catches on 46 targets last year. For him to be an elite Fantasy running back, he needs to be near the 50-catch threshold, and hopefully that will return in 2018. But with Tevin Coleman staying healthy -- he played a career-best 15 games -- we will continue to see Freeman in a timeshare, especially coming off a season where he dealt with knee problems toward the end of the year. Freeman only had five games with more than 12 carries in 2017, and one of those was the lone game Coleman missed in Week 15 at Tampa Bay when Freeman had 22 carries for 126 yards and a touchdown and five catches for 68 yards on seven targets. That game was also one of three times where he had more than three catches. I still consider Freeman a standout Fantasy running back, but he should not be drafted in Round 1. He might be better suited for a pick in early Round 3, and hopefully he'll be more involved in 2018 than he was last year.
Lewis is a free agent this offseason, and he picked the perfect time to have a career year. All of his stats in 2017 were career highs, and I'm curious to see if he can come close to replicating that production, especially since he's expected to leave the Patriots for a new team. The big key for him will be staying healthy since this was the first time in his career he played 16 games, and you saw the potential since he finished as the No. 13 Fantasy running back in standard leagues. He had seven games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league in the regular season, including six games in his final eight. And including the three playoff games for New England, Lewis had at least four catches in five of his final seven outings of the season. His destination will ultimately determine his Fantasy value, especially if he can land a featured role, but I'm afraid he's going to be over-drafted based on his performance this past season. I'd prefer to draft Lewis as a flex option with a mid-round pick, but we'll fully evaluate his Fantasy value after he picks a team for 2018.
Miller is good, and most weeks he's never going to hurt your Fantasy team. He was even the No. 15 Fantasy running back in standard leagues in 2017. But I'm not sure he's ever going to be great, which is the problem. Since joining the Texans in 2016, Miller has scored at least eight Fantasy points in a standard league in 20 of 30 games, including 12 with double digits in points. Four of those games with fewer than eight points came in the final four games last season, so he's been fairly successful. But it feels like the Texans want to upgrade their running game, which could come at the expense of Miller, especially with him as a featured option. D'Onta Foreman can take on a bigger role if he's healthy from last year's Achilles injury, and Alfred Blue had 50 total touches over the final three games last season compared to just 30 for Miller. I would still value Miller as at least a flex option, especially if Foreman is limited in training camp. But he's a low-end No. 2 running back at best on Draft Day, and he should not be drafted before Round 5 in the majority of leagues.
Lynch was better than I expected last season in his comeback with the Raiders after coming out of retirement in 2016. He was the No. 20 Fantasy running back in standard leagues, and he scored double digits in Fantasy points in seven games, including four of his final six outings of the year. But he'll be 32 in April, and he might not be the best fit for new coach Jon Gruden's offense. When you think of Gruden and his running backs, typically good pass-catchers thrive, notably someone like Charlie Garner with the Raiders. Gruden can definitely work with Lynch like he did with someone like Tyrone Wheatley, but you have to worry about wear and tear with Lynch at this point in his career. If he's back as the starter in Oakland, Lynch still has flex appeal, and he's worth drafting in Round 6 or 7 in standard leagues at the earliest. But he will likely get competition for touches, and he could struggle in this new offense under Gruden. It's a situation to monitor, and Lynch is best being drafted with just a mid-round pick in the majority of leagues.
When Cooks was traded to the Patriots last season from New Orleans, I initially called him a bust candidate. I expected him to struggle with a lack of targets in an offense that featured Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and a host of running backs out of the backfield. My view on Cooks changed when Edelman suffered a torn ACL in the preseason, and Cooks had a solid year, finishing as the No. 10 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues. But with Edelman expected to return at 100 percent this season, it's time to revisit Cooks' Fantasy value. He should still have the chance to be productive, but his stats should decrease if everyone else returns (Amendola is a free agent). His targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns were his lowest since his rookie campaign in 2014, and I can see him dipping below his 2017 production, even slightly, this year. He's still worth drafting as a No. 2 Fantasy receiver, but the earliest he should be selected is Round 4 in standard leagues and Round 5 in PPR. Based on early projections for ADP, I would anticipate Cooks being drafted too soon.
Jones was great in 2017, and he finished as the No. 7 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues. But what changed for him last year compared to 2016, which was his first year in Detroit? His targets (103) and receptions (55) were essentially the same in 15 games, but he only had 930 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 2016. I would expect his production in 2018 to be in between his stats from the previous two seasons, and it's hard to call him a must-start Fantasy option coming into the year. There are a lot of mouths to feed in Detroit if everyone returns as expected, and you should anticipate a bigger role for second-year receiver Kenny Golladay. That could come at the expense of Golden Tate or Eric Ebron, but Jones saw a decrease in targets when Golladay was healthy in 2017. The rookie missed five games due to a hamstring injury, and Jones had three of his best games during that span against New Orleans in Week 6, Pittsburgh in Week 8 and Green Bay in Week 9. Those were three of Jones' six games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league. I like Jones as a high-end No. 3 Fantasy receiver, but he will likely be drafted as a No. 2 option. However you view him, don't draft him before Round 6 in standard leagues and Round 7 in PPR.
Funchess should open the season as the No. 1 receiver for the Panthers, but that doesn't mean he'll be the No.1 option in the passing game. Depending on who Carolina adds at receiver this offseason, Funchess should still be the third option behind Greg Olsen and Christian McCaffrey. Funchess played well in 2017 after the Panthers traded Kelvin Benjamin, and all his stats were career highs during his third year. But the majority of his production also came when Olsen was out with a foot injury. Olsen played the final four games of the season and the playoff loss to New Orleans, and Funchess had 13 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns on 30 targets over that span. He was dealing with a shoulder injury at the end of the year, which could have impacted his performance, but Olsen also wasn't 100 percent. I still like Funchess as a solid No. 3 Fantasy receiver, but I don't want to draft him as a starter. He's worth a look in Round 7 in standard leagues and Round 8 in PPR, and his value could decline if the Panthers invest heavily in their receiving corps this offseason.
Anderson is almost certainly headed for a suspension after he was arrested for the second time in as many offseasons in January. How many games he could miss will ultimately determine his Fantasy value, but you should prepare to be without him for some portion of the 2018 season. He also will see more competition for targets if everyone is back for the Jets (tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a free agent), and the receiving corps could use an upgrade in talent, even with Quincy Enunwa (neck) expected to be healthy after missing 2017. Quarterback is also an issue since the Jets open the offseason with Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg as the top options on the depth chart. We'll see if the Jets are able to land Cousins, bring back free agent Josh McCown or go with a rookie, but it will be another adjustment for Anderson, who has yet to have consistent quarterback play in his first two years in the NFL. Keep an eye on a potential suspension, but Anderson should only be considered a No. 3 Fantasy receiver on Draft Day with a mid-round pick at best.
Everyone should root for Smith-Schuster. He's a good player and has plenty of upside, and he had some of the best touchdown celebrations as a rookie in 2017. But don't overvalue him coming into this year, and he's more of a No. 3 Fantasy receiver than a must-start option. Smith-Schuster was awesome to close last season when he had either a touchdown or 100 receiving yards in his final three regular-season games, but the majority of that production came when Antonio Brown was out with a calf injury. In those three games, Smith-Schuster had 21 catches for 332 yards and two touchdowns on 23 targets. That was 29 percent of his targets and touchdowns for the season and 36 percent of his receptions and yards. He will definitely have plenty of great moments in his sophomore campaign, but he has a lot of talent to contend with for the ball, especially if Le'Veon Bell is back as expected. The playoff loss against Jacksonville could be an indicator of the downside for Smith-Schuster since he finished with three catches for 5 yards and a touchdown on five targets. He was tied for fourth among targets, but he was clearly behind Brown (11 targets) and Bell (13 targets). The Steelers are loaded with weapons, and Smith-Schuster could easily disappear each week. He should only be drafted with a mid-round pick in the majority of leagues.
Rudolph finished 2017 as the No. 7 Fantasy tight end in standard leagues, which comes after he was No. 3 the year before. Last year, he set a career high in touchdowns with eight, but he definitely took a step back with his production from 2016, which could continue again this year. We still don't know the starting quarterback in Minnesota, which could be a problem, and the loss of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur can't be overlooked. In two years with Shurmur calling plays, Rudolph was amazing with 213 targets for 140 catches, 1,372 yards and 15 touchdowns. Rudolph regressed in 2017 with Vikings receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen both playing well, and that should continue, plus the running backs will definitely play a role in the passing game. Rudolph only had three games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league last year despite tying for second in touchdowns among tight ends. He's still worth drafting as a low-end starter, but only with a late-round pick. Don't reach for Rudolph on Draft Day this year.