Fantasy Football Busts 2.0: Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown among those set to disappoint
Jamey Eisenberg updates his list of players to avoid in Busts 2.0, naming 12 guys you should take off your draft list in 2019, including a trio of future Hall of Fame former teammates.
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Adam Thielen is a star receiver and a standout Fantasy option. But he makes me a little nervous this season, which is why I will likely avoid him on Draft Day in most leagues. He's a potential bust candidate for 2019.
It's a small sample size we're dealing with, but Thielen did not play at a high level once the Vikings went to Kevin Stefanski as the offensive coordinator in the final three games of the 2018 season. Over that span, Thielen had 10 catches for 137 yards and no touchdowns on 12 targets, and he scored six PPR points or fewer in two outings.
By comparison, Stefon Diggs had 14 catches for 107 yards and three touchdowns on 23 targets during those three games, and Kyle Rudolph had 16 catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns on 17 targets. The Vikings want to focus more on the run with Stefanski and assistant head coach Gary Kubiak calling the plays, and Thielen might not produce at the high level saw to start last season as a result. He had eight games in a row with at least 100 receiving yards and scored nine touchdowns in his first 12 outings.
I still like Thielen as a No. 2 Fantasy receiver, but he's not a top-15 option coming into the season in non-PPR leagues, which is his current consensus ranking on Fantasy Pros. I would not draft Thielen before Round 4 in that format. In PPR, it's a little different since Thielen is a third-round pick for me. But I'm not taking him until the end of that round because of these concerns.
For most of the bust candidates listed here, we're using the consensus rankings on Fantasy Pros since Average Draft Position data isn't really relevant prior to August. The consensus rankings will be our guide if a player is being rated too high. If they are, they are on this list.
Mahomes is still ranked as the consensus No. 1 Fantasy quarterback despite some expected statistical regression coming and the potential loss of Tyreek Hill due to any sort of suspension. I'm also expecting Mahomes to be drafted in Round 2 — and in some cases Round 1 — which would be a mistake. That mistake is chasing points from last season.
Mahomes is one of 11 quarterbacks in NFL history with at least 5,000 passing yards in a season and one of three quarterbacks with at least 50 passing touchdowns. Of those 11 quarterbacks with 5,000 yards, two played last season with Mahomes and Ben Roethlisberger (5,129 yards). But of the previous nine times a quarterback passed for 5,000 yards, every one of them got worse. Drew Brees, who passed for more than 5,000 yards five times, is the only quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 5,000 yards in consecutive seasons when he reached the mark three years in a row (2011-13). And of the two other quarterbacks with at least 50 touchdowns, Peyton Manning went from 55 touchdowns in 2013 to 39 in 2014. And Tom Brady went from 50 touchdowns in 2007 to 28 touchdowns in 2009 (he tore his ACL in Week 1 in 2008).
Mahomes is a star with a ton of potential, but his stats will decline, especially if Hill is out for any length of time. The earliest Mahomes should be drafted is Round 3.
You already know the stats of the quarterbacks who have passed for at least 5,000 yards and what happens the following season. But Roethlisberger has another significant thing working against him: The loss of Antonio Brown. That's 104 catches for 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns on 168 targets traded to Oakland. While I'm hopeful for guys like James Washington and Vance McDonald to step up with Brown gone, and Donte Moncrief and rookie Diontae Johnson will also provide some relief, that production is tough to replace. Sure, JuJu Smith-Schuster is a rising star, and James Conner is a solid pass catcher out of the backfield. But Brown has been the man for the Steelers, and his absence makes Roethlisberger a risky Fantasy option, even if he still has an expected high volume of passes in 2019. I'm only drafting Roethlisberger as a No. 2 quarterback this season, and it's risky to consider him a No. 1 passer in most leagues.
Bell was a star with the Steelers, but there were a lot of things working in his favor in Pittsburgh. He had a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback in Roethlisberger, a standout offensive line and elite weapons around him. He excelled as a rusher and receiver, and it was perfect for his Fantasy production — until it all fell apart.
You know the story by now, about how he sat out the 2018 season in a contract dispute and then signed with the Jets this offseason on a four-year deal worth $52.5 million, including $35 million guaranteed. The Jets will feature him on offense, but coach Adam Gase said he doesn't want to wear down Bell, adding "that's why, historically, I've always used a lot of running backs." We don't expect Bell to come off the field much, but he also has to deal with a second-year quarterback in Sam Darnold, a worse offensive line with the Jets and a weaker group of playmakers around him than he had with the Steelers. I'm not drafting Bell in Round 1, and he's only worth drafting in Round 2, even in PPR.
Let's look at the checklist of potential woes for Gurley this season: Possible injury risk because of a bad knee? Check. Added talent around him with the addition of a quality rookie running back? Check. His coach saying he wants to lighten Gurley's workload and use more two-back sets? Check. And he's still being ranked as a first-round pick in the consensus rankings? Check.
I hope I'm wrong on Gurley, who has been an absolute stud over the past two seasons. Over that span, he's been the No. 1 PPR running back twice based on his average weekly scoring, but last year he might have started to break down. He missed the final two games of the regular season with a knee injury, and then he limped through the NFL playoffs. The Rams brought back Malcolm Brown as a restricted free agent and selected rookie Darrell Henderson in the third round of the NFL Draft this offseason. Henderson could take a decent amount of touches away from Gurley — even if he's healthy. The Rams have been vague on Gurley's status, and we might not know what's going on with his knee until training camp.
There's no way I'm drafting Gurley in Round 1, and even Round 2 could be risky. Again, I hope I'm wrong, but I'm concerned about Gurley's Fantasy outlook this year.
I'm skeptical about Williams this season, and he's not someone I will draft if he's going in Round 3, a range I've seen too many times in mock drafts thus far. Williams definitely has a lot going for him, starting with Andy Reid's track record with the running backs he has coached in his career, including Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles and Kareem Hunt. And Williams could be next in line based on his production to close last season.
If you look at what Williams did as Hunt's replacement in Kansas City, starting in Week 14 and through the playoffs, a span of six games, he was a dominant Fantasy option with either 100 total yards or a touchdown in each outing. His stats over that span were 77 carries for 376 yards and six touchdowns, as well as 28 catches for 226 yards and four touchdowns. If you project that over 16 games, Williams would have had 205 carries for 1,003 yards and 16 touchdowns, along with 75 catches for 603 yards and 11 touchdowns. That's a star.
But the negatives for Williams start with the fact his 105 total touches last season were a career high in five years in the NFL. And the Chiefs added two running backs this offseason in free agent Carlos Hyde and rookie Darwin Thompson. I still like Williams more than Hyde and Thompson, but you can draft the latter two with much better value picks. Don't reach for Williams on Draft Day; he's a safer pick in Round 4 or later. Just be aware that Hyde or Thompson could outplay him at some point during the season.
Carson was great in 2018, and he made Seattle look silly for selecting Rashaad Penny in the first round of the NFL Draft. But the problem for Carson this year is that Penny should take on a bigger workload in his sophomore campaign. Carson should still be considered the better back of this duo, but what happens if the Seahawks give the starting job to Penny? Coach Pete Carroll will make it an open competition, saying "I don't know who's the one and who's the two. It doesn't matter to me." And Penny should have a better grasp of what to do with a year in the NFL under his belt. I don't mind targeting Carson as a low-end No. 2 Fantasy running back, but he's being ranked as a top-20 option among the consensus rankings, which is a mistake. He should not be drafted before the end of Round 4 at the earliest in any format, especially after his offseason knee surgery. You might be better off waiting for Penny in the later rounds.
Brown going to the Raiders was among the biggest moves this offseason, and while I don't expect him to be a disaster with the Raiders, I also don't expect him to be the same dominant Fantasy receiver we've seen over the past six seasons with the Steelers. It would be hard for anyone to replicate those numbers, as Brown has six consecutive seasons of at least 101 catches. He has at least 1,284 yards in every season over that span, too, and only once in those six years has he scored fewer than 10 touchdowns (nine in 2017).
But you have to wonder if he can thrive with Derek Carr. Brown has never caught a touchdown from anyone other than Roethlisberger in his career: In seven games without Roethlisberger since 2011, Brown has only 32 catches for 433 yards, and he's gone over 60 receiving yards just twice over that span. Now, playing a handful of games with different backups isn't the same as a full season with Carr, but that's a rapport Brown will have to establish right away. And keep in mind that Oakland's No. 1 receiver last year was Jordy Nelson, who only had 63 catches for 739 yards and three touchdowns on 88 targets.
Brown will do better than that — hopefully by a lot. But don't go into this season planning to draft the same receiver as he was in Pittsburgh, especially as Brown turns 31 in July. You'll be disappointed. The earliest you should draft Brown is middle to late in Round 2.
I like Jeffery as a high-end No. 3 Fantasy receiver this season, but he's ranked at No. 19 in the consensus rankings. That's too high. The Eagles added two receivers this offseason to potentially take targets away from Jeffery in DeSean Jackson and rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, while Jeffery still has to contend with Zach Ertz, Nelson Agholor, Dallas Goedert and capable running backs out of the backfield. We also have to see if Carson Wentz (back) will be healthy for Week 1, although that's the expectation.
In 2018, Jeffery had seven games with at least 11 PPR points in the 13 games he was healthy, including four in a row to close the season. But he also had six games with eight points or less, and he could suffer with the additional mouths to feed in the passing game. I wouldn't be shocked if Jeffery finished as a top 20 Fantasy receiver in 2019. But I don't think you need to draft him that high, and the earliest he should come off the board in any format is Round 5.
I was surprised to see Robinson ranked as the No. 22 receiver in the consensus rankings, as I view him more as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver in most leagues. In his first year with Chicago in 2018, he only had one game in the regular season with over 100 yards, and he scored in just three games (he had two touchdowns against Detroit in Week 10). He also missed three games due to injury and was never a consistent Fantasy threat. In fact, Robinson has only had one great season in the NFL, in 2015 with Jacksonville when he had 80 catches for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns on 152 targets. We've been chasing that season ever since, and it will be hard for him to replicate that production if he's under 120 targets for the season. The Bears will spread the ball around, and Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Riley Ridley, Trey Burton, David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen will get plenty of attention from Mitchell Trubisky, in addition to Robinson. I'm only drafting Robinson with a mid-round pick in most leagues.
The consensus rankings have Davis as the No. 26 receiver off the board, which is too high. Our CBS Sports Fantasy Football Today podcast host Adam Aizer has said Davis shouldn't even be drafted. Those are two extremes, and there's clearly a middle ground for Davis, which is likely closer to the No. 40 receiver in most leagues. We'll see if he can manage to become a third-year breakout in 2019, but there are a few things working against him.
The Titans are a run-first team, and Marcus Mariota battled injuries in 2018, which impacted this entire passing game. Davis also has just nine games with double digits in PPR scoring in the 28 games he's played over the past two seasons, so he hasn't exactly given us consistent production to begin with. Tennessee also added weapons this offseason to potentially take targets away from Davis with free agent Adam Humphries and rookie A.J. Brown, as well as tight end Delanie Walker (ankle) coming back from injury. I don't mind drafting Davis with a late-round pick in most leagues, but I'm not drafting him in Round 6 like his consensus ranking recommends.
One of the best surprises in 2018 was Ebron, who signed with the Colts as a free agent and turned his career around. He finished the season as the No. 4 Fantasy tight end in PPR, finishing with 110 targets for 66 catches, 750 yards and 14 total touchdowns, which was third in the NFL among all non-quarterbacks behind only Antonio Brown. But regression is coming for Ebron this year. Jack Doyle (hip) should be healthy, and the Colts added two prominent receivers in free agent Devin Funchess and rookie Parris Campbell. Ebron's touchdowns are sure to decline, and the rest of his stat line could also be in trouble. He's still worth selecting as a No. 1 Fantasy tight end, but don't reach for him on Draft Day.
The pairing of Cook and the Saints should be good, and hopefully Drew Brees and Sean Payton can keep Cook playing on a high level. We saw a career season for him in 2018 with the Raiders when he was the No. 5 Fantasy tight end in PPR leagues with 101 targets for 68 catches, 896 yards and six touchdowns. Just know what you're getting with Cook, who has had a hard time posting stats on a consistent basis. In 2018, he had seven games with at least 11 PPR points but also six games with six points or less.
The Saints have been searching for consistent Fantasy production at tight end since Jimmy Graham was traded to Seattle in 2015. Over the past four seasons, the No. 1 tight end in New Orleans has averaged 45 catches for 538 yards and three touchdowns, with two of those performances coming from Coby Fleener and two from Benjamin Watson. Cook is an upgrade over both, but don't be overexcited about him playing with an elite quarterback in Brees. Remember, he spent a season with Aaron Rodgers in 2016 and had only 30 catches for 377 yards and one touchdown in 10 games. Cook, like Ebron, is a No. 1 Fantasy tight end, but don't reach for him on Draft Day just because he's now playing in New Orleans.
Additional busts by Dave Richard
It goes without saying that Freeman's availability matters. He's coming off a season where he missed 14 games with knee, foot and groin injuries, and that followed a year where Freeman dealt with concussion and knee problems. With all these issues, are the Falcons really going to put the ball in Freeman's hands over 15 times per week and cross their fingers he'll be okay? Freeman carries risk for injury and risk for limited touches — why draft someone like that in Round 3 or 4?
Tate's numbers were at their best when he was a high-volume slot receiver in an offense without good running backs. Now he'll move all over the formation in a low-volume offense with one of the best running backs in the league! Giants wide receivers had 65 targets combined in the four games without Odell Beckham last year. It's going to make for a disappointing year for Tate.
We're all searching for the next George Kittle, but it doesn't seem like Henry is it. For one thing, he's never averaged more than 3.2 catches per game or 41.4 yards per game over a season. Not very good for Fantasy. When Henry scored eight times as a rookie, he did it without sharing the field with Keenan Allen or many other red-zone options. You want to take him late, go ahead, but don't reach for him in the same rounds as O.J. Howard and Jared Cook. They have more upside.
Additional busts by Heath Cummings
I hate this because Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. But I do not believe he can repeat last seasons' touchdown efficiency, and without it he's not a starting quarterback in Fantasy. The Seahawks are a run-heavy team, and unlike Baltimore, not enough of those rush attempts involve the quarterback.
Michel's knee problems are a small concern, but the bigger concern is the stable of backs in New England. James White, Damien Harris and Rex Burkhead could all cut into Michel's workload even if he does stay healthy. He's better in non-PPR, but I don't have him as a top-18 running back in either format.
The Vikings fired their offensive coordinator last year because he wasn't calling enough run plays. Then they went with a 50-50 run-pass split over the rest of the season. I forecast the Vikings as one of the most run-heavy teams in the league this year, which will make it very tough for either Thielen or Stefon Diggs to finish as a top-12 receiver.
So, which other 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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