2021 NFL Draft Guide: Fantasy Football Busts
Published: Jun 23, 2021, 10:15 AM EDT
Bust. It’s the dirtiest, four-letter word in fantasy sports. There’s nothing worse than seeing your first-round pick labeled as a bust for the year. While it doesn’t necessarily mean you made some catastrophic mistake in your draft, it does mean you probably played from behind for most of the season and it took every bit of effort from you to recover from his performance, or lack thereof.
But “bust” is actually a relative term. It doesn’t mean the player was a complete disaster. It simply means he did not return the value expected from where he was drafted. If your first-round pick stays healthy all season and doesn’t return more than a sixth-round value, he’s a bust. If your first-round pick tears his ACL in Week 3, he shouldn’t be labeled as a bust. It’s just an unfortunate occurrence. There is a significant difference.
The list below consists of players who, we feel, will not return the proper value based on where they are expected to go in your draft.
Jalen Hurts, QB PHI – It was a tough rookie season for the Eagles quarterback. He didn’t have a proper training camp, he had the confidence of ownership but not of his coach and was thrust into action for the final four games of the season with a banged-up offensive line and the absolute worst array of pass-catching weapons any team has seen. His completion percentage was awful, his deep throws were inaccurate and his failures as a passer could not be masked by his desire to run the ball himself. Heading into this season, it’s difficult to see things getting much better, despite the Eagles adding DeVonta Smith. Unless Jalen Reagor stays healthy AND blossoms, AND the Eagles retain Zach Ertz, the weaponry is mediocre, at best. The offensive line is still a mess and now Hurts needs to learn a new system under new head coach Nick Sirianni. The Eagles also brought in new OC Shane Steichen who is credited with the development of Justin Herbert. However, Hurts is nowhere near the passer Herbert is. Might there be some potential here? Of course. But some people are talking about Hurts as top-10 quarterback and those taking him with those lofty expectations are headed for disappointment.
Tua Tagovailoa, QB MIA – Here’s another victim of not having a proper preseason, but again, there were plenty of shortcomings in Tua’s game to understand that he’s either not ready to start yet or he may never be the stud QB he was purported as when he was drafted. The Dolphins’ plan last year was to start Ryan Fitzpatrick and, regardless of record, insert Tua as the starter midway through the season. It just so happened that they were winning games and the change under center left many with a bad taste in their mouths. The taste got worst when Tua struggled and twice he was lifted in the middle of the game for Fitzpatrick. When he was on the field, he panicked in the face of a strong pass rush and he seemed both incapable and unwilling to throw the ball further than 10 yards down the field. Even then, his accuracy was weak. Yes, they got him Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller, but the new weapons blended with the old ones might not mean much, especially when he is going to have to learn a new offense under new OC Eric Studesville who was the team’s running backs coach last year. Similar to Hurts, it may be tough to judge Tua just based off what we saw last year, but the step forward needs to be ginormous to make him worthwhile in the fantasy game.
Alvin Kamara, RB NO – It’s not that I think Kamara is going to be a total wash-out. He’ll see plenty of carries out of the backfield and will still remain a part of the team’s passing attack. But it’s just not going to be the same as it was when Drew Brees was under center. And if that’s not evident to you then you didn’t watch the games last year where Taysom Hill was the quarterback. The check-downs were limited and whenever they got inside the 15-yard line, it was Hill who took it in for the touchdown, not Kamara. But Hill isn’t expected to be the quarterback, you say? It will be Jameis Winston? Probably, but he’s another guy who doesn’t like to check it down either. He’s all about looking downfield and, for better or for worse, will chuck it deep whenever he can. Now maybe Sean Payton curbs that Bruce Arians “risk it for the biscuit” mentality, but that doesn’t mean the ball is going to Kamara like it usually does. There is also a lot of talk about increasing Latavius Murray’s workload in an attempt to keep Kamara fresh. That kind of talk always spells disappointment in fantasy. It’s difficult to look at his career stats and not envision taking him with a top-five pick in fantasy, but I’m going to pass with the potential changes in offense. UPDATE 7/23: With news regarding Michael Thomas not beginning the season on-time, expect more defenses to focus on containing Kamara early. Unless another receiver steps up in the passing game, this could be a tough year for the Saints backfield.
Josh Jacobs, RB LV – He took a real nice step forward last year as he rushed for over 1,000 yards for the second-straight season, scored 12 touchdowns and saw nearly twice the targets he did during his rookie campaign. Unfortunately, his ferocious running style has him trying to go through defenders rather than around them which leads to more injuries. So as a result, the Raiders went out and added Kenyan Drake to the mix. Jacobs is still the lead back, but Drake is likely to be mixed in to keep the starter fresh and he could be the guy on the field for third-downs. That is not going to bode well for Jacobs in the grand scheme of things. You don’t add another running back for $11M and park him on the bench. The snaps distribution is yet to be seen, but knowing the way the personnel is set, it’s very difficult to look at Jacobs as a bell-cow back right now.
D’Andre Swift, RB DET – Allow me to redirect you to Andrew Cooper’s article from back in April regarding Swift as a potential bust. Give it a read and then come back and debate it. The Lions are in the middle of a rebuild, Jared Goff is now under center, there are little to no weapons in the passing attack and the Lions are going to get their teeth knocked out throughout the year. They aren’t playing this year for a Super Bowl. They’re not even playing for a playoff spot. They’re playing for a top draft pick next year. So if that’s the case, why would they run their best asset into the ground and add mileage and wear-and-tear? Jamaal Williams was brought in to help shoulder the load and while Swift has all the makings of a superstar, the team is going to hold him back to avoid injury.
Miles Sanders, RB PHI – Maybe the Eagles are going to make some cuts in the backfield during the summer, but how can you look at Sanders as a strong option in fantasy right now? The team retained Boston Scott, they re-signed Jordan Howard (if you can believe that), they drafted Kenneth Gainwell and they picks up Kerryon Johnson off waivers. We still aren’t 100-percent sure as to what kind of offense Sirianni and Steichen will run, but this backfield screams committee. Not to mention, if they’re going to blend in a lot of RPO work, fantasy owners need to be wary of Jalen Hurts poaching goal-line work. If you can avoid this situation, you’ll be better off.
Melvin Gordon, RB DEN – Gordon failed to produce a 1,000-yard season for the third year in a row and there is a definite decline in the overall skills for the 28-year-old. He wasn’t used in the passing game as much as he was back with the Chargers and there is a lot of concern regarding the mileage he’s put on over six seasons in the NFL. The Broncos went and drafted Javonte Williams in the second round which tells you they aren’t confident in Gordon leading this backfield on his own and you can bet the rookie will be quickly integrated into this offense. If you draft Gordon in either best ball or re-draft, you’re going to have to pair him up with Williams. It’s only a matter of time before there’s a changing of the guard.
Davante Adams, WR GB – This one is pretty simple. If Aaron Rodgers remains with the Packers, then I will remove Adams from this list. If Rodgers moves on and it’s Jordan Love starting, Adams has to drop in the rankings as well as on the draft board. He’s extremely talented and with a proven quarterback, I’m in. Without one, he cannot be considered the top receiver in the game and his draft stock should take a rightful tumble. We’ll follow the situation in Green Bay and keep you posted. UPDATED 8/2: Aaron ROdgers is in camp and all is well in Green Bay. Nothing more to say than draft Adams with confidence.
Michael Thomas, WR NO – ADDED 7/23: When word broke on July 23 that Thomas was unlikely to start the season on-time, it sent a ripple of shock waves through the fantasy community with regard to the WR rankings. Not only were we growing concerned with the quarterback situation, but missing even just the first few games of the regular season have to shoot Thomas further down on your draft boards. The Player Rankings and Ultimate Cheat Sheet have already been adjusted and you're likely looking at nothing more than a late-seventh/early-eighth round selection for what continues to look like damaged goods.
Tyler Boyd, WR CIN – The addition of Ja’Marr Chase is going to push Boyd down to third on the target list for the Bengals. As Joe Burrow gets more comfortable returning from his knee injury, he’s going to lean on Boyd across the middle less and less. In fact, we started witnessing the decline in targets following the team’s bye week last year. Yes, there was the Burrow injury, but even the two games Burrow was under center in the latter half of the season, he was looking at Tee Higgins a lot more. Boyd will be a “move the chains” third-down guy likely, but the big plays and the touchdowns are probably headed elsewhere. UPDATED 8/8: I'm starting to pull back on my initial reactions to the Bengals drafting Chase and the status of Boyd. Watching camp, it seems they are still attacking the middle of the field plenty with Boyd and the lack of a legitimate pass-catching tight end is keeping the targets with Boyd more. The workload could get more of an even distribution than originally anticipated, so there's no need to downgrade Boyd at this time.
Laviska Shenault, WR JAC – I was actually bullish on Shenault after watching him in 2020, but the moment Urban Meyer discussed using Travis Etienne in the slot regularly, my enthusiasm diminished. The Jaguars already have D.J. Chark and Marvin Jones on the outside. Shenault was supposed to be that slot guy who was force-fed targets throughout the game – a PPR dream. But now with Etienne in the mix, we’re wond3ring just how much playing time Shenault will see and what will his potential target rate look like? He went from late-round sleeper to no thank you in a heartbeat.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR BUF – He’s listed as the No. 2 receiver on the depth chart, but with Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis still there, it’s going to be very tough for Sanders to see consistent targets. Not to mention, the chronic injuries that tend to keep Sanders on the sideline. In fact, he hasn’t played a full 16-game schedule since 2016. There’s a reason Sanders is now on his fourth team in four years and it’s not because he’s so good that teams keep calling. The only receiver who will see consistency is Stefon Diggs. Maybe even Beasley. But Sanders is the new guy here and there are plenty from last year’s team who Josh Allen will look for first. UPDATED 8/8: While Beasley isn't going anywhere just yet, his battle against vaccinations could limit the workload he is given throughout the season. Sanders continues to get the work as the No. 2 wideout in this scheme, so treat him as such. Of course, his current ADP remains suppressed, so you don't have to bump him up on your boards. Take the bargain.
Kadarius Toney, WR NYG – Being called the “Swiss Army Knife” of a team is bad, bad news, especially for a rookie. We’re hearing things like jet sweeps, reverses, trick plays and punt returns and that last one should make you very nervous. You know who else was a “Swiss Army Knife?” Go look up Tavon Austin. In the meantime, I’ll tell you how I see this going. A week or so into training camp, Toney is going to muff a couple of punts. Joe Judge, a former special teams coordinator, won’t stand for that and he’ll take away the offensive snaps in favor of more work returning punts. Half the season will pass and maybe Toney gets another chance of two, but without regular offensive reps, there will be no consistency. Maybe Year 2 will be better. UPDATED 7/23: Opening up camp on the PUP list just further cements these negative thoughts.
Josh Reynolds, WR TEN – It’s really as simple as saying “in walks Julio Jones, out walks Reynolds.” He would have been an intriguing late-round option had it just been him and A.J. Brown, but now with Julio in the mix, the targets are going to be very tough to come by. Remember, it’s still a run-heavy scheme with Derrick Henry and when it does open up the passing attack, Brown and Jones are likely to be the ones targeted. That is why they brought him in, isn’t it? Reynolds may be the WR3 on this Titans team, but he’s nothing but depth fodder for your fantasy teams.
Jonnu Smith, TE NE – The Patriots will look to bring back that two-TE magic they once had, but Cam Newton isn’t Tom Brady and neither Hunter Henry nor Smith are Gronk or Aaron Hernandez. Given how interchangeable Bill Belichick likes to keep his pass-catchers, it’s going to be difficult to start Smith or any Patriots player for that matter. It’s just a shame, because he was in a really good spot in Tennessee and now projecting his numbers for 2021 is an exercise in futility.