Fantasy Football 2018: Top Candidates to Bust This Season

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2018

Fantasy Football 2018: Top Candidates to Bust This Season

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    With the 2018 NFL preseason officially over, we now have a good idea of projected roles and player health heading into the season. Even with a full preseason of information available, though, the risk of drafting a  fantasy bust exists.

    When we say bust, we mean a player you draft to carry your team, or to at least be a weekly starter, who proves unsuitable for his role. It's certainly more disappointing when it happens with a first- or second-round pick, but any time a player you pegged as a regular contributor starts sitting the bench or creeping toward the cut pile, it hurts.

    We're here to examine the top bust candidates of the 2018 NFL season. We'll look at the positional average draft position (ADP) of each, courtesy of FantasyPros.com, examine why each is likely to bust and then make our projections for their final positional fantasy rankings.

    For this article, we'll be focusing on PPR scoring.

        

WR Brandin Cooks

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Positional ADP: 20.0

    The Los Angeles Rams thought enough of wide receiver Brandin Cooks that they traded a first-round pick for him this offseason and subsequently inked him to a new five-year, $80 million deal. However, this doesn't mean Cooks is going to be the focal point of L.A.'s offense, and it doesn't ensure he'll be a fantasy star.

    As long as he is healthy, the Rams offense is going to run through Todd Gurley. He can be counted on for a high volume of red-zone touches. Cooks cannot.

    When Gurley isn't getting the ball, Cooks will be competing with the likes of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp for targets.

    Head coach Sean McVay likes to spread the ball around in the passing game. Jared Goff threw for 3,804 yards, but Kupp led all Rams pass-catchers with just 869 yards. Even if Cooks is Los Angeles' top wideout, he could fall well short of the 1,000-yard mark.

    Projected Positional Ranking: 31st

RB Joe Mixon

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    Frank Victores/Associated Press

    Positional ADP: 14.2

    Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon is a popular pick to be a fantasy breakout this season, but there are plenty of reasons to believe he'll disappoint instead.

    The first is that Mixon still seems to be struggling to adapt to the pro game. He averaged just 3.5 yards per carry last season, and he's been even worse this preseason (1.8 yards per rush). If Mixon cannot consistently find running lanes, Cincinnati cannot justify continuing to give him the football.

    The second big issue is that Cincinnati's offensive line is not a top run-blocking unit. The Bengals upgraded the line in the offseason, but they've still averaged just 93.2 rushing yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry in the preseason.

    Let's not forget that Mixon isn't going to be an every-down back either. Cincinnati still has receiving back Giovani Bernard, who is going to see time on passing downs and who could keep stealing carries if Mixon continues to run into his own guys as often as into the open field.

    Projected Positional Ranking: 28th

QB Deshaun Watson

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Positional ADP: 2.9

    Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was a revelation during his brief time as a rookie starter last season. In just seven games, he passed for 1,699 yards, rushed for 269 more and scored 21 total touchdowns. Unfortunately, his season ended early due to a torn ACL.

    It's this ACL injury that gives Watson such bust potential. While he's been healthy enough to play in the preseason, there's no guarantee he's the same player he was before the injury. In addition, there's no way the Texans can afford to risk re-injury to his surgically repaired knee.

    Expect head coach Bill O'Brien to be a little more cautious with his franchise quarterback and a little more conservative with the playbook.

    This isn't to say Watson cannot be a fantasy starter. However, he's too big of a risk to draft over proven and consistent signal-callers like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford.

    Projected Positional Ranking: 11th

WR Allen Robinson

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Positional ADP: 21.8

    The Chicago Bears signed wideout Allen Robinson to a three-year, $42 million deal this offseason with the expectation that he'll be their new No. 1 receiver. However, Robinson is in position to disappoint both Bears fans and fantasy owners this year.

    Robinson, who has exactly one season of greatness on his resume, is coming off a torn ACL. That's clearly not ideal, and neither is the fact he was mostly kept in bubble wrap during the preseason. The Bears played in five preseason games, but Robinson didn't notch a single reception.

    Here's the other issue for fantasy owners: Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky should be better in Year 2, but this is still a guy who led the league's worst passing attack last season (175.7 yards per game). Robinson also isn't the only new face in town—the Bears also brought in Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton and rookie Anthony Miller—so force-feeding him in the passing game isn't going to happen.

    And that's when the Bears even decide to pass the ball. With Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard on the roster, there are going to be stretches where the Chicago offense operates almost exclusively through the backfield.

    Projected Positional Ranking: 44th

TE Evan Engram

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Positional ADP: 6.2

    The New York Giants' Evan Engram looked like one of the league's top receiving tight ends last season, even as a rookie. He finished the year with 722 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

    There's a caveat to Engram's rookie production, though. Due to injuries suffered by Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard, there were times when Engram had to be Eli Manning's top target. That isn't going to be the case this season.

    Engram is going to be the third receiving option in most instances in 2018, and possibly even the fourth, depending on how much New York uses rookie back Saquon Barkley in the passing game. If Barkley proves to be the generational runner the Giants believed he was when they took him second overall, the offense isn't going to be leaning on the pass anyway.

    It doesn't help that Engram has been dealing with a concussion.

    The reality is that Engram is set for a step back in production, and he certainly shouldn't be targeted like a difference-making fantasy tight end.

    Projected Positional Ranking: 13th

WR Alshon Jeffery

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Positional ADP: 28.4

    Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was a notable piece of the defending champions' offense in 2017, and his nine touchdowns made him a big fantasy producer. However, he finished just 34th in receiving yards and is entering a very uncertain situation in 2018.

    For starters, we don't know when quarterback Carson Wentz will be back to 100 percent. That's an issue because the Eagles offense has been borderline unwatchable without him in the preseason, scoring just 11.0 points per game.

    Jeffery is still recovering from shoulder surgery and is expected to miss at least a couple of games at the start of the season.

    "We're just going to continue to monitor him and we'll see where he is at next week and make a decision," head coach Doug Pederson said, per Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter of ESPN.

    You may not be able to start Jeffery at the beginning of the season, and if he can't consistently find the end zone in 2018, he's going to be an average fantasy receiver at best.

    Projected Positional Ranking: 39th

RB Jay Ajayi

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Positional ADP: 21.0

    Eagles running back Jay Ajayi is another player to be wary of entering the season, both because of Wentz's situation and because of his own health. The former Miami Dolphin has been dealing with a lower-body injury, according to Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    Though Ajayi's situation doesn't appear to be quite as significant as Jeffery's, it's still an issue for a back who isn't going to be the only option in the running game anyway. Philadelphia uses a committee backfield that will also include Corey Clement and ageless wonder Darren Sproles.

    Let's not forget that Ajayi barely topped 400 yards rushing and only scored twice in his seven games with the Eagles last season. He only had 10 receptions in that span, and Sproles' return is likely to hurt Ajayi's PPR value even further.

    Even if he is healthy all season long, he isn't going to carry as much fantasy value as a workhorse back or even a runner in a primarily two-back rotation.

    Projected Positional Ranking: 30th

WR Tyreek Hill

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    Peter Aiken/Getty Images

    Positional ADP: 10.2 

    Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill was a fantasy phenom in 2017, finishing with 1,183 yards and seven touchdowns. But here's the thing to remember about Hill: Most of his production last year came on big breakaway plays. He wasn't one of the top volume receivers, finishing 16th in receptions and tying for 19th in receiving touchdowns.

    Even under ideal conditions, Hill isn't likely to be one of the 10 best fantasy receivers in 2018.

    And his conditions aren't ideal, of course. Hill will be working with a new quarterback in the mostly unproven Patrick Mahomes. He'll also be sharing targets with fellow speedster Sammy Watkins, who signed a three-year, $48 million deal this offseason.

    There's no guarantee Mahomes will be able to create big plays with Hill as consistently as Alex Smith did. With other pass-catchers like Watkins, Chris Conley, De'Anthony Thomas and Travis Kelce on the roster, there's also no guarantee that he'll even be looking to do so.

    Projected Positional Ranking: 21st