Fantasy Football Busts You Need to Avoid in 2021
As seasoned fantasy managers know, the early rounds of fantasy football drafts can be a minefield with numerous busts beneath the surface.
Some of this is unavoidable. Last year, Carolina's Christian McCaffrey charted as the No. 1 player in average draft position (ADP) but missed most of the season.
That's not a bust so much as bad luck. A bust was when managers helped New York Giants tight end Evan Engram boast an ADP of 7.05 as the seventh tight end off the board, only to see him finish 15th in scoring at his position.
Circumstances, a poor fit and projections suggest the following players are possible busts to avoid based on their ADP.
Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
Nobody will argue New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley isn't as good as advertised.
But from a fantasy football perspective, he's only realized the hype once in three years. As a rookie in 2018, he rushed for 1,307 yards and 11 scores with 91 catches. He then missed three games as a sophomore and 14 more last season.
Even though he's coming off a torn ACL, fantasy managers have felt comfortable giving Barkley an ADP of 1.04 as the sixth running back off the board, even above someone like Nick Chubb.
The reality is that Barkley could be closer to RB2 production than a top performer across all positions. Even if one is comfortable dismissing the concerns, the Giants added Kenny Golladay and Kyle Rudolph to a passing game that should be improved, meaning fewer touches for backs.
Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
Name recognition should only play so much of a factor in fantasy drafts.
Case in point: New Orleans wideout Michael Thomas.
Thomas has an ADP of 3.06 as the ninth receiver off the board. He played in just seven games last season because of injuries and a suspension, and NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Friday that ankle surgery in June will cause him to miss the start of the season.
The revelation about his surgery will impact his ADP from here, but the point remains. In addition to the injury woes, Thomas will go from Drew Brees to Jameis Winston under center. While Winston has helped big names like Mike Evans feast in the past, this team has other options in the passing game, Alvin Kamara in the backfield and a coaching staff that could pull a shocker and start Taysom Hill at quarterback.
Thomas has too many red flags to come off the board over names like Keenan Allen and Terry McLaurin.
Hunter Henry, TE, New England Patriots
Hunter Henry has been a staple of early-round fantasy draft boards for years, and 2021 isn't any different as he sits with an ADP of 8.01, eighth among tight ends.
Joining the New England Patriots in free agency hasn't dinged Henry's reputation among fantasy managers.
But it probably should.
He steps into a passing attack with Cam Newton under center that mustered just 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions last year. The team's leading receiver at tight end, Ryan Izzo, caught 13 passes. While the Patriots spent big money this offseason retooling the offense around Newton, Henry will have to compete with wideout Nelson Agholor, a slew of pass-catching backs and fellow tight end Jonnu Smith for attention.
Henry also had a career-high 93 targets last year but caught just 60 of them and tied for a career low with four touchdowns. It could be rough sledding for him in Foxborough and for fantasy managers who expect top-10 positional scoring.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Cleveland Browns
Again, name recognition only goes so far, and it is one of the more common things that can derail a fantasy manager's draft.
Take Odell Beckham Jr. of the Cleveland Browns. Managers give him an ADP of 6.06 as the 25th wideout off the board, which isn't far down the list in 12-team leagues. He's above notables like Tee Higgins, Chase Claypool and Deebo Samuel.
But Beckham has played in more than 12 games once over the last four seasons. He missed nine games last year, and when he was healthy, he managed just 319 yards and three touchdowns on 23 catches (averaging six targets a game). As well, the Cleveland offense is a spread-it-around attack—four players had 50-plus targets last year, and eight had 20 or more. Only one hit a team-high five touchdown catches.
In short, Beckham is going into his age-29 season with a long injury history in an offense that isn't built to produce big WR1 numbers. Even over 16 games in 2019, he mustered 1,035 yards with four scores on 133 targets, so he may not match his ADP.
A.J. Brown, WR, Tennessee Titans
The ADP metrics on Tennessee Titans wideout A.J. Brown have yet to come back to Earth after the addition of Julio Jones.
But even before a new No. 1 showed up in town, Brown's 3.01 ADP as the eighth wideout off the board was questionable.
Granted, Brown had 1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, and the offense lost Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith, the two leading pass-catchers after him. But he seems likely to regress on the touchdowns front, and the team added Josh Reynolds and was ready to give him a big role. Keep in mind this is a Derrick Henry-based offense that ran it 521 times compared to 485 passing attempts last season.
Jones is a bona fide No. 1 wideout who'll soak up targets, and Brown missed all the team's offseason practices while recovering from surgery on both knees. Expected regression, the arrival of other targets and injury recovery make Brown likely to fall short of top-10 positional production.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
There was a time when fantasy managers could lock in Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott early and not think much about it.
It appears that time is up.
Elliott ran for 979 yards on four yards per carry last season over 15 games, stalled by an offense that missed Dak Prescott for most of the year. But a red flag resurfaced—while he scored six rushing touchdowns, he fumbled just as many times.
Elliott has a 1.05 ADP as the fifth back off the board, but he has 15 fumbles over the last three seasons. At a position where touches should equal production, he averaged 14.9 fantasy points per game last year, 15th among running backs.
While Prescott's return from injury should provide a boon for the offense, Tony Pollard got 101 rushing attempts last year. Elliott was on the field for 69 percent of the offense's snaps, his lowest mark since 2017. He'll also have to compete with Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup for attention in the offense.
Combine waning performance and reps with a crowded offense, and it's hard to see Elliott alongside Dalvin Cook and Derrick Henry in fantasy production.
Average draft positions in standard 12-team leagues are current as of Sunday and courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.