Fantasy Football 2018: What to Expect from 2017 Early-Round Busts
One of the most frustrating aspects of being a fantasy owner is drafting a player who seems poised to have a great season only to see him struggle. Selecting a player, especially in the early rounds, comes with a level of expectation. While injuries may play a role, it’s even more frustrating when a player is seemingly healthy and still does not perform up to expectations. Here is a look at some of the players who were the biggest busts in 2017 -- and what may be ahead for them in ’18.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans
2017 stats: 15 games, 3,232 passing yards, 13 TDs, 15 INTs; 312 rushing yards, five TDs, one lost fumble
What went wrong in 2017: Mariota was drafted like a QB1 and expected to break out. But it just didn’t happen, as he ended up with more interceptions than touchdown passes and had only two 300-yard passing games. He did have five rushing touchdowns, but it was hard to trust Mariota as your starter.
What to expect in 2018: Mariota has a new offensive coordinator in Matt LaFleur, who was the OC with the Rams last season and played a key role in Jared Goff’s breakout campaign. Tennessee’s receiving corps is still a work in progress, but the running backs are strong. Mariota is a risky QB1 for 2018, but the potential is still there.
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons
2017 stats: 16 games, 4,095 passing yards, 20 TDs, 12 INTs; 143 rushing yards, three lost fumbles
What went wrong in 2017: After winning MVP honors in 2016, Ryan skyrocketed up fantasy draft boards. He was the fourth quarterback taken on average yet barely finished in the top 15 in fantasy points. He threw for the fewest yards since 2010 and fewest touchdowns since ’08, his rookie season.
What to expect in 2018: The Falcons have added Calvin Ridley to the receiving corps. Prior to his MVP season, Ryan was at his best when he had Julio Jones and Roddy White as his top wide receivers. Maybe Jones and Ridley can provide the same type of production. There’s no reason to believe the Falcons’ offense, and likewise Ryan, can’t improve in 2018. He’s a QB2 with the potential to be a QB1.
Jameis Winston, QB, Buccaneers
2017 stats: 13 games, 3,504 passing yards, 19 TDs, 11 INTs; 135 rushing yards, one TD, seven lost fumbles
What went wrong in 2017: Winston was drafted as a QB1 as he was a popular breakout choice. Valued as a top-10 fantasy QB, he wound up 20th in fantasy points. He missed three games because of injury, but it was a disappointing season overall. Seven lost fumbles certainly didn’t help.
What to expect in 2018: After throwing for the fewest yards and touchdowns in his brief career, Winston is hoping for a rebound season. However, the three-game suspension he must serve to start the season will impact his draft status regardless of whether you think he will bounce back or not. More rushing attempts could help his value, provided he can improve his ball security. The Buccaneers have plenty of weapons for him to throw to and added running back Ronald Jones II in the draft. This offense is young and talented enough to put up better numbers, so don’t give up on Winston’s QB1 potential just yet. However, know you won't have him the first three weeks of the season. He'll come back for one game against the Bears (not a great match-up) and then he has a bye.
Jay Ajayi, RB, Eagles
2017 stats: 14 games, 873 rushing yards, one TD; 24 receptions for 158 yards, one TD; two lost fumbles
What went wrong in 2017: Starting the season in Miami, Ajayi was off to a promising start following his coming-out party in 2016. He was among the top-10 RBs taken on average and was a first-round pick in many fantasy drafts. However, he was barely a top-35 fantasy scorer when all was said and done. He had just two 100-yard rushing games after producing three 200-yard efforts in 2016. He also scored a total of two touchdowns in 14 games and wasn’t a factor as a receiver.
What to expect in 2018: Even after he was traded to the Eagles, Ajayi didn’t see a ton of carries. Philadelphia will continue to spread the ball around, but Ajayi could see more work in the red zone and around the goal line with LeGarrette Blount gone. Because of his touchdown potential, Ajayi is a low-end RB1, but it’s possible he could end up disappointing his fantasy owners again.
(Photo by Kiel Leggere/Philadelphia Eagles, courtesy of www.philadelphiaeagles.com)
Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons
2017 stats: 14 games, 865 rushing yards, seven TDs; 36 receptions for 317 yards, one TD, one lost fumble
What went wrong in 2017: Freeman was among the top-5 running backs taken in most fantasy drafts. He finished in the top 15 in fantasy points, which isn’t terrible. But it’s not the type of production you want from a first-round pick, either. He had just two games with more than 100 rushing yards. Volume was an issue as well. He had more than 20 carries in only three games.
What to expect in 2018: Tevin Coleman is still in the picture, so Freeman shouldn’t be viewed as a workhorse. Both backs have fantasy value, but the tag-team approach will limit their touches. Freeman should be viewed as an RB2 rather than an RB1.
Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders
2017 stats: 14 games, 48 receptions for 680 yards, seven TDs
What went wrong in 2017: Cooper was arguably one of the biggest busts last season. He was drafted as a top-10 WR on average and finished outside of the top 30. Nearly half of his yards came in two games, one of those being Week 17. He also missed two games because of injury.
What to expect in 2018: New Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said in the offseason that Cooper’s injuries impacted his 2017 production, although he missed only two games. Whatever happened last season, expect Cooper to remain the focal point of Oakland’s passing game. He will probably slide a little in fantasy drafts, but he’s a solid WR2 with WR1 potential.
Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers
2017 stats: 15 games, 71 receptions for 1,001 yards, five TDs
What went wrong in 2017: Evans’ mention here is a byproduct of Jameis Winston’s disappointing 2017 campaign. A top-5 wide receiver in fantasy drafts and in some cases a first-round pick, Evans finished outside of the top 15 in fantasy points at his position. He posted his fourth straight 1,000-yard season (barely) but had just five touchdown catches.
What to expect in 2018: Evans’ numbers hinge on whether Winston can bounce back. The good news is that the two have clicked before. In 2016, Evans had 1,321 yards and 12 scores. But there’s a chance we could see a repeat of the duo’s 2017 inconsistency as well. Evans is still a WR1; just don’t reach too early. Also keep in mind that Winston won't be available for the first three games of the season.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts
2017 stats: 16 games, 57 receptions for 966 yards, four TDs; one lost fumble
What went wrong in 2017: For the first time since his 2012 rookie season, Hilton finished with fewer than 1,000 receiving yards. To be fair, he didn’t have Andrew Luck throwing to him, and he averaged 16.9 yards per catch, but fantasy owners were expecting better numbers based on his ADP (No. 12 WR). He finished with just four touchdowns, and while he had four 100-yard performances, he also had 10 games with fewer than 50 yards.
What to expect in 2018: The hope is that Luck will return this season, which immediately boosts Hilton’s value and outlook. He may fall in fantasy drafts because of his 2017 performance, but Hilton has the ability to bounce back and be a WR1 again.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Raiders
2017 stats: 15 games, 53 receptions for 482 yards, six TDs
What went wrong in 2017: Nelson clearly missed Aaron Rodgers, as the quarterback’s injury coincided with Nelson’s worst numbers across the board since 2010. Nelson barely finished among the top 50 in fantasy points at his position despite being the sixth wide receiver taken in fantasy drafts on average.
What to expect in 2018: Nelson has a chance to bounce back, but his role in the Raiders’ offense remains to be seen. He’s definitely no longer a WR1 and probably should be viewed as a WR3 to mitigate the potential risk.
(Photo by Tony Gonzales/Oakland Raiders, courtesy of www.raiders.com)
Dez Bryant, WR, Free Agent
2017 stats: 16 games, 69 receptions for 838 yards, six TDs; one lost fumble
What went wrong in 2017: Bryant was among the first 10 wide receivers off the board and barely finished in the top 25 in terms of fantasy points. He wasn’t hurt, but he had trouble connecting with Dak Prescott. Bryant posted the fewest yards in a season in which he played all 16 games and didn’t have a single 100-yard effort.
What to expect in 2018: The 29-year-old, three-time Pro Bowler was still looking for a team as the calendar was set to turn to September. He turned down an offer from Baltimore and is reportedly looking for a one-year deal to re-establish his value. He should still have plenty in the tank, but what he can offer in 2018 depends on where he lands. He could be the ultimate risk/reward in fantasy drafts this year.