Fantasy Football 2020: What to Expect from 2019 Early-Round Busts
In the fantasy world, owners head into the season hoping for the best. They draft their best team, and more often than not, they end the season feeling let down. One or more players who should have been solid difference-makers on the team end up being disappointments.
Often, fantasy owners hold a grudge against those players the following season. They place them on their personal "do not draft" list because of one bad year. In some cases, this is a reasonable response, but in other cases, a bust one year may become a value or better the next year. Here are some busts from 2019 and what to expect from them in 2020.
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.
Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
2019 stats: 14 games, 797 rushing yards, five TDs; 81 receptions for 533 yards, TD; one lost fumble
To be fair, Kamara injured his ankle/leg in Week 6, and it apparently affected him the rest of the way. After that injury, he didn't find the end zone again until Week 16. He ended up sharing the carries fairly evenly with Latavius Murray, and that may continue into 2020. However, Kamara is one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league, and in PPR formats, he's a top-five option. Drew Brees is going to get him the ball, and if he's healthy, Kamara should still be an elite option.
David Johnson, RB, Houston Texans
2019 stats: 13 games, 345 rushing yards, two TDs; 36 receptions for 307 yards, four TDs; one lost fumble
In just a few seasons, Johnson went from being one of the top fantasy players to an afterthought on his own team. After a promising start to his 2019 campaign, Johnson struggled to produce and by midseason had lost his job to trade acquisition Kenyan Drake. In March, the Cardinals traded Johnson to Houston. Opportunity knocks again for Johnson given the other running backs on the Texans roster, and perhaps they will utilize him more in the passing game. His arrow is pointing up in 2020, but he is going to be hard to trust.
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
2019 stats: 10 games, 464 rushing yards, four TDs; 34 receptions for 251 yards, four TDs; one lost fumble
After showing flashes of top-tier running back potential in 2018, Conner had the starting job all to his own in '19. It turned out he wasn't able to handle it. Conner dealt with a variety of injuries, playing in only 10 games. His numbers fell across the board, and while some of that could be attributed to Ben Roethlisberger's injury, it certainly reflects on Conner as well. Conner is still in line to be the Steelers' lead back in 2020, so if he can stay healthy and gets enough touches, he has the potential to produce as an RB1. However, there are certainly reasons to tamp down your expectations somewhat.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Cleveland Browns
2019 stats: 16 games, 74 receptions for 1,035 yards, four TDs; 10 rushing yards; 20 passing yards; one lost fumble
The good news is that Beckham played in every game last season. The bad news is that he finished with worse numbers than he did in 2018 when he played in four fewer games. The Baker Mayfield-OBJ connection didn't work out nearly as well as many expected in their first year together. Beckham was not entirely healthy, as he revealed in early May that he had played through a core-muscle injury he initially suffered in training camp. He underwent surgery in late January, so his health/conditioning is something to monitor during training camp. It's still entirely possible that Beckham and Mayfield get on the same page and he puts up huge numbers. But that doesn't mean he should be viewed as an elite WR1 this year.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
2019 stats: 12 games, 42 receptions for 552 yards, three TDs; one lost fumble
Smith-Schuster's forgettable season can be blamed on Ben Roethlisberger's injury, his own maladies (a knee injury that cost him four games), or both. For these same reasons, his chances of a rebound in 2020 will likely come down to Roethlisberger's health as well as his own. Smith-Schuster's success also could be tied to whether or not a reliable No. 2 target emerges to help take some of the defensive attention off of him. There's clearly WR1 potential here, but fantasy owners might be better off approaching him with caution and valuing him more as a top-end WR2.
Melvin Gordon III, RB, Denver Broncos
2019 stats: 12 games, 612 rushing yards, eight TDs; 42 receptions for 296 yards, TD; three lost fumbles
Gordon held out at the start of 2019, causing him to miss the first four games and leaving his fantasy owners crestfallen. Even when he finally made his debut in Week 5, he wasn't the Gordon of previous years. He eventually put together a good stretch, but overall, he was a giant bust for an early-round draft pick. The good news for Gordon's 2020 outlook is that he landed in Denver, where he has a chance to claim a sizable workload. That possibility should help him reclaim some of his draft value; just don't reach for him thinking it's the Gordon of a couple of seasons ago.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Houston Texans
2019 stats: 14 games, 42 receptions for 583 yards, two TDs; 52 rushing yards
Cooks has a history with concussions, and this issue cost him two games in 2019. That alone is reason to be concerned, but then there's the steep decline in production. After four straight 1,000-yard seasons, Cooks barely got halfway there in 2019. He also managed just two touchdowns. But Cooks gets a fresh start with a new team and an upgrade at quarterback, swapping Jared Goff for Deshaun Watson. With DeAndre Hopkins now in Arizona, there's potential for Cooks to have a huge bounce-back season. Houston has plenty of other wide receivers, but Cooks should start as the No. 1 option. Cooks is a relatively safe WR2 on draft day.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns
2019 stats: 16 games, 3,827 passing yards, 22 TDs, 21 INTs; 141 rushing yards, three TDs; two lost fumbles
After a promising rookie season (3,725 passing yards, 27 TDs, 14 INTs), Mayfield was poised for an even better sophomore campaign. The Browns were generating plenty of preseason buzz as a possible playoff team, and Mayfield had been given new weapons. Many fantasy owners hyped Mayfield and hoped that he could be a top-10 quarterback. But Cleveland stumbled (finishing 6-10), and while Mayfield finished with more passing yards (he played in two more games compared to 2018), his touchdowns went down and interceptions went up. Now, there's a new coaching staff calling the shots, so in some ways Mayfield gets a mulligan. He has appeared to take accountability for his on- and off-the-field actions. With plenty of weapons and an improved offensive line around him, Mayfield is a solid QB2 with upside in 2020.
Cam Newton, QB, New England Patriots
2019 stats: 2 games, 572 passing yards, INT; -2 rushing yards; two lost fumbles
Already dealing with questions surrounding the health of his surgically repaired shoulder entering last season, Newton suffered a foot injury that limited him to just two games. He didn't play particularly well in either and then a coaching change in Carolina precipitated the Panthers cutting ties with the 2015 MVP and former face of the franchise in late March. The combination of an already-picked over QB market and the COVID-19 pandemic had Newton waiting until late June before signing a one-year deal with New England. Tom Brady's shadow looms large but Newton seems intent on proving all of the doubters wrong. Newton's elite QB1 days are probably well behind him but it doesn't mean he won't have any fantasy relevance in 2020, as long as he can stay on the field (and doesn't get beaten out by Jarrett Stidham for the starting job).
Eric Ebron, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers
2019 stats: 11 games, 31 receptions for 375 yards, three TDs
After his big 2018 season, hopes were high that Ebron could replicate his success. Even though it would have been extremely difficult to come close to matching his 13 TD catches, those who drafted him as a top-10 TE weren't expecting that number to plummet to three. To add injury to insult, an ankle initially injured in training camp never fully healed and eventually ended his season prematurely. He underwent offseason surgery but admitted in April that recovery had been slower than he'd hoped. He's now in Pittsburgh, where he'll vie with Vance McDonald for targets. Ben Roethlisberger has had good chemistry with tight ends before, but this is a murky situation. Ebron is a TE2 in fantasy drafts this year.