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Fantasy Football 2021: What to Expect from 2020 Early-Round Busts

Wide Receiver Rankings Week 5: Michael Thomas

Michael Thomas was an early-round bust last season and offseason surgery has clouded his 2021 outlook

On draft day, everything seems great. Fantasy owners leave the draft confident in their teams (usually) and ready to tackle the season. Then Week 1 begins. The players who seemed like sure things end up not being as good as expected. As the season goes on, the guy you drafted in the second round is staying on your fantasy bench. Sometimes it is the result of injury, but sometimes it’s just that the player did not meet your expectations; either way, it’s brutal. These guys are the fantasy busts. Just because a player is a bust one year does not mean he is doomed for life, though. Here are some of the biggest busts from the 2020 season and their 2021 outlook.

Carson Wentz, QB, Indianapolis Colts

2020 Stats: 12 games, 2,620 passing yards, 16 TDs, 15 INTs; 276 rushing yards, 5 TDs, 4 fumbles lost
Wentz was drafted as a QB1 in most formats following a solid 2019 season in which he threw 27 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Unfortunately, Wentz crashed and burned in 2020. Perhaps the addition of Jalen Hurts threw him off his game, but Wentz was finally benched in Week 13 and didn’t get back on the field. He finished as QB22 in fantasy (Athlon scoring), but his performance looked like someone who should be on the bench. In 2021, Wentz will be with a new team with a great supporting cast, but he also will miss the first part of the season after undergoing surgery for a foot injury suffered early in training camp. Wentz was well-positioned for a big bounce-back campaign, but this latest injury is just another reason why he cannot be trusted in fantasy.

Related: Fantasy Football Quarterback Tiers for 2021

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers

2020 Stats: 3 games, 225 rushing yards, 5 TDs; 17 receptions for 149 yards, TD
McCaffrey was nearly the unanimous No. 1 pick in most fantasy drafts. In Week 1, he delivered with 97 rushing yards and two touchdowns (adding three receptions for 38 yards). In Week 2, McCaffrey’s fantasy owners suffered heartbreak, as he went down with an ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve. He returned for one game in Week 9, only to leave with a shoulder injury that took care of the rest of the season. As hard as it may be, it’s probably best just to forget about 2020. The heavy workload should still be there for McCaffrey, who excels both as a runner and receiver. Draft him with confidence in the first round, if not No. 1 overall again, in 2021.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

2020 Stats: 13 games, 803 rushing yards, 4 TDs; 36 receptions for 297 yards, TD
Edwards-Helaire started the season as the rookie running back to own in re-draft (and dynasty) leagues. He was drafted in the first round in some leagues, and his ADP placed him as the eighth running back off the board. After Week 1, fantasy owners were pleased with their pick — 25 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown. However, he ended the year as a low RB2 (No. 22 RB, Athlon scoring). He had only one other game with more than 20 carries and more than 100 rushing yards all season. CEH suffered a hip/ankle injury in Week 15, but he’s not an injury risk. He should bounce back in 2021 and be a fringe RB1.

Related: Fantasy Football Running Back Tiers for 2021

Mark Ingram II, RB, Houston Texans

2020 Stats: 11 games, 299 rushing yards, 2 TDs; 6 receptions for 50 yards
Baltimore released Ingram before the 2020 season ended (prior to the Super Bowl). It was clear that something had happened between the two parties that soured the relationship. Ingram entered last season with fantasy owners expecting him to be the primary back for the Ravens, but that ended up not being the case. Ingram now gets a new opportunity with the Texans, where he’ll slot in behind David Johnson and also have to contend with Phillip Lindsay for carries. At this point, Ingram only has value in deeper leagues.

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Leonard Fournette, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2020 Stats: 13 games, 367 rushing yards, 6 TDs; 36 receptions for 233 yards
Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s hard to look back at 2020 and remember that Fournette was drafted as an RB2. He had one good game (Week 2: 103 rushing yards with two TDs) all season and finished as RB38 (Athlon scoring). Fantasy owners couldn’t trust Fournette, and Ronald Jones II took advantage of the opportunity to emerge as the Buccaneers’ top backfield option. Fournette not only has Jones to contend with in 2021, but Giovani Bernard was added through free agency, and 2020 third-rounder Ke’Shawn Vaughn remains in the mix. Jones is the one to target in drafts, but this backfield logjam impacts everyone’s fantasy value.

Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2020 Stats: 12 games, 65 receptions for 840 yards, 7 TDs
Godwin didn’t have a bad season, but it wasn’t what fantasy owners were hoping for. The sixth wide receiver drafted, he finished 32nd in fantasy points (Athlon scoring). This after Godwin posted more than 1,300 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in 2019. Injuries were a factor, as he missed four games (hamstring, broken finger), but Tom Brady also spread the ball around, with Rob Gronkowski becoming the top target in the red zone. With everyone back, fantasy owners would be wise to adjust their expectations for Godwin. He’s more of a WR2 than a WR1.

Julio Jones, WR, Tennessee Titans

2020 Stats: 9 games, 51 receptions for 771 yards, 3 TDs
Jones had four games in 2020 in which he looked like the player he was drafted as. He had three games with 100-plus yards and four with seven or more catches. The rest of the time, he was mediocre on the field or sidelined with injury (a balky hamstring cost him multiple games). Now 32, Jones will have a fresh start in Tennessee, where he will play alongside A.J. Brown instead of Calvin Ridley. Jones is a WR2, but don’t bank on him playing a full season.

Kenny Golladay, WR, New York Giants

2020 Stats: 5 games, 20 receptions for 338 yards, 2 TDs
Golladay was drafted as a WR1, as fantasy owners expected a big season from him after he scored a career-high 11 touchdowns in 2019. He missed the first two weeks with a hamstring injury, but it was really a hip injury that cost him the season. It was a lost year for Golladay, who then left for the Giants in free agency. Matthew Stafford has a better arm than Daniel Jones, and there also was less competition for targets in Detroit. Golladay is still a talented receiver, but he’s a just WR2 unless Jones takes a big step forward as a passer.

Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

2020 Stats: 7 games, 40 receptions for 438 yards; 1 rushing yard
Thomas was the first wide receiver off the board in most formats. Coming off a record-setting season as the No. 1 scorer at his position, there was no reason to expect Thomas wouldn’t play up to his lofty draft status — until Week 1 came around. An ankle injury in the opener ended up derailing Thomas’ entire 2020 campaign. He eventually returned in Week 9, but the production wasn’t there. He also underwent ankle surgery in June, which puts his status for the start of the season in doubt. Between his injury issues and the fact that Drew Brees has retired, there's a lot more risk associated with Thomas compared to this same point last year. Keep an eye on his recovery, but it may be safest to value Thomas as no more than a WR2, depending on when your draft is held.

Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles

2020 Stats: 11 games, 36 receptions for 335 yards, TD
Ertz wasn’t in the top tier of tight ends on draft day, but he was in the next group. He was the fourth tight end off the draft board with the expectation that he would live up to his 2017-19 season stats — about 90 receptions for 900 yards and seven touchdowns. Needless to say, 2020 did not match that. An ankle injury put him on injured reserve, but Ertz wasn’t exactly filling up the stat sheet before he got hurt. In six games prior to the injury, Ertz posted fewer than 20 receiving yards in half of them. Jalen Hurts has replaced Ertz’s close friend Carson Wentz as the Eagles’ starting quarterback, and Ertz’s tenure with the team is likely coming to an end sooner than later, with fellow tight end Dallas Goedert poised to assume a larger role. The diminishing returns and uncertainty make Ertz a TE2 until further notice.

Related: Fantasy Football Tight End Tiers for 2021