Every year, on draft day, fantasy owners attempt to put together the best possible team. They draft players who they know are long shots to have value, and they draft players who are as close to a sure thing as possible in a game in which the landscape can change by the week.
In 2016, some of those players who should have been “sure things” ended up being fantasy busts. Fantasy owners know the frustrations of drafting a player who should be an RB1 or WR1 and ends up being significantly less than that. Here is an analysis of some of the 2016 busts and what the expectations should be for ’17.
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.
Cam Newton, QB, Panthers
2016 stats: 15 games, 3,509 passing yards, 19 TDs, 14 INTs; 359 rushing yards, five TDs, two lost fumbles
What Went Wrong in 2016: The reigning NFL MVP — and in many instances the first quarterback taken in fantasy drafts — saw his numbers tumble across the board. After accounting for 45 touchdowns in 2015, he produced a total of 24 last season. He missed one game because of a concussion and completed a career-low 52.9 percent of his passes.
What to Expect in 2017: A rebound is certainly possible as the Panthers added playmakers Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel in the draft. Because of his struggles, Newton could end up being a value in drafts, taken well after usual QB1s but still putting up QB1 value.
Todd Gurley, RB, Rams
2016 stats: 16 games, 885 rushing yards, six TDs; 43 receptions for 327 yards; one lost fumble
What Went Wrong in 2016: Gurley was drafted in the first round in almost all leagues, and usually within the top three running backs off the board. From there, it was a disaster, as he was a borderline top-20 RB and didn’t rush for more than 85 yards in any game. Sophomore slump doesn’t even begin to describe Gurley’s 2016 campaign.
What to Expect in 2017: Owners should have a realistic expectation. He’s likely not going to be the superstar that he showed he could be in 2015. However, he’s not going to be a total bust. The Rams’ offense is still struggling, which is going to make Gurley struggle. Draft him as an RB2 and hope he can produce a few breakout games.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Seahawks
2016 stats: Five games; 360 rushing yards; four receptions for 28 yards
What Went Wrong in 2016: Before the season, there were concerns about Lacy’s weight, and even though he was productive early (5.1 ypc), his season ended in Week 5 because of an ankle injury that required surgery. The diminishing returns Lacy provided over his last two seasons impacted his market as a free agent, and he signed a one-year deal with Seattle.
What to Expect in 2017: Lacy is just 27 and has a chance to re-establish his value. The Seahawks included some provisions related to his weight in his contract, and he’s reportedly rededicated himself to getting back in shape and focusing on football. Seattle struggled to run the ball last season, so the opportunity is there for Lacy to see a lot of touches. He’s an RB2 with upside; just be aware of the risk that comes with it.
(Photo by Rod Mar, courtesy of www.seahawks.com)
Lamar Miller, RB, Texans
2016 stats: 14 games, 1,073 rushing yards, five TDs; 31 receptions for 188 yards, TD; one lost fumble
What Went Wrong in 2016: Miller was a second-round pick in fantasy drafts, and many experts thought that the change in scenery would be beneficial for him and that he would show that he could be a dependable, consistent RB1. However, he was banged up for most of the season, with an ankle injury sidelining him the final two games. He did finish with more than 1,000 rushing yards, but the touchdowns weren’t there, and he wasn’t a factor in the Texans’ passing game either.
What to Expect in 2017: Poor quarterback play can be blamed some for Miller’s disappointing debut with Houston. First-round pick Deshaun Watson could be the Texans’ Week 1 starter, so it’s reasonable to expect improvement in the passing game for this offense. As long as he’s healthy, Miller will get the carries. He’s an RB2 with possible upside.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Saints
2016 stats: Three games, 72 rushing yards; three receptions for eight yards; one lost fumble
What Went Wrong in 2016: Everything? To be fair, Peterson injured his knee and played in just three games, so the sample size is small. However, when he was on the field, he looked slow, as if he had lost much more than just a step. Minnesota’s offensive line play left plenty to be desired, but that’s no longer a concern now that Peterson signed with New Orleans after he and the Vikings decided to part ways.
What to Expect in 2017: The 2012 MVP and former No. 1 fantasy pick landed in an intriguing offense with the Saints, but he will share carries with Mark Ingram and possibly rookie Alvin Kamara. Peterson still possesses plenty of fantasy value, but don’t draft him based on his name. He’s an RB2 with upside, but don’t forget how bad he looked in 2016.
(Photo courtesy of www.neworleanssaints.com)
A.J. Green, WR, Bengals
2016 stats: 10 games; 66 receptions for 964 yards, four TDs
What Went Wrong in 2016: Green cost some owners the championship. Injuring his hamstring in Week 11 (giving owners a goose egg for that week) and then not returning was rough for those who used a high draft pick on him in the first place. Otherwise he was solid most weeks, although the touchdowns decreased quite a bit (10 in 2015, four in ’16).
What to Expect in 2017: Green is still Andy Dalton’s No. 1 target, but there are now more mouths to feed on the Bengals, including first-round pick John Ross. Green has been pretty durable throughout his career, so health shouldn’t be a big concern. He’s a WR1, but in the lower end of that group, and he no longer should be one of the first to come off of the board on draft day.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans
2016 stats: 16 games, 78 receptions for 954 yards, four TDs
What Went Wrong in 2016: In most leagues, Hopkins was drafted at the end of the first round or beginning of the second as a WR1. However, he finished out of the top 25 receivers in fantasy points in PPR formats. The targets (151, tied for eighth in the NFL) were there, but the production wasn’t. He had just two games with more than 100 yards, and his four touchdowns were his fewest since his rookie season (two in 2013).
What to Expect in 2017: The quarterback play in Houston directly affected Hopkins, but there is a quiet confidence that Tom Savage will at least be serviceable in his first (and likely only) season as the Day 1 starter in Houston. Hopkins is the clear-cut No. 1 target for the Texans, but he should be viewed as a WR2 on draft day because there’s a fair amount of uncertainty.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Eagles
2016 stats: 12 games, 52 receptions for 821 yards, two TDs
What Went Wrong in 2016: Jeffery was drafted, on average, in the third round in 2016. He dealt with injuries (once again) throughout the season, but the only time he missed was due to a four-game suspension. However, he struggled when he was on the field, recording only one 100-yard game and two touchdowns. Not surprisingly, the Bears decided not to use the franchise tag on Jeffery for a second straight year, making him a free agent.
What to Expect in 2017: He signed a one-year deal with Philadelphia, which should provide him an opportunity to re-establish his value. For fantasy, it’s a gamble to draft him as a WR1, but he certainly could pay off this year. He’s only 27, and motivation shouldn’t be an issue since he’ll be a free agent after the season.
(Photo courtesy of www.philadelphiaeagles.com)
Coby Fleener, TE, Saints
2016 stats: 16 games, 50 receptions for 631 yards, three TDs; two rushing yards, TD
What Went Wrong in 2016: Even though the track record wasn’t there, Fleener was drafted as a TE1 and considered a trendy sleeper heading into 2016. The thought was that he and Drew Brees, who loves to throw to his tight ends, would make for a deadly combination. Instead, Fleener’s numbers were pedestrian and ended up looking a lot like what they were in Indianapolis.
What to Expect in 2017: It’s going to be hard to trust Fleener. The opportunity was there for him to break out as a TE1, but instead it was more of the same. He’s a TE2.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
2016 stats: Eight games, 25 receptions for 540 yards, three TDs
What Went Wrong in 2016: It’s the same old story for Gronk, as a hamstring and back injury limited him to just eight games and impacted his play when he was on the field. However, that’s little solace for the fantasy owners who wasted a first-round pick on him. To make matters worse, he didn’t even catch a single pass in two of the games he played.
What to Expect in 2017: It’s clear that Gronk is great when healthy, but that part is no longer a guarantee. He’s on the TE1 radar and will more than likely be the first one taken in fantasy drafts. However, those who do so had better draft a backup tight end they are comfortable starting, because the chances are pretty good Gronk won’t be available for all 16 games.