Fantasy Football 2016: What to Expect from 2015 Early-Round Busts
Can these fantasy busts from 2015 turn things around?
As happens every year, 2015 saw plenty of early round picks in fantasy football drafts simply fail to pan out. And that may be putting it kindly. Injuries can take some of the blame, but what happened in the past is not as important as what to expect this season from these high-profile players. So who is ready to bounce back, and whom should you draft with caution?
— 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.
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
2015 stats: Seven games, 1,881 passing yards, 15 TDs, 12 INTs; 196 yards rushing; 1 lost fumble
What went wrong in 2015: After leading all fantasy scorers in 2014, Luck looked ready to claim his spot as the No. 1 quarterback moving forward. But alas, those who spent an early first-round pick on the Colts QB ended up disappointed last season. To be fair, he did deal with shoulder/rib issues before the lacerated kidney ended his season after he had played in only seven games. But even when he was on the field, 2015 was a rough year for Luck, highlighted by nearly twice as many interceptions as games played.
What to expect in 2016: If anything, Luck should start the season healthy. The offensive line has improved slightly, and he still has solid weapons to throw to. Luck is no longer the No. 1 fantasy QB, but he’s tentatively still a QB1.
C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos
2015 stats: 15 games, 702 yards rushing, five TDs; 25 receptions for 183 yards; two lost fumbles
What went wrong in 2015: The Broncos seemed committed to Anderson as their starter after he closed the 2014 season in strong fashion. With new head coach Gary Kubiak putting more of an emphasis on running the ball, Anderson was primed for success. But injury and Ronnie Hillman got in the way, as Anderson barely finished as a top-30 fantasy RB.
What to expect in 2016: Anderson is back in Denver after signing a four-year contract. And even though Hillman returns (one-year deal), it appears that Anderson will get the first opportunity to be the primary ball carrier. But that was the case last year, and everyone knows how that turned out. The potential and opportunity are there for Anderson to be an RB2. But do you trust him?
Melvin Gordon, RB, San Diego Chargers
2015 stats: 14 games, 641 yards rushing; 33 receptions for 192 yards; four lost fumbles
What went wrong in 2015: Rookie running backs are usually a gamble, and Gordon was no exception. Fantasy owners had high hopes for the first-round pick, as there wasn’t a lot of competition for the starting job. However, Gordon struggled to run the ball (3.5 ypc), didn’t score a single touchdown and lost four fumbles.
What to expect in 2016: Gordon struggled in all facets of the game as a rookie, but the Chargers still have high hopes for him. He underwent microfracture knee surgery in January, but he expects to be ready for training camp. The Chargers’ backfield picture hasn’t changed, so Gordon is shaping up to be a risk/reward RB3 with his knee now adding a little more of the former.
Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
2015 stats: 16 games, 794 yards rushing, 11 TDs; 15 receptions for 79 yards, TD; three lost fumbles
What went wrong in 2015: It’s not like Hill’s 2015 numbers were terrible. He did score 12 total touchdowns, after all. The headaches came in trying to trust him from week to week. He had two 100-yard games (yards from scrimmage, not rushing yards) but also eight games with fewer than 50 rushing yards. Relying on touchdowns is not what fantasy owners wanted when they drafted Hill early.
What to expect in 2016: It’s hard to say that a turnaround is imminent. Hill’s yards after contact dropped substantially, and Giovani Bernard is still in the picture. Hill’s value is going to depend on whether he finds the end zone, making him a low RB2.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
2015 stats: 15 games, 758 yards rushing, three TDs; 20 receptions for 188 yards, two TDs; two lost fumbles
What went wrong in 2015: In his first two NFL seasons, Lacy was a consistent producer, with a total of 2,317 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. However in 2015, he was good for just 758 yards and three scores. He looked out of shape and slow for most of the season, and he was benched for James Starks on multiple occasions.
What to expect in 2016: A slimmer, trimmer and more physically fit version? Reportedly, Lacy has worked hard in the offseason to lose the extra weight. He is in the final year of his rookie contract and has plenty to prove. The Packers seem willing to give him another shot, so perhaps fantasy owners should follow suit — but as an RB2.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee Titans
2015 stats: 15 games, 702 yards rushing, six TDs; 44 receptions for 322 yards, TD; two lost fumbles
What went wrong in 2015: Even though he signed with Philadelphia, the hope was that the production from Murray’s monster 2014 (league-leading 1,845 yards rushing) would carry over. However, Murray struggled, disappointing pretty much everyone. Whether it was a result of being miscast in Chip Kelly’s offense, the Eagles’ offensive line not being as strong as the Cowboys’ or any other reason, Murray’s numbers plummeted.
What to expect in 2016: Murray is now in Tennessee where he should be the feature back. The Titans did draft Derrick Henry, but the Heisman Trophy winner shouldn’t be a big threat to Murray immediately. Murray should regain RB2 value, and he is less likely to be a bust because the expectations have changed.
(Photo by Donn Jones Photography, courtesy of www.titansonline.com)
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
2015 stats: Nine games; 31 receptions for 401 yards, three TDs
What went wrong in 2015: Bryant simply couldn’t stay on the field. After suffering a hamstring injury in the preseason, he broke his foot in Week 1, costing him the next six weeks of the season. He came back but was never quite himself. He also had to deal with Tony Romo being out, which hurt his performance.
What to expect in 2016: In the offseason, Bryant had two more surgeries on his foot, but he is on track to return for training camp. Assuming he is healthy and Romo can stay on the field, Bryant will reclaim his status as an elite WR1.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears
2015 stats: Nine games, 54 receptions for 807 yards, four TDs
What went wrong in 2015: Jeffery’s season was marred by injury from the get-go. A preseason calf injury never healed and led to a Week 2 hamstring injury that kept him out until Week 6. A great three-game stretch that followed was interrupted by groin and shoulder maladies. He missed more time and appeared to be a decoy on the field at times before he played his final game in Week 15.
What to expect in 2016: He should be healthy entering training camp, which is most important. It’s not clear how 2015 first-round pick Kevin White will factor into the Bears’ offense in his return from injury, but ideally White will take coverage away from Jeffery. Don’t hesitate to view Jeffery as a WR1 in your draft.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
2015 stats: 16 games, 85 receptions for 997 yards, eight TDs; one lost fumble
What went wrong in 2015: Expectations were fairly high following a promising rookie campaign. But drops and a lack of consistency became Matthews’ calling cards last season. His statistics basically stayed the same, a development that frustrated his fantasy owners; the Eagles’ No. 1 wide receiver barely cracked the top 20 at his position.
What to expect in 2016: Sam Bradford will likely still be the Eagles’ starting quarterback, so hopefully Bradford and Matthews have been able to work together in the offseason. Some reports have Matthews moving from a slot receiver to the outside receiver, but he should be viewed as nothing more than WR2.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Seattle Seahawks
2015 stats: 11 games, 48 receptions for 605 yards, two TDs
What went wrong in 2015: Graham tore his patellar tendon in the latter part of the season (Week 12), and that is a brutal injury to come back from. However, even before he got hurt, his numbers were a far cry from those in New Orleans. Seattle wasn’t using him in the red zone, and he just wasn’t getting the targets. Seattle is a run-first team, and that strategy did not change even with Graham in the picture.
What to expect in 2016: Between the injury and the offense the Seahawks run, Graham is a TE2 with a lot of risk for 2016. It’s not even a definite that he will be ready for Week 1.