Fantasy football features a wide array of owner types: Conservatives (“stick to the rankings”), rookie lovers (“zero-RB is the best draft strategy”), and risk-chasers (“cheat sheets are for losers”). It’s the latter group that will enjoy this list the most, but the conservatives might actually get the most out of it, as they can turn it into a de facto “do-not-draft” list. We try to predict sleepers and busts every year because of how important they are for draft strategy, but we all know that the hit rate on those is only so-so.
This is the 2019 boom-or-bust list. If you envision the perfect scenario, it’s possible to picture these guys helping you hoist your fantasy football trophy at the end of a successful campaign. But far greater are the odds that they bust, at least failing to reach their expectations.
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The presence of players on this list isn’t an indictment of their talent. Often, they’re so desired because of that talent. But for whatever particular reason, we feel they’re more likely to bust this year. We get into those reasons below. And a word to the wise: If you do a draft and end up with all these players on your roster, you must really like adrenaline.
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2019 Fantasy QB Bust
Cam Newton, Panthers
“I felt so scared.” Those are the words Cam Newton said in a video on his Youtube channel about his 2018 right shoulder injury. Sure, Newton had surgery on the shoulder in the offseason. but how often do you hear a quarterback say such harrowing words about the arm that makes him so valuable?
If you want Newton on your team, it’ll cost you a QB1-level pick. Most years, there wouldn’t be any reservations about him reaching that mark. His rushing usually gives him the necessary boost for anything his passing lacks. But this is uncharted territory. If his shoulder doesn’t heal as hoped, no reasonable amount of running can overcome a bum arm. And there’s an alternate — maybe even probable — scenario where Newton avoids running to try and keep his shoulder healthy.
Cam has a lot of name value among the starting QBs, but he carries the most risk. If the shoulder is healed, maybe you get a top-three quarterback ninth or 10th among passers, but if it’s not, he might have weeks where he’s unstartable. Even worse, there’s no great way to know what you’re getting until he actually starts throwing a bunch of passes in real games. So, of course there are scenarios where Newton works out. But I’m still scared.
QBs: Rankings | Draft Strategy | Sleepers | Dollar Values
2019 Fantasy RB Busts
Derrick Henry, Titans
Henry’s Weeks 14 and 15 are probably very prominent in your mind. Maybe you played him in your fantasy playoffs or were lucky and had him in your lineup. More likely, you missed your fantasy playoffs because you drafted Henry in the third round and he did nothing all season. Either way, he rushed for 238 yards and four TDs and 170 yards and two TDs, respectively, in those two weeks. It was exactly the kind of late-season burst that could turn a forgettable season into a memorable one. That’s the problem, though. Everyone remembers that. It makes it seem like Henry had an awesome season.
Aside from those two weeks, he averaged 3.9 yards per carry the rest of the campaign. That’s not a rate that makes him seem worthy of RB2 status. And it’s not like the Titans offensive line is doing him any favors, as it blocked for the fewest average yards before first contact in the NFL in 2018. Henry is frequently forced to make something out of nothing, and while he’s big enough to fall forward and pick up a couple, that might be all he gets most of the time.
Obviously, there’s potential here. The 408 yards across two weeks in fantasy playoff time make that abundantly clear, and the fact he’s in a contract year has a lot of fantasy owners excited. It’s just hard to know what you will get that for a full season of action behind a bad offensive line. We know he won’t give any production through the air because that’s Dion Lewis’ domain in Tennessee, so his value is already diminished in PPR leagues. Picking Henry could just amount to drafting a guy based on a big few weeks, the same way NBA teams overdraft players based on big NCAA Tournaments. It doesn’t always work out.
Damien Williams, Chiefs
While we’re on the subject of drafting players based on big NCAA Tournaments, enter Williams. He only came on for the first time in his career even later last season, his fifth in the NFL. It’s like a fifth-year senior who no one ever liked as an NBA prospect having a big game in the Sweet 16 and all of a sudden they’re a must-have. Williams showed few prior signs of being a consistently useful NFL player, hanging on in Miami for four years as an occasional pass-catcher.
But you’ve got to give him credit: When he got his chance in Kansas City, he thrived, rushing for 5.1 yards per carry in limited action. He also caught 23 of the 24 balls thrown his way. He was even more impressive in two playoff games, averaging 120 total yards and scoring four total touchdowns. And all reports indicate Williams will be the featured guy in KC this year despite the signing of Carlos Hyde.
Williams is just such a relative unknown to be going ahead of Leonard Fournette and Devonta Freeman, among others. Sure, if he sticks in the high-powered Chiefs offense he could return his early-third round price. but would anyone be shocked if the journeyman who couldn’t stick with the Dolphins eventually fell right out of the picture?
RBs: Rankings | Draft Strategy | Sleepers | Dollar Values
2019 Fantasy Football WR Busts
Adam Thielen, Vikings
Thielen’s placement on this team might not be totally fair. He should produce solid points for your fantasy team in 2019, but he might not live up to his WR1 label — and getting a lackluster second-round pick can be a big blow to your chances of winning.
Here’s the issue: In the second half of 2018, Stefon Diggs received more targets than Thielen, 64-57, and that’s with Diggs missing a game and Thielen playing all eight. You can look at that in a couple of ways. One, Diggs became the de facto No. 1 WR in Minnesota. Two, Thielen averaged an underwhelming 7.1 targets per game, not a rate that he’ll be able to convert into WR1 production. And three, as Kirk Cousins became more comfortable in Minnesota, he actually looked Thielen’s way less than in Thielen’s big first half, possibly because Thielen was seeing tighter coverage.
It feels so simple to plug Thielen in at the back of the top-10 receivers, where FantasyPros’ ADP has him right now. But what happens if Diggs keeps his grip on the targets all season? Thielen’s final eight games extrapolated over 16 amounts to 78 catches for 896 yards and six TDs. That’s nowhere near WR1 production.
Sammy Watkins, Chiefs
Watkins is being drafted as a borderline WR2. Maybe a bit of that has to do with the question marks surrounding Tyreek Hill that seem to have been at least temporarily answered now, but it’s always been more about hope than reality with Watkins. In the high-powered Chiefs offense a year ago, Watkins finished four games out of his 14 with three or fewer catches.
And while he’s easy to think of as the No. 2 WR for Patrick Mahomes, he’s really at best the third option because of the targets Travis Kelce soaks up. There’s really no personnel aspects that make Watkins look like a better player for this season. If he catches 50 passes for 600 or 700 yards, is he worth a place as your WR2?
Certainly there’s boom here. Everyone’s wanted Watkins to be the man since his days in Buffalo. He just never has delivered, and especially at his price, there’s not much reason to expect it now.
Courtland Sutton, Broncos
Even in the most terrible of offenses, No. 1 WRs have value in fantasy football. And for much of the offseason, it’s looked like Sutton would be that guy in Denver. But all of a sudden, Emmanuel Sanders’ recovery from an Achilles’ injury is ahead of schedule. So, what do we make of Sutton?
Right now he’s being drafted in FLEX territory, which is probably fine, but there really isn’t room for more than one consistently productive receiver in Denver. If you’re forced to draft Sutton into your starting lineup, you’d want to feel sure he’s that guy. Even the boom for Sutton might look like his Week 16: Six catches for 65 yards. That’s not blowing anyone away. If Sanders is truly healthy or DaeSean Hamilton continues to emerge, Sutton could fall out of rosterable territory.
WRs: Rankings | Draft Strategy | Sleepers | Dollar Values
2019 Fantasy Football TE Bust
Vance McDonald, Steelers
People are putting a lot of faith into McDonald this season. Antonio Brown and Jesse James aren’t in Pittsburgh, so a lot of expectation is that McDonald will get an overwhelming boost in targets. He might, which would make him a serious “boom” player as a back-end starting tight end, but when was the last time a Pittsburgh TE put up major points (Heath Miller in 2012?)? There’s always someone else in Pittsburgh to splits time (and targets) with.
If McDonald looks like the player he’s seemed to be for most of his career, when he’s gained 13 yards per catch and reeled in 60 percent of his targets, he might underwhelm. I understand the need to take a flier somewhere at tight end this year. It’s just a big puddle of mud after the top-tier players. But McDonald is going above proven players like Trey Burton, Kyle Rudolph and Jordan Reed. At least Burton is more worthy of your starting spot, and there’s always a chance McDonald’s long-time mediocrity shows itself again in 2019.
TEs: Rankings | Draft Strategy | Sleepers | Dollar Values
2018 Fantasy Football Defense Bust
The Jaguars’ defense simply wasn’t good in 2018. Yeah, they were the top fantasy D/ST in 2017, and they were drafted like it last year only to massively disappoint. With leading tackler Telvin Smith out of action for 2019, there’s no way Jacksonville gets back to that high perch. First-round pick Josh Allen will help, but it doesn’t seem like there’s quite enough talent to make Jacksonville a top-three D/ST. Starter-worthy? Sure. But they’re currently going well before the second-to-last round of 12-team drafts. Unless you’re drafting the Bears (who are also being drafted too high, by the way) or maybe the Rams, you shouldn’t be a taking a D/ST — especially one like the Jags — that high.
D/ST: Rankings | Draft Strategy | Sleepers | Dollar Values
If you wanted to define a bust, it would involve not living up to expectations. The thing is, there’s almost no way that Jacksonville’s D/ST lives up to top-three defense standards. Even with the flukiness that are defense rankings, they’ve got to deal with Indianapolis and Houston twice, and Tennessee isn’t even an easy divisional matchup. Whoever is picking the Jaguars as high as they are will be firmly disappointed.
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