News & Analysis

Bust fantasy QB candidates for 2018

Dec 10, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) throws a pass against the New York Giants during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

There is always a bit of a conundrum when putting together a bust article. As an avid NFL fan and fantasy writer and owner I don’t enjoy seeing players struggle nor root for them to underperform. I guess I’m a glass-half-full sort of guy that would like to see everyone succeed.

That being said, history tells us that there will be players that fail to live up to expectations and leave fantasy owners frustrated and disappointed. This early in the offseason I’ve decided to more or less use the consensus quarterback rankings at PFF to pick out a few candidates that have the most ‘bust’ potential. For the purposes of this piece I picked quarterbacks currently ranked in the top 12 as that designate them as a QB 1 in most leagues.

Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

The dreaded sophomore slump seemed to be in full effect last season for Prescott after a rookie season that saw him as the sixth-best fantasy quarterback. Prescott would finish just outside the top-10 in 2017 as his passing totals dipped nearly across the board. While Prescott did complete 31 more passes last season, he put up fewer passing yards with fewer yards per attempt as well as one fewer touchdown pass. More disturbing is that Prescott’s interception total more than tripled.

Yes, there were some mitigating circumstances with Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension as well as the offensive line suffering injuries that it avoided in 2016. There is also the fact that opponents had a season of tape on Prescott and he struggled with developing a rapport with his receiving corps. There were eight games last year that Prescott failed to reach 200 passing yards. In the second half of the season Prescott threw nine interceptions and only eight touchdowns. The ability to produce fantasy points with his legs is still there for Prescott as he rushed for six touchdowns once again, but that’s a double-edged sword. Running the football opens up Prescott for more hits and the chance of injury.

Despite recent reports that Dallas will look to tailor its offense more toward Prescott’s skillset, the team will likely continue to ride Elliott and the running game. In the past two years Dallas has ranked among the top three teams in run percentage. That caps Prescott’s passing production potential and the 2016 totals he amassed are likely to be the high-water mark for his career.

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

While it is early in the offseason, there are still a lot of questions regarding Luck’s health. It’s tough to rely on a quarterback who hasn’t played in over a year with an injury to his throwing shoulder. Luck has missed 26 total games over the last three seasons and his future remains cloudy until we see him on the field. It’s a little hard to buy reports out of Indianapolis that there’s “no doubt” Luck will be ready for Week 1 as they were saying the same thing at this time last year.

The Colts have questions at running back as Frank Gore is now a free agent, leaving Marlon Mack atop the depth chart for the time being. Mack averaged just 3.8 yards per carry as a rookie and finished the season with 358 rushing yards and four total touchdowns. The wide receiver situation is also a bit thin as Donte Moncrief is also a free agent, leaving Chester Rogers as the second option behind T.Y. Hilton.

The Colts had offensive line issues last season and allowed a league-high 56 sacks. Injuries hit the position hard — Indianapolis started four different players at center over the season. A quarterback with shoulder issues will need extra protection and the Colts will look to shore up a unit that allowed 156 quarterback hurries and 36 hits.

It’s early in the offseason and Indianapolis will be able to address some of these issues via free agency as well as the draft. The big question remains how healthy Luck is and how rusty he will be once/if he returns. Altogether, there are too many red flags to trust Luck as a QB 1 heading into 2018.

Tom Brady, New England Patriots

Stay with me, crazy as this listing may seem. I do realize that Brady is coming off the 13th top-12 fantasy finish of his career and a record-setting performance in the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles. Keep in mind this is a fantasy football piece, and just as Brady’s ultimate goal is a Super Bowl victory, fantasy owners covet their league’s championship. That’s where the bust factor comes into play regarding Brady, as there has been a disturbing trend developing over the past four years.

A quick look back at the past four seasons plays out as expected from a fantasy standpoint for Brady. In three of the four seasons he finished with QB1 totals in most standard 12-team formats. In two of the seasons he posted top-five totals. Now let’s take a closer look at those seasons. 2014-2017, Brady has faded down the stretch in the regular season, particularly in Weeks 13-17, which is fantasy playoffs time. In three of the four seasons he has finished outside the top-12 in scoring during those weeks. Last season in those crucial weeks Brady had six touchdown passes and five interceptions.

These totals underscore the importance of not just looking at the final season rankings of where a player ends up but looking closely at how the season played out on a weekly basis. Father Time is undefeated. Brady will be 41 when the 2018 regular season kicks off. There’s little doubt Brady will continue to play well, but with lingering questions surrounding Rob Gronkowski’s future and Brady’s late-season struggles it’s time to look elsewhere. Fantasy owners looking to win it all would be advised to avoid drafting Brady or trading him at the deadline to avoid a late-season swoon.

Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins (for now)

This selection obviously comes with one very big caveat. As of this writing we don’t know where Cousins will be playing in 2018. The Redskins are set to acquire Alex Smith from the Chiefs in trade, meaning Cousins will hit free agency. The fantasy value Cousins brings will depend heavily on what team he decides to sign with. According to recent reports the teams most interested in bringing Cousins on board are the Cardinals, Jets, Broncos, and Vikings. Each destination presents a differing level of bust potential or lack thereof.

Should the Jets win the bidding war, Cousins may have a hard time putting up a fourth consecutive top-10 finish — their receiving corps isn’t much to write home about. The Jets leader in receiving yards and touchdowns last season was Robby Anderson, who currently has some legal issues to deal with and may face a league suspension. It’s more than likely that Cousins will look to sign with a team that has playoff and championship potential which may leave New York on the outside looking in.

If Cousins lands in Minnesota, Arizona, or Denver, his bust potential definitely lessens as there are proven receiving options on all three teams. The main concern then would be how long does it take Cousins to learn a new scheme and develop a rapport with his new wide receiver options. Keep in mind that Cousins has blossomed into a fantasy factor while playing the same scheme for the last four seasons under Jay Gruden. Before taking over as the starting quarterback three years ago Cousins played in 11 games in the 2013-2014 seasons and threw 14 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions. The could be a learning curve issue early on as Cousins adjust to his new surroundings that dampens his fantasy value.

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