News & Analysis

Bust fantasy WR candidates for 2018

LANDOVER, MD - JANUARY 01: Wide receiver Jamison Crowder #80 of the Washington Redskins carries the ball against outside linebacker Mark Herzlich #94 of the New York Giants in the first quarter at FedExField on January 1, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

We’ve made it through the first wave of the NFL’s changing landscape in free agency and now it’s time to take a new look at each of fantasy football’s position groups to see how things shook out. On Tuesday we took a look at potential sleepers at wide receiver in 2018, and today, we’re breaking down the bust wide receivers for the 2018 season as it stands now, prior to the 2018 NFL Draft and through the first wave of free agency. For easy clarification, a bust pick in today’s landscape is best described as a player who will not outperform or meet his average draft position. For this piece, we will be using ADP data from Fantasy Football Calculator.

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

Fitzgerald’s late-career WR1 run continued in 2017 despite a midseason injury to quarterback Carson Palmer that left him stranded with Drew Stanton and, later, Blaine Gabbert. Fitzgerald still finished as the WR6 overall in half-point PPR. He has been a WR1 for three straight seasons, but he’s done it on the back of 325 receptions in three seasons while finishing with the third-, fourth-, and third-most targets in 2015-2017, in order. Fitzgerald’s high volume is directly correlated to his fantasy success and things are changing for him in 2018. Bruce Arians and his offensive scheme are gone and that means Fitzgerald’s role as the “big slot” and focal point of the offense could change. Fitzgerald also loses Palmer, a quarterback he had built five seasons’ worth of chemistry with. When you throw in the fact that Fitzgerald is entering his age-35 season, you have the makings of a risky fantasy play with a high potential of busting.

Pierre Garcon, San Francisco 49ers

Garcon was supposed to inherit the “X” role in Kyle Shanahan’s offense last season that was supposed to be the key to unlock 140-plus targets. Garcon ended up seeing 65 targets on just 430 snaps before getting injured. If he had played a full season at that pace of volume, he would have finished in the top-12 of total targets. Of course, things have changed since Garcon’s injury. Marquise Goodwin emerged as new quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s No. 1 target and saw 59 targets in six games. The early signs of another connection between Garoppolo and rookie slot receiver Trent Taylor also started to bud down the stretch. Garcon is left to play second or third fiddle, at best, for now, on a 49ers team that seems committed to finding more weapons in the passing game and developing Shanahan’s zone-blocking rushing attack with newly acquired running back Jerick McKinnon. Speaking of McKinnon, he too will be heavily featured in the passing game. Despite all of this, Garcon has an ADP of WR32 overall and Goodwin has an ADP of WR42 overall.

Kelvin Benjamin, Buffalo Bills

Benjamin’s midseason addition made more sense than initially expected when the Bills went on a late-season run to the postseason, but the jury is still out on how well he fits what the Bills want to do on offense. Benjamin could benefit from the Bills’ dire quest to trade up for a rookie quarterback, but he could also find the grass was greener with Tyrod Taylor in the mix. Regardless, Benjamin’s fantasy value seems held up by a thread and based almost entirely on a distant 2014 season where he finished with the fifth-most targets (142) and just 73 receptions. Benjamin hasn’t posted an above-average wide receiver grade overall in any of his three NFL seasons and he hasn’t topped 63 receptions or 941 receiving yards since tearing his ACL in 2015. Even his calling card as a red-zone threat is overstated — Benjamin has just 10 touchdowns in his last 30 games despite being peppered with red-zone targets. His ADP of WR31 overall is way too rich for my blood.

Jamison Crowder, Washington Redskins

Crowder seems likeliest to take the biggest hit from the Redskins decision to move on from Kirk Cousins and bring in Alex Smith at quarterback. Cousins and Crowder developed a definite rapport. Crowder finished with the 26th-most targets (96) in 2017 despite playing just the 55th-most snaps (650) of any wide receiver. Now, he’ll have to rebuild his rapport with a new quarterback while fending off free-agent acquisition Paul Richardson and returning tight end Jordan Reed for targets. The Redskins have publicly stated they need to upgrade at running back, and improvements in the run game will also hurt Crowder. Cousins dropped back to pass more than all but four quarterbacks in 2017. Crowder will not live up to his ADP of WR40 overall.

Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns

Until last season, Landry’s fantasy valuable had been held together by an outrageous number of targets. During the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Landry racked up 277 targets despite playing just the 17th- and 23rd-most snaps at the wide receiver position. In 2017, his fantasy fortunes were changed when Jay Cutler showed a liking to him in the red zone. Now, Landry joins a Browns team with a strong offensive line that could build their offense through Saquon Barkley (you know, if) or fellow wide receiver Josh Gordon. Landry is WR20 right now, ahead of potential target hog Allen Robinson. Putting aside Landry’s alarming yards-per-route-run and yards-per-reception numbers, specifically plummeting during the 2017 season, the volume will not be enough to sustain his price tag in 2018.

Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings

Losing Case Keenum is going to hurt Thielen more than any other skill position player on the Vikings. While a case can be made that Kirk Cousins will outperform Keenum in 2018, this would be harder than it appears after digging deeper into Keenum’s impressive 2017 season, and this should not make you feel better about Thielen’s outlook. Thielen benefited from his rapport with Keenum and his role in former offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s offense. He saw the ninth-most targets (135) overall and any kind of drop off in 2018 will make it difficult for him to return value on his ADP of WR12 overall.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers

Smith-Schuster filled the role everyone who drafted Martavis Bryant in the middle rounds had hoped for, but 2018 brings major changes to the Steelers offense with the departure of offensive coordinator Todd Haley. In 2017, Bryant never seemed to get out of Haley’s offense. In 2018, Bryant will benefit from a clean slate. Smith-Schuster will rise up draft boards as a breakout candidate in year two and the flavor of the year for those swayed by recency bias. Bryant is the buy-low candidate with the upside that makes Smith-Schuster a bad value no matter how you look at it.

Jordy Nelson, Oakland Raiders

Nelson certainly benefited from developing an impeccable rapport with one of the most talented quarterbacks of this generation in Aaron Rodgers. Even after Nelson saw his yards per reception drop off significantly (by more than two full yards) following the ACL tear that derailed his 2015 season, he still managed to rack up 14 touchdowns with Rodgers in 2014. Nelson is now tasked with establishing a brand-new rapport with quarterback Derek Carr, who has been working with wide receiver Amari Cooper for three seasons now. Nelson’s ADP of WR13 overall might be the worst value in fantasy football drafts right now.

Donte Moncrief, Jacksonville Jaguars

After never living up to his size/speed profile with Andrew Luck and the Colts, Moncrief has somehow shot up draft boards. He is being drafted before any other Jaguars wide receiver. This includes breakout 2017 receiver Marqise Lee, who was recently re-signed to a multi-year contract. It also includes impressive 2017 rookies Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole. Moncrief is 12 spots ahead of Lee, the second-highest-drafted Jaguars wide receiver, and he has only topped 450 yards receiving once in four seasons since joining the NFL. Going from Luck to Blake Bortles doesn’t seem like it should warrant and ADP bump to us.

Cameron Meredith, Chicago Bears

Meredith was a fun breakout candidate last preseason after developing an obvious rapport with quarterback Mike Glennon in training camp to build on a strong finish to his 2016 season and a highly athletic size/speed profile. Meredith’s preseason torn ACL derailed his potential breakout, but he is now still being drafted as if we just fast-forwarded a year and nothing changed. Meredith’s ADP of WR49 overall is way too steep when you consider the additions the Bears have made at the skill positions in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton.

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