Fantasy Football: 3 Potential Busts for 2018

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While fantasy seasons are rarely won or lost at the draft, nothing hurts more than watching an early-round investment absolutely bust. It puts your team in a hole and generates easy fodder for leaguemates to mock you and your “amateur” pick. Anyone who drafted Mike Evans or DeMarco Murray last year knows the pain.

Using a patented combination of research, intuition, and seat-of-the-pants guesswork, I’ve pinpointed three potential fantasy football busts for 2018. Avoid these guys in drafts and you could be the one dishing the trash talk to their disappointed owners.

Kareem Hunt

I hear you, naysayer. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. You’re telling me to stay away from the guy who just posted a top-four fantasy finish as a rookie? What gives?”

I’ll tell you what gives. First, questions surrounding Hunt’s usage and consistency. We all remember the stretch of around seven games in the middle of the season where Andy Reid promptly tanked Hunt’s fantasy value — from Weeks 6-12, Hunt averaged 13.7 carries for 45.9 yards per game and scored zero touchdowns. Over the season, he had six games with less than 10 fantasy points (in 0.5 PPR scoring) and posted a worse FFBallers Consistency Score than Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, Melvin Gordon, Carlos Hyde, Dalvin Cook, and even David Johnson.

Second, there was no Spencer Ware on the field all of last season. Remember that it was unknown what kind of workload Hunt would get heading into 2017 due to the presence of Ware. This guy has performed well for Reid before, and I would not be surprising to see him vulture more touches than the confusingly-named backup, Akeem Hunt, did last year.

Finally, there’s the looming shift in offensive style in Kansas City, following the ascension of Patrick Mahomes and the addition of Sammy Watkins. While the Chiefs were relatively pass-happy in 2017, they enter 2018 with an arguably worse defense, more gunslinging QB, and improved passing-game weaponry. All signs point towards a potential dip in workload for Hunt.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not pegging Hunt as a candidate to completely disappear, or even to fall out of the RB2 territory. But most fantasy draft boards will have the NFL sophomore firmly entrenched in the first round and nipping at the heels of the big-four (Gurley, Bell, Elliott, DJ). Beware some sophomore regression, an unpredictable offense, and the danger of a “mini-bust” from Kareem Hunt.

Brandin Cooks

If you read my fantasy reaction article following the Brandin Cooks trade, you have an inkling of where this is going. Cooks was dealt to the Los Angeles Rams by the New England Patriots earlier this month, after spending a single, largely successful season with Tom Brady and Co.

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Thanks to the proficiency of the Rams offense in 2017, and the absence of a high-pedigree WR1 in LA, the move initially looks like a boost for Cooks. He could see a larger target share than he did in New England and benefit from Sean McVay’s budding offensive brilliance. Right?

Here’s the problem. Cooks has always played in high-volume air attacks, something Sean McVay’s Rams, at least in 2017, were not. Need a visual? Here’s the regular season breakdown for each of Cooks’ teams and the 2017 Rams.

2014 Saints 2015 Saints 2016 Saints 2017 Patriots 2017 Rams
Pass Att. (NFL Rank) 659 (2nd) 667 (2nd) 674 (2nd) 587 (7th) 518 (24th)

In moving from NO to NE in 2017, Cooks saw a dip in receptions but compensated with a career-high 16.6 yards per catch (it helps to have an MVP and GOAT throwing the ball). Considering the more ground-focused game plan in LA, there’s serious danger Cooks’ downward trend in volume will continue — and this time he’ll be relying on Jared Goff to bail him out.

Obviously, Goff is neither Drew Brees or Tom Brady — at least not yet — and expecting him to support the level of production we’ve come to expect from Cooks may be a tall order. He is likely to rank as a low-end WR1 somewhere in the third round of fantasy drafts, with a projected line around 75 receptions, 1,100 yards, and 8 TDs. Unless the Rams surprise us with a more aggressive pass attack, that line could quickly fall to a bust-worthy 65/900/7, or fringe WR2 numbers.

Jordy Nelson

Honestly, Hunt and Cooks have been appetizers to the main course of this potential draft bust. Like Cooks, longtime-Packer Jordy Nelson is heading to a new team in 2018: the Oakland Raiders. Soon to be 33 years old, Nelson signed a two-year, $14 million contract to play for Jon Gruden on his team of increasingly … seasoned veterans.

Obviously, the downgrade in QB from best-in-the-game Aaron Rodgers to 2017-disappointment Derek Carr is not a good start. In the nine seasons, Nelson and Rodgers played together, Rodgers averaged 273 passing yards and 2.2 touchdowns per game. In Carr’s four seasons so far, he’s averaged 240 yards and 1.7 TDs. We’re talking about going from a first-ballot Hall of Famer to a guy coming off a season of 22 TDs and 13 interceptions.

Of course, assuming Carr bounces back after a poor 2017, there is still the presence of Amari Cooper to consider. Nelson has been the go-to guy for Rodgers, and accordingly shredded the league, since 2013. He finished as the WR12, WR3 and WR1 in ’13, ’14 and ’16 respectively (Nelson missed 2015 and Rodgers missed most of 2017). Now, he enters a WR corps where the younger and more explosive Cooper figures to be the de facto WR1.

While Cooper also had a disappointing year in 2017, he is still considered a premier talent at the position and new head coach Jon Gruden has already stated vocally that Cooper will be the focal point of his offense. As a result, Nelson could easily slide into a reduced version of the Michael Crabtree role and see in the neighborhood of 90-100 targets with some decent work in the red zone.

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Gruden has also touted Marshawn Lynch as the feature back in Oakland and proceeded to add Doug Martin to the fold through free agency. He has given off a largely “old-school” impression with the tenor of Oakland’s roster moves and negative comments about analytics at the NFL Combine. I would not be surprised to see Gruden attempt to mold the Raiders into a defensively tough, run-heavy, smashmouth team that favors grinding out the clock over slinging the ball up and down the field.

To summarize, Nelson and his WR1 pedigree are turning 33 years old and coming from Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers to join a lesser quarterback, a better No. 1 receiver, and in all likelihood, a less pass-happy offense. If his name carries the weight it has in recent years, Nelson could be drafted as a high-end WR2 in the first four to five rounds. But all the signs are there for a bust of epic proportions and I wouldn’t be shocked to see the former Pro-Bowler finish outside the top 30 at the position.

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