Three Early Bust Candidates for 2022 (Fantasy Football)

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Throwing around the word bust is not something to be taken lightly.

Dogmatic opinions about players at a point in the off-season where so much could change is not recommended. However, the Fantasy Footballers recently endeavored to give three ‘big-names’ that are being overdrafted for fantasy purposes. In our Ultimate Draft Kit, we define ‘busts’ as guys that are not guaranteed to fail, but have some things working against them and represent a high-risk situation for fantasy managers. Things might look beautiful on the outside, but beware, and at least consider some of the bust candidates below as you assemble your fantasy football roster.

On Thursday’s Early Busts podcast, Andy, Mike, and Jason each gave a player drafted highly that fantasy managers might need to look closer at. I queued it up for you on YouTube if you need a visual of the guys’ visages.

Najee Harris, RB (PIT)- Andy 

  • 2021 Stat line: 17 games — 307/1200/7 rushing + 74/467/3 on 94 targets- Finished as RB4
  • Sleeper ADP: RB6/1.07   || Underdog ADP:  RB5/1.09

The Ballers have Najee as an RB1. We all love Najee the player. This is about draft cost and what he has to do to return value. Repeating as a top-5 RB is hard to do. Over the last five years, only 7-of-25 top-5 RBs (28%) repeated the following year. While those RBs and their performances in the past bear no weight on what Najee personally will do in 2022, it is worth noting.

But the main argument for Najee is that the volume will be there. He became one of four Rookie RBs ever to lead the league in touches along with Eric Dickerson, Edgerrin James, and LaDainian Tomlinson, all Hall of Famers. He was on the field for 980(!) snaps, that’s the 2nd most for an RB over last five years! Availability was everything and the Steelers were willing to commit to using him relentlessly.

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While volume is king in fantasy, it is not flawless by any means. Let me remind you of a recent 2nd year hyped RB who busted despite masssive volume: Todd Gurley. Drafted 10th overall by the Rams, he had an impressive RB1 season en route to being the Rookie Offensive Player of the Year. However, in 2016, he totaled 321 touches and finished as the RB17 on a bad Rams team led by Jeff Fisher aka the year before the Sean McVay era. This isn’t saying Najee will end that low but volume isn’t a guarantee for success. The coaching staff said they wanted to manage workload per health/production reasons.

We also have to take into account the relative inefficiency Najee displayed behind a poor offensive line. Despite the massive volume, he had the 2nd lowest yards per carry (3.91) ever among rookie RBs with 1,200+ rushing yards. He also was on an interesting list of rookie RBs over the last decade that average fewer than four yards per carry with 250+ touches.

Season Player Team Age Games Y/A Touch TDs
2012 Trent Richardson CLE 22 15 3.6 318 11
2013 Zac Stacy STL 22 14 3.9 276 7
2013 Le’Veon Bell PIT 21 13 3.5 289 8
2017 Leonard Fournette JAX 22 13 3.9 304 9
2019 David Montgomery CHI 22 16 3.7 267 6
2021 Najee Harris PIT 23 17 3.9 381 7

Of those five listed above, two were elite next year (Le’Veon Bell & Montgomery), while the rest outrightly busted the next year despite volume arguments.

We also have to add in the unknown of the QB position whether its Mitchell Trubisky or rookie Kenny Pickett. While Ben Roethlisberger was on his last leg in 2021, it is not a guarantee the offense takes a step forward in terms of efficiency. The check-downs and passing volume Harris saw last year could just be a Big Ben thing. Harris had the 2nd most 3rd down fantasy points among all RBs last year, a metric that does fluctuate year-to-year.

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In the UDK, we have Najee in Tier 4 among RBs but he’s currently going ahead of a number of RBs we really like: Joe Mixon, D’Andre Swift, Alvin Kamara, and Aaron Jones.

Patrick Mahomes, QB (KC)- Jason

  • 2021 Stat line: 17 games – 436/658 for 4839/37/13 + 66/381/2 rushing- Finished as QB4
  • Sleeper ADP: QB2/3.05  || Underdog ADP:  QB2/4.03

This is a conversation about his ADP and the change in Kansas City.  His ADP suggests he’s immune to the turnover. While he’s going about 10 picks later than last year, he’s still being taken as the QB2. Since his 50-TD MVP season of 2018, Mahomes has not finished inside the top-3 at the position. In other words, the draft cost is still propped up by that magical year.

The biggest change is obviously losing Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs are missing 25 percent of the team’s targets, 36 percent of the Air Yards, and 100 percent of that Cheetah magic that defenses ultimately feared. We researched all the QBs over the last decade who lost a fantasy WR1 (top-12 option) and what happened the following year.

Years QB WR1 New Team PPG PPG After PPG Change
2012-2013 Philip Rivers Vincent Jackson (WR11) TB 15.9 13 -2.9
2013-2014 Nick Foles DeSean Jackson (WR10) WAS 20 14.9 -5.1
2013-2014 Peyton Manning Eric Decker (WR9) NYJ 25.6 19.5 -6.1
2014-2015 Matthew Stafford Calvin Johnson (WR10) Retired 17.4 20.0 2.6
2017-2018 Cutler/Tannehill Jarvis Landry (WR4) CLE 18.5 16.9 -1.6
2018-2019 Roethlisberger/ PIT QBs Antonio Brown (WR5) NE 21.3 15.2 -6.1
2019-2020 Deshaun Watson DeAndre Hopkins ARI 21.3 23.1 1.8
2021-2022 Patrick Mahomes Tyreek Hill MIA 21.5 ? ?
2021-2022 Aaron Rodgers Davante Adams LV 20.8 ? ?

These QBs on average scored 2.5 fewer points per game the following year. If Mahomes scored 2.5 fewer fantasy points compared to 2021, he’d be more in QB8-12 range. While Mahomes seems like the most talented of this group, it is worth noting that Peyton Manning was still an elite option at the position. 

But this isn’t just about replacing Tyreek… this is on-boarding THREE new WRs. Tyreek, Byron Pringle, and Demarcus Robinson are gone. Mecole Hardman is an eternal tease who looks like a wasted 2nd round draft pick at this point. Juju, MVS, & Skyy Moore have caught as many passes from Mahomes as Meryl Streep. (I’ll have to check the stats but I believe that’s zero.) Replacing ALL three WRs is usually something a bottom-feeding team does in the off-season.

While comparing a Patrick Mahomes-led offense to any of those above is unfair, the principle of turnover instilling confidence still holds true. Since his insane 50-TD season in 2018, Mahomes’ yards per attempt has dropped 3 years in a row: 8.8 → 8.3 → 8.1 → 7.4. It’s also worth noting the issues he had in the red zone last year. He led the NFL in “throwaways” & Red Zone INTs (including 3 in one game vs WAS) which is not something you want from a QB. Will those same problems persist without Tyreek available inside the 20?

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Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Mahomes is easily one of the most talented QBs to ever play this game. Jason said he would take him as the 1.01 if he were starting an NFL franchise. But for fantasy, we are playing a game of predictability and odds. The turnover at the WR position, his declining yards per attempt, and ultimately his ADP makes him someone to shy away from at QB2 in redraft formats.

A.J. Brown, WR (PHI)- Mike

  • 2021 Stat line: 13 games — 105 targets for 63/869/5- Finished as WR32
  • Sleeper ADP: WR9/2.12  ||  Underdog ADP:  WR11/2.12

The excitement for the Eagles draft day trade of AJ Brown is warranted. This team is going to be fun to watch but is Brown able to return WR1 value? His current ADP is at the end of the 2nd round which is a lot to unpack.

We know the Philadelphia offense transformed towards a run-first approach in the 2nd half of 2021 with much success. OC Shane Steichen took over as the play caller and from Week 8 on, the Eagles averaged 23.8 pass attempts game, dead last in the NFL. The Eagles WRs scored the 3rd fewest fantasy points in the league including a total of 11 receiving TDs. A lot of those metrics can change with A.J. Brown aboard but we have to recognize it was a smaller passing pie than most teams.

Brown was in a similar situation in Tennessee where the volume with Ryan Tannehill was low but he made his due on insane efficiency. Brown had the 2nd highest Yards per Target (11.19) for the 1st two years of a career (135 target min) in NFL history.

Year Player Games Targets Receptions Yards TDs Y/Tgt
2009-2010 Mike Wallace 32 170 99 2013 16 11.84
2019-2020 A.J. Brown 30 190 122 2126 19 11.19
1998-1999 Randy Moss 32 261 149 2726 28 10.44
2020-2021 Justin Jefferson 29 292 196 3016 17 10.33
2006-2007 Santonio Holmes 29 171 101 1766 10 10.33

Taking a slant to the house felt like it was always in the cards if you had Brown on your fantasy roster. But maintaining that level of historical greatness is hard to do. In 13 games last year, Brown averaged on 8.3 yards per target, the same as former teammate Corey Davis, Mecole Hardman, and Marquez Callaway… not exactly an impressive list. Brown’s career average (10.2) is still ridiculous (now 6th best for a WR’s 1st three years if you were curious) but can Philadelphia be a place where he continues that level of success?

He needs Jalen Hurts to be efficient and he needs more volume than what they had last year to be comfortable taking him in the 2nd round of fantasy drafts. Last year, Hurts averaged 210 passing yards per game and a 61 percent completion rate. Both of those numbers were well-below average as the fantasy gold for Hurts was his rushing ability and ten TDs on the ground. Regardless, Mike claimed he has Hurts improving in both of those major areas in his projections- 226 passing yards & 62.7 completion rate.

But can that support WR1 production?

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We looked at every fantasy WR1 since 2018 (48 WRs) & the QB passing volume and completion rate that supported that player (and his teammates) with some astounding results:

  • Average passing yards per game: 264 
  • Average Comp% Rate: 66.1%
  • 90% of those WR1s came from offenses that avg 235+ passing yards per game.
  • 83% of those WR1s came from offenses with a completion rate of 64+ percent.

Finally, the number of WR1s from offenses with Jalen Hurts’ projections (226 + 62.7%)… ZERO. While it’s not impossible, playing the numbers game would state that Hurts has to take a massive “Josh Allen” step forward in efficiency and volume to begin to be bullish on Brown’s WR1 prospects. We haven’t even discussed the passing TDs part of the argument as his 16 TDs through the air has to be closer to 28-30 for a real discussion to take place.


Anon says:

Woof. This did not age well.

Tom says:

Gonna quote Will Smith & say, “Keep Najee’s ### name out of y’alls mouths.” LOL. I have him on a number of Dynasty teams, including a 20 team dynasty league where if he busts, I bust. You will not put that voodoo on him! I renounce your heresy in Jesus’s Name! haha.

Robert says:

You guys totally suck on this article. I’ll take all 3 and win my fantasy championships. My running back bust is Christian McCaffrey he can’t stay healthy! WR is Tyreek Hill. Not going to get those come back to the ball catches like he got in KC. Tug will take off running and not wait for the receivers to get open. QB Tom Brady. Coaching change in TB he getting a little older and I think Tampa Bay going to have a different mind set not compatible to Brady.

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