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In looking at the first version of sleepers, breakouts and busts from February, the one list that has changed the most is. Free agency and the NFL Draft had a lot to do with that.
Busts 1.0 featured the following guys:
- Kirk Cousins
- Alex Smith
- Devonta Freeman
- Dion Lewis
- Lamar Miller
- Marshawn Lynch
- Brandin Cooks
- Marvin Jones
- Devin Funchess
- Robby Anderson
- JuJu Smith-Schuster
- Kyle Rudolph
I no longer consider Cousins, Smith-Schuster or Rudolph as bust candidates because of what has unfolded since first writing the column. I even wrote about Cousins that he "will likely be one of the first players removed from this list when we update the column for version 2.0 if he signs with the right team as a free agent. And really, the two teams that could help his Fantasy value will be Minnesota or Denver given the weapons there."
Smith-Schuster gets a boost in value after the Steelers traded Martavis Bryant to the Raiders. And Rudolph will benefit playing with Cousins, who has a good track record of leaning on his tight ends.
Lewis (Tennessee) and Cooks (Rams) remain bust candidates, but they have changed teams. I'm curious of Lewis' Average Draft Position, but I still expect Derrick Henry to be the best Titans running back. And Cooks gets a downgrade going from Tom Brady to Jared Goff, among other factors. We'll go over their new outlooks here.
I won't be drafting much of Smith, Lynch or Jones this year, especially Lynch and Jones at their expected ADP. And I'll only draft Freeman, Miller, Funchess or Anderson at the right price this season.
As for Busts 2.0, we'll see if anything changes for these players once training camp starts. ADP will determine their value, but I don't expect to draft many of these players in 2018.
I hope I'm wrong on Luck and that he returns better than ever from his shoulder injury, which kept him out for the entire 2017 season. But it's hard to get excited about his Fantasy outlook this year. He finally threw a football in public for the first time in more than 500 days in June, and it was a high school football. He expects to be throwing an NFL football by training camp, but can you really trust him to return to form at this point? When he's healthy, he could be the No. 1 Fantasy quarterback, which he was in 2014. But he's missed 26 games since then due to injury, and he's clearly a risk of getting hurt again, even behind a rebuilt offensive line. If you're so inclined, draft him as a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback this year with a late-round pick because if he rebounds your Fantasy team could be in great shape. But he has plenty to prove before being considered a legitimate starting option after his injury.
Goff was great in 2017 in helping the Rams make the playoffs, and he finished as the No. 10 Fantasy quarterback. It was a far cry from his disastrous rookie campaign in 2016, and he clearly benefitted from the addition of new coach Sean McVay, as well as upgraded weapons in Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Sammy Watkins, including a rebuilt offensive line. Goff got another new toy this year with Cooks replacing Watkins, which is another upgrade, but I'm not ready to trust Goff as a starting Fantasy quarterback. Of the top 10 Fantasy quarterbacks last year, Goff had the fewest pass attempts with 477 (Carson Wentz was on pace for 542 before getting hurt in Week 14). He only had seven games with at least 20 Fantasy points, and it's doubtful Cooks will help him make a dramatic increase in his production. The Rams should have a better defense to limit Goff throwing much late in games, and don't forget about Todd Gurley being the focal point of the offense. Goff is worth drafting as a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback, but don't consider him a starter on Draft Day this year.
McCoy is coming off another outstanding campaign in 2017 when he was the No. 7 Fantasy running back in non-PPR leagues. He's now finished in the top seven in that category two seasons in a row, and he's been among the best Fantasy running backs over the past 10 years. But there's definite cause for concern in 2018, and he should not be considered a No. 1 Fantasy running back this year. He'll be 30 in July, and his career totals have hit a point where wear and tear is a potential issue with more than 2,000 carries and 2,500 total touches. He's also playing for a Bills team that has to replace three offensive linemen after center Eric Wood (neck) was forced to retire, left tackle Cordy Glenn was traded to Cincinnati and left guard Richie Incognito also abruptly retired in April. And Buffalo has a new quarterback after Tyrod Taylor was traded to Cleveland. Either career backup A.J. McCarron or rookie Josh Allen will be the new starter, and with the lack of weapons in the passing game – Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones and Charles Clay are the top receiving options – you have to expect defenses to make stopping McCoy more of a priority than ever before. Maybe he can overcome all of this and still be a standout Fantasy option, but you should only look for McCoy on Draft Day with a third-round pick at best. Let someone else draft McCoy in Round 1 or 2 this year because they will likely be disappointed.
Ajayi is expected to lead the Eagles in carries this season, especially with LeGarrette Blount (Lions) gone. And Philadelphia running backs coach Duce Staley told the team's official website that Ajayi "is excited about being able to go out there and dominate and being able to be that guy." But make no mistake that the Eagles are going to use multiple running backs, which has been the case under coach Doug Pederson the past two seasons. Blount had the most carries over that span with 173 in 2017, and Ryan Mathews led the team in carries in 2016 with 155. With Darren Sproles back, and with Corey Clement expected to earn a bigger role, Ajayi should be part of a committee. He should have the chance for at least 175 carries, and he averaged 14 carries a game over his final six outings last year, including the playoffs. But he managed just one game with double digits in Fantasy points in a non-PPR league over that span, and his role in the passing game should be limited because of Sproles and Clement. I don't mind Ajayi as a low-end starting option in all leagues, but he should not be drafted before Round 5 in any format, with his value lower in PPR.
It was nearly a perfect season for Lewis in 2017 in New England. He stayed healthy for the first time in his career. All of his stats were career highs. And he earned a big payday in the offseason with the Titans on a four-year, $20 million contract. The only failure was the Patriots losing Super Bowl LII to the Eagles, but Lewis will probably be OK based on his personal success. In Tennessee, Lewis will share touches with Henry, and it will be hard for Lewis to repeat his performance from 2017 when he was the No. 12 Fantasy running back in non-PPR leagues. He had seven games with double digits in Fantasy points in a non-PPR league in the regular season, including six times in his final eight outings. And including the three playoff games for New England, Lewis had at least four catches in five of his final seven outings of the season. His role in the passing game will probably be vital with the Titans since he should be a better pass catcher than Henry. But Henry is expected to lead Tennessee in carries, and he should work at the goal line. Lewis also must prove he can stay healthy for the second year in a row. Prior to playing 16 games in 2017, he combined for 14 games over the previous four seasons. You should draft Lewis as a flex option with a mid-round pick in the majority of leagues, with his value higher in PPR. But Henry should be the best Titans running back in 2018, and Lewis should see a drop-off in his production from his career performance last year.
Michel has the chance to be a standout running back in the NFL and likely a quality Fantasy option for many years, but hopefully he won't be over-drafted in seasonal leagues in 2018. In rookie-only drafts, the first-round pick for the Patriots from Georgia is a top-10 and potentially top-five overall selection, but Fantasy owners shouldn't automatically assume Michel will just take over for the departed Lewis. While Michel does have the chance for most of Lewis' 212 touches from last year (180 carries and 32 catches), the Patriots will also lean on Rex Burkhead, James White and likely one of Mike Gillislee or Jeremy Hill, depending on who makes the final roster. Burkhead missed six games due to injury in 2017, and Lewis had three of his seven games with double digits in Fantasy points in a non-PPR league in those outings. Now, the positive for Michel is he's used to sharing touches after working with Nick Chubb at Georgia, and that didn't stop him from a dominant season in 2017. But also keep in mind that New England has a revamped offensive line this year with potentially two new starters in rookie Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown, who was acquired via trade from San Francisco. I love Michel's talent, but his landing spot isn't ideal, at least for this season. He should be considered a No. 3 running back/flex option at best, and he's only worth drafting as early as Round 7 in most leagues.
If you're looking for an optimistic view for Hyde this year, your best comparison is likely Latavius Murray circa 2017. Murray signed with Minnesota last year as a free agent prior to the NFL Draft, only to see the Vikings spend a second-round pick on Dalvin Cook. After Cook suffered a torn ACL in Week 4, Murray took over as the primary rusher in Minnesota, and he finished as the No. 20 Fantasy running back in non-PPR leagues. This season, Hyde signed as a free agent with the Browns from the 49ers prior to the NFL Draft. In the second round, Cleveland then added to its backfield with the addition of Chubb, and Hyde will now share touches with Chubb and Duke Johnson. It could be messy, and Hyde is only worth drafting in Round 7 or later in non-PPR leagues, with his value lower in PPR. Johnson should dominate playing time on passing downs, and Hyde will likely rotate rushing-downs work with Chubb. Hyde should remain the starter, and he's coming off a career season in San Francisco where he was the No. 11 Fantasy running back in non-PPR leagues. While we hope Chubb doesn't get hurt as Cook did last season for the Vikings, it could be hard for Hyde to have a big year without an injury to someone in Cleveland's backfield. Hyde is just a No. 3 running back/flex option heading into this season.
Most novice NFL fans would never guess that the receiver with the most receptions through the first four years of his career is Landry, who has 400 over that span and is well beyond the previous record-holder in this category (Anquan Boldin at 342). Landry has been a valuable target for the Dolphins over the past four seasons, but we'll see how he does going to the Browns this year. Even though he should still lead Cleveland in receptions, he'll be the No. 2 receiver behind Josh Gordon. Landry is also coming off his best year in terms of touchdowns with nine, and he combined for 13 scores through the first three seasons of his career. We also know that he averages just 10.1 yards per reception, so it's not like he's making a ton of plays down the field. Unless, of course, Browns coach Hue Jackson changes the way Landry is used, which would be a surprise. Landry should be fine building a rapport with Taylor or Baker Mayfield at quarterback, and he's played with multiple quarterbacks during his tenure in Miami, including Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore and Jay Cutler. The Browns should lean on Landry as a security blanket because he always finds a way to get open. Most likely, you'll see Landry around 90 catches, 900 yards and five touchdowns, and his value will be higher in PPR than non-PPR formats. He's worth drafting in Round 4 in PPR, but he's only worth a pick in Round 7 in non-PPR leagues.
Jeffery returned to Fantasy prominence in 2017 after leaving the Bears and signing with the Eagles as a free agent, and he finished as the No. 15 Fantasy receiver in non-PPR leagues. He also was a key contributor in helping Philadelphia win Super Bowl LII against New England with 12 catches for 219 yards and three touchdowns in three playoff games. But Fantasy owners should be a little nervous about a repeat performance this year. He had shoulder surgery in the offseason to repair a torn right rotator cuff, and he might not be ready for training camp. Aside from that, the biggest concern for Jeffery was his touchdown dependency last season. Of the top 20 Fantasy receivers in non-PPR leagues, he had the fewest receptions. He had just three games with more than 70 receiving yards in the regular season, and none of them after Week 9. It will be hard for Fantasy owners to count on Jeffery if he's not finding the end zone on a consistent basis, which makes investing in him before Round 5 somewhat dicey. We hope Jeffery is OK coming off his shoulder injury – and that Wentz (torn ACL) is also fine, although Nick Foles clearly wasn't a detractor last year – but he's best viewed as a low-end No. 2 Fantasy receiver in most leagues. Don't reach for him on Draft Day this season.
When Cooks was traded to the Patriots last season from New Orleans, I initially called him a bust candidate. He was expected to struggle with a lack of targets in an offense that featured Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and a host of running backs out of the backfield. The view on Cooks changed when Edelman suffered a torn ACL in the preseason, and Cooks had a solid year, finishing as the No. 8 Fantasy receiver in non-PPR leagues. This year, Cooks will again enter the season as part of a crowded receiving corps after he was traded to the Rams. And, barring an injury to Woods or Kupp, Cooks should struggle this year, including what appears to be a brutal schedule against some top-flight cornerbacks like Patrick Peterson (twice), Richard Sherman (twice), Casey Hayward, Xavier Rhodes, Chris Harris and Marshon Lattimore, among others. He's stepping into the role vacated by Watkins, who was the fourth-best receiving option for the Rams last year behind Woods, Kupp and Gurley. Watkins had 70 targets for 39 catches, 593 yards and eight touchdowns. While Cooks is an upgrade on Watkins, it's hard to expect a significant jump in targets for him in this offense, and Cooks had at least 114 targets in each of the past three seasons. The touchdown potential should still be there for Cooks since he has 30 scores over the past four years, but that's not a stat you want to hang your hat on when forecasting Fantasy options. Cooks should be considered more of a No. 3 Fantasy receiver than a must-start option, and he should only be drafted with a mid-round pick in most formats.
Now, this might seem obvious to most of you given what Nelson looked like in 2017, especially since he's no longer with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. But we do have some early ADP data, and Fantasy Football Calculator has Nelson going in Round 5 as the No. 23 receiver off the board. What? While Nelson does have the chance to rebound with the Raiders, he's not expected to be the No. 1 option in the passing game because of Amari Cooper. And Nelson, 33, had nine games in a row with fewer than 40 receiving yards to end last season, including no games with more than 80 yards. Most of that came without Rodgers because of his broken collarbone, and hopefully Nelson can develop a solid rapport with Derek Carr. But it's best to view Nelson as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver at best in the majority of leagues, and he's only worth drafting with a late-round pick. Please let someone else draft him in Round 5 if that ADP is accurate. There's no way he should be going that early now that he's without Rodgers.
The Giants offense has a chance to be awesome this year with the addition of Saquon Barkley, the return to health of Odell Beckham and improvements along the offensive line. When you factor in Sterling Shepard and Engram, there's a lot to like about this team. But either Eli Manning is going to have an all-time great season with all these weapons or someone is going to suffer, barring an injury. It's easy to say Shepard is the odd-man out from a production standpoint, but Fantasy owners aren't looking at him as a potential starter. That's not the case for Barkley, Beckham and Engram, and Engram is the one you might want to be cautious about. His best production came last year after Beckham was hurt, and he also benefited with Shepard being in and out of the lineup. Engram had seven games with at least nine Fantasy points in a non-PPR league, but only one of those came when Beckham and Shepard were healthy, which was Week 2. With only Shepard on the field and no Beckham, Engram had four productive games. He's a standout talent and could still finish the season as a top-10 Fantasy tight end, but he might be over-drafted. It would be fun to see Manning help all the Giants' skill players have a dominant season, but that's not likely going to happen. And Engram could suffer, even slightly, with all the other mouths to feed in New York.