This week in the Fantasy Football Today Newsletter, we've given you the team's first round of and for the 2023 season, but unfortunately, now it's time for things to take a decidedly more negative turn. It's time for busts.
I don't love the process of identifying and then writing up bust candidates. I truly don't. Because we're generally talking about high-profile players who are going to be on a lot of Fantasy teams, and if I'm right about my bust picks, it means that a whole bunch of you are going to have a pretty bad time this season. And I don't want that.
But the whole point of this newsletter is for me to try to help you win your Fantasy leagues, which means helping identify players I think will help as well as those I think might lead you astray. Today's newsletter is all about trying to help you avoid landmines. Here's who I won't be drafting, along with picks from Jamey Eisenberg, Dave Richard, and Heath Cummings:
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Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jaguars
I feel uncomfortable not being in on Lawrence when everyone else is – Jamey and Heath both have Lawrence as a breakout for 2023 – especially with the addition of Calvin Ridley to what was already a pretty solid receiving corps. Lawrence took a big step forward in his second season, upping his yards per attempt from 6.0 to 7.0 and his touchdown rate from 2.0% to 4.3%, and expecting another leap isn't unreasonable. But his early ADP has him going at the Round 3-4 turn as QB6, just ahead of Justin Fields, and I just can't get on board with that. Even with the improvements he made last season, Lawrence was just QB11 in points per game, and even that might be overstating how useful he actually was for Fantasy – he had a five-game stretch where he averaged 28.9 points per game from Weeks 10-15, but had 20-plus points just three times in his other 12 games, including just once in five games after that stretch, including the playoffs. Lawrence is a decent athlete who will make some contributions with his legs, but his passing is going to have to carry most of the weight here, and I'm just not sure I'm ready to bet on him taking yet another big step forward, and that's a must if he is to justify his likely price.
Kenneth Walker, RB, Seahawks
There's a ton to like with Walker's skill set and role, as he consistently hit on big plays as a rookie while averaging 18.6 carries per game in 11 games as the starter. In fact, if you just take what he did as a starter and project over 17 games, you've got a pretty excellent season – he was on pace for 1,397 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns, 32 catches, and 233 receiving yards. That was good for 15.9 PPR points per game, which would have been RB9 last season. There's nothing at all wrong with that! My question is, does he have a path to considerably more upside? That'll likely have to come through the passing game, and while his role could grow, it's not a given. He had 12 targets in Weeks 9 and 10 and looked like he might be getting there, but then he was targeted just 12 times total in his final seven games, including just one game with more than two targets. Walker has a pretty high floor, but if I'm going to take an RB in the second round, I prefer someone with a path to 20-PPG upside, and I'm just not sure it's there for Walker.
Javonte Williams, RB, Broncos
I tend to be pretty talent-agnostic when it comes to running backs, with role and situation mattering a lot more than whether I think the player is particularly good or not. And this Broncos environment could be very good, with former Saints coach Sean Payton taking over after a stint in New Orleans where he consistently generated tons of points for his running backs. The concern with Williams is more about his health – at this point, it's not clear if he's going to be ready for Week 1 while recovering from a knee injury that required reconstruction of his ACL along with other complications. As we saw with J.K. Dobbins last season, you can't just assume every player will meet the most optimistic timetable, or even be fully ready to go once they are "cleared." Volume and usage matter so much for running backs, that taking one with significant questions as early as you're likely to have to take Williams just isn't worth the risk.
Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers
For a guy who finished 12th in PPR scoring last season, there's nothing especially egregious about Allen's WR18 price in early drafts – Adam Thielen was a few years ago, where the per-game production didn't take enough of a hit to scare Fantasy players off of him, despite warning signs as he entered his 30s. Allen has been a target hog, and given the current makeup of the Chargers receiving corps, he should remain the clear top option – Mike Williams might be a better WR than Allen at this point (might), but he's always going to be a relatively low target share guy because of his more downfield oriented skill set. But any drop off in volume is going to be tough for Allen to overcome, because he's never been much of a big-play or touchdown grabber. At his age, injuries are going to remain a constant concern, and if there's any decline in the skill set, the bottom could fall out quickly.. But that price still feels awfully risky for a soon-to-be 31-year-old wide receiver who missed so much time last season with injuries. It feels a bit like where
Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers
Evans' price has already started to crater, as he sits at WR31 in very early ADP, and that's reasonable enough – I have him as WR31 as well. But, I'll admit, even that feels like it might be too much for him with Baker Mayfield as his quarterback. Mayfield has been Fantasy kryptonite for his receivers in recent seasons, especially ones who rely on deep balls consistently the way Evans does. Mayfield has a decent enough 45.5% completion rate on passes 15-plus air yards down the field over the past four seasons, but also has more interceptions than touchdowns on such passes, a sign of how erratic he tends to be. We saw Evans struggle to get on the same page with Tom Brady for much of last season, leading to his lowest touchdown total since 2017. I don't think things are going to be much better with Mayfield (or Kyle Trask, if he wins the job), and the Buccaneers seem likely to pass a lot less than they did when they threw a league-high 751 times last season. I wouldn't be surprised if Evans struggles to get to even 1,000 yards this season.
George Pickens, WR, Steelers
This has nothing to do with the Steelers' acquisition of Allen Robinson on Tuesday, a trade I don't expect to make much of an impact for that offense one way or the other. My concern here is more about Pickens, who played a pretty massive role in the Steelers offense in 2022 but just wasn't particularly good at earning targets. He was 18th in the league in routes run and 61st in targets; Among 108 wide receivers who ran at least 200 routes last season, Pickens was just 21st in targets per route run at 14.5%. He was efficient on a per-target basis (9.5 yards per target), much more so than teammate Diontae Johnson (6.0), and I think the case for Pickens taking a step forward rests largely on the Steelers funneling more targets his way. There's some precedent for that – DeAndre Hopkins went from an almost identical 14.5% targets per route run rate as a rookie to a 23.9% rate the following season. There are a few examples of players dramatically improving in that category – Davante Adams, Courtland Sutton, and Jakobi Meyers all had a rate below 16% – so it's not hopeless. But I don't like betting on outliers, and Pickens will have to be one.
George Kittle, TE, 49ers
Any discussion justifying Kittle's draft price (56.7) is going to start with his production with Brock Purdy at QB. In eight more or less full games with Purdy at QB for the 49ers, Kittle averaged 14.95 PPR points per game, an elite number for a tight end. But there's some added context worth pointing out there. Three of those games were played without Deebo Samuel, including by far Kittle's best, when he had 93 and 120 yards and two touchdowns each in Weeks 15 and 16. In the other six games, Kittle topped 40 yards once. Kittle's dominance during this run was largely fueled by his seven touchdowns on 42 targets– which is kind of ironic, because the knock on Kittle for so long was that he never found the end zone. I don't doubt Kittle is still one of the three best tight ends in the NFL, but I'm not going to pay a fifth-round price for a touchdown hot streak. The 49ers have so many mouths to feed in that offense, and Purdy's status for the start of the 2023 season remains very much in doubt coming off elbow surgery. I just don't think there was enough there to justify Kittle's price at this point.
Derrick Henry, RB, Titans
I actually don't mind Henry's current NFFC ADP at No. 18 overall, but I would prefer to draft him toward the end of Round 2 in PPR. I don't like that he's the No. 5 running back off the board, and I'm afraid Father Time will catch up to Henry this season. He turned 29 in January, and that's not good for a running back. While he bounced back from the foot injury he sustained in 2021 that limited him to eight games -- he played 16 games in 2022 -- he has a lot of mileage on his massive frame with over 380 total touches in two of the past three seasons. The Titans offensive line is going through a makeover this year, and Tennessee reportedly was shopping Henry this offseason. He's been amazing when healthy over the past four seasons, averaging more than 18.1 PPR points per game every year since 2019, but I'm concerned he's reached the end of his run as an elite Fantasy option. I don't plan on buying a lot of stock in Henry this year.
D'Andre Swift, RB, Lions
Fantasy managers love Swift. The Lions don't seem to have that same feeling. Detroit signed David Montgomery this offseason to a three-year, $18 million contract with $11 million in guarantees, and coach Dan Campbell sounds like he's going to use Montgomery a lot. Campbell also said prior to signing Montgomery that the Lions need to manage Swift's workload to make sure he's healthy. Swift missed three games in 2022 and has yet to play a full season in three years in the NFL. It seems like Swift will again play a complementary role in Detroit, and that's why it's hard to draft him at No. 45 overall as the No. 17 running back based on his current NFFC ADP. I don't mind Swift as a flex option in PPR, but the earliest I would draft him is the back end of Round 5 or early Round 6. Montgomery should lead the Lions in carries this year, and Jamaal Williams led the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns last season, which gives Montgomery the chance to get in the end zone quite a bit. He's also a better receiver than Williams, which could hurt Swift. I do like that Swift is in a contract year, and maybe he does finally break out this season. But you shouldn't draft him in Round 4 with Montgomery now in Detroit.
Davante Adams, WR, Raiders
Adams had another standout season in 2022 in his first year in Las Vegas, averaging 19.4 PPR points per game. He finished with 100 catches, 1,516 yards and 14 touchdowns on a career-high 180 targets. That came with Derek Carr under center for most of the season, and now Adams will have to adjust to life with Jimmy Garoppolo. I'm still counting on Adams to play at a high level with Garoppolo, who should provide better intermediate passes than Carr. Now, while some of the downfield throws from Garoppolo could be a problem for Adams, he should have the chance for 100 catches again for the fourth year in a row. I expect Adams to see his touchdown total decline, and we'll see how the Raiders adjust with a different receiving corps with Jakobi Meyers in and Darren Waller out. I'm fine with drafting Adams in Round 2, but his current NFFC ADP is at No. 10 overall. If that stays the same in August, I plan to avoid Adams in most leagues.
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Dolphins
There's no point in stating the obvious with Tagovailoa's health, but you have to bake it into his Fantasy value. The downside case goes beyond there: Tagovailoa had four monster weeks when he, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle were all healthy -- and eight weeks with less than 20 Fantasy points. He also needs pristine pass protection from his still-suspect offensive line -- when left tackle Terron Armstead played, Tagovailoa's completion rate was nearly 10 points higher and his EPA per dropback was over 0.5 points higher (a massive amount). The joys of having some smash weeks from Tagovailoa must be weighed against his down weeks and frustrating headaches you could have filling your QB spot when he's unavailable. Even at a price point of after 100th overall, it's tough to love that buy-in knowing efficient passers like Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins and perhaps even Aaron Rodgers can be had even later.
Josh Jacobs, RB, Raiders
Jacobs is coming off a year with career-highs in carries (340), touches (393) and yards per rush (4.9). I don't have worries about his age (25) or wear-and-tear (six career games missed), I'm just nervous about his chances of seeing that same kind of volume or efficiency again. In his three years prior his numbers weren't anywhere near as explosive and he averaged right around 14 PPR points per game as a result. With a 15% reduction in his 2022 numbers he comes out to 14.9 PPR points per game. That's the expectation I have for him, even in an offense that seemed to agree with him last year, but has undergone some peripheral changes since. Last year, 14.9 PPR points per game would have been good for 11th among running backs. That's right about where Fantasy managers should grab him in their drafts this year. Aim for late Round 2/early Round 3.
Christian Kirk, WR, Jaguars
Kirk was the Jaguars' No. 1 receiver in 2022 with 133 targets. His role, and the targets that come along with it, figure to change with Calvin Ridley jumping into Jacksonville this season. Ridley has been a proven No. 1 wideout who is rested and motivated following a year-long suspension. Trevor Lawrence figures to continue growing as a passer, so there's potential for Kirk to still be efficient on his receptions even though he figures to play second fiddle to Ridley. I might even expect Kirk to work more from the slot and pick up good volume on shorter throws from Lawrence. But all of this ultimately points to Kirk's numbers shrinking from 2022. What he did with Arizona in 2021 -- a 77-982-5 stat line -- figures to be in play. Draft him accordingly.
The Bengals have made no commitment to keeping Mixon on the roster and could save $10 million on the 2023 salary cap if they cut him after June 1. They may very well show us in the NFL Draft whether or not they intend on doing that. Mixon has been below 4 yards per carry and below 6 yards per target in two of his past three seasons. Samaje Perine looked like the better back last year, which may be why Mixon played just 35% of the snaps in the Bengals AFC Championship Game loss to the Chiefs. He'll turn 27 in July, which isn't too old for a running back but may prevent any team from committing to him long term. Mixon has had a couple of off-field incidents and has criminal charges pending. That significantly increases his risk, because if the Bengals cut him another team may want to see the legal issues resolved before signing him. I wouldn't draft Mixon before Round 5, and even that feels too early.
We're going to bet on a Bill Belichick running back early in Round 2? I'm going to run away as fast as I can. Remember, Damien Harris was drafted before Stevenson last year. Stevenson was awesome in the passing game because of catches, but his yards per catch (6.1) and yards per target (4.8) were both below average for a running back. The Patriots already added James Robinson and they'll probably draft someone as well. I do not believe Stevenson is locked into the same role he had last year. He may earn it again, but I'm not willing to bet more than a third round pick on it.
T.J. Hockenson, TE, Vikings
We've done this before with T.J. Hockenson, propping him up because of what he could be. I think he's shown us what he is: A good starting Fantasy tight end. But he's not elite. He is elite at producing monster games; he had two with more than 35 PPR Fantasy points last year, but he balances that out with a lot of mediocrity. He was held below 50 receiving yards in six of his 10 games after joining the Vikings last year. He scored single-digit Fantasy points in four of those games. Hockenson is my TE3, just as he is for consensus. But he's closer in projection to TE16 than he is to TE1. Don't take a tight end not named Travis Kelce or Mark Andrews before Round 5.