Identifying what qualifies as a “sleeper” is complicated, but the process of labeling potential busts is much easier. In simple terms, a bust has high expectations, yet fails to reach them. Essentially, the opposite of a sleeper, who doesn’t have any expectations attached to them.
I’d argue that, just like with the term “sleeper”, people tend to bloat the “bust” label too frequently. Still, that is the point of the article, so let us identify the qualifications for what were are looking for:
- Average draft position (ADP) of an upper-level starter at their position
- For non-quarterbacks, ADP within the first five rounds
- A player who is being priced at their “ceiling”, as opposed to their median outcome
If you don’t like the term”bust”, “disappointment” is a proper synonym to use. These five players all might still perform at a high-end level this season, yet when assessing their most likely overall output, they might fail to make good on the investment those drafting them are making. For the sake of originality, I recommend looking at my bold predictions to see why I think Derrick Henry is the best candidate to be a “bust”. Today, though, let’s focus on five other players! Who are they? Let us break it all down!
All Stats via Pro Football Focus. ADP via NFC.com
WR Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: 39, WR14)
The third round has been popularized as the best time to target a wide receiver, given the depth of the group. With receivers like Amari Cooper, DJ Moore, Julio Jones, and others available in that range, you can’t go wrong. Still, you’d increase your odds of that by passing on Mike Evans this season.
With 15.5 fantasy points per game last season, Evans didn’t quite match the astonishing producing (17.7 PPG) he had in 2019, but still ranked in the top 15 at his position. Thus, all is solved, no? Not quite. For starters, his 19.25% target/route run was the lowest of his career, while his average depth of target (13 aDOT) was by far the shallowest it has been as well. This all makes sense with Tom Brady taking over under center, and also led to his overall output (1.79 yards/route run, 14.4 yards/reception) to be amongst the worst marks he’s even posted.
Yet, due to touchdown luck (13 TDs, 0.12/target), Evans maintained fantasy viability. If there is anything we know about touchdowns, however, it’s that you don’t want to bank on them due to their instability every year. Per Pro Football Focus, Evans’ 15.5 points per game were much higher than his 13.5 expected fantasy points per game, due almost exclusively to his high touchdown total. With Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown competing for targets, you don’t want to be drafting the most expensive player from that group. Evans fits the bill, making him a clear “buyer beware” this season.
QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (ADP: 66, QB6*)
Rodgers currently doesn’t have an extremely low ADP based on average totals, but that number has shrunk considerably since he announced that he was returning for the Packers for 2021. All of a sudden, we all want a share of the Packers, and it is easy to see why. After all, they ranked first last year in points/game (31.5), while Rodgers won the MVP. To say that Green Bay’s offense was dominant last season would be an understatement.
At the same time, projecting for next season isn’t as simple as taking last year’s results and carrying it over. Here are Rodgers’ overall numbers over the past three seasons:
|Year||Rank||Yards/Attempt||Touchdowns||Big-Time Throw Rate||Completion%|
Spot the outlier here? Sure, Rodgers benefitted from being in his second year with head coach Matt LeFleur, one of the better play-callers in the NFL, but expecting him to once again produce at such a premium level would be asking a lot of him, especially given how he was seen heading into 2020. Meanwhile, the touchdown luck also isn’t likely to maintain; no quarterback overachieved his expected fantasy points (24.5 PPG vs 19.2 ppg) more than he did. In fact, his expected fantasy points would have placed him as the 10th-best quarterback last year, which is a reasonable expectation moving forward. At his ADP, I’d look towards the likes of Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, and Joe Burrow. That being said, betting against an angry Aaron Rodgers is scary!
TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: 54, TE4)
In terms of his long-term outlook, you aren’t going to find many people who are as big of a fan of Kyle Pitts as me. We’re talking about a player who earned a 96.1 PFF receiving grade, averaged 3.26 yards/route run, and lined up on 21.2% of his snaps out wide in his final year at the University of Florida! With a rare combination of dynamic athleticism and elite talent, there is very little he cannot do; we could be looking at a very similar level of play to Darren Waller in the future.
Unfortunately, rookie tight ends do not have an easy transition to the NFL level. According to Pro Football Focus, it generally takes players at the position until their third season to fully develop. Sure, Pitts can be the exception, but betting on players to be an outlier compared to historical data is quite risky.
Also, new head coach Arthur Smith doesn’t have a history of involving his tight ends in his offense, and with him running a lot of 12-personnel sets, he’ll have to be creative to utilize Pitts to his maximum abilities, as opposed to a traditional tight end; Jonnu Smith was utilized more as a low-aDOT option, whereas Pitts may be just served as a receiver able to stretch the field with Hayden Hurst also in the picture. This all points to a heavy learning curve early on, and with Calvin Ridley likely to command a massive air-yard share, the potential pay-off might not be worth what could be a very low floor. With more proven commodities such as TJ Hockenson and Mark Andrews available, I’d lean on being aligned with historical data, as opposed to taking such a risk with a top-five round investment. There are just too many unknowns here to be comfortable with his current price.
RB Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts (ADP: 6, RB6)
Coming out of Wisconsin as a second-round pick, it is safe to say that Jonathan Taylor performed tremendously in his rookie season. Not only did he finish as the sixth-best running back in fantasy points, but he also scored the most points over the final month of the season, which makes sense; the Colts started to give him the playing time he deserved. Thus, it makes sense for him to be drafted where he is, right? Sadly, it isn’t as simple as that.
Taylor greatly (17 PPG vs 14.4 xPPG) out-performed his expected fantasy output, benefiting from 11 touchdowns and five yards/carry. Continuing to produce at such a lofty level might be difficult. For starters, the team will be without left tackle Anthony Castonzo, a clear pillar to the team’s offensive line. Then, there is the quarterback situation. Carson Wentz is likely to miss regular-season games with a foot injury, and already looked like a downgrade to what Phillip Rivers (75.6 PFF passing grade, 7.7 yards/attempt) was last year. That would mean fewer rush attempts and touchdown opportunities; an ineffective overall offense doesn’t generally lead to a lot of rushing yards. To overcome this, you need to be able to produce in the receiving game, a la Christian McCaffrey or 2020 James Robinson. However, with Nyheim Hines in the fold, that will not be the case. I would also add that, if healthy, Wentz is a classic candidate to poach goal-line carries from Taylor.
Additionally, I’m not sure he can be 100% confident Taylor has the workload we think he will have. The organization clearly holds Marlon Mack in high regard, and we already know Hines limits Taylor’s receiving upside. To be a first-round PPR running back, you need to be able to produce in all facets of the game, and Taylor will not do that. Add in concerns with the offense following Wentz’s injury, which could translate into more playing from behind and passing situations, and there is a lot to be worried about with Taylor. Compared to the other running backs he’s drafted just ahead of, I’d prefer to look elsewhere if possible. Once again, you’re asking him to serve as an outlier, and until he can prove to do so, he’s a risky proposition in the first round.
RB JK Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: 29, RB16)
Speaking of second-year running backs who don’t produce in the receiving game and need to be outliers to match their ADP, let us take a closer look at JK Dobbins. Many were very excited to see the Ohio State product land in Baltimore in the 2020 draft, especially for dynasty purposes, and it is easy to see why. In his rookie season, he averaged six yards/attempt, scored seven touchdowns over the final six weeks, and was fabulous after contact (3.47 YCO/A).
Similar to Taylor, Dobbins also overachieved his expected fantasy total for the same reasons (high efficiency, touchdowns). Now, I’m willing to accept his talent and fit in a dynamic rushing offense makes him likely to consistently finish above his expected total- that has been the case with Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb. That said, no running back has a true talent level at six yards/attempt, unless Dobbins is one of the best running backs in the NFL history. Hey, maybe he will be when we look back on his career. Obviously, though, that would be much closer to his 100th percentile with his range of outcomes.
Still, Dobbins isn’t the sole featured back in Baltimore’s offense. Gus Edwards consistently split carries with him and will continue to do so after signing an extension, while Lamar Jackson also vultures rush attempts and touchdown opportunities. Meanwhile, in offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s offense, targeting the running back isn’t a focal point; Dobbins and Edwards combined for just 34 targets. Without a major rushing workload and little receiving production, you’re relying on him to continue to be one of the most efficient running backs in the NFL, which is a lofty assignment for any player. Even at his peak level of performance (Weeks 13-17), he still was only the 11th-best running back in fantasy points, and that’s with an outlier (160 rushing yards, 12.2 yards/attempt, two touchdowns) against a porous Bengals run defense in a blowout Week 17 win. Thus, you’re drafting Dobbins at his ceiling, whereas his floor is much lower than that. I’d want to be on his productiveness and the success of Baltimore’s rushing attack later on, but not at the beginning of the third round. He may be one of the best running backs in real life, but, remember, we are playing FANTASY football!
(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)