The term “bust” is a bit of a dirty word within the fantasy football community. Ask ten people for the definition, and there’s a good chance you will get ten different answers. We can all agree that the key to a successful fantasy draft is drafting players with the highest possible ceiling/upside relative to their ADP. So conversely, and for this article, a bust is not only a player who could under-perform at their ADP but also a player that is less likely to surpass their ADP.
Bust articles are an integral part of the fantasy preseason, but they can be difficult to approach as a writer. Including a player does not mean I hate them or could never draft them. I would be satisfied with most of the players on this list, depending upon where they were drafted, but not particularly enthused. These guys are still talented, world-class athletes, but there can be countless factors beyond a player’s control that could hinder their overall fantasy performance.
So without further ado, here are five players who might make you think twice during your fantasy draft.
(All analysis is intended for leagues with PPR scoring.)
Ezekiel Elliott (ADP: 7.5, RB7)
Starting with a bang, we have Ezekiel Elliott, easily one of the NFL’s top running backs. Zeke is still a great runner, but are his elite days behind him?
I’ll admit this one is a bit of a tough sell because Elliott had a rough go of it last year. The Cowboys were without Dak Prescott for the majority of the season, and the offensive line struggled to stay healthy. Not having Dak is understandable, but I don’t buy the offensive line narrative. Yes, they struggled in 2020, but the Cowboys’ offensive line was one of the best in the NFL in 2019. One could argue Zeke began his decline before last year. In 2019, with that great offensive line and a healthy Dak, Elliott posted then career lows in rushing yards per game and fantasy points per game. Last year was no different. Ezekiel once again posted career lows in rushing yards (65.3) and fantasy points per game (14.9) in 2020. Zeke posted career lows in yards per carry, rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns, rushes of 20+ yards, and rushes of 40+ yards in 2020. He also had a career-high of five lost fumbles. One bad year can be chalked up to an anomaly, but two bad years in a row indicates a downward trend (especially for a running back).
A few factors are working against Elliott heading into the 2021 season. First of all, Zeke has only been in the league for five years, but he was severely overused early in his career. Mark Ingram is the only active running back on an NFL roster with more career touches than Elliott, and the former has been in the league twice as long. Over-usage and declining play go together like peanut butter and jelly for NFL running backs. It’s just the nature of the game. Next, backup Tony Pollard is no slouch. In his one game starting last year, Pollard racked up 31.2 fantasy points on two rushing touchdowns against San Francisco (a top-10 rushing defense in 2020). Lastly, it would be remiss of me to move on without mentioning head coach Mike McCarthy. In his first year under coach McCarthy, Zeke was just three touches away from a career-low in carries for a season. It’s true, McCarthy never had a running back as talented as Elliott while the former was in Green Bay, but ask any Packer fan and they will tell you Mike has trouble committing to a singular three-down rusher. Even if you don’t want to take my word for it, this recent McCarthy quote isn’t very comforting.
Zeke’s RB7 ADP seems fair enough and wouldn’t necessarily be a bad pick at his current valuation. Unfortunately, you are essentially drafting Elliott at his ceiling. I believe Ezekiel has begun his downward swing, and it will be challenging to surpass his current ADP in 2021. I would argue Austin Ekeler, Aaron Jones, and maybe even Jonathan Taylor all have higher potential ceiling this year.
Mike Evans (ADP: 38.7, WR13)
Living in Tampa may have made me a bit biased (although I’m not a Bucs fan), but Mike Evans has been one of my favorite wide receivers in the NFL for at least five years. I believe Evans is one of the best receivers in the NFL, and his charity has done a fantastic job at supporting children in the local community. He is a model NFL player on and off the field. That said, Evans has found himself in a perfect storm for a lackluster fantasy season.
At first glance, you might wonder how anyone could be worried about Evans. He’s never had a season with fewer than 1,000 receiving yards (although he came close in 2020 and 2017), and he finished as an overall fantasy WR1 in 2020. Unfortunately, the main reason Mike had an impressive finish was because he set a career-high in touchdown receptions last year (13). That may just be the Tom Brady effect, but even if that is the case, chances are Mike will not find the red zone as often as he did last year. Evans averaged eight touchdown receptions per year before the 2020 season. If he scored at his career rate, Mike Evans would have been more like a low-end fantasy WR2 in 2020. Evans still saw the fewest targets for a single season in his entire career, even with talented players like Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and O.J. Howard missing time last year. In his first season with Tom Brady, he had the fewest fantasy points per game since 2017.
Evans likely drew more double coverage than usual last year, but the plethora of (healthy) weapons in Tampa heading into the 2021 season should mean Mike gets an inconsistent target share. Brady will have Godwin, Brown, Scotty Miller, rookie Jaelon Darden (possibly), and multiple talented pass-catching tight ends outside of Mike Evans this year. This is a perfect situation where a player’s talent overshadows his (lack of) fantasy opportunity. You and I care, but I can guarantee Mike Evans does not. He has the best quarterback in the world throwing the ball to him and a fresh Super Bowl ring on his finger. Evans’ ADP should remain around the WR15 spot for the next month. I believe that’s a fair valuation, but I think that’s Mike’s absolute ceiling this year, placing him safely in potential bust territory. There are just too many mouths to feed in Tampa. For what it’s worth, Chris Godwin could have the same issue as Evans this year.
David Montgomery (ADP: 31.5, RB16)
I can already see the complaints. “David Montgomery was the overall RB4 last year! How could you possibly be so low on him in 2021!?!” I get it: Montgomery led plenty of fantasy managers to championships last year, but David was getting all the work and facing terrible rush defenses for the final six weeks of the regular season. David Montgomery had 58% of his total 2020 fantasy production over the last six weeks of the regular season.
Fantasy managers are low on Montgomery in 2021 for a few reasons. First, and arguably most importantly, the Chicago backfield will be crowded this year. Tarik Cohen, one of the NFL’s best pass-catching running backs, will be back after tearing his ACL during Week 3 last year and should be ready for the new season. It is doubtful Montgomery sees the same amount of targets. 41% of David’s fantasy points came from the receiving game in 2020. Plus, Damien Williams and rookie Khalil Herbert will also be in the mix competing for touches.
Also, there’s a good chance rookie quarterback Justin Fields will be starting for Chicago at some point this year. Fields is more of a pocket passer, but his dual-threat ability to extend plays with his legs is no secret. It’s possible Fields’ mobility could lead to fewer touches for his running backs.
Montgomery could be a serviceable RB2 in 2021, but yet again, we are drafting him at what could very well be his absolute peak. I believe he is more likely to bust than outperform his ADP.
Michael Thomas (ADP: 52.8, WR19)
It shouldn’t be too surprising seeing Michael Thomas on this list. He gave plenty of fantasy managers PTSD last year with his high-ankle sprain, which limited him to just seven games (five started). We learned Thomas was likely to have surgery during the off-season way back in January, but it wasn’t until about two weeks ago that we learned Michael opted to have his surgery/rehab on company time. Ian Rapoport reported that the Saints expect to be without Thomas for at least the first month of the season. Doctor David Chao, the NFL’s foremost injury expert, said to expect a minimum six-week absence and that he wouldn’t be surprised if Thomas misses the majority of 2021’s games and isn’t back to 100% until later in the season.
Keep in mind, the Saints’ BYE is in Week 6 this year. So what’s the best-case scenario here? Michael Thomas comes back in Week 7, and Jameis Winston is playing out of his mind? To me, it seems just as likely Thomas takes his sweet time coming back. It’s certainly possible he could impress over the second half of the season, but you must then ask yourself if drafting an Injury Reserve stash somewhere in the fourth round (in 12-team leagues) is worth the draft capital. If Thomas’ ADP continues to drop, I could be persuaded to draft/stash him, but not at his current valuation. I prefer grabbing a WR with a similar ADP that will provide consistent production from Week 1. These injury unknowns have Thomas safely in bust territory heading into the 2021 season.
Miles Sanders (Philadelphia Eagles, ADP: 35, RB18)
Miles Sanders hasn’t shown much elite production in his first two years in the NFL. He’s only had RB2 production or better in 50% of his games, and there isn’t much evidence Sanders will excel this year either.
The first roadblock to Sanders’ success is Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia’s quarterback entering his sophomore season in the NFL. There was a three-week stretch last year where Hurts rushed 38 times while Sanders had 46 carries. Hurts’ rushing ability could eat into Sanders’ touches this year, and that’s before assuming the latter loses work to some of the other talented Eagles backs. Philadelphia still has Boston Scott taking some carries away and added Kerryon Johnson and rookie Kenneth Gainwell this off-season. Sanders’ PPR potential could be in danger if Gainwell (a talented pass-catching back) eats into his target share.
The crowded RB room is more troublesome when one considers the comments made by the new Philadelphia running backs coach. Jemal Singleton expressed his preference for multiple backs with different skill sets shortly after his hiring. Sanders probably has the skill to meet his current ADP, but unfortunately, he may not have the opportunity this year. A new running back coach, plenty of competition, and a mobile quarterback coming into his own could spell trouble for Sanders. This situation has too many unknowns to justify a late second/early third-round pick.
(Photo by Rich Graes fourthsle/Icon Sportswire)