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2018 Year-In-Review: Fantasy Football Busts

With the 2018 NFL season over, it's time to revisit some of the lessons we learned this year. Today, let's talk about some players who disappointed us this season.

In this column, I'll talk about why certain players who were expected to be strong performers this season didn't live up to the hype. All of these players came into the year with high expectations, but failed to live up to them for various reasons. Players whose seasons were mainly ruined by injury (for example, Delanie Walker or Leonard Fournette) are exempt from the list.

Below are 10 busts from the 2018 NFL season.

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Top 10 Busts - 2018 NFL Season

Matthew Stafford - Quarterback, Detroit Lions

This was not Matthew Stafford's year. Stafford has played all 16 games every year from 2011 to now, and this year was his worst fantasy finish, his fewest pass attempts, second-fewest touchdowns, and first time finishing with under 4000 yards over that stretch.

What did we learn: I think this was probably a one-year dip for Stafford, but if we're looking for an overarching lesson for this season, it's that there are a few quarterbacks who can make something out of nothing, but the Stafford tier needs good weapons to succeed, and by the end of the season Stafford's only receiver of note was Kenny Golladay and I'm actually not sure I can name which Lions tight end had the best year off the top of my head. If 2019 hits and the Falcons end up losing Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, he's probably not putting up the big numbers you want from Matt Ryan.

Blake Bortles - Quarterback, Jacksonville Jaguars

I thought Bortles, who had three seasons in a row as a top-13 fantasy quarterback, was going to be a sleeper who could help a lot of people. The team had a good running back in Leonard Fournette and an underrated receiving corps led by Marqise Lee. But Fournette was banged up all year, and Lee missed the entire season, and Bortles ended up getting benched for Cody Kessler.

What did we learn: At some point, NFL quarterbacks who are universally discussed as being "bad" are going to hit a wall. Bortles was a fine fantasy quarterback, but when the Jaguars needed him to take the next step to lead this team to Super Bowl contention, we remembered why everyone has hated on Bortles over the years. Quarterbacks who always land in the "they really should replace him" conversation are going to lose fantasy relevance at some point. (So, Eli Manning next year?)

Le'Veon Bell - Running Back, Pittsburgh Steelers

Ehh, let's not take the easy way out here.

Alex Collins - Running Back, Baltimore Ravens

Collins ended the season on the IR, but the games he played before his foot injury ended his year prematurely were...disappointing. Collins rode a wave of offseason hype to being picked around 30th in fantasy drafts. He started 10 games for the Ravens and ended up finishing with 411 yards. His yards per carry numbers dropped from 4.6 to 3.6 this year, and while he found the end zone seven times on the ground and once through the air, he just...wasn't impressive as a runner. Maybe that changes if Lamar Jackson is in command from the start and he winds up benefiting as Gus Edwards did at the end of the year?

What did we learn: Collins hype this year reminded me of Isaiah Crowell hype in 2017. A guy coming off a decent year gets hyped up, but we forget that he's on a bad offense and that his pre-draft ADP represents a best case scenario for him. Let's not fall for whoever next year's version of this is.

Royce Freeman - Running Back, Denver Broncos

Royce Freeman had plenty of pre-draft hype, but then he ended up taking a backseat all year to a more well-rounded back, Phillip Lindsay. Freeman played in 14 games and had double-digit carries in just five of them. He rushed for five touchdowns, with all five coming from inside the 20 and three of them from inside the five.

What did we learn: I think fellow RotoBaller Kev Mahserejian summed this up pretty well in the staff awards column: touchdown-dependent, two-down backs aren't guys you want to own. Freeman lost carries to a more dynamic player, and at this point, his future is what...being a LeGarrette Blount type? Freeman was targeted 10 times in the passing game in Week 17, but didn't we spend all offseason buying into the faulty logic that Leonard Fournette was going to develop into a threat as a receiver? Don't buy it, and don't don't buy next year's hot rookie who can't be on the field in passing situations.

Ronald Jones II - Running Back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones only played in nine games after missing the beginning of the season with...oh, wait, he wasn't hurt to start the year? It was a coach's decision for him to not play until Week 4? He did miss time with a hamstring injury later in the year, and then returned to take only 18 offensive snaps over the last five games.

What did we learn: Well, like with Freeman we learned not to overhype rookies, but Jones also taught us that sometimes when a player has the kind of disastrous preseason that Jones did, we should believe that he won't suddenly look like a good player. And on a personal level, I learned that trading Cooper Kupp in dynasty for Jones, Geronimo Allison, and a couple of rookie picks was not a great idea because sometimes you just need to keep the known commodities.

Allen Robinson - Wide Receiver, Chicago Bears

Robinson played in 13 games, averaging 58 receiving yards per game and catching four touchdowns. When he came to Chicago, people were having visions of his 1400-yard, 14-touchdown 2015 season, but we ended up pretty far from that. Sure, Robinson was the top player on the Bears in targets and receiving yards, but he just didn't do what we really expected.

What did we learn: A couple of lessons. First, it's ok to be worried when a receiver joins a team a new team. NFL offenses are complex, and expecting a player to come into a new one and be immediately dominant isn't the norm. The other lesson with Robinson is that we can't overvalue one season of strong production without evaluating how that production happened and that 2015 season in Jacksonville feels more like an anomaly as time passes.

Doug Baldwin - Wide Receiver, Seattle Seahawks

Baldwin said some things before the season about how he had a knee issue that would affect him all season, and then he played just 11 snaps in Week 1 before exiting with a knee injury, missed the next two games, and then returned to have an uneven year. Baldwin came on strong near the end of the season, scoring a pair of touchdowns in Week 15 and then having 126 receiving yards in Week 16, but even if we don't count Week 1, he still had seven games with fewer than 50 yards.

What did we learn: If a player says "yeah, I have an injury that's going to linger with me all season," then we should listen to that player and not draft him in the spot where we would have if he was healthy, Justin.

Devin Funchess - Wide Receiver, Carolina Panthers

Funchess missed two games with a back injury and returned to find himself essentially out of the Panthers rotation. This shouldn't have come as much of a surprise, as the Panthers drafted rookie D.J. Moore and Cam Newton doesn't have a great history with wide receivers from a fantasy perspective. Per FFStatistics, here is where the WR1 and WR2 under Newton has finished in PPR:

The WR7 finish came in 2011 and belonged to Steve Smith. Since then, things have been pretty bleak for Cam Newton wide receivers.

What did we learn: To paraphrase American Horror Story, as one Cam Newton wide receiver rises, another must fade. Funchess will likely be somewhere else next season, but don't get tricked into buying into whichever non-D.J. Moore receiver the Panthers have. Newton will look at tight end Ian Thomas and running back Christian McCaffrey before he looks at that other wideout.

Jimmy Graham - Tight End, Green Bay Packers

People were super into the idea of Jimmy Graham in Green Bay, even though Aaron Rodgers has a long record of not throwing to the tight end in the red zone and Graham has a history of being a guy who needs to have red zone production. Thumb and knee issues limited some of his productiveness, but he still played in all 16 games and finished outside of the top five for the first time in a full 16-game campaign.

What did we learn: It's important to know the history of how a quarterback uses his weapons and also to be careful when guys who've been in the league for awhile try to play through injuries. Not a great combination of things. Maybe in 2019 with a new head coach in tow, Graham will look more like the Jimmy Graham we've always known, but ultimately I just don't think the Rodgers/Graham pairing is a very productive one.

Mike Gesicki - Tight End, Miami Dolphins

Rookie tight ends are always a big risk, but I really liked Gesicki this year for the Dolphins. It was a good situation and he was expected to be a good receiving threat over the middle, but he finished the year with just 22 catches for 202 yards.

What did we learn: Well, we relearned that rookie tight ends are a terrifying investment in re-draft. Before the season, I wrote a piece about rookie tight ends and noted that we seemed to be moving toward a landscape where rookie tight ends were more involved than before. That world sort-of existed this year as Chris Herndon IV emerged as a good option for the Jets, and Mark Andrews and Dallas Goedert weren't bad when you look at the final position standings, but overall this rookie class didn't have a breakout star like Evan Engram in 2017 or Hunter Henry in 2016. We're supposed to have a pretty strong tight end class next season, but the 2018 season has scared me off of rookie tight ends enough that I'm going to really, really need to evaluate those guys before I commit to taking any of them in re-draft.

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