Those who drafted one or more players on our 2021 Biggest Busts list already know the impact of just one fantasy dud can have on your playoff and championship outlook, and it’s time to look back on the season as a whole and pinpoint the most disappointing players.
There always has been — and always will be — several key guys at every position who bust, with injuries being a large part of that equation. However, injuries can be a blessing compared to poor play. At least when a player is injured, you can put a healthy and potentially productive sub in your lineup, and if a player is out for the year, you can at least drop him. If a player simply disappoints, you usually wind up with that subpar performance in your lineup. At the very least, that player continues to take up a valuable spot on your roster. At the end of our article, we also have an all-injury team, but we’re more interested in diving into guys who played at least 12 games and, for one reason or another, didn’t live up to their preseason ADPs.
Whether a player simply didn’t play well, was replaced by someone else on their team’s depth chart, or was productive for only a small part of the season, we’re going to analyze what led up to their preseason hype and how it all unraveled.
It’s worth noting we’re focusing on 10- or 12-team, single-QB leagues. Obviously, a player like Bryan Edwards never lived up to his offseason hype, but since he was the 65th WR off the board, his “bust” status didn’t really hurt most fantasy teams. Also, just because the players below busted this year doesn’t mean you should completely fade them going forward. If a couple of these guys fall dramatically in 2022 fantasy drafts, they could have “value” written all over them.
As painful as it might be for fantasy owners who drafted some of these players, let’s take a trip down memory lane.
Fantasy Football Biggest Busts 2021
All average draft positions (ADP) referenced below are via FantasyPros for PPR leagues.
All stats through Week 17
Fantasy Quarterback Busts
Russell Wilson, Seahawks (QB7)
Last season, Wilson had several monster performances at the beginning of the year before tailing off late. After the Seahawks finally made an offseason change at offensive coordinator, we thought this was the year Seattle would “let Russ cook.” Unfortunately, Wilson finished this season as just the QB19 overall and QB13 in fantasy points per game (FPPG), so he’s the obvious choice as our quarterback bust.
To be fair, Wilson was the QB10 before his finger injury that cost him three games, but when he returned, he produced fewer than nine fantasy points three times and only eclipsed 20 fantasy points once. When you pay a relatively high price for a quarterback, you want more production. If he came back after this three-game absence and played well, he still could have payed off his draft position.
Wilson could become a value if he falls too far in next year’s fantasy drafts. There have been plenty of rumors swirling that he could request a trade from Seattle, but either way, he’ll have a full offseason to recover from his finger injury, and we know his upside rivals just about any QB in the league.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Tannehill, Titans (QB11)
We all wanted Tannehill to build off of his top-10 fantasy finish among QBs in 2020, and when Julio Jones was added to the fold with A.J. Brown and Derrick Henry, fantasy owners were expecting just that. Ultimately, Tennessee was ravaged by injuries all season long, as Henry, Brown, and Jones played together just a handful of times early in the year. If it weren’t for Tannehill’s seven rushing touchdowns, he would’ve finished even worse than the QB16 in FPPG (minimum eight starts). He could be a value next season depending on what Tennessee does with its roster, but you probably shouldn’t consider him until the mid-QB2 range.
Fantasy Running Back Busts
Saquon Barkley, Giants (RB8)
We all knew what the risks were with Barkley, who was one of the biggest risk-reward picks heading into preseason drafts. Everyone was fully confident in drafting Christian McCaffrey first overall (oops), but there was a ton of debate as to whether Barkley should even be a first-round pick. Ultimately he was taken with the 10th overall pick on average, and obviously, his performance has fallen well short of that spot.
Between games missed (4) and just unproductive days, Barkley has been a nightmare of fantasy owners, and since he was such an early pick, he probably negatively impacted teams more than anyone on this list. To add insult to injury, his ADP was right around the same spot as Jonathan Taylor and Austin Ekeler, so chances are, one was available. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but maybe he’ll be better next year. Ironically, he played in more games than McCaffrey, Derrick Henry, and some other key RBs, so at least his durability was somewhat better He finished as the RB35 in FPPG.
At the end of the day, he’ll fall a round or more in drafts next year, and those who like to gamble will probably take him when he falls “too far.” However, unless this offensive line sees a major overhaul, we could see similar results in 2022. At some point, you probably have to stop the freefall if your entire league is fading him, though.
Mike Davis, Falcons (RB22)
Davis looked great as the Panthers’ lead back when Christian McCaffrey missed the second half of the year in 2020, and when the Falcons signed him, it looked like he was set to be a lead back for Arthur Smith. When you looked at the RB depth chart, it was easy to think Davis would be a high-volume RB2 — but then Cordarrelle Patterson showed up.
Patterson went undrafted in all but very deep leagues, so he was easily the best value, and those who snagged him off waivers were rewarded with an RB1 finish. For Davis, he wasn’t playable most of the year and only produced a decent day when he scored near the goal line. All in all, he was one of the biggest whiffs at ADP.
Davis will be a 28-year-old RB with only one year of solid production on his resume, so no matter what team he plays for, don’t get excited. Perhaps he’ll have some decent value as a handcuff if he lands in the right spot.
Honorable mention: Ronald Jones, Buccaneers (RB33); Zack Moss, Bills (RB36)
Jones and Moss were both in the mix to at least get a decent workload this season — or so we thought. Their ADPs were outside the top-30 because we knew they wouldn’t be workhorse backs, but we thought they could at least be in timeshares with Leonard Fournette and Devin Singletary, respectively. However, Fournette was a true workhorse back and handled all the receiving work and red-zone work until his Week 15 injury. Meanwhile, none of the Bills’ RBs took charge (at least until late in the year), and Moss, who was a healthy scratch several times, was quiet after Week 3.
Jones is set to become a free agent, so his value will depend on his landing spot, while Moss will likely return to Buffalo. Unless something drastically changes there, his prospects seem fairly dim.
Fantasy Wide Receiver Busts
Allen Robinson, Bears (WR11)
The offseason buzz for Robinson became stronger when Chicago selected Justin Fields. Even though we knew Andy Dalton would probably start to begin the season, the fantasy community as a whole thought, “If Robinson can produce with Mitchell Trubisky, it can’t get much worse.” That was very wrong.
Robinson scored fewer than 5.2 fantasy points four times, fewer than 10 fantasy points seven times, and never eclipsed 10.8 points. It was a historically bad season for someone drafted as a WR1. He absolutely crushed fantasy rosters and probably put a ton of teams out of playoff contention. The worst part with players like Robinson is fantasy owners keep hanging on to his past production and hoping he’ll eventually have a big performance. By the time you accept he’s a bust, he’s already lost you several weeks. He finished as the WR83 and was easily droppable in all formats.
All that said, Robinson feels like a guy who will fall way too far drafts. He’s scheduled to be a free agent, but even if he returns to Chicago, there will be a new head coach in place, and Fields will have a chance to improve heading into year two. He’s one of the top guys to watch because you can probably get him for dirt cheap next season, so if he busts again, it won’t hurt you like it did this season.
Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers (WR23)
Aiyuk seemed poised to compete with Deebo Samuel as the clear-cut No. 1 WR after a hot streak to end the 2020 season, so his ADP at the end of the WR23 range felt reasonable. Trey Lance was supposed to eventually become the starter in San Francisco, so that added to Aiyuk’s upside, too.
However, he opened Week 1 with a zero-target game in which he barely played, and he followed that up with performances of 1.6, 14.5, 2.5, 5.2, and 1.9 fantasy points. By this time, Aiyuk fantasy owners were dropping him as fast as they could and accepting him as a bust. Unfortunately for those people, he went on to be the WR14 in PPR leagues from Weeks 8 to 16, but for the purposes of this list, he was a bust. Those who drafted him likely never got to see him pan out. Especially in shallower leagues, you can’t really afford to have him taking up a roster spot, so his original owners were left with whatever wide receiver they picked up on waivers.
Next year, Aiyuk could be drafted in a similar spot, and it actually might be appropriate. He was clearly in Kyle Shanahan’s dog house and is now out. You can’t really worry about that happening again because it could happen to anyone, and his ceiling ultimately remains high.
Chase Claypool, Steelers (WR26)
We knew all the Steelers’ WRs were risky heading into the year tethered to Ben Roethlisberger, but Claypool’s big-play upside as the Steelers’ X-receiver still made him an attractive option at this spot in drafts. It was a pretty safe assumption Diontae Johnson had the safest floor in PPR leagues, but again, Claypool’s upside was his most attractive quality.
Big Ben has proven to be even worse than we thought, and he simply couldn’t push the ball downfield. Claypool had a productive day here and there, but he ultimately fell way short of his preseason ADP and finished as the WR41. It might not be totally his fault that he busted, but we have to consider QB play and other factors when we make our draft selections.
Claypool is a screaming value next year if the Steelers can add a quarterback with deep-shot ability. However, he won’t be a quiet value like Robinson, so his ADP likely won’t fall dramatically if that’s the case. If someone like Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson were to land in Pittsburgh, we could see Claypool’s ADP in the high WR2 range. That said, we’ll have to wait and see what happens there, but since he plays in Pittsburgh, it’s tough to think he’ll fly under the radar.
Honorable Mention: Julio Jones, Titans (WR18); Kenny Golladay, Giants (WR30); Courtland Sutton, Broncos (WR34)
We all love the big, physical X-receiver who thrives on big plays, and all three of these guys provided solid production at various points in their careers. Ultimately, none were restorable by season’s end. Jones dealt with hamstring injuries all season long, but because he’s “Julio freaking Jones,” it was tempting to continue to start him over and over, just to be let down. Golladay also had a slew of injuries, but so did the other pass-catchers in New York, so we thought the boom week could come. It never did. Sutton came out of the gates strong, but Teddy Bridgewater began to revert to his “dink-and-dunk” ways, and the top three WRs for Denver became unplayable in any matchup.
We’ll see if Julio flashes any of his former greatness in the real-life playoffs, but for now, we can consider him washed. He played with and without A.J. Brown and was only productive in one game, which came in Week 2. Next year, it’s hard to even think about drafting him if he doesn’t retire.
However, Golladay and Sutton could become values depending on how their QB situations play out. Golladay will have a full offseason to recover (though he’ll remain a constant injury risk), and the Giants offense will at least have a new playcaller. We’ll see if they upgrade Daniel Jones, though. Sutton is almost certainly going to get a new QB, and he’ll be two years removed from his torn ACL. If his ADP becomes laughably low, he’ll be in the territory with the Robby Andersons and Mecole Hardmans of the world, so you have to chase the upside. Like Claypool, he’ll be tough to get if Wilson or Rodgers rolls into Denver, though.
Fantasy Tight End Busts
Jonnu Smith, Patriots (TE13)
Smith had some momentum heading into this year after a nice performance in his final act in Tennessee. He was labeled as one of the top sleeper TEs, although we knew sharing a role with Hunter Henry could be problematic.
Smith is easily the biggest waste of a draft pick among tight ends, as he finished as the TE33 and only reached 10 fantasy points in one contest (10.4). In fact, he finished with more than three fantasy points in just over half of his games this season and averaged a whopping 4.5 PPR fantasy points/game. People might be quick to say the QB change from Cam Newton to Mac Jones prevented Smith from thriving, but Henry has had no issues finding the end zone. Ultimately, he’s been used as a blocker and utility player and was never a startable option.
He’ll find himself beside Henry again next year, and it’s likely New England will upgrade at WR, too. His target competition will be stiffer, and as things sit now, there’s no sense in drafting him.
Honorable Mention: Noah Fant, Broncos (TE8); Tyler Higbee, Rams (TE12)
Fant was set to break out in his third year, and Higbee got a massive QB upgrade in Matthew Stafford, so he had a lot of hype heading into this season, too.
Ultimately, the Denver offense was awful for all pass-catchers, and even though Fant used a big Week 17 to finish as the TE9, he fell below expectations and never gave his owners a competitive advantage at tight end.
There were too many mouths to feed in Los Angeles with Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Van Jefferson, and Odell Beckham Jr., so Higbee wasn’t a focal point in the Rams’ offense and fell below expectations.
Fant could see a boost in value if Denver upgrades its QB, but Higbee will likely be a low-floor, medium-ceiling guy as long as he remains in one of the most loaded offenses in football. We don’t ever recommend reaching on a middle-of-the-pack tight end, so you shouldn’t be banging the table in the early rounds for these guys next year, anyway.
Fantasy D/ST Busts
Washington Football Team (D/ST4)
Washington’s defense was one of the best stop-units in the league in 2020, and a team loaded with talent like Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Kendall Fuller, and more surely couldn’t fail. They also drafted former Kentucky LB Jamin Davis in the first round of the 2021 draft, which completed their defense at all three levels.
However, we now know it would turn out to be one of the worst defenses in the entire NFL, both in terms of fantasy and real life. Injuries contributed to that, but since many drafted it as the No. 1 D/ST, this is probably one of the biggest busts in recent memory. Washington finished as the D/ST27 and wasn’t startable in most matchups. It’s always a risky move to be one of the first people to draft defense, and ultimately, streaming at this spot is probably the best strategy.
Honorable Mention: Baltimore Ravens (D/ST5)
Baltimore has always been known for its elite defense, so naturally, its D/ST was the fifth taken off the board. There aren’t a ton of “sure things” in the NFL and in fantasy, but it seemed you could always count on Baltimore at this spot.
Right near the start of the season, Marcus Peters tore his ACL, and that was just the beginning of a slew of injuries in the secondary. Marlon Humphrey would eventually lose his season to a pectoral tear, and Jimmy Smith was in and out of the lineup with ankle and COVID complications. All in all, the Ravens finished as the D/ST25.
We hope Baltimore’s defense will be back next year, but we can’t be so sure, and it’s not smart to just assume that and take it as one of the first D/STs in next year’s draft.
Fantasy All-Injury Team
*Left several games early.
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