The biggest fantasy football busts from 2019: Who let us down most at every position?

Mo Castillo
·9 min read

With the Super Bowl nearly here, many of us are just now getting over the last fantasy season. Whether you’re finishing your victory lap or finally admitting what went wrong, we’re already starting to look ahead to the future.

That said, it can be tough to get over everything — specifically, the players that let us down.

The busts.

Now, “bust” is a very relative term — you might have a different definition of what it means than I do. A player I think was a bust maybe helped you win a crucial week. That’s all fine; fantasy is what we make of it. But it can be tough to exorcise the demons of a previous season, to get over a player’s disappointing performance in order to move into the next season with a clear mind — and the courage to potentially draft that player again.

So, let the following list serve as a way to clean the slate. After all, facing your problems head-on is a great way to get past them. (In this context, “problems” are those players who failed to consistently meet expectations).

And since busts are so relative, this list was narrowed down to four finalists, including the one “winner.” Finalists were determined by a grading system (A, B, C, D, or F) which takes into account:

  • ROI (Return on ADP investment)

  • Final fantasy finish (total points scored in comparison to position-mates)

  • Week-to-week fantasy points

(Notes: Yahoo default half-point-PPR scoring was referenced to make this list, and while injuries play a big part in busts, you had to play minimum 10 games to qualify as a “winner” — a season-ending injury in Week 1 or an unexpected retirement isn’t exactly something you can prepare for (finalists’ injuries, however, were still taken into consideration).

Without further ado, let’s get into the most disappointing players of 2019:

Quarterback: Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

The hype train was crazy for the Browns in 2019. Sure, some foolishly thought they’d compete for a Super Bowl, but at the very least, with all the core weapons on offense, you figured they’d be fun for fantasy managers.

That offense would be led by Baker Mayfield, who impressed in 14 games in 2018 (93.7 QBR, 27 touchdowns). Armed with the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, and Nick Chubb, 2019 was supposed to be Mayfield’s breakout. He ended up with a fifth-round ADP, just under Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and Aaron Rodgers.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be anything but a breakout. More often than not, Mayfield would turn the ball over via the air and, combined with some questionable play-calling, the second-year quarterback rarely re-captured the magic we saw at times during his rookie season. His best game of 2019 — 24.58 fantasy points — came against the Dolphins in Week 12 (many “best games” came against the Dolphins in 2019).

The Browns cleaned house this offseason. Let’s see what affects the changes will have in Mayfield’s third year.

Final Grade: C - I know, I know — it hurts since he was, on average, the fourth QB taken off draft boards, but his week-to-week numbers weren’t horrific.

Honorable mentions

Andrew Luck - I still remember where I was and exactly what I was doing when the untimely retirement news dropped. This one hurt fantasy managers who drafted early (on average he was taken just a few picks after Mayfield) and Colts fans alike.

Cam Newton - Much was made about the return of Cam’s deep ball and his potential in an offense with some exciting young wide receivers (and the inhuman Christian McCaffrey), but once again, injuries took hold of the quarterback and didn’t let go.

Drew Brees - Brees was drafted in the seventh round on average in Yahoo drafts — the eighth quarterback selected — but ended up outside the top-20 QBs by season’s end. A five-game injury absence loomed larger than the impressive performances Brees put on late in the year.

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Running Back: David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

The idea of David Johnson — a do-it-all running back — as a top option in Kliff Kingsbury’s exciting offensive system alongside electric rookie quarterback Kyler Murray is one that seeped into the minds of many during draft season. After an injury-shortened 2017 and an underwhelming 2018, there was a brief hope that maybe, just maybe, Johnson could come close to his 2016 No. 1 fantasy running back finish.

That hope was dashed by Week 7.

Running back David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals
High hopes for David Johnson quickly crashed and burned in 2019. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Johnson was pretty much erased from the Cardinals offensive gameplan after an ankle injury, effectively replaced by Kenyan Drake (who, upon being freed from Miami, became a fantasy league-winner in Arizona). Frustrations boiled over in Week 7, when the Cardinals kept Johnson active, only for Chase Edmonds to dominate the backfield en route to a 27-carry, 126-yard, THREE-touchdown performance.

It was a rough year for Johnson’s fantasy managers, who on average drafted him as the fifth running back in the first round, yet he finished well outside the top-30 at his position. Who knows what 2020 holds for the former fantasy stud.

Final Grade: F - And to think, he scored 22.70 fpts in Week 1. In fact, he averaged 17.7 fpts the first six weeks! But we can’t ignore the egregious ROI here.

Honorable mentions

Alvin Kamara - Kamara’s Week 16 may have won some leagues. Still, it wasn’t enough to make up for the rough ROI considering some fantasy managers took him over McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley with the No. 1 pick.

James Conner - The talent has always been there with Conner, but the risk of injury is his biggest issue, and injuries struck again in 2019, causing him to miss five games — and he was drafted in the first round.

Damien Williams - Man, hype got us a lot in 2019. After flashing in 2018 and impressing in the postseason, Williams entered fantasy draft season with all the talking points needed to expect a breakout. Instead, Williams was mired in an inconsistent backfield, not to mention with a lingering knee issue. His lack of week-to-week production was especially brutal for fantasy managers who went WR-WR in drafts and took Williams as their first running back in the third round.

Wide Receiver: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers

JuJu was in a rough spot in terms of fantasy in 2019. On the one hand, it seemed like things were setting up for him to assume true WR1 status (AKA, be a target-hog) alongside Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. The idea of JuJu possibly surpassing his incredible 166-111-1,426-7 output from 2018 was enticing.

But on the other hand, what would he be without Antonio Brown commanding coverage on the other side? Would JuJu be up to the task?

Ultimately, fantasy managers believed in the then-third-year receiver enough to invest high second-round draft picks; on average, JuJu was the first wide receiver after the top tier: DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, and OBJ.

Unfortunately, the bad times began in Week 1. Stephon Gilmore and the Patriots defense completely shut the Steelers out. To make matters worse, Big Ben went down in Week 2 with a season-ending elbow injury, completely crippling JuJu’s potential ceiling. Alongside the likes of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, JuJu barely touched WR2-level numbers. He did score in double-digits four weeks out of the first six, but his lack of big performances combined with missing four games is too much to overcome here.

Final Grade: D - Who knows what could have happened if he hadn’t gotten hurt? JuJu wasn’t dust the first five weeks of the season, but nonetheless, it was an all-around disappointment.

Honorable mentions

Odell Beckham Jr. - Surely this is everyone’s favorite piñata, but he nearly finished in the top-25 fantasy wideouts of 2019 (missed the cut by a little over a point). It’s no excuse, but his big-name value, draft price (not to mention the chaos of Cleveland) seems to overshadow what he actually did in 2019. He also dealt with a groin injury and a (recently operated) core muscle injury.

Antonio Brown - ... Let’s not even get into this.

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T.Y. Hilton - Relegated to just 10 games thanks to injury, Hilton plummeted across the board in receptions, yardage, and targets in 2019. His five touchdowns couldn’t save him from finishing way outside the top-20 receivers — not what you expect from a fourth-round wideout who delivered a 120-76-1,270-6 season in 2018.

Tight End: O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Full discretion: O.J. Howard was THE 2019 bust in my book. The sad thing is, the lack of anything on a week-to-week basis might not have entirely been his fault. Head coach Bruce Arians’ history of not featuring tight ends is no secret to anyone. That said, Howard apparently didn’t help his cause with his coach either — we all remember that drop-pick.

All told, Howard was supposed to be a fantasy hero at tight end. He wouldn’t cost as much as Travis Kelce, George Kittle, or Zach Ertz, but he had the potential to deliver similar results, and fantasy managers drafted him as such (late fifth-round). Instead, Howard finished with a laughable 66.90 total fantasy points in 14 games — for context, Kittle scored 180 fpts in 14 games.

Will you take a chance on Howard to reach his lofty ceiling in 2020?

Final Grade: F - As the first tight end off the board after the Big Three, fantasy managers expected a lot from Howard. He simply didn’t deliver — although the astounding lack of a week-to-week role in this offense deserves some attention here as well.

Honorable mentions

Vance McDonald - Bleh. In the words of the great Scott Pianowski, “Everyone in Pittsburgh deserves a mulligan.”

David Njoku - Another victim caught in the Browns hype machine, injury quickly relegated Njoku to nothing more than a wasted draft pick in the ninth round.

Who were your top busts of 2019? Let us know in the comments below, and hit us up @YahooFantasy!