Travis Kelce among the biggest fantasy football busts of 2023

The 2023 fantasy football season officially comes to an end in Week 18, and while the positivity of celebrating players who won you a championship is great, for some, it might not beat the catharsis of running down the picks that let us down the most.

Here are six of the biggest non-injury-related fantasy football busts that you may have had to overcome to secure your ship in 2023 — or who contributed to tanking your season.

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

In most fantasy football leagues, Patrick Mahomes was the first or second quarterback off the board, likely in the first or second rounds of drafts. Though he still managed to finish as the overall QB7 after 17 weeks, having drafted him so early meant you probably missed out on another top-end asset like a CeeDee Lamb. It wasn’t all his fault, as he tied for a league-high 29 dropped passes through the first 17 weeks of the season. Mahomes posted a career-low 4.5% touchdown rate and a career-high 2.3% interception rate, also posting career lows with 7.0 yards per pass attempt and 261.4 passing yards per game. Thankfully, some production as a runner helped to buoy the lack of efficiency as a passer, as he posted a career-high 389 yards on the ground.

Things aren’t all grim for the Chiefs looking forward, however. It does seem like the team largely expected Mahomes to be able to continue to play hero ball with a lack of depth at wide receiver as long as TE Travis Kelce (more on him later) remained in the mix, but with Kelce looking less than healthy, it just didn’t translate. Luckily, it seems Mahomes has a budding star at wide receiver in rookie Rashee Rice, who kept the passing game alive during Kelce’s late-season inefficiencies, ranking as the overall WR10 from Week 14 on.

Tony Pollard, RB, Dallas Cowboys

Tony Pollard seemed primed for a potential monster season after signing the franchise tag as longtime former teammate Ezekiel Elliott was released. A full workload for one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL? Sign me up! Or, rather, watch me draft him over and over in the first round! He pulled a pretty good bait-and-switch, too, starting the year with an outing against the New York Giants of 82 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener.

Things quickly went south, however, and despite finishing the fantasy season with the sixth-most touches among running backs (288), his inefficiency was too much to overcome. He finished as the overall RB18 (half-PPR), but even worse than that was the fact that he averaged just 5.63 fantasy points per game through the fantasy football playoffs — failing to step up in the most crucial of moments.

Pollard will find himself in a challenging position in 2024, set to hit free agency for the first time in his career with unfortunate timing. He’s coming off a season where he’s averaged career lows in yards per carry (4.0), yards after contact per attempt (2.9), missed forced tackle rate (17%) and explosive run rate (8.75%), which could make it all the more difficult to earn himself a starting role in a competitive free agency period. However, perhaps being relegated to more of a complementary role another season removed from a season-ending lower-body injury could be just what he needs to rebound in terms of efficiency.

Bijan Robinson, RB, Atlanta Falcons

It might be a reach to call the overall RB11 (half-PPR) for fantasy football a “bust,” but I will not be answering questions at this time; it’s part of the coping process. After the Atlanta Falcons selected Bijan Robinson with the No. 8 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, it set him up for an opportunity that most were all but certain could yield him a top-five fantasy finish and Offensive Rookie of the Year honors to boot. The chance to lead a backfield that just led the league in rush attempts with the trio of fifth-round rookie Tyler Allgeier, 31-year-old converted wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and quarterback Marcus Mariota at the center of it all had fantasy managers salivating over their keyboards to click the “DRAFT” button.

That season wasn’t quite the ride we got, however.

Robinson’s rookie season was a prime example of an instance where play on the field doesn’t necessarily always translate to fantasy points. Despite ranking 18th in total rush attempts among running backs in the fantasy season, Robinson ranked third with 30 rush attempts of 10 or more yards, sixth with 51 missed forced tackles and 11th with 636 rushing yards after contact. Even better, Robinson ranked fourth among running backs with 75 targets. But still … it wasn’t enough for fantasy managers to get a peek at the total upside he had to offer, having finished with fewer games inside the top five (1) than the other B. Robinson (Brian, who had two weeks as the overall RB1).

Long story short, we can blame Arthur Smith.

Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills

Stefon Diggs started the season looking like he had “fantasy MVP” in the bag. Through the first six weeks of the year, Diggs had totaled 49 receptions, 620 receiving yards and five touchdowns as the WR2 in that span. Things trailed off in the second half of the season, however, as he averaged just 9.36 fantasy points per game (WR41) from Week 7 onward. Several circumstances seemed to contribute to that decline in production, including the emergence of rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid, who took on a significant role in the receiving game. Then, the Bills fired former offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey and replaced him with interim OC Joe Brady, who began to lean heavily on second-year running back James Cook, both as a runner and a receiver.

From Week 7 onward, Diggs led the team with 87 total targets but did take a backseat to both WR Gabe Davis and the aforementioned Dalton Kincaid in terms of red-zone usage, which may have contributed to his lower ceiling. To close out the year, he averaged just 0.21 fantasy points per snap in that period compared to 0.44 in the first six weeks of the season.

Don’t be surprised if recency bias could have some fantasy managers firmly out on Diggs in the 2024 season, despite his upside.

Tee Higgins, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Did Tee Higgins burn you and finish as the overall WR40 in fantasy points per game? Welcome to the club. The problem wasn’t his lack of availability, even despite having missed four games due to injury on the year. The biggest issue was he was impossible to trust weekly even when he was on the field. Higgins finished out the fantasy season with more games as the WR70 or worse (five) than he did as a top-12 fantasy wide receiver (four). Despite averaging a career-high 15.6 yards per reception and 5.6 yards after the catch per reception, he was targeted on a career-low 18.9% of routes run.

The good news for Higgins’ future as a fantasy asset is that his performance in 2023 may just set fantasy managers up for a potential value pick next season. Higgins is playing on the final year of his rookie contract, and it seems unlikely that the Bengals will be able to afford an extension given the contract in place for Joe Burrow and a potentially record-setting extension pending for teammate Ja’Marr Chase. Should he be afforded the ability to explore free agency and avoid the franchise tag, Higgins could very well be the undisputed WR1 for another offense next season, with more volume being a potential cure for his woes of inconsistency.

Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

Did you finally make the leap to draft Travis Kelce with your first-round pick? If so, I’m sorry for the season that ensued. Things started alright once he made a return from a knee injury in Week 2 — well, OK, more than alright — as he finished as a top-five fantasy tight end in all but one of his first six games. From Week 8 onward, things started to stall out ever so slightly, before the giant hammer of lack of production that would doink fantasy managers over the head in the postseason.

Through the fantasy playoffs, Kelce averaged just 5.1 fantasy points per game, having ranked as the overall TE26 in that span, scoring fewer points than Cardinals TE Elijah Higgins, Dolphins TE Durham Smythe and Broncos TE Lucas Krull (who?).

All things considered, fantasy managers perhaps should have been warier of Kelce’s age (he turned 34 back in October), if for no other reason than his body might not respond as well to the bumps and bruises sustained throughout the season. He started the year at less-than-100% health to begin with, having entered the season battling through a bone bruise that forced him to miss Week 1 before eventually going on to suffer an ankle injury in Week 5, though he missed no time for it.

Even if he did let us down in 2023, however, Kelce’s given us years upon years of top-end production, so it’s hard to stay mad at him even if he’s no longer in his “Worthy of a First-Round Fantasy Pick" era.