Anyone who has played fantasy football before knows disappointment is an inescapable part of the game. The euphoric thrill of victory wouldn't be so sweet were it not for the counterbalance of the bitter taste of your lineup letting you down in epic fashion. Personally, I try to avoid the term "bust" when referring to players or teams, as there are countless mitigating factors that contribute to a player's performance in the week-to-week league of the NFL. The best example of this is Todd Gurley in 2016. Gurley's talent was undeniable, but he was stuck in a listless offensive attack with no downfield passing game, a patchwork offensive line, and an overmatched, underprepared rookie quarterback. And in 2017? His offensive line was reworked, the wide receiving corps vastly overhauled, and Jared Goff received the coaching and preparation from Sean McVay that helped him author the biggest increase in passer rating (plus 36.9 points) from 2016 to 2017. All of played a part in helping Gurley score the most fantasy points of any non-quarterback in standard leagues.
And yet, all that being said, 2017 was rife with disappointing performances by teams and players across the entire fantasy football spectrum. Below, I dive into the 15 biggest letdowns from this past season, with a look at what went wrong, and how it might change for the better in 2018. And before we get started, let me remind all of you to not tweet angrily at players if they fail to meet your statistical expectations. I'm sure you wouldn't appreciate it if they all jumped into your mentions when you forgot the new cover sheet for your TPS reports. Don't worry, I'll forward you the memo.
1) The entire Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense
» 2017 Expectations: This summer's "Hard Knocks" darlings were supposed to achieve new, previously unfathomable offensive heights. Jameis Winston was in his third year under center with a deep and versatile surrounding cast thanks to the additions of veteran DeSean Jackson and rookies O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin. Mike Evans, fresh off leading the league in targets, would improve upon his 96-1,321-12 line from 2016 thanks to Jackson alleviating double teams and shadow coverage. Doug Martin appeared to be in "2015" form and would hit the ground running after a three-game suspension.
» 2017 Reality: Injuries and overall ineffectiveness were the story of the 2017 Bucs. Winston, Jackson, and Howard all missed multiple games. Evans only crossed 100 yards once and scored a measly five touchdowns. Martin's early-season promise quickly evaporated and he was benched for Peyton Barber by the season's end. The Bucs basically held steady with their 2016 production, finishing 18th in scoring after finishing 19th the year prior, and posting a modest improvement in their scoring percentage (drives that end in offensive points) from 32.4 to 33.7.
» Reasons for optimism in 2018: Continuity and talent. Dirk Koetter's offense sputtered, but there are signs of life with how the team closed out 2017. Yes, Winston threw some awful interceptions in Week 17 against the Saints, but those will always be a part of his game. Godwin showed he needs a bigger role next year, and perhaps the team gives him that chance. A more stable running game could come via a loaded running back draft class, or perhaps more playing time for Barber. This group could provide plenty of value as they likely slide down draft boards in August thanks to recency bias.
2) The entire Oakland Raiders offense
» 2017 Expectations: The 2016 Raiders fielded a top-10 offense in terms of scoring and yardage and looked like a legitimate Super Bowl contender before Derek Carr broke his leg late in the year. Carr returned full healthy for 2017 with even more offensive weapons in the form of Jared Cook and Marshawn Lynch (who came out of retirement to play). Expectations were sky high for this group, so naturally ...
» 2017 Reality: ... nothing went according to plan. Carr struggled and played with a broken back for the second half of the year. Amari Cooper caught one of the worst cases of the yips we've seen in quite some time, while Cook and Michael Crabtree battled bouts of ineffectiveness as well. Lynch finished strong, but wasn't a factor in the passing game and was a nearly unusable fantasy asset for much of the first half of the season. The highest positional fantasy finisher was Cook, who clocked in as the TE14 thanks to his team-high 688 receiving yards.
» Reasons for optimism in 2018: Two words: Jon Gruden. After a nine-year absence from coaching, Gruden is leaving the broadcast booth and returning to the sideline. This is far, far from a guarantee and could go disastrously wrong, but Gruden is an offensive-minded head coach and could instill a new sense of confidence and culture into a franchise that is in desperate need of a new identity and mentality.
3) The entire Tennessee Titans offense
» 2017 Expectations: Like Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota was returning from a broken leg, but early indications were that he wouldn't be held back at all. This was great news, as the team added several weapons in the passing game -- Corey Davis, Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor, Jonnu Smith -- to complement the already strong skill position corps featuring Delanie Walker, Rishard Matthews, and a two-headed monster backfield of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. "Exotic Smashmouth" was set to rock the football world.
» 2017 Reality: Injuries severely hampered Murray, Davis and Mariota, while the young passer also struggled in Mike Mularkey's milquetoast offensive assault. Mariota posted one of the worst TD:INT ratios in the NFL among starting quarterbacks (13 to 15), though five rushing scores helped him not completely crater out in fantasy. Henry rarely saw touches as the team instead trotted out Murray as a featured back, despite it being clear several injuries were slowing the veteran down as the season wore on.
» Reasons for optimism in 2018: This group did show some moxie to close out the season, and if they return healthy in 2018 there are the pieces to produce. Murray could be a cap casualty, paving the way for a featured workload for Henry. He flashed in the postseason what he's capable of with that type of responsibility (25 touches, 191 total yards, one touchdown against the Chiefs), and he'll be a trendy offseason fantasy sleeper if Murray is out of the picture. The success of this group will hinge on Mariota, though. Can he return to 2016 form? Or was this the beginning of a dark period in his young career? We'll have to track this team closely all offseason to try and find out.
4) T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts
» 2017 Expectations: From 2013 to 2016, Hilton averaged 81 catches, 1,250 yards, and six touchdowns per year. Andrew Luck will return at some point in the early season and this duo will light up the scoreboard week after week. With Donte Moncrief struggling, Luck could funnel even more targets to Hilton, his true No. 1 option.
» 2017 Reality: Luck never returned, and despite some solid quarterbacking from Jacoby Brissett, Hilton never approached the level of play we'd grown accustomed to. He had a few blow-up games in predictable spots, but other than that was dead weight in fantasy lineups, posting 30 or fewer yards and no touchdowns in eight games.
» Reasons for optimism in 2018: Two words: Andrew Luck. Luck still seems like he has a long battle ahead of him, but if he returns as the starter under center Hilton should be able to rebound just fine.
5) Jay Ajayi, RB,
<strike> Miami Dolphins </strike> Philadelphia Eagles
» 2017 Reality: In a totally unexpected turn of events (SARCASM), Jay Cutler's unretirement did not go as planned. Ajayi did receive all of the touches in Miami (22 per game), but he failed to score a touchdown in each of his first seven games. He was then traded to the Eagles where he joined a crowded committee and couldn't be trusted in starting lineups when he was needed most: the fantasy playoffs.
» Reasons for optimism in 2018: The Eagles offense will be one of the league's most explosive once Carson Wentz gets back under center, and the backfield committee should thin out. LeGarrette Blount could be cast back into the free agent pool, leaving Ajayi and Corey Clement to shoulder most of the load. However, if Blount gets re-signed and Darren Sproles returns for one more run at a Super Bowl, Ajayi's outlook darkens significantly.
6) Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
» 2017 Expectations: A once again full-strength Dez Bryant would return to the 1,200-yard, 10-plus touchdown lock fantasy fans grew to know and love. Dak Prescott would take the next step as a passer, and with Ezekiel Elliott facing a possible suspension, Bryant could push for a career-high in targets.
» 2017 Reality: We learned the hard way that Bryant is no longer the same "Weapon X" who can take over games on his own. Bryant played all 16 games and saw 130-plus targets for just the fourth time in his career, but posted his lowest catch (69), yardage (838) and touchdown total (six) in a season where he hit that target threshold.
» Reasons for optimism in 2018: The Cowboys need to address the wide receiver position, and Bryant sliding into more of a No. 2 or 1-b role might be the best case scenario for all involved. Of course, convincing Bryant of that will be tricky, and he may not be willing to cede his bonafide No. 1 credentials just yet. Elliott should also be in line to play a full 16 games next season, which will be a boost to the offense in general.
7) Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers
» 2017 Expectations: The 2016 NFL Comeback Player of the Year and Aaron Rodgers' favorite target would keep Father Time at bay and rack up another monster statistical campaign, easily sailing past 1,000 yards and posting double-digit touchdowns.
» 2017 Reality: Things started off OK, as Nelson and Rodgers connected for six touchdowns in the first five games of the season. However, Rodgers' broken collarbone in Week 6 shattered the rest of Nelson's fantasy season. He failed to post more than 35 yards or score a touchdown in any game the rest of the season.
» Reasons for optimism in 2018: Rodgers' profound on-field connection with Nelson and the fact that they're close friends in real life are the only reasons to get excited about Nelson in 2018. He carries a huge cap figure and could be cut this offseason or be forced to restructure his deal, though Rodgers will likely lobby strongly in favor of the team retaining Nelson. Nelson will be 33 this season too and may be looking at his best fantasy days in the rearview mirror.
8) Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
» 2017 Reality: Regression was expected, but not to this level. Ryan threw 20 touchdowns, the second-lowest total of his career while returning to his career-average interception rate of 2.3. He threw multiple touchdown passes in just five games and never hit 20 fantasy points in a single game.
» Reasons for optimism in 2018: Steve Sarkisian's first year as the offensive coordinator was a bit of a roller coaster, but perhaps he and Ryan find a better connection in Year 2. After all, it took Ryan a full year to adapt to Shanahan's system, and this offense is loaded with a deep roster of talented playmakers.
9) Terrelle Pryor, WR, Washington Redskins
» 2017 Expectations: With DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon leaving Washington, athletic phenom and summer highlight-reel superstar Terrelle Pryor would step right into a healthy target share in Jay Gruden's pass-happy offense and leap into the upper echelon of fantasy wideouts, justifying his near third-round fantasy draft price tag.
» Reasons for optimism in 2018: Pryor is a converted quarterback playing wide receiver who just flamed out in a high-powered passing offense on a one-year contract and ended his year on injured reserve. He'll likely be searching for a new home as a free agent again, which could pair him with a worse quarterback than Cousins. He's a young, talented athletic freak, but carries massive question marks. So, about that whole "optimism" thing ...
10) Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets
» 2017 Expectations: The 29-year-old journeyman was going to be a PPR dynamo out of the backfield and quickly pass veteran (and pass-catching technician) Matt Forte on the depth chart, becoming one of the steals of fantasy drafts.
» 2017 Reality: The Jets backfield became a three-headed committee with rookie Elijah McGuire getting into the mix as well, while the offense, in general, struggled through injuries. Powell handled 47 more carries than in 2016 but gained just 50 more yards. Oh, and his 23 receptions were the fewest he recorded since 2014.
» Reasons for optimism in 2018: If the team moves on from Forte and avoids drafting a running back, then Powell will certainly be on the radar as a decent flex option. However, it may be time to unhitch our fantasy wagons from Powell, at least if they're carrying championship aspirations.
11) Isaiah Crowell, RB, Cleveland Browns
» 2017 Reality: Crowell saw 15-plus carries just seven times and never crossed 20 in a game. As Matt Harmon noted in his coach speak recap piece, the Browns ranked 28th in run play percentage and Crowell saw just eight more carries in 2017 versus 2016. Crowell also fell short of 1,000 yards (again) and posted the lowest touchdown total of his career (two).
» Reasons for optimism in 2018: None. After two years of this, we have little reason to believe anything will change under Hue Jackson's leadership.
12) Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
» 2017 Reality: Those veterans had a thing or two to say about holding onto their jobs. Also, the Bengals offense was a trainwreck to start the year. Also, talent isn't everything in the NFL. Mixon finally earned the lion's share of the touches and didn't do anything with them. He was thoroughly outplayed by Bernard down the stretch.
» Reasons for optimism in 2018: Tough to say. Hill is an impending free agent, while Bernard has two years left on his deal. The team has a potential out this year if they need to save for the cap, though per estimates the Bengals are in good shape. At best right now, it looks like Mixon will be a late-round flier with upside if he grabs a hold of the starting gig and actually performs consistently.
13) DeVante Parker, WR, Miami Dolphins
» 2017 Reality: After a solid but unspectacular start to the season (18 catches, 230 yards, one touchdown) in his first three games, Parker was injured, missed time, and reverted back into the same inconsistent wide receiver we'd seen in his first two professional seasons. He finished the season with a career-high in targets (96) and catches (57), but posted a career-low one score and the second-lowest yardage total of his career (670).
» Reasons for optimism in 2018:Jarvis Landry and his 143 targets per year will very likely be out of the picture (Landry is a free agent), and Parker closed out the season with three consecutive five-plus catch, 60-plus yard performances. With Ryan Tannehill back under center and a higher target share, perhaps 2018 will actually be the year Parker breaks out.
14) Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions
» 2017 Expectations:Eric Ebron's targets, catches, and receiving yards had gone up in three straight seasons, leading fantasy scribes across the nation to pen thousands of words about the much-maligned tight end's impending breakout.
» 2017 Reality: Ebron was largely irrelevant in the Lions offense to start the year, posting single-digit receiving yardage totals in four of the first six games, leading to his dismissal from countless fantasy squads.
» Reasons for optimism in 2018: Well, Ebron closed out the season strong, finishing as the highest scoring tight end over the final four weeks of the fantasy season. Maybe next year, the final of Ebron's rookie contract, will be when he truly breaks out?
15) Denver Broncos D/ST
» 2017 Expectations: The Denver defense had posted top-10 fantasy numbers in four of the previous five seasons, with three top-five finishes in that run. They were the No. 1 defense drafted on NFL.com as more of the same was expected from Von Miller and the "No Fly Zone" under defensive-minded head coach Vance Joseph.
» 2017 Reality: The loss of Wade Phillips and the turnover machine turnstile at quarterback (only the Browns coughed up the ball more on offense) sank this unit. This combination put opposing offenses on short fields, resulting in the Broncos finishing third in yards allowed, but 22nd in points allowed. A lack of a consistent pass rush opposite Miller also hurt this unit's fantasy fortunes, as they ranked 22nd in sacks.