The 2016 fantasy season was a peculiar one. Many things went off the beaten path of what was expected. One of the themes of the year was a litany of disappointing picks in the first two rounds, all of whom didn't pan out the way we expected (for one reason or another).
The title of "bust" is thrown around a ton in fantasy football. Personally, I find no utility for the term unless the issuer clearly defines what they mean by "bust." To me, a bust is a player who ended the year with a -12 spot differential between their positional ADP and finish.
Using that standard (with the ADP coming from Fantasy Football Calculator) there were 13 players drafted in the first two rounds who finished 12 spots below their ADP in 2016. There were six wide receivers, six running backs and one Rob Gronkowski. For the sake of this article, we'll toss out the two players who both played just 27 snaps a piece (Keenan Allen and Jamaal Charles), as it is pretty obvious what went wrong with their season.
For the rest of the unlucky 11, we'll dig into exactly what went wrong with their 2016 season and attempt to project whether those players will find the fountain of fortune needed to return to prominence next year.
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
Positional finish: RB20
RB1 weeks: 3
RB2 weeks: 6
RB3 or worse weeks: 7
The worst case scenario came to pass with Todd Gurley's 2016 season, as he managed just 885 rushing yards and scored six touchdowns, despite finishing fifth in the NFL in carries with 278. He dropped back from 85.1 rushing yards and 4.8 yards per carry as a rookie to 55.3 and 3.2 this season. There's plenty of blame to go around.
The Rams offense finished 32nd in both pass and run offense per Football Outsiders DVOA. Their offensive line ranked 28th in stuff percentage (runs tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage) and their blocking got worse the farther down the field it went. The quarterback play was unimaginably poor and got far worse when No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff took over, with league-worst marks in adjusted yards per attempt and passer rating. Such poor play behind center allowed defenses to stack the box against Gurley on 26.3 percent of his non-red zone carries, which ranked 11th out of 19 running backs who saw eight-plus defenders on 35 or more of their carries. Additionally, interim head coach John Fassel said that "Frustration set in and confidence maybe dropped, whether it was in himself or just the whole package."
So, yes, it can always get worse.
There was one piece of good news; Gurley saw far more passing game work than he did as a rookie. Gurley doubled his target (58) and reception (43) totals from his rookie year and showed how dangerous he was with 7.6 yards per reception.
Los Angeles ended the Jeff Fisher era in the middle of the season, and hopefully rid itself of a predictable, boring offense that has well outlived its utility in the NFL. We don't yet know who the Rams will hire as their next head coach, so that, coupled with next to zero positive flashes from Goff's rookie season makes it tough to project much change in Gurley's outlook. Here's to hoping it turns around, but either way, the once-crowned jewel of the league's next crop of young running backs will be a risky pick in fantasy next season somewhere from the third round on.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Positional ADP: RB4
Positional finish: RB124
RB3 or worse weeks: 3
The collapse of Adrian Peterson's 2016 season was mostly due to injury, as a torn meniscus in Week 2 took him down until Week 15 and then more knee and groin maladies cost him the final two weeks of the regular season. While all that is true, it's also worth highlighting just how dreadful his performance was when he did play.
Peterson averaged just 1.9 yards per carry on the season and topped 30 yards in just one of his three games played. The Vikings offensive line was poor, ranking 30th in Football Outsiders' adjusted line yards, but every other Minnesota running back performed at least a bit better than Peterson did in his chances.
The future Hall of Fame running back's future with the team is in doubt and he's unsure whether he will take a pay cut to stay, still believing himself to be in the Tom Brady and Antonio Brown stratosphere of NFL players. Peterson is no longer a fit for what the Vikings want to do on offense, as he can't run out of the shotgun or play much in an up-tempo, quick passing game. Regardless of where Peterson, a confirmed human being and not a cyborg as rumored, plays next season, we've likely seen the last of him as a useful fantasy running back.
Lamar Miller, Houston Texans
Positional ADP: RB5
Positional finish: RB17
RB1 weeks: 4
RB3 or worse weeks: 4
A sneaky disappointment this season despite his solid season-long numbers, Miller more often than not failed to return RB1 value indicative of his first-round price tag. Miller finished outside the top 12 running backs in 10 games and sat out the final two games of the regular season.
The Texans offense was incredibly disappointing, finishing 29th in total yards gained despite running the fifth-most plays this season. Much of the blame can be placed at the feet of free agent quarterback Brock Osweiler, whose ghastly play held the offense hostage and eventually got him benched in Week 15. It's the same sort of undoing that befell Todd Gurley.
However, Miller shouldn't be completely bereft of blame. Many critics of Miller noted that there was a reason he was "under-utilized" in Miami, as he never averaged more than 16 touches per game in a season despite displaying dazzling ability. The Texans signed him with the intent of making him their workhorse back anyway, and they fed him 21.4 touches per game in his 14 starts this season. It was quite clear he was worn down by the end of the season, averaging 1.6, 5.1 (Colts), 2.9 and 2.4 yards per carry in his final four games before sitting out the final two contests. Miller's 2016 is a win for those who hold true to the "maybe NFL coaches are actually smarter than us" belief.
Projecting Miller for 2017 is difficult. Right now he has no reasonable competition in the backfield, but the Texans could look to add a power back to take the load off Miller. However, the specter of another year of Brock Osweiler, thanks to his bloated contract, or a similarly shaky quarterback piloting this offense looms large. It's hard to imagine Miller's outlook being much different than what we saw in 2016. He should be viewed as a volume-play RB2, and certainly can't be drafted anywhere near his cost from this past August.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Positional ADP: WR4
Positional finish: WR34
WR3 or worse weeks: 5
A.J. Green was having a marvelous season before a hamstring injury forced him out after two snaps in Week 11. The Pro Bowl receiver was on a 105-catch, 1,542-yard, six-touchdown pace before his injury, which would have been a career year in the reception and yardage departments. Unfortunately, we never got to see the ending as Green never returned from that hamstring injury with the Bengals quickly falling out of playoff contention shortly thereafter.
There was certainly still some volatility to Green's scoring in 2016, as there always has been, but his spike weeks were some of the tops in the game. He was one of the most valuable wideouts in fantasy this year and rewarded the owners who shrewdly identified him as a first-round pick over 2015 DeAndre Hopkins and Allen Robinson.
In all likelihood, Green will get back to dominating in 2017 after a healthy offseason. The only question in his projection will be the target volume. The 2015 season was the only year of his career in which Green played 16 games and finished below a 30 percent share of the team targets, thanks to ancillary threats like Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu holding roles. With those two gone, Green predictably got back up to 32 percent of the market share in Weeks 1 to 10. Monitor who the Bengals add in the offseason to possibly disrupt the target distribution, but if something close to the same cast is back next year, Green should be locked and loaded as a top-five fantasy receiver and high first-round pick.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Positional ADP: WR5
Positional finish: WR36
WR2 weeks: 3
WR3 or worse weeks: 11
There was always an argument to be made that DeAndre Hopkins was overvalued at his August ADP of WR5 and a late-first round pick due to the likely evaporation of targets due to a slower run-based offense and other options present in the passing game. Hopkins did indeed lose a whopping 41 targets off of his 2015 total to finish with 151 this season. Yet, no one imagined it would be quite as a bad as it was.
Brock Osweiler's poor play and striking inability to push the ball downfield and outside the numbers destroyed Hopkins' value. Yet another case of "it can always get worse" after Hopkins succeeded with the Hoyer/Mallett/Weeden/Yates carousel in 2015.
It remains to be seen whether 2017 holds any improvements in Hopkins' outlook from a schematic or personnel standpoint. Yet, there is historical evidence that he, and the wide receiver to follow him on this list, could rebound next year if his volume smoothly rolls over. From 2011 to 2015 only one wide receiver (Larry Fitzgerald, WR42 with 156 targets in 2012) absorbed 150-plus targets and finished outside the top 24 fantasy receivers. Hopkins was one of two receivers to do just that this year, along with Allen Robinson.
We'll need to see what goes on with the Texans at the quarterback position. If he falls to the right spot, Hopkins could return serious value this coming season.
Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Positional ADP: WR6
Positional finish: WR28
WR1 weeks: 2
WR2 weeks: 3
WR3 or worse weeks:11
Well, this one hurts on a number of levels for yours truly. After dominating the league in 2015 with 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns, the seemingly destined-to-be star wideout fell back to earth with 883 yards and six scores this season.
Volume regression wasn't an issue for Robinson like it was for the receiver who preceded him here, as he saw 151 targets in both of the last two seasons. Poor quarterback play from Blake Bortles on a dysfunctional offense that ranked 19th in first downs gained and 25th in yards per play was the main culprit. However, Robinson also struggled to make spectacular catches to the same degree as he did in 2015. Robinson had a catch rate of just 34 percent on targets where he had less than a yard of separation, per our Next Gen Stats tracking. The offense needs to rely less on those low-percentage passes, either way.
It was mostly an "everything that could go wrong went wrong" season.
The Jaguars kept interim head coach Doug Marrone in place, following a 1-1 finish to end the season, in addition to hiring Tom Coughlin as Executive Vice President. Marrone was once an offensive coordinator with the Saints from 2006 to 2008 where the offenses finished first, fourth and first before stints at Syracuse University and with the Buffalo Bills. Robinson saw 12 targets in both of Marrone's games as the head coach this season and totaled 229 yards with Blake Bortles actually looking competent.
With that in mind, you can at least tell yourself a story where the offense at least turns back into a respectable unit in 2016, if by nothing but pure variance alone. The key will be an improvement from Blake Bortles, who needs to re-dedicate himself to getting back on track this offseason and improve his mechanics, or seeing him displaced by an upgrade via free agency in the Tyrod Taylor mold.
As for Robinson, he's been too historically productive for his young age (still 23 years old) to write off. With the volume still likely in place, Robinson will be a popular bounce-back candidate.
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Positional ADP: TE1
Positional finish: TE22
TE1 weeks: 4
TE2 weeks: 1
TE3 or worse weeks: 3
Matt Franciscovich made an excellent case for 2016 being something of an outlier year for tight end production. If the position is going to experience a resurgence in 2017, Gronkowski's place at the top of the list will be a large part of why. It doesn't look like any change is destined to hit New England this offseason with Tom Brady playing just as great as ever.
In the end, whether you decide to chase Gronk in 2017 will be nothing more than a personal choice. Should you choose to, it's unlikely you'll need to pay the iron price. With the way this season went it is hard to see him in the discussion for a top-15 pick, where he's been a fixture.
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
WR1 weeks: 4
WR2 weeks: 1
WR3 or worse weeks: 7
It's true that Bryant's fantasy production was still a bit rocky, as he had two one-catch outings after returning from injury in Week 8. In total, he averaged 4.3 catches, 71.8 yards and 0.8 touchdowns per game from Weeks 8 to 16. The highs were worth chasing, even if he did not always look 100 percent like the Dez Bryant of old.
Injuries have tampered with Dez Bryant in each of the last two seasons, so that is a likely concern going forward. However, missing out on his spike weeks is a drag. Bryant will have a year of integrating with Dak Prescott by the time 2017 kicks off, and that can only help matters. Still one of the elite touchdown threats at the wide receiver position, little has changed with Bryant's fantasy outlook, barring health concerns.
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
RB2 weeks: 2
RB3 or worse weeks: 3
The Packers 2013 second-round pick was never a weekly RB1 in any of his five starts despite averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He caught just four passes in those five contests, as well, a role that he showed some utility in during the 2014 season, which now looks like a pure fluke in hindsight.
There's no way around it; the Packers offense got better without him and some faux commitment to the ground game after his exit in Week 6. Green Bay began to experiment with Ty Montgomery as a full-time running back and got some useful snaps out of Christine Michael down the stretch. Green Bay will likely add another running back to the mix in the NFL Draft this spring, but we can consider the Eddie Lacy era all but over.
A free agent this offseason, Lacy just hasn't been the same since struggling with weight and his overall play to start the 2015 season. Unless he returns on a super team-friendly deal with incentives to add a power element to the likely Montgomery-led backfield in 2017, he will be playing elsewhere. It's hard to see him snagging a starting role with another team, either.
Brandon Marshall, New York Jets
Positional finish: WR52
WR2 weeks: 1
WR3 or worse weeks:12
Marshall finished with 128 targets on the season, a 45-target loss from the 173 he saw in 2015. There's some blame to place at Marshall's feet, as well, as his catch rate was a career-low 46.1, which is hard to do with just poor quarterback play. The departure of Eric Decker early in the season only made it easier for defenses to roll coverage his way as his quarterback blindly rifled passes into tight coverage.
The veteran receiver indicated he would take a pay cut to stay with the Jets and they still reportedly believe in him. However, with no solution in sight at the quarterback position and the entire roster re-tooling, it's hard to view that as good news for fantasy. Marshall won't touch his 2016 redraft ADP and should be approached as more of a weekly boom/bust WR3 for 2017.
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Positional ADP: RB12
Positional finish: RB52
RB1 weeks: 1
RB2 weeks: 3
RB3 or worse weeks: 4
After a season that earned him a new contract while playing like one of the NFL's best running backs, Doug Martin's 2016 campaign was mostly an outright disaster. After going down in Week 2 with an injury, Martin sat out the next six games and suffered a setback along the way that made his absence longer than expected.
Yet, even when he was on the field, the product was far from desirable. Martin averaged under three yards per carry in all but one of the games he played after returning from injury. Touchdowns buoyed his fantasy output, but he still only achieved weekly RB1 status once in eight games. There's some blame to assign to his offensive line, which ranked 32nd in stuff percentage and power blocking, per Football Outsiders. But Martin certainly didn't look good either.
The nightmare campaign came to a screeching halt in Week 17 when the Buccaneers made Martin a healthy inactive. The next week the team announced Martin has been suspended four games for testing positive for Adderall and that he was entering rehab. He will carry the final three games of the suspension over into next season.
Scott Reynolds of Pewter Report expects the Bucs to release Martin this offseason, which makes sense given his salary and the rap sheet of issues that 2016 brought. What happens to Martin going forward is anyone's guess, but as an aging running back who has had an up-and-down career and now comes with a suspension it's unlikely he'll be the belle of the free agent ball should he leave Tampa.