Other than "bad beat," there’s no term more detested in fantasy football than “bust.” We’ll define "bust" here as the player you researched for months, scouring over his team’s schedule while plotting game-by-game what his production could be, and even gleaned tidbits from his college transcript, all for the sake of spending a first-round pick and watching as he falls well under the bar of expectation.
Every fantasy player has dealt with this issue. Your first-round star either got injured, or one cog of his team’s 53-man roster was adjusted incorrectly and his production plummeted. Or it could go along the lines of an Adrian Peterson, who was still one of the first three picks off most draft boards last year and appeared in only one game due to issues off the field.
A problem like Peterson’s is completely impossible to predict, but weighing a team’s personnel changes, their schedule, the player's injury history and past production are the best ways to predict and stay away from potential busts.
Here are eight players fantasy (ranks via FantasyPros.com’s projections) owners should stay away from when drafts take place later this summer. A bust in this sense is a player who was supposed to put up top numbers at his position and start on your squad, but wound up well below expectations.
Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers
During the offseason, Kaepernick lost his No. 1 running back in Frank Gore to free agency, and now has the unproven Carlos Hyde in the backfield. The 49ers also lost talented young offensive lineman Anthony Davis after he retired earlier this month. The 49ers did add lightning-in-a-bottle receiver Torrey Smith to serve as Kaepernick’s deep threat, but that’s a connection that still has to prove itself.
Last season it appeared like Kaepernick tried to change up his style and stay in the pocket more. He put up career highs with 3,369 passing yards for 19 TDs and 10 interceptions and rushed for 639 yards and one touchdown. But the turnovers were also too high, and it appears like Kaepernick is the only weapon in the 49ers' arsenal. He’ll be asked to do too much, and with San Francisco also losing key defensive stars it figures to be a messy year with the third-hardest schedule in the NFL. Kaepernick’s the 17th QB off the board, which is about right, but don’t think of using him as your backup unless you're desperate.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
One big rule in fantasy is staying away from the guy who just got a big contract. Lynch inked a well-deserved new deal, but he could hang back to avoid injury in 2015. He’s been incredible with four-straight 1,000-yard and 10-plus touchdown seasons, but also averaged 295.3 carries per season in that stretch. Lynch is also 29, right below that age cut off for RB1s.
He certainly has quarterback Russell Wilson to help out in the rushing attack, but Lynch could see his carries sucked away from new tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham’s a consistent red zone threat who should siphon red zone attempts, and thus fantasy points, from Lynch.
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
Another duel threat QB who just got paid. There’s no questioning Newton’s abilities, but he threw a career-low 18 touchdowns last season and that was with top rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin on the field. Granted he doesn’t have a consistent running back behind him, but Newton’s also seen his rushing totals slide over the last three years.
By slicing the rushing numbers the Panthers are trying to protect him from getting injured, which makes complete sense, but fantasy wise Newton should not be the sixth QB or 59th overall pick in any draft this year. There’s much better, consistent options in Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger after Newton.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Injuries and touches are the big red flags for Mathews. He appeared in only six games last season and lost his job to a rookie, and that adds up to 26 games missed since Mathews entered the league in 2010. He’s a versatile back and could fly under Chip Kelly’s offense with 146 career receptions and 1,110 yards, but with DeMarco Murray also on the roster Mathews is at best a RB3. Again if he stays healthy. He’s the 40th back off the board and belongs there for now.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills
The addition of running back LeSean McCoy in theory would open up new opportunities for Watkins, but he’ll be the receiver out of last year’s dynamite rookie class to falter the most due to Buffalo’s glaring need at quarterback. Right now it’s between veteran Matt Cassel and third-year passer EJ Manuel, and neither can consistently find Watkins to the benefit of fantasy owners.
The Bills schedule isn’t difficult as the 19th hardest next season, but right now there’s lots of talent behind Watkins as the 18th receiver off the board. Including Detroit’s Golden Tate, Oakland’s rookie Amari Cooper, and San Diego’s Keenan Allen, all capable of being your No. 2 or No. 3 receiver.
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Bryant was arguably the best receiver in the NFL last season with a league-best 16 touchdowns, along with 88 receptions for 1,320 yards. Dallas still has one of the league’s best offensive lines to keep Tony Romo upright and find Bryant. But Bryant’s contract issues with the team are likely to spill into his production next season.
Last week, it was reported Bryant was considering skipping the first game of the season as a holdout over the contract dispute, and unless he gets a new deal Bryant will be distracted by the ongoing saga.
Melvin Gordon, RB, San Diego Chargers
A Heisman finalist last season who led the nation in rushing, Gordon does figure to be a star one day in the league but it seems more likely he’ll struggle in his rookie year. At No. 13 in the draft projections, he’s positioned way too high behind a Chargers offensive line that powered the third-worst running game in the league last year. San Diego did steal guard Orlando Franklin from Denver, but how big of an impact he’ll have is difficult to measure at this point.
And right now Gordon isn’t a pass-catching back, with only 22 total receptions throughout his college career. Again, one day he could be great.
Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
Kelce led the Chiefs with 862 yards and five touchdowns last season, with no receiver able to pull in a score. But with receiver Jeremy Maclin added to the mix, and the threat of running back Jamaal Charles cutting into the receptions, Kelce’s fantasy value takes a hit. He’s ranked as the No. 3 tight end drafted, but with guys like Jacksonville’s Julius Thomas, Indianapolis’ Dwayne Allen, and San Diego’s Antonio Gates all available after him, it might be best to pass on Kelce.