Every year, there are fantasy busts. Everyone who has played fantasy football has drafted one and known the debilitating opportunity cost at season’s end…the infamous: “If only I took Player A instead of Player B in Round X, I would’ve won it all.”
Our brains are designed to look for patterns, and when a player burns us in the past our emotional thought processes subjectively avoid them.
For poker players, this is also known as the “I always fold pocket jacks, I never win with them!” attitude. Part of fantasy football is having a short memory: last year is last year, and those bygone statistics don’t get you any points in the upcoming season. Good fantasy players look through the windshield, not the rear-view mirror.
However, not all fantasy owners think like this. Many of them will avoid a player who busted last year for their team simply based on name recognition. Through this outdated defense mechanism comes value for the smart fantasy owner.
Let’s take a look at six players who didn’t live up to their potential in 2014 (which is reflected in their 2015 ADP) and can now go from bust to bargain this season. We used Apex’s scoring and ADP for 2014, and MFL10 2015 ADP to see where these players are now being drafted.
QB: Colin Kaepernick
2014 Apex ADP: 10.04 (QB12)
2014 Fantasy Finish: QB16
2015 MFL10 ADP: 11.12 (QB16)
What Went Wrong in 2014: Drafted as a low-end QB1 with upside, rushing ability, a supposedly healthy Michael Crabtree, and another year of experience, Kaepernick basically faceplanted. How bad was he? 19th in fantasy points per game, one rushing touchdown, a mere four games with multiple touchdown passes (only one with three touchdowns), one game with over 256 passing yards, and four games with under 200 passing yards.
The eye test told an even worse story. Kaepernick easily regressed as a passer last season, usually getting through one read before his eyes dropped to the pass rush and he looked to scramble laterally. Indeed, Kaepernick was sacked 52 times- good for 3rd most in the league.
Unsurprisingly, many fantasy owners simply gave up on him halfway through 2014 and have so far left him to relegate in low-mid QB2 wasteland so far in drafts this season.
What’s Changed in 2015: The offseason has been rather bleak in San Francisco, filling the news with surprise retirements- including mainstay Anthony Davis at right tackle. But the rest of the retirements have been on defense, leading to a possibility of more shootouts this season. Kaepernick didn’t attempt 40 passes in a game once this year- without Justin Smith, Chris Borland or Patrick Willis, that is bound to change.
The main argument for Kaepernick making this list- can he really do worse than 2014? I highly, highly doubt it. When combining 2012 and 2013, Kaepernick had one rushing touchdown per every 17.2 two attempts- he ran for a combined 9 touchdowns those two years. Last year, he experienced a huge decrease: a mere one rushing touchdown in 105 rushing attempts. If he simply rushed for one touchdown every 21 attempts, he would’ve finished with five rushing scores as QB10 ahead of Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, and Tony Romo.
Throw in the addition of Torrey Smith and all Kaepernick needs is simple regression to the mean to finish as a strong streamer for the late-round quarterback crowd with the upside for much more. Available almost two rounds later than last year, I’m willing to bet he outperforms his ADP.
RB: Doug Martin
2014 Apex ADP: 3.01 (RB10)
2014 Fantasy Finish: RB52
2015 MFL10 ADP: 8.10 (RB38)
What Went Wrong in 2014: Basically everything. Playing behind a truly terrible offensive line, Martin didn’t top 14 carries or 45 yards until Week 13 with a total of one touchdown and 10 receptions during that span. Injuries robbed him of five games through his first 13 weeks as well, and seemed to be replacement-level when Bobby Rainey outperformed him.
What’s Changed in 2015: Plenty, and almost all for the better. Dirk Koetter, who led prolific offenses in Atlanta the past few years, is their new offensive coordinator. It is rumored that Martin is on the team because Koetter vouched for him this offseason. He’s apparently had his best offseason in three years while taking all of the 1st team reps at OTAs.
The Buccaneers first three picks in the draft? Franchise QB Jameis Winston and mauling offensive linemen Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet. With Vincent Jackson returning and dominating rookie Mike Evans entering his second season, Martin won’t face as many loaded boxes. The coaching staff seems intent on relegating Bobby Rainey to a backup role while regime-favorite Charles Sims was somehow a worse runner than Martin in 2014, wheezing his way to a 2.8 YPC mark.
What we have here is a contract year starting running back on an ascending offense entering his age 26 season- historically a peak season for running backs. While Sims and Rainey may steal some of his PPR value, all Martin really needs to do to stay healthy to finish as a decent RB2 or a strong flex. As he proved in 2012 when he finished as the RB2, he’s got the ability. He is the quintessential post-hype all-star.
RB: Danny Woodhead
2014 Apex ADP: 8.07 (RB33)
2014 Fantasy Finish: RB126 (Played three games)
2015 MFL10 ADP: 13.06 (RB52)
What Went Wrong in 2014: The easy answer is a gruesome lower-leg fracture. But oddly enough, Woodhead only caught five passes during the few games he was healthy. Considering there was no real scheme change from his sublime 2013 that saw him catch 76 passes, we can likely chalk that up to small sample size.
What’s Changed in 2015: Besides for Woodhead being back to 100% and surprising at OTAs, the Chargers traded up to draft college legend Melvin Gordon III in the first round to replace the departed Ryan Mathews. But that doesn’t really threaten Woodhead- his specialty is passing-down work while Gordon’s weaknesses include pass-blocking and receiving. Branden Oliver provided a temporary spark last year, but seemed gassed and overmatched down the stretch. There’s no reason Woodhead can’t rediscover his 2013 form and catch 60+ passes. The eight touchdowns from 2013 might be a stretch to match but similar to Doug Martin, all Woodhead has to do is stay healthy and he’s a lock to outperform his ADP in PPR leagues.
WR: Marques Colston
2014 Apex ADP: 6.01 (WR32)
2014 Fantasy Finish: WR36
2015 MFL10 ADP: 12.04 (WR57)
What Went Wrong in 2014: While still close to his dominant self, Brees set a four-year low in yards and touchdowns. With a hampered Jimmy Graham still getting 124 targets, youngsters Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks commanded a combined 155 targets while Colston really began to show his age.
For the first time in his career (not counting his 2008 where he missed five games), Colston failed to reach 100 targets and set career lows in catches, yards and tied a low for touchdowns. The Saints also leaned more on their run-game as Mark Ingram finally lived up to his draft pedigree.
What’s Changed in 2015: Almost everything- the Saints have rebuilt their entire team into a defensive-first, smash-mouth running team. Gone are Jimmy Graham, Pierre Thomas, Kenny Stills and Travaris Cadet and their combined 315 targets. The only other pass catcher they brought in was dynamic space-RB CJ Spiller, who could soak up at least 100 of those targets (health allowing). But other than that, they are counting on unproven youngsters Nick Toon and Josh Hill (whose hype train is beginning to come to a correct halt) to pick up the receiver/tight end slack behind obvious targets Colston and Cooks. Brees’ pass attempts will surely drop, but there are still plenty of targets to go around.
Colston doesn’t rely on speed or agility to win in his routes (he never really has), so his age isn’t as big of a concern. Although he has a somewhat injury-prone perception, Colston has played less than 14 games only once in his career. His 80-1,100-10 days are likely over, but 65-900-7 is certainly not out of the question, and that line would have made him WR28 last year. Colston being drafted as WR57 is completely insane: last year’s WR57 was Dwayne Bowe, who finished with a 60-754-0 stat-line. Marques Colston is a bonafide steal.
WR: Keenan Allen
2014 Apex ADP: 2.12 (WR11)
2014 Fantasy Finish: WR35
2015 MFL10 ADP: 5.01 (WR21)
What Went Wrong in 2014: On the surface, it’s tough to find an excuse for Keenan Allen’s lack of production. After all, he caught 77 passes in 14 games- an improvement from 71 his rookie year where he played 15 contests. His targets increased from 105 to 121 as well. So what happened then? Allen simply wasn’t targeted in the red zone as Antonio Gates had a renaissance year with 12 touchdowns while for some reason 5’10”, 185lb Eddie Royal caught seven scores and multiple screen passes in the red zone. His yards per target dipped from an elite 9.96 to a below average 6.47. Allen proceeded to miss the final two games with a collarbone injury.
What’s Changed in 2015: Really not a ton besides the departure of Eddie Royal, which can only help Allen’s cause. Allen apparently coasted a little bit in 2014 after such a successful rookie year, but seems to be back on track this offseason after seeing that the NFL isn’t as easy as it appeared in 2013. Stevie Johnson has been added to the mix as well, but doesn’t appear to be a threat to Allen’s near-monopoly on slot work in the Chargers’ quick-hitting offense. Roddy White, last year’s WR21, finished with a 80-921-7 statline. Health permitting, that is going to be Allen’s absolute floor in 2015.
TE: Jason Witten
2014 Apex ADP: 7.03 (TE6)
2014 Fantasy Finish: TE9
2015 MFL10 ADP: 11.08 (TE13)
What Went Wrong in 2014: I’m hard-pressed to say anything went wrong, per se, with Jason Witten. Boosted by an elite offensive line, a fantastic running game and sublime gameplanning, the Cowboys’ offense was one of the very best and most efficient in the NFL. From 2011-2013, Tony Romo averaged over 36 pass attempts per game. That number decreased by an unbelievable 20% in 2014 as the Cowboys ranked 31st in passes attempted. Although Witten still finished as a top-nine TE, he was never considered a fantasy “asset” as the passing game volume simply decreased in Dallas.
What’s Changed in 2015: Almost nothing besides the departure of DeMarco Murray. But that could have a gigantic impact on the entire Cowboys offense as the “as long as you have an elite offensive line, running backs don’t matter” theory is tested. The offensive line indeed remains elite, but many (including myself) doubt that Joseph Randle and a shockingly ineffective Darren McFadden can be bellcow backs capable of carrying the load that Murray did. Lance Dunbar is a tiny scatback, while Ryan Williams is in danger of not even making the team.
Things went perfectly according to plan in Dallas last year, and rarely ever do plans go perfectly two years in a row. Odds are, Romo is going to return to the mid-500s in pass attempts while Witten’s role doesn’t change too much. Let’s take a look at the percentage of Romo’s targets Witten has received the past four seasons:
|Percent of Romo's Targets
While it may appear to the naked eye that 2014 was the beginning of Witten’s steep decline, his target percentage is pretty close to what it has been the past four seasons. He still scored his patented five touchdowns in 2014 (he averaged 5.3 from 2011-2013), and with so much annual uncertainty and guesswork with fantasy football tight ends you could do a lot worse than a near-guaranteed top-10 floor. Going as TE13, gobble him up in the 10th or 11th round while stacking your WR and RB depth in the beginning of your draft.