We’re going into week seven of the 2019 NFL season which means it’s time for some reflection. Let’s start on a sour note and talk about the players who have busted. Ben Graul, Jesse Patterson, Robby Jeffries, and Cody Kutzer give you their disappointments thus far.
Ben: Sony Michel
I purchased Michel stock as if I could travel back in time and jump on Apple stock before it became $230 a share. This attitude was based off of a 2018 campaign of 931 yards and six touchdowns through 13 games. Yes, the missed games due to his famously injured knee frightened me, but his 4.5 yards per carry combined with his average 16 rushing attempts per game persuaded me to see the bright side. In 2019 Michel’s usage is great, already receiving 100 carries to go along with five receptions, but his 3.5 yards per carry is worrisome. This 3.5 number is also inflated by his two longest runs of 25 and 26 yards. These stats, mixed with the visual of Sony looking extremely slow making cuts in the backfield, has me extremely concerned. If all of this is not enough to make you whisper “bust,” take a trip down memory lane to last week, when the decrepit Tom Brady vultured multiple goalline opportunities from Michel. The lack of trust in Michel and the Patriots’ offensive line has me eyeing my Michel shares in a very fearful light.
With Michel, you could argue his volume will work him out of the bust category, but with Howard, there is no argument to be made. Through six games Howard has seen 18 targets, reeling in 13 of them for 176 yards and no touchdowns. Four of the five incompletions were drops, removing any narrative of inaccurate attempts coming from Jameis Winston. Another narrative which can be eliminated is Howard not seeing enough playing time, considering he owns 84.3% snap share against Cameron Brate’s 35.7%. Howard is on the field and runs an average of 25 routes per game, meaning he is not being limited to a scheme-blocking tight end. There is no excuse for Howard’s regression, but there are reasons. The tight end is at the bottom of the food chain in a Bruce Arians led offense, especially when the top wide receiver options consist of Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. The combination of Arians, Evans, Godwin, and Howard’s drop rate has me shook. Howard is the bustiest bust to ever bust in 2019.
Jesse: Vance McDonald
Oh boy did I fall for the offseason narrative here. The plotline was seemingly obvious to many industry analysts. Coming off a career-best season, combined with the losses of Jesse James and Antonio Brown meant ample opportunities for McDonald to increase his production and become a viable TE1. Dynasty owners were excited to finally have theoretical stable production at one of the toughest week-to-week positions to nail down. Unfortunately, things just haven’t worked out for the seventh year pro, a combination of lack of targets, injury, poor production, and a weak offensive line have neutered any sort of potential breakout. The Steelers line is a work in progress, leading to decreased production from running back James Conner as well as injuries to both their starting and second-string quarterbacks. McDonald is an afterthought in the passing game and he has been tasked with blocking assignments more often in an effort to make up for deficient line play. Outside of a Week 2 performance in which he hauled in seven passes and two touchdowns, McDonald has yet to top three receptions in a game and hasn’t found the end zone. For someone who was being drafted as the TE12 in August according to DLF ADP, McDonald has been nothing short of a major bust.
Penny became a trendy breakout pick during the offseason. The Seahawks boasted one of the most efficient and heaviest volume rushing offenses in the league in 2018 and all signs pointed to a continuation of that philosophy. Coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer returned to Seattle and the team failed to add any marquee talent at running back via the draft or free agency. Incumbent starter Chris Carson was still in town, but the prevailing thought was that there was enough volume to support multiple fantasy-viable players at the position. Penny’s RB25 ranking in July showed fantasy owners were seeing a potential breakout in his sophomore season. Unfortunately, health issues and a lack of volume have hampered any breakout performances thus far. Through six weeks, Penny has missed three games due to injury, while failing to top six carries or 18 yards in two of the three games he did manage to suit up for. Worse still, he has only found the end zone once. What has become apparent at this point is that the Seahawks see Penny as nothing more than a change of pace back, or someone who can come in and handle a handful of carries when bellcow Carson is in need of a breather. With Carson seemingly over his fumbling problems from early in the year, it would take an injury for Penny to live up to any potential we saw this offseason. He certainly has earned the title of “bust” at this point in the season.
Robby: Baker Mayfield
Oh how Baker-mania ran wild this past offseason. After the Browns traded for Odell Beckham Jr., there was a quick rise in ADP for Mayfield which set a new level of expectations for the season. Following Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and Aaron Rodgers, Mayfield was consistently drafted as that fourth quarterback in redraft leagues and third in front of Rodgers in dynasty startups.
Six weeks into the season, Mayfield sits as QB29 in weekly average scoring and QB21 in total scoring once you eliminate the likes of Daniel Jones, Kyle Allen, and Mason Rudolph. Let’s call a spade a spade. This is droppable in redraft leagues and not startable in single QB dynasty leagues. So where did things go wrong?
First, let’s start with an extremely underrated piece of this puzzle that went the opposite direction in the Beckham trade. Guard Kevin Zeitler, who PFF has ranked in the top-seven of all guards in three of the past five seasons, is now a New York Giant and in his place is journeyman spot starter Eric Kush. After getting sacked just 25 times in 14 games last season, Mayfield has been dropped 16 times in just 6 games this season.
Secondly, Freddie Kitchens the head coach is not finding the same success as Freddie Kitchens the offensive coordinator. Cleveland’s offensive yards and scoring per game has taken a hit from 2018 to 2019 and play calls like this have people wondering if Kitchens is in over his head.
Finally, Baker Mayfield’s play has taken a sophomore slump. His interception percentage has risen from 2.9% in 2018 to 5.6% this season. His touchdown percentage has reversed from 5.6% of his throws to 2.5%. His completion percentage is at a paltry 56.6% and he has yet to have a multi-touchdown game despite having Beckham and Jarvis Landry as his top wideouts.
I’m sure there are better weeks out there for Mayfield, but with the Patriots, Broncos, and Bills as his next three opponents, he will either be facing solid secondary units well into November. It’s safe to say that he will not be a top-five and likely not even a top-15 quarterback in 2019.
Cody: JuJu Smith Schuster
Let’s start with the obvious: playing with three different quarterbacks through six weeks isn’t a main ingredient when baking a fantasy-friendly pie. The Steelers offense in general hasn’t been great, but Smith-Schuster was being propped up by some as the top overall dynasty receiver this offseason. He’s currently sitting at WR31 in half-PPR formats, which doesn’t come near the capital spent on him in both dynasty and redraft leagues this offseason. Smith-Schuster hasn’t been able to thrive post-Antonio Brown and things don’t seem likely to change any time soon.
Staying in the AFC North, Mixon has possibly been an even bigger let down than Smith-Schuster. After Mixon finished as the RB10 in 2018 while operating in a less-than-optimal offense, I had high hopes for the former Oklahoma Sooner heading into this year - the Bengals invested in their offensive line and finally canned Marvin Lewis, bringing in Sean McVay disciple Zac Taylor. Mixon was routinely going around the 1st/2nd turn in DLF startup ADP as he looked set to build upon his successful 2018. *Record scratch sound effect* And then it all came tumbling down! Mixon is currently a mid RB3 for fantasy purposes and hasn’t been able to take advantage of favorable matchups. He was banged up early this season, so maybe he’s dealing with a nagging injury in combination with the swiss cheese offensive line in front of him. Either way, it hasn’t been pretty for Mixon and I don’t foresee anything changing for him in 2019.