Training camp marks the period where fantasy owners clear the table for all the changes to rosters that will inevitably misalign with the expectations are for Week 1. So we all need to anticipate which players are most likely to let their owners down and… well, bust. (It’s a bad headspace to be in, believe me.)
To be clear, I am not trying to guess which players are going to get injured, because that’s just bad mojo. Injury history might factor in, but is not the driving factor for most of the spotlighted players. However, bust is an overly dramatic. To clarify, think of these “busts” as “overdraft” situations, players that will most likely be drafted much higher than the return they’ll bring.
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
If you haven’t been following the Colts offseason, the Colts’ star running back had ankle surgery after getting battered and bruised in the 2022 season. Those injuries forced him to miss six games and that’s been a big reason to why he’s been slow at getting into training camp.
However, there’s also a contract dispute that stems from Taylor entering the final year of his rookie contract, which has a base salary of $4.3 million. The Colts’ back is seeking an extension and pay raise. This has been a terrible offseason for free agent running backs as the market has gone stale for veteran backs seeking the big payday. Ezekiel Elliott (Patriots), Dalvin Cook (Jets), and Kareem Hunt (Saints), have all finally found new homes but it’s taken until the middle of Training Camp to do so. Selecting a running back with a first round pick is a low-risk move for a team, as teams can pick up the fifth-year option and franchise through their prime years without needing to extend them past a 7th or 8th season.
Now, Taylor is just 24, but he has no leverage since the Colts could easily just franchise him in 2024. Worse yet, the Colts just announced that rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson has been named the starter over Gardner Minshew. Considering that Richardson is a project, run-first type rookie QB, Indianapolis could be trading experience for wins.
Defenses are going to dare the rookie to throw the ball, while trying to stuff Taylor or Richardson at the line of scrimmage. How often will the Colts be in the red zone? And in those rare instances, will Richardson hand it off in the red zone or keep it? Taylor is already off to a slow start and will need to show he is in regular season shape before someone spends an early pick on him. Will every owner exercise that kind of caution? Unlikely, and that’s why Taylor will be unable to live up to his late first to early second round ADP (average draft position).
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
When the Titans dealt A.J. Brown to Philadelphia last year, it signaled more work was on the way for King Henry. His 349 carries and 1,538 rushing yards were the second-most of his career in both categories. Unfortunately, his 4.4 yards per carry was the third-lowest average in seven seasons and that shows how hard he worked for those results. Should owners expect another 300+ carries? They should, but expect a pull back. When defenses know that Henry is getting the ball THAT much, there’s no need to guess whether it’s run or pass.
The good is that Henry is carrying a streak of double-digit touchdowns for five straight seasons, even though he played just eight games in 2021. There is no real competition or timeshare to worry about. He is 29 this season, but he’s been a steady ship. There’s no one reason Henry is going to be picked higher than he should, but there are a lot of little reasons that could drag him down to a RB2 instead of a RB1.
Free agency has depleted the Titans offensive line over the years and Taylor Lewan and Nate Davis’ replacements will be tested early. Ultimately, the Titans will find out if the o-line be a strength or a hinderance. Early reports is that it’s going to be a below average line. Can DeAndre Hopkins turn around the passing attack, and is Treylon Burks ready to take the next step? If so, those are greater chunks of yardage that Henry doesn’t have to grind out. How long is Ryan Tannehill’s bridge to Will Levis?
There are many questions and that’s why Henry’s high first-round ADP is a slight head-scratcher. Henry is unlikely to last past the second round of your draft but there’s enough cause for concern that he’ll meet those expectations.
Miles Sanders, RB, Carolina Panthers
Will the grass be greener for Sanders moving to Carolina? Honestly, it’s hard to be optimistic about this move. On one hand, Sanders will be out of a situation where there was too many running backs in Philadelphia. Not to mention, a quarterback who liked to run the ball. Sanders is coming in hot off a season where he gained 1,347 yards from scrimmage behind a very good offensive line, rushed for a career-best 1,269 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. His previous high for rushing was 867 yards and six total touchdowns. 2022 was a terrific bounce back after he was held scoreless in 2021. But the Eagles let him walk in free agency and sign a four-year deal with Carolina.
Sanders is the feature back in a piecemeal offense that’s got a lot of stale parts. Chuba Hubbard could get a significant share of the backfield carries, and has survived longer than expected. First overall pick Bryce Young will start the season with Andy Dalton as his mentor and will throw to Adam Thielen, D.J. Chark and Terrace Marshall Jr. This offensive line is nowhere near the caliber of Philly’s so Sanders may fall well short of what he did last year, which skeptics will view as an outlier anyway. So Sanders is looking at an inexperienced rookie quarterback, less speed and talent at receiver, and less frequency in the red zone.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams
Kupp is firmly sitting as the overall WR4 and overall ranking of 8, a sure-fire first rounder in most drafts. But does he truly deserve that?
Call me skeptical but I’m not ready to put the Rams back in the NFC West hunt with the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers. They appear to me closer to cellar dwellers beside the Arizona Cardinals. Why? Winning the Super Bowl in 2021 was costly, as they’ve been forced to see good players on both sides of the ball leave since.
Van Jefferson, Bennet Skowronek, and Tyler Higbee are all complimentary pieces but can any of them help Kupp sufficiently to keep him from getting caught in a crowd. Cam Akers is out of Sean McVay’s doghouse and we have reason to believe that he will be a bell cow back this year, which is a big plus. Still, I wonder how much of the offense will be relying on Matthew Stafford and Kupp’s health. After all, Stafford is 35 and his 2022 season ended with a spinal cord contusion. Kupp is 30 and defenses will focus on minimizing his efforts.
Everyone wants to see Kupp come back from his 2022 high ankle sprain injury and rake in the receptions. That won’t change as long as he’s healthy. Just think about the Rams offense and how there’s been no upgrades, no key additions to help Kupp out. The only thing different is that Stafford will start the season healthy, but for how long? Kupp already has a hamstring injury which the team will baby until Week 1. They have to, they have no choice. As a Kupp owner, you’ll be doing a lot of hoping and praying.