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Fantasy: Bust candidates to avoid in 2023


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In an effort to save you the frustration that comes with a disappointing fantasy pick, here are the players we're avoiding at their current average draft positions.

Kyler Murray, QB, Cardinals

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There aren't many quarterbacks with red flags near the top of my rankings this year, but Murray is worth shying away from even at his discounted ADP.

The 25-year-old finished as a top-12 fantasy QB in per-game scoring each of the last four seasons, but there's a growing list of reasons to doubt his potential in 2023.

As Edwin Porras of Fantasy Points explained on "theScore Fantasy Football Podcast," Murray's surgery to repair a torn ACL didn't take place until January 3 - which puts his earliest return date at late September or, more likely, October. Dual-threat quarterbacks coming off serious knee injuries have a mixed history in terms of their rushing production in the first year back, and it's fair to question whether Murray will see a drop-off in volume and efficiency on the ground.

Arizona also let star wideout DeAndre Hopkins go, which takes away Murray's top target from the last few campaigns. That could be a sign the team is looking to hit the reset button under the new front office.

The Cardinals are tied with the Texans for the lowest projected win total and Arizona holds both teams' first-round picks in 2024. If the team ends up selecting first overall, it might decide to draft a new franchise passer and move on from Kyler.

The situation in the desert is shaping up to be much less favorable than it has been in recent years, and there's no guarantee Murray will be in the organization's plans moving forward. That makes him a risky fantasy asset this season and not worth the trouble given the number of quality fantasy quarterbacks you can draft instead.

Other bust QB candidates:

  • Dak Prescott, Cowboys - Prescott is never going to disappoint in a major way, but it's fair to question how the departure of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore will impact Dallas' pass volume. Head coach Mike McCarthy has been vocal about his desire to run the ball more, which could put a cap on Prescott's fantasy ceiling.
  • Aaron Rodgers, Jets - Rodgers is an outstanding real-life addition for a Jets franchise that was a competent quarterback away from contending in 2022. However, entering his age-40 season, he's coming off a down year where he finished as the QB26 in fantasy points per game among qualified passers. He's also joining a division that boasts top-tier defenses in the Bills and Patriots and a Dolphins unit that will be far more frisky under veteran defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
  • Russell Wilson, Broncos - It's been two straight years that Wilson has failed to post QB1 fantasy numbers, and there are no guarantees that the arrival of Sean Payton will lead to a bounce-back campaign. Until we start to hear or see some positive signs about Wilson's performance in this new offense, we'll avoid investing in a player who's had far too many ex-teammates speak negatively about him.

Derrick Henry, RB, Titans

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Betting against Derrick Henry has been a foolish move in the past, but the age cliff comes for every player eventually, and even an outlier like Henry will see a drop-off in production at some point.

Ryan Heath of Fantasy Points recently did an extensive breakdown of age curves in the NFL and found that running backs in their eighth season (like Henry) tend to experience the first major dip in their fantasy stats, falling to 73.1% of their career average.

The situation around Henry isn't helping either. The Titans' offensive line is widely viewed as one of the worst in the league, ranking as the 32nd blocking unit by both theScore and Pro Football Focus over the last couple months.

Perhaps that's partially to blame for Henry's declining numbers. As ESPN's Bill Barnwell points out, the Titans superstar hasn't been the same unstoppable force lately:

Henry stayed healthy last season but continued to shed efficiency; after generating 685 rushing yards over expected (RYOE) between 2019 and 2020, he has mustered only 114 over the past two seasons combined.

The 29-year-old's yards per carry have fallen a full yard from 5.4 in 2020 to 4.3 and 4.4 in the seasons since. And he set a career high with six fumbles in 2022.

In April, Tennessee used its third-round pick on a possible heir to Henry's throne - Tyjae Spears. While the rookie isn't likely to take Henry's job yet, he might steal a few more touches per game than other Titans backups have done. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly has said the team will give Spears as much as he can handle, which could come in the form of passing-down snaps.

Overall, as long as Henry stays healthy, he'll have a chance to put up low-end RB1 numbers. But given his age, mileage, and offensive line, this might be the year we witness the unthinkable and see him become a fantasy RB2.

Other bust RB candidates:

  • Kenneth Walker III, Seahawks - Walker's rookie season was filled with plenty of long highlight runs, but he was a boom-or-bust player who had a limited role in the passing game. After posting just one top-12 weekly finish over his last seven games, the Seahawks bought insurance in the form of another second-round back, Zach Charbonnet - who profiles as a threat to Walker's targets and goal-line touches.
  • Dameon Pierce, Texans - Pierce overachieved as a Day 3 back on a bad team last year, in part thanks to a lack of competition. The Texans rectified their depth issues by adding former Bills starter Devin Singletary and fantasy waiver wire favorite Mike Boone. Both players are capable of siphoning some volume away, but Singletary is an underrated weapon who'll earn more touches than any of Pierce's backfield teammates did a year ago.
  • Javonte Williams, Broncos - Williams is rehabbing from a torn ACL and LCL suffered in October. Many injury analysts have compared the situation to what J.K. Dobbins went through last year, where he struggled to regain his form until late in the season. Similar to Dobbins, Williams sounds overly optimistic about returning for Week 1. In Dobbins' case, he wasn't active until Week 3 and only ended up playing six of the first 12 contests. While it's possible Williams could make a cleaner recovery, fantasy managers should be cautious and monitor reports all summer long.

Deebo Samuel, WR, 49ers

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Deebo Samuel is an incredibly talented football player who can line up all over the formation and score from anywhere on the field. But we're not here to debate his abilities. We're trying to decide whether he's worth selecting as a third-round pick and the WR18 in this year's fantasy drafts.

When you look at his fantasy numbers over the four years he's been in the NFL, you realize one of these things is not like the other.

Year Finish FPPG
2022 WR26 10.8
2021 WR2 18.8
2020 WR47 9.2
2019 WR33 10.7

Deebo's 2021 campaign was impressive with 77 receptions, 1,405 yards, and six receiving touchdowns to go along with 365 rushing yards and eight rushing scores. Those inflated numbers were due for regression last year, but other variables changed Samuel's outlook.

Trading for Christian McCaffrey gave the 49ers the best running back in the league and a dangerous pass-catcher out of the backfield. He was also yet another star player who needed to command touches in this offense. With an elite tight end in George Kittle and a breakout receiver in Brandon Aiyuk, Samuel didn't need to handle the kind of volume he saw during that spectacular 2021 season.

Coming off his first 1,000-yard campaign, Aiyuk is continuing to ascend and by all accounts was dominant during OTAs. He's outscored Samuel in fantasy points per game in two of the three seasons they've played together. Aiyuk is arguably emerging as the better fantasy option, but he's being drafted two rounds later as the WR28.

Though rostering pieces of the 49ers' offense is normally a smart move, you need to make sure you're getting good value in your fantasy drafts. Instead of spending up on Samuel, wait and take Aiyuk ... you won't regret it.

Other bust WR candidates:

  • Christian Watson, Packers - Watson might be the most surprising name on this list after he appeared to break out down the stretch with three 100-yard games and eight touchdowns in his last eight outings. Unfortunately, his situation has changed considerably with a downgrade at quarterback and an influx of target competition from early-round rookies Jayden Reed and Luke Musgrave. Reports also suggest that Romeo Doubs has been the favorite option for new QB Jordan Love. When you factor in the likely TD regression, it makes Watson too risky as a top-40 fantasy pick and takes the current WR20 off the board.
  • Marquise Brown, Cardinals - Brown's fantasy stock was elevated by the departure of DeAndre Hopkins, but he's far from a proven No. 1 option. The 26-year-old has only topped 800 yards in one of his four NFL campaigns and was sidelined during OTAs with a foot injury - which is slightly concerning after he missed time with a foot issue last season. He'll also be without Kyler Murray for a portion of the season as the QB rehabs from his torn ACL.
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster, Patriots - Injuries have sapped some of JuJu's effectiveness in recent years, and he's no longer the same player he was during his first couple seasons with the Steelers. The fact that he only managed six games with double-digit fantasy points last year while playing with Patrick Mahomes is a bad sign. To make matters worse, he missed time in OTAs due to a lingering knee injury. Keep your expectations for Smith-Schuster in check moving forward.

Pat Freiermuth, TE, Steelers

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The Steelers are another team whose ability to stockpile quality skill-position talent might lead to reduced targets for someone on their offense.

Diontae Johnson has seen over 140 targets each of the last three seasons and George Pickens is poised to make a sophomore leap as a field-tilting playmaker on the perimeter.

Meanwhile, their backfield duo of Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren combined for 86 targets last year. And now they've added depth pieces like veteran wideout Allen Robinson and rookie tight end Darnell Washington.

That could squeeze some of Freiermuth's volume after he saw 98 targets a year ago and finished as the TE11 in fantasy points per game. His fantasy rank would have been even higher had he totaled more than two touchdowns - which is an area where you would normally project positive regression.

However, his teammate Johnson - who scored zero touchdowns in 2022 - is even more in need of a bounce-back in that category. And Pickens has a good chance to outproduce the four TDs he posted as a rookie. Freiermuth will also have to battle the rookie Washington, who's expected to factor in around the red zone and could vulture some valuable looks in that range.

None of this makes Freiermuth someone you must avoid, but his path to a strong fantasy season has a lot of speed bumps and road blocks that will likely prevent him from being anything more than a low-end TE1 or high-end TE2.

Other bust TE candidates:

  • Cole Kmet, Bears - Kmet has the potential to be a difference-making fantasy tight end, but his best performances have come when the Bears were shorthanded at receiver. That won't be the case in 2023 with D.J. Moore, Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool, and Tyler Scott rounding out the WR corps, as well as veteran tight end Robert Tonyan stepping into the No. 2 role once occupied by Jimmy Graham. Similar to Graham, Tonyan will be a red-zone vulture and prevent Kmet from reaching his ceiling outcome.
  • Gerald Everett, Chargers - Some analysts are excited about Everett's upside playing for new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. The problem for Everett is the absolutely loaded trio of wideouts he'll compete with for targets. Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and first-round rookie Quentin Johnston are going to soak up a lot of the volume. That means Everett will either need injuries to strike or a massive touchdown total in order to overcome a depressed target share - and he's never scored more than four TDs in a single season as a pro.
  • Taysom Hill, Saints - With Derek Carr providing an upgrade at quarterback, Jamaal Williams and Kendre Miller bringing depth at running back, and Foster Moreau rounding out the tight end room, Hill might not be as needed as he's been in past years. As usual, Hill will have a few blowup weeks throughout the season when he finds the end zone, but you don't want to rely on him as anything more than a bye-week replacement.

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