Fantasy Football: Early Season Surprises and Busts

Andrew Barton

We are three weeks into the NFL season and plenty of players have shown their value or lack thereof. Many fantasy football mangers are either thrilled or panicked depending on how their roster has performed to this point. Here are some of fantasy football’s biggest surprises and most disappointing busts after three games. All analysis will be based on standard ESPN PPR scoring and rankings.

Surprises

Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers, WR

2021 Stats: 22 Receptions, 295 REC Yards, 4 REC TDs

Fantasy Rank: WR #2, 25.8 FPTS per Game

A year ago, Mike Williams was viewed as little more than a deep threat who opened up the field for Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen. With only 48 receptions and five touchdowns on the season, his average of 10.2 fantasy points left him as little more than a flex consideration. Fast forward a year and Williams looks like a legitimate WR1 candidate. He has expanded his route tree, become Herbert’s favorite red zone target, and has almost matched his touchdown output from last year. Williams finished 2020 ranked 85th between all TE, WR and RBs. As of right now, he is third overall.

Fantasy Football: Early Season Surprises & Busts- Mike Williams is evolving into a WR 1 alongside Keenan Allen

Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams, WR

2021 Stats: 25 Receptions, 367 REC Yards, 5 REC TDs

Fantasy Rank: WR #1, 30.4 FPTS per Game

During the offseason, this writer was a conductor of the Matthew Stafford hype train. What I could not foretell was how much it would benefit Cooper Kupp. Having spent most of his career as a slot receiver, Kupp was valued for his sheer number of receptions since he has only eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards once. Turns out all he needed was a change under center. Across the Ram’s three wins he is averaging career highs in yards per reception, receptions per game, yards per game, catch %, yards per target, and has already surpassed last season’s touchdown total. While it might be ambitious to assume he remains the number one overall player in fantasy for the whole season, Kupp looks primed to stake his claim as a top 10 fantasy wide receiver for 2021.

Fantasy Football: Early Season Surprises & Busts- Stafford and McVay are unleashing Kupp both in the slot and down the field.

Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans, WR

2021 Stats: 23 Receptions, 322 REC Yards, 1 REC TD

Fantasy Rank: WR #6, 20.6 FPTS per Game

In his eight-year career Cooks has caught passes from Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Deshaun Watson. Yet, it is with Tyrod Taylor and Davis Mills that he has exploded onto the fantasy scene. His target share has been incredible with 32 targets across three games. All other Houston wideouts have combined for 23 targets. In fantasy football, volume is the single most valuable factor. Most importantly, Cooks has shown to be quarterback proof as he posted 20.7 fantasy points even with third round pick Davis Mills under center.

Fantasy Football: Early Season Surprises & Busts- Even with Davis Mills, Cooks remains a fantasy mainstay.

Cordarrelle Patterson, Atlanta Falcons, RB

2021 Stats: 21 Carries, 85 Rush Yards, 1 Rush TD, 13 REC, 153 REC Yards, 1 REC TD

Fantasy Rank: RB #9, 16.3 FPTS per Game

Patterson has been the definition of a “gadget guy” during his NFL career. Anyone who claimed to value him in fantasy prior to the season is a liar. His 232 rushing yards in 2020 left him on the waiver wire. However, he has found a unique role among the struggling Falcons offense. He has 12 total touches in week two and another 13 in week three. While neither his rushing nor receiving is elite, he catches enough balls to be relevant in PPR leagues and his five red zone touches only trail starting RB Mike Davis by one. If the Falcons continue to manufacture looks for Patterson, he will continue to surpass his mediocre 2020 season. 

Fantasy Football: Early Season Surprises & Busts- It seems Patterson may have finally found a home in Atlanta.

Honorable Mentions

Tony Pollard has turned heads as the lightening to Ezekiel Elliot’s thunder out of the Dallas backfield. Despite his status as Dallas’s number two rusher, he has scored more fantasy points than high profile backs such as Antonio Gibson, Saquon Barkley, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Ja’Marr Chase came into the regular season with concerns about a lot of preseason drops, but he has since emerged as Burrow’s favorite target with no drops and a strong 18.9 fantasy points per game. Lastly, before the season most would have assumed Brandon Aiyuk or George Kittle would be the top fantasy pass catcher in San Francisco, but Deebo Samuel has emerged as Garoppolo’s go-to target. Receiving one third of all the 49ers targets has landed him as the eighth overall receiver on the year so far. 

Busts

Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers, WR

2021 Stats: 5 Receptions, 43 REC Yards, 1 REC TD

Fantasy Rank: WR #83, 5.4 FPTS per Game

Many entered this season with high hopes for the second-year wideout. After having 96 passes thrown his way and scoring seven total touchdowns in 2020, expectations were high. Yet, Aiyuk has all but disappeared. He was barely on the field in week one, only recorded one six-yard catch in week two and was lucky to catch a touchdown in week three as he still only managed four catches for 37 yards. With many drafting Aiyuk to be a starting wide receiver, his performance forced some owners to consider dropping the talented player. Kyle Shanahan has long been an enigma when it comes to fantasy, but no one saw this coming for Aiyuk.

Fantasy Football: Early Season Surprises & Busts- What started as a promising rookie year has turned into weekly disappearing acts for Aiyuk.

Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts, RB

2021 Stats: 42 Carries, 171 Rush Yards, 8 REC, 70 REC Yards

Fantasy Rank: RB #28, 10.7 FPTS per Game

I will be the first to admit I was wrong about Taylor to this point. Touted as a top ten pick for the year, his dominant end to the 2020 season inspired confidence for many. Yet, after three weeks the concerns are mounting. His carries have dropped from 17 in week one down to only 10 in week three. His promising receiving role from week one in which he had six catches was also reduced to only two receptions in weeks two and three combined.  Worst of all, he leads the league with 13 redzone carries and yet has still not scored a touchdown. If Taylor can’t find the endzone and is uninvolved in the passing game, he goes from first round talent to nothing but a flex consideration. 

Fantasy Football: Early Season Surprises & Busts- Taylor has elite potential and it is time to deliver on it.

Robby Anderson, Carolina Panthers, WR

2021 Stats: 5 Receptions, 103 REC Yards, 1 REC TD

Fantasy Rank: WR #72, 7.1 FPTS per Game

Anderson had a career year in 2020 in which he set personal best in receiving yards, catch %, and yards per game. Hopes were high that reuniting with Sam Darnold could unlock even more potential for the pass catcher. Instead, Anderson has shown no chemistry at all with his old teammate. He is averaging roughly four targets a game and now has two games of only one reception on the season. DJ Moore is taking all of Darnold’s attention and if Carolina continues to win games, he may be schemed out of weekly game plans as Carolina protects leads and doesn’t challenge down the field.

Fantasy Football: Early Season Surprises & Busts- Anderson is quickly become an afterthought in Carolina despite a great 2020 season.

Allen Robinson II, Chicago Bears, WR

2021 Stats: 10 Receptions, 86 REC Yards, 1 REC TD

Fantasy Rank: WR #65, 8.2 FPTS per Game

For years Allen Robinson was viewed as quarterback proof. He has caught passes from Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Mitchell Trubisky, and Nick Foles and still proved himself a thousand-yard receiver capable of multiple touchdowns. But even all his talent can’t seem to overcome the horrendous quarterback play from Andy Dalton and rookie Justin Fields. While many other fantasy bust simply have not produced, Robinson hasn’t even been given a chance as his team was only able to generate 47 yards of offense in week three. The sad reality is that unless the Bears can figure out their signal caller for the year, Robinson may never get a fair chance at justifying his draft position. 

Fantasy Football: Early Season Surprises & Busts- 2021 may finally be the year Robinson succumbs to poor QB play.

Dishonorable Mentions

An injury in week three has only made matters worse, but A.J. Brown has had a brutal start to the year. While teammates Derrick Henry and Julio Jones have each found some success this season, Brown has yet to eclipse 50 yards in a game and is tied for third across the league in drops.

Some may point to his 100-yard performance in week three as a turning point, but Clyde Edwards-Helaire has earned little trust. The LSU product already has two fumbles lost on the year. With almost no passing game usage, it is only a matter of time before the Chiefs rely solely on Mahomes’ arm and not CEH’s legs. 

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Final Thoughts

There is still a lot of time left in the season. To give up on any of these players could be foolish and to expect them to remain elite all season may lead to disappointment. Perhaps some of these supposed busts may be candidates to trade for and injuries could strike at any moment. Three weeks from now even the most confident fantasy mangers could be scrambling to remain competitive.