Cincinnati Bengals standout A.J. Green was typically drafted as the No. 8 wide receiver in 2018 fantasy drafts (per Fantasy Football Calculator). He performed admirably through the first half of the season, scoring 12.8 points per game, which appropriately placed him as the No. 8 WR.
A toe injury in Week 8 held him out for three games, and the seven-time Pro Bowler reinjured that toe just a week after his return. Despite his strong start, Green ended up hurting fantasy owners more than he helped them, ending the year as the No. 37 wide receiver.
An injury like this one wasn’t foreseeable. However, there are fantasy football busts that are much more predictable. These five WRs carry red flags that could indicate a potential bust season.
4. Adam Thielen/Stefon Diggs
The duo of Thielen and Diggs was one of two WR tandems to both finish in the top-12 last season (Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster was the other).
Thielen was an absolute force early on, continuing his fairy tale career arc as he made the next jump into stardom. The former undrafted free agent was the No. 1 receiver in fantasy football through the first eight weeks of the season before settling down in the second half (No. 29 from week 9 to week 17). Diggs was an up-and-down performer, finishing with over 12 points five times but with fewer than 10 points in six games. He barely finished as a WR1 as the No. 12 performer.
Entering 2019, it’s very possible that both Thielen and Diggs regress to mid-WR2 status despite their respective average draft positions (ADP) of 10 and 14. New offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski values the run, as seen from his small sample size at the end of last season. The Vikings passed the ball 21 times and ran 35 times in his first game in Week 15, and Kirk Cousins threw for fewer than 250 yards in all three contests under Stefanski. Needless to say, this same strategy should carry into 2019 as Stefanski has accepted the full-time role and the team has high hopes in Dalvin Cook.
A run-oriented offensive approach will likely hurt the Minnesota wideouts’ fantasy stock for the upcoming season.
3. Kenny Golladay
After finishing second-to-last in both 2016 and 2017 in rush attempts, the Detroit Lions seemed to be set on a high-volume passing offense under head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. Cooter remained in 2018, but Caldwell was replaced by Matt Patricia, who brought a new dynamic to the team. Spending a second-round draft pick on Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson, the Lions upped their rushing attempts by more than 40 from the previous season. They still threw the ball 58.7 percent of the time, however.
A new-look Detroit offense will take hold in 2019, as Cooter has been replaced by new OC Darrell Bevel. Between 2006 and 2017, offenses led by Bevel have been committed to the run more often than not. He finished outside the top half in rushing attempts only three times in that 12-year span, and finished in the bottom-six teams in pass attempts half of those years. Simply put, it would not come as a surprise if the Lions focused on running the ball much more than in previous years. Kerryon Johnson looks to finally be the reliable feature back after years of inconsistent backfield leaders like Joique Bell, Mikel Leshoure, and Jahvid Best.
Count in other factors, such as the return of Marvin Jones, the additions of Danny Amendola and Jermaine Kearse, the draft pick of TJ Hockenson, and the injury status of Matt Stafford, and there suddenly becomes a whole lot to worry about for the lead wideout in Detroit. He’s a boom-or-bust candidate that experts rank anywhere from the No. 11 WR to the No. 39 WR (via FantasyPros).
2. Alshon Jeffery
Carson Wentz’s 2017 MVP-caliber performance, had he stayed healthy, would have led to a solid season for his top wideout. Jeffery’s projected 16-game statline for that season looked like 130 targets, 64 catches, 901 yards and 10 touchdowns. One thing to note is that Jeffery’s 2017 catch rate (47.5 percent) was the lowest among all 76 receivers that caught 50 balls by a pretty significant margin.
Last season, those numbers improved in a big way, as his catch rate went up to 69.5 percent and was on pace for a 119-83-1021-7 statline. Wentz and Jeffery suffered injuries that ended their campaigns prematurely, but both look to be in full health entering this year. The relationship between Wentz and Jeffery doesn’t seem to be an issue, then, but there are other problems afloat.
Philadelphia is a problem team in fantasy football for everyone not named Carson Wentz. The issue is that the Eagles’ offense is too loaded with talent. Zach Ertz will likely be the most-targeted player on the field again. DeSean Jackson is back in green and is sure to be an elite deep threat. JJ Arcega-Whiteside is a promising rookie who the Eagles drafted early on to fill a similar role as Jeffery. Nelson Agholor and Dallas Goedert are both viable options all over the field. The backfield has four usable candidates that can work as pass-catchers.
Wentz will throw the ball often, but there are just too many mouths in Philly to bank on constant WR2 production from Jeffery.
1. Sammy Watkins
The No. 4 candidate to bounce back in 2019 is also the likeliest candidate to bust. Watkins has epitomized the fantasy football bust year after year. Whether it’s the offensive scheme, his injury history, or a lack of real consistency, Watkins has not been trustworthy in any of the last three seasons. This season will be no different despite the potential top-10 upside.
The positives for Watkins are that he’s in the highest-scoring offense in the league with the 2018 MVP firing the pigskin, and top wideout Tyreek Hill may miss time pending the league’s decision on his punishment amid an abuse scandal. Watkins played decently well in his first year with the Chiefs, too, picking up 519 yards in 10 games.
The negatives are difficult to ignore, however. Injuries have affected the Clemson product every year of his career but the first, and his surgically-repaired foot has continually hindered his ability to play at full-speed. Sports Injury Predictor ranks him as the fifth-highest risk wideout in the game. He missed six games last season, and was a non-factor in several of his appearances despite a solid cumulative statline. Plus, Hill may not serve a suspension at all, which would severely impact the workload of Watkins.
Injury vulnerability, inconsistency, and the unknown wide receiver situation in Kansas City makes it hard to rely on Watkins. If all goes right, he could be a top-10 WR. If pieces don’t fall into place, there’s a lot that could go wrong. Watkins is officially the ultimate boom-or-bust candidate of 2019.