In looking back at the recently completed fantasy season, it’s easy to wax poetic about the picks that went right like Christian McCaffrey, CeeDee Lamb and Josh Allen. It’s a whole other story when it becomes evident early in the season that a player got drafted higher than he deserved.
Underperformance and injury impact ADP every consecutive season. Often fantasy managers move on to the next shiny thing, forgetting that some players still have something in the tank. An example is Mike Evans this past season.
Many highly-drafted, underperforming players from 2023 will improve in 2024.
Today we tackle the stars who likely let fantasy managers down, and should see their respective ADPs take a tumble in 2024. We’re leaving out the players who suffered season-ending injuries, as they were covered elsewhere.
Can these under-performers end up becoming bargains in the coming season?
2023 ADP: 5.3
The definition of a lost season can be found next to Austin Ekeler, 2023. He looked very good in the opener, with 164 total yards and a touchdown on 20 touches in a 36-34 shootout loss to the Dolphins. Then came the dreaded postgame news: a high-ankle sprain.
Ekeler sat out the next three games and the Chargers’ bye, returning in Week 6. But it was not the Ekeler the fantasy community has come to revere. He had just three games with 100 or more total yards, and did not appear to have the burst from before. That made all those fantasy managers who used a mid-first-round pick on him just sigh and wish they’d taken a wide receiver instead.
Now Ekeler is entering free agency and will turn age 29 in May. The market has not been kind to running backs, and there is no guarantee that a new Chargers coaching regime will want to bring Ekeler back. The call here is Ekeler will be drafted in the RB Dead Zone, likely as a passing game back in a committee. And we wonder why the 2021 and ’22 seasons feel so far away.
2023 ADP: 15.6
On the surface, it looks like Henry delivered on the early-second-round ADP with pretty impressive numbers. He was first in the NFL with 280 rushing attempts, second with 1,167 yards and tied for fifth with 12 rushing touchdowns. Even hitting that dreaded age for a running back (30) cannot seem to slow him down. On a 69-yard run in Week 18 against the Jaguars, he reached a top speed of 21.68 MPH, which was his fastest speed in two years:
Yet, some key measurables have come down in recent seasons. Despite him being one of just 12 1,000-yard rushers, Henry had a career-low 4.2 yards per carry. His 68.6 yards per game were almost 30 below the previous season (96.1). His snap share in 2023 (53.4%) was a large drop from his 2022 number (66.8%). That, and his age — even with decent final numbers — make it hard to project where he ends up being drafted in 2024, especially since it’s likely somewhere other than Tennessee. If he lands in the right spot, he could at least be the lead ball carrier in a tandem with a good pass-catching back.
2023 ADP: 15.6
Through 17 weeks, Mahomes led the NFL in passing attempts. He was fifth in the NFL with 4,183 passing yards and tied for seventh with 27 TDs. He was even sixth among quarterbacks with 389 rushing yards. And this is a down year? That just shows the standard that Mahomes has set — finishing as QB7 could be a disappointment for the top QB selected in the 2023 draft season.
Kansas City led the NFL with the most passes dropped with 44 and Mahomes led the NFL with 385 dropped air yards — exactly 100 more than second place. It’s pretty clear this was not Mahomes’ play declining. The emergence of Rashee Rice will help, as will a bounce back from the next player on this list. Depending on how far Mahomes’ ADP falls, he could be a bargain next year.
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
2023 ADP: 7.7
This appears to be one of the biggest disappointments of the year. When the 2023 draft season was getting its sea legs, there was some talk about taking Kelce at the 1.01, all because of the positional advantage and the Chiefs not adding a top pass-catcher in the draft or via free agency.
He hit 261.3 fantasy points in 2022, which would have made him the WR5. His 172.9 fantasy points in 2023 would have made him the WR28, just behind teammate Rice.
Forget about any retirement talk, as Kelce is still one of the top tight ends in football. The emergence of Sam LaPorta and Trey McBride is big for the position. Matt Harmon is starting the 2024 hype train for Kyle Pitts. It seems Kelce could fall below some of those young stars at the position. Whether that slots in the Rounds 3-5 range — we'll find out in the summer.
Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins
2023 ADP: 24.1
This is leading off the WR2 section of this article, with Waddle having a late second-round ADP. Coming off his 1,356-yard 2022 season, he was looking like the 1B to Tyreek Hill. As Hill went after 2,000 yards, Waddle battled injuries, even though he finished with 1,054 yards.
Waddle’s 1,421 air yards in 2022 well outdistanced the 1,054 in 2023. There were just not as many deep shots, and him missing three games didn’t help. Waddle’s excellent yards per route run of 2.93 was fifth in the league, surpassing his 2.71 mark last season. A healthy Waddle will still be behind Hill for targets, but being the No. 2 target in this offense is not too shabby. If he drops into the fourth round or later this year, get ready to snap him up.
2023 ADP: 31.7
It’s hard to get a measure of Higgins’ productivity because Joe Burrow was active for only 10 games before going down with a season-ending wrist injury. And Higgins battled injuries as well, missing five games, including Week 18. Durability has become a question for Higgins, as he’s missed nine games in the past three seasons.
Even when healthy, Higgins has yet to surpass 110 targets in a season, and has never averaged even eight targets per game. The problem we’re seeing with teams’ second wide receivers is that the alpha receivers — like the Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase — take up such a large slice of the offensive pie, there’s not much left for others. Plus, Higgins’ production has been inconsistent. He had just three games over 80 receiving yards, and four games UNDER 30 yards. Hard to spend up on draft day with that kind of unstable production.
2023 ADP: 26.5
The Slim Reaper finished as the WR10 in 2022 and formed a good combo with A.J. Brown. What could go wrong? Well, the offense took a step backward with OC Shane Steichen leaving for Indianapolis. Smith saw his targets go down by 24 (though it was in one fewer game). In 2022, he had four games under seven targets. In 2023, that number grew to eight.
Smith is very much Robin to Brown’s Batman, and they both are dependent on Jalen Hurts’ passing performance, which diminished in 2023. It’s hard to fade a receiver coming off his second straight 1,000-yard campaign, but anyone drafting Smith in 2024 has to hope Hurts goes back to his 2022 ways and elevates the offense, especially its receivers.