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The Big Collapses of 2023

A look back at who left us high and dry

It can be hard to remember who finished the previous season strong and who didn't - unless they were on your fantasy team, of course. I took a quick look back at how the 2023 season shook out for fantasy's top names as we came down the home stretch and singled out the guys who really wheezed to the finish line.

After doubling back a couple days ago to see which players closed out last season on heaters, it only seemed appropriate that we confront ourselves with the other, grizzlier end of the spectrum. The NFL offseason is long and full of terrors for us fantasy aficionados; sometimes we get so caught up in the hype of a new quarterback or offensive coordinator that we start looking more at narratives than at the numbers... but also sometimes the inverse is true, and so the devil is in figuring out when to trust the numbers and when to exploit them. I'll explain, but first: my selection of big collapses in 2023.

PlayerG 1-11G 12-17FPG 12-17
Sam HowellQB4QB2511.3
Patrick MahomesQB8QB1416.1
Tua TagovailoaQB11QB1913.9
Travis EtienneRB3RB1213.2
Gus EdwardsRB6RB358.7
D'Andre SwiftRB7RB307.8
Kenneth WalkerRB9RB2911.8
Zack MossRB16RB468.3
Stefon DiggsWR5WR517.6
Ja'Marr ChaseWR7WR3110.9
Adam ThielenWR11WR496.7
Courtland SuttonWR18WR399.1
Tyler LockettWR25WR476.8
Travis KelceTE2TE108.1
Cole KmetTE6TE158.1
Dalton SchultzTE7TE355.4
Dalton KincaidTE10TE314.6

To me, Stefon Diggs is a perfect example of a guy where the numbers are misleading us (as well as some generally held perceptions about him as a player). It's common knowledge that Diggs was a disaster down the stretch, torpedoing the championship hopes of his fantasy owners far and wide. Compounding that fact was the correlating rise of Khalil Shakir, who somewhat famously came on strong over that same period. But Dalton Kincaid's presence here changes everything for me. We know Kincaid is good, and in fact he was sneakily a back end TE1 over the Bills' first 11 games as a rookie with Dawson Knox still vulturing touchdowns here and there, before cratering on the home stretch. What happened?

Joe Brady happened. Ken Dorsey was let go after week 10, giving way to Joe Brady and the collapse of Allen's passing numbers: 1.9 passing touchdowns per game and 70.3% completion rate with Dorsey, 1.4 TDs per game and a 60.7% rate under Brady. But since the offense still scored points and the Bills started winning games again, it's easy to infer that the numbers confirm the narrative that Diggs was washed up. We can speculate on whether Diggs has in fact lost a step or two (and I suspect we will do exactly that in the comments), but the broader context triggered by seeing Kincaid's name pop up here does seem to challenge that idea.

I say all that to say that while the 'Hot Finishes' mostly felt fortuitous for what's to come for those players, the poor finishes are broadly more fodder for debate since several of the crummy finishes here can have their serve broken fairly easily. Was Sam Howell truly suddenly horrible, or did Ron Rivera finally lose the locker room so completely that not even the plucky 23-year old could bail water out of the boat fast enough to save it? Did Travis Etienne play over his head in the season's first half, or did the Jaguars' offensive line simply fall apart in the second? Had Travis Kelce lost his mojo, or simply gained some long-awaited help in the form of Rashee Rice?

But there are a couple of kernels here that I'm inclined to take at face value. DK Metcalf's hostile takeover for a Seahawks team fighting for a wild card spot combined with Lockett's disappearance, with a dash of Jaxon Smith-Njigba perking up over the same span - that reads like a changing of the guard to me. Adam Thielen's electric start for an otherwise fundamentally flawed Panthers offense that ended very nearly in step with Frank Reich's tenure in Charlotte? That feels like an indictment of the circumstances that allowed it to be necessary in the first place. And with the Seahawks showing an intent to throw the ball a lot more in 2024, Kenneth Walker's second half drop in both his counting stats and his snap counts have me dropping him down my board preemptively.

I'm definitely interested to hear what people make of the guys listed here, because I find myself leaning both ways on a lot of them (dots for the players whose appearance on this list has me legitimately concerned going forward). Luckily I still have a few months to get off the fence.

—Luke Wilson

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