Players on the Most Fantasy Teams that Made the Playoffs (Fantasy Football 2019)
The 2019 fantasy playoffs are over. If you qualified for them in your league, I hope you did well! If you didn’t, well, better luck next year. Either way, we should figure out who the most-owned players on playoff rosters were. That way, we can draw conclusions about strategies for player evaluation and roster construction to use in next year’s drafts. While optimal draft strategies won’t always be the same from year-to-year, it’s good to get an idea of what could work next year if conditions are relatively similar. Also — some of my conclusions might seem obvious now, but if we’d truly known them back in draft season, then some of the players on this list wouldn’t have fallen so far.
Lamar Jackson (BAL)
100% ownership rate, 76% playoff ownership rate.
Jackson was the second most common player across playoff rosters, and that’s not much of a surprise, given his overall QB1 finish. Jackson turned his ADP of 106 into the best fantasy season by a quarterback of all time, topping Patrick Mahomes’ record from 2018. His success — and Mahomes’ from last year — proves that waiting for a quarterback is a successful fantasy strategy. Jackson’s season is also proof that mobile quarterbacks are better fantasy options than traditional pocket passers, another lesson to carry into 2020.
Honorable Mention: Russell Wilson (SEA): 100% ownership rate, 61% playoff ownership rate.
Christian McCaffrey (CAR)
100% ownership rate, 84% playoff ownership rate.
McCaffrey led all running backs by 122.9 points in half PPR. His value stemmed from his absurd workload, as without it, his game-breaking efficiency wouldn’t have translated into fantasy results. Before the season, I wrote that McCaffery’s workload in the passing game gave him an incredibly high floor, and it looks like I was right (although I whiffed on James White in that article, too). McCaffrey trailed on wide receiver Michael Thomas in receptions this season, and he finished with the eighth-most targets on the year. My takeaway? McCaffrey has to be the consensus No. 1 guy next season. I don’t think we can draw many other conclusions because no one else is playing football like McCaffrey.
Dalvin Cook (MIN)
100% ownership rate, 74% playoff ownership rate.
Cook was a great value at his early second-round ADP of 16. Going into 2019, we knew that Mike Zimmer and Kevin Stefanski wanted to emphasize the run, and they did just that. Minnesota attempted 476 rushing plays this season, trailing only Baltimore, San Francisco, and Seattle — two of which made use of their quarterbacks in the running game. Cook turned his 17.9 rushing attempts per game, the seventh-most in the league, into 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns. That netted him an RB5 finish in half PPR. When coaches say that they want to run the football, listen, especially when you can get their running back after the first round.
Michael Thomas (NO)
100% ownership rate, 67% playoff ownership rate.
Thomas turned in a record-setting performance this year. He caught 149 passes, the most ever in a single season, which propelled him to a WR1 result. He led WR2 Chris Godwin by 67 points. Before the season, I noted that Thomas had caught more passes than the year before in each of his NFL seasons, so I wasn’t shocked by his WR1 finish. He caught 80.% of his career-high 185 targets and finished with at least six receptions in all but two games.
Thomas shows us the value of raw target numbers, efficiency, and a team’s total passing attempts. Although he earned 125 receptions in 2018, he did so on 147 targets, two fewer than the 149 targets he’d caught just 104 of a year prior. So going into 2018, we knew that Thomas was an efficient, high-volume player who saw around 150 targets per season. But how did he earn 35 more targets this year, especially when the Saints’ only big-name departure in the passing game was Ben Watson, who the Saints had replaced with Jared Cook anyway? Well, New Orleans passed the ball 581 times in 2019, compared to 519 in 2018 and 536 in 2017. I think we can blame that on Alvin Kamara’s regression and Mark Ingram’s departure. If you can identify a team that’s likely to pass more frequently, target their high-volume receivers, especially if they’re efficient.
Chris Godwin (TB)
98% ownership rate, 66% playoff ownership rate.
The overall WR2 was another frequent feature of playoff rosters. While Godwin’s late-season injury kept him out of fantasy championships, he certainly helped his owners get there by putting up 1,333 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Godwin had never broken the 1,000-yard mark before, but the third-year receiver certainly impressed us last year. Despite competition from Adam Humphries, he still finished with 842 yards and seven touchdowns. So when the Buccaneers let Humphries go and brought in quarterback whisperer Bruce Arians, the writing was on the wall for a big season. Godwin’s case reminds us to target players who will have reduced competition for volume and to research what new coaches (and coordinators) have done in the past.
Darren Waller (OAK)
100% ownership rate, 63% playoff ownership rate.
Okay, no one knew what Darren Waller was going to do before the season started. We knew that Jon Gruden had called him the NFL’s “best-kept secret” back in May, and we knew that he’d penciled him in as their TE1 during the preseason. But Waller had never played as a TE1 before. The Baltimore Ravens drafted him as a wide receiver back in 2015, and Waller had just 18 receptions and 178 receiving yards to his name. Waller had an ADP of only 150 because he looked like the second or third-best option for Oakland, as he’d be behind Antonio Brown and possibly Tyrell Williams in the pecking order.
In my opinion, Brown’s ungraceful departure was probably the most significant factor that led to Waller’s TE1 season. He was Derek Carr’s most consistent receiving option all year long, earning him considerable volume he may not have gotten with Brown. Waller’s finish is proof that fantasy football is a game of chance, and that rolling the dice on a late-round tight end can sometimes pay off. He’s also a reminder that high volume (targets and receptions) should yield a better fantasy performance than high touchdown rates.
Honorable Mention: Mark Andrews (BAL): 99% ownership rate, 59% playoff ownership rate.
Austin Ekeler (LAC)
100% ownership rate, 67% playoff ownership rate.
Ekeler beat out the likes of Derrick Henry and Breshad Perriman to earn this flex spot. Like McCaffrey, much of his fantasy value came from predictable usage in the passing game. He finished second among running backs in receptions with 92, and even though he only finished 34th in total rushing attempts, he still finished as the RB6 on the year. For a guy who you could’ve drafted in the sixth or seventh round, that’s incredible value.
While some of his volume stemmed from Melvin Gordon’s four-week holdout, Ekeler continued to have value as a change-of-pace option in the Chargers’ offense. Ekeler shows us that targets can vary in value among running backs. Players with similar target shares to Ekeler’s 92, namely, Alvin Kamara (81) and Leonard Fournette (76), could not return the same value per catch — Ekeler’s 10.8 Y/R topped their rates of 6.6 Y/R and 6.9 Y/R considerably. My takeaway? Don’t forget to look into efficiency metrics like yards per catch and Air Yards per catch when evaluating a player’s target share.