10 Players the Experts Got Right (Fantasy Football)
The fantasy season wrapped up last night (sorry to those of you in a Week 18 title game) and what a year it was. Covid-19 issues were tricky to navigate but there are some general observations I made here:
- The running back position was a beautiful mess. Three players went from being ranked 30th or lower in the preseason to finishing in the top-10 of points scored including Cordarelle Patterson who was ranked as the WR123.
- Receiver had the typical suspects with Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, and Stefon Diggs. There was far less variance here than there was for running backs.
- You don’t have to be fleet of foot to finish as a top-10 quarterback, but it helps to have some rushing upside. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Matthew Stafford were the only quarterbacks to finish in the top-10 but not eclipse 100 yards rushing this year.
- Tight end was the position where the experts were the most correct. Its not surprising as the position is a wasteland on any given week but there is a lot of consistency among the elite.
To see where the experts did well (or, not so well) I used FantasyPros’ pre-draft expert consensus rankings (ECR) and run them against the total fantasy points from Weeks 1 to 17 for PPR leagues. I used total fantasy points as opposed to points per game (which I believe is a better indicator of true production) because injuries ravaged so many positions.
Note: Names in bold lettering were within one spot of their preseason ranking.
- QB1: Josh Allen (QB – BUF), Preseason Rank – QB2, Difference: +1
- QB2: Justin Herbert (LAC), Preseason Rank – QB8, Difference: +7
- QB3: Tom Brady (TB), Preseason Rank – QB9, Difference: +6
- QB4: Patrick Mahomes (KC), Preseason Rank – QB1, Difference: -3
- QB5: Joe Burrow (CIN), Preseason Rank – QB13, Difference: +8
- QB6: Matthew Stafford (LAR), Preseason Rank – QB12, Difference: +6
- QB7: Aaron Rodgers (GB), Preseason Rank – QB7, Difference: 0
- QB8: Jalen Hurts (PHI), Preseason Rank – QB11, Difference: +3
- QB9: Dak Prescott (DAL), Preseason Rank – QB5, Difference: -3
- QB10: Kyler Murray (ARZ), Preseason Rank – QB3, Difference: -7
The experts did ok here, mostly on the back of being close on Allen and nailing Rodgers. Among the quarterbacks who finished in the top-10, Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, and Matthew Stafford were the big risers from their preseason ranks. Herbert and Burrow anchor a terrific crop of young passers while Stafford should continue to put up numbers in Sean McVay’s pass happy system.
The Bills lack of a sustainable running game made Allen their most reliable ball carrier, and he responded with over 700 yards rushing – a career best. That boosted Allen more than enough to finish 25 points better than the season-long QB2, Justin Herbert. If the Bills don’t address the running back position in the offseason, Allen should continue to get plenty of yards on the ground. The Bills offense flows almost entirely through Allen and while he still leaves something to be desired as a passer, his ceiling is undeniable. Allen has cemented himself as one of the elite fantasy quarterbacks.
After he finished as one of the best values in 2020, I thought QB7 might be a little low for Aaron Rodgers coming into the season. Touchdown regression combined with less passing volume kept him out of the top-5 and that might be the case moving forward. Rodgers has always had enough escapability in the pocket to be dangerous with his feet but that part of his game has waned as he has aged. He had a career-low 94 rushing yards this season, the first time he had less than 100 yards since being named the starter in 2008. He is still one of the elite quarterbacks in terms of efficiency, throwing just four interceptions this year. Where he plays in 2022 will be one of the bigger questions to answer this offseason, but the Packers should be considered a favorite for the Super Bowl in February.
- RB1: Jonathan Taylor (IND), Preseason Rank: RB9, Difference: +8
- RB2: Austin Ekeler (LAC), Preseason Rank: RB7, Difference: +5
- RB3: Joe Mixon (CIN), Preseason Rank: RB12, Difference: +9
- RB4: Najee Harris (PIT), Preseason Rank: RB13, Difference: +9
- RB5: James Conner (AZ), Preseason Rank: RB32, Difference: +27 (!!!!!)
- RB6: Ezekiel Elliott (DAL), Preseason Rank: RB5, Difference: -1
- RB7: Nick Chubb (CLE), Preseason Rank: RB11, Difference: +4
- RB8: Leonard Fournette (TB), Preseason Rank: RB38, Difference: +30 (!!!!!)
- RB9: Cordarelle Patterson (ATL), Preseason Rank: WR123, Difference: +114 (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
- RB10: Damien Harris (NE), Preseason Rank: RB26, Difference: +16
- RB16: D’Andre Swift (DET), Preseason Rank: RB15, Difference: -1
The Zero-RB crowd can take their victory lap as only three players in the consensus top-10 finished the season there and first round picks like Christian McCaffery, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, and Derrick Henry were all derailed by injuries. Somehow that isn’t the biggest story here, however, as James Conner, Lenny Fournette, and Cordarelle Patterson blew past their consensus ranking and finished as RB1’s.
Conner and Fournette had been productive before this year – Fournette keyed the Buccaneers during their Super Bowl run last January – but Patterson is the biggest story of the bunch. The Falcons figured out how to use Patterson all over the formation and while he eventually settled into a more traditional between-the-tackles role late in the season, he was carrying a lot of fantasy teams early on when injuries were ravaging rosters. If you picked him up, you struck gold.
I had to go all the way down to Swift to find another back who was within three spots of their consensus ranking. Swift would have blown past his had he not been nicked up in November, however, making this position the most difficult to project.
Elliott was seen as being an injury risk coming into the season but he missed the fewest games of any running back in the preseason top-5. Elliott is proof that the best ability for most running backs is availability as he only went over 100 rushing yards twice but still finished in with the sixth-most points at the position. Statistically speaking, this was his worst season but Dallas did a nice job of managing his workload and giving Tony Pollard touches each week. The cliff for Elliott is coming and I would be surprised if he is a top-10 back in 2022.
Swift had a stretch where he was performing like a top-3 PPR running back. Beginning October 10th against the Vikings and going to November 21st against Cleveland, Swift averaged almost 19 PPR points per game. That average would have put him only behind Austin Ekeler and Jonathan Taylor on the year. Injuries de-rerailed what was looking like a breakout season in his sophomore campaign, however, and he finished as a mid-range RB2. Swift should be drafted no lower than the 2nd Round next summer.
- WR1: Cooper Kupp (LAR), Preseason Rank: WR16, Difference: +15
- WR2: Davante Adams (GB), Preseason Rank: WR1, Difference: -1
- WR3: Deebo Samuel (SF), Preseason Rank: WR36, Difference: +33 (!!!!!)
- WR4: Justin Jefferson (MIN), Preseason Rank: WR6, Difference: +3
- WR5: Ja’Marr Chase (CIN), Preseason Rank: WR32, Difference: +27 (!!!!!)
- WR6: Tyreek Hill (KC), Preseason Rank: WR2, Difference: -4
- WR7: Stefon Diggs (BUF), Preseason Rank: WR3, Difference: -4
- WR8: Diontae Johnson (PIT), Preseason Rank: WR18, Difference: +10
- WR9: Keenan Allen (LAC), Preseason Rank: 9, Difference: 0
- WR10: Chris Godwin (TB), Preseason Rank: WR15, Difference: +5
- WR18: DJ Moore (CAR), Preseason Rank: WR19, Difference: +1
Unlike the running back position, receivers were far more consistent with their preseason rankings. No less than six of the preseason top-10 at the position finished there and there were plenty of familiar names from beginning to end.
Perhaps we should have seen Cooper Kupp‘s season coming, but even the most bullish expert couldn’t have predicted this. Kupp has had a season for the ages, interjecting himself into the MVP discussion in the process. He was being drafted in the 4th Round last summer, which makes him one of the best bargains of the fantasy season. Samuel was being dinged because he was coming off an injury, but once Kyle Shanahan started scheming the ball into his hands, he was as valuable as any receiver in football.
There isn’t much left to say about Ja’Marr Chase. The likely Offensive Rookie of the Year, Chase showed up when fantasy managers needed him most posting 391 yards over his last two games with three touchdowns. He single handedly won some teams their leagues with his Week 17 torching of the Chiefs.
If not for Kupp’s historic season, Davante Adams would have finished as the WR1. He didn’t finish a single week with less than 10 PPR points and nearly went over 1,400 yards for the season, making him a rock-solid combination of floor and ceiling. Assuming Aaron Rodgers returns – something that now looks more likely than it did in August – Adams will be a shoo-in first-round pick in 2022. Adams is eligible for the franchise tag this offseason but Green Bay will do everything they can to keep him around long-term.
Perennially underrated, Keenan Allen is one of the most consistent receivers in football and he finished above where the experts believed he would. For the fourth time in five seasons, Allen caught at least 100 passes and had over 1,000 yards. He only had one game – Week 16 against Kansas City – where he failed to register at least 10 PPR points in a week. Although he will turn 30 this offseason, Allen has the advantage of playing with Justin Hebert which makes his 2022 outlook rosier than most.
DJ Moore was a guy who I believed had a chance to blow past his ADP but the overall limitations of the Carolina offense – specifically that of Sam Darnold and Cam Newton – squashed any chance of that. Moore racked up 153 targets over the first 16 games, good for fourth in the league among receivers. However, he only finished with 86 receptions, which ranked 13th. If the Panthers can upgrade at the QB position, Moore would be one of the top players to buy-low on heading into next season.
- TE1: Mark Andrews (BAL), Preseason Rank: TE5, Difference: +4
- TE2: Travis Kelce (KC), Preseason Rank: TE1, Difference: -1
- TE3: George Kittle (SF), Preseason Rank: TE3, Difference: 0
- TE4: Dalton Schultz (DAL), Preseason Rank: TE34, Difference: +30 (!!!!!0
- TE5: Kyle Pitts (ATL), Preseason Rank: TE6, Difference: +1
- TE6: Zach Ertz (AZ, Preseason Rank: TE20, Difference: +14
- TE7: Dallas Goedert (PHI), Preseason Rank: TE9, Difference: +2
- TE8: Mike Gesicki (MIA), Preseason Rank: TE12, Difference: +4
- TE9: Noah Fant (DEN), Preseason Rank: TE8, Difference: +1
- TE10: Dawson Knox (BUF), Preseason Rank: TE27, Difference: +17
The Mark Andrews breakout season has been impressive. He’s racked up 1276 yards on 99 receptions and nine touchdowns heading into Week 18. The Ravens have been more pass-heavy this season and the narrow distribution of targets has benefited Andrews.
I think a shoutout is in order to Dalton Schultz and Zach Ertz as well. Both were the TE2 on their own teams early in the season, but an injury to Blake Jarwin and a change of scenery for Ertz changed things for each one. Schultz has really stepped up over the last month garnering more targets and yards than CeeDee Lamb. For Ertz, getting traded to Arizona proved to be a good thing. He finished third on the Cardinals in targets despite playing just 10 games.
Pegged as the preseason TE1, Kelce had his worst statistical season since 2017 and still finished as the overall TE2. He trailed only Andrews in fantasy points at the tight end position and finished with over 1,000 yards for the sixth straight season. With his five receptions in Week 17, he reached 700 career catches faster than any tight end in league history. Although he will turn 33 next season, Kelce is as steady as they come and should continue to be an elite option in the Kansas City offense.
Kittle finished exactly where the experts had him ranked back in August. Kittle was almost nudged out by Dalton Schultz, but his big performance in Week 16 landed him in the top-3. Unlike Kelce, Kittle doesn’t play in a juggernaut offense, so his production might be more impressive. If Trey Lance develops and Kittle stays healthy, he could be the TE1 in 2022.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Trade Analyzer – which allows you to instantly find out if a trade offer benefits you or your opponent – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.