Even a bad game by his quarterback, Matthew Stafford, in Week 16 didn’t hold Cooper Kupp’s fantasy managers back from advancing to their leagues’ championship games.
First, to be clear, let’s specify that that refers to a large number of his managers advancing to their finals, rather than all of them (something that would be statistically impossible), but Kupp’s 21.3 PPR fantasy points this past week didn’t prove a hindrance to his teams in 48% of ESPN’s leagues. That’s his league-leading — and by a massive, 10% margin at that — percentage as far as the list of players you’ll most commonly find on fantasy teams that advanced to their leagues’ championships.
That Kupp scored 21.3 points despite Stafford scoring 6.68 fantasy points of his own, not to mention Stafford completing merely 56.8% of his pass attempts, speaks volumes about the wide receiver’s extraordinary efforts in 2021. Kupp’s 391.4 PPR fantasy points this season are the 13th-most by any player through 16 weeks in NFL history as well as the most among wide receivers, he has already matched Antonio Brown’s record (2014) with 12 games of 20-plus points, and he is now 17 receptions shy of Michael Thomas’ single-season record (2019) and 230 receiving yards shy of Calvin Johnson’s single-season record (2012) with two games to play.
In residing on 48% of ESPN finalists’ rosters, too, Kupp joins a list of only nine players who can claim at least a 40% threshold in the past six seasons (the ones for which we have available data). Alvin Kamara (48.3%, 2017), Christian McCaffrey (48.1% in 2019) and James Conner (46.9%, 2018) are the only others who exceeded 42%. Kupp’s margin over No. 2 Mark Andrews (38%) is also the largest in any of those seasons, underscoring his status as fantasy football’s MVP (at least thus far).
Putting aside Kupp’s historic season, the unpredictability of player availability, primarily due to the COVID-19 virus and its recent Omicron variant, has been arguably the fantasy football playoffs’ biggest story. The numbers on ESPN finalists’ confirm that, as of the top 13 players/defenses on the list, the group missed five games, illustrating that getting to the playoffs was as important in advancing to the finals as was having the players who got you there available for your Weeks 15 and 16 lineups.
In fact, of the 27 players who reside on a finalist’s roster in at least 25% of ESPN leagues, 16 were players who also comprised the list of 18 who were on at least 50% of playoff teams two weeks ago. Seven of those 16, by the way, found themselves outside the top 100 overall PPR fantasy point scorers from Weeks 15-16, and those seven missed a combined four games during that time span.
Listed below are the 33 players who reside on rosters of finalists in at least 24% of ESPN 10-team standard PPR leagues:
The defenses/special teams might be the first thing that catches your eye, as the Cowboys and Dolphins both made this list, after neither one found itself on the rosters of a playoff team in even one-third of ESPN leagues (Cowboys 32%, Dolphins 18%). They were, however, easily the Nos. 1 and 2 defenses in fantasy points from Weeks 15-16 combined, with the Cowboys scoring 39 and the Dolphins 35, each of those 12 points more than any other team had. It’s as compelling evidence as any that a streaming defense strategy continues to be a winning move.
Further evidence: Of the five defense/special teams that resided on at least 40% of ESPN playoff teams, none scored more than 20 points combined between Weeks 15-16 and the group averaged 10.2 points in those games. The Buffalo Bills, who were on 43% of playoff teams, scored 16 fantasy points the past two weeks combined and now find themselves on a finalist’s team in only 21% of leagues, most from that group.
Speaking of the impact of COVID-19 absences, three in particular apparently weren’t devastating for their fantasy teams. Alexander Mattison, who missed Week 15, was the running back most commonly found on an ESPN finalists’ roster (34%), while Travis Kelce and Austin Ekeler, who sat out Week 16, resided on 29% of teams. Kelce and Ekeler stand good chances at returning for Week 17, though Mattison’s role will ultimately be decided by the availability of Dalvin Cook (15%).
The highest-scoring player of Weeks 15-16 was a tight end, and if you had Mark Andrews on your fantasy team, you certainly enjoyed an advantage. His 62.1 PPR fantasy points during that two-week span were 19.3 more than any other tight end scored, and his 116.1 points in the past five weeks combined (Weeks 12-16) were 20.7 more than No. 2 George Kittle and 46.9 more than No. 3 Dalton Schultz had during that time span. Remarkably, Andrews accomplished all that despite his usual quarterback, Lamar Jackson, missing Weeks 15 and 16 as well as a majority of Week 14 due to injury, as well as the Baltimore Ravens’ backup quarterback, Tyler Huntley, missing Week 16 while on the COVID injured list. Despite Josh Johnson serving as his quarterback this past Sunday, Andrews paced his position with 26.5 PPR fantasy points.
Turn our attention to the top players at each individual position, here are the five most common players at all six standard positions on the rosters of ESPN playoff teams:
Quarterback remains the other position where a streamer’s strategy is warranted. A pair of the five most common quarterbacks on ESPN playoff teams went bust during the fantasy playoffs, the aforementioned Stafford (48% of playoff teams) and Tom Brady (48%), with the former totaling 22.14 fantasy points and the latter 19.14 in the past two weeks. Stafford is still a top-five name on the above positional list, but with a 22% percentage, he hasn’t had a huge bearing on a team’s finalist status. Interestingly enough, I’ve got a team that started Stafford in the playoffs in Week 16 and won, and I lost to a team that started Stafford in the playoffs this past week.
Wide receiver seems to have been the position at which to be rich in talent this season, at least as far as the finalists’ data is concerned. Four of the nine players most commonly found in league championships were wide receivers, as were 15 of the top 41 players on the list overall. Being present perhaps had something to do with it, as of those 15 wide receivers, the group missed a combined two games the past two weeks (Jaylen Waddle and Antonio Brown in Week 15).
Finally, the defenses weren’t the only commodities that came out of nowhere to help ESPN fantasy playoff teams reach their championship matchups. Ronald Jones II, who was on only 6% of ESPN playoff teams, is on 25% of finalists’ rosters, having taken over for the injured Leonard Fournette and scored 16.1 PPR fantasy points to rank 12th at his position in Week 16. Amon-Ra St. Brown, one of the best wide receivers during the past month, was on only 1% of ESPN playoff teams, but he’s on 24% of finalists’ rosters. The 95.9 PPR fantasy points he has scored the past five weeks combined, fifth-most among wide receivers, certainly has a lot to do with that.
Will St. Brown, Andrews or the Cowboys’ defense be the difference-makers in the fantasy championships? We’re about to find out, as our two-week races to determine each league’s winner are now underway. Best of luck if you’ve made it this far!
We’ll be back again in two weeks, when Week 18 concludes, with the list of players on the most championship rosters.