Week 18: Top Performers of the NFL Fantasy Season & Playoffs
The NFL fantasy season has officially ended and the NFL Playoffs are about to kick off. Hopefully it was a successful season for everyone and people weren’t stuck in last place in their leagues as many people may have to do the “Hot Ones” challenge, spend 24 hours in a Denny’s, or some other crazy punishment for coming in last in the entire league. Those who came in first place are happy to recoup some kind of prize money and pride that they can hold onto until the next NFL season begins.
Let’s take a look back in this article at top performers of the NFL Fantasy Season and those players who enabled people to win their leagues. These were the stars of fantasy football. We will also look at some players who were breakout fantasy stars as rookies or reserves who came out of nowhere to fantasy-relevance.
Top Performers Running Backs of the NFL Fantasy Season
To start this off let’s look at the running back position that featured a ton of injuries, breakout stars, and some of the best season-long performances by running backs that we have seen in recent years. Fantasy running backs in saw newfound stardom as teams were more conservative with their passing game and instead focused more on the running game for this season. Every team essentially built their defense around stopping the pass attack that many offenses had built, so this season opposing offenses were able to attack them on the ground.
Starting with a running back who was drafted first overall in many leagues, we have Derrick Henry from the Tennessee Titans. Henry was one of the early season stars, as expected in fantasy. After a monster season, Henry got right back on track to begin the year.
In weeks two through six Henry had five straight games with 113+ rushing yards. This put him in the early lead for most rushing yards for the season. In those first six weeks, Henry also had three monster fantasy games that held for the entire season as some of the top running back performances of the year.
In week two he had 182 rushing yards and three touchdowns, and then in week five he had 130 rushing yards and three touchdowns that he followed up in week six with a performance of 143 rushing yards and three more touchdowns.
All were massive fantasy games that could have almost single handedly won fantasy matchups. That is until he went down with a regular-season-ending injury in week eight. He had a good run in the first half of the year as the best fantasy running back, but he might even be considered a bust because he only played eight of 16 possible fantasy weeks.
Jonathan Taylor – the best running back in NFL
However the true star of the fantasy season at running back, and any position really, was Jonathan Taylor. Taylor had a relatively slow start to the season, but he started having big games seemingly when Henry got injured, weirdly enough. His first big game of the year came in week four when he had 103 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Then, the next week, Taylor didn’t have a great rushing game but managed 116 receiving yards with two total touchdowns in the game. After Henry went down with the injury is when Taylor really began to take off though.
Starting on November fourth, Taylor had 108 or more rushing yards in seven of his next eight games. This stretch included the best running back performance of the season when he had four rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown with 204 total yards.
Taylor easily was the best running back to finish the fantasy season, and he led the next highest-scoring running back, Austin Ekeler, by more than 30 fantasy points.
A breakout running back this season was rookie Najee Harris. Harris was a first or second-round pick in many drafts, but he far surpassed many owners’ expectations.
Harris ended the season third in running back fantasy points in his first year in the league behind the aforementioned Henry and Taylor. He was involved in every aspect of the Steelers’ offense as he finished with the third most rushing yards and third most receiving yards out of all the running backs in the league.
He enjoyed a couple of massive fantasy performances when he had 14 catches for 102 yards in just week three and then had 188 rushing yards in the fantasy championship week 17 to help owners bring home the title. Harris is definitely a player who broke out as a fantasy star this year.
Top Performers Wide Receivers of the NFL Fantasy Season
Looking at the wide receiver group this year, there is nowhere else to start but with the Rams’ wide receiver, Cooper Kupp. Kupp was far and away the best fantasy wide receiver this year and it wasn’t even close.
He led the league in almost every major wide receiver statistical category including touchdown catches, total catches, receiving yards, and undoubtedly, fantasy points scored by a wide receiver. Most of these categories that he led in weren’t even close to being reached by the next closest player.
Kupp had 145 catches, 22 more than the second placed receiver, and 1,947 receiving yards, which was over 300 more than the next player. His receiving total was just 18 yards short of passing the all-time record set by Calvin Johnson in 2012.
He enjoyed multiple big games this year, but a two game stretch where he had 19 catches, 286 yards, and four touchdowns could have carried teams two weeks in a row from his performances alone.
Another top wide receiver in fantasy this year was Deebo Samuel from the San Francisco 49ers. He was also one of the most interesting players to follow this year in addition to just being a great fantasy player.
Samuel wasn’t one of the top wide receivers drafted, so you could also argue he was a breakout wide receiver after having a career high of just 802 yards receiving before this season. He nearly doubled that total with 1,402 yards.
Besides doubling his career high in yards, he also doubled his receiving touchdown output from three to six. The most interesting part about Samuel; however, is that he was one of the best wide receivers early in the year as far as receiving yards with four 100+ yard games in his first seven games including games with 189, 156, and 171 receiving yards.
Then, in the second half of the season, he turned into almost a full-time running back for the 49ers that hurt his receiving numbers but increased his touchdown and rushing totals. Deebo’s fantasy value came almost equally as much from rushing as it did from his receiving.
Samuel had eight rushing touchdowns compared to just six receiving and also added 365 yards rushing. All of that combined made him the No. 3 fantasy-scoring wide receiver.
The breakout performer at wide receiver came from another rookie, Ja’Marr Chase, who had a standout season with the Cincinnati Bengals. Out of all the top rookie receivers it helped that Chase had arguably the best quarterback among them in Joe Burrow. He was probably the highest drafted rookie wide receiver in most leagues, but he also could have been drafted later than a lot of wide receivers who did not perform to nearly his level.
Chase started off the year with an incredible rookie debut where he had 101 yards and a touchdown that he followed up with three total touchdowns in his next two games. This rookie wide receiver had multiple huge fantasy games and two 200+ yard games his rookie year. The biggest game from him, and pretty much any fantasy wide receiver this year, came in week 17 when the Bengals beat the Kansas City Chiefs.
Chase scored three touchdowns and had a ridiculous 266 yards receiving in that contest. That broke two significant records: the Bengal’s single-game receiving yard record that was previously set by Chad Johnson at 260 and more importantly, it was the most receiving yards in a game by a rookie wide receiver in NFL history.
Top Performers Quarterbacks of the NFL Fantasy Season
Quarterback is a position that can be waited on in drafts for multiple different reasons. The biggest reason why is that the point discrepancy is never that great from the top quarterback to the last starting quarterback in eight-team leagues.
Taking out the top scoring quarterback, the point differential of the eighth highest scoring quarterback versus the second highest is only 60 points, or 3.5 points per week.
Two of the three highest-drafted quarterbacks this year were essentially busts in Patrick Mahomes, who was taken as the first quarterback overall in a lot of leagues but finished as the fourth highest scoring at the position.
The other was Lamar Jackson, who only played 12 games but had eight games of under 20 fantasy points in those games he did play.
Josh Allen – Best Fantasy Quarterback
The best fantasy quarterback this year was undoubtedly Josh Allen. Allen has the ability to get fantasy points with his legs, which is what set him apart from the other top quarterbacks like Justin Herbert, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes. He finished with 22 more fantasy points on the season than the second highest scorer in Herbert and had 41 more points than Patrick Mahomes.
Allen was taken in most leagues as a top-three quarterback and in some cases he was the first quarterback taken. It paid off in his case. Allen did start the season off slowly with two games under 20 fantasy points, but then he started to take off.
In weeks three and five he had games with 37 and 36 fantasy points, respectively. Allen never had any massive passing games as he only had one four-touchdown game and never threw for more than 366 yards.
It didn’t matter for fantasy owners though because Allen had 763 rushing yards which was just 20 behind the quarterback rushing leader, and he also had six touchdowns rushing. That, combined with his passing stats, is what put him at the top of the quarterback rankings for fantasy this season.
One of the other top fantasy quarterbacks this season was the 44-year-old Tom Brady for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brady led the NFL in both of the major quarterback stats with 43 passing touchdowns and 5,316 yards passing. Those numbers were far and away higher than the second top performers in those categories.
Brady had 300 more passing yards than the next highest player and two more passing touchdowns than the second-ranked quarterback. All of that was good enough to make Tom Brady the third-highest-scoring quarterback.
In most leagues, Brady was taken as a top-six quarterback, but he proved to be worth more than that for the year. This season was impressively Brady’s highest yardage output and his second-highest passing touchdown total behind just that record-setting season where he had 50 passing touchdowns.
Breakout Performances At Quarterback
There were multiple breakout performances at quarterback this year. Both of the top ones worth mentioning are two second-year quarterbacks in Joe Burrow from the Cincinnati Bengals and Jalen Hurts from the Philadelphia Eagles.
Burrow had somewhat of a subpar rookie season last year with just 13 passing touchdowns and five interceptions, albeit in just 10 games. This year he was on a mission to get the Bengals to the playoffs, which he did, and also up his passing numbers. With some of the best offensive weapons in the league, Burrow was able to get 34 passing touchdowns with 4,611 yards which was good enough for the eighth most fantasy points by a quarterback.
The other breakout player at quarterback was Jalen Hurts, who only started a few games his rookie year last season. The rushing ability of Hurts is what made him so great this year. To start the year he was on an absolute tear fantasy-wise. The Eagles weren’t winning but Hurts had seven straight games of 20 or more fantasy points to begin the season.
In just 16 games played out of a possible 18, Hurts led the league in rushing yards and touchdowns for a quarterback. He managed to be the ninth highest in total points for a quarterback and sixth highest in fantasy points per game.
Top Performers Tight Ends of the NFL Fantasy Season
Tight end, as always, proves to be a crapshoot most years. There are always a handful of consistent tight ends throughout the year but it is hard to predict who they will be in most cases.
This season there were arguably only three consistent tight ends who could be counted on pretty much every week for fantasy owners, Those were: Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, and Dalton Schultz.
Schultz was the surprise here as he was drafted outside of a top 10 tight end in a lot of drafts, but he finished as the tight end with the third most points overall. He was also very consistent for fantasy owners. All other tight ends besides these three either had too many bad games or missed too many games.
One of those consistent tight ends was also one of the best of the year, and that was Travis Kelce for the Kansas City Chiefs. He has consistently been one of the best tight ends in fantasy football for the past few seasons.
Kelce had one massive fantasy game this year with 41 fantasy points in a game where he had two touchdowns, 191 yards and 10 catches, but the best thing about Kelce is that he was consistently good. He only had four games under 13 fantasy points all season.
On the year, he was first in tight end touchdowns, but he was second in two other major statistical categories: catches and yards. That is what brings us to the breakout tight end of the year, Mark Andrews.
Andrews was first in tight end catches and yards and came out of the year as the No. 1 scoring tight end even though he had to deal with three different quarterbacks throughout the season. He was good with Lamar Jackson, but he was arguably even better with the backup quarterback Tyler Huntley.
In his first three games with Huntley he had 28.5, 36.6, and 26.5 points in three straight weeks. Besides that, he had one other massive game in week five with 41.7 fantasy points. Like Kelce, Andrews was also pretty consistent with only four games under 10 fantasy points.
He ended the year with way more points than the next highest tight end in Kelce, though. Andrews accounted for 301 fantasy points while Kelce only had 262.
Conclusion – Top Performers NFL Fantasy Season
Last season was an epic fantasy season as the NFL expanded to 17 games. Quarterbacks continued to be dynamic with near-record performances from the league’s top passers. Running backs had massive games. A wide receiver in Cooper Kupp had one of the best seasons by a wide receiver ever. And tight ends were as unreliable as ever. Next season will feature a lot of these same players, likely as the top fantasy options, but there will surely be some other players to breakout similar to every year.