It's go time.
The fantasy football championships are here, and if you're one of the lucky managers who have any (or -- gasp -- two or all of) this year's powerhouse players, Christian McCaffrey, Lamar Jackson or Michael Thomas, you have to be feeling pretty good about your chances. If you're facing a team that sports any or all of the three, well, know that funny things can happen sometimes in the fantasy playoffs.
McCaffrey enters Week 16 the highest-scoring player in PPR formats (416.1) by 30.2 points, and the highest-scoring running back by 123.7 points. In addition to his prowess during the season's first 13 weeks, he chipped in 62.0 PPR fantasy points in Weeks 14-15 combined, most among running backs and third-most among all players. It therefore comes as no surprise that he is the player most commonly found on finalists' rosters in ESPN leagues, appearing on either team in 48.1% of leagues.
Jackson is on pace to set a new single-season record for fantasy points by a quarterback, his 385.9 points only 31.2 shy of Patrick Mahomes' mark set only a year ago. Jackson owns a 74.0 point advantage over the next-closest quarterback on this season's leaderboard, and he scored 56.9 points in Weeks 14-15 combined, third-best among quarterbacks and sixth-best among all players. He is the quarterback you'll find on the most ESPN finalists' rosters, his 40.9% rate second to only McCaffrey's and more than 12 full percentage points greater than that of the next-closest quarterback.
Thomas, the last-minute hero of Week 15 with his 30.8 PPR fantasy points, is the top-scoring wide receiver (335.3 PPR fantasy points) with a margin of 59.2 points ahead of the next best at his position. His 61.2 PPR fantasy points in Weeks 14-15 combined led all wide receivers, and he was one of only four players to score at least 25 points in both weeks (Drew Brees, A.J. Brown and Jameis Winston). Thomas finds himself on a finalist's roster in 36.1% of ESPN leagues, greatest at his position.
That's not to say that you couldn't have advanced to your league's title game without at least one of the three. In an unusual development compared with the previous three years, 35 players or team defense/special teams find themselves on the rosters of a finalist in at least 25% of ESPN leagues, higher than we saw in 2016 (25), 2017 (33) or 2018 (29). Season-long production was more important this season than in the three before it.
With thanks to Sean Comerford, who oversees our League Manager product, here are those 35 players who reside on rosters of finalists in at least 25% of ESPN 10-team standard PPR leagues. Their preseason ADPs, with those who were undrafted designated as that, and seasonal fantasy points are included.
A pair of unsung-hero teammates immediately stands out: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and wide receiver A.J. Brown of the Tennessee Titans find themselves on a finalist's roster in 27.9% and 33.7% of ESPN leagues, the duo ranking among the five players who have seen the greatest such increase compared with their percentages of playoff qualifiers. Tannehill was on only 10.0% and Brown 9.8% of playoff teams, underscoring how important they have been on the add/drop front. Sure enough, Tannehill's 51.7 fantasy points in Weeks 14-15 combined were fourth-most among quarterbacks, and Brown's 59.0 PPR fantasy points were second-most behind only Thomas'. Tannehill's 178.4 fantasy points since taking over as the Titans' starting quarterback in Week 7 rank third-best at the position and fifth-best overall.
Three team defense/special teams placed among the 12 commodities most commonly found on ESPN finalists' rosters: the Pittsburgh Steelers (34.9%), New England Patriots (34.4%) and Baltimore Ravens (30.9%), with the former two hardly unexpected considering their lofty scoring advantages over the rest of the pack. The Patriots' 217 fantasy points is 50 more than the Steelers (167) have had this season, which is nine more than any other team D/ST has scored.
That's not to say that fantasy managers should adapt a draft-your-D/ST-aggressively strategy for 2020. The Steelers, Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, who all rank among the four highest-scoring D/STs for the season as well as the most common D/STs on ESPN finalists' rosters, weren't even among the 10 highest-drafted D/STs in the preseason, continuing to demonstrate the unpredictability at the position.
Here are the complete position breakdowns of players most commonly found on the rosters of ESPN finalists:
We'll revisit these lists once ESPN league champions are crowned, at the conclusion of Week 17, providing the players who reside on the most championship rosters in 10-team standard PPR leagues. Can Tannehill, or perhaps even Jameis Winston, be the under-the-radar quarterback responsible for leading fantasy teams to glory? Will McCaffrey, Jackson and Thomas cement their MVP status by carrying their teams from draft day right through the championship week?
Only time will tell.