We’re just over a quarter of the way through the NFL season—or 29.4 percent, if you want to be exact—which means we are three-quarters(ish) of the season away from somebody else winning your fantasy league. Not to be Debbie Downer, but only one person wins. Everyone else must make peace with their God. That makes it all the more important to recognize the trials and tribulations of our teams as the season progresses. It’s easy to mark accomplishments and failures when the season is over, but perhaps it’s more important to do it now when we are still naive enough to be filled with wonder and hope. And so we give you the quarter(ish)-season Fantasy Football Superlatives. All scoring is in 0.5 point per reception unless otherwise noted.
The Snowpiercer Award: Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews
You know that movie Snowpiercer, where all of humanity is reduced to a giant train and the richest 1 percent live in luxury while everyone else is in the caboose, being forced to eat cockroaches? That’s the tight end position in fantasy football. Either you’re at the front of the tight end train as Travis Kelce delivers you four touchdowns in a single game, or you’re eating gelatinous compost bricks made of Hayden Hurst and Evan Engram.
Fantasy football is supposed to be a fun distraction. But instead of having fun, literally millions of people are spending their time deciding how to deal with their tight ends. Do you cut Robert Tonyan for Taysom Hill? Is Irv Smith Jr. a worthy replacement while Darren Waller is on bye? Could Mo Alie-Cox score a touchdown for the Colts? Meanwhile, the people with Kelce and Andrews sit in their ivory towers and watch the smallfolk fight amongst themselves just to add Gerald Everett.
The Catfishing Award: Kyle Pitts
Everyone who took Kyle Pitts was promised the greatest tight end prospect any generation had ever seen. Instead, they got a tight end who has fewer fantasy points this season than three different tight ends on the Seattle Seahawks. Rather than being the next Kelce, Pitts has fewer points through his first four games than Kelce had in his final two quarters on Monday night.
Pitts plays a notoriously difficult position for young players to master. But Pitts hasn’t just failed to become elite in fantasy. He’s failed to make an impact of any kind. He has just 20 half PPR points on the season, making him the 25th-highest-scoring fantasy tight end this year. Pitts, who didn’t play in Week 5 because of a hamstring injury, has fewer points in the first five weeks of the year than Taysom Hill does in his last five quarters.
Even with fake football teams, this kind of failure breeds a blame game. The easy answer is Atlanta head coach Arthur Smith, who is (rightfully) more concerned with winning real games than catering to fantasy managers. The Falcons are throwing less than any team except Chicago. Even when QB Marcus Mariota is permitted to pass, Pitts is not being targeted like a generational talent selected with the fourth pick in the NFL draft. But it’s easy to blame Pitts, Smith, or Mariota. But perhaps we should look inward and blame ourselves. In retrospect, wasn’t this whole Kyle Pitts thing a little too good to be true?
The Silent Heartbreak Award: Jonathan Taylor
If you have Kyle Pitts, people might feel bad for you. But nobody will feel bad for you if you have Colts RB Jonathan Taylor. You probably had the first overall pick. Nobody pities that person (actually, everyone hates that person). Yet you might have it worse than whoever selected Pitts.
Taylor had a fantastic Week 1. But in the ensuing three weeks, he ranked outside the top 30 running backs and was outscored by Washington’s J.D. McKissic, Minnesota’s Alexander Mattison, New England’s Rhamondre Stevenson, and Dallas’s Tony Pollard. None of those players are even starters for their real NFL teams. Adding injury to insult, Taylor suffered an ankle injury at the end of his Week 4 matchup, costing him Week 5. Now the people with Taylor on their team are wondering if Taylor can overcome not only his ankle injury, but also an aging QB in Matt Ryan (who looks toast), a Colts offensive line that is inexplicably regressing, and an offense that is dead last in points. To think that you passed on Christian McCaffrey with the first pick because Taylor was the “safe” choice.
The David Hasselhoff “LOSERS!” Award: The Entire Rams Offense Except Cooper Kupp
Remember the scene in Dodgeball when David Hasselhoff’s team loses and he yells at them in German?
That team in fantasy football this year is the Rams. No offense has more disappointing players based on where they were selected and how they’ve performed than L.A. The real Rams rank 29th in offensive expected points added, per TruMedia, only ahead of the Steelers, Colts and Panthers (notably, the Panthers just fired their head coach). The Rams have scored fewer points than the Panthers and even the Bears. They have fewer yards than the Falcons. They are tied for dead last in yards per play with the Steelers. And the Rams are dead last in rushing first downs. An offense among the doldrums of the NFL has been the most disappointing in fantasy thus far.
Looking at adjusted net yards per attempt—a fancy way of saying how much each dropback has been worth—Matt Stafford ranks 30th out of 32 quarterbacks, sandwiched between Baker Mayfield and Mitchell Trubisky. In fantasy football, Stafford ranks 23rd among fantasy QBs this season. Going beyond the QBs, Stafford has been outscored by the Bills defense, the 49ers defense, and Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson. On the season, he is three points ahead of Taysom Hill.
But Stafford isn’t even the biggest disappointment on the team. Receiver Allen Robinson II has just 12 catches for 107 yards through five games. His teammate, Cooper Kupp, has four different games better than that this season. Robinson, who the Rams signed to a contract for $30 million guaranteed this offseason, ranks 127th in receiving yards. But the Rams can’t run the ball, either. Among 48 qualified running backs, L.A.’s Cam Akers ranks dead last in yards per carry, while Darrell Henderson Jr. ranks dead last in missed tackles forced, per Pro Football Focus.
The Bugatti in the Trailer Park Award: Cooper Kupp
Last year, Cooper Kupp won the receiving triple crown, leading the NFL in catches, yards, and touchdowns. This year, Kupp is on pace to break the NFL record for catches and is the no. 1 wide receiver in fantasy. He’s the only one who has not brought shame on the Rams’ house.
The Beauty Before Age Award: Every QB Over 30 Except Geno Smith
The top quarterbacks being drafted this season were the young guns—Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson—all of whom are in their 20s. Behind them was a parade of QBs in their 30s (and 40s!) who did not add much via rushing stats, but were allegedly more reliable as passers, with upside to boot. Let’s check in on how these passers have fared so far by comparing where they were drafted at their position versus where they rank at the position so far:
- Josh Allen (Drafted 1st among QBs, currently ranked 1st)
- Patrick Mahomes (2nd, 4th)
- Justin Herbert (3rd, 10th)
- Lamar Jackson (4th, 2nd)
- Kyler Murray (5th, 5th)
- Jalen Hurts (6th, 3rd)
- Joe Burrow (7th, 6th)
The youngins have mostly held up their end of the bargain. Now let’s check in with the olds:
- Tom Brady (8th, 13th)
- Aaron Rodgers (9th, 19th)
- Russell Wilson (10th, 17th)
- Matthew Stafford (12th, 23rd)
The old QBs have not held up their end of the bargain. Until this past week, Brady ranked 18th at the position, one spot behind his former third-stringer Jacoby Brissett. Rodgers has had between 16.4 and 17.1 fantasy points for four straight weeks. Wilson has been maddening. Stafford has looked decrepit.
For years, the prudent fantasy strategy has long been to wait on the quarterback position. But as mobility reigns supreme, especially with Allen, Jackson, and Hurts so far ahead at the position, it’s hard not to wonder if elite QBs are worth the price. And with an emphasis on mobility, so too comes an emphasis on youth. Seattle’s Geno Smith, who turned 32 earlier this week, is an old-guy outlier: He was ranked 35th among QBs in the preseason, but is currently 7th.
The Mario Kart Rainbow Strip Award: The Detroit Lions
You know that rainbow strip in Mario Kart that gives you a turbo boost? That is the Detroit Lions for your fantasy team this year. If the Rams are the worst fantasy team of the year, the Lions are, surprisingly, the best. Through the first four weeks, Lions games featured a combined 281 points—the most in NFL history through four weeks. With the perfect combination of excellent offense and terrible defense—ranking first in points and 32nd in points allowed through the first month—the Lions were a fantasy bonanza. Through the first three weeks of the season, before D’Andre Swift’s injury, both Swift and Jamaal Williams were top-eight running backs in fantasy, plus Amon-Ra St. Brown ranked in the top four at wide receiver. St. Brown has only played 21 snaps over the past two weeks due to an ankle injury. And when both Swift and St. Brown were out, tight end T.J. Hockenson responded with a 36-point outing against the Seahawks in Week 4 that was one of the 10 biggest fantasy tight end performances in the past 20 years. While the Patriots ruined the Lions’ fun in Week 5, that may go down as a one-week blip. Considering where these players were drafted, there’s no question they were the fantasy bargains of the year to date. It’s reasonable that a fantasy team of just Detroit Lions—Jared Goff, Swift, Williams, St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, T.J. Hockenson, and D.J. Chark—could have started the fantasy season 4-0. (The real Lions, meanwhile, are 1-4.)
The Quantitative Easing Award: The New York Jets
In the first three weeks of the season, the Jets were the second-most-pleasant fantasy surprise after the Lions. That’s mostly because Joe Flacco was a checkdown God at quarterback, and modern point per reception fantasy football scoring is a godless enterprise. (If a player gains zero yards on a play but gets a point for catching the ball, that is essentially a participation trophy.) But regardless of your feelings on scoring systems, this PPR world is the one we live in—and the one Flacco’s Jets were dominating. Consider what Flacco did while leading the entire NFL in pass attempts through the first three weeks:
- Jets rookie WR Garrett Wilson had more targets than Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson, Miami’s Tyreek Hill and Philly’s A.J. Brown.
- Jets tight end Tyler Conklin had the same number of targets as Travis Kelce.
- Jets running back Breece Hall and receiver Elijah Moore both had as many targets as Deebo Samuel.
- Jets running back Michael Carter had the same number of targets as Denver receiver Jerry Jeudy.
These numbers are staggering on their own, but more incredible considering all of these players are on the same offense. But when QB Zach Wilson returned from injury and sent Flacco to the bench, the proverbial fantasy music stopped. Rather than producing constant checkdowns like Flacco, Wilson scrambles, takes sacks, and makes aggressive throws—and the number of pass attempts per game has been nearly cut in half since he took over. Now all of those Jets receivers aren’t worth anywhere near what they were just a few weeks ago.
To make another analogy, Flacco was pumping targets into the Jets offense like Joe Biden pumping a trillion dollars into the economy. Zach Wilson was the Fed raising rates. And the Jets receiver value all crashed harder than the NASDAQ, while Conklin is basically Dogecoin. With Wilson back at quarterback, Hall may be a star running back, but we may look back and wonder how we didn’t see relying on five different Jets fantasy players as a bubble.