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Fantasy Playbook: The NFL’s Efficiency All-Stars

These five guys make the most of their touches—and that could help your fantasy team

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

At this point in the NFL season, the combination of mounting injuries, ever-evolving player usage, and weekly team byes forces a lot of fantasy football managers to dig deep on the waiver wire to fill roster spots—especially for managers who need to put together a playoff push. In the majority of 10- and 12-team leagues, there isn’t going to be a ton of high-volume fantasy-relevant players just sitting around—but there could still be a few high-efficiency players worth targeting down the stretch. These players may not post gaudy numbers quite yet, but they’re maximizing their limited opportunities, making the most of their touches, and/or serving as big-play threats for their respective teams.

Here’s a handful of Efficiency All-Stars to keep an eye on—they’re startable options in the short term, and as the season enters the stretch run, each could see their roles expand.

WR Paul Richardson, Seahawks

Richardson has caught 26 passes for 458 yards and five scores this year for Seattle, averaging about five targets, three catches, and 51 yards per game. But while those numbers paint a picture of a touchdown-dependent fringe fantasy player, they belie the fact that he has started to turn into one of Russell Wilson’s most trusted downfield targets. The fourth-year wideout seems to come down with everything Wilson throws up to him—with the most obvious example being the simultaneous-possession touchdown catch (also known as the Fail Mary 2.0) against the Giants in Week 7.

That incredible grab was no fluke—the former Colorado Buffaloes pass catcher, who spent most of his first three seasons on the sideline due to an array of injuries, seems to come down with a high-degree-of-difficulty catch or two in every game.

On throws to Richardson this year, Wilson has posted a 130.9 passer rating, the sixth-highest mark for a quarterback-receiver pair in the league, per Pro Football Focus, and Richardson came into Week 10 ranked third in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric (i.e., value per play). He’s sixth in the NFL with 17.6 yards per reception and eighth in catches of 20-plus yards (six), and his catch rate (60 percent) on throws of 20-plus yards is tied for third best. Even if the volume never comes, he will always have plenty of touchdown upside. Plus, if and when Wilson’s annual second-half passing explosion comes, Richardson would be first in line for an increase in targets.

WR Ted Ginn, Saints

Here’s a stat you probably aren’t expecting: Ginn, the notoriously drop-cursed receiver, has quietly posted a 78.4 percent catch rate in New Orleans, third best in the NFL.

The former Panther has provided Drew Brees with a reliable big-play option while Willie Snead is hobbled and now that Brandin Cooks is in New England. Ginn has caught 29 passes for 483 yards and three touchdowns this year, and is averaging 16.7 yards per catch—good for eighth in the NFL and just 0.1 yards off his career high. The former Panther came into Week 10 ranked first in DVOA per Football Outsiders (value per play), and Brees has a 146.5 passer rating on throws to Ginn (second in the NFL).

Ginn has been used on end-arounds and quick screens and an occasional crossing route, but his forte remains getting deep behind opposing secondaries. Even at 32 years old, Ginn can make defenders pay if they hesitate: The Saints deep threat is second among receivers in the NFL in average yards of separation at the time the ball arrives (3.6 yards, just behind the explosive Tyreek Hill). In other words, he’s still blowing past everyone to reel in deep bombs, and even though New Orleans has leaned hard on its run game this year, Ginn has earned Brees’s trust, and could see his role continue to expand as the year goes on.

RB Orleans Darkwa, Giants

The Giants run game has been bad all year, and before the Dolphins-Panthers tilt on Monday Night Football, the team ranked 30th in carries (198), 25th in yards (89.8 per game), and tied for second to last in rushing touchdowns (two). But Darkwa has been a bright spot in that group when given the chance to produce, picking up 415 yards on 81 totes for a 5.1-yard-per-carry average and one score. The 5-foot-11, 219-pound fourth-year pro out of Tulane is about as no-nonsense as you get stylewise, with an NFL-low 3.03-yard rushing efficiency, a metric from NFL Next Gen Stats that reflects the total distance a running back travels per rushing yard gained. This means, in other words, that Darkwa is the most north-south, downhill runner in the league.

When given a head of steam, Darkwa has shown the ability to break through futile arm-tackle attempts and keep the pile moving downfield. He’s averaging 3.38 yards after contact per rush so far, according to Pro Football Focus, fifth best (with Saints star Alvin Kamara) among all running backs with 25 percent of their team’s snaps, and has already broken off nine runs of 15-plus yards (fourth most in the league). Things look grim overall for a Giants team that appears to have quit on head coach Ben McAdoo, but if McAdoo is smart, he’ll give his big-play back more chances to carry the rock down the stretch in an attempt to salvage a lost season.

RB Alex Collins, Ravens

The Ravens have split carries this year between Terrance West, Buck Allen, and the newcomer Collins, but the second-year pro out of Arkansas has looked like the best option on first and second downs for the team’s anemic offense. Collins has averaged 5.6 yards per carry in eight games this year, rushing for 521 yards while adding three catches for 33 yards. He’s already forced 18 broken tackles per Pro Football Focus (tied for 13th) on those limited opportunities, giving him an elusive rating of 60.9, 10th best leaguewide. Collins is, of course, famous for his roots as an Irish dancer, and the foot quickness he learned in that pursuit has paid off on the gridiron.

On just 93 carries, Collins ranks second in the NFL in rushes of 15-plus yards (10), and came into Week 10 first in Football Outsiders DVOA at the position. With the way that Joe Flacco has played this year (badly), it’d behoove the Ravens to lean even harder on the run game. Collins has proved that he can provide the boost this team badly needs.

TE Vernon Davis, Redskins

Injuries have limited starter Jordan Reed to just six games this year, and Davis has once again stepped into a featured role for the Redskins, giving quarterback Kirk Cousins a playmaker down the seam. He has dropped three passes, an issue he’s struggled with at times in his career, but with 30 catches for 460 yards and a touchdown, Davis is tops among all tight ends in yards per pass route run (2.45), per Pro Football Focus, and he came into Week 10 third among tight ends in DVOA. Even at 33 years old, Davis is tied for second at the position in yards per catch (15.3), and he’s third in yards after the catch per reception (8.3).

Davis has had a pair of explosive, albeit meandering, catch-and-run plays this year, first against the Chiefs …

And then again against the 49ers:

Reed is still battling a hamstring injury that has kept him off the field, and in the meantime, Davis will be the fantasy beneficiary. And his incredible efficiency downfield this year means he’s got a shot at holding on to a bigger role in the offense over the final seven weeks even if Reed does return.