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The Midseason Fantasy Superlatives

Christian McCaffrey is the early-season MVP, but no player has provided more bang for your buck than the Patriots D/ST. Plus: picking the biggest breakthrough, the best rookie, the most unbelievable comeback, and more.

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The home stretch for your fantasy football squad is just over the horizon. This is the perfect time to look back on the first eight weeks and take stock of the best, worst, and most unbelievable fantasy happenings. Here are a few midseason fantasy football superlatives.

Most Valuable Player: RB Christian McCaffrey, Panthers

There was plenty of preseason debate over how to rank the big-four running backs, and whether you got him with the first, second, third, or fourth pick (and if you got him later, what the hell kind of league are you in?), McCaffrey has run circles around Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, and Ezekiel Elliott so far. McCaffrey’s near weekly explosion of points has propelled more fantasy teams to the top of their league’s standings than any other individual player.

Despite playing in just seven games, McCaffrey is fantasy football’s overall top scorer in PPR (208.8 points) through eight weeks, averaging a cool 29.8 points per game. For reference, last year’s overall top points scorer, Patrick Mahomes, averaged 26.1 points per game, and the NFL’s top-scoring running back on a per-week basis in 2018 was Todd Gurley, who averaged a 26.6-point clip. With 735 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground and another 343 yards and two scores through the air, Run CMC’s only off day was a 7.1-point outing in Week 2. He’s finished as the overall RB1, RB4, RB2, RB2, RB8, and RB6, respectively, in every other week this season, while notching three separate top-three weekly finishes among all players three times. The dude is absolutely balling out, and there’s no sign that he’ll slow down anytime soon.

Best Return on Investment: New England Patriots D/ST

If there’s any fantasy asset that’s given McCaffrey a run for his money in the MVP category this year, it is―completely absurdly―the Patriots’ defense/special teams unit. Coming into the season, New England’s D/ST group was a late-round pick in your draft, if they were even picked at all, carrying a consensus D/ST12 draft rank while notching an ADP of 171st overall.

Yet through eight weeks, the New England D/ST ranks sixth in total fantasy points … among all players. With 181 points on the year (22.6 per game), the Patriots defense is lapping the field at the position: The 49ers are a distant second with 102.0 points (14.6 per game) and the Steelers, who sit at no. 3, have tallied less than half of the Patriots’ total (75.0). Put another way, if the Patriots’ D/ST were a quarterback this year, it’d be the QB3; if it were a running back, it’d rank as the PPR RB3; if it were a receiver, it’d be the WR2; and it’d easily be the TE1, with 37.9 more points than the leading player at that position, Austin Hooper (143.1). It’s truly ridiculous; if you ended up with the Patriots as a late-rounder or waiver wire addition, you won the fantasy lottery this season.

Honorable Mention: QB Lamar Jackson, Ravens

Outside the Pats’ D/ST, Jackson has been the best draft-day investment fantasy managers could have made. The Ravens QB came off the board as the consensus 118th pick in drafts this year—the QB15—and through eight weeks, he’s the seventh-highest-scoring player (180.6 points) and the QB3 behind only Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson thanks to his 11 passing touchdowns and another 576 yards and three scores on the ground. Narrow it to a per-game average, and Jackson’s 25.8 points per game ranks best among all quarterbacks.

Worst Return on Investment: WR Odell Beckham Jr., Browns

On the other side of the coin, a few players have failed to pay dividends. Looking at on-field performance only (we’ll eliminate players who underperformed by ADP because they missed major time to injury), no one’s been quite as big of a fantasy disappointment as Beckham, who started the year with an ADP of 12th overall—a late first-round pick in 12-team leagues—and ranks just 87th in scoring through eight weeks. Beckham is the overall WR29 with 89.1 points, and has averaged just 12.7 points per game—putting him just behind Smith-Schuster and a little ahead of New England’s Phillip Dorsett, who’s notched a 12.6-point average in seven games. Many (including me) believed Beckham had a good shot to lead the league in touchdown catches. He has just one so far.

Honorable Mentions: WR Juju Smith-Schuster and RB James Conner, Steelers; RB Joe Mixon, Bengals

Smith-Schuster has been a major disappointment compared to preseason expectations, ranking 85th in PPR scoring through eight weeks after being selected with an ADP of 14th overall before the year. His teammate Conner isn’t far off, ranking 42nd in scoring after starting the year with an ADP of ninth overall. Bengals running back Joe Mixon has been a massive bust this year, too, and ranks 104th in PPR scoring after notching an ADP of 19th overall in the preseason.

Biggest Breakthrough: WR Chris Godwin, Buccaneers

Godwin’s been the subject of plenty of preseason hype since he came in to the league in 2017, but the 23-year-old pass catcher finally fulfilled expectations in the first half of 2019―and more. The Buccaneers playmaker has emerged as one of the elite receivers in the league this season, racking up 47 catches for 705 yards and six touchdowns through seven games. After being drafted as the WR20 (49th overall) this season, Godwin is the WR3 through eight weeks with an average of 22.2 PPR points per game.

Honorable Mentions: RB Aaron Jones, Packers; RB Dalvin Cook, Vikings

Jones hasn’t exactly been #freed in the Green Bay backfield―he’s still sharing reps with backup Jamaal Williams―but he’s more than made do with the touches he’s gotten, tallying 821 scrimmage yards and a league-best 11 touchdowns through eight games. After finishing last season as the overall RB24, Jones is the RB3 in 2019, averaging 22.5 points per game. As for Cook, the third-year back has been a godsend for fantasy drafters who rolled the dice on his checkered injury history. Through eight weeks, he leads the NFL with 1,116 scrimmage yards and has racked up nine total touchdowns, making him the third-highest-scoring player in fantasy football (192.6 points).

Most Unexpected Breakout: WR DJ Chark, Jaguars

Chark got very little hype before the season, initially projecting as the fourth or fifth option on the Jaguars’ crowded pass-catching corps. His preseason ADP of 315th overall (the WR104) tells you exactly how far off the radar he was.

Fast-forward eight weeks, though, and Chark is the overall WR5, averaging 17.9 PPR points per game as Jacksonville’s new no. 1 go-to guy. The former second-rounder cleaned up the drops issue that showed up as a rookie, refined his route-running ability, and developed some incredible chemistry with quarterback Gardner Minshew II. There’s nothing fluky about his breakout year, and while a lack of elite volume may cause Chark to fade slightly down the stretch, he’s got a good chance to finish the season as a WR1. Not too shabby for a complete afterthought in the preseason.

Honorable Mention: QB Gardner Minshew II, Jaguars

While few saw Chark’s breakout coming, I’m guessing even fewer people predicted the same from Minshew. The rookie sixth-rounder started the year as Nick Foles’s backup but was quickly elevated to starter when Foles suffered a broken clavicle in Week 1. The former Washington State Cougar took the job and ran with it, showing poise and accuracy behind center. And while it’s unclear whether Minshew will keep his job once Foles returns, fantasy players who picked him up when he was thrown into the starting lineup were handsomely rewarded: The rookie has been a low-end QB1 through eight weeks, with an average of 17.7 points per game.

Most Unbelievable Comeback: Cooper Kupp, Rams

I’ll admit to scoffing at reports that Kupp looked even faster than his pre-injury self as he prepared to take the field in Week 1―just 301 days after tearing his ACL. But the third-year pro has proved me, and all his doubters, very, very wrong: Kupp has emerged as a faster, more explosive player than ever, and leads the Rams with 58 catches for 792 yards and five touchdowns through eight games. After being drafted as the WR21, Kupp is the WR2 in fantasy points scored at the midway point.

Best Rookie: RB Josh Jacobs, Raiders

Jacobs has lived up to the preseason hype, quickly emerging as an all-around playmaker and high-end RB2 in Jon Gruden’s Raiders offense. Jacobs ranks 12th among all players in scrimmage yards this year (722), with 620 yards and four touchdowns on the ground to go with 102 yards through the air. He’s proved to be tough and elusive between the tackles and in the open field, and is second only to Chris Carson in missed rushing tackles created (35), per Pro Football Focus. Jacobs still has room to grow as a player, and could emerge as an even more dangerous fantasy asset if Gruden expands his passing game usage, but through eight weeks, he’s already shown he’s the most dependable first-year fantasy back.

Honorable Mention: WR Terry McLaurin, Redskins

Rookie quarterbacks Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones, and Minshew certainly deserve some recognition here, but if Jacobs has been the most impressive rookie this year, McLaurin isn’t far behind. He’s certainly been the best fantasy value among first-year players: After being drafted as the WR116 and 345th overall, the Redskins playmaker is the WR19 through eight weeks, averaging a solid 14.8 PPR points per outing.

Most Consistent: WR Michael Thomas, Saints

It’s always fun to have high-ceiling players on your fantasy squad, and those massive 40-plus-point outbursts are definitely exhilarating … when they actually happen. But there’s a feeling of security that comes with plugging dependable, high-floor players into your lineup every week, too. Thomas has taken over for Davante Adams this season as the model of fantasy consistency, registering 16-plus points in every game he’s played. He’s racked up eight-plus catches and 89-plus yards in seven out of his eight outings, with his worst fantasy performance being a five-catch, 54-yard, one-touchdown day against Seattle (16.4 fantasy points). Thomas’s unflappable consistency is all the more impressive considering he’s caught passes from backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for six of the team’s eight games this year.

Honorable Mention: RB Leonard Fournette, Jaguars

McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook both get nods here, too, but since we’ve already talked about them, let’s give my guy Lenny Fourns some much-needed recognition. Fournette’s incredible volume in Jacksonville—both in the run game and as a receiver—means you can plug him into your lineup and just about bank on double-digit points in any given week. The third-year runner has scored 11-plus PPR points in every game this year, and he hasn’t dipped under 15.2 points since Week 2. His fantasy ceiling each week hasn’t been as high as McCaffrey, Cook, Jones, or Barkley, because he’s been able to get into the end zone just once all year—but his featured role as the unquestioned bellcow in Jacksonville has made him a nice, even-keeled, and safe fantasy play this year.

Least Consistent: WR Mike Evans, Buccaneers

And then there’s Evans, whose fantasy ceiling in any given week is just about as high as any player in the league. But while he has shown he can provide the highest of fantasy highs—with scoring explosions of 45.0 and 42.8 PPR points in Weeks 3 and 8, respectively—you’re just going to have to accept the fact that he comes with some incredibly low lows, too, like the 4.8 points he posted in Week 1 and the big ol’ goose egg he notched in Week 5.

Honorable Mention: WR Will Fuller, Texans

Fuller’s stat line has, for the most part, underwhelmed this year, with totals of 8.9, 8, 10.1, 5.3, and 9.4 PPR points, respectively, in five of the six full games he’s played. Then there was Week 5, when Fuller exploded with 53.7 PPR points—the ninth-best performance by a fantasy receiver ever. Fuller has been as big of a conundrum as a fantasy asset this year as anyone: He’s been a frustratingly meager fantasy producer in most games, yet the scintillating potential a healthy Fuller brings to post 100-plus yards and multiple touchdowns in any given week makes it just about impossible to hold him out of your starting lineup.