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The 2019 Fantasy Football Superlatives

Lamar Jackson is expanding what we thought was possible from a fantasy quarterback, Christian McCaffrey is destroying worlds again, and Ryan Tannehill has finally escaped Adam Gase

Scott Laven/Getty Images

To those still in their fantasy playoffs, congratulations. This post is not for you. The fantasy football regular season is over, but the emotions stirred up by falling short of a title have yet to settle. To those who poured time and energy into a fantasy season only to see it end in heartbreak, it’s time to look back on the journey. And nothing brings us greater joy than the people we travel with. Here are the most memorable players of this fantasy season, doled out in superlatives.

Expanding What’s Possible: Lamar Jackson, Quarterback, Baltimore Ravens

Last year, Patrick Mahomes had 399.7 fantasy points through 16 weeks, the most for any quarterback in history. Lamar Jackson is on pace to break that record. Like Mahomes in 2018, Jackson leads the NFL in passing touchdowns (Jackson has 28). Unlike Mahomes, Jackson has more rushing touchdowns (seven) than Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, and Le’Veon Bell combined (six). Jackson has 1,017 rushing yards this season, just the second time a quarterback has crossed the 1,000-yard mark. Perhaps more impressive is that Jackson ranks no. 9 in rushing yards among all players. In 2006, Vick ranked 21st in rushing. The only running backs with more rushing yards have 210-plus carries on the season. Lamar has 151. Purely as a runner, Jackson has 143.7 points. That is more than Barkley has when combining his rushing and receiving stats in half-PPR leagues, and Saquon was the consensus no. 1 pick in the preseason. We are used to quarterbacks who lead the league in passing touchdowns outscoring even the best fantasy running backs, but Jackson is a top-10 fantasy rusher, too. He’s breaking fantasy football apart at the seams.

Heartstopper: Aaron Jones, Running Back, Green Bay Packers

ESPN’s fantasy site has this neat feature where it charts a player’s fantasy points each week. Here is what Aaron Jones’s chart looks like.

This week-to-week graph is essentially the same as the stock image for a heart rate monitor.

Getty Images/fStop

No player has been more boom or bust in fantasy football this year than Jones, who has played through multiple injuries. In his four best games (weeks 5, 8, 10, and 13), Jones has 693 yards and 10 touchdowns. In his other eight games, Jones has 511 yards and five touchdowns. Jones has certainly tugged at his fantasy managers’ heartstrings this year.

Most Likely to Channel the Supernatural: Patriots D/ST

New England had Sam Darnold seeing ghosts on Monday Night Football in Week 7. They had fantasy football owners seeing ghosts, too. Here are the highest-scoring fantasy “players” from the first half of the NFL season.

  1. Deshaun Watson, Houston QB, 200
  2. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina RB, 189
  3. Russell Wilson, Seattle QB, 186
  4. Patriots D/ST, 181
  5. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore QB, 180.6

Of all the absurdities of an NFL season, nothing tops the New England Patriots defense being a top-five fantasy scorer in the first half. Last year’s no. 1 fantasy defense was Chicago, but that unit didn’t reach 181 points until Week 16. In the first seven games this season, the Patriots scored six touchdowns on defense or special teams while allowing four touchdowns to opposing offenses. Defensive fantasy scoring can vary in different leagues, but anyone who had the Patriots defense likely struck gold in September and October. With matchups against the Bengals this week and Bills in Week 16, there might be a couple of more 20-point games left from this unit.

The Guy You’re Not Supposed to Worry About: Austin Ekeler, Running Back, Chargers

Almost nobody knew who Austin Ekeler was two years ago when he was an undrafted free agent out of Western State, including his head coach, Anthony Lynn. Everyone learned his name in September. With Melvin Gordon holding out, Ekeler was behind only Christian McCaffrey among fantasy running backs for the first month. Gordon returned in Week 5, but it has barely made a dent in Ekeler’s impact. From Week 5 to Week 14, Ekeler is the no. 7 running back in PPR scoring. Across the whole season he’s ahead of Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, and Alvin Kamara as the no. 3 back. Last week, Ekeler became the third player in NFL history with 100 or more rushing yards and 100 or more receiving yards in the same game—a double-triple—on fewer than 15 touches. Not bad for a player going outside the top 50 even the week before the season.

Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen: Chris Godwin and Mike Evans

Game of Thrones had a prophecy that a messianic figure would end the Long Night. Fantasy football had one, too. Chris Godwin received the most preseason fantasy hype of any player this year, if not the past few years. Like Thrones, the obsession with Godwin was cult-like. Unlike Game of Thrones, Godwin surpassed even the loftiest expectations. Through Week 14, Godwin is behind only Michael Thomas among fantasy wide receivers. He ranks tied for fifth in catches (81), second in receiving yards (1,212), and tied for second in receiving touchdowns (nine). Godwin’s had week-winning performances, but most impressive has been his high floor. He had more games over 30 PPR points (three) than under 10 (two). In the brief history of fantasy football, Chris Godwin may be the first unanimous sleeper who unanimously surpassed expectations.

Like the Azor Ahai prophecy in Game of Thrones, two people were required to fulfill the chosen one’s destiny. Jon Snow had Daenerys Targaryen, and Chris Godwin has Mike Evans. Evans and Godwin are both in the top five among wide receivers despite playing in the same offense. In half-PPR scoring (the default on Yahoo), they are no. 2 and no. 3. Together they wouldn’t be spokes on a wheel—they would break the wheel. Unfortunately both Dany’s and Evans’s seasons ended with a sudden injury in a moment when they were trying to celebrate. Evans pulled up on a 61-yard touchdown with a hamstring injury last week and has been ruled out for the final month, while Daenerys has been ruled out indefinitely. Hopefully Godwin’s season will have a better ending than Thrones did, though giving Evans’s spot to Breshad Perriman is like giving the Iron Throne to Bran Stark.

Escaped Adam Gase Award: Ryan Tannehill, Quarterback, Tennessee Titans

The Ryan Tannehill breakout season became a running joke across his six years in Miami. It’s finally happened in Tennessee, and all it took was putting 882 miles between him and Adam Gase. The only people who have more fantasy points than Tannehill since Week 7 are Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen. In that time frame, Tannehill has 15 passing touchdowns and just four interceptions, three rushing touchdowns and 143 yards on 31 carries, and 9.9 yards per pass attempt. Tannehill’s adjusted net yards per pass attempt (pass yards per attempt with touchdowns, interceptions, and sacks factored in) is 8.3. That’s the second-highest this season, and it would be the 17th-highest of all time—wild, considering how well the leaderboard matches the eye test for the best QB seasons ever. Imagine how good Sam Darnold will be once he splits with Gase.

Ole Faithful: Michael Thomas

Entering the season, DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., and Michael Thomas were all deemed safe choices to be top-10 wide receivers this season. It turned out only Michael Thomas deserved the label. While the other top receivers have either leveled off or dropped off, Michael Thomas is having one of the best statistical seasons any receiver has had. Thomas is on pace for 1,751 receiving yards, which would be good for sixth most in in NFL history. He’s also on pace for 143 catches, which would tie Marvin Harrison’s single-season record. He is the first player to get to 100 catches in 11 games. Entering Week 15, Thomas has 121 and nobody else has more than 93. Thomas leads second-place DeAndre Hopkins by almost as many catches (28) as Odell Beckham Jr. had in the first six weeks of the season (29).

In the past two years, both ESPN and Yahoo have changed their default fantasy football scoring to give 1.0 and 0.5 points per reception, respectively. Nobody has benefited from this more than Thomas, who was drafted in the second round out of Ohio State in 2016 and has 442 catches in his first 60 games, the most for any player in NFL history.

Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds: Christian McCaffrey, Running Back, Carolina Panthers

Every fantasy website had Christian McCaffrey ranked in the top four entering the season. Few had him at no. 1. Turns out that was a mistake. McCaffrey already has 379 PPR fantasy points, four points shy of Todd Gurley when he was the no. 1 running back in 2017 and seven points shy of the mark McCaffrey set as the no. 1 back last year. With two games left (not counting Week 17) at his current pace of 29 PPR points per game, McCaffrey is on pace for the sixth-most fantasy points in a season after LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 and 2003, Marshall Faulk in 2000, and Priest Holmes in 2002 and 2003. Even in standard scoring, where McCaffrey’s position-leading reception totals can’t help him, he’s on pace for the most fantasy points since Chris Johnson in 2009. If we split the difference and use half-PPR scoring, McCaffrey’s weekly output (25.8 points) is nearly six points higher than no. 2 Dalvin Cook (20.0), whose own output is six points higher than no. 10 running back Chris Carson (14.0). Kamara and Barkley, two of the running backs drafted in the top four this year along with McCaffrey, barely average more points than the Panthers running back combined (26.7 points). In 2018, McCaffrey was on 38 percent of championship teams in leagues on ESPN.com, the highest number for a player in five years. He could repeat as the most common championship denominator in 2019 with a strong finish. Even if he doesn’t, at least it was fun.