Fantasy football had a hard collision with reality this year. Checking which players are on the COVID-19 list has become part of the weekly fantasy ritual, like adding and dropping bench guys and finding the right GIF to trash-talk friends. This strange season has created two groups of fantasy players: Those who will win their leagues and proclaim this the most meaningful season of them all, and everyone else, who will lose and insist there is an asterisk on this year. (“We want to count all legal championships,” could be a common phrase in group texts).
So for the overwhelming percentage of people who won’t win their championships this year, we give you a small consolation prize: the 2020 midseason fantasy football awards.
The ’NSync Award—Pittsburgh Steelers Receiving Corps
Everyone who sunk a top pick into JuJu Smith-Schuster this year thought they were getting Justin Timberlake. Instead, JuJu turned out to be Pittsburgh’s Lance Bass. He’ll always be famous, but he might not have the talent to be a leading man.
In a stunning twist, Chase Claypool has risen to become Pittsburgh’s Timberlake. Claypool leads the team in receiving yards and touchdowns, and is the smart bet to have the brightest future of anyone in the group. Claypool also played at Notre Dame, so like Timberlake, he once had a golden dome.
Diontae Johnson is JC Chasez. He can handle the lead vocals but has suffered too many injuries to do it consistently. Eric Ebron is Joey Fatone: Never the star, but when he scores a touchdown, it’s nice to remember he exists. James Washington is Chris Kirkpatrick. Obviously. And while Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert keeps cranking out these young receivers, we’re going to stop the comparisons there.
The Drunken Amazon Order Award: Kenyan Drake
Plenty of people have been drunk-scrolling through Amazon and thought, “I could really use a 24-pack of Slim Jims.” Then you see the 48-pack is cheaper on a per–Slim Jim basis and pull trigger. But by the time the package arrives, you are sober and completely bewildered as to why you bought it. Similarly, drafting Kenyan Drake in the second round seemed brilliant at the time, like a cheaper version of Clyde Edwards-Helaire. But then the season started, your team opened with a 1-3 record, and now Drake ranks 19th among running backs in yards from scrimmage per game. What was going through your head during the draft? Maybe too many Bud Lights.
The Wile E. Coyote Off a Cliff Award: The Dallas Cowboys
Dallas dropped off a cliff this season harder than anyone since Wile E. Coyote. Before Dak Prescott got injured in Week 5, the Cowboys were floating. Amari Cooper was the third-best receiver in fantasy, CeeDee Lamb was in the top 15, and tight end Dalton Schultz was in the top eight at his position. But without Prescott over the past four weeks, Cooper is barely in the top 25 receivers, Lamb is outside the top 45, and Schultz is 15th among tight ends. Apparently Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci, and Garrett Gilbert are not able to sustain one of the NFL’s premier passing offenses.
The hardest hit of anyone on the team has been Ezekiel Elliott, who gets the Cubic Zeke-conia award: He looks stunning from a distance, but is not worth much upon closer inspection. With the injuries to Prescott allowing defenses to key in on the run, and injuries to the offensive line turning the Cowboys’ dominant blocking unit into one of the league’s worst, Elliott has struggled more than any other top pick. He ranks 31st in fantasy points by running backs over the last month and 46th in fantasy points per game. On the season, he is averaging just 64 rushing yards per contest, which ranks 17th in the league, one spot behind Phillip Lindsay. Perhaps Gilbert will save the Cowboys season. Or perhaps Dallas will drop to rock bottom.
Most Cash Money: Davante Adams
There are players you can take to the bank, and then there are those who just print money on their own. Adams is averaging 28.1 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues, seven more than the next closest receiver. That means Adams is putting the equivalent of a touchdown between himself and the no. 2 receiver every week. He is one touchdown away from leading the NFL despite having played three fewer games than the current leader, Tyreek Hill. There is no more consistent player in the NFL or in fantasy football than Adams.
The Game Wrecker: Dalvin Cook
Cook has the most fantasy points among running backs despite having played just seven games. In his last two contests, Cook has put up 478 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns, which combines for more fantasy points in PPR leagues (88) than second-rounders like Kenyan Drake and Miles Sanders have had all season. Cook has single-handedly won many matchups for managers over the past couple of weeks.
The Sleepers Who Actually Worked Out
- James Robinson: The undrafted rookie went from fifth on Jacksonville’s running back depth chart to a top-five fantasy running back.
- Antonio Gibson: Gibson won the starting running back job in Washington and already has nearly three times as many carries in the NFL as he did at Memphis.
- Justin Jefferson: He has the sixth-most receiving yards ever through a player’s first eight games.
- Robby Anderson: Anderson came out of nowhere (the Jets) to rank tied for third in catches and fourth in receiving yards this season.
- Jonnu Smith: The tight end position has been turned upside down, starting with Jonnu Smith ranking top five in points per game among TEs.
The Sleepers Who Ghosted
- Michael Gallup: Even when the Cowboys were rolling, Gallup was covered in moss.
- Marquise Brown: We are changing his nickname from “Hollywood” to “Bakersfield.”
- Jordan Howard: Howard got nearly $5 million this season but was a healthy scratch for much of October.
- Tyler Higbee: One of the most popular sleepers this offseason has not surpassed 56 receiving yards in a game.
- Chris Herndon: Has more fumbles (two) than games with more than 25 receiving yards (one).
Biggest Return on Investment: Mid-Round Quarterbacks
Amazon, Facebook, and Google have made people historic amounts of money because it turns out investing in monopolies is profitable. Similar ROI is happening in fantasy football this season. The firewall between elite running and passing has melted. Lamar Jackson dominated fantasy last year because he led the league in passing touchdowns and also had more than 1,000 rushing yards. This season, the floodgate has opened for rushing quarterbacks.
Kyler Murray has more fantasy points through eight games than any quarterback in NFL history. He has more points than Jackson in 2019, more than Patrick Mahomes in 2018, more than Peyton Manning in 2013, or Tom Brady in 2007. Not only is Murray on pace for the best fantasy season ever from a quarterback, but Russell Wilson is on pace for the second-best season ever. Toss in Josh Allen (and Patrick Mahomes, even though he was an early pick in most leagues), and four of the best 20 starts in fantasy football history are all happening this season. We will spend all spring and summer wondering what happened and whether this type of ridiculous success is repeatable. But for now, the people who drafted these guys are rich.
Injuries That Ruined Your Season, Ranked (Non-COVID Edition)
- Saquon Barkley: He doesn’t even have a suitable handcuff to replace him.
- Christian McCaffrey: You either got Mike Davis to replace him or you didn’t.
- Michael Thomas: The safest receiver in the game missed most of the first half of the season.
- Austin Ekeler: A second-round pick who doesn’t even have a clear timeline to return.
- Nick Chubb: A second-round pick who was looking really good until he got hurt.
- Courtland Sutton: A breakout candidate who tore his ACL in Week 2.
- Dak Prescott: Was keeping many teams afloat as a top-five QB until he got hurt.
- 49ers Defense: The no. 1 defense drafted this year was destroyed by injuries two weeks into the season and is barely worth rostering.
- Kenny Golladay and Chris Godwin: Two receivers drafted in the third round who have barely played this season, and even when they have been on the field, they’ve barely produced.
Healthy Players Who Ruined Your Season, Ranked
- Ezekiel Elliott: See: Cubic Zeke-conia
- Jonathan Taylor: Lost snaps to Jordan Wilkins even before an ankle injury.
- Devin Singletary: Has had touchdowns stolen by Josh Allen and Zack Moss.
- Le’Veon Bell: Hated by his former coach and now buried in a great offense.
- David Montgomery: Mediocre running back on the league’s least inspiring offense.
- T.Y. Hilton: Averaging career lows in every meaningful category, has no touchdowns and zero rapport with Philip Rivers.
Ole Faithful: Travis Kelce
Kelce is on pace to score more points than he did in 2018, when he broke the record for receiving yards by a tight end in a single season. San Francisco tight end George Kittle rebroke that record hours later, but this year, Kelce is peerless. He has 168.9 fantasy points this season (almost a Gronk-like figure), while the next closest tight end is Darren Waller with 111.4. Kelce has more than twice as many PPR points than Evan Engram, the 10th-highest scoring tight end this season, and nearly 300 more receiving yards than any one at his position. Kelce’s absolute dominance is giving the people who drafted him the equivalent of an extra roster spot.
The Guy You Are 1000% Not Trading Away: DK Metcalf
There is real joy in having the most exciting player in football on your team. This isn’t always the best fantasy football player (though it can be): Odell Beckham Jr., Lamar Jackson, Christian McCaffrey, and Rob Gronkowski have all been this guy in the past. This year, that person is DK Metcalf. The wideout who fell to the Seahawks in the second round and fell to many fantasy managers in the sixth this year has been the no. 2 fantasy wide receiver through nine weeks—but he is no. 1 in everyone’s hearts. Metcalf is the most fun player to watch with the ball in his hands, and sometimes even when the ball is not in his hands, like that epic rundown of Cardinals safety Budda Baker last month. That tackle didn’t earn points, but when one of your players is the league’s unanimous rising star and one of the most productive in fantasy, it doesn’t matter what anyone offers you in a trade—you can’t deal away a first-row ticket to watch him.