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Each season, a few players find themselves on 20% or more of fantasy championship teams, ranging from first-round picks who end up leading the league in scoring to early picks who finish among the top players and late-round picks or even waiver wire additions. For example, Cooper Kupp and Amon-Ra St. Brown were both on an exceptionally high number of championship teams.
Here, I try to identify five players who will be on a high number of championship teams this December — the players who can win you your league.
RB Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos (Bestball10s ADP: 2.04)
Williams burst onto the scene as a rookie, putting together some of the best numbers on a per-play basis among running backs. He split carries with Melvin Gordon III, but despite the duel backfield, he finished as RB17 on the season. Williams gained 102 yards from 23 carries and caught six passes for 76 yards and a touchdown in the one game Gordon missed.
Gordon is back in Denver, but there is plenty of reason to believe Williams can put up better fantasy numbers in his sophomore season.
Gordon ran the ball more than Williams last season (53-47% split) when both were healthy, which should flip in Williams's favor this season. Williams has been the No. 1 RB more often than not in training camp, and DenverFan.com's Cecil Lammey expects more of a 70-30 split. This makes sense given where both players are at in their age curve. Williams, 22 years old, should see the biggest one-year boost in his career while Gordon, 29, is expected to decline.
His biggest area where he can improve is as a receiver. The Broncos running backs ranked 25th in targets last season (87), but Denver’s new head coach Nathaniel Hackett spent the last three seasons as the Green Bay Packers‘ offensive coordinator, when Green Bay ranked eighth in running back targets (334). The three years before that, Hackett’s Jacksonville Jaguars ranked 11th, and in 2013-2014, Hackett’s Buffalo Bills ranked fourth.
While both Williams and Gordon can contribute to the run game, only Williams can be trusted as a receiver. Gordon’s 39.5 PFF receiving grade is the second lowest among 41 qualifying running backs in the last three seasons. Williams was average last season.
If the former Tar Heel can jump to top 10 in targets among running back while receiving a majority of Denver's carries, he will be a top-10 fantasy back. If he gets closer to the 70-30 split, he has a chance to be the top running back in all of fantasy football.
WR D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers (ADP: 3.08)
The Panthers' wide receiver has been extremely consistent in fantasy football over the last three seasons, gaining between 1157-1175 receiving yards and exactly four receiving touchdowns each of the last three seasons. This has been incredible considering that the Panthers passers have a combined 51.6 PFF passing grade over that time — the lowest for any team. His 129 uncatchable targets over that span are the most among wide receivers.
Despite the quarterback play, his 84.3 PFF receiving ranks 18th among wide receivers. As much as we try to separate quarterback play and wide receiver play with PFF's grades, a wide receiver still isn’t able to do anything if the passes thrown their way aren’t catchable.
Life should be a lot easier for Moore with Baker Mayfield as his quarterback. The change should help Moore in all aspects but particularly on deep passes, as Moore gained 681 receiving yards on deep passes over 2019 and 2020 but only 213 last year with Sam Darnold at quarterback. Moore is going from the least accurate deep passer to one of the most accurate, which should mean several more big plays.
The one area where Moore can improve is as an end zone threat. He’s been the clear target among Panthers receivers in the end zone, posting 19 end-zone targets over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, he’s only been able to catch four of those passes, as 10 of those passes were deemed uncatchable. Carolina has only thrown 47 passes in the end zone in that time, ranking second worst. Better passes will help, but an increased volume will help even more. Mayfield at quarterback in addition to a healthy Christian McCaffrey and an improved offensive line should all lead to more trips into the end zone.
Moore is at the age where wide receivers should be peaking, and he should finally have a quarterback who can finally unleash his potential.
WR Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints (ADP: 6.03)