Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
But at least we all had fun. Maybe? Kind of? A little bit?
Whether fantasy football makes you love or hate life, it’s time to crown award winners for the 2022 season — because why not?
Welcome to the third annual PFF fantasy football awards:
- Most valuable fantasy player
- Fantasy playoff MVP
- Best fantasy championship game performance
- Most improved fantasy player
- Best fantasy comeback
- Rookie of the year
Note that all stats referenced have a minimum eight-games-played threshold unless otherwise noted. After all, the best ability is availability.
Most Valuable Fantasy Player
Here, valuable means “best,” which means we’re looking to crown fantasy’s premier “Benny ‘The Jet’ Rodriguez” talent as opposed to the season’s cost-efficient “Smalls” option.
We’ll determine the best overall player by looking at who provided the biggest per-game advantage over the rest at their position.
One man clearly rises above the rest under these conditions:
• WR1 Cooper Kupp (22.6) averaged 0.3 PPR points per game more than WR2 Justin Jefferson (22.3). Note that Kupp’s nine appearances qualify him for these honors, though Jefferson’s 2.2 PPR point advantage over WR3 Tyreek Hill (21.1) isn’t enough to win out anyway.
Kelce averaging an additional six fantasy points per game than the next-closest player at the position is absolute madness.
While Kelce didn’t necessarily save his best for last, his ability to provide consistent upside during the better part of the season was a breath of fresh air, given the ups and downs of the position. I mean seriously: Injuries and general inefficiency made guys like Greg Dulcich, Chigoziem Okonkwo, Cade Otton and Taysom Hill sought-after fantasy options at one point or another.
Kelce set career-high marks in receptions (110) and receiving touchdowns (12), while his 1,338 yards were good for the second-highest mark of his prolific 10-year career.
Kelce entered Week 18 as one of just 11 skill-position players to average at least 19 PPR points per game, and he did so at a position that caused annoyance and heartache for virtually every fantasy manager throughout the season … except for those lucky enough to have drafted PFF’s 2022-23 MVFP.
Fantasy Playoff MVP
Using similar criteria as the fantasy MVP award, this prize will go to the player who held the largest advantage in fantasy points per game (PPR) relative to other players at their position. However, the honor will only consider Weeks 15 to 17 — a.k.a. when most fantasy playoffs occurred.
Key availability note here: Players must have played in all three crucial playoff games to qualify:
The latest magnificent regular season from Mahomes was arguably his most impressive performance yet, considering the absence of longtime No. 1 WR Tyreek Hill.
While the honor didn’t feature the stiffest competition — Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen and Joe Burrow were ineligible due to missed games — it’s not hard to be happy with Mahomes’ QB4, QB6 and QB6 finishes to end the season. Dak Prescott (QB9, QB1, QB10) was the only other quarterback to post a trio of top-12 finishes during the fantasy playoffs this season.
It’s easy to take Mahomes’ excellence for granted, but just remember that the man is averaging the most fantasy points per game among literally any NFL player in the history of the league. As Larry David might say: Pretty, pretty, pretty good.
Best Fantasy Championship Game Performance
This one is fairly straightforward: Who scored the most PPR fantasy points in Week 17 this season?
Answer: Buccaneers WR Mike Evans. And man, did he shine.
Evans hauled in 10 receptions for 207 yards and three touchdowns, putting the team on his back like a prime Greg Jennings to clinch the NFC South. The total also extended his NFL-record streak of nine consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards to start his career.
It’s true that many of Evans’ fantasy managers might have already been eliminated from the playoffs, given that he wasn’t exactly a model of consistency throughout the season. In fact, Evans’ massive Week 17 snapped an 11-game scoreless streak. And he previously hadn’t gone more than two (!) games without a score with Tom Brady under center during the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
Since 2010, only 2020 Alvin Kamara (56.2), 2021 Ja’Marr Chase (55.6) and 2017 Todd Gurley (49.6) have managed more PPR points than Evans (48.7) in the de facto fantasy championship week. Even the GOAT himself had to take a moment to ridicule any poor fantasy manager who had the nerve to bench Evans ahead of the award-winning performance.
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) January 2, 2023
Most Improved Fantasy Player
This category will be determined by looking at the biggest differences in PPR points per game in 2021 compared to 2022.
Respect to each of the position’s finalists, but there’s one man that deserves this honor far more than anyone else:
• QB: Justin Fields averaged 10.6 fantasy points per game in 2021 and 19.7 in 2022 (+9.1).
• RB: Jerick McKinnon averaged 2.8 PPR points per game in 2021 and 11.7 in 2022 (+9).
• WR: Zay Jones averaged 6.2 PPR points per game in 2021 and 12.8 in 2022 (+6.6).
• TE: Evan Engram averaged 6.8 PPR points per game in 2021 and 10.6 in 2022 (+3.8).
It’s fair to say Fields finished 2021 strong with four top-10 fantasy finishes in his final five weeks, but even then it’s hard to believe that anybody truly saw his masterful 2022 coming. The overall fantasy QB5, Fields rebounded from four consecutive weeks outside the position’s top 20 to start the season with top-12 performances in 10 of his 11 final starts.
The 2021 NFL Draft’s No. 11 overall pick dazzled as a rusher all season long, finishing with the second-most rushing yards (1,143) at the position in NFL history behind only 2019 Lamar Jackson (1,206).
And Fields did so in style.
Justin Fields running the damn ball pic.twitter.com/CIF9BInq5r
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 6, 2023
Fields carried an average draft position of QB17 (pick No. 146 overall) in the preseason and was on many a waiver wire after a shaky first month of the season. Here’s hoping Bears and fantasy faithful get to see what the 23-year-old talent is capable of achieving with, you know, even a halfway decent group of pass-catchers to throw the ball to.
Best Fantasy Comeback
This doesn’t have anything to do with the real-life Comeback Player of the Year award. Real-life storylines don’t matter to the PFF fantasy award committee (me) — the goal is simply to identify what player had the biggest second-half improvement. Basically, who was the living embodiment of the “They had us in the first half, not gonna lie” meme of the 2022-23 fantasy season?
The following players at each position averaged the largest increase in PPR fantasy points from Weeks 1 to 8 compared to Weeks 9 to 17. Note that players had to participate in at least three games during each sample — the goal isn’t to merely reward someone for finally getting healthy during the second half of the season (looking at you, Keenan Allen):
• QB: Justin Fields averaged 15.3 fantasy points per game in Weeks 1 to 8 compared to 24.8 in Weeks 9 to 17 (+9.5).
• RB: Jerick McKinnon averaged 6.1 PPR points per game in Weeks 1 to 8 compared to 16.1 in Weeks 9 to 17 (+10).
• WR: Christian Watson averaged 4.5 PPR points per game in Weeks 1 to 8 compared to 15.7 in Weeks 9 to 17 (+11.2).
• TE: Cole Kmet (averaged 4.5 PPR points per game in Weeks 1 to 8 compared to 12 in Weeks 9 to 17 (+7.5).
The Packers’ rookie receiver got off to just about the worst start possible by dropping what would have been a 75-yard house call on the team’s first offensive play of the season. Things didn’t immediately improve, as Watson totaled just 30 total yards and one touchdown in his next three games before missing multiple weeks with a hamstring issue.
Watson returned at less than 100% and accordingly played just 23 snaps in Weeks 8 to 9 combined. Then something clicked, and suddenly the 2022 NFL Draft’s 34th overall pick looked like the next big thing at the position while spending more time in the end zone than Cal Norton Jr. does in second place:
- Week 10: 4 rec-107 yards-3 TD (8 targets), PPR WR3
- Week 11: 4-48-2 (6), WR8
- Week 12: 4-110-1 (6), WR10
- Week 13: 3-48-1 (7), WR8 (included a 46-yard rushing touchdown)
The magic ran out down the stretch to the tune of WR49, WR40 and WR89 finishes (the latter was nearly so much bigger). Either way, nobody provided a larger second-half boom relative to their first-half struggles than Watson.
One final time for those skipping to the end: This award has nothing to do with real-life storylines! I can’t wait for social media-ers to yell anyway.
Rookie of the Year
Only four rookies averaged at least 12 PPR points per game this season with a minimum of eight contests played (sorry, Breece Hall). I’m also taking a stand and ruling out Travis Etienne because this isn’t the NBA, where “second-year” players get to be called rookies. Sorry, not sorry:
- Seahawks RB Kenneth Walker (13.5)
- Saints WR Chris Olave (13.1)
- Texans RB Dameon Pierce (12.8)
- Jets WR Garrett Wilson (12.4)
Walker and Olave carry identical leads over their position’s runner-ups, while second-place Pierce and Wilson arguably did a better job passing the eye test in less favorable offensive environments.
There isn’t a clear statistical winner like in our previous awards. The committee (again, just me) is thus considering the following context for each:
1. Walker deserves credit for being the most productive of the group, as well as for ripping off back-to-back 100-plus-yard performances during the final two weeks of the fantasy playoffs. Still, it’s at least somewhat notable that the rookie failed to produce as well as Rashaad Penny in terms of yards per carry (6.1 vs. 4.7), yards after contact per carry (4.2 vs. 3.1) and missed tackles forced per carry (0.23 vs. 0.22). Give Walker credit for achieving his (still solid) numbers on higher volume, but he certainly wasn’t thrust into an impossible situation in an offense with a surprisingly lethal passing attack that, at its core, still loves to run the ball.
2. Pierce’s tackle-breaking dominance can’t be understated — no skill-position player averaged more forced missed tackles per touch (0.3) than the Texans’ rookie back this season — but he did cool off after a hot start and failed to post a top-12 PPR finish in each of his final eight games of the season.
3. Olave just got done racking up the fifth-most yards per route run by a rookie over the last decade (min. 50 targets). Still, injuries and up-and-down play under center left him with just one finish better than the PPR WR36 during Weeks 10 to 17.
4. Wilson was arguably the biggest reason why the world was briefly convinced Mike White was a viable starting NFL quarterback. His ability to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in style while working with PFF’s single lowest-graded offense in team passing grade is a testament to just how great the 2022 NFL Draft’s No. 10 overall pick was in his debut season.
Pierce was probably the most deserving winner for the first quarter of the season, Olave for the first half, and Wilson for the first three months. And yet, it’s a season-long award list for a reason, so Walker gets the nod thanks to his superior overall body of work that featured some true booms during the bye-week slog that undoubtedly helped faithful managers. His status as the cheapest of the group in terms of preseason ESPN ADP is the cherry on top of his application.