News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: What are the chances of multiple players balling out in the same offense?

Dec 30, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) is congratulated by wide receiver Julio Jones (11) and quarterback Matt Ryan (2) after he scores a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a common concern in fantasy football land surrounding how many players from the same team is too many when constructing a roster. Stacking a QB with a WR or TE is fairly commonplace, but things get a little more unknown when we consider multiple WRs or RBs from the same team. God forbid an offense has a high-end WR, RB and TE but strangely no QB.

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Today we’ll attempt to quantify just how often we should expect different sets of teammates to function as high-end fantasy performers. We'll define them as single-season top-12 PPR finishers at QB and TE as well as top-24 producers at RB and WR since 2010.

The 720 instances of a QB1, RB1-2, WR1-2 and TE1 over the past 10 years occurred on a total of 300 teams. The following positional builds have occurred most frequently. Note that a single position build means that no other teammate at a non-listed position achieved their defined high-end fantasy production.

  • RB: 48
  • RB-WR: 47
  • QB-RB-WR-TE: 20
  • WR: 18
  • QB-RB-WR: 18
  • RB-TE: 14
  • RB-TE-WR: 12
  • TE: 11
  • QB-RB: 9
  • TE-WR: 9
  • QB-RB-WR-WR: 9
  • QB-WR-WR-TE: 9

There’s a lot to unpack here, but most of the key takeaways can be described in four main points. We’ll end each statement with some actionable takeaways based on qualifiers from my PFF fantasy rankings.

The idea that multiple high-end pass-catchers should go hand in hand with a fantasy QB1 appears to hold true. We’ve seen 48 of 120 (40%) fantasy QB1s boast at least one top-24 WR *and* top-12 TE over the past 10 seasons. This includes three of our top-12 builds: QB-RB-WR-TE (20), QB-RB-WR-WR (9) and QB-WR-WR-TE (9). This trend applies to 25% of my top-12 QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. It’s worth noting that both Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Fitzpatrick enter fantasy-friendly situations they should be capable of exploiting for however long they can hold onto their respective jobs. I’m also probably a bit too low on Jared Goff based on this logic.

High-end fantasy RBs have usually come without an accompanying high-end fantasy QB. A whopping 138 of 240 RBs (58%) have come on teams without a top-performing QB1. This includes the two-most common overall builds: solo-RB (48) and RB-WR (47). This trend applies to 63% of my top-24 RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, Austin Ekeler, Nick Chubb, Josh Jacobs, Aaron Jones, James Conner, Melvin Gordon, David Montgomery, Leonard Fournette, Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell and Jonathan Taylor.

I remain particularly bullish on Ekeler’s potential to thrive in 2020 even without Philip Rivers under center. There’s simply too much talent here for him to be a dud in either the pass or run game.

High-end fantasy WRs haven’t necessarily needed an equally amazing fantasy QB. Overall, 103 of 240 WRs (43%) have been on teams without a fantasy QB1. We see this play out in two of the top-four most-common builds: RB-WR (47) and solo-WR (18). This trend applies to 63% of my top-24 WRs: Davante Adams, Julio Jones, Adam Thielen, Allen Robinson, A.J. Brown, Robert Woods, Calvin Ridley, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Odell Beckham, D.J. Moore, Terry McLaurin, D.J. Chark, DeVante Parker, Courtland Sutton and T.Y. Hilton. Volume concerns are highest for the likes of Brown, Ridley, OBJ and Sutton, although each has demonstrated the sort of talent and past production to continue to warrant high-end inclusion.

Don’t be afraid to go after talented alpha WRs even if their situations under center aren't the brightest. Particularly in the case of Brown.

Tight ends can be a meh QB’s best friend. Specifically, 53 of 120 (44%) TE1s since 2010 have functioned without a top-12 QB. The rate is nearly identical to that of WR1-2s without a QB1 (44%). While QB-RB-WR-TE (20) is the most-frequent build for the TE position, RB-TE (14) and solo-TE (11) have also been top-eight overall constructions. Like WR, I’m perhaps a bit too high on this trend, as 58% of my top-12 TEs qualify: George Kittle, Evan Engram, Tyler Higbee, Hunter Henry, Darren Waller, Noah Fant and Mike Gesicki. Late-round options like Blake Jarwin and T.J. Hockenson — while in crowded offenses — perhaps deserve enhanced consideration.

Now we have a better idea of some of the more-common builds from each position. Still, one of the main questions we want to answer is the frequency with which a team employs multiple high-end fantasy performers at the same position.

The answer: not all that often.

  • QB: 0 instances of two top-12 fantasy performers on the same team (obviously)
  • RB: 18 instances of two top-24 fantasy performers on the same team
  • WR: 43 instances of at least two top-24 fantasy performers on the same team
  • TE: 2 instances of two top-12 fantasy performers on the same team

On average, we’ve seen 1.8 instances of a team employing two high-end fantasy RBs in a single season. I don’t presently have any duo inside of my top-24 backs, although Nick Chubb (RB11) and Kareem Hunt (RB27) as well as Mark Ingram (RB26) and J.K. Dobbins (RB31) come close.

The WR room has been the most fantasy-friendly group in terms of multiple teammates balling out together during the same season. Overall, we’ve seen an average of 4.3 instances of a single team employing two top-24 PPR WRs in a season since 2010. Note that 74% of these teams also included a fantasy QB1. My current rankings denote Julio Jones (WR4) and Calvin Ridley (WR12) as well as Chris Godwin (WR10) and Mike Evans (WR18) as this year’s qualifiers, while the likes of D.K. Metcalf (WR25) and Tyler Lockett (WR27), Robert Woods (WR11) and Cooper Kupp (WR26) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR13) and Diontae Johnson (WR30) are close to qualifying.

The potential emergence of both JuJu and Johnson with a healthy version of Ben Roethlisberger is plenty possible considering the reality that *both* Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown had 160-plus targets during their respective WR1 seasons back in 2018. Johnson is objectively a baller.

The only time we’ve seen multiple high-end TEs were the 2019 Eagles (Zach Ertz TE4, Dallas Goedert TE10) and 2011 Patriots (Rob Gronkowski TE1, Aaron Hernandez TE3). It’ll likely take multiple injuries (again) to the Eagles’ WRs in 2020 for the TEs to replicate this feat. Don’t count on this happening again anytime soon.

Finally, a look at four quick fantasy-friendly combinations that we’ve literally not seen more than twice over the past decade:

  • QB-RB-TE-WR-WR-WR (1): The 2013 Broncos are objectively the most fantasy-friendly offense of the last decade. Peyton Manning (QB1), Knowshon Moreno (RB4), Demaryius Thomas (WR1), Eric Decker (WR9), Wes Welker (WR21) and Julius Thomas (TE3) averaged an absurd 37.9 real-life points per game.
  • RB-RB (1): The 2016 Jets are the only offense to boast two high-end backs without literally any other high-end fantasy contributors. Both Matt Forte (RB21) and Bilal Powell (RB17)  provided enough dual-threat ability to make the last version of Chan Gailey’s Jets offenses a fun one.
  • QB (2): The 2016 Jaguars and 2017 Washington team are the only two instances of an offense employing a top-12 fantasy QB without any other high-end fantasy talents. Blake Bortles split production up fairly evenly between Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns, while a Julius Thomas injury and committee backfield made enhanced volume for anyone a no-go. Kirk Cousins deployed a similar strategy, as the likes of Jamison Crowder, Chris Thompson, Vernon Davis, Ryan Grant and Josh Doctson all gained over 500 yards but fewer than 800. A committee backfield and (shocker) injured Jordan Reed left the rest of the offense without much fantasy upside.
  • RB-TE-WR-WR (2): The 2013 Bears and 2017 Vikings are the only offenses to employ a high-end fantasy RB, TE and two WRs without a high-end fantasy QB1. This was largely due to injuries in both cases, as neither Jay Cutler (11 games) nor Case Keenum (14 starts) played a full 16-game slate.

There are exceptions to every rule, and records are made to be broken. With that said: Be careful when accessing an offense’s viability in enabling multiple high-end fantasy options. There are times and scenarios that can comfortably be utilized, but don’t confuse a recent outlier as a newfound trend.

Complete Hartitz offseason series:

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