News & Analysis

Fantasy football snubs and surprises from the PFF 101

Dec 15, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) celebrates after a play during the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The PFF 101 is one of the coolest things we do each year. Getting to see how players across positions stack up against each other can be very insightful. Of course, PFF grades don’t necessarily always correlate to fantasy football production, but better players on the field tend to be better fantasy football options. With that in mind, let’s take a look at all of the offensive skill position players who made this year’s PFF 101 and break the list down from a fantasy perspective.

Quarterback

Russell Wilson (3)
Patrick Mahomes (4)
Lamar Jackson (7)
Ryan Tannehill (61)
Drew Brees (62)
Kirk Cousins (79)
Aaron Rodgers (83)
Deshaun Watson (87)
Dak Prescott (93)

Jackson was a revelation in fantasy football this year, and just missed topping the single-season scoring record. While his play was fantastic, our team has both Mahomes and Wilson ahead of Jackson. For fantasy purposes, most scoring systems reward dual-threat quarterbacks, and that’s by no means a knock on Jackson. He’s going to continue putting up big numbers with his legs, but he could experience some regression in his passing touchdown numbers. Keep that in mind when 2020 drafts roll around. Jackson is likely going to end up as a second-round pick, which is too early to take a quarterback in 1QB leagues given the overall depth at the position.

As I mentioned in the intro, fantasy doesn’t always equal reality. Watson and Prescott both finished as top-five fantasy scorers, but both just barely cracked the 101. However, they did make the list. The same cannot be said for Jameis Winston, who finished the season fifth in fantasy scoring. Meanwhile, Cousins put up a lackluster 17th-place finish, but was the No. 6 signal-caller in the 101. Some other names who didn’t make the cut include Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz, Josh Allen, and Kyler Murray. All five of these guys finished in the top 12 in fantasy scoring.

Perhaps the most interesting name on this list is Tannehill. He went from Dolphins castoff to Comeback Player of the Year, and in the process became one of the hottest fantasy quarterbacks in the league. The big question with Tannehill is whether he can continue his fantasy success. While we do expect some touchdown regression, Tannehill will very much be in the front-end QB2 conversation.

Running back

Nick Chubb (23)
Christian McCaffrey (24)
Austin Ekeler (43)
Aaron Jones (56)
Derrick Henry (65)
Josh Jacobs (99)

Just like we saw at quarterback, the top fantasy scorer is not the top player at running back in the 101. Chubb barely edged out McCaffrey for that distinction. Let’s be clear that this is by no means a slight on McCaffrey. He’s fantastic and ranks as a top-25 player in the league for 2020. But Chubb also did some special things and the fantasy box score doesn’t tell the whole story. Chubb finished eighth among running backs in PPR scoring, over 200 points behind McCaffrey. However, Chubb averaged a massive 3.77 yards after contact per attempt to just 2.62 for McCaffrey. He also had a league-high 20 rushing attempts of 15 yards or more, which was seven more than McCaffrey posted.

There are some big fantasy names who didn’t make the cut. Ezekiel Elliott, Dalvin Cook, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, and Leonard Fournette all finished as top-10 fantasy backs. None of these players made the list. Now, before you go at start hate-tweeting us, remember that we’re talking about different things. The 101 is a list driven by overall on-field play. Fantasy football scoring doesn’t take a lot of those nuances into account. Running back is one of the most glaring places for this distinction, as a large part of running back fantasy scoring is driven by touch volume.

Wide receiver

Michael Thomas (8)
Chris Godwin (20)
Julio Jones (25)
Davante Adams (33)
DeAndre Hopkins (39)
Mike Evans (49)
Terry McLaurin (51)
Amari Cooper (64)
Tyreek Hill (67)
Courtland Sutton (69)
Tyler Lockett (77)
A.J. Brown (78)
Allen Robinson (85)

There’s no surprise at the top. Thomas was absolutely fantastic this season and that showed both in his on-field grading and his fantasy output. He’s the clear No. 1 fantasy wideout heading into 2020. Godwin took the silver medal at wideout following a breakout season in the Bruce Arians/Byron Leftwich offense. Jones filled out the podium, which means the top-three in the 101 mirrors the top-three in PPR scoring.

Of course, things don’t continue along that path. Adams is the No. 4 receiver on this list, but only finished 23rd in PPR scoring. Sure, he did miss a month due to a toe injury, but there’s a widespread perspective that Adams had a down year. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Following his return in Week 9, he failed to top double-digit targets just once and ranked second among wideouts in fantasy scoring from Week 9 on.

A number of the players on this list are who you’d expect to see, but we do have three young names who stand out: McLaurin, Sutton, and Brown. McLaurin entered 2019 with low expectations from the fantasy community. He ended up finishing as a top 30 fantasy wideout thanks to his seven touchdowns and 919 receiving yards. Sutton cracked the 1,000-yard mark and ranked 18th for the season in PPR scoring. Brown was electric down the stretch, and racked up eight receiving scores, four of which went for longer than 40 yards. All three receivers have a bright outlook for 2020 and beyond.

Tight end

George Kittle (1)
Travis Kelce (18)
Mark Andrews (66)
Darren Waller (70)
Tyler Higbee (74)
Dallas Goedert (75)

The No. 1 overall player in the 2019 101 is a tight end. Kittle had a phenomenal year as a player and finished third in fantasy scoring. However, he likely would have threatened Kelce for the top spot had he not missed two games. The fantasy scales are tipping, and Kittle could overtake Kelce for the top fantasy tight end spot as soon as this upcoming season.

Heading into 2019, we essentially had a Big 3 at the position for fantasy with Kelce, Kittle, and Zach Ertz. While an Eagles tight end did make the 101, it wasn’t Ertz. Goedert broke out this past season and gave Philadelphia the ultra-rare distinction of having two top-10 fantasy tight ends come from the same team. While we don’t think Goedert is a better fantasy option than Ertz in 2020, the gap between the two has dramatically decreased.

The most surprising name on this list has to be Higbee. To be clear, it isn’t surprising for his play. Higbee was a dominant force down the stretch. But for much of the season, he was relegated to a committee role along with Gerald Everett. But an injury to Everett opened the door for Higbee and he came storming through. Over the final five weeks of the season, Higbee led all tight ends in fantasy scoring. His 43 catches over that span was as many as Jared Cook had on the season. Higbee’s 522 yards in those five games would have ranked 14th at the position for the entire year. While his offensive explosion was impressive, it remains to be seen if the Rams will continue to use Higbee as their feature tight end in 2020. Unfortunately, that means we’ll need to pump the brakes for fantasy purposes.

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