News & Analysis

Fantasy points leaders across the last 2 seasons

By Daniel Kelley
Jun 12, 2018

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SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 01: Travis Kelce #87 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs through the defense of Kyle Emanuel #51 of the San Diego Chargers during the first half of a game at Qualcomm Stadium on January 1, 2017 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

You can’t be a sports fan in the 2010s and not be intimately familiar with the phrase “small sample size.” One play, one game does not make a career. If it did, Matt Flynn, Kevin Ogletree, and Beanie Wells might be all-time greats.

We know that we have to look beyond a single data point to reach a conclusion. But I’m of the opinion that sometimes, even citing the “small sample size” dogma, we underestimate just what is a small sample size. Tyrell Williams, for example, finished 2016 tied for 11th in standard fantasy scoring at the WR position. But over the last two years combined, his total of 244 points ranks only tied for 25th — still respectable, still buoyed by that one big year, but more a product of the fact that he has played all 32 games over the two years than any great testament to his performance.

Inherently, we can suss out some of the outliers. That’s why Williams’ ADP heading into 2018 is in the mid-70s among receivers and not in the flex-with-upside range. But something we can get fooled. So today, I’m looking at the two-year leaders in a handful of categories. For things like raw totals, players get rewarded for health by doing this, but in a lot of ways health is a skill as well.

Today, I’ll look at fantasy points. Thursday, I’ll come back with the same approach, but for some of our PFF Signature Stats.

Fantasy points

Quarterbacks

Quarterback fantasy  point totals
2016 2017 Combined
1 Aaron Rodgers 391 Russell Wilson 361 Russell Wilson 635
2 Drew Brees 355 Cam Newton 315 Drew Brees 626
3 Matt Ryan 354 Tom Brady 306 Kirk Cousins 619
4 Andrew Luck 327 Alex Smith 302 Matt Ryan 600
5 Kirk Cousins 318 Kirk Cousins 301 Matthew Stafford 586

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Wilson sits atop the quarterback list across both years, but with injuries, Brady’s suspension, and inconsistency at the position, the last two years have been  topsy-turvy at quarterback. Takeaways:

  • Brees was barely a QB1 in 2017, but is still second across the two years, which is a testament to both the high floor of fantasy quarterbacks and his overall consistency.
  • Stafford is the epitome of a quarterback who will never finish atop the position but is always a starter — since taking the starting job in Detroit full-time in 2011, he’s never finished better than fifth but has been top-10 every year but one. He’s currently going outside the top-10 at the position in ADP, which is a mixed bag — some of the quarterbacks going around him have a better shot at finishing No. 1, but almost nobody in that range has a better shot at finishing as a QB1. If you wait on QB in your draft, you can’t do much better.
  • Like Stafford, Cousins has been consistent as a starter, if lacking a truly elite ceiling. It’s been over a shorter stretch. In Cousins’ favor heading into 2018, he has the best stable of weapons he’s ever had now that he’s with Minnesota, throwing to Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph. Still, the fact that he’s going so far ahead of Stafford in ADP right now (Cousins seventh, Stafford 13th) feels like a mistake on some end.

Running backs

Running back PPR point totals
2016 2017 Combined
1 David Johnson 407 Todd Gurley 382 Le’Veon Bell 656
2 Ezekiel Elliott 322 Le’Veon Bell 343 Todd Gurley 580
3 Le’Veon Bell 313 Alvin Kamara 313 LeSean McCoy 556
4 LeSean McCoy 293 Kareem Hunt 296 Melvin Gordon 540
5 DeMarco Murray 288 Melvin Gordon 287 Ezekiel Elliott 524

As our Curtis Patrick noted a week ago, Bell is the only running back in the last five years to repeat as a top-five PPR back. As such, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he sits atop the position over 2016 and 2017 combined. Takeaways:

  • Rookies made up two of the top five and four of the top 12 PPR backs last year and two of the top 12 in 2016, making big combined performances naturally difficult — Elliott doubled down in 2017 sandwiched around a suspension, while Jordan Howard’s receiving deficiencies kept him from huge PPR value. We’ll see if Kamara, Hunt, Christian McCaffrey, or Leonard Fournette can make the two-year list after 2018.
  • The career arcs for Gordon and Gurley has been fascinating — Gurley was great in 2015, while Gordon struggled. Gordon surged in 2016, but Gurley’s numbers waned. In 2017, both finished as top-five backs. With both now calling Los Angeles their home city, and both playing for likely contenders, their ADPs (Gurley near the top of the entire draft, Gordon a low-end RB1) make sense.
  • McCoy’s fantasy points stayed strong in 2017 (his 263 points ranked seventh at the position) but his yards per carry fell from 5.4 to 4.0, and his yards after contact per carry fell from 2.4 to 2.1. The fantasy community has noticed, with McCoy’s ADP falling to the back end of the RB1s. There isn’t much competition for carries in Buffalo, but McCoy’s days as an elite fantasy back are waning.

Wide receivers

Wide receiver PPR point totals
2016 2017 Combined
1 Antonio Brown 307 DeAndre Hopkins 311 Antonio Brown 612
2 Jordy Nelson 306 Antonio Brown 305 Michael Thomas 517
3 Mike Evans 300 Keenan Allen 277 Julio Jones 512
4 Odell Beckham Jr. 297 Jarvis Landry 261 DeAndre Hopkins 508
5 T.Y. Hilton 272 Larry Fitzgerald 260 Larry Fitzgerald 504

Brown was the No. 1 receiver in 2016 by one point. He was No. 2 in 2017 by six. Over the two years combined, though, he’s been the No. 1 receiver by 95 points. That’s … big. Takeaways:

  • Neither Thomas nor Jones has been top-five in either of the last two years, but they’ve been WR6 and WR7 both years (Jones sixth, Thomas seventh in 2016; Thomas sixth, Jones seventh in 2017). Like Stafford at quarterback, two-year totals are good at finding the highest-floor options.
  • Let’s look at the ages of the receivers in the two-year top-five. One of them is doing things players aren’t supposed to do at that age:
    • Brown: 29
    • Thomas: 25
    • Jones: 29
    • Hopkins: 26
    • Fitzgerald: 34

Tight ends

Tight end PPR point totals
  2016 2017 Combined
1 Travis Kelce 221 Travis Kelce 236 Travis Kelce 457
2 Kyle Rudolph 209 Rob Gronkowski 224 Zach Ertz 387
3 Greg Olsen 205 Zach Ertz 203 Kyle Rudolph 367
4 Jimmy Graham 191 Delanie Walker 177 Delanie Walker 364
5 Delanie Walker 187 Evan Engram 174 Jimmy Graham 360

Obviously, Gronkowski’s injury in 2016 hurts him here. Takeaways:

  • Unlike receiver and quarterback, every two-year top-five tight end has finished in the top five in at least one of the last two years, including Kelce and Walker finishing in the top five both seasons. More than a testament to the top end of the position, it’s really an indictment of the lower-tier tight ends — the dropoff around the back end of the TE1s the last two years has been significant. What that ends up meaning is the top options at tight end are that much more valuable.

Fantasy points per game

Quarterbacks

Quarterback fantasy points per game
2016 2017 Combined*
1 Aaron Rodgers 24.4 Deshaun Watson 25.0 Aaron Rodgers 23.0
2 Drew Brees 22.2 Russell Wilson 22.6 Tom Brady 20.2
3 Matt Ryan 22.1 Carson Wentz 22.1 Russell Wilson 19.8
4 Andrew Luck 21.8 Alex Smith 20.1 Drew Brees 19.6
5 Tom Brady 21.6 Aaron Rodgers 19.7 Kirk Cousins 19.3

(*min. 1 game played in each season)

With the exception of Cam Newton’s absence, I sort of love how well the chart of points per game over the last two years mesh with my personal rankings. It makes me think there’s something to this.

Running backs

Running back PPR points per game
2016 2017 Combined*
1 Le’Veon Bell 26.1 Todd Gurley 25.5 David Johnson 24.7
2 David Johnson 25.4 Le’Veon Bell 22.9 Le’Veon Bell 22.6
3 Ezekiel Elliott 21.5 Ezekiel Elliott 20.2 Ezekiel Elliott 21.0
4 LeSean McCoy 19.5 Alvin Kamara 19.6 Todd Gurley 18.7
5 Melvin Gordon 19.5 Kareem Hunt 18.5 Melvin Gordon 18.6

(*min. 1 game played in each season)

The top 10 of our staff PPR running back rankings for 2018 include the five names above, plus five players who weren’t eligible for this (2017 rookies and Saquon Barkley). Yeah, I’m enjoying this method.

Wide receivers

Wide receiver PPR points per game
2016 2017 Combined*
1 Antonio Brown 20.5 Antonio Brown 21.8 Antonio Brown 21.1
2 Jordy Nelson 19.1 DeAndre Hopkins 20.7 Odell Beckham Jr. 18.6
3 Mike Evans 18.8 Odell Beckham Jr. 18.5 Julio Jones 17.1
4 A.J. Green 18.6 Keenan Allen 17.3 Keenan Allen 17.0
5 Julio Jones 18.6 Jarvis Landry 16.3 Michael Thomas 16.7

(*min. 1 game played in each season)

DeAndre Hopkins’ quarterback-induced miserable 2016 is a big drag on his overall numbers, but otherwise, this is five of the top six names in our staff rankings

Tight ends

Tight end PPR points per game
2016 2017 Combined*
1 Jordan Reed 14.2 Rob Gronkowski 17.2 Rob Gronkowski 15.3
2 Travis Kelce 13.8 Travis Kelce 15.7 Travis Kelce 14.7
3 Zach Ertz 13.1 Zach Ertz 14.5 Zach Ertz 13.8
4 Kyle Rudolph 13.1 Evan Engram 11.6 Jordan Reed 12.7
5 Greg Olsen 12.8 Jack Doyle 11.4 Delanie Walker 11.7

(*min. 1 game played in each season)

By almost any measure, Gronkowski, Kelce, and Ertz are (and should be) entering 2018 as the top three tight ends, and almost certainly in that order. If you had some way to guarantee Reed’s health, he’d be right there as well. And Walker is sixth in our consensus rankings, behind 2017 rookie Engram and bounceback candidate Olsen.

The lesson here? Fantasy point totals, or point-per-game averages, from the most recent season have their value. But the sample size is still too small. Alex Smith likely won’t be a top-five quarterback in 2018, but he was in 2017. But two years combined? That method appears to match up with our overall expectations alarmingly well. One game is a small sample. So are two games. And so are 16.

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