You’ll notice that our best ball rankings look quite a bit different than our season-long projections. That’s intentional, and primarily due to one thing: week-to-week consistency.
Take Tyler Lockett for example. Lockett averaged 26.3 FPG in his six best games last season, but just 8.3 FPG in his other 10 games. And this isn’t just a one-year trend – over the last three seasons, Lockett averages an absurd 36.5 FPG in his three best games each year. Across his other 39 games (81% of games), he averages just 11.4 FPG (~WR46), equivalent to 2021 Sterling Shepard (11.2 FPG).
Another example is 2021 A.J. Brown. Brown averaged 30.1 FPG in his three best games last year, but just 9.1 FPG in his other 10 games. Just like Lockett, last year’s version of Brown offered elite-tier upside, but absolutely crushed you in terms of week-to-week consistency. If you only played him during his boom weeks, he was a cheat code. But outside of those three big games, Brown was helping your fantasy team about as much as 2021 Jamison Crowder (9.1 FPG).
But perhaps the ultimate example – of a player providing a positive win-rate in best ball, but a negative win-rate in start/sit leagues – is 2020 T.Y. Hilton. According to ESPN, when Hilton was started in over 50% of leagues that year, he averaged just 6.1 FPG. And among his nine most-started weeks, Hilton averaged just 5.9 FPG with a high of only 9.9 fantasy points. But across his six least-started weeks, he hit highs of 23.1, 21.0, and 16.1. Basically, Hilton was highly volatile and nearly impossible to predict week-to-week. So, in a start/sit league, Hilton was only ever returning negative value to your team – when you played him, he killed you, and when you sat him, he went off. But in best ball, he provided a higher win rate than many players who outscored him, even the ones who were significantly cheaper by ADP.
2020 Troll of the Year Award goes to T.Y. Hilton (per @Statholesports)— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) February 2, 2021
Predictability and Variance matters. Hilton was much less valuable in start/sit than best ball, because he was rarely ever started in productive weekshttps://t.co/WdsIz7ZT7U pic.twitter.com/GGqzEjkPoa
It should be easy to see why week-to-week consistency and predictability is so important for fantasy football – especially in start/sit leagues. That’s the reason why Lockett and Brown rank so much higher in our best ball rankings than our season-long projections.
With all of that in mind, I wanted to look at 2021’s most- and least-consistent scorers in fantasy.
Tristan Cockroft does this every year for ESPN, as does John Paulsen for 4for4. I’m going to approach this in a similar way to Paulsen. We’ll be looking at each player’s numbers in every week over the course of a full season. We’ll then calculate a player’s standard deviation to determine how much variation there was in their fantasy scoring on a week-to-week basis. Then, we’ll standardize these scores across scale by dividing a player’s fantasy points per game into his standard deviation, to determine that player’s coefficient of variation (CV).
Among all non-QBs (min. 10.5 FPG), here were last season’s 20 least and then most consistent fantasy scorers by coefficient of variation:
Quick Hits / Notes
It shouldn’t be surprising that a number of high-aDOT deep threat WRs made this list, with Tyreek Hill, A.J. Brown, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Mike Williams, Amari Cooper, and Terry McLaurin all appearing as inconsistent according to their CV. Players who rely on low-probability events – like catching a pass 20 or more yards downfield – for a large portion of their fantasy scoring will “smash” when those events occur, and be fantasy duds when they don’t. All of the aforementioned players are every-week starters in all formats, but we should be valuing them all at least slightly more in best ball leagues.
A player’s standard deviation is tremendously important for both DFS and best ball. Higher standard deviations reflect a higher potential for an unbeatable score in a given week, at the cost of increased inconsistency. Many of the players responsible for their positions’ highest-scoring games of the season (Ja’Marr Chase, Tyreek Hill, George Kittle) wind up on this list with extremely high standard deviations. These players can always be regarded as elite-tier DFS plays when their ownership sinks to single-digits thanks to their position-leading ceilings.
Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Rashad Penny was the single least-consistent player in fantasy football last year, but that was largely due to inconsistent opportunity. In Penny’s first four games of the season, he suffered injuries in two different games and averaged just 3.5 XFP/G, 4.3 touches per game, and 4.3 FPG. In Penny’s final six games, however, his workload was bumped to 11.4 XFP/G, and he massively outproduced that expectation, averaging 19.6 FPG, 125.7 YFS/G, and an absurd 6.9 YPC. When provided anything close to a significant workload, Penny was a hyper-efficient high-end RB1. But, it’s fair to question if a significant workload reduction is a likely outcome after the Seahawks drafted Kenneth Walker, and replaced Russell Wilson with Drew Lock. If condemned to a committee in a bad offense, it’s difficult to view Penny as much more than an RB3 – granted, an RB3 who would almost surely smash if provided with anything close to bell cow usage.
Rashaad Penny has 7 career games with 12 or more carries. His averages in those games:— Jake Tribbey (@JakeTribbey) February 22, 2022
*7.7 YPC (!)
ADP of RB31 on Underdog is just too low for a player with this kind of upside.
George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers
George Kittle scored 37% of his fantasy points in just 2 games last season, while also failing to eclipse 8.0 fantasy points in 43% of his games. Kittle’s two best games (by both volume and production) came in Weeks 13 and 14. Deebo Samuel, the 49ers best offensive player, happened to miss Week 13, and entered Week 14 questionable, earning just 1 target. If we re-run Kittle’s numbers without those 2 games, his CV is 1.75, which would rank 37th of our 84 qualifiers at the flex positions. So, Kittle offered us roughly league-average consistency across the entire season, and game breaking upside (36.9 FPG) in the 2 games Deebo wasn’t healthy.
And this isn’t just a one-year outlier either. Deebo Samuel has sat out or played under 35% of the team’s snaps in 6 of Kittle’s 22 games over the past two seasons. Without Samuel, Kittle averages 20.3 FPG. With Samuel, that drops to just 12.6.
So, if Samuel’s current holdout turns into any missed games or a trade (which does seem unlikely), Kittle would have a chance to be a league-winner – even if the offense shifts more run-heavy with Trey Lance under center. But, in the event Samuel dawns a 49ers uniform this season, Kittle could be argued as being a bit overpriced with an early Round 5 ADP.
Elijah Moore, WR, New York Jets
Elijah Moore finds himself on this list, largely because his season was a tale of two halves. In Moore’s first four games (all with Zach Wilson under center), he averaged 11.0 XFP/G, 5.0 targets per game, and just 3.7 FPG. But, in Week 7, Wilson got hurt, and backups Mike White and Joe Flacco were able to capitalize on Moore’s talents. From Week 7-11, Moore averaged 12.4 XFP/G, 7.4 targets per game, and 18.7 FPG. Barely a 50% increase in volume led to a 400% increase in production. It’s almost as if Moore is an incredible talent who just needed better QB play. Given that Wilson managed a 54.4 passer rating and a 52.9 PFF passing grade in Moore’s first 4 games, I think we know who is to blame. Still, Wilson did feed Moore 10.0 targets per game and 15.0 FPG in his final two games of the year, so he may have realized the error of his ways upon returning from injury. But that does bring up an important point. Moore’s 2022 projection might entirely hinge upon the success or failure of Wilson — whether or not he takes that crucial “next step” this season. The range of outcomes for Wilson appear massive, but his QB22 price tag provides solid downside protection because, well, how bad can he be in an offense loaded with high-end weapons? Especially in best ball tournament leagues, Wilson and Moore represent one of the better low-risk, high-upside stacks of the 2022 offseason.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Detroit Lions
Amon-Ra St. Brown was technically inconsistent, but we certainly can’t knock him for it. In his first 11 games, St. Brown saw just 4.7 targets per game and 8.9 XFP/G – averaging just 7.4 FPG. But then T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift got injured, leaving St. Brown as the most talented remaining offensive player. What ensued was fireworks, as St. Brown averaged 11.1 targets per game, 18.5 XFP/G, and 24.9 FPG. Only Cooper Kupp (27.1 FPG) scored more fantasy points than Amon-Ra St. Brown in the final six weeks of the season. So, St. Brown’s inconsistency was almost entirely a product of inconsistent volume and an inconsistent role, or, rather, a role that dramatically changed in the latter half of the year. He went from seeing WR6 volume as the No. 3 option on offense, to WR1 volume as the No. 1 offensive option. And Dan Campbell taking over for Anthony Lynn as offensive coordinator after the Lions’ first 8 games seemed to help solidify St. Brown’s WR1 volume even further.
Detroit Lions— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) July 18, 2022
w/ Anthony Lynn calling plays: 0-8-0
w/ Dan Campbell calling plays: 3-5-1*
Amon-Ra St. Brown
w/ Anthony Lynn calling plays: 6.8 FPG
w/ Dan Campbell calling plays: 19.3 FPG*
* Tim Boyle started at QB in 33% of these games (0-3-0)
St. Browns 2022 volume won’t mirror what we saw to end 2021, but given he ourproduced his volume-based expectation (XFP) by +6.4 FPG to end the year, there’s reason to believe he’s an elite talent who should be far more consistent (by both usage and production) next year.
Tyreek Hill, WR, Miami Dolphins
Tyreek Hill is fascinating, because his ceiling is just truly unmatched. In 2021, the average score of the highest-scoring WR in any given week was 36.6 FPG. Since 2018, Hill has had 6 games with more than 36.6 fantasy points, in a 60-game sample. Or, put another way, Hill is the highest-scoring WR in football in roughly 10% of his games. Should a player like that ever have single-digit ownership in DFS? Almost certainly not, but we also don’t know how playing in this Dolphins offense will impact those ceiling games. Hill did note that he left Kansas City in part because he wasn’t touching the ball enough, and any improvement on the 18.4 XFP/G he averaged with the Chiefs last season could make Hill the WR1 (by volume) in 2022. And with Hill’s upside, that’s surely a league-winning proposition. Tua Tagovailoa may be an obvious downgrade from Patrick Mahomes, but we can’t forget that Alex Smith’s 2017 season was inarguably the best of his career, in large part thanks to the 1,183 yards and 7 TDs Hill put up on just 105 targets. From what we’ve seen so far, there is a strong argument that Hill is one of the more QB-immune WRs in the NFL.
If the best ball market is any indication, I imagine Hill’s 2022 DFS ownership won’t reflect the same upside it typically did in previous seasons, and if that pessimism ends up unfounded, Hill could be a top leverage candidate in early-season DFS slates given his legendary upside.
Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Ja’Marr Chase wasn’t really inconsistent, he just offers a ceiling so impressive it suggests inconsistency within this data. Chase scored double-digit fantasy points in 13 of his 17 games – the 9th best mark among all WRs last season – setting a comparable floor to Hunter Renfrow (14 games of double-digit fantasy points) or Chris Godwin (12 games). And both Godwin and Renfrow registered as some of the most consistent flex players in fantasy according to our data. What sets Chase apart from those two, however, is his slate-breaking ceiling. Chase had 4 games with 25 or more fantasy points last year (6th-most) and in Week 17, he scored the 8th-most fantasy points by a WR in any game all-time (55.6). Given that he just turned 22 years-old, I think it’s fair to assume Chase’s best has yet to come. And that he should be viewed similarly to Tyreek Hill in DFS formats for the foreseeable future.
Russell Gage, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Similar to St. Brown, Russell Gage produced inconsistent results largely due to inconsistent opportunity; he saw a massive uptick in volume shortly after Calvin Ridley stepped away from the team. In his first 7 games, Gage averaged 8.7 XFP/G, 4.9 targets per game, and 6.8 FPG. But in his final 7 games, Gage averaged 13.0 XFP/G, 8.6 targets per game, and 16.5 FPG. So, his volume literally doubled, in part due to Ridley’s absence but also due to a much softer schedule in the second-half of the year. And actually, that alone – e.g. Gage’s outlierish-ly brutal strength of schedule – could be what’s making Gage appear so inconsistent.
Russell Gage had arguably the league's toughest WR schedule last season— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) March 15, 2022
He faced a defense ranking top-10 in FPG allowed to opposing slot WRs in 7 of his 14 games (50%). He averaged 4.1 targets and 5.2 FPG in those games
The rest of the time he averaged 9.3 targets and 18.7 FPG https://t.co/eBDbhNsos1
But even without adjusting for his inordinately difficult strength of schedule, Gage was still highly impressive from an efficiency standpoint, ranking 12th in YPRR (1.96) and 23rd in PFF receiving grade (76.5) of 45 qualifiers. In my estimation, he’s one of the most underrated values in both best ball and season-long drafts right now. Tom Brady personally recruited him, and Brady has long held a fondness for slot WRs (or at least has peppered them with targets as such), as has the Bruce Arians scheme (which OC Byron Leftwich will be running). Further, Chris Godwin is unlikely to be ready until October, and regardless, Tom Brady sustained three different fantasy WR1s (by FPG) last season in Godwin (17.3 FPG), Antonio Brown (17.3 FPG), and Mike Evans (16.1 FPG). So regardless of Godwin’s status, it’s fairly easy to argue that Gage is still a value as Tampa’s starting slot at WR34 on Underdog.
Over his past 10 seasons in the NFL, Arians-led offenses have ranked:— Jake Tribbey (@JakeTribbey) March 30, 2022
in Slot WR Targets:
- 7th (2021)
- 14th (2011)
in Slot WR fantasy points:
- 7th (2021)
- 15th (2011)
Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
Saquon Barkley registered as inconsistent, but maybe that would have been different if he ever had a chance to reach full health this season. In fact, Barkley actually only logged two “full” practices (both in Week 5) due to knee and ankle issues out of 54 potential practices across the 2021 season. But, for a brief moment, Saquon almost returned to 100%. Weeks 2, 3, and 4 saw Saquon exceed a 84% snap share in every contest while he averaged 16.8 XFP/G, 18.3 touches per game, and 20.0 FPG. Across the full 2021 season, those numbers would’ve ranked 9th-, 11th-, and 4th-best among RBs. With Barkley undoubtedly healthier than last season and with rumors swirling he’ll be significantly more involved as a receiver in 2022, his Underdog ADP of RB10 is likely too low — assuming he can stay healthy of course.
Amari Cooper, WR, Cleveland Browns
Amari Cooper was fantasy’s most inconsistent player in 2017 and 2018, and he ranked top-10 in 2021. And that’s because Cooper’s ceiling is one of the best in the NFL. Since 2017, Cooper has five games of 35.0 or more fantasy points, the 2nd-most of any player, and just two less than Tyreek Hill. And similar to Hill, if Cooper scores more than 35 fantasy points in 7% of his games, should he ever fall below that level of ownership in DFS? Likely not. Granted, it’s reasonable to question what the Browns still very up in the air QB situation means for Cooper’s 2022 season-long value. Jacoby Brissett – or whoever would start if Deshaun Watson were suspended for a significant period of the season – is a clear downgrade, but perhaps not more than a minor blow to Cooper’s fantasy value given he’s commanded at least 103 targets in 6 of 7 seasons with 3 different QBs.Cleveland presents lessened target competition relative to Cooper’s previous stops, and if Deshaun Watson does end up playing a significant portion of the season, Cooper may wind up as a league-winner. Watson’s WR1 has averaged 18.6 over Watson’s last 3 years as a starter, which would’ve ranked no worse than WR5 over the last 3 seasons. Cooper’s upside could be massive if Watson sees the field at all this year.
Quick Hits / Notes
It’s no coincidence we see a large number of low-aDOT, high-volume WRs on this list; players like Cooper Kupp, Deebo Samuel, Hunter Renfrow, Jakobi Meyers, Chris Godwin, and Diontae Johnson. All of these WRs see remarkably consistent volume close to the line of scrimmage, which increases their percentage of targets caught, and decreases their week-to-week volatility. Basically, these players rely on a high-volume of high-probability but low-upside events (catching a pass close to the LoS), and thus, can be safely relied upon in season-long fantasy leagues.
Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers
Keenan Allen was the overall most consistent player in fantasy last season, scoring between 10.0 and 22.4 fantasy points in 15 of his 16 games. And this certainly isn’t an anomaly for Allen, who was also one of the most consistent players in fantasy in 2018. Allen was also one of the most valuable WRs in fantasy last year, finishing 11th in total fantasy points and 10th by WAR. Allen’s consistency obviously proved to be valuable (as evident by his WAR, which factors this into the equation), but his lack of a ceiling (0 games with more than 25.0 fantasy points) restricted his overall value. It should go without saying that he’s a much stronger pick in start/sit as opposed to best ball leagues. But, we could also argue he’s a strong pick regardless of format. He ranked 8th among all WRs last season with 18.0 XFP/G, and over the last 5 seasons, he’s finished as WR12 (2021), WR6, WR8, WR18, and WR4 by FPG. If we use that as our baseline, we could argue Allen has a 60% chance to beat his current ADP of WR12, and that argument is further bolstered by Justin Herbert gaining steam in the 2022 MVP conversation, with his odds already as high as +550 (behind only Josh Allen) at some sportsbooks.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams
Cooper Kupp wasn’t just remarkably consistent, and ridiculously productive, but he also produced the greatest fantasy season by any WR of all-time, with a record high 439.5. Kupp had 14 games with 20.0 or more fantasy points, the most all-time (2 more than 2014 Antonio Brown). His 14 games with 10 or more targets were the 2nd-most all-time. And he had 16 games with 90 or more receiving yards, the most all-time by 3 games. Had Kupp averaged 55.0 less YPG in 2021, he would have scored 346 fantasy points, and still finished the year as the overall WR1. He was the only non-RB this past decade to finish 1st in WAR since at least 2010. Obviously, drafting Kupp in the 5th round last year meant your team (regardless of format) absolutely smashed. But how do we assess him this year, as a top-3 pick? Well, based on what he did last season, it’s safe to say we can’t let Kupp fall outside of the top-5 of picks in virtually any format. Remember, if Kupp’s production fell 15% next year, he would still average 22.0 FPG – a good-enough mark to be WR1 in 50% of the last 6 seasons. Kupp could have also scored 12 fewer TDs last season and still wound up as the overall WR1. He was so dominant in 2021 that he only needs to recreate about 85% of his production to likely be the highest-scoring WR again in 2022.
Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
If it hadn’t been for Cooper Kupp, I’m sure we’d be talking about Diontae Johnson’s impressive consistency a bit more; Johnson only ever seems to do two things – get hurt, or see double-digit targets. Over the last two seasons, Johnson has hit double-digit targets in 22 of the 28 games (79%) in which he earned a snap share of least 50%. Over this span, he’s averaged 10.8 targets per game. For perspective, both numbers would lead all WRs over the past two seasons. And he’s exceeded 15.0 fantasy points 64% of the time (4th-most), and at least 11.5 fantasy points 89% of the time (most), while averaging 17.4 FPG (9th-most). But this raises an important question: was Diontae just Big Ben’s guy? Or is he a high-end WR1 regardless of who is under center for Pittsburgh? I lean much more towards the latter. Johnson dominated on short-area routes, catching 81% of his passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Serious target volume (like what Johnson saw in 2021) is indicative of a surplus of talent, and it appears the Steelers wanted to ensure their most talented WR touched the ball as often as possible by peppering him with short area targets. Even in the likely instance that Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett want to throw further down the field, their safety blanket will be the same as Roethlisberger’s – underneath throws to target hog Diontae Johnson. He’s one of my favorite picks at cost in all formats at WR21.
Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders
It was a bit shocking to see Josh Jacobs rank so highly here, given he’s a “known” gamescript sensitive RB. Since 2019, Jacobs’ has averaged +8.0 more FPG in wins (19.2) than losses (11.2). That trend remained true even if we just look at 2021, albeit to a lesser extent – Jacobs averaged +2.9 more FPG in wins (16.4) than losses (13.5), likely due to a career high in targets (64) this past season. While he lacked upside (0 games of more than 25.0 fantasy points in 2021), his improved receiving role surely helped with his week-to-week consistency, and lessened the gamescript sensitivity he was known for early on in his career. He did finally earn a bell cow role, ranking top-5 in snaps, carries, and targets across the final 7 weeks of the season. So what should we expect in 2022? Jacobs is sure to face stiff competition from Zamir White and Kenyan Drake, and with the new coaching staff suggesting a committee approach so far this offseason, it’s difficult to imagine Jacobs’ returning to his bell cow workload from the end of 2021. New HC Josh McDaniels has never employed a true bellcow, after all. So, I’ll be mostly avoiding this backfield in drafts given all the uncertainty here.
"It’s unlikely Raiders now make Jacobs the bell cow back that Jon Gruden always said he was...there is probably a decent chance Ziegler and McDaniels already think White is better than them. A committee approach seems to make sense, keeping everybody fresh and ideally available" https://t.co/fLwkOZEDJN— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) June 13, 2022
Elijah Mitchell, RB, San Francisco 49ers
Elijah Mitchell was the only RB on this list to average less than 3.8 targets per game, averaging just 1.8 targets per game across 2021. History tells us this was likely an anomaly, given the typical game-to-game inconsistency we’ve seen from SF running backs. Even so, Mitchell was surely helped out by consistent volume, earning between 17 and 27 touches in nine of his 11 games. But it’s hard to look at his game logs and think he’s a consistent contributor week-to-week. Mitchell averaged 20.5 FPG in his top-50% of games, and just 9.2 in his bottom-50% of games. When we look at his gamescript dependency, Mitchell did average +3.1 more FPG in in wins (14.4) than losses (11.3). Certainly impactful, but not definitive enough to declare him seriously gamescript dependent. Mitchell is the clear lead-back to start 2022, but I have doubts his role will be secure all year given Kyle Shanahan’s history with RB committees and recent selection of Day 2 RB Ty Davis-Price.
Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Justin Jefferson averaged +5.0 more FPG in his final 10 games (21.5 FPG) than his first seven games (16.5 FPG). And his XFP/G jumped nearly 30% in the 2nd-half of the year (21.3 XFPG), while Jefferson also took a massive step forward efficiency-wise. Jefferson posted a 90.9 PFF receiving grade and an insane 3.03 YPRR during his final 10 games, compared to a 76.6 PFF receiving grade and 2.04 YPRR in his first 7 games. That’s basically the difference between 2021 Cooper Kupp levels of efficiency and 2021 Brandin Cooks levels of efficiency. And when you combine incredible efficiency with the 2nd-best volume of any WR in the 2nd-half of 2021, it’s easy to get behind Jefferson as the No. 2 WR off the board in 2022 fantasy drafts.
Deebo Samuel, WR, San Francisco 49ers
It was very interesting to see Deebo Samuel make this list, given the fact he basically changed positions midway through the season. In his first 8 games, Samuel averaged 8.1 targets per game, 0.8 carries per game, 18.5 XFP/G, and 20.7 FPG. In his final 8 regular season games, he averaged 5.0 targets per game, 6.6 carries per game, 12.1 XFP/G and 21.7 FPG. So his production was about 5% better despite a workload that was about 33% worse. Granted, Deebo’s “wide-back” role surely increased his risk of injury, spawning fears of a holdout. But if we presume a trade or holdout doesn't happen, and that Deebo returns to his early-season (WR only) workload, then he’s likely a steal as the WR7 in best ball drafts, as 20.7 FPG would’ve ranked no worse than WR4 over the last 5 seasons.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Ezekiel Elliott was consistent, but consistently bad in 2022. Of the 50 RBs with more than 100 rush attempts, Zeke ranked 35th in yards after contact per attempt (2.73), 40th in his percentage of runs to go over 15 yards (14.7%), and 49th in missed tackles forced rate (8%). But, to be fair, he was playing through a torn PCL from Week 4 onward. Prior to injury, Zeke managed 17.6 FPG, 15.5 XFP/G, and a 74% snap share. Post-injury, Zeke averaged just 14.0 FPG, 15.7 XFP/G, and a 64% snap share. So his volume stayed nearly identical, while his production fell 20% and his snap share fell 10%. And 14.0 FPG feels like a near-guarantee to be Elliott’s floor (good for a RB20 finish in 2021), while 17.6 FPG is probably closer to his median outcome (RB9 in 2021). It’s hard not to like that value at RB17 in drafts, especially once we consider Zeke’s floor is further secured by his ridiculous $18 million cap hit. The Cowboys have financially forced themselves to give Elliott the ball, no matter how inefficient he is. We can pretty easily see the writing on the wall for Tony Pollard ever being more than a chance of pace RB for Dallas. Pollard couldn’t claim more than a 42% snap share in any game he played in 2021, and that was with Zeke playing through injury, and playing like a below average NFL rusher. Expect more of the same in 2022, granted Pollard would be a high-end RB1 if Zeke ever missed time.
Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Najee Harris was an uber-bell cow in 2021, averaging an 84% snap share (1st), 17.7 FPG (8th), and 19.6 XFP/G (2nd). Obviously, Harris underproduced relative to his expectation, but he was also playing with one of the worst starting QBs of the 2021 regular season, on a team that averaged just 20.2 points per game (11th-worst) on PFF’s 7th-worst running blocking offensive line. Almost any rusher would underproduce in those circumstances. For 2022, it looks like Pittsburgh wants to keep feeding Harris the ball, while also giving him additional rest on plays he’s not needed. How many touches can the Steelers really give backup RB Benny Snell, who has averaged 3.3 YPC on 255 carries in his career? And with Mike Tomlin’s long track record of coaxing high-end RB1 production from his starting RB, I have a hard time not drafting Harris at cost, even with his lofty price tag (RB5).
Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills
Stefon Diggs was one of fantasy’s most consistent players in both 2020 and 2021, but the 2021 version of Diggs just didn’t present the same ceiling. Diggs scored 25.0 or more fantasy points in 31% of his 2020 outings, but only managed to exceed that mark once in 2021 (6%). The reason? I’m not sure I can find one outside of poor efficiency. Diggs averaged 17.7 XFP/G in 2020, but exceeded that expectation by +2.9 FPG. Compare that to 2021, where Diggs actually had a better workload (18.4 XFP/G) but fell short of his expectation by -1.6 FPG. Other metrics also bear this out. Diggs’ PFF receiving grade fell from 90.6 in 2020 to 81.9 in 2021, and his YPRR fell from 2.49 to 1.84. So where do we take him drafts? Well, I’m not banking on Diggs’ 2020 efficiency bouncing back as his 2020 season was far and away the most efficient of his career, suggesting it’s likely an outlier. But he is still one of the league’s best WRs (tethered to one of the league’s best QBs) and has a locked-in 25% target-share in a pass-happy offense. I’m slightly below Diggs’ positional ADP of WR4, but only barely as he’s my WR5 (16th overall ranked player) in 2022 best ball.
Finally, as a bonus aside, I wanted to look at positional consistency. Looking only at the 20 highest-scoring players at each position, here’s how each position fared in terms of coefficient of variation over the past three seasons. The WR position was the most consistent, followed by QBs, then RBs, and then TEs.
I think this gives credence to the notion of always fading the TE chalk in DFS, and just punting the position in the hopes of a boom game. Even Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews didn’t wind up as the most consistent producers among flex players in 2021 despite being far and away the highest-volume players at the position.
And with how consistent WRs are, maybe we should never be letting superstars like Davante Adams, Deebo Samuel, Diontae Johnson, Stefon Diggs, etc. fall below 10% DFS ownership. Simply attacking the WRs with high-end production at the lowest-end of ownership appears to be a winning strategy, broadly speaking.