Fantasy football is often won by special players doing special things
on a more consistent basis than other players. Many factors contribute
to why special players are, in fact, special. Those factors are
more of a discussion for the offseason. During the season, it often
helps to take a macro look at the fantasy landscape of each position.
Below you will find a position-by-position breakdown of relevant
players in the fantasy game. The goal of this piece is twofold:
1) to clearly illustrate and contextualize what each player is
doing on a weekly basis and 2) to see how glaring the difference
between certain players at the same position are.
For each position, I will lay out different fantasy scoring criteria
that will illuminate what has transpired to this point and give
fantasy managers a clear picture of how much of a disparity there
is between the upper, middle and lower classes at each position.
The color coding should provide some insight as to how consistent
each player has been as well.
Note: Tables are sorted by fantasy points per game.
Green - At least 24 fantasy points per game (FPts/G)
[Elite QB1] White - Between 20-24 FPPG [Mid-range
or low-end QB1] Yellow - Between 15-20 FPPG [QB2] Red - Less than 15 FPts/G Blue - Did not play (DNP) Black - Bye week
For most of the 15-plus years that I played in leagues that awarded
six fantasy points for all touchdowns, I considered 20 fantasy
points the bare minimum of what I should expect from my starting
quarterback. After all, 200 yards passing and two touchdowns or
250 yards and two touchdowns with one interception is not a lot
to ask in today's game. Even though most of my leagues are now
four points per passing touchdown, the influx of quarterbacks
who regularly contribute to the running game still makes 20 fantasy
points a reasonable goal for fantasy managers to shoot for with
With that in mind, it has been a case of the haves and have-nots
through six weeks. In other words, fantasy managers are blessed
to have Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts or Patrick Mahomes
or hoping for the best with the rest of the options at the position.
The separation between first place (Allen) and second place (Jackson)
is stark as it is at 4.3 points/game. However, it makes for a
potentially rough week for nearly half of your league if they
know they have to find a way to make up 10 points at other positions
in their lineup if they are rolling with Justin Herbert (17.9)
or even Kyler Murray (19.5) in the same week they face the Allen
The color coding paints a grim picture of the state of the position
right now. Allen is the only quarterback to live in the green.
Only five quarterbacks have avoided a yellow and red. Joe Burrow
was able to join the 20-point-per-game club because he shredded
the Saints last week (32.5 fantasy points), but it is at least
notable that he was neck-and-neck with Jared Goff before that
The landscape looks even worse once we get past Geno Smith at
18.8 points per game - a figure that dropped significantly after
a surprise defensive battle took place against the Cardinals in
Week 6. (Or maybe it was just Arizona's offensive ineptitude.)
Even if we round up on Goff (19.7) and Murray (19.5) and give
Smith credit for what he did before last week, only eight quarterbacks
are averaging 20 points. That is a startling number for a position
that saw 13 full-time starters reach that mark last season and
17 in 2020. We have to go back to 2017 to find the last time the
position had as few as 12 full-time starters score more than 20
points per game (and that was only because Deshaun Watson and
Aaron Rodgers played only seven games apiece).
About the only beacon of hope we have at this position is the
return of Dak Prescott. Although his showing in the opener against
a stout Tampa Bay defense was not great before suffering his thumb
injury, the expectation was that he was going to run more this
season. He also has a very capable supporting cast. It is also
fair to assume that Justin Herbert will be better than he has
been to this point. Not only does the schedule get easier for
him, but Keenan Allen's eventual return should also be a boon
to his fantasy bottom line.
Green - At least 16 fantasy points per game (FPts/G)
[Elite RB1] White - Between 12-16 FPts/G [Mid-range
or low-end RB1] Yellow - Between 8-12 FPts/G [RB2] Red - Less than 8 FPts/G [RB3] Blue - Did not play (DNP) Black - Bye week
*** Several running backs - such as 49ers FB Kyle Juszczyk
- who average enough points to make the list but shouldn't be
anywhere close to fantasy rosters were excluded from the table
At running back, I want my top running back to average at least
16 fantasy points (preferably closer to 20), which is the equivalent
of 80 total yards and a touchdown and includes two catches. The
problem with that expectation is that there have only been 44
occurrences of a back reaching each of those benchmarks in a game
this season (about 7.5 per week). Worse yet, only 12 backs have
achieved that feat more than once. Making matters worse, only
four backs (Dameon Pierce, Derrick Henry, Austin Ekeler and Saquon Barkley) have hit each of those marks at least three times.
The running back position comes with its usual caveats, including
but not limited to games in which they leave early due to injury.
If we keep that in mind for a player like D'Andre Swift, nine
backs are performing at a RB1 level. Unsurprisingly, three of
the four backs mentioned in the previous paragraph find themselves
in this group. The fourth (Pierce) would likely push that RB1
group number to 10 if it was not for the Texans' coaching staff
spoon-feeding him over the first week or two.
The running back position has not quite been the land of haves
or have-nots that quarterback has, but the color coding makes
it obvious that there is a lack of depth with how quickly the
green fades out at the top of the table. It is also worth mentioning
that injuries - as is typically the case at this position - have
likely robbed fantasy managers of a few more entrants (Cordarrelle Patterson and Jonathan Taylor among them), but the fact remains
most managers are not getting what they hoped for out of this
position quite yet.
There is reason for hope, however. Dalvin Cook is only going
to get better as long as the Vikings' passing game continues to
improve. The recent success of Deon Jackson could incentivize
HC Frank Reich to use Taylor as a receiver more often. Green Bay
will eventually figure out that it needs to give Aaron Jones more
work in the passing game (and preferably on targets a bit more
down the field).
Before we move to receivers and tight ends, I do have an encouraging
thought to share: league scoring is significantly down this year.
How is that encouraging? Football is an eternal battle of offense
versus defense. One side will eventually devise a way to exploit
or shut down the other side when it becomes obvious that the former
has gained a clear advantage. The tide then turns over the course
of months or years and the cycle repeats itself. Through six weeks,
the defense holds the upper hand. One of the most logical reasons
why scoring is down across the league is how often defenses are
playing zone and have adopted the strategy of forcing offenses
to be patient - an approach popularized by Vic Fangio and Brandon
Staley a few years ago.
Repeatedly forcing offenses into 12- or 15-play drives is not
a new concept, but the willingness to dare offenses to run the
ball - and stick to it - when the game is as pass-heavy as it
has ever been is a bit of a new twist. The most obvious solution
- and there are several - to this "new" dilemma is to give the
defense what it wants but to do so with an emphasis on speed and
explosiveness coming out of the backfield. It makes a ton of sense:
if defenses are going to continually give offenses light boxes
and/or smaller personnel (defenses play in sub packages - nickel,
dime, etc. - on roughly 70 percent of plays in today's NFL), then
it stands to reason that we want backs who can take advantage
of that it. Unsurprisingly, each of the seven running backs (Khalil
Etienne and Kenneth
Walker) that are among the top 10 qualified rushers in terms
of yards per attempt right now are highly explosive.
Green - At least 16 fantasy points per game (FPts/G)
[WR1] White - Between 13-16 FPts/G [WR2] Yellow - Between 9-12 FPts/G [WR3] Red - Less than 8 FPts/G [WR4] Blue - Did not play (DNP) Black - Bye week
Much like running back, I want my top wide receiver to average
at least 16 fantasy points (preferably closer to 18), which is
the equivalent of four catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. Most
veteran fantasy managers understand that the touchdown cannot
be a weekly expectation, but most of today's top receivers can
often get to that 16-point mark with volume (eight catches for
80 yards, for example) even when they can't find the end zone.
The top five entries are about what we expected this summer,
albeit in a slightly different order. It is particularly interesting
that despite the depth that exists at receiver and how important
the passing game is nowadays, we have only two more 16-point scorers
at receiver (11) than running back (nine). There are some obvious
reasons as to why that is - which we will not get into today because
that is not the purpose of the article - but this is yet another
reminder that even the deepest position in fantasy football does
not have enough WR1 options for every manager in a 12-team league.
Let me be clear: I recognize that if we lower the threshold of
both running back and receiver to 15 points per game, the disparity
between the two positions becomes wider. (We currently have 11
backs and 18 receivers averaging 15 PPG.) With that said, one
of the reasons why we should set a 16-point threshold is because
it holds our fantasy assets to a higher standard - one that often
needs to be reached for our teams to challenge for fantasy championships.
As we might expect for the deepest position in fantasy, we are
getting much more high-end consistency from our receivers than
at any other position. A quick look at the chart above reveals
that most of the top 27 options - ending with Courtland Sutton
- have given their fantasy managers at least three WR1-level performances.
That is an encouraging thought despite how many players from this
group have already missed games due to injury.
Green - At least 12 fantasy points per game (FPts/G)
[TE1] White - Between 9-12 FPts/G [Mid-range
or low-end TE1] Yellow - Between 6-9 FPts/G [TE2] Red - Less than 6 FPts/G [TE3] Blue - Did not play (DNP) Black - Bye week
*** Several tight ends - such as Jordan Akins and MyCole Pruitt - who average enough points to make the list but shouldn't
be anywhere close to fantasy rosters were excluded from the table
I tend to set the bar at tight end around 12 points per game.
It is a low bar because I believe it should be closer to 14. At
12 points per game, we are hoping for something around six catches
for 60 yards or five for 70. Most fantasy managers already know
what we are dealing with at the position, however; tight ends
are not reaching that benchmark often enough.
Through six weeks, there have only been 52 instances of a tight
end scoring at least 12 fantasy points about 8.7 per week). That
may not sound all that bad until we consider Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews and Zach Ertz are responsible for 12 of them (23.1 percent).
Throw in Dallas Goedert, Pat Freiermuth, Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett and that number swells to 23 (44.3 percent). There have
been only about 10 consistently usable tight ends. Even that statement
is a stretch considering the low bar we established earlier.
Regarding Ertz, he has been a model of consistency. His biggest
problem is that Arizona has attempted only 31 passes inside the
red zone (17 inside the 10) and Kyler Murray has only completed
12 of them (four inside the 10). Ertz is among the league leaders
with 11 red zone targets and seven targets inside the 10. He has
been on the receiving side of 23.5 percent of Murray's red zone
completions and 50 percent of Murray's completions inside the
10. His problem is not opportunity. His biggest issues are also
the Cardinals' biggest problems: interior offensive line play
and HC Kliff Kingsbury's lack of creativity. Perhaps the return
of DeAndre Hopkins helps ease the burden of every Arizona offensive
player, especially in the red zone.
The overriding point of this piece is that fantasy managers likely
need to have at least one of the elite options to have any hope
of making the postseason. If you have one, you need two. If you
have two, try to get three. While nothing is guaranteed when trading
for a top-three quarterback or a top-two tight end, it is the
best way to gain a significant advantage over the other managers
in your league.
Riding with a player like Zay Jones in your WR3 spot may be uncomfortable
for a few weeks after completing a 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 trade (one
which involves you trading a high-end starter at receiver) to
land Kelce or Andrews. However, the odds of finding a replacement
for Jones down the line are a lot better than finding a tight
end that can rival Kelce or Andrews. The same can be said for
Allen, Jackson and Hurts at quarterback.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.