Timing is everything.
The fantasy football playoffs are a fickle beast, and while we constantly urge that you merely steer your team into them before worrying about success in them, there's no denying that having the right pieces in place from Weeks 14-17 -- and especially those final two -- is critical in ultimately capturing your league's championship. There are always waiver-wire wonders you must get to in advance of your competition, something that was as true this year as in any from the past.
But making the right pick on draft day remains imperative, and for the second consecutive season it was clear that the first-round pick you needed to make was Christian McCaffrey. After residing on the greatest percentage of ESPN fantasy football championship teams in 2018 (37.8%), McCaffrey finished third overall on the 2019 list, placing on 25.4% of title-winners.
Considering McCaffrey's two-year run of excellence, his high placement on this year was entirely expected. His 471.2 PPR fantasy points were the second-most in a season by any player in NFL history, and his 856.7 points in 2018-19 combined trailed only Priest Holmes' 885.7 from 2002-03, Marshall Faulk's 879.6 from 2000-01 and Faulk's 859.8 from 1999-2000 among two-year totals in the game's history, making McCaffrey the one true "must-have" from the past two seasons. McCaffrey was the highest-scoring player from Weeks 14-17 combined in 2019, totaling 117.1 PPR fantasy points, and he scored at least 17.2 points in every week from Week 8 forward, the only player who can claim that in all 10 of those weeks (the next-closest, Lamar Jackson and Ryan Tannehill, had eight such games apiece during that time span).
While McCaffrey led the league in fantasy scoring, he wasn't the player most commonly found on ESPN championship teams' rosters. That honor belonged to Breshad Perriman, who placed on 27.2% of said rosters thanks to his 76.2 PPR fantasy points combined as a starter for the injury-riddled Buccaneers from Weeks 15-17 combined. That was the second-most points by a wide receiver and sixth-most overall during that time span, and it made him the waiver-wire gem of the 2019 fantasy playoffs, his roster percentages going from 0.01% of ESPN playoff qualifiers, to 3.6% of finalists, to the aforementioned 27.2% of league champions.
Perriman's status as a critical in-season pickup merely headlined a fantasy postseason full of bargain-basement picks. Three of the six players most commonly found on ESPN champions' rosters in 2019 were undrafted players who began the fantasy playoffs on fewer than 10% of rosters: Perriman, A.J. Brown (undrafted, on 9.8% of playoff qualifiers) and Tyler Higbee (undrafted, on 1.6% of playoff qualifiers). A fourth, Tannehill (undrafted, on 10.0% of playoff qualifiers) barely made it onto greater than 10% of playoff qualifers' rosters. These players, naturally, finished 11th (and third among wide receivers), seventh (second among wide receivers), 15th (first among tight ends) and eighth (second among quarterbacks) in PPR fantasy points from Weeks 14-17.
Two other running back fill-ins earned large such percentages: DeAndre Washington, a three-week fill-in for the injured Josh Jacobs in Weeks 14, 16 and 17, placed on 15.4%, sixth-highest among running backs. Mike Boone, a Week 16 and 17 fill-in for the injured Dalvin Cook, placed on 12.0%, 11th-highest at the position.
Before you leap to criticize the inclusion of Week 17 in any fantasy playoff setup -- and in ESPN leagues, remember that the championship matchup combined both Weeks 16 and 17 -- bear in mind that a pair of sitting Ravens did finish among the top 25 players most commonly found on ESPN championship rosters: Lamar Jackson, whose final-week absence cost him a chance at the single-season record for fantasy points by a quarterback, was on 19.1%, and Mark Andrews, who had a quiet Weeks 14-16 before sitting out the regular-season finale, was on 13.8%. Jackson's rate was second-highest among quarterbacks, Andrews' sixth-highest among tight ends.
With thanks to Sean Comerford, who oversees our League Manager product, here are all 57 players who resided on championship rosters in at least 10% of ESPN 10-team standard leagues, along with their preseason ADPs and fantasy points:
You might first notice the lower percentages amongst the top-placing names than in seasons past. Perriman's 27.2% rate, in fact, was the second-lowest for the league's leader in the past six seasons, exceeding David Johnson's 23.6% of 2016 but falling short of McCaffrey's 37.8% in 2018, Todd Gurley II's 34.4% in 2017, Tim Hightower's 33.6% in 2015 and Odell Beckham's 31.0% in 2014. It seemed that there was a greater number of "winning combinations" this year, something that might be attributed to many of the higher-scoring players through Week 13 maintaining a decent level of consistency through the fantasy postseason.
To that point, all 10 players who exceeded 300 PPR fantasy points in 2019 resided on a champion's roster in at least 10.2% of ESPN leagues. The top three scoring players for the season at all six fantasy positions -- quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, kicker and team defense/special teams -- also placed on at least 10.1%.
Here are the five most popular players at all six standard positions on the rosters of ESPN championship teams: