<
>

Alvin Kamara, Todd Gurley among the most popular players on fantasy football finalists

One final step.

For those who have advanced to their league's fantasy football championship game, it's all that stands in the way to a title.

Make no mistake, however: It's a big step, evidenced by the list of most popular players on the rosters of 2017 ESPN fantasy football finals teams below. The top three scorers in Weeks 14-15 combined -- ESPN's two-week semifinals matchup -- all managed to lead their teams to victory and a finals berth in at least 25 percent of leagues. Conversely, these same three players found themselves on the losing side of the ledger in at least 24 percent of leagues (that number comparing their rostered percentages on playoff versus finals teams).

Yes, it's a truth that's nothing new to the veteran fantasy owner: Anything can happen in the fantasy football playoffs, even ones with two-week playoff matchups.

As running backs dominated the fantasy football leaderboard in Weeks 14-15 -- they were responsible for nine of the 15 highest combined scores in those weeks among all positions (including team defense/special teams) -- it should come as no surprise that they also dominated the list of most-rostered players in the finals, capturing 11 of the top 20 spots in terms of greatest percentages.

Here are all 33 players who reside on rosters of finalists in at least 25 percent of ESPN 10-team standard leagues, along with their preseason ADPs and fantasy points:

NOTE: Players with a "--" in the ADP column had an average draft position that was considered "undrafted."

Alvin Kamara's presence at the top of the list is interesting from a couple of angles. He has put forth an exceptional seasonal fantasy point total (273.6, eighth most among all players and third most among running backs), and made it onto playoff rosters in a league-high 77.4 percent of ESPN leagues. At the same time, he was injured just eight plays (out of 52) into the New Orleans Saints' Week 14 game -- the opening fantasy playoff week -- putting his teams in quite a hole due to his scoring a season-low 5.7 points. Kamara rebounded with 20.9 points in Week 15, but his two-week score ranked just 23rd among running backs, which helps explain why he had the position's largest differential in playoff- and finals-qualifying percentages (29.1 percent decrease).

And surprise, surprise, the highest-scoring player for the season (333.7 PPR fantasy points) as well as in Weeks 14-15 combined (73.5), Todd Gurley II, captured the No. 2 spot on the list. Gurley, a second-round pick on average in the preseason, has been responsible for much fantasy success in 2017. It's important to point out, however, that his league-high percentage this season actually trailed the leading percentage of a year ago, when three players were on at least 40 percent of ESPN finalists' rosters: Le'Veon Bell (41.5 percent), LeSean McCoy (41.4) and David Johnson (40.2). Hey, there's that running back theme again. It's almost as if they're critical to a team's success in fantasy football!

While Kamara's differential was the greatest at running back, a more devastating injury contributed to the largest such percentage among all players: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, who was on 57.3 percent of ESPN playoff rosters, is on a mere 12.1 percent of those in the finals (45.2 percent differential). Along with Wentz and Kamara, the Los Angeles Chargers' defense (35.2 percent differential, 53.3 percent playoffs and 18.1 percent finals), JuJu Smith-Schuster (30.5 percent differential, 52.2 percent playoffs and 21.7 percent finals) and Greg Zuerlein (29.3 percent differential, 66.2 percent playoffs and 36.9 percent finals) rounded out the top five.

Among some of the other storylines from the above list:

  • Aaron Rodgers is on the second-largest percentage of ESPN finalists' rosters (27.0 percent), which has every bit as much to say about the "stream quarterbacks" strategy as it does his own performance in Week 15, which was respectable on the fantasy ledger (21.90 points) but not so much on the game film. After all, at the onset of the fantasy playoffs in standard ESPN leagues -- the Thursday night kickoff of Week 14 on Dec. 7 -- Rodgers was rostered in 48.9 percent of leagues. By the conclusion of Week 15, that number had swelled to 91.8 percent. Now that the Packers have been eliminated from playoff contention, he has since been placed on injured reserve, ending his season.

  • The sixth-highest-scoring player of Weeks 14-15 combined, Keelan Cole (50.5 PPR points), isn't even on 1 percent of ESPN finalists' rosters -- though that could certainly change via weekly add/drops. His performance continues to illustrate that valuable, championship-winning pieces can be found on the waiver wire even this late in the year. Rod Smith (on 4.7 percent of finalists' rosters), Blake Bortles (4.6), Robbie Gould (7.9 percent) and Jameis Winston (8.1) are four other players who scored at least 40 points and were top-20 scorers in Weeks 14-15 combined but have low percentages.

  • Kenyan Drake was rostered in 68.9 percent of leagues at kickoff of Week 14 and 80.2 percent at the conclusion of Week 15, an increase of 11.3 percent. That increase might somewhat explain how he's on only 5.4 percent fewer finalists' rosters (30.6 percent) than playoff rosters (36.0 percent), but that's still an exceptionally small decrease in that number. Drake, so far, has been fantasy's "secret weapon" of the 2017 playoffs, and his 47.6 PPR points in Weeks 14-15 combined ranked sixth overall and fourth most among running backs.

  • No defense/special teams scored more than 25 fantasy points combined in Weeks 14-15, but the two top-scoring defenses for the season, the Jacksonville Jaguars (189) and Baltimore Ravens (163), can also be found on the greatest percentage of ESPN finalists' rosters: 33.1 and 33.0 percent.

  • Ezekiel Elliott contributed zero fantasy points in Weeks 14-15 (or Weeks 10-13, for that matter) as he served a six-game suspension, and he was rostered in only 0.2 percent more ESPN leagues at the conclusion of Week 15 (95.2 percent) compared to kickoff of Week 14 (95.0). Remarkably, he's the 13th-most commonly found name on finalists' rosters, and now he's back to contribute to his teams in matchups against the Seattle Seahawks (Week 16) and Eagles (Week 17).

Once our league champions are officially crowned, we'll once again update you on the players who reside on the most championship rosters in ESPN 10-team standard leagues. Will Gurley continue to carry his fantasy teams on his shoulders? Can Drake serve as the fantasy playoffs MVP? Will Elliott's return to action ultimately be a difference-maker?

We'll get our answers in two weeks.