In a season full of unpredictability, the fantasy finals -- Weeks 16 and 17 combined in ESPN 10-team standard leagues -- served as a worthy reminder that while in-season roster management has become more important than ever, a strong draft is still essential to your team's success.
The two players found on the greatest percentage of ESPN fantasy football championship teams this year were two of the three who ranked among the top 12 overall scorers across all positions both in Weeks 1-13 and Weeks 14-17 of the season: Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers and Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, the latter my pick for 2018 Fantasy Football MVP.
The third player to register a top-12 PPR fantasy point total in both the 13-week "regular season" and the four-week "fantasy playoffs" was the year's most outstanding rookie, Saquon Barkley. Those three were among the nine players who resided on at least 30 percent of ESPN championship rosters this season.
McCaffrey could be found on 37.8 percent of said rosters, which is the highest percentage by any individual player in the past half-decade, surpassing past seasonal leaders Todd Gurley II (34.4 percent, 2017), Tim Hightower (33.6 percent, 2015), Odell Beckham Jr. (31.0 percent, 2014) and David Johnson (23.6 percent, 2016). McCaffrey's percentage, as well as second-half production -- his 253.2 PPR fantasy points from Week 9 forward were more than 50 points greater than any other player had during that time span -- exhibited how critical it still is to draft well, as 99.0 percent of ESPN league champions who rostered him also drafted him in the preseason. As the No. 16 overall pick on average, McCaffrey proved one of 2018's best overall values.
While recent seasonal results have shown that a keen eye on the waiver wire and the right in-season trades are critical to your team's success, the 2018 championship players list supports McCaffrey's contrary point: Draft day still matters ... and oh, does it still matter at that.
Nine of the 15 players found on at least 25 percent of ESPN championship rosters were drafted by those same teams -- using the criteria of at least 95 percent of said champions being the ones who originally drafted the player. Eight of those nine, meanwhile, were players selected in the first 40 picks of the draft on average during the preseason, and three were top-20 picks: McCaffrey, Barkley and Alvin Kamara.
Not that waiver-wire management has become any less important, especially if you've been keeping tabs with our previous lists of the players most commonly found on ESPN playoff and finals-matchups teams in recent weeks. This season, the theme seemed to be that waiver-wire players got you to the championship matchup, but it was the players who got you there who put you over the top.
Among the players either undrafted or barely drafted, and/or were clear in-season pickups, who resided on at least 25 percent of ESPN 10-team standard championship rosters were Nick Chubb, selected in only 1.7 percent of ESPN leagues in the preseason but the No. 8 scoring running back in the final 11 weeks of the season (165.2 PPR fantasy points from Week 7 forward); the Chicago Bears' defense/special teams, the No. 10 D/ST selected and picked in only 28.1 percent of leagues in the preseason but the No. 1 scoring defense/special teams (188 points) by an astonishing 55 point margin; and Phillip Lindsay, an almost completely undrafted player in fantasy -- and completely undrafted in the April NFL draft -- who finished as the No. 13 running back for the season with 222.8 PPR fantasy points.
As for the top-scoring player from the ESPN fantasy playoffs of Weeks 14-17 combined, Derrick Henry? While he accomplished one of the most unusual feats in fantasy football history by scoring a combined 105.8 PPR fantasy points during that four-week span, he was actually not one of the players most commonly found on championship rosters, residing on only 14.4 percent of them. That was only the 14th-best total by any running back this season. That's in part, however, due to his two best weeks of the four coming in Weeks 14-15, when fewer teams would've been astute enough to consider starting him in those games.
Here are all 45 players who resided on championship rosters in at least 15 percent of ESPN 10-team standard leagues, along with their preseason ADPs and fantasy points:
Mahomes' high placement on the list -- he also exceeded the percentages of any of the leaders from the past four seasons, despite placing second behind McCaffrey -- doesn't do justice to his dominance this year. He broke Peyton Manning's 5-year-old record for fantasy points by a quarterback (410.0 points, in 2013), scoring 417.1 points of his own, and became only the second quarterback in history to score at least 15 points in all 16 games of a season (Tom Brady, 2011).
Splitting up the percentages into top-fives at the position, however, shows that Mahomes was far and away the quarterback to have this season, and remember, he cost the mere price of a 13th-round draft pick in an ESPN standard league in the preseason, with an ADP ranked 122nd. Say hello to your runaway 2018 MVP!
Here are the five most popular players at the key positions on the rosters of ESPN championship teams: