Fantasy football: Best and worst of the 2019 campaign

In pretty much every way you can define it, Lamar Jackson is the 2019 fantasy football MVP. Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

The 2019 fantasy football season was full of historic performances, big surprises, deep disappointments and "well, how about that!" statistical findings. With another year in the books, let's take a look back at the season's stories that were.

Lamar Jackson is your fantasy MVP, regardless of how he fares in the on-field MVP race (though he's the prohibitive favorite there too). The No. 119 player selected overall on average (124.4 average draft position), and 15th quarterback, Jackson scored the second-most fantasy points by any quarterback in history (415.7), falling a mere 1.4 points shy of Patrick Mahomes' single-season record of 417.1, set only last season. It's a feat that looks all the more impressive if you consider that Jackson played one fewer game (15) than Mahomes in 2018 (16), while playing 87% of the Ravens' seasonal offensive snaps to Mahomes' 99% of the Chiefs' in 2018.

Jackson's season was chock-full of statistical feats: His 1,206 rushing yards set an NFL record by a quarterback in a single season, breaking Michael Vick's 13-year-old mark, and Jackson's 158.6 fantasy points on rushing plays set a single-season standard, breaking Cam Newton's eight-year-old record of 154.6. Jackson also scored at least 30 fantasy points on seven separate occasions, the most by any quarterback in a single season in NFL history.

Jackson's final point total wasn't the only thing eerily similar to Mahomes' in 2018. They are the only two players out of the 12 to score 400-plus PPR fantasy points in a season this century who were drafted beyond the first two rounds of ESPN leagues on average. Mahomes was selected 122nd overall and 16th among quarterbacks (118.6 ADP) in 2018, in a near-identical place to Jackson in 2019. It's that late-round status that gave Jackson's bold selection great weight from a Most Valuable Player standpoint. Like Mahomes a year ago, Jackson is the clear choice for the 2019 honor.

Mahomes will still enter 2020 as my No. 1 quarterback in the rankings, but expect a compelling offseason debate about whether Jackson should make a push for the honor.

Christian McCaffrey had a season for the ages: The third player in NFL history to amass at least 1,000 yards apiece rushing and receiving in a single campaign -- joining Roger Craig (1985) and Marshall Faulk (1999) -- McCaffrey finished 2019 with the second-most PPR fantasy points all-time (471.2), trailing only LaDainian Tomlinson's 481.1 in 2006. McCaffrey's 116 receptions broke his own year-old record by a running back in a single season, and his 2,392 yards from scrimmage were third-most in league history, behind only Chris Johnson's 2,509 in 2009 and Faulk's 2,429 in 1999.

Unlike Jackson, McCaffrey chipped in with 22.8 PPR fantasy points in Week 17, giving him 15 games of at least 17.2 points in 2019. In fact, he had 11 games worth at least 25 points, tying Faulk (2001) and Tomlinson (2006) for second most by any player at any position in a single campaign, behind only Priest Holmes' 12 in 2003.

Though McCaffrey cost a premium pick -- he was the No. 2 selection on average in the preseason (2.8 ADP) -- he was worth every penny, especially in that he scored a league-leading 117.1 PPR points during the "fantasy playoffs" (Weeks 14-17) and for the season as a whole, he outscored the No. 2 running back, Aaron Jones, by 156.4 points. That's the largest margin between the Nos. 1 and 2 running backs in a single year all time, breaking the record previously held by Emmitt Smith in 1995 (414.8 points), who outscored Barry Sanders (304.2) by 110.6 points. It'll lock McCaffrey in as the consensus No. 1 selection overall entering 2020.

Michael Thomas made more NFL than fantasy history, but his campaign was remarkable nevertheless: In smashing Marvin Harrison's 17-year-old record for receptions in a single season, hauling in 149, Thomas landed himself a lofty -- even if not the most lofty -- place on the all-time wide receiver fantasy leaderboard.

His 374.6 PPR fantasy points ranked ninth at the position in NFL history, and he enjoyed a 98.5 point advantage over the No. 2 scoring wide receiver, Chris Godwin, the largest margin between the top two wide receivers in PPR fantasy points since at least 1950. With no hint that Drew Brees is headed for retirement, Thomas should again be a pass-catching machine, and the locked-in top selection at the position entering 2020.

Jameis Winston goes "30/30" -- not that that's entirely a good thing: The 30/30 club might be a positive in baseball, but it's only halfway so in football, as while any quarterback would love to pass for at least 30 touchdowns, he'd prefer to avoid throwing at least 30 interceptions. Winston's 30th interception was a walk-off pick-six against the Falcons in overtime in Week 17 that became his single-season record-setting seventh of 2019, but he at least can claim the eighth-largest passing yardage total in a single season (5,109), a total that has been exceeded only by Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Winston also finished with the fifth-most fantasy points among quarterbacks (305.4), though his propensity for turnovers might always leave him one bad game away from another benching.

They finished quietly, but the Patriots' D/ST carried you for most of 2019: At one point, the Patriots defense/special teams was on a record-setting pace, carrying a slew of fantasy teams and putting a good number of them into their leagues' respective playoffs. While 12 other D/STs exceeded the Patriots' 60 fantasy points from Week 9 forward, it still gave them a league-leading 225 for the season, which was more than enough to get you into position to win. That's the largest single-season total by a D/ST since the Bears scored 242 and Ravens 231 in 2006, and it's tied for the 16th most by any defense since the NFL moved to a 16-game schedule in 1978.

A fantasy-friendly schedule certainly helped: The Patriots faced the Dolphins and Jets twice apiece and the Bengals, Giants, Redskins and Steelers once each, with all six of those teams ranking among the 10 most favorable, schedule-adjusted matchups for an opposing D/ST.

The biggest disappointment of 2019: David Johnson was the No. 6 pick overall, and No. 5 running back, on average in ESPN leagues in the preseason (7.5 ADP), but both his 141.5 PPR and 105.5 non-PPR fantasy points placed him 37th at his position for 2019. Back and ankle issues cost Johnson Weeks 8 and 9 after limiting him to only three offensive snaps in Week 7, and that, coupled with an additional injury to backup Chase Edmonds, caused the Cardinals to trade for Kenyan Drake following Week 8.

Upon Johnson's return, he totaled 20.0 PPR and 14.0 non-PPR fantasy points in his final six games (even failing to play a single offensive snap in Week 17) while totaling 23 touches. Remarkably, teams that rostered Johnson still advanced to the playoffs in 34.5% of ESPN leagues, though 37 running backs did have a higher such percentage. Now 28, Johnson's future with the Cardinals is uncertain, and he'd probably need to move on to a better situation if he's to even recapture high-end RB2 appeal for 2020.

Speaking of Kenyan Drake: The Cardinals' midseason acquisition was one of the more productive, not only this season but in the game's history. Drake's 214.2 PPR fantasy points in 14 games, six for the Dolphins and eight the Cardinals, were the second most by any running back traded midseason, behind only Herschel Walker's 233.8 points for the Cowboys and Vikings in 1989, and the fourth most by any player traded midseason, behind only Wes Chandler (219.1 for the 1981 Saints and Chargers) and Amari Cooper (215.5 for the Raiders and Cowboys).

Drake scored 159.4 PPR and 131.4 non-PPR fantasy points in his eight games for the Cardinals alone, with those both fourth best among running backs from Week 9 forward. He was an ideal fit for Kliff Kingsbury's offense, should return as the team's No. 1 back entering 2020 and should have RB2 potential.

Drew Brees, at the age of 40, had a big, comeback stretch run: Entering 2019, Brees had missed only three of 208 games since joining the Saints, with two of those Week 17 contests coming when he was resting after the team had locked in playoff positioning. Thumb surgery following Week 2, which cost him five weeks of action, even opened the door for backup Teddy Bridgewater to showcase himself as a still-viable NFL starter. Brees nevertheless returned for Week 8, one week sooner than expected, and scored 204.4 fantasy points in his final nine games of 2019, the second most by any quarterback during that 10-week span (Jackson, 240.1). Brees' 113.2 fantasy points combined from Weeks 14-17 were also the most using non-PPR scoring and second-most using PPR scoring (McCaffrey, 117.1), meaning he probably helped you claim your league's title if his early-season absence didn't cost you your ticket.

Brees will enter 2020 at age 41, needing only 28.6 fantasy points (and 20.6 if using PPR scoring) for 5,000 in his career.

Kyler Murray's rookie year was a successful one: He set no records -- his 285.3 fantasy points were fourth most among rookie quarterbacks in history, behind Cam Newton's 370.3 in 2011, Robert Griffin III's 317.5 in 2012 and Dak Prescott's 286.9 in 2016 -- and failed to score even 17 points in any of his final five games, but Murray's performance still earned him the No. 8 spot among quarterbacks for the season. In the process, he was intercepted only 12 times, also rushing for 544 yards, second most among quarterbacks. He should be primed to take another step forward in 2020, with a near-certainty of a top-10 ranking entering the season.

Saquon Barkley a bust? Think again, as while the No. 1 overall pick in the preseason (1.3 ADP) on average in ESPN leagues finished only 10th at his position in either PPR (244.1 points) or non-PPR scoring (192.1) in scoring, he did elevate his performance enough to contribute to fantasy teams down the stretch. Barkley's 196.0 PPR points from Week 7, his first back from an ankle injury, forward were fourth most among running backs, and he had 104.6 points from Weeks 14-17 to place second at the position. He'll enter 2020 as my No. 2 overall selection.

In a big season by the Patriots D/ST, don't overlook the Steelers' contribution: The 181 fantasy points scored by the Steelers were second most in 2019, 44 behind the Patriots' league-leading total, but they also tied for the 10th-largest total of the decade. In fact, in the past five seasons alone, only the 2019 Patriots (225), 2017 Jaguars (208), 2018 Bears (188) and 2015 Broncos (185) scored more.

A change of scenery helped Ryan Tannehill break out: He took over as the Titans' quarterback in Week 7 and promptly scored 220.0 fantasy points in 10 starts the remainder of the year, a significant contribution for a player scooped up off the waiver wire in almost every league (0.3% rostered entering Week 1). That was the third-most points among quarterbacks during that 11-week span, trailing only Jackson's 263.4 and Fitzpatrick's 222.2.

Wait, then what about Fitzpatrick? That's true, Ryan Fitzpatrick was also one of the most productive late-season quarterbacks whom you could've scooped up off the waiver wire (2.5% rostered entering Week 1). From Week 9 forward, the only three players -- that's at any position, not just quarterbacks -- to score more than the 190.3 fantasy points that Fitzpatrick did were McCaffrey (262.4), Jackson (240.1) and Thomas (191.0).

That meant big things for DeVante Parker too: After years of being labeled a "fantasy breakout" candidate, Parker finally came through, especially during the second half of 2019. His 154.2 PPR fantasy points from Week 9 forward were second best among wide receivers behind only Thomas' 191.0.