Championship Defining Statistics from the 2022 Season (Fantasy Football)
And just like that, although it feels like we all sat down to draft just yesterday, the 2022 fantasy season has come and gone. I sincerely hope that you are lifting up your trophy, sliding on your ring, and belting on that championship buckle as we speak; if not, though, it’s never too early to get ready for August. Here are seven of my major takeaways from this season. All data is from nflfastR.
The Dust Has Settled
One of my favorite season-long player metrics is Championships Above Replacement, or CAR for short. You can read more about it here; the basic idea is to take the ‘points above replacement’ concept (how much a fantasy player scores above an average player available to ‘replace’ him), extend it from points to wins, and then from wins to championships. The crux of the calculation is that points are much more important in Weeks 15-17 (the playoffs) than Weeks 1-14. While wins in the regular season can help you to earn a bye, wins in the playoff have a much higher impact on your championship chances!
Here are the CAR leaders from 2022 – this is an impactful list since it literally tells us which players gave you the greatest chances of winning it all. The values give the estimated probability of winning a championship if you had this player and an average roster otherwise; for example, Austin Ekeler and a bunch of other average players would win about 31% of the time. This is similar to a best ball ‘win rate,’ it’s just estimated for a single QB, 12-team league, instead of being empirically observed across many contests conditional on draft position. The dashed white line gives us the average win rate (one out of twelve).
Here are some quick takeaways:
- No surprises at the top: Austin Ekeler was the fantasy MVP this season, cementing his glory with a 30.1-point RB1 performance in the fantasy championship. He was far ahead of the pack, giving you an estimated 31% of winning a title, much higher than the 8.3% average rate. Ekeler represented the perfect combination of great performances during the regular season (18.9 PPG) and an even better playoff stretch (22.0 PPG). Also, shout out to Christian McCaffrey, who rewarded the faithful with another incredible season.
- It’s interesting to see Patrick Mahomes in 2nd, especially because we usually espouse waiting on a quarterback in single-QB leagues. It’s possible that dominators like Mahomes and Allen are bucking this trend despite the seeming lack of comparative advantage (only 12 QBs are started). This season, Mahomes was the overall QB1 with 27.0 PPG in the playoffs. It’s odd to say, but he’s probably a first-rounder next season.
- No, that’s not a trick of the light: George Kittle is rated higher than Travis Kelce. This phenomenon is summarized in my (admittedly hot-takey) tweet:
Hot Take Alert…
George Kittle: 8.5 PPG regular season, 20.2 PPG fantasy playoffs
Travis Kelce: 16.7 PPG regular season, 12.5 PPG playoffs
Kittle outscored Kelce by 7.8, 12.7 and 2.5 in the playoffs
Was Kittle the more valuable TE overall? Better when it mattered!
— Matt DiSorbo (@datavizuals) January 2, 2023
Pretty wild stuff, but that’s the power of CAR. The TE4 might be more ‘valuable’ than the superstar TE1 because (1) their playoff performances are so different and (2) playoff performances are so much more important than regular season stints. Still, I wouldn’t blame you if you went back in a time machine and took Kelce over Kittle.
- In a similar vein, this chart shows us players that dominated all season long and fell short come playoff time. I mentioned Travis Kelce, but Justin Jefferson is the prime example. He’s the WR1 and was amazing in Weeks 15-16 (24.8 PPG) but then fell apart to the tune of one catch for 15 yards in the fantasy championship. Again, CAR is unforgiving when these lapses come in the playoffs, and JJ is ranked 8th in this metric when his resume otherwise might put him at the top. Mike Evans is the opposite: because of his insane Week 17 romp, he jumped all the way up to 23rd in CAR. Any Mike Evans manager will tell you that he didn’t feel like the 23rd most impactful fantasy player this season!
- Indeed, for much of the season, we all crowned this the ‘Year of the WR,’ but no wideouts cracked the top five. Indeed there were two running backs at #1 and #3, after Jonathan Taylor, last year’s RB1, only managed to finish 5th in CAR. This is in part due to flagging performance down the stretch, but it also emphasizes the comparative nature of ‘above replacement.’ Justin Jefferson, Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, A.J. Brown, and CeeDee Lamb were all awesome. However, because they were all so awesome, it makes each of the individual awesomeness… less awesome. Tyreek going off in your lineup might have been canceled out by CeeDee putting up numbers in your opponent’s roster.
- Finally, note that CAR isn’t a very good predictor of future performance, since it’s so heavily impacted by those three playoff weeks. It’s more important to look at season-long data, to get a larger body of work. Plus, it’s very hard to know how your players will perform in Weeks 15-17 when you are sitting down to draft in August! The bottom line: don’t worry too much about optimizing for CAR going forward. It’s just fun to analyze historical data.
Let’s Face It…
…this was a boring year of fantasy football.
We’ve talked at length about how scoring was down significantly this year. It’s unclear if this is from a dearth of high-quality quarterbacks, more Cover 2 on the defensive side, or just pure randomness. What is clear is that this scoring drop happened across all positions:
We saw five-year lows in the total number of performances of 20+ points and 40+ points. No week in 2022 cracked the top 10 in terms of total fantasy scoring (since 1999). By contrast, 2020 had five such weeks, and 2021 had two; the highest-scoring week in 2022 was 23rd on this list. Even though Austin Ekeler was incredible, he wasn’t as impactful as previous fantasy MVPs: Cooper Kupp in 2021, Alvin Kamara in 2020, or Christian McCaffrey in 2019.
Things didn’t even go wrong as much as they usually do: we had the lowest number of negative performances on record (since 1999). At least there were no scores of 6.66; the last was in 2010, so it’s been some time since that unlucky number has shown up.
Who Is To Blame?
Here are the biggest team changes in fantasy scoring vs. last season:
Trevor Lawrence has, for what seemed like the first time in forever, a competent offense running Jacksonville. Christian Kirk was the WR14, Zay Jones the WR24. Travis Etienne Jr. ended as the RB16, Lawrence as the QB8, and Evan Engram the TE6 after some crazy performances down the stretch. In second place was the Detroit Lions, another revamped offense. Jamaal Williams might be the fantasy player of the year in my book: the perennial backup finished as the RB12, and we’ll see more of him in this article.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams sit on the other end of the spectrum. Both were high-profile fantasy offenses this season (especially the Bucs, who were record-breakers through much of the season) and both were totally putrid in 2022. Here is the breakdown by team and position: No surprise that the biggest bar here is the Rams, who lost Cooper Kupp to injury and Robert Woods to the Tennessee Titans trade. On the flip side, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle ensured the Miami Dolphins WR chart would look stupendous. The one really positive QB bump was Justin Fields in Chicago; he finished as the QB5, with a six-game stretch of 28.8 PPG in the middle of the season.
How are players notching their fantasy points? We can break out quarterback scoring by points accrued from passing and rushing; this is among QBs who scored above a certain threshold.
No surprise that passing point totals declined a bit, but we saw a massive jump in rushing PPG, much higher a jump than any on record. This isn’t really a surprise: mobile QBs like Justin Fields, Josh Allen, and Jalen Hurts were the talk of the town this season. Patrick Mahomes, known first and foremost for his insane throwing talent, put up 329 yards and four scores on the ground. Rushing will continue to be a crucial part of the position, and it will be even riskier to draft a pure pocket passer.
Here’s a similar chart for RBs, breaking down rushing and receiving points.
Bit of a surprise here: backs scored more on the ground and less through the air. This goes in contrast to our impression of evolving trends and will be something that requires a bit of deeper digging.
Left on Read
For the final time this season, here are players that ‘almost scored’: tackled inside the five-yard line on drives they didn’t eventually find the end zone. These are totals across the entire season.
My goodness, Jamaal Williams. Did you think his 15 rushing touchdowns this season were a lot? What if I told you that he knocked on the door twelve more times? A more disappointing tale is that of Joe Mixon, who finished as the RB13 (inflated because of his insane 53.1-point performance) and often left fantasy managers wanting. This looks like it was largely a run of bad luck: Mixon ‘almost scored’ on ten separate drives. Finally, keep an eye on Isiah Pacheco, the exciting rookie who averaged nearly 12 PPG after taking the helm in Week 11.
Here is the same chart for receivers:
Justin Jefferson is far ahead of the pack here, which actually makes sense: he only had eight receiving TDs on the season. I say ‘only’ because we would expect more with 1771 receiving yards; he remains the WR1 in dynasty and redraft, and potentially is the 1.01 come next season.
I built a simple model that takes into account targets, air yards, and defensive prowess and predicts what we expect WRs to score on the week. Then, we can see which wideouts score more, in a sense overachieving given their workload. Here are the leaders for the 2022 season:
These can be predictive in a single week, since players may have a huge game on only a couple of targets, something we can usually chalk up to luck. That’s not the case over an entire season, though: the ‘overachievers’ generally are just the most talented, most elite receiving options in the league, which is exactly what we see on this chart. It’s insanely impressive that Travis Kelce paces all players (by far) as a tight end. Like Mark Twain once said, the reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated, and he should probably be the TE1 (again) off the board this fall.
One funny name is Brock Wright, the Detroit Lions’ tight end. He scored four touchdowns on 23 targets this season, technically making him an overachiever. Here are the ‘underachievers’:
My oh my. What a sad season for Diontae Johnson. He saw a whopping 137 targets and posted just 844 receiving yards and no scores. His best performance was the WR16 in Week 15, and he finished as the WR37 overall despite being 7th in the league in targets. Hopefully, he gets some better passes thrown his way next year.
What’s Happening Here?
I scoured league data to find some of the funniest spurious (i.e., random and not informative) correlations from stats this season. These are in no way predictive, just funny coincidences. Or are they?
Here are the positive correlations:
Ja’Marr Chase Receiving Touchdowns (red) and JuJu Smith-Schuster Receiving Yards (blue)
Jamaal Williams fumbles (red) and Andy Dalton Rushing Yards (blue)
Joe Mixon fantasy points (red), Austin Ekeler fumble (blue)
And here are the negative correlations:
Marcus Mariota Rush TD (red), Mike Williams receiving yards (blue)
Kyler Murray pass yards (red), Ryan Tannehill rush yards (blue)
Travis Etienne Jr. Receiving Yards (red), Miles Sanders Rushing Touchdowns (blue)
That’s all for this season. Catch me on Twitter for the offseason, and have a kickin’ start to the new year!