A closer look at some Fantasy football difference makers
By Martin Richardson
For most people, the fantasy football season is over. For some, it ended weeks ago with the pain of a playoff-less season, perhaps trading players away for better prospects next year. For others (and I am not ashamed to say it: me included) it ended with success: a fantasy championship under your belt and the eternal glory above all your peers. But how did it happen? What caused that success or failure? Chances are it was down to some luck or perhaps hours of looking at projections, injury statuses and that wonderful gut feeling we all have.
Over the next few articles, I’m going to look at players who will have made the difference for fantasy football players, ranging from MVP running backs, to unlikely rookie wide receivers who balled out every week, who will no doubt be the talk of the many summer drafts in 2024.
Now, let’s start with those quarterbacks.
When drafting a quarterback, people often consider: how early is too early to draft one? You could easily go early and draft those premium names like Jalen Hurts. But perhaps that costs you those valuable RB2s or a solid WR flex, say a James Connor or a Nico Collins. But an argument is there to be had that the security of a Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes gives you a better chance of success.
Well, if only it was that simple.
Now it is not impossible to go into a season with one of those two elite QBs on your team, but chances are you would have to look elsewhere for points. Most quarterbacks will score double figures every week, making them a valuable mid round draft option, unless they have had a truly terrible week (as I will show later), so how to measure a difference maker or a ‘bust’ in the QB category isn’t exactly easy. Even on a bad week, an average QB can get more points than a TE does in half a season. So, I’ve based it on a few different things really: those projections that fantasy apps give us every week and how they’ve performed overall, as you’ll see with who I’ve picked. I’ve also considered those outside factors that may have an impact- I could easily pick Bryce Young and scrutinize his poor season with multiple head coaches, but we all know that already; and I’ve also looked at injuries as well (as some of these primetime games are back up QB central: shoutout to Joe Flacco by the way). There is no point picking out Zach Wilson for example, but I do question anyone who plays fantasy football and thinks starting Zach Wilson is a good idea. So, with all that in mind, I’ve tried to be a little outside the box with my picks of who would be a true difference maker in fantasy or who may well be a bust that cost you a playoff place if you listened to preseason hype.
4280 passing yards, 31 touchdowns
144 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns
From Mr. Irrelevant to Mr. Fantastic in 16 games. What a season he and the 49ers have had so far. Purdy has had only 2 games with single figures all season: week 6 against a mean Browns defense, and week 16 in that brutal loss to the Ravens where he threw four interceptions, which was his only real poor showing. Every other week he has either thrown one or multiple touchdowns and over 200 hundred yards, which is money when it comes to fantasy points every week. Because of the efficiency of Purdy in this typical Shanahan offense, players like Brandon Aiyuk have become top names across the NFL as well for fantasy players. His ability to move the ball has absolutely helped Christian McCaffrey become the dual threat as a rushing and catching back.
His highlights this season include four touchdowns against fellow NFC rivals the Dallas Cowboys 42-10, as well as over 250 yards in the air, helping fantasy players with 20+ points. He had over 600 total yards and three touchdowns against both the Jacksonville Jaguars 34-3 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-14, where he announced himself as a true NFL MVP candidate. He backed up that claim with four more touchdowns and over 300 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles in a 42-19 win and then had another four touchdown haul against the Arizona Cardinals in a 45-29 win.
These are just the BIG games that Purdy has had this season and even when he was not putting these teams to the sword, he still managed touchdown after touchdown and has amassed just shy of 300 points on the EPSN fantasy app, making him the 6th overall quarterback. He has had 50% of the season with more than 20 points, which is such a massive number considering he was picked last in the draft (has anyone mentioned that before?).
What makes this even more impressive is that he was only projected to have, according to ESPN, 20 touchdowns and should only have been drafted in ‘superflex leagues’ and were concerned that this lack of rushing contributions would hinder fantasy value.
This perhaps looks a little foolish now that Purdy has gone on to be the franchise record holder for most yards in a single season, beating the previous record held by Jeff Garcia.
3843 passing yards, 30 touchdowns
248 rushing yards, 4 touchdowns
When I looked at the top ten QBs in fantasy football, I wasn’t that shocked when I saw names like Allen, Mahomes and Hurts. But what shocked me most was that Jordan Love was a top 5 QB. Then when I looked at those stats, it became clear why: 34 total touchdowns and over 4000 total scrimmage yards. Not bad for someone people wrote off as a shadow of Aaron Rodgers in the summer.
What makes this even more impressive, to me anyway, is that he has done it without his main running back Aaron Jones for most of the season, his WR1 Christian Watson was injured on and off all season and Love has had to make do with a band of young players that no one had really heard of until Love unlocked their potential. He hasn’t really utilized rookie tight end Luke Musgrave this season but has managed to get Tucker Kraft into games throughout the season. All in all, these names would have been down any draft board, and even Love as well for that matter, but what is very clear is that Love has been a top fantasy pick up for people this year and will be for years to come if the Packers front office give him some weapons and support next season.
Love exploded onto the fantasy scene with six touchdowns in his first two games: a commanding 38-20 win against rivals the Chicago Bears, and a (in hindsight, shock) loss against the Atlanta Falcons 25-24. His form dipped somewhat with the loss of Watson and he threw three interceptions against Las Vegas Raiders 17-13. But soon after, Love was throwing touchdowns to a young WR core of players: Jayden Reed now has eight touchdowns, as does Romeo Doubs, but Dontayvion Wicks and Bo Melton have caught important touchdowns to help the Packers potentially make the playoffs.
Taking a look back to the summer, ESPN said that Love would only be a ‘late round flier’ and perhaps was one to avoid due to his ‘young supporting cast.’ What makes this take even worse was that Love was predicted to have a worse season than Derek Carr at the Saints (24 TDs and 12 INTS), but a slightly better season than Mac Jones (17 TDs and 12 INTS) for the Patriots, only hitting 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Compared to both of those, I think Jordan Love would be the one to watch going into 2024 fantasy football drafts.
Fantasy Football Quarterback busts:
Where there are stars in fantasy football, there must always be busts, and this year has actually proved difficult quite simply due to the injuries that have hit QBs. Should I pick Dorian Thompson- Robinson who just simply looked out of his depth for the Browns? No, I’ve gone with people who have been playing most of the season, and looked at how their poor form has had massive ripples in fantasy football.
2070 passing yards, 6 touchdowns
54 rushing yards, 1 touchdown
I mean ok, this may seem harsh. He had a poor coaching situation that resulted in Matt Canada losing his job mid-season. But, there was so much hype for Pickett to push on this season and become the QB that the Steelers drafted in 2022. However, it just never happened. He has thrown six, yes SIX touchdowns all season, which is just incredible considering Joe Flacco has thrown 13 touchdowns in five games since his return. Pickett has had six games where he has had a pitiful amount of points of less than ten. So early in the season the writing was on the wall for Pickett and fantasy players as he threw just over 100 yards and an interception against the Texans in week 4. It was even worse for Pickett in week 8 against the Jaguars as he threw a woeful 73 yards and nothing else.
When you look at Pickett’s season, there is no real case for him to have ever be ‘the guy’. He had fellow second year talent George Pickens on his roster, as well as running back tandem Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren to look for on plays. He even had another breakout candidate, tight end Pat Freiermuth to give him options and opportunities for success, but it just never happened. Add to this the fact that Mason Rudolph has performed better than both Pickett and perennial back up Mitch Trubisky, Pickett could well find himself warming the pine for the Steelers and not just fantasy managers across the land. It is no coincidence that Pickens had his best career game in week 16 when there was no Pickett on the field, with Pickens catching the ball for nearly 200 yards and two touchdowns.
The hype for Pickett was no doubt something that drew everyone in last summer, but I doubt that anyone will trust him going into year three, regardless of any moves they make for their OC next season, or even if they beef up their offensive options to compliment Pickens and Harris et al.
2545 passing yards, 10 touchdowns
193 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns
The Atlanta Falcons are an enigma. They have a coach that doesn’t trust any of his QBs, a potential true WR1 who no one throws the ball to, yet when they do people are shocked that Drake London can play ball. They have a running back who was touted as the best running back in recent history. But the Falcons have form with ‘best of’s’, just ask Kyle Pitts (I’m sure one day it will work out for him, maybe just not in Atlanta). Yet somehow the Falcons have managed to have a QB under centre that is just not good enough at all. I will go on record now and say that if Steve Smith keeps his job this year, he would lose it before the end of the next season and it will be because of his inability to create a functional QB room. Ridder and Heinicke are not the answer to a question that Smith seems unwilling to try to answer successfully.
This has had a calamitous impact on fantasy matchups if you had to play Ridder at any point. Lowlights on his season include two interceptions and fumble against the Jaguars, three fumbles in a game he somehow won against the Buccaneers (I know I’m as confused as the next man) and two interceptions against the Saints. It is just impossible to gauge whether Ridder would have a fantastic fantasy game or be benched halfway through a game for Tayler Heinicke.
Ridder’s inconsistent form has, as I mentioned, impacted players like Bijan Robinson and Drake London, with both players having multiple games with single figures; unless its against the Bucs and London had a career game. Life as a Bucs fan is tumultuous recently to say the least. But I digress. Unless Ridder is riding the pine permanently in Atlanta next season, I can’t see how players like Robinson and London push on and become viable fantasy options for anyone in 2024.
With the fantasy football quarterbacks thoroughly dissected and discussed, my focus will now move on to the running backs and perhaps the MVP of all fantasy leagues, the one and only Christian McCaffrey. But that is such an easy take, so I might just have to go a little more far afield for my running back difference makers.
A Yorkshireman living in Lancashire, Martin is a massive NFL fan but his heart belongs to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Also a huge Fantasy Football enthusiast and spends far too long crunching the numbers! Follow him at @MRBucsFan31