To improve as a fantasy player, it’s important to go back to research how the game is changing and who is providing fantasy players with difference-making value. Reviewing results from the previous season can help with learning positional value trends and the fantasy landscape heading into 2021.

To decide which players provided league-winning value last season, it’s important to evaluate players in direct comparison with their position, not by comparing their total points. For instance, Josh Allen is very likely to outscore Tyreek Hill – but that doesn’t mean he should be drafted higher in one QB leagues.

Generally speaking, a quarterback – even a mediocre one – who starts the entire season is going to outscore most wide receivers. Therefore, we need to evaluate how much more (or less) each player scored compared to the average at their position.

Points Above Average

To gain a baseline or average at each position, I use Fantasy Douche’s old baselines (from an article that is no longer available on the old Rotoworld) with Apex’s lineup and scoring settings. Apex utilizes PPR Scoring and weekly lineups of QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, TE, Flex, K, and D. Defense and kickers were excluded from this study as they generally maintain little year-to-year predictability.

Below are the baselines averaged for each position and their averages per game and for the entire season.

QB RB WR TE
Baseline 16 43 60 18
Average Season 328.69 187.35 202.14 167.28
Average Per Game 22.21 14.24 14.01 11.55

The Baseline above refers to the number of players included in the average. The average season finds a replacement-level value for the entire season. The average per game is a replacement-level value for each position per game.

Even when comparing players by position, there is still the question of whether to compare them by points per game or for the entire season. Players who missed any time are not going to be viewed in a favorable light if we’re comparing players by the entire season. It is important to include the per-game metric because of the high rate of injuries among NFL players, otherwise, a complete picture of the fantasy landscape would not be reflected in the data.

The table below is sorted by Points Above Average Per Game (“PAA PG”) to give us the opportunity to fairly rank players who missed time due to injury. I also included a column for Points Above Average for the entire season under “PAA S”.

Another vital part of figuring out who was the most valuable is how expensive each player was in terms of draft capital – in other words, their average draft position (ADP). The cost of a player is a big determinant of how much value they can provide. Players like Justin Jefferson, who are drafted at an inexpensive cost and produce at a high level, are league-winning players.

For this reason, the Average Draft Position (ADP) on Fantasy Football Calculator from the beginning of September is listed in the table below.

RkPlayerPOSADPPPRPPGPAA SPAA PG
1Christian McCaffreyRB1.290.430.13-96.9515.89
2Davante AdamsWR10.4358.425.6156.2711.59
3Alvin KamaraRB4.9377.825.19190.4510.95
4Dalvin CookRB6.2337.824.13150.459.89
5Travis KelceTE19.9312.820.85145.529.30
6Tyreek HillWR15.8328.921.93126.777.92
7Derrick HenryRB7.4333.120.82145.756.58
8Stefon DiggsWR65328.620.54126.476.53
9Darren WallerTE61.6278.617.41111.325.86
10Dak PrescottQB54.7135.627.13-193.094.92
11Calvin RidleyWR40.9281.518.7779.374.76
12Aaron JonesRB17.5258.918.4971.554.25
13George KittleTE24.4125.115.64-42.184.09
14DeAndre HopkinsWR18.5287.817.9985.673.98
15A.J. BrownWR44.4247.517.6845.373.67
16James RobinsonRBUND250.417.8963.053.65
17Marcus MariotaQBUND25.825.84-302.893.63
18Keenan AllenWR53.5245.117.5142.973.50
19David MontgomeryRB59.7264.817.6577.453.41
20Will FullerWR70.5188.917.17-13.243.16
21Justin JeffersonWR121.5274.217.1472.073.13
22Nick ChubbRB16.3207.717.3120.353.07
23D.K. MetcalfWR45.3271.316.9669.172.95
24Adam ThielenWR30.325416.9351.872.92
25Patrick MahomesQB18.7374.424.9645.712.75
26Jonathan TaylorRB32.6252.816.8565.452.61
27Tyler LockettWR49.9265.416.5963.272.58
28Josh AllenQB101.5396.124.7567.412.54
29Allen RobinsonWR31.8262.916.4360.772.42
30Joe MixonRB13.199.616.6-87.752.36
31Austin EkelerRB11.5165.316.53-22.052.29
32Julio JonesWR14.4146.116.23-56.042.22
33Myles GaskinRBUND164.216.42-23.152.18
34Chris GodwinWR21.519115.92-11.141.91
35Aaron RodgersQB94.3383.323.9554.611.74
36Mike EvansWR27.9248.615.5446.471.53
37Kyler MurrayQB62.6378.723.6750.011.46
38Brandin CooksWR81.523215.4729.871.46
39Chris CarsonRB26.4187.815.650.451.41
40Brandon AiyukWR135.9184.515.38-17.641.37
41Robert WoodsWR42.4245.115.3242.971.31
42Josh JacobsRB9.1231.315.4243.951.18
43Terry McLaurinWR50.8223.814.9221.670.91
44Deshaun WatsonQB69.3369.323.0840.610.87
45Amari CooperWR38.1236.814.834.670.79
46Diontae JohnsonWR89.4221.814.7919.670.78
47David JohnsonRB28.5179.514.96-7.850.72
48Ezekiel ElliottRB3.4223.714.9136.350.67
49Antonio BrownWRUND117.114.64-85.040.63
50JuJu Smith-SchusterWR36.9234.114.6331.970.62
51Mark AndrewsTE42.4170.112.152.820.60
52D'Andre SwiftRB61.4189.814.62.450.36
53Jamison CrowderWR102.617214.34-30.140.33
54Russell WilsonQB62359.822.4931.110.28
55Marvin JonesWR95.1227.814.2425.670.23
56Antonio GibsonRB79202.214.4414.850.20
57Curtis SamuelWR163.9212.114.149.970.13
58D.J. MooreWR32.6211.514.19.370.09
59Robby AndersonWR163.9224.114.0121.970.00
60Justin HerbertQBUND332.822.194.11-0.02
61Lamar JacksonQB22.7332.822.194.11-0.02
62Miles SandersRB12170.414.2-16.95-0.04
63Cooper KuppWR40.3208.713.916.57-0.10
64Cole BeasleyWRUND207.513.835.37-0.18
65C.J. UzomahTEUND22.711.35-144.58-0.20
66Corey DavisWRUND191.413.67-10.74-0.34
67CeeDee LambWR93.2217.713.6115.57-0.40
68Mike DavisRBUND206.513.7719.15-0.47
69Sterling ShepardWR118.9162.513.54-39.64-0.47
70Logan ThomasTEUND176.611.049.32-0.51
71Robert TonyanTEUND176.611.049.32-0.51
72Kareem HuntRB53.1218.513.6631.15-0.58
73Chase ClaypoolWRUND214.913.4312.77-0.58
74T.J. HockensonTE143.1175.310.968.02-0.59
75Ryan TannehillQB156.4344.421.5215.71-0.69
76Clyde Edwards-HelaireRB6.217613.54-11.35-0.70
77Ronald Jones IIRB56.5186.313.31-1.05-0.93
78Mike GesickiTE146.5159.310.62-7.98-0.93
79Dallas GoedertTEUND116.410.58-50.88-0.97
80Melvin GordonRB39.4198.413.2311.05-1.01
81Tom BradyQB88337.921.129.21-1.09
82Tyler BoydWR78.5192.612.84-9.54-1.17
83Hunter HenryTE98145.310.38-21.98-1.17
84Kenyan DrakeRB14.8192.212.814.85-1.43
85Jarvis LandryWR85.518812.53-14.14-1.48
86James ConnerRB22.4164.612.66-22.75-1.58
87Noah FantTE119.6149.39.95-17.98-1.60
88Odell Beckham JrWR35.786.812.4-115.34-1.61
89Raheem MostertRB49.499.712.46-87.65-1.78
90Tee HigginsWRUND194.612.16-7.54-1.85
91Michael ThomasWR5.683.911.99-118.24-2.02
92Eric EbronTEUND141.89.45-25.48-2.10
93DeVante ParkerWR66.7166.311.88-35.84-2.13
94O.J. HowardTEUND37.69.4-129.68-2.15
95Nyheim HinesRB139.9193.212.085.85-2.16
96D.J. CharkWR47.5153.611.82-48.54-2.19
97Jonnu SmithTE153.6140.29.35-27.08-2.20
98Rob GronkowskiTE70.4149.39.33-17.98-2.22
99Hayden HurstTE79.4149.19.32-18.18-2.23
100Emmanuel SandersWR100164.811.77-37.34-2.24
101J.D. McKissicRBUND191.411.964.05-2.28
102Jeff WilsonRBUND142.311.86-45.05-2.38
103Dalton SchultzTEUND146.59.16-20.78-2.39
104Nelson AgholorWRUND185.611.6-16.54-2.41
105Deebo SamuelWR89.180.711.53-121.44-2.48
106Marquise BrownWR6018311.44-19.14-2.57
107Jimmy GrahamTEUND143.68.98-23.68-2.57
108Russell GageWRUND181.111.32-21.04-2.69
109Evan EngramTE74.81418.81-26.28-2.74
110Salvon AhmedRBUND6911.5-118.35-2.74
111Laviska Shenault JrWRUND157.111.22-45.04-2.79
112Austin HooperTE136.7113.58.73-53.78-2.82
113Tyler HigbeeTE89.7128.28.55-39.08-3.00
114J.K. DobbinsRB67168.511.23-18.85-3.01
115T.Y. HiltonWR57.5164.210.95-37.94-3.06
116Jared CookTE115.2127.48.49-39.88-3.06
117Kirk CousinsQBUND306.219.14-22.49-3.07
118Keke CouteeWRUND8710.88-115.14-3.13
119Michael GallupWR72.2173.310.83-28.84-3.18
120John BrownWR149.196.810.76-105.34-3.25
121Tim PatrickWRUND161.210.75-40.94-3.26
122Todd GurleyRB29.1163.210.88-24.15-3.36
123Rex BurkheadRBUND107.610.76-79.75-3.48
124Christian KirkWR116.9146.410.46-55.74-3.55
125Chase EdmondsRB101.116810.5-19.35-3.74
126Mike WilliamsWR161.9153.710.25-48.44-3.76
127Jakobi MeyersWRUND142.510.18-59.64-3.83
128Irv Smith JrTEUND98.57.58-68.78-3.97
129Randall CobbWRUND100.110.01-102.04-4.00
130Leonard FournetteRB35.413210.15-55.35-4.09
131Jerry JeudyWR112.3157.69.85-44.54-4.16
132Allen LazardWR13197.89.78-104.34-4.23
133Jordan ReedTEUND73.17.31-94.18-4.24
134Albert OkwuegbunamTEUND29.17.28-138.18-4.27
135Keelan ColeWRUND155.49.71-46.74-4.30
136Giovani BernardRBUND158.19.88-29.25-4.36
137Gardner MinshewQB159.2160.717.85-167.99-4.36
138Ben RoethlisbergerQB129.5267.217.81-61.49-4.40
139Darnell MooneyWRUND152.19.51-50.04-4.50
140Zach ErtzTE50.677.57.05-89.78-4.50
141Matt RyanQB84.8282.417.65-46.29-4.56
142Preston WilliamsWR130.974.89.35-127.34-4.66
143Rashard HigginsWRUND120.99.3-81.24-4.71
144Drew BreesQB80.1209.517.46-119.19-4.75
145Cam NewtonQB120.726117.4-67.69-4.81
146Joe BurrowQB135.7173.717.37-154.99-4.84
147Travis FulghamWRUND115.98.92-86.24-5.09
148Damien HarrisRB101.191.39.13-96.05-5.11
149Jordan AkinsTEUND83.76.44-83.58-5.11
150Wayne GallmanRBUND136.69.11-50.75-5.13
151Ryan FitzpatrickQBUND153.717.08-174.99-5.13
152Trey BurtonTEUND83.36.41-83.98-5.14
153Latavius MurrayRB94.9136.29.08-51.15-5.16
154Jamaal WilliamsRBUND127.19.08-60.25-5.16
155Derek CarrQBUND272.117.01-56.59-5.20
156Darius SlaytonWR113.21418.81-61.14-5.20
157Devin SingletaryRB46.4143.68.98-43.75-5.26
158Sammy WatkinsWR140.587.48.74-114.74-5.27
159Kendrick BourneWRUND129.78.65-72.44-5.36
160Marquez Valdes-ScantlingWRUND137.38.58-64.84-5.43
161Gabriel DavisWRUND136.98.56-65.24-5.45
162Zach PascalWRUND136.98.56-65.24-5.45
163Dan ArnoldTEUND96.86.05-70.48-5.50
164Darrell HendersonRB114.1130.38.69-57.05-5.55
165Marlon MackRB74.68.68.6-178.75-5.64
166Carson WentzQB107.9198.416.53-130.29-5.68
167Greg WardWRUND133.18.32-69.04-5.69
168Kalen BallageRBUND93.98.54-93.45-5.70
169Gerald EverettTEUND92.95.81-74.38-5.74
170Carlos HydeRB156.584.98.49-102.45-5.75
171Breshad PerrimanWR15399.18.26-103.04-5.75
172Hunter RenfrowWRUND131.68.23-70.54-5.78
173Sony MichelRB107.475.38.37-112.05-5.87
174Reggie BonnafonRBUND16.78.35-170.65-5.89
175James WhiteRB72.7116.68.33-70.75-5.91
176Matthew StaffordQB111.3260.616.29-68.09-5.92
177Dawson KnoxTEUND66.85.57-100.48-5.98
178Mecole HardmanWR106.1128.18.01-74.04-6.00
179Tyler EifertTEUND82.95.53-84.38-6.02
180Jalen ReagorWR109.587.27.93-114.94-6.08
181Kyle RudolphTEUND65.45.45-101.88-6.10
182Teddy BridgewaterQBUND241.216.08-87.49-6.13
183Mo Alie-CoxTEUND80.45.36-86.88-6.19
184Jared GoffQB147.224016-88.69-6.21
185Gus EdwardsRBUND128.28.01-59.15-6.23
186Josh ReynoldsWRUND124.37.77-77.84-6.24
187Larry FitzgeraldWR162.8100.97.76-101.24-6.25
188Anthony FirkserTEUND83.75.23-83.58-6.32
189Jerick McKinnonRB152.3126.27.89-61.15-6.35
190Michael Pittman Jr.WR151.798.97.61-103.24-6.40
191Cam AkersRB52.8101.87.83-85.55-6.41
192Danny AmendolaWRUND106.47.6-95.74-6.41
193Zack MossRB83.7101.67.82-85.75-6.42
194Adrian PetersonRB118.4124.57.78-62.85-6.46
195Richard RodgersTEUND70.55.04-96.78-6.51
196Saquon BarkleyRB2.515.47.7-171.95-6.54
197Duke JohnsonRB13184.47.67-102.95-6.57
198David MooreWRUND118.87.43-83.34-6.58
199Tre'Quan SmithWRUND103.17.36-99.04-6.65
200Baker MayfieldQB144.7248.615.54-80.09-6.67
201Tony PollardRB119.4120.87.55-66.55-6.69
202Willie SneadWRUND94.27.25-107.94-6.76
203Golden TateWR145.386.57.21-115.64-6.80
204Damiere ByrdWRUND114.97.18-87.24-6.83
205Mitchell TrubiskyQBUND153.715.37-174.99-6.84
206Justin JacksonRB137.665.37.26-122.05-6.98
207Devonta FreemanRBUND367.2-151.35-7.04
208A.J. GreenWR69.8111.36.96-90.84-7.05
209KJ HamlerWRUND90.16.93-112.04-7.08
210Alex CollinsRBUND21.17.03-166.25-7.21
211Philip RiversQB159.624015-88.69-7.21
212Anthony MillerWR126.9108.76.79-93.44-7.22
213Demarcus RobinsonWRUND107.66.73-94.54-7.28
214Tyron JohnsonWRUND79.56.63-122.64-7.38
215Malcolm BrownRBUND109.16.82-78.25-7.42
216LeVeon BellRB34.574.66.78-112.75-7.46
217Chris ConleyWRUND97.16.47-105.04-7.54
218Henry Ruggs IIIWR104.584.16.47-118.04-7.54
219Frank GoreRBUND100.26.68-87.15-7.56
220Alexander MattisonRB96.786.96.68-100.45-7.56
221Scott MillerWRUND102.56.41-99.64-7.60
222Jakeem GrantWRUND87.36.24-114.84-7.77
223Isaiah McKenzieWRUND99.66.22-102.54-7.79
224James WashingtonWRUND99.26.2-102.94-7.81
225Braxton BerriosWRUND97.36.08-104.84-7.93
226Jalen GuytonWRUND97.16.07-105.04-7.94
227Phillip LindsayRB83.8666-121.35-8.24
228Boston ScottRB120.195.65.98-91.75-8.26
229Brian HillRBUND95.45.96-91.95-8.28
230Tarik CohenRB84.617.55.83-169.85-8.41

Negative numbers refer to players who finished below the replacement-level average.

Observations

It’s clear the NFL is still continuing to move to a still more pass-heavy league. Even when the receiving production from running backs is included, their production is slipping – while production from all the other positions is rising.

Below is a comparison from this same study done for the 2018 fantasy season.

QB RB WR TE
Average Season 21.07 -12.01 6.58 3.86
Average Per Game 2.23 -0.13 0.4 0.34

Quarterbacks are seeing a big leap of 21.07 fantasy points per season and a 2.23 average fantasy point increase per game. While there are marginal increases for receivers and tight ends, there’s a small decrease for running backs. Teams are not only rushing less but using more running backs, which is decreasing the number of the top players at the position.

While the 2018 study featured five running backs at the top of the most valuable per game list, this list features three. Despite being a first-round pick, Davante Adams clearly out-performed his 10.4 ADP – finishing as the second most valuable player per game – behind a player who missed much of the season.

Travis Kelce was another huge value. Being selected at 19.9 on average, Kelce was the 5th most valuable player regardless of whether you sort by season or game.

Stefon Diggs and Darren Waller were both league winners. Being selected in the mid-60’s, Diggs and Waller both provided first-round value. Kelce and Waller finishing inside of the top-8 overall for the entire season illustrates the huge benefit that a top tight end provides and shows why owners should be targeting tight ends early in 2021.

Despite not playing the entire season, Dak Prescott was SO GOOD while healthy he outscored the average quarterback by 4.92 fantasy points per week. That’s an incredible number that’s likely unsustainable but shows the value that a great QB can bring your fantasy team. The same is true for Marcus Mariota, who can largely be ignored despite his one excellent fill-in for Derek Carr. Even without Mariota, there are a striking five quarterbacks who finished inside of the top-37 players per game.

Two of the best values in the fantasy football market were James Robinson and Justin Jefferson. Robinson finished as the 16th most valuable player per game. Jefferson, when comparing players for the entire season, was the 12th most valuable player. Both outperformed their draft position by over 100 picks.

For 2021, Jonathan Taylor looks really good. Finishing 16th out of players for the entire season despite finishing seven games with fewer than 50 percent of the snaps and missing a game due to COVID. The expectations were so high for Taylor that his rookie season was perhaps not viewed as favorably as it should have been.