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.

PlayerYearAgeTmPPRGRecYdsTD
Antonio Brown201527PIT388.216136183410
Antonio Brown201426PIT386.916129169813
Randy Moss*200730NWE385.31698149323
Marvin Harrison*200230IND384.216143172211
Randy Moss*200326MIN37616111163217
Julio Jones201526ATL375.11613618718
Michael Thomas201926NOR374.61614917259
Calvin Johnson*201126DET359.21696168116
Torry Holt200327STL359.116117169612
Davante Adams202028GNB358.414115137418
Marvin Harrison*200129IND351.716109152415
Calvin Johnson*201227DET342.41612219645
Demaryius Thomas201427DEN340.916111161911
Brandon Marshall201531NYJ339.216109150214
Steve Smith200526CAR337.816103156312
Hines Ward200226PIT337.116112132912
Wes Welker201130NWE335.91612215699
Brandon Marshall201228CHI334.616118150811
Tyreek Hill201824KAN3341687147912
DeAndre Hopkins201826HOU333.516115157211
Terrell Owens*200128SFO332.31693141216
DeAndre Hopkins201523HOU331.116111152111
Davante Adams201826GNB329.615111138613
Muhsin Muhammad200431CAR3291693140516
Tyreek Hill202026KAN328.91587127615
Stefon Diggs202027BUF328.61612715358
Jordy Nelson201429GNB327.91698151913
Marvin Harrison*200028IND327.316102141314
Julio Jones201829ATL325.91611316778
Antonio Brown201830PIT323.715104129715
Rod Smith200030DEN322.11610016028
Terrell Owens*200229SFO321.914100130013
Terrell Owens*200027SFO321.21497145113
Andre Johnson200827HOU320.51611515758
Odell Beckham Jr.201523NYG319.31596145013
Demaryius Thomas201326DEN3191692143014
Rod Smith200131DEN31815113134311
Roddy White201029ATL316.216115138910
Dez Bryant201426DAL3161688132016
Michael Thomas201825NOR315.51612514059
Antonio Brown201325PIT314.91611014998
Andre Johnson200928HOU314.91610115699
Josh Gordon201322CLE314.4148716469
Randy Moss*200023MIN313.21677143715
Larry Fitzgerald200825ARI311.11696143112
Antonio Brown201729PIT310.31410115339
DeAndre Hopkins201725HOU309.81596137813
Reggie Wayne200729IND309.416104151010
Larry Fitzgerald200522ARI30816103140910
David Boston200123ARI307.3169815988
Antonio Brown201628PIT307.315106128412
Adam Thielen201828MIN307.31611313739
Terrell Owens*200734DAL3071581135515
A.J. Green201325CIN306.61698142611
Brandon Marshall201329CHI305.516100129512
Jordy Nelson201631GNB304.71697125714
Mike Evans201623TAM304.11696132112
Allen Robinson201522JAX3041680140014
Calvin Johnson*201328DET303.21484149212
Joe Horn200432NOR301.91694139911
Emmanuel Sanders201427DEN301.81610114049
Marvin Harrison*200634IND301.61695136612
Braylon Edwards200724CLE300.91680128916
A.J. Green201224CIN299.81697135011
Dez Bryant201224DAL299.71692138212
T.J. Houshmandzadeh200730CIN297.716112114312
Chad Johnson200527CIN297.5169714329
Julio Jones201425ATL297.41510415936
Jimmy Smith200132JAX2971611213738
JuJu Smith-Schuster201822PIT296.91611114267
Odell Beckham Jr.201624NYG296.616101136710
Andre Johnson201231HOU295.81611215984
Javon Walker200426GNB295.21689138212
Odell Beckham Jr.201422NYG2951291130512
Larry Fitzgerald200724ARI294.915100140910
Randall Cobb201424GNB293.41691128712
Dez Bryant201325DAL292.41693123313
Demaryius Thomas201225DEN291.41694143410
Torry Holt200428STL291.21694137210
Mike Evans201825TAM290.4168615248
Randy Moss*200225MIN290.31610613477
Eric Moulds200229BUF289.916100129210
Wes Welker201231NWE289.41611813546
Torry Holt200529STL289.31410213319
Anquan Boldin200525ARI288.71410214027
Ed McCaffrey200032DEN288.71610113179
Victor Cruz201125NYG287.9168215369
DeAndre Hopkins202028ARI287.81611514076
Chad Johnson200729CIN287.7169314408
Randy Moss*200932NWE287.41683126413
Isaac Bruce*200028STL287.2168714719
Brandon Lloyd201029DEN2861677144811
Chad Johnson200325CIN285.51690135510
Wes Welker200928NWE285.41412313484
Marvin Harrison*200432IND285.31686111315
Reggie Wayne200931IND284.416100126410
Jordy Nelson201126GNB284.31668126315
Keenan Allen201725LAC284.21610213936
Larry Fitzgerald200926ARI284.21697109213
Santana Moss200526WAS284168414839
Alshon Jeffery201323CHI283.6168914217
Terrell Owens*200633DAL2831685118013
Anquan Boldin200323ARI282.71610113778
Marques Colston200724NOR282.21698120211
Derrick Alexander200029KAN281.61678139110
Calvin Ridley202026ATL281.5159013749
Calvin Johnson*200823DET2811678133112
Wes Welker200726NWE280.91611211758
Larry Fitzgerald201532ARI280.51610912159
Reggie Wayne201032IND280.51611113556
Chad Johnson200426CIN280.3169512749
Brandon Marshall200723DEN280.21610213257
Eric Decker201326DEN279.81687128811
Andre Johnson201332HOU279.71610914075
Marvin Harrison*200331IND279.51594127210
Miles Austin200925DAL278.81681132011
Dwayne Bowe201026KAN278.61672116215
Terrell Owens*200431PHI278.51477120014
Torry Holt200024STL278.2168216356
Roddy White201130ATL277.61610012968
Pierre Garcon201327WAS277.51611313465
Hines Ward200327PIT277.41695116310
Joe Horn200028NOR277169413408
Drew Bennett200426TEN276.91680124711
Brandon Marshall200925DEN276.915101112010
Jeremy Maclin201426PHI276.81685131810
Chris Godwin201923TAM276.1148613339
Cris Carter*200035MIN275.4169612749
Jarvis Landry201523MIA275.41611011574
Greg Jennings201027GNB274.41676126512
Derrick Mason200329TEN274.4169513038
Justin Jefferson202021MIN274.2168814007
Julio Jones201930ATL274.1159913946
T.Y. Hilton201627IND273.8169114486
A.J. Green201527CIN273.71686129710
Reggie Wayne200628IND273168613109
Joey Galloway200534TAM272.11683128710
D.K. Metcalf202023SEA271.31683130310
Donald Driver200631GNB271.1169212958
Steve Smith200924NYG2711610712207
Cooper Kupp201926LAR270.51694116110
Randy Moss*200124MIN270.31682123310
Troy Brown200130NWE2701610111995
Peerless Price200226BUF269.9169412529
Torry Holt200630STL269.81693118810
Reggie Wayne200426IND269.61677121012
Tim Brown*200135OAK269.4169111659
Eric Decker201225DEN269.41685106413
DeSean Jackson201327PHI269.4168213329
Larry Fitzgerald201128ARI269.1168014118
Roddy White201231ATL269.1169213517
Reggie Wayne201234IND2691610613555
Doug Baldwin201527SEA268.91678106914
Marvin Harrison*200533IND268.61582114612
DeAndre Hopkins201927HOU268.51510411657
Percy Harvin201123MIN268.216879676
Demaryius Thomas201528DEN267.41610513046
Roddy White200928ATL266.51685115311
Stefon Diggs201825MIN266.31510210219
Chad Johnson200628CIN266.3168713697
Calvin Johnson*201025DET266.21577112012
Robert Woods201826LAR265.6168612196
Tyler Lockett202028SEA265.416100105410
Greg Jennings200825GNB265.2168012929
Chris Chambers200527MIA2651682111811
Roddy White200827ATL264.6168813827
Amani Toomer200228NYG264.5168213438
Jordy Nelson201328GNB264.4168513148
Steve Smith201132CAR264167913947
Joe Horn200129NOR263.9168312659
Joe Horn200230NOR263.4168813127
Allen Robinson202027CHI262.91610212506
Julio Jones201223ATL261.81679119810
Alshon Jeffery201424CHI261.61685113310
Keenan Allen201927LAC261.51610411996
Larry Fitzgerald201734ARI261.41610911566
Calvin Johnson*201530DET261.4168812149
DeSean Jackson200923PHI261.3156211569
Vincent Jackson201229TAM260.4167213848
Jimmy Smith200031JAX260.3159112138
Sidney Rice200923MIN260.2168313128
Keenan Allen201826LAC260.1169711966
Brandon Marshall200824DEN260.11510412656
Jarvis Landry201725MIA260161129879
Julio Jones201627ATL259.9148314096
Steve Smith200627CAR259.7148311668
Anquan Boldin200828ARI259.51289103811
Torry Holt200125STL259.3168113637
Marty Booker200125CHI259.31610010718
Golden Tate201426DET259.1169913314
Eric Moulds200027BUF259169413265
T.Y. Hilton201425IND258.5158213457
Michael Thomas201724NOR258.51610412455
Steve Smith200829CAR258.1147814216

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.