Congratulations to those of you who have made the fantasy football playoffs!
It's a long and difficult road to qualify, and while we seem to say this every year, it seemed like it was tougher than ever this season. Judging by the list of most common players on the rosters of 2018 ESPN fantasy football playoff teams, found below, your in-season moves seem every bit as important as how well you drafted.
These days, your in-season management might be even more important than your draft, considering that this season, five of the 25 most common players on the list below went undrafted, and another 10 were selected outside the top 100 in ESPN leagues. That comes on the heels of a 2017 season when 10 of the top 25 went undrafted and another six were selected outside the top 100.
Here are the 24 players who reside on rosters of playoff teams in at least 30 percent of ESPN 10-team standard PPR leagues, along with their preseason ADPs (average draft positions).
Unsurprisingly, the top two "players" -- OK, a player and a team defense/special teams -- were selected in the final rounds of ESPN leagues this season, James Conner (selected in 76.0 percent, in addition to the ADP rates in the chart above, in the seven days leading up to the NFL kickoff game) and the Chicago Bears defense/special teams (selected in 40.2 percent). Conner, who sprung to prominence as a result of Le'Veon Bell's season-long holdout, has been a top-25 running back in 10 of his 12 games, a top-10 back in seven and top-five back in four of those games. The Bears D/ST, meanwhile, has been a top-10 defense in eight of 12 games and top five in five of those contests, both of those numbers the most at the position.
Despite those draft percentages, the vast majority of ESPN playoff teams who have Conner or the Bears D/ST acquired them via waivers, free agency or trade. Conner was drafted and held by only 3.6 percent of the ESPN playoff teams who roster him. That number is 8.4 percent for the Bears D/ST, meaning that either player came to the remainder of those teams via waivers, free agency or trade. (Many thanks to Sean Comerford, who oversees our League Manager product, for these findings.) Through 13 weeks, Conner is the fifth-highest-scoring running back, and the Bears are the highest-scoring D/ST (by 30 points over the second-place Houston Texans).
Draft-day success, though, isn't entirely meaningless. The Nos. 1 (Todd Gurley II), 6 (Saquon Barkley) and 7 (Alvin Kamara) preseason selections on average all reside on at least 53 percent of ESPN playoff rosters, and eight of the top 10 picks in terms of ADP -- as well as 17 of the top 25 -- can be found on at least one-third (33.3 percent) of rosters.
If you're of the mindset that the fantasy football MVP needs to not only be one of the highest-scoring players but also one selected somewhat later, then it was a good year for three in particular: Sophomore Patrick Mahomes, the top-scoring quarterback in the midst of a historic season; Christian McCaffrey, a preseason second-round pick, who is the No. 3 PPR scorer at his position thus far and the highest-scoring player in either scoring system in the past five weeks (164.3 using PPR, nearly 30 more than anyone else, and 128.3 using non-PPR); and Adam Thielen, the top-scoring wide receiver, who had one of the best eight-week, season-starting runs of any player at his position in history.
Let's not overlook the late-season additions who landed on many playoff teams, illustrating the importance of attentiveness from the first day to the last: Spencer Ware, who made his first start of the season in Week 13, was found on the third-highest percentage of ESPN playoff rosters, while Josh Adams, who only moved into the Philadelphia Eagles' starting lineup in Week 11 and still doesn't place among the 50 highest scoring running backs, was found on 49.6 percent of playoff teams. We'll see whether either helps propel their teams to a championship.
Here are the five most popular players at all six standard positions on the rosters of ESPN playoff teams:
Shifting our attention to the season's biggest busts, the inverse of the above list is one strong identifier. Among only top-100 ADP players, here are the players who found themselves on the smallest percentage of ESPN playoff rosters, excluding those who suffered season-ending injuries, like Delanie Walker, Devonta Freeman, Marshawn Lynch and Will Fuller V, most notably:
The aforementioned Bell stands out the most on the list above and is arguably the season's biggest bust thanks to his unexpected, season-long holdout. It's remarkable, actually, that a player who scored zero fantasy points placed on 3.5 percent of playoff rosters, though that was (not surprisingly) by far the worst among first-rounders. It was second-worst among healthy players behind only Alfred Morris' 2.4 percent.
Once we reach the championship round in ESPN 10-team standard leagues -- that encompasses Weeks 16 and 17 -- we'll update you on which players reside on the most finalists' rosters, and we'll also check back at season's end with the players most commonly found on championship teams. Last season, it was Gurley, Kamara and Dion Lewis who not only carried their teams into the postseason, but also helped lead their teams to a good share of championships. Who will it be this year?
We'll find out in a few weeks!