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“League winner” is a term thrown around a lot, but what exactly makes a league winner?
A top talent
In an offense set up to convert that talent into the maximum possible production
I didn’t mention opportunity because opportunity can be fluid as the season progresses. Injuries, reevaluation of the depth chart, and changes in personnel or coaching can present very different situations than the ones we expected when setting preseason ranks and projections.
Think of it as gasoline (surrounding situation) and matches (talent/ability). Even if the gasoline and matches are far apart right now, events can intervene to move them close enough to ignite the fire. We should be identifying the players who represent an explosion of fantasy points if the matches and gasoline get in contact. Even if the events necessary seem remote in possibility at this juncture, only a small percentage of players have season-changing ceilings. While those events could be unlikely, we see unlikely scenarios unfold every single season. The good news is that because most, if not all, fantasy players see the best-case scenario as improbable, if not impossible, a lot of potential league winners are available after you use your premium picks.
Who are the potential league winners available outside of the top 50 picks?
Tom Brady, QB, TB
Remember when Tom Brady went off on the league because he had an impossible-to-solve tactical advantage with Wes Welker and Randy Moss? He could reprise that kind of buzzsaw run through the league with Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, and Co. now that Brady and the team are fully accustomed to each other and he's had his knee surgically repaired. Between Brady and Arians, there’s not a personality type that will let up when the team can pour it on against overmatched defenses. This year, Brady is an especially attractive pick in 6-point pass touchdown leagues or leagues with 300/400 passing yard game bonuses. He fits in a wait-on-quarterback strategy and opens the year with the Dallas and Atlanta defenses to help your team get out to a 2-0 start.
Darrell Henderson, RB, LAR
Henderson isn’t going to get the same workload that Cam Akers was set to get, but he probably won’t need it to have a real fantasy impact if the Rams offense takes over under the stewardship of Matthew Stafford. We haven’t seen a Sean McVay offense unencumbered by quarterback play yet, and McVay couldn’t contain his excitement upon seeing Matthew Stafford in training camp. This could be a special year for this offense (assuming the line holds up), judging by how much success Jared Goff had when the limited but effective version of the McVay offense he led got rolled out. Stafford will extend the field with deep passing to DeSean Jackson and Tutu Atwell, and Tyler Higbee will make sure there is stress on the middle of the field in the pass defense, which should equal lighter boxes for Henderson. The Rams running game only had modest success last year, but some of that was because defenses could compress closer to the line of scrimmage and not honor the deep pass with Goff in at quarterback. What if Todd Gurley’s amazing fantasy seasons were a byproduct of the offense more than Gurley? Remember what C.J. Anderson did in a very short stint when the Goff offense was clicking? This year, Henderson could be making more than one house call if Stafford regains top form and McVay keeps defenses off balance with his play design and calls.
Trey Sermon, RB, SF
As my nephew Matt Harmon said, there are a lot of paths to value for Sermon. Raheem Mostert can’t stay healthy, and for as long as he does, the 49ers will limit his workload to keep him on the field. We can’t be sure when Jeff Wilson plays, and Sermon could easily show the team that he is a superior option. Last season, Wilson had one three-score game and two two-score games when Mostert was out and a 183-yard game when Wilson only scored once. The 49ers liked Sermon enough to trade up for him in the third round when they had already mortgaged the future for Trey Lance. He’s a good fit for the Shanahan running game and will take over this backfield sooner or later.
Tony Pollard, RB, DAL
Pollard’s path to league winner value is pretty simple - Ezekiel Elliott breaks down. Before you protest, remember that Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley missed most of last year. Elliott didn’t look like prime Zeke last year, and he may have hit his peak earlier age-wise than most backs because of his workload. Whether through bad luck or accumulation of punishment, there is a non-zero chance Elliott misses significant time, and in that case, Pollard would become an instant RB1. Pollard was worth 31.2 PPR points and 25.2 non-PPR points in Elliott’s one missed game last year.
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