Fantasy football’s greatest unsung playoff heroes

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Each fantasy football season experiences its share of playoff week surprises.

Proven stars like Josh Allen, Jonathan Taylor and Cooper Kupp often lead their fantasy teams to league titles, year after year (though the names typically change as the stars change). They are “the guys who got you this far” and that’s why we so often advise you to keep reading about them in these critical weeks, matchups being damned. The decisions to put them into your lineup are the easy ones.

But it is the unknowns who often make the difference in championship matches, the players who spent September, October and often November in relative (and sometimes complete) obscurity. Having the right supporting role, which often includes taking at least one lineup chance at one of these seemingly out-of-nowhere standouts, usually puts a fantasy team over the top.

If you’ve been playing fantasy football for a long time, you’re probably familiar with at least one of the names on the following list. They are a man’s opinion of the 10 greatest unsung playoff hero stories of the modern era, spanning the 27 consecutive seasons of the 17-week era from 1994 to 2020. During that period, many fantasy leagues traditionally used a 13- weeks of regular season. , plus either three (six-team playoffs, single-elimination) or four (four-team playoffs, two-week matchups) weekly playoffs.

Identifying these individuals takes into account a variety of methods: preseason average draft position (ADP), roster percentages during the regular fantasy season and in the off-season, roster percentages on ESPN championship teams, fantasy scoring in the regular season and the off-season, and simply perception of the player value. Here they are in ascending order:

Note: All listed fantasy points are for PPR scoring unless otherwise stated.


10. Tyler Higbee, TE, Los Angeles Rams (2019)

The lone tight end on the list, Higbee managed at least seven receptions in each of the five games he played in December 2019, a threshold he has never reached in any of his other 87 career games played (through week 17 of 2021). During week 14-17 I have collected 83.5 points, the 11th most of any tight end in history during the four weeks. Higbee finished the 2019 season on a championship list in 21.3% of the ESPN leagues, which are at the top among the close ends.


9. Breshad Perriman, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2019)

In one of the most unexpectedly good warm periods that came at spot on the perfect time, Perriman’s 92.2 points over weeks 14-17 in 2019 represented 71.8% of his seasonal and 20.9% of his entire career total (through week 17 of 2021). He was on less than 0.1% of the ESPN teams that went into these fantasy playoff weeks, but finished week 17 as that most ranked player on championship team (27.2%). Perriman would sign a one-year deal with the New York Jets three months later, and he scored just a few more points in 12 games (99.1) in 2020 than he accumulated during his amazing fantasy playoff run.


8. Steve Beuerlein, QB, Carolina Panthers (1999)

In the midst of what was a three-season stay as the Panthers’ starting quarterback, Beuerlein enjoyed a four-week fantasy playoff stretch through the ages. In Week 14-17 of 1999, he scored 111.64 points, the fourth-largest total of any quarterback in the four weeks. And his average of 27.9 points in that stretch more than doubled the 13.1 he had on average in his other 40 Panthers starts.


7. Larry Johnson, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (2004)

Here’s an example of an unknown item that creates an extremely dominant two-plus-year run. Johnson, understudy for Priest Holmes in 2004, appeared as Chiefs’ starter for the first time in December after Holmes was lost for the season due to a knee injury. Johnson went from sharing backfield with Derrick Blaylock to taking over fully after Blaylock also injured his knee in Week 14, a total of 117.7 points in the last four weeks of the season, the 10th most among running backs in history during the four weeks. Johnson wanted to start 2005 again as Holmes ‘understudy, but he took over as Chiefs’ starter once again in Week 9, after Holmes suffered a spinal cord injury that ended the season on a helmet-to-helmet hit the week before. Johnson would score 658.6 points over his next 25 games – the last nine games in 2005 plus all 16 games in 2006.


Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans (2018)

After being number 42 on average in ESPN leagues (and the 18th RB off the board), Henry was one of the biggest disappointments of the regular fantasy season in 2018. He averaged 8.0 points in the first 13 weeks of the season, just in line with his all-season average of 7.1 as a rookie in 2016 and 8.4 in 2017, but unexpectedly increased his performance in December 2018, scoring 105.8 points in his last four games of the season . It was the breakthrough point in Henry’s career as he continued to score 294.6 points in 15 games in 2019, 333.1 in 16 games in 2020 and 193.3 in eight games this season before injuring his foot, the last equivalent to a 24.2 PPG mark. , best among all RBs with at least eight games played.


5. Kevan Barlow, RB, San Francisco 49ers (2003)

A third-round pick who served as Garrison Hearst’s backup for the first 44 games of his NFL career, Barlow stepped in as the 49ers’ starter in Week 14 of 2003 after Hearst succumbed to a need for a season-ending knee surgery. Barlow scored 101.3 points during the four games, the season-ending span, which exceeded the 100.8 he scored in his first 12 games of the season. He would serve as the 49ers’ starter in each of the next two seasons, but he scored just 176.4 (2004) and 129.2 (2005) points in 15 and 12 games, respectively.


4. Jerome Harrison, RB. Cleveland Browns (2009)

After recording a couple of productive enough fill-in starts for Jamal Lewis, who missed week 3-4 in 2009 with a hamstring injury, Harrison was elevated to starter status after Lewis’ career abruptly ended with a concussion in week 12. However, the Browns had 1 -10 at the time, and no one could have foreseen at all what Harrison and his team would do in the role of spoiler: They would rattle four wins in a row to end the season and surpass their opponents, 100 -66, and Harrison would score 95 , 2 points during the four matches. Harrison’s 49.8 points in Week 15 are still one of the best single-week totals in fantasy football playoff history, and he collected 106 astonishing rush attempts in the season’s last three games. To put that in perspective, he only had 250 rushing attempts in the other 60 games he played in his career.


3. Tim Hightower, RB, New Orleans Saints (2015)

His was without a doubt the most out of nowhere achievement in fantasy football playoff history. After suffering a torn ACL in Week 7 of 2011, Hightower spent the next three seasons out of the league before becoming a Saints coach, after which he was elevated to active status in Week 9. After a season-ending season with a shoulder injury on Mark Ingram II, Hightower got his unexpected chance to start, scoring 81.6 points as the team’s primary back over the last four games of the regular season. He was only drafted in two ESPN leagues Total in the preseason, but at the end of the season, he was on the championship-winning list in 33.6% of the leagues, best of any player.


2. Drew Bennett, WR, Tennessee Titans (2004)

Perhaps the most memorable fantasy playoff hero, Bennett scored an astonishing 111.9 points over the last four games of the season, the fourth most of any wide receiver in the four weeks, despite his Titans being forced to rely on the little known backup QB Billy Volek for their last five games. Bennett was a well-known fantasy item at the time, but far from a star, having scored 165.0 points in his first 12 games that season and never scored more than 156.1 points in any of his other seven NFL promotions. He benefited from a mediocre Titans defense that often forced Volek into the air, with a quarterback-wide receiver combination that led many fantasy teams to unexpected championships and stamped their way into our collective memories.


1. Patrick Jeffers, WR, Carolina Panthers (1999)

Incredibly, Bennett’s big race in weeks 14-17 was surpassed by this wide receiver, whose 132.6 points was the second most in the four weeks in the history of anyone in the position, after only Odell Beckham Jr.’s 144, 5 in 2014, and the seventh most of anyone player. It was the most distinctive fantasy playoff performance of anyone in the modern era, as Jeffers collected 207.3 points in the other 42 NFL games in which he played. Unfortunately, we never got a chance to see if it was a true breakthrough, as a torn ACL the following preseason cost him the entire 2000 season and he was never the same player afterwards.

Other big, unexpected fantasy playoff stretches:

Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants (2014)
Tim Biakabutuka, RB, Carolina Panthers (1998)
Warrick Dunn, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2000)
Jeff Garcia, QB, San Francisco 49ers (2003)
Jalen Hurts, QB, Philadelphia Eagles (2020)
Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets (2016)
Damien Williams, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (2018)


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