Fantasy Football 2016 Winning Players: David Johnson, Le'Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott top the list
It was a year of great running backs in 2016 with David Johnson, Le'Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott, and Jamey Eisenberg says that trio contributed to the most wins for Fantasy owners on CBS Sports.
In looking at the win percentage for leagues on CBS Sports -- which takes into account the teams that won the most games, not Fantasy titles -- Johnson, Elliott and Bell were the three best players, in that order. And those three running backs likely helped many Fantasy owners win a championship as well.
The win percentage data shows us the players on successful rosters at the end of the season. For example, popular waiver wire pick ups like Malcolm Mitchell, Taylor Gabriel, Bilal Powell and Ladarius Green have a high win percentage because they were likely added to teams late in the year that were in playoff contention and already had stacked rosters. Even Adrian Peterson falls into that category when he was trying to come back from his Week 2 knee injury and Fantasy owners added him where available.
We removed DST and kickers from this discussion because, as some Fantasy owners will tell you, they don't matter, especially kickers. But the Chargers DST was actually No. 3 overall in win percentage, mostly because they were added for their Week 16 matchup at Cleveland, which resulted in a strong performance.
What we want to do here is look at the players who were successful, and also see where others failed. Aside from Johnson, Elliott and Bell, we also got great results from other early-round selections like LeSean McCoy, Mike Evans, Jordy Nelson, Antonio Brown, Aaron Rodgers and Odell Beckham.
The guys who disappointed us in a major way also had a bad win percentage, which should come as no surprise. These players included DeAndre Hopkins, Brandon Marshall, Todd Gurley and Cam Newton, who were among the biggest busts in 2016, especially since all four were healthy for most of the year.
We wish this list could serve as a blueprint for how to build your Fantasy team in 2017. Unfortunately, that's not the case because every year there are going to be first-round busts, along with difference-making waiver wire additions.
But it's always good to review players who helped you win and also see why some players flopped. Whenever there is relevant data, there is usually always something we can learn and apply to the future.
Editor's note: The numbers listed next to each player's name is their win percentage for 2016.
Top 50 overall win percentage
- David Johnson, RB, Cardinals - 0.619
- Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys - 0.583
- Le'Veon Bell, RB, Steelers - 0.574
- LeSean McCoy, RB, Bills - 0.572
- Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers - 0.570
- DeMarco Murray, RB, Titans - 0.569
- Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers - 0.555
- Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Patriots - 0.552
- Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers - 0.549
- Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers - 0.547
- Drew Brees, QB, Saints - 0.546
- Taylor Gabriel, WR, Falcons - 0.545
- Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers - 0.542
- Tom Brady, QB, Patriots - 0.541
- Ty Montgomery, WR, Packers - 0.540
- Ladarius Green, TE, Steelers - 0.539
- Odell Beckham, WR, Giants - 0.535
- Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs - 0.532
- T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts - 0.532
- Bilal Powell, RB, Jets - 0.532
- Sammy Watkins, WR, Bills - 0.530
- Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons - 0.529
- LeGarrette Blount, RB, Patriots - 0.528
- Julio Jones, WR, Falcons - 0.528
- Michael Thomas, WR, Saints - 0.524
- Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs - 0.524
- Tyrell Williams, WR, Chargers - 0.524
- Jordan Howard, RB, Bears - 0.524
- Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins - 0.522
- Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints - 0.521
- A.J. Green, WR, Bengals - 0.521
- Andrew Luck, QB, Colts - 0.521
- Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings - 0.520
- Rob Kelley, RB, Redskins - 0.519
- Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears - 0.519
- Rishard Matthews, WR, Titans - 0.518
- Jimmy Graham, TE, Seahawks - 0.518
- Mike Gillislee, RB, Bills - 0.517
- Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders - 0.515
- DeSean Jackson, WR, Redskins - 0.514
- Spencer Ware, RB, Chiefs - 0.513
- Jamison Crowder, WR, Redskins - 0.512
- Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers - 0.512
- Derek Carr, QB, Raiders - 0.512
- Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins - 0.511
- Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings - 0.510
- Tevin Coleman, RB, Falcons - 0.510
- Delanie Walker, TE, Titans - 0.510
- Michael Crabtree, WR, Raiders - 0.509
- Cameron Brate, TE, Buccaneers - 0.509
The two names who jump out at the top of the list are Murray and Gordon, who were drafted after Round 3 in the majority of leagues but finished as top-10 running backs in standard formats. When you hit on players of this caliber in your draft, especially at running back, these are the guys who help you win your league, especially if your first two or three draft picks are successful. Based on our recent early 2017 mock draft, some players who could fall into that category next season are Thomas Rawls, Kelley and Ware.
As we said above, players like Mitchell, Gabriel, Powell and Green became Fantasy relevant late in the season, and in some cases they were starters. Green had trouble staying healthy all season, including late in the year when Fantasy owners were hoping he would make a difference, but these were some of the best waiver wire additions of the season.
And we tell you all the time that while the draft is important, it's the waiver wire where your league will be won. Some other waiver wire additions from this list, who were added in the early or middle part of the season, included Montgomery, Hill, Williams, Howard, Kelley, Matthews, Gillislee, Crowder and Brate. Look back on your league, and you will likely find these players on many of the winning teams.
Top 10 quarterbacks
- Drew Brees, Saints - 0.546
- Aaron Rodgers, Packers - 0.542
- Tom Brady, Patriots - 0.541
- Matt Ryan, Falcons - 0.529
- Kirk Cousins, Redskins - 0.522
- Andrew Luck, Colts - 0.521
- Derek Carr, Raiders - 0.512
- Philip Rivers, Chargers - 0.508
- Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers - 0.508
- Dak Prescott, Cowboys - 0.506
We know why Brady wasn't an early-round pick in 2016 because of his four-game suspension, but this list should show you that, once again, you can wait on a quarterback and still have a successful Fantasy team. Rodgers was drafted in Round 2 in the majority of leagues, Luck and Brees in Round 4 and Roethlisberger in Round 5.
But everyone else was drafted in Round 6 or later in most leagues, including Prescott, who was likely a waiver wire addition. You don't have to reach for a quarterback in Round 1, which could prove costly as it did in 2016.
Newton was selected in the first 10 overall picks based on average draft position, and he had the second-lowest win percentage (0.452) of the 157 players we looked at. The worst was Russell Wilson (0.446), who was drafted in Round 3 on average. Wait, wait, wait.
Top 20 running backs
- David Johnson, Cardinals 0.619
- Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys - 0.583
- Le'Veon Bell, Steelers - 0.574
- LeSean McCoy, Bills - 0.572
- DeMarco Murray, Titans - 0.569
- Melvin Gordon, Chargers - 0.558
- Bilal Powell, Jets - 0.532
- LeGarrette Blount, Patriots - 0.528
- Jordan Howard, Bears - 0.524
- Adrian Peterson, Vikings - 0.520
- Rob Kelley, Redskins - 0.519
- Mike Gillislee, Bills - 0.517
- Spencer Ware, Chiefs - 0.513
- Tevin Coleman, Falcons - 0.510
- Devonta Freeman, Falcons - 0.509
- Latavius Murray, Raiders - 0.509
- Kenneth Dixon, Ravens - 0.509
- Jay Ajayi, Dolphins - 0.505
- Frank Gore, Colts - 0.505
- Derrick Henry, Titans - 0.504
Like DeMarco Murray and Gordon, one of the best value picks at any position was Blount, who was drafted in Round 8. All he did was lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 18, and he finished as the No. 6 running back in standard leagues. He's 30 and a free agent this offseason, but we hope he's back with the Patriots as the No. 1 option in their backfield.
I was surprised to see Freeman at No. 15 on this list since he finished as the No. 7 Fantasy running back in standard leagues. He was worth the price as an early second-round pick in most leagues, but he probably ended up on teams with bad players, which lowered his win percentage. I expect another strong season from Freeman in 2017 in tandem with Coleman, who had a slightly better win percentage than Freeman this year.
Some running backs on this list to watch this offseason are Powell, Peterson, Latavius Murray, Dixon, Gore and Henry. If they get starting jobs (Powell with the Jets and Dixon with the Ravens) or keep the ones they have (Peterson with the Vikings, Murray with the Raiders and Gore with the Colts), their Fantasy value could change.
Murray is a free agent and could leave Oakland, and Minnesota and Indianapolis could move on from aging running backs Peterson and Gore. As for Henry, don't be surprised if he takes on more work for the Titans, which would clearly impact DeMarco Murray.
Top 20 wide receivers
- Mike Evans, Buccaneers - 0.570
- Malcolm Mitchell, Patriots - 0.552
- Jordy Nelson, Packers - 0.549
- Antonio Brown, Steelers - 0.547
- Taylor Gabriel, Falcons - 0.545
- Ty Montgomery, Packers - 0.540
- Odell Beckham, Giants - 0.535
- T.Y. Hilton, Colts - 0.532
- Sammy Watkins, Bills - 0.530
- Julio Jones, Falcons - 0.528
- Michael Thomas, Saints - 0.524
- Tyreek Hill, Chiefs - 0.524
- Tyrell Williams, Chargers - 0.524
- Brandin Cooks, Saints - 0.521
- A.J. Green, Bengals - 0.521
- Alshon Jeffery, Bears - 0.519
- Rishard Matthews, Titans - 0.518
- Amari Cooper, Raiders - 0.515
- DeSean Jackson, Redskins - 0.514
- Jamison Crowder, Redskins - 0.512
We didn't know how Nelson would do coming off a torn ACL in 2015, but he narrowly beat out Evans for the No. 1 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues. Evans, however, proved to be the better value pick in Round 3 compared to Nelson in Round 2.
It was great to see several young receivers step up this year and help Fantasy owners, including rookies in Mitchell, Thomas and Hill, and second-year guys Montgomery and Williams. The best player of this group is clearly Thomas, who should be considered a low-end No. 1 receiver in 2017 and is worth drafting in Round 3. He and Cooks were great in 2016, and should post outstanding stats again next season with Brees and Sean Payton staying in New Orleans.
We have Montgomery listed as a receiver here since that was his primary position coming into 2016. He was inconsistent as a Fantasy option for the Packers, but he could be a mid-round pick in 2017, especially if he's the starting running back in Green Bay.
Williams will be interesting to monitor this offseason with Keenan Allen (knee) expected back for the Chargers, and we'll see what happens with Danny Woodhead (knee), who is a free agent. Steve Johnson (knee) could also return to San Diego, and the Chargers still have Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry and Dontrelle Inman. We'd expect Williams to start opposite Allen, but there could be a lot of mouths to feed in 2017.
We hope Jeffery lands with a team that will enhance his talents -- and has a good quarterback -- since he's a free agent this offseason. He likely was on this list after Fantasy owners dropped him when he had a four-game suspension in Week 11 and was then added to a successful team for the final three games of the year.
We also hope Watkins can stay healthy after he had another injury-plagued year in 2016. He's expected to have another foot surgery this offseason, but hopefully that will be his last one and could help him thrive like other receivers with foot problems in the past, including Julio Jones, Dez Bryant and Julian Edelman.
Top 10 tight ends
- Ladarius Green, Steelers - 0.539
- Travis Kelce, Chiefs - 0.532
- Jimmy Graham, Seahawks - 0.518
- Greg Olsen, Panthers - 0.512
- Jordan Reed, Redskins - 0.511
- Kyle Rudolph, Vikings - 0.510
- Delanie Walker, Titans - 0.510
- Cameron Brate, Buccaneers - 0.509
- Tyler Eifert, Bengals - 0.509
- Zach Ertz, Eagles - 0.509
You don't see Rob Gronkowski on this list because he was dropped from Fantasy leagues following his back injury in Week 12. When healthy, he's still the best Fantasy tight end and is worth drafting toward the end of Round 2 or beginning of Round 3 in all leagues. He's expected to be fine for Week 1.
We also expect Reed and Eifert to be healthy for 2017 after injuries were once again a problem this past year. Reed should be over his late-season shoulder injury in time for offseason workouts, but Eifert underwent back surgery in January and is hopeful to be ready for training camp. These will be two prominent tight ends to monitor all offseason.
Kelce finally had the breakout year we were all hoping for in 2016 with 85 catches for 1,125 yards and four touchdowns, and he should be considered the No. 2 tight end coming into next season. Kelce is worth drafting in Round 4 in most leagues.
It was great to see Graham rebound from the torn patella tendon he suffered in his knee in 2015. While most players who previously suffered this injury were never the same, Graham bounced back to finish as the No. 2 Fantasy tight end in standard leagues behind Kelce. Graham will again be a top-five option at the position, and he's worth drafting in Round 6.
Top 20 worst players
- Randall Cobb, WR, Packers - 0.479
- Carson Palmer, QB, Cardinals - 0.477
- Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys - 0.476
- DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins - 0.474
- Coby Fleener, TE, Saints - 0.473
- Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers - 0.472
- DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans - 0.469
- Terrance West, RB, Ravens - 0.469
- James White, RB, Patriots - 0.468
- Brandon Marshall, WR, Jets - 0.467
- Jerick McKinnon, RB, Vikings - 0.466
- Jeremy Maclin, WR, Chiefs - 0.465
- Darren Sproles, RB, Eagles - 0.464
- T.J. Yeldon, RB, Jaguars - 0.460
- Will Fuller, WR, Texans - 0.458
- Chris Ivory, RB, Jaguars - 0.458
- Todd Gurley, RB, Rams - 0.457
- Matt Asiata, RB, Vikings - 0.456
- Cam Newton, QB, Panthers - 0.452
- Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks - 0.446
This list likely makes a lot of Fantasy owners throw up. You have three of the first seven quarterbacks drafted in Newton, Wilson and Palmer, two of the top 11 running backs in Gurley and Martin and three of the top 20 receivers in Hopkins, Marshall and Cobb. Oh yeah, and the No. 6 tight end off the board in Fleener. Blech.
These players cost many Fantasy owners in 2016, and there were other disappointments with Maclin (drafted in Round 5) and Ivory (drafted ahead of Blount, Ajayi and Ware). I'm surprised McKinnon is here since he played well toward the end of the season and was drafted in Round 13 in the majority of leagues, but he just ended up on bad Fantasy teams based on his win percentage.
The players to focus on here are Gurley, Hopkins, Newton and Wilson since all four should bounce back in 2017. We hope the same happens for Cobb and Marshall, and Cobb just had a standout wild card performance against the Giants, which is positive. Marshall could need a change of scenery -- and quarterback -- to help his Fantasy outlook.
Gurley was overvalued as the No. 1 running back coming into the season, and he failed, whether due to a lack of talent around him or his own shortcomings. He's too talented to be a complete bust, and I'd still draft him as a low-end No. 1 running back in Round 2 in 2017, especially with a new coach and another year for Jared Goff.
Hopkins has played well in his past two games heading into the divisional round of the playoffs at New England, and we hope Brock Osweiler improves to help Hopkins get better. He won't get back to his 2015 level with Osweiler, but he can still be a No. 2 Fantasy receiver worth drafting in Round 3.
Newton and Wilson remain No. 1 quarterbacks heading into 2017 despite both finishing outside the top 12 in Fantasy points in 2016. Newton was the No. 1 quarterback in 2015 and Wilson was No. 3, and both should end up as great value picks in 2017.
These are two perfect quarterbacks to wait for on Draft Day. Again, wait, wait, wait.
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