When we think about fantasy league winners, sometimes we pinpoint them early in the summer, but often it’s the waiver wire darlings who bring us the glory of a championship title. In 2021, we saw a fair mix of elite fantasy assets propel managers to the playoffs, but we had some under-the-radar draft picks secure wins down the stretch, too.
This piece will take a look at the top players from this season and what they did to win titles for managers around the globe, along with a peek into their potential draft stock as we look ahead to 2022.
All stats derived through Week 17
Veteran League Winners
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams
Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Mark Andrews, TE, Baltimore Ravens
Deebo Samuel, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
-Cooper Kupp is the quintessential league winner, as he was being drafted in the fourth round yet absolutely crushed everyone around him. The Rams’ WR posted a total of 343.9 half-PPR points through Week 17, which was not only the highest among wideouts, but he bested all RBs and only three QBs (Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, and Tom Brady) scored more fantasy points than Kupp in 2021. The 28-year-old averaged an impressive 21.5 half-PPR points per game during the regular fantasy season and kept his foot on the gas in Weeks 15-17 with 21.7 per contest.
Managers with Kupp on their Yahoo roster won their championship 20.7 percent of the time.
2022 Outlook: This season both Kupp and teammate Robert Woods were being drafted in the fourth round, but after the former’s insane output, expect Kupp to jump up to the first round, where Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill usually live. Speaking of which ...
-Davante Adams shouldn’t shock anyone by appearing as a league winner, but he posted the second-highest half-PPR points per game throughout the fantasy playoffs with 22.3 and justified his high first-round ADP again in 2021. There was a brief moment when Aaron Rodgers’ return came into question where Adams’ draft spot took a small dip, but he ended draft season as the WR1 off boards and those who paid up for him were handsomely rewarded, winning titles 22.5% of the time.
2022 Outlook: His future with the Packers is still uncertain and they could choose to franchise tag their star wideout regardless of where Aaron Rodgers is employed. Adams should remain a first-round selection but may get leapfrogged by Kupp in ADP.
-Jonathan Taylor is a player who some were all in on in 2021 while others passed on for Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook and even Ezekiel Elliott. Taylor led the league in rush attempts with 317 and his 1,734 rushing yards were not only tops in the NFL but crushed the next best rusher by 529 yards for the season. The Indy RB also found the end zone 18 times, which not surprisingly was the most by a back in 2021 as well. He didn’t have the highest fantasy points in the fake playoffs as Taylor’s 17.2 half-PPR points per contest ranked sixth, but he certainly did enough for the 16.4% of Yahoo managers who won it all with him as their RB1.
2022 Outlook: We could see Taylor usurp Christian McCaffrey for the 1.01 spot in fantasy drafts next season as his dominance this year will have drafters clamoring for such high volume and production.
-Mark Andrews was the fourth TE off draft boards, but there was a near two-round gap between him and George Kittle in Yahoo drafts. Question marks surrounded the Baltimore passing offense and some managers were worried about his volume in the Ravens’ run-heavy approach. Andrews ended up with 138 targets in 2021 which ranked ninth among all pass-catchers, and he converted that usage into 99 receptions (7th) and 1,276 yards (6th). The Raven posted 21.7 half-PPR points per tilt in Weeks 15-17, allowing Andrews’ managers to win their leagues 20.7% of the time.
2022 Outlook: Always underestimated, and despite his TE1 output, Andrews will probably still be behind Travis Kelce and George Kittle in ADP next season but should pass Darren Waller who had a disappointing 2021. I expect Andrews' draft stock to rise from the late-fourth round up to the early third or maybe even late second in some formats.
-There are plenty of fantasy players who are kicking themselves for drafting Brandon Aiyuk at 65 when they could have taken Deebo Samuel at spot 93. Having an eighth-round pick hit and come on so hot at the end of the season is league-winning stuff and those who drafted him back in August or traded for Samuel somewhere down the line won their leagues 21.9% of the time. The WR/RB hybrid posted the fifth-highest receiving yards this season with 1,310 and added an impressive 320 rushing yards to his banner third-year campaign. With 18.7 half-PPR points per game during the fantasy playoffs, Samuel most likely had a big part in hoisting the trophy for those with him on board.
2022 Outlook: There’s little doubt that Samuel’s ADP will skyrocket but just how high will he be drafted? I think he’ll wind up somewhere in the second round with the likes of Stefon Diggs and Justin Jefferson.
-Joe Burrow may not have been on as many teams who made the playoffs, but managers won their big game 17.0% of the time with the Bengals QB on their roster. Burrow was white-hot at the perfect time, posting 85.7 total fantasy points over the final three weeks of the fantasy season — the highest total among all signal-callers.
2022 Outlook: Recency bias may create an elevated ADP for the Cincy QB next season, but for those drafters who chase rushing upside, Burrow will still fall behind the elite guys like Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. Burrow was the QB13 in ADP last year and will most likely creep into the top 10 next season.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Detroit Lions
Ja'Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Elijah Mitchell, RB, San Francisco 49ers
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins
It’s so tough to gauge first-year players during draft season without them ever seeing an NFL snap. Some come into the league very hyped like Kyle Pitts and Najee Harris, while others see their draft stock fall to the middle rounds like Javonte Williams or DeVonta Smith. Here’s a look at some notable league-winning rookies from 2021 and what possibly lies ahead for their sophomore seasons.
-The player tied to the most winning teams on Yahoo (30.3%) was not even drafted on the site and was the 85th WR off boards using multi-site ADP. Amon-Ra St. Brown was ignored due to obvious offensive worries in Detroit but proved to be QB-proof down the stretch. His usage went from an average of 4.7 targets per contest in Weeks 1-12 to 11.4 balls through the final five weeks of the fantasy season, translating to 451 receiving yards and four touchdowns, along with another 49 rushing yards and a ground score in that time frame. St. Brown led all WRs in total fantasy points and fantasy points per tilt during the playoffs and paid off big time for the savvy managers who grabbed him at some point in 2021.
2022 Outlook: It will be interesting to see where St. Brown lands come draft season, and I suspect his ADP is contingent upon what the Lions do with their QB situation. Jared Goff still has one more year on his contract but they could choose to release him and take on dead money. Considering the rookie was able to produce at a high level with Goff and Tim Boyle under center, St. Brown should fall somewhere in the WR2/3 range in August.
-Ja’Marr Chase was a first-year wideout who some thought was the wrong pick for the Bengals, plus drafters were also concerned with preseason drops and unsure of Joe Burrow’s capability after a devastating knee injury. He left boards at Pick 88 as an eighth-rounder. When the fantasy season was over and done with in leagues with Week 17 'ships, however, he had the fifth-highest Yahoo win rate at 24.0%. Chase wasn’t the most consistent WR throughout his first year in the league, but he produced when it counted, putting up a combined 18-391-3 line in Weeks 16 and 17.
2022 Outlook: Similar to his QB, Chase’s ADP should spike this offseason and we could see him being drafted as early as the second round. He’ll land in fantasy WR1 territory and his actual spot should fluctuate depending on individual draft strategy.
-Elijah Mitchell was a polarizing waiver wire pickup after he came out swinging with a 19-104-1 line in Week 1 of his first-ever NFL game. Some spent everything they had on the 23-year-old while others left him for their league mates to worry about. Mitchell ran for the 10th most rushing yards in 2021 all while being sidelined for six contests. He was out for Weeks 15-16 but gave those who stuck with him 20.0 half-PPR points during championship week. Yahoo managers won their league title 19.4% of the time with the 49er in tow.
2022 Outlook: The San Francisco RB room is not the easiest to read every season, but Mitchell should be their lead back heading into 2022. He may fall into the dreaded dead zone for RBs which is Rounds 3-6 but could certainly pay off for those who choose to roll with him.
-Jaylen Waddle’s 14.4% win rate wasn’t massive like St. Brown, Chase or Kupp but he’s worth mentioning since he had a part in getting managers to their title games. As a rookie, he saw the 10th most targets among wideouts, and his 99 receptions this season were tied for seventh. Waddle was WR9 in half-PPR points per game in Weeks 15 and 16, but sadly put up a stinker in Week 17, landing him as WR13 in points per game during the three-week fantasy playoffs.
2022 Outlook: The future is bright for Waddle and his ADP should reflect an upswing for next season. Consider him in the WR2 category, which would land him somewhere in the fourth to the fifth round.
Congrats to those who were shrewd enough to draft any of these league winners, or to those who managed to deal for them or work the waiver wire in your favor. It’s certainly been a wild one, so kick back and enjoy the fruits of all your hard work this season.