McCaffrey, Mahomes among most common players on rosters of ESPN Fantasy Football champions

Patrick Mahomes accounted for more than 5,600 yards and 45 touchdowns this season. Photo by Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

The fantasy football playoffs are always full of twists and turns, and the 2022 version was no different. Judging by the list of players you'll find on the greatest percentage of championship rosters in ESPN leagues, while comparing to those on the most playoff and finalists' rosters, it seemed that stars were the ones who earned you your fantasy playoff spot. But from there, you needed set your optimal lineups, cross your fingers and hope for the best in these annually unpredictable four weeks.

Weeks 17 and 18, the fantasy championship weeks in ESPN standard leagues, were especially influenced by unexpected circumstances:

  • First and most notably, the final game of Week 17, between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals, was understandably cancelled after Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest early in the game. Thankfully, and of far greater importance than any NFL or fantasy game, Hamlin's has shown signs of improvement recently, and it's all of our hopes that there is continued progress on that front. Nevertheless, the fantasy stat sheet reflects one game apiece for Bills and Bengals players during the championship matchup weeks, rather than the two played by other teams.

  • The season's top-scoring wide receiver, Justin Jefferson, had his worst (2.5 PPR fantasy points, Week 17) and fourth-worst (7.8, Week 18) weekly scores of the season.

  • Two teams, the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants, didn't play any of their most prominent, fantasy-relevant starters during Week 18, with both teams content with their playoff seeding beforehand.

  • Fantasy's top-scoring player overall during the regular season (Weeks 1-14), Jalen Hurts, missed a pair of critical weeks (Weeks 16 and 17) during the fantasy playoffs due to a shoulder injury.

  • Five quarterbacks made their first NFL starts, and rookie quarterbacks overall made nine starts, during Weeks 17 and 18. Additionally, only half of the 32 quarterbacks who started in Week 1 also made starts in Week 18.

That doesn't even account for the difficulty fantasy teams faced simply getting to the championship matchup, as record-low temperatures resulting from an arctic front heavily influenced play on Christmas Eve, Saturday of Week 16. Eight games on that date featured temperatures of 20 degrees or colder.

It's no surprise, then, that the four players most commonly found on the rosters of ESPN championship teams placed among the top two in PPR fantasy points at their respective positions, and were fortunate enough to place among the positional top 10 during Weeks 17 and 18. They're all household names: Christian McCaffrey (22.8% of ESPN leagues had him on the champion's roster), Patrick Mahomes (22.2%), Austin Ekeler (22.0%) and Travis Kelce (21.4%).

The fourth to clear the 20% threshold, A.J. Brown (20.4%), hailed from the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed, the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that finished on a high note as well as placed four players among the top 22 on the list below.

Before diving deeper into these and other notable names, let's get to the full list. Here are the 50 players you'd most commonly have found the rosters of ESPN champions. Included are their preseason ADPs (average draft position) as well as their final point total in PPR leagues.

Most Common Players on Championship Teams

22.8% -- Christian McCaffrey, RB, 49ers -- ADP: 3.1, 404.56 PTS
22.2% -- Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs -- ADP: 31.6, 457.90 PTS
22.0% -- Austin Ekeler, RB, Chargers -- ADP: 5.0, 413.80 PTS
21.4% -- Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs -- ADP: 19.6, 337.40 PTS
20.4% -- A.J. Brown, WR, Eagles -- ADP: 36.0, 332.80 PTS
19.8% -- CeeDee Lamb, WR, Cowboys -- ADP: 20.4, 338.80 PTS
19.8% -- George Kittle, TE, 49ers -- ADP: 48.2, 231.70 PTS
18.0% -- Jalen Hurts, QB, Eagles -- ADP: 63.4, 386.50 PTS
16.3% -- Derrick Henry, RB, Titans -- ADP: 5.9, 316.56 PTS
15.7% -- Nick Chubb, RB, Browns -- ADP: 29.0, 317.20 PTS
15.7% -- Tyreek Hill, WR, Dolphins -- ADP: 19.2, 367.20 PTS
15.7% -- Eagles D/ST, D/ST, Eagles -- ADP: 165.1, 173.00 PTS
15.6% -- Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants -- ADP: 28.0, 291.30 PTS
15.5% -- Josh Jacobs, RB, Raiders -- ADP: 56.9, 354.80 PTS
15.3% -- T.J. Hockenson, TE, Vikings -- ADP: 73.7, 230.90 PTS
15.2% -- Josh Allen, QB, Bills -- ADP: 24.0, 417.28 PTS
15.0% -- Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers -- ADP: 26.2, 206.00 PTS
14.6% -- Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Lions -- ADP: 64.6, 288.70 PTS
14.3% -- Jerick McKinnon, RB, Chiefs -- ADP: Undrafted, 227.50 PTS
14.1% -- Justin Tucker, K, Ravens -- ADP: 95.8, 182.00 PTS
13.8% -- Justin Jefferson, WR, Vikings -- ADP: 6.3, 378.96 PTS
13.7% -- DeVonta Smith, WR, Eagles -- ADP: 95.9, 288.80 PTS
13.3% -- Davante Adams, WR, Raiders -- ADP: 12.7, 382.10 PTS
13.3% -- Chris Godwin, WR, Buccaneers -- ADP: 65.0, 253.30 PTS
13.3% -- Travis Etienne Jr., RB, Jaguars -- ADP: 49.3, 233.50 PTS
13.2% -- Kenneth Walker III, RB, Seahawks -- ADP: 140.5, 231.10 PTS
13.2% -- Jaylen Waddle, WR, Dolphins -- ADP: 49.0, 277.70 PTS
12.9% -- Cam Akers, RB, Rams -- ADP: 34.5, 171.40 PTS
12.7% -- 49ers D/ST, D/ST, 49ers -- ADP: 126.2, 169.00 PTS
12.7% -- Daniel Carlson, K, Raiders -- ADP: 133.9, 181.00 PTS
12.6% -- Bills D/ST, D/ST, Bills -- ADP: 83.6, 157.00 PTS
12.4% -- Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Patriots -- ADP: 99.5, 269.40 PTS
12.4% -- Brett Maher, K, Cowboys -- ADP: Undrafted, 168.00 PTS
12.2% -- Aaron Jones, RB, Packers -- ADP: 23.7, 269.70 PTS
12.1% -- Joe Burrow, QB, Bengals -- ADP: 81.3, 362.30 PTS
12.1% -- Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers -- ADP: 28.4, 274.10 PTS
12.0% -- Christian Watson, WR, Packers -- ADP: Undrafted, 182.80 PTS
12.0% -- Tyler Allgeier, RB, Falcons -- ADP: 168.4, 189.40 PTS
11.7% -- Evan Engram, TE, Jaguars -- ADP: 168.6, 187.50 PTS
11.4% -- Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals -- ADP: 13.9, 257.30 PTS
11.4% -- Stefon Diggs, WR, Bills -- ADP: 14.0, 340.00 PTS
11.3% -- Cowboys D/ST, D/ST, Cowboys -- ADP: 137.5, 167.00 PTS
11.2% -- Terry McLaurin, WR, Commanders -- ADP: 40.3, 251.10 PTS
11.1% -- DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Cardinals -- ADP: 102.6, 151.70 PTS
11.1% -- Ja'Marr Chase, WR, Bengals -- ADP: 8.0, 265.00 PTS
11.0% -- Amari Cooper, WR, Browns -- ADP: 78.1, 278.60 PTS
11.0% -- Tony Pollard, RB, Cowboys -- ADP: 100.4, 250.70 PTS
10.9% -- James Conner, RB, Cardinals -- ADP: 26.7, 214.20 PTS
10.9% -- Michael Pittman Jr., WR, Colts -- ADP: 33.9, 244.60 PTS
10.8% -- Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints -- ADP: 11.9, 232.70 PTS

McCaffrey was quite a pickup for the San Francisco 49ers, acquired from the Carolina Panthers in exchange for 2023 second-, third- and fourth-round draft picks, as well as a 2024 fifth-round draft pick following Week 6. For his new team, McCaffrey paced all running backs with his 238.36 PPR fantasy points, which included his becoming the 11th player in NFL history with a passing, rushing and receiving touchdown in the same game in Week 8 when he scored a season-best 40.26 points. Most importantly, though, McCaffrey performed at his best in the season's final six weeks, during which he averaged 24.3 PPR fantasy points, scored at least 13.8 in each game and led his position by 21.1 points. It was the kind of finish that might well stick in many fantasy managers' minds, and could place him squarely in the debate for who should be the No. 1 overall pick in 2023 drafts.

Patrick Mahomes' record-setting 2022 naturally earned him a high ranking on the list, second overall and tops among quarterbacks. His 417.40 fantasy points set a new positional single-season standard, breaking his own mark set four years prior (417.08). Mahomes was the most consistently reliable quarterback this season, finishing top 10 at his position for the week 13 times, tied with Josh Allen for the most among quarterbacks, and he was the second-highest-scoring player overall during the four-week fantasy playoffs (136.60). It cost plenty to draft Mahomes -- he was the No. 29 overall pick and second among quarterbacks on average in ESPN leagues -- but his strong seasonal play makes him a compelling candidate for fantasy MVP honors.

Mahomes' top target, Travis Kelce, remains my choice for said theoretical MVP award. Kelce's fantasy dominance slowed slightly during the championship weeks, as he totaled 21.1 PPR points in those games, but that was still 10th best among tight ends during that time and it put him second all-time in seasonal fantasy points at his position (316.3). Kelce was also the only player to have a top-five overall -- as well as position-leading -- percentage in ESPN leagues in terms of appearances on the rosters of playoff teams (71.7%, first overall), finalists (41.4%, second) and champions (21.4% fourth). That the tight end position was exceedingly difficult for fantasy managers to fill all season further supports his candidacy as this season's most valuable player.

How about those Eagles? Besides the aforementioned Brown, Jalen Hurts (18.0%, eighth overall and second among quarterbacks), the Eagles' defense/special teams (15.7%, 12th and first among D/STs) and DeVonta Smith (13.7%, 22nd and seventh among wide receivers) all placed among the 25 most common names on champions' rosters. Thank the Eagles for going all-in on the NFC's No. 1 seed, as both wide receivers were plenty productive during all four playoff weeks, including scoring in double-digits during Week 18. Hurts also delivered a stellar 34.70 points in Week 15, the first week of our playoffs.

Fantasy teams with Bills and Bengals players fared better than you might think, despite their playing only one game to others' two in the championship weeks. Josh Allen, the third-most-common quarterback found on both playoff teams' (58.6%) and finalists' (35.2%) rosters, was again the third-most-common quarterback on championship teams (15.2%). That he delivered 21.76 fantasy points in Week 18, after having combined for 58.84 in the semifinal Weeks (15 and 16), certainly helped. Additionally, the Bills' defense/special teams was the third-most-common D/ST on championship rosters (12.6%), Joe Burrow was the fourth-most-common quarterback (12.1%), Joe Mixon was the 14th-most-common running back (11.4%), Stefon Diggs was the 13th-most-common wide receiver (11.4%) and Ja'Marr Chase was the 16th-most-common wide receiver (11.1%). All of them except Burrow scored at least 17.8 points in Week 18.

Finally, perhaps this year's fantasy playoff hero was 49ers tight end George Kittle, the No. 8 scorer at his position in terms of PPR fantasy points during our regular season (114.0 through Week 13), who totaled 86.5 points during the four-week playoffs, by far the best at his position. Kittle scored multiple touchdowns in three of those four games and at least one score in each, as his role ramped up while Deebo Samuel was sidelined.

Congratulations to all of our league champions!