The term “league-winner” is misunderstood in fantasy football. It doesn’t apply to season-long superstars like Tyreek Hill or Christian McCaffrey, even if they’re the ones responsible for dragging teams into the playoffs. League-winners are unexpected surprises: little-known or discounted players that save their best play for the end of the season, or good pieces that become great. With that in mind, let’s break down who can give your roster the boost that leads to a championship.
QB: Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers
After last Sunday’s upset win over the Chiefs, it’s hard not to be impressed by the strides Jordan Love has made as a quarterback this year. The Packers quarterback is receiving plenty of buzz, and he should have no problem carving up some exploitable defenses going forward.
For most of the season, Love has been a matchup-dependent play, but three straight weeks of 20+ point performances should change that. Enticing matchups against the Giants (14th in allowing points to QBs) and Buccaneers (27th) over the next two weeks should keep Love locked into all starting lineups before a solid matchup against the Panthers and a dome game in Minnesota that should see a fair amount of scoring. Love could be a top-eight starter at the position down the stretch, a reality that most are probably discounting at the moment even with his stellar play of late.
RB: D’Andre Swift, Philadelphia Eagles
The vibes are not great right now for D’Andre Swift; thirteen rushing yards last week against the 49ers frustrated plenty of fantasy managers. It’s worth noting that the Eagles RB has had a relatively high floor prior to Sunday’s loss; it was his first game since Week 1 without at least nine fantasy points in PPR leagues. Assuming Swift retains control of a volatile Philly backfield, which is never a guarantee, he’s set up for success heading into the playoffs.
Sunday night’s game against Dallas, the third-stingiest defense to opposing running backs, could be a struggle, but the Eagles’ schedule really opens up for the postseason. The Seahawks (28th), Giants (24th), and Cardinals (30th) are all prime matchups for running the ball. So much so that even if Swift cedes some carries to Kenneth Gainwell he should have over 10 carries a game to go along with plenty of work in the passing game. An Eagles team motivated to lock up a bye week will need to lean on Swift to chew some clock and make big plays down the stretch.
WR: Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers
I can already hear an audible groan from anyone reading this. Perhaps the biggest tease in all of fantasy going back to last season, it’s been brutal rostering Diontae Johnson. While last year’s touchdown drought was bad, he had a solid floor thanks to his large target share. That hasn’t been the case in 2022; Johnson has caught more than four passes in just three games.
Normally, the loss of their starting quarterback, in this case Kenny Pickett, to an ankle injury would only add to a wide receiver’s fantasy woes. That isn’t the case here; backup Mitchell Trubisky is a downgrade as a passer, but he funnels the ball to his top option. In 14 career games with Trubisky, Johnson has averaged 5.1 catches and 7.6 targets per game, a full catch increase compared to Pickett. Mitch and Diontae showed their chemistry almost immediately on Sunday with a late-game touchdown catch against Arizona. Enticing games against the Colts, Bengals, and Seahawks only add to the appeal of Johnson; he’s a fantasy headache, but it’s hard to find a more slept-on receiver with his potential volume.
TE: Trey McBride, Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals are a different team with Kyler Murray back, and Trey McBride is living proof. Prior to Murray’s return in Week 10, McBride was the TE20; since then, he’s been the TE1. This isn’t a case of touchdown luck; the Colorado State tight end is quickly establishing himself as a focal point of Arizona’s offense. Since Week 10, he’s 10th in the NFL in targets while scoring just one touchdown. If he can find the end zone with more consistency, McBride could be even better.
Following the team’s bye this week, Arizona will be tested against a stingy 49ers defense that has done well against TEs. That shouldn’t dissuade managers too much, as an early San Francisco lead should force the Cards to pass their way down the field for most of the game. That’s followed up by two tantalizing matchups against the Bears (29th against tight ends) and Eagles (22nd) to close out the playoffs. The sky’s the limit for McBride, and there’s no excuse not to have him in your starting lineup going forward.