David Wilson, Fantasy Football, and the Winningest Players


The list of the winningest players on fantasy football rosters this season has many familiar names, and you might be able to guess most of them. (That’s called a tease–tomorrow I will talk about the most and least valuable players). One name, though, stands out precisely because it does not fit.

CBS Fantasy Sports provided me with a list of players based on the winning percentage when they were on a roster. It includes a massive amount of leagues, somewhere close to 100,000. When I looked down the list, one name stood out: David Wilson, who ranks as the sixth highest winning percentage. Wilson currently ranks outside the Top 45 in points for the season at the running back position. Until two weeks ago, he was a non-entity, then he exploded for two rushing touchdowns against the Saints. Of course, he was likely on the bench if he was on a roster. Last week, in his first start of the year, he was underwhelming as the Giants fell behind by a large margin.

If you had started David Wilson all season long, you would have no doubt had a losing record. Yet, here he is, with teams owning Wilson this year winning 54.9% of their games. Wilson was on rosters for almost 1.2 million games on CBS Sports leagues, so this isn’t a case of a small sample size at all. So, in the immortal words of Vince Lombardi, “what in the hell is going on out here?”

Several years ago, Doug Drinen wrote about Courtney Taylor, a little used Seattle wide receiver, being a fantasy superstar. Contest entries that included Taylor showed a high likelihood of success, even though Taylor himself contributed nothing. Though David Wilson had very little to do with the success of teams he was on, he is highly correlated with successful fantasy teams, and these are my best guesses why David Wilson is among the winningest players in fantasy football this year.

1. David Wilson owners understand the value of players like Wilson when it comes to winning fantasy football titles. David Wilson is high reward type player. He was a first round pick of the Giants and is clearly a talented playmaker. He got into Tom Coughlin’s doghouse early with fumbles, but the potential combination of his ability, and a Giants offense where the running back gets opportunities and is supported by an explosive passing game, is a good one for success. It is about the process and not always the results, and if an owner was rostering Wilson despite weeks of non-production, he likely understood those risks and rewards.

2. David Wilson owners probably had healthier than average teams or more defined and better starters, and could afford to continue to roster him. It’s fine in theory to want to carry a player like David Wilson on the roster, who is a lottery ticket. When you can’t fill out a starting lineup through the bye weeks and need a starter, it is players like Wilson that get sacrificed. Wilson ownership is probably correlated fairly highly through most of the season with deep teams that didn’t need to search for 12 touches and hope for a touchdown from week to week.

3. David Wilson, like other later season additions, was likely added by better than average teams. The final reason that Wilson shows up among the winningest players is that he is being added to winning teams. This is not a phenomenon limited to Wilson. Colin Kaepernick, Knowshon Moreno, Bryce Brown and Danario Alexander are also above average in terms of winning percentage. All of them were added more heavily later in the year. This is a time when losing teams have started to give up, so that players are more likely to be added to playoff contending fantasy teams.

That third factor is not as strong for Wilson as those other names listed, where their play is a contributing factor to winning because all have provided a boost. However, I think in the end all of these things play a role, and the net result is that if you had David Wilson on your roster, you tended to have a pretty good fantasy team.

[photo via USA Today Sports Images]