Wild-Card Heroes: Examining the 2024 fantasy football value of playoff top performers

Overreacting to single-game playoff performances is generally a terrible mistake. It’s how we ended up with the Gabe Davis fiasco of 2022, one of the more regrettable episodes in recent fantasy football history.

But it’s not as if we can simply disregard postseason production, either. These are the final meaningful data points we’re gonna get before it’s time to draft fresh rosters next summer. Also, if we’re going to be true to the NFL fan experience, we must accept that if something is worth reacting to at all, then it deserves a crazed frothy-mouthed overreaction. In this game, half measures won’t do.

With these facts in mind, today’s mission is to get a value-check on a few breakout stars who detonated the wild-card round and have clearly acquired new coordinates on 2024 cheat sheets. We’ll start near the top of the draft and work our way down, beginning with a pair of utterly unstoppable young receivers …

Second Round: Puka Nacua and Nico Collins

We just went through a two-round mock exercise in which both Nacua and Collins made the cut, so, yeah, we can confirm that neither player slipped in the ranks after feasting over the weekend. Nacua delivered a flawless game at Detroit, catching nine of 10 targets for 181 yards, with a long score included:

He gained 104 yards-after-catch on Sunday, which is absurd. On the only target Nacua failed to catch against the Lions, he was pretty clearly held. He was just completely un-coverable via any legal technique. It’s probably reasonable to fret about Matthew Stafford sustaining his high level of play entering his age-36 season, but Nacua is now well-established as an elite weapon in all respects.

Collins spent his Saturday roasting the corners of the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense, finishing with six catches, 96 yards and one spike on seven targets. In a more competitive game, he might have approached Nacua’s wild-card totals. Collins has now appeared in 16 games this season, playoffs included, and he’s at 1,393 receiving yards on only 116 targets. He caught a ridiculous 73.4% of his chances this season, well above the rate we’d expect from a downfield weapon seeing degree-of-difficulty targets (11.5 ADOT). His passer rating when targeted in the regular season was an outrageous 129.6.

Second/Third Turn: Isiah Pacheco

While we didn’t mock Pacheco among the second-round backs last week, he would be a perfectly reasonable pick for any team selecting a top-tier receiver in the first. He’s coming off a battering-ram performance in arctic conditions (89-1), punctuating an impressive campaign in which he averaged 84.2 total yards per game and hauled in 44 of 49 targets.

Pacheco’s rushing style is basically what it might have looked like if prime Marion Barber fought the Orcs at the Battle of Helm’s Deep. He is an absolute delight. He’s also attached to a high-ceiling offense in which he should remain the unchallenged featured runner. It’s easy to imagine Pacheco playing his way into the first round in 2025.

Third Round: Sam LaPorta

Look, if I am in your draft, LaPorta is not dropping beyond the third. That’s just how it’s gonna go. He may not have produced an eye-popping line in the win over LA, but the man somehow caught a touchdown pass while his left leg was covered in scaffolding:

With all due respect to Travis Kelce and Trey McBride, it’s going to be LaPorta at the top of the tight end heap when draft season is upon us. He just delivered the greatest rookie season we’ve seen at his position in the fantasy era.

Fourth Round: Rashee Rice

By the time we reached the final third of the season, the Chiefs really had no choice but to feed Rice 9-to-10 targets per game. Kansas City’s deep-threat receivers couldn’t catch, Kelce was on fumes and nobody ever seemed to be running the route that Patrick Mahomes was expecting. Rice was supposed to be a developmental rookie, but he ended up as the team’s most only trustworthy receiver.

On Saturday, despite brutal conditions, he caught eight of his team-high 12 targets for 130 yards and one score (and nearly another). It’s a cliche to say that a young player is merely scratching the surface, but it’s entirely accurate in Rice’s case. He spent the first half of his season as a part-timer, typically lined up in the slot and rarely getting downfield. These days, he’s playing 75-to-90% of the snaps, moving around the formation a bit more, still doing much of his damage near the line of scrimmage on in-breaking routes — and he is crushing in his role.

It’s tough to peg his value for 2024 at this stage (not that anyone needs to), because KC has a screaming need for receiving help and will surely address it in free agency or the draft or both. But without question, Rice is going to be an essential player in the Chiefs' offense, no matter who’s added to the mix.

Fifth Round: C.J. Stroud and Jordan Love

Stroud just made his NFL playoff debut look like an early-season laugher against some MAC opponent. He took a flamethrower to an elite pass defense, hitting the Browns with three first-half touchdowns and averaging 13.0 yards per attempt. He then tossed the keys to Davis Mills in the fourth quarter and closed the game as a smiling onlooker. Ridiculous.

As a rookie, Stroud led the league in passing yards per game (273.9) and threw only five interceptions on 499 attempts. He was an immediate star, which we almost never see at this position. If you want to call it history’s greatest rookie season by a quarterback, we can’t push back too hard — and, of course, his season isn’t over. Stroud, Collins and Tank Dell are going to be an impossible problem moving forward.

Love, in his best moments this season, has been Mahomesian. Wizardly. Unreasonably good. Look at this fourth-down nonsense from Sunday’s demolition of the Cowboys:

Over Love’s last nine games, postseason included, he’s produced 23 combined touchdowns with only one interception. His receiving corps is young, loaded and smartly assembled. Green Bay is built to last.

Stroud and Love are back-to-back on my so-early-it’s-not-worth-discussing draft board for 2024, both inside the top eight at their position and top-50 overall. These are superflex first-rounders and dynasty cornerstones.

Seventh Round: Jake Ferguson

Sunday's home loss was a failure wrapped in a disaster inside an implosion, glazed with regret. Any number of offseason moves now seem to be on the table for Dallas. Ferguson was one of the few Cowboys who appeared to understand that it was, in fact, a win-or-go-home playoff game. He caught a team-high 10 balls for 93 yards and three scores against Green Bay, capping a huge year with his biggest performance as a pro by far.

Ferguson actually saw more targets (102) and caught more passes (71) this season than a bunch of brand-name tight ends, including George Kittle, Dalton Schultz and Kyle Pitts. In a typical year, the top-eight players at Ferguson's position will ultimately have top-80-ish ADPs, so don't expect to find him in the late rounds again. His sleeper days are behind him.