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NFL Year in Review: Fantasy's Biggest Headlines of the Year

Fantasy sports have become as much a part of football as John Madden, Lambeau Field, and Mark Sanchez sucking. There are thousands of websites dedicated to the game. Major networks like ESPN have shows dedicated just to fantasy. They put up individual stats in stadiums just so you can keep up-to-date with your players. Channels dedicate "Red Zone Coverage" just to get you the latest on who is scoring and who is hurt.

Yeah, it's pretty major.

So when you do a review of the NFL season, it's impossible to ignore that when an injury or a breakout game happens, it matters just as much in your league as it does on the field. As a Seahawks fan, I care a lot more about Seattle winning than I do Marshawn Lynch scoring. Though I wanted him to keep the streak alive, when it comes to your team then fantasy shouldn't be as important.

What it does is make all 31 other teams (except the Browns) important.

It's time for a review of the headlines that mattered the most in fantasy during the 2011 season. It was a doozy:

Peyton Manning's Pain in the Neck

Before the season started, I did not think that Manning would miss significant time. I mean, he's Peyton F-Ing Manning and he's never missed a game. "Maybe he'll miss two games" I said as I drafted him in the fourth round. A frickin' STEAL I thought.

Of course, just before the season actually started, it was confirmed that he'd miss at least half of the year. Then he missed the whole damn thing and the Colts started 0-13. They nearly lost out on the top pick to the Rams, but now they're in position to move on from Peyton and draft Luck, which is what I would guess they'll do after firing Bill Polian.

When the news broke that he might miss the whole year, I wrote this article on what the 2011 season might be like without him. I thought Kerry Collins might be decent, and that Painter would be bad. I did not have enough foresight to imagine what a world of Dan Orlovsky would be like.

How accurate were my predictions?

I thought that Reggie Wayne might catch between 70-80 balls for around 1,000 yards and 5 TDs. He finished with 75 catches for 940 yards and 4 TDs.

I was a HUGE fan of Austin Collie coming into the year, thinking he was poised for a major breakthrough. With Manning, I thought he could catch 100 balls and was hoping he wouldn't be as affected by the loss of Peyton. But he really hurt from the loss and wound up with 54 catches for 514 yards and 1 TD.

I guess I decided that Pierre Garcon wouldn't matter at all.

The missing Manning was one of the major stories of the year and bleeds into 2012 as we wait and watch to see what Indianapolis decides to do with it's future. Manning seems to be worth at least 6 or 7 wins (or more) and that should be enough to convince a team to go broke on acquiring him, if the Colts make him available.

Charles Not in Charge of His ACL

Jamaal Charles was considered by some to be the top RB in fantasy coming into the season. He was ranked #1 right here on our week 1 rankings for RBs. Though I cautioned people to not make Charles the #1 pick in their draft (because I feared he was overrated and that KC had a soft schedule in 2010) I still thought he was a very good player in a great system for running backs.

It turns out that the difference between Charles and the next guy was a massive gap.

Charles carried the ball 12 times for 83 yards, plus he caught 5 passes and a TD in the first game of the year against Buffalo. And those are your 2011 stats for #1 pick Jamaal Charles, as he blew his knee out and missed the year.

Fantasy owners felt as crippled as Jamaal if they had used their high selection on the KC back and it turned out that hand-cuffing him with Dexter McCluster or Thomas Jones would not matter. Jackie Battle led the Chiefs with a modest 597 yards and there's a clear difference between Jamaal and the next guy.

The future for JC is uncertain, hoping he can be the second-coming of former Chiefs back Priest Holmes, but it's going to be a watch-and-see in 2012 and beyond. Players rarely just recover so easily from injuries like this and he'll be a value pick next year, but he'll slip because of his now serious injury history.

Chris Johnson Doesn't Work Until He Gets Paid! And Then He Still Doesn't Work After He Gets Paid!

CJ2K, one of the best all-around running backs in the NFL over the past three years and a player I once considered "the best all-around player in the game" held out for a big contract coming into this season. After seeing what has happened to guys like Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte, can I really blame him?

Any NFL player can play in his last game on any Sunday. Get paid while you can. It would have just been nice if Johnson had actually done some work after he got his big guarantee.

Two years ago, Johnson ran for over 2,000 yards, 5.6 yards per carry, 14 rushing touchdowns, and 50 catches with 2 more touchdowns.

He slowed down considerably in 2010 (which is one of the reasons why I caution you to NOT overrate a players career year like Charles) but was still very good. He wasn't any good this year.

Johnson ran for 1,047 yards, 4.0 yards per carry, and 4 touchdowns. He caught 57 passes, but none of those went for a score. Over the first half of the season, he ran for over 65 yards just once and had just a single score. He went from being debated as the top pick in your league to not being startable. He was traded in my league for Anquan Boldin.

At only 26 years old, things like this aren't supposed to happen.

I had the top pick in my draft and if it wasn't for the holdout, I might have taken Johnson over Adrian Peterson. Though I didn't win my league anyway, I'm happy I didn't make the mistake of taking CJ2K, or should I say, CJ1K?

The Other RB Busts:

  • Peyton Hillis
  • Shonn Greene
  • Jahvid Best
  • Rashard Mendenhall
  • Tim Hightower
  • LeGarrette Blount
  • Felix Jones
  • Knowshon Moreno
Who am I forgetting? Greene may have run for over 1,000 yards and 6 TDs, but half of his TDs came in a single quarter. To a certain point, Adrian Peterson was a bust, rushing for only 970 yards. But he reached that in 12 games and had 12 TDs. Did I lose in the playoffs because Peterson wasn't there? Maybe, and for that, I won't ignore his "bust" level.

TebowMania Converts Dozens of People Into Believers. Then Not So Much...

I would have thought that Jesus would have stormed into the playoffs, not fallen ass-backwards into them.

Tim Tebow may be the most popular player in the NFL, but there's still plenty of reasons to question his ability to play on this level. He began the season as (maybe) the third string quarterback behind Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn. I'm not so sure Quinn was ever going to play, but eventually Tebow became the starter.

Orton made 5 starts and the Broncos were 1-4. Fans were chanting for "TEBOW" after his first incompletion of the year, and the inevitability that he'd play finally came true and he started his first game against the Dolphins in week 6. The Broncos made an incredible comeback and won the game 18-15 in OT.

Denver won 7 of their next 8 games to lead the AFC West and it seemed like Tebow could be not just popular, but a winner too. Well, maybe that's still questionable. Denver lost their last three games and are very fortunate to be hosting a playoff game at 8-8. But 2011 will always be the "Year of Tebow" on some level, and maybe it will be the only time he plays significant action.

In fantasy, he was a very consistent option because of his ability to score with his legs. Tebow wasn't a QB1 with a high level of success, but he rarely ever failed to produce some points if you had to start him. He threw 12 TDs and ran for 6 more on 660 yards. The season finale against KC was the first time all year that Tebow failed to score a TD.

If Denver formally announces that Tebow will be the starter in 2012, I'd consider him to be one of the top QB backups in fantasy, but I wouldn't draft him to be a starter. He has potential to score 30 total TDs with 700+ rushing yards, but he also has the potential to be benched.

More Jones-Drew

Maurice Jones-Drew became one of the most consistent and best fantasy options in the league, winning his first rushing title with 1,606 yards, almost 250 yards more than 2nd place Ray Rice.

MJD was a questionable choice for some who felt he couldn't score enough. Well, he put it in the end zone 8 times on the ground and 3 times in the air. More importantly, he was super consistent. Jones-Drew ran for less than 80 yards just once all year (when he had 63 yards and a TD against the top run defense of Houston) and he had a major 4 TD game in a critical week 13 game for fantasy owners.

LeSean McCoy did his thing, Ray Rice did his thing, but MJD was the ONLY option in Jacksonville and he did it without a quarterback. Props to him.

Breakout RBs:

  • Beast Mode (Marshawn Lynch as a consistent threat with 12 straight scoring games)
  • Ryan Mathews
  • Reggie Bush
  • DeMarco Murray
  • Ben Tate
  • Beanie Wells (Though still too inconsistent)
  • Tim Tebow
  • Roy Helu
  • Darren Sproles
  • C.J. Spiller
Cam You Dig It?

Two years ago, Cam Newton was not playing major college football. He transferred to Auburn, won the Heisman, won the National Title, became the #1 pick in the draft, and started 16 games as a rookie.

Newton threw for more passing yards than any rookie in NFL history, completing over 60% of his passes for over 4,000 yards, 21 TD/17 INT. He ran for more rushing TDs than any QB in history, gaining 706 yards and 14 TDs. Next year he will be 23 years old and arguably the best choice for the #1 pick in your fantasy draft.

In the real life world of the NFL, Newton also led the Panthers to a 6-10 record (after going 2-14 last year) and wins in 4 of their last 6 games, losing only to the Falcons and Saints during that time. Those are the teams that Newton is going to have to consistently beat during his career if he's going to make the playoffs and win the division, but I have no doubt that he will eventually do it.

I have no doubt that he'll eventually win a Super Bowl.. or two.

It's just best not to doubt anything that Cam could do. He Cam do anything he wants.

Cruz To Victory

If you ranked a Giants WR in your pre-season top 5, you were not alone. If that WR was Victor Cruz, you were called an idiot. Who is the idiot now? Well, it was still probably stupid because "HOW WOULD YOU POSSIBLY KNOW THAT?"

How would you possibly know that an undrafted free agent who hadn't caught a single NFL pass would finish 3rd in the NFL with 1,536 yards?

How would you possibly know that he'd break the Giants franchise record for receiving yards in a season? And this after he had 17 yards after the first two weeks.

How would you possibly know that he'd gain almost 350 yards over the last two games?

Cruz was a free agent in most leagues to start the year, and a skeptical add after his first 100 yard game in week 3. He became one of the most valuable WRs in the league after that, only posting one bad game over the final 14.

Where will Victor be ranked next year? Will he be far ahead of Hakeem Nicks in drafts? Will people consider this a fluke? Watching Cruz, I saw him get lucky a time or two, but I also saw a player that was quick, made some circus catches, be elusive in the open field, and seemingly could turn a short catch into a 99 yard touchdown.

Cruz was a beast and one of the top players in 2011.

Other WR Breakouts:

  • Jordy Nelson
  • Antonio Brown
  • A.J. Green
  • Nate Washington
  • Darrius Heyward-Bey
  • Julio Jones
  • Jabar Gaffney
  • Laurent Robinson
Other important WR news was the injury to Kenny Britt after it looked like he was going to have a major breakout season, Megatron Calvin Johnson breaking records and going off in the final two weeks to finish with the 7th highest total for receiving yards in history, Wes Welker, the return of Steve Smith, and Doug Baldwin out-performing almost every WR drafted in 2011.

Rob Gronkowski Outperforms All Other TEs Combined

Coming into the season, a lot of people were skeptical about Rob Gronkowski and how much he'd do in the two TE sets of New England. Aaron Hernandez is also a very talented option that was also in his second year. Gronk was maybe on the outside of the top 10 for many people before the year.

He's all alone at the top now. He just barely surpassed Jimmy Graham for the top TE receiving yard season ever, with 1,327 yards to Graham's 1,310, but Gronk also caught an NFL-record-for-a-TE 17 touchdowns.

Will you rank Graham ahead of Gronk next year?

Meanwhile, Jermichael Finley had a season-high of 87 yards and caught 3 of his 8 TDs in week three as the biggest disappointment amongst TEs.

Yes, it was a pretty wild regular season with records broken and even Kyle Boller threw for 3,000 yards. It seemed like every passer was on pace for career highs while defenses took the year off. There were teams that started hot (like the Bills and Bucs) and finished in the dumps. There were teams that started cold and finished in the playoffs, like the Broncos and Giants.

The Colts became the worst team in the league for the first time since they drafted Peyton Manning and now they get the opportunity to draft the "next Peyton."

The Rams are also the worst team in the league, so at least there were some things we could predict.

The Jets aren't going to make the AFC Championship game, but maybe they'll get Peyton Manning.

The Texans are going to the playoffs for the first time, but they've got more players on IR than on the active roster.

The Cowboys. WTF is up with the Cowboys?

Drew Brees.

I never once mentioned Aaron Rodgers? See, that's how much stuff happened this year. I completely screwed up and didn't mention that Aaron Rodgers had a passer rating of 122.5 and the Packers went 15-1. He also threw 45 TDs against a whopping 6 interceptions. Mark Sanchez threw 6 interceptions while I wrote this article.

Rodgers got lost in the shuffle a little bit because both Drew Brees and Tom Brady broke Dan Marino's passing yardage record and Rodgers, who will be the MVP, finished FIFTH in passing yards (his 4,643 yards is the 19th most all time.)

Four of the top six passing season of all-time happened this year. Matthew Stafford and Eli Manning being the other guys.

It's been an awesome season, a season of high-scoring and not boring, and yes I intended that to rhyme.

Let's get these playoffs started!