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Top 10 Surprises in Fantasy Football Through 12 Weeks

What have been the most surprising developments and performances so far in fantasy football? Where do Golden Tate, Jeremy Maclin, and Justin Forsett rank?

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Note: This was written prior to the Baltimore Ravens vs. New Orleans Saints game on Monday night. The content in this article related to the players involved has not been altered.

Every year, we make a lot of predictions for fantasy football, so, naturally, many of them do not come true. We are through 12 weeks of the NFL season, so let's check in with some of the most surprising performances so far this season.

Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice are not on the list because it focuses more on how players have performed, not whether they have played.

10. Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers D/ST

Going into the season, these were the two highest-drafted defenses in fantasy, but they have combined for only seven double-digit games through the first 12 weeks (11 games). The Seahawks, already thin from losing talents such as Red Bryant and Chris Clemons in order to resign Michael Bennett and Earl Thomas to lavish deals, were ravaged by injuries and their pass defense isn’t at the same level as it was last year.

The Panthers, meanwhile, have had five games of negative fantasy output and really look lost on the defensive side. They aren’t generating a pass rush (no Greg Hardy…), and the departures of Captain Munnerlyn and Mike Mitchell have hurt in the secondary. Both teams lack attractive schedules the rest of the way, so I don’t expect the final outlook to be much different.

9. San Francisco 49ers’ receiving game

It’s safe to say Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis have disappointed. Crabtree, drafted as a WR2 in standard leagues, has played second fiddle to Anquan Boldin and has looked to be a below-average receiver. Davis has only gathered 40 targets this season, and has found the end zone only twice. This could be because of his holdout in the summer, or just the 49ers’ way of saying they don’t need Davis in the passing game. Boldin is best left as a DFS play, given the 49ers will play twice against Seattle and have Arizona in Week 17.

8. Golden Tate is better than I thought

In his first nine games as a Lion, Tate had five catches or more in all of them and broke 100 yards five times. He’s broken 1,000 yards on the season, and with 72 catches on 106 targets so far, will likely break 100 receptions as well. With Calvin Johnson out, he was a WR1 in PPR leagues and high-end WR2 in standard.  Johnson is back, but Tate has stellar matchups the re rest of the way, so he should be able to finish as a top 20 receiver.

7. Jeremy Maclin is dangerous in Chip Kelly’s offense

After DeSean Jackson’s 2013 season, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see Maclin, whom some consider to be a more complete receiver, rise to the top of the WR leaderboards. However, he was drafted around #76 overall on ESPN leagues and in similar spots on other sites, and has severely outperformed that draft position. He hasn’t had the same stats with Mark Sanchez at quarterback, but Seattle is the only tough matchup remaining on the schedule for Maclin, and he should produce.

6. How the Broncos RB situation played out

I wasn’t particularly surprised that Montee Ball was ineffective, but was surprised to see my preseason favorite, CJ Anderson, slip behind Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson at first when Ball fell to injury. Hillman is the most athletic back there, and he produced before succumbing to injury himself. At last, Anderson took the job and has been phenomenal, and I expect Anderson, the hot hand, to keep the job when Hillman and Ball are healed.

5. Mark Ingram as the Saints’ featured back

After years of running-back-by-committee, the Saints have given Ingram an extended opportunity at 20 carries per game, with the exception of the three weeks he missed with an injury. He has only faced one tough matchup, against Detroit, where he struggled to the tune of 10 carries for 16 yards. He faces juicy matchups for the rest of the season, but he is unlikely to continue working as a bell cow as Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson return from injury.

4. Justin Forsett is the Ravens’ back

So far, Forsett has been a top 10 back despite the Ravens giving looks to Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro earlier in the season. Forsett has been great, as has the Ravens’ run blocking, but Forsett has maintained his relevance through his active role in the receiving game. He might be a RB2 for the rest of the season, but his receiving production ensures he’ll keep fantasy owners happy.

3. Drew Brees is out of the top QB tier

After having been in the conversation for the #1 QB on draft day, Brees has been a disappointment from day one and only has three 20+ point games, using standard scoring with four points-per-passing-touchdown.

On paper, his stats look decent, as he is completing 69.5% of his passes and averages 300 passing yards per game, but the touchdowns aren’t there this year. The schedule for the rest of the season works in his favor, but I don’t expect him to parallel what Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and Aaron Rodgers have done this campaign.

2. Rookie receiver talent

In most seasons, maybe one rookie receiver has fantasy relevance, but Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, and Odell Beckham Jr. have all been major contributors either since the beginning of the season or since they found regular work. None of the four have elite quarterbacks, and Eli Manning probably qualifies as the best quarterback for any of the four.

Still, they all have legitimate talent and I wonder what the effect will be on the expectations for next year’s class of rookie receivers. This class is already called one of the best groups for receivers in history, and I think this might skew expectations for next season’s rookies.

1. Emmanuel Sanders is a WR1

Emmanuel Sanders isn’t as talented as Eric Decker. Emmanuel Sanders is a different receiver than Eric Decker. Emmanuel Sanders is still behind Wes Welker, and might lose targets to Cody Latimer.


There were plenty of concerns about Sanders, and he seems to have overcome them all en route to what looks to be a WR1 season. He has seven 100-yard games and seven touchdowns, and he even managed nine catches for 125 yards coming off a concussion this week against Miami. With most of the attention drawn to Demaryius Thomas, Sanders has all the room to do his thing.