Hi, folks! Now that I’ve recovered from my end-of-season hangover, it’s time to hand out some fantasy football awards for 2012. The votes from our esteemed panel have been meticulously counted, and … ah, that’s a lie. I’m the only voter. Let’s get going.
MVP: Adrian Peterson, Vikings
All Day, baby! Peterson was solid over the season’s first six weeks, averaging 83 yards per game. “Pretty good,” you thought if you owned him. After his ACL surgery, it was about all you could have reasonably expected.
From Week 7 onward … holy $#@! Purple Jesus ran for 1,598 yards and 10 touchdowns over his final 10 games, and finished the season with 20 percent more fantasy points than the next highest running back (Doug Martin). If Peterson isn’t the top overall pick in your league next season, then your league includes at least one idiot.
Best Bargain: Alfred Morris, Redskins
Morris didn’t really emerge as the Redskins’ primary ballcarrier until the season opener. He looked good in preseason, but fantasy footballers had misgivings about Mike Shanahan’s history of running back roulette, and kept wavering between Roy Helu, Evan Royster and Morris. As a result, Morris’ ADP was 146.8, close behind such luminaries such Jahvid Best, Felix Jones and Rashard Mendenhall.
Once the season started, “Alf” never looked back. He became the seventh-ranked rusher in FOXSports.com standard leagues, scoring 256.7 points on 1,610 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Morris carried 335 times in 2012, so there’s not much reason to think he’ll slow down next season, unless you believe that the potential absence of RGIII could negatively impact him. Shanahan has juggled before, but he ran Terrell Davis a lot, too.
Best Breakout in a Supporting Role: C.J. Spiller, Bills
Spiller finished sixth among running backs in FOXSports.com standard scoring despite getting only 250 touches (207 carries, 43 receptions). Of the five guys that scored more fantasy points than Spiller, the next-lowest was Jamaal Charles with 320 touches. If new Bills’ coach Doug Marrone gives Spiller a lead dog’s workload in 2013, he could be a monster.
Best Rookies: Robert Griffin III, Redskins; Doug Martin, Bucs; Alfred Morris
RGIII was seventh in QB scoring, thanks mainly to breathtaking running ability that garnered 847 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. How will he bounce back from what is apparently a serious knee injury? ACLs aren’t usually career-threatening any more, and Adrian Peterson came through similar surgery like nothing ever happened. However, Peterson’s recovery was very quick. Stay tuned.
Martin’s status as fantasy’s second-best running back was a bit skewed thanks to a ridiculous Week 9 performance against the Raiders that netted 60.2 fantasy points – 19 percent of his total for the season. However, he’s still a no-doubt first rounder in 2013 as an every-down back for the Bucs. There was a lot of pre-draft hype surrounding Martin in fantasy circles, and he eclipsed all of it.
Better Late Than Never: Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
After a lost season in 2011 made it seem like his career was headed nowhere, Moreno entered 2012 no better than third on the Broncos’ depth chart behind Willis McGahee and Ronnie Hillman. When McGahee got hurt in Week 11, fantasy wiseguys were all over Hillman, until John Fox announced Moreno as the starter less than 90 minutes before the Week 12 game in Kansas City. Moreno was terrific from then on, averaging 97 yards rushing and 18.5 fantasy points per game in Weeks 12-16. Watch your free-agent pool, folks – even on Sunday mornings. You never know what you’ll find.
Biggest Bust (non-injury): Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
It’s hard to feel bad for a guy who makes millions of dollars and spends his offseasons traveling the world, but Fitzgerald deserves better than the cadre of horrible quarterbacks his team has foisted upon him since Kurt Warner left. Fitz’s ADP was 13.8, and he was the second wideout off the board on draft day. That made sense to me, as he caught 80 passes for 1,411 yards and eight scores in 2011 with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton under center. He was QB-proof, right?
Not so much. Fitzgerald hit rock bottom (we hope) in 2012, with 71 receptions for 798 yards and four touchdowns, thanks to the scattershot arms of Kolb, Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer. He went through one five-game stretch in which he caught 10 passes for 89 yards, and found himself languishing on fantasy benches. We’re not asking you to get Aaron Rodgers, Cardinals. An average Joe would probably be enough to return Fitz to fantasy WR1 status.
Biggest Busts (injury): Darren McFadden, Raiders; Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars; Greg Jennings, Packers
DMC and MJD were the sixth and seventh runners, respectively, to come off fantasy draft boards. McFadden missed four games with a sprained ankle, ran for just 707 yards, and was 25th among running backs in FOXSports.com standard scoring. He might improve in 2013, but if you bet on a breakout again, remember that his fragility is likely to disappoint you.
After a training camp holdout, Jones-Drew missed most of the final 10 games with a foot injury that required surgery. If healthy, he can return to workhorse status, and might be a bit of a bargain in 2013 drafts.
Jennings’ ADP of 21 reflected a belief that he would bounce back from a subpar 2011 that was marred by a sprained knee. An abdominal injury slowed Jennings this time, causing him to miss eight games in the middle of the season, which he ended as fantasy’s 76th most productive wide receiver. Maybe he’ll provide production as the lead option on a new team next year, but if he’s healthy, some fantasy hype is likely to surround him in July and August.
Past Their Prime: Antonio Gates, Chargers; Michael Vick, Eagles; Philip Rivers, Chargers
When I considered Gates before the season, I thought: Old, fat, slow. Maybe the middle assessment was harsh, and as colleague Mike Harmon noted on one of our podcasts, the Chargers’ lack of good receivers drew much of opponents’ coverage to Gates. He caught just 49 passes for 538 yards, surpassed 60 yards only once, and finished 13th at his position in fantasy scoring. The best tight end our fake game has ever seen is now just a matchup play.
You never could completely trust Vick as a fantasy option, since he’s always been injury-prone. Now, his real-life status as a turnover machine is close to overshadowing his athletic ability, and hurting his prospects for playing time. A desperate team (J-E-T-S, JETS! JETS! JETS!) might take a shot at Vick, but I’ll take the under on 11.5 games played in 2013. At age 33, his fantasy value is likely to continue its downhill trajectory.
Rivers’ passing yards declined by more than 1,000 from 2011 to 2012, and he finished the season as the 21st-ranked quarterback on FOXSports.com. Remember when he was a mid-tier QB1? No more.
Best Late-Season Hero: Dez Bryant, Cowboys
Bryant was the No. 5 wideout in fantasy scoring, finishing just a tenth of a point behind A.J. Green. That’s pretty amazing when you consider that his fantasy owners were unimpressed after Week 9, when he had an unspectacular 42 catches for 503 yards and two touchdowns through a half season.
Starting in Week 10, Bryant emerged as a star. He racked up 50 catches for 879 yards and 10 scores in his final eight games, carrying many fantasy squads on his back (and with one hand!). You can pick Calvin Johnson ahead of Bryant in 2013. Maybe A.J. Green, too. Beyond that, I’ll take Dez, and you can have the field.