Fantasy football championships are won with good drafting, some luck, and those one or two roster transactions that give owners the edge that propels them to the top of the standings. Congratulations to everyone who won a league title this year. If you won while having at least one Bucs player on your active roster, I applaud you. Even a second or third place finish is golf-clap worthy. Owners who bought into Josh Freeman and LeGarrette Blount – I understand your disgust. Unfortunately, there was plenty of heartache for owners who drafted the likes of Jamaal Charles, Peyton Hillis, Michael Vick, Peyton Manning, Chris Cooley, Kenny Britt, and several other under-achievers too. But, there were also fantasy God-sends; guys who seemed to play their best games right around the time you waited to use that number one waiver wire priority slot. Every owner has that guy—or perhaps, guys—that they picked up on a hunch during the season, which later went on to lead the team to a fantasy title. There are many to choose from, but these guys stood apart from the rest.
Carson Palmer: Six months ago this guy was reclining on his couch eating Oreos and Doritos, and watching reruns of ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Boy Meets World’. All it took was one broken collarbone by Jason Campbell, and a panic in the Raiders front office when they realized Rich Gannon had retired, before Palmer suddenly became one of the more relevant fantasy pickups of the season. His numbers weren’t spectacular, (16 TD’s; 13 INT’s) but he saved owners who took chances on one-hit wonders Kevin Kolb, Sam Bradford, and (cough) Josh Freeman.
Tim Tebow – Just when you thought I might leave him out. Sorry, whether you love him or despise him, you can’t discount his production, err, at least his fourth quarter stats. Since Tebow started Week 7 versus Miami, he averaged 17.12 fantasy points a week according to default Yahoo settings. Yes, he had some ugly games sprinkled in, but overall his stats indicate a top 15 quarterback for fantasy purposes. In real life…well that’s another discussion.
C.J. Spiller: If not for an unfortunate fractured right ankle, Cowboys’ running back DeMarco Murray would have won the top spot in a landslide. Instead, the award goes to Buffalo’s lightning-quick running back C.J. Spiller. For 11 weeks he laid in wait in fantasy free agent pools just baiting owners to pick him up. When All-Pro back Fred Jackson hobbled to the sidelines with a fractured fibula, Spiller stepped up in a big way. He scored the fourth-most fantasy points among running backs during the final four weeks of the season, and that includes a non-existent performance Week 14 versus San Diego. He was money for owners in PPR (point-per-reception) leagues too, catching an average of four balls a game, along with two receiving touchdowns.
Roy Helu: I really fought with myself about putting Oakland’s Michael Bush, New Orleans’ Darren Sproles, or Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch in here, but then I realized I wouldn’t be following my own directions about picking only unwanted players for this list. Finally, I settled on Washington’s Roy Helu. If Coach Mike Shanahan had actually made up his mind and settled on a starting running back for more than four weeks, Helu had the potential to be the Arian Foster of the 2011 fantasy season. He showed the ability to run through (or jump over) defenders and still had the shiftiness to catch the ball out of the backfield and outrun would-be tacklers. In a seven-week stretch, Helu recorded 404 yards rushing and caught the ball 35 times for 239 yards (including a ridiculous 14 catches for 105 yards against San Francisco). He only managed to find the end zone twice; however, I blame that more on the ineptitude of a Rex Grossman-led offense than I do Helu’s effectiveness. If Shanahan finally makes a decision on a starter this offseason, look for Helu to carry most of the load.
Victor Cruz: Who’s our favorite player? Well, today it’s not Mr. Derrick Brooks, Bucs fans. It’s New York Giants wide out Victor Cruz. Was there any other waiver wire pickup that helped fantasy owners more than Cruz? That’s a rhetorical question there, boys and girls. Cruz was far and away the savior to fantasy lineups across the nation. His 1539 receiving yards ranked third in the league, as did his 96 yards-per-game. He was also a stud for those who made it into the fantasy playoffs, catching nine balls for 342 yards and two scores. For those engulfed in fantasy football frenzy and are already pre-ranking players for next year, I rank him as a late second, early third round pick.
Laurent Robinson: If there is one other player besides Cruz that people can make an argument for as a fantasy golden nugget, it’s this guy. Owners of slumping receivers – such as Chad Ochocinco, Braylon Edwards, Austin Collie and the Bucs Mike Williams (do you sense a trend here) – welcomed Robinson into their lineups with open arms. And did he ever bless those who put faith in him. From Week 8 on, he may have been one of the ten best non-quarterback players in the league. He recorded 625 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns, including a whopping seven touchdowns in a five-game stretch. It’s tough to say what his production will be next season because of a talented group of receivers around him, but if this year is any indication, Dallas will throw the ball a lot, and quarterback Tony Romo does a pretty good job of spreading the ball around. He should be a sixth or seventh round selection, with second or third round upside if injuries occur.
Brandon Pettigrew: Wow, Detroit’s offense was scary good this year. If only the defense focused more on being good and less on being scary, the Lions might have gone further than the first round of the playoffs. Still, let’s not discount the mind-boggling offensive numbers quarterback Matthew Stafford put up. And who was it that may have benefitted the most? That’d be Pettigrew. Dumb journalist, what about Calvin Johnson? Hey, no need to get hostile here Mr. Italicize, here me out. Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron – who’s pretty much the harbinger of touchdowns and sick catches – is going to produce no matter who is throwing the ball to him. Heck, if Shaun Hill and Dan Orlovsky can do it, any NFL quarterback can. Okay, so back to Pettigrew. He’s quietly put together solid back-to-back years, catching 154 balls for 1499 yards and nine touchdowns. He was Stafford’s go-to-guy down the stretch, averaging slightly less than seven catches a game over the final four contests. With Johnson double-teamed most of the game, Pettigrew benefitted from loose coverage. Those in PPR leagues would be wise to select him next year, as I believe he will make a run at 90-100 catches.
Jermaine Gresham: No one expected anything from the Bengals offense this year, other than maybe a couple players being arrested during the season (and after the season, Jerome Simpson), thus adding to the NFL lead in that category. Remember back to opening week? Rookie quarterback, rookie number one wide receiver, aging running back, and unspectacular second-year tight end – doesn’t sound exciting at first. Instead, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green looked like they’d been playing catch for years, Jermaine Gresham was up-and-down, but showed a lot of potential, and Cedric Benson…well, he was still bad…but you get my drift. At 6-5, 260 pounds, Gresham is a budding superstar. Think Packers Jermichael Finley except that Gresham’s got Dalton throwing to him rather than MVP Aaron Rodgers. For next year, think ‘Discount Double-Check’ when you draft Gresham six rounds after the other elite tight ends and then reap the savings.
Dan Bailey: Normally, I would discard kickers because the point difference between the number one kicker and the tenth usually rounds up to about 20 points. Nevertheless, I can’t discard Dan ‘Beetle’ Bailey because I ended up owned him in every single one of my leagues. He also was a lineup saver to any owner who drafted San Diego’s Nate Kaeding. Who? Yeah, he’s the guy whom ESPN ranked as the number one kicker at the beginning on the year, only to see him get hurt on literally the opening kickoff of the season. That’s the way the cookie crumbles, though if you catch it quickly enough, that cookie becomes salvageable again. Bailey owners would agree. His 32 field goals were tied for the third-most in the NFL and his 6-for-6 outing Week 3 against Washington catapulted him from a fantasy afterthought to an every-week starter.
Again, congrats to those who won fantasy championships this year. As always, this season provided tons of excitement, some disappointment – even some anger – as star players were lost for the year and new talent took their place. If you are like me and live for fantasy football throughout the year, stay tuned for April’s draft, as I will be dissecting certain teams’ offensive selections and how they will impact fantasy rosters for 2012.