Charles Dickens A Tale Of Two Cities begins with the famous line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness.” I find these words more fitting than ever at the end of another fantasy football season. Some of us won the championship, some of us lost the Toilet Bowl and most of us finished somewhere in between. Whether you drafted JaMaal Charles or Cam Newton the 2011 season was full of surprises. Let’s take a look at some of the more prevalent storylines we encountered this season and my sarcastic take on the year that was in fantasy football.
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The Game It Is A Changing
We all know that the NFL has becoming a passing league. Blame the rules, the spread offense or Mike Martz but this style is here to stay. Dan Marino’s single season passing record of 5,084 stood for twenty-six seasons and was shattered by two players this year (Drew Brees, Tom Brady) and almost by a third (Matthew Stafford). In the history of the NFL only twice had a QB thrown for over 5000 yards in a season (Marino ’84, Brees ’08) yet this year three QB’s achieved this mark (Brees, Brady, Stafford) and another (Eli Manning) fell just 67 yards shy. In 2010 only five QB’s threw for over 4000 yards. This season we saw ten QB’s break that mark.
It’s imperative to fantasy success to realize what type of league the NFL is right now and the direction they intend to go in the future. Pay attention to the off-season rule changes as they are a blueprint to the statistics we now see before us. While many fantasy experts will tell you these trends make QB’s & WR’s more valuable, I am of the opposite theory. While more yards are coming via the air, it means far less are coming on the ground. I think the premium RB’s have never been more valuable since I started playing fantasy football in 1989. I’ll have plenty more to say about this in future articles this off-season but keep this in mind as you look ahead to 2012.
There was a sequence in the Panthers/Cardinals game in week 1 that changed everything I thought I knew about Cam Newton. It was third and seven during the Panthers second possession of the game. Newton approached the line of scrimmage and didn’t like what he saw and attempted to audible to a new play. Instead of rushing through or taking a delay of game penalty he called a timeout. When play resumed the Panthers lined up in the same one back set they had previously and the Cardinals safety cheated close assuming the rookie QB would have his sights set on the first down marker. Newton dropped back and pump faked the corner who was covering Steve Smith then launched a missle down the left sideline hitting Smith in perfect stride for a 77 yard touchdown. I remember this play vividly as I was so amazed by what I saw out of the rookie QB, I immediately told everyone in the room including my Fantasy Alarm colleague Ted Schuster that this kid might be real special. Indeed, after passing for 4051 yards & 21 TD’s and rushing for 706 yards and an astounding 14 TD’s it is clear that Cam Newton is much more than an amazing physical specimen.
Next year Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and even Matthew Stafford will get a lot of first and second round love but I’ll tell you right now that I’d draft Cam Newton above all of them especially in leagues that reward 4 points per TD pass. If Newton stays humble and works as hard as he did in his first season he may be the greatest fantasy QB of all time. The Panthers will surely improve their offensive line and probably add another big bodied WR in the off-season. These improvements along with a full complement of OTA’s, mini-camps, training camp and preseason will make Cam Newton even better in 2012.
For The Record
I don’t like teams and players going out of their way to break records. What Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints did in week 16 with breaking Dan Marino’s record was shameless. Even though I play fantasy sports and desperately want my guys to smash every possible record possible, there is something genuinely wrong with the teams and player themselves going for it. Fantasy football is at its best when it is left up to us the fans to figure out and not when there is any type of awareness by those involved in the NFL. Players should play to win the game for their team and we should do our best to figure out what numbers will come along with those goals. I have to be honest here and say that if I were a defensive player for any of the teams who were getting pulverized and had my opponent shooting for NFL records late in the game, I would have wiped one of them out Charles Martin style. There are two ends of the sportsmanship agreement and if your opponent doesn’t want to live up to him, than the rules are out the window. One of these days someone will come along and wipe out Drew Brees’ knee and they will be labeled a monster. But I for one won’t shed a tear because what comes around usually goes around.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Mark Sanchez is not a franchise type QB. He is a slightly smarter version of Rex Grossman and that is all. Sure, your team could get to an AFC Championship Game or even a Super Bowl with him under center but he will not be the reason that the team makes it. There are two types of QB’s in the league and those are difference makers and care takers. No matter how much you hype a guy up you just can’t change who or what he is.
Larry Fitzgerald is the best WR in the NFL. He is not the best FANTASY WR mind you but he is still a guy that I want on my team each and every year. I’ll take him in the first round next year again if given the opportunity.
Speaking of the Cardinals, Kevin Kolb when healthy regressed as a QB this season. That is a direct accusation at the coaching staff of the Arizona Cardinals. Kolb was fantastic at times in Philadelphia under Andy Reid and started out well there in Arizona. But as time went on he got flat and couldn’t make reads quick enough and that just doesn’t happen unless he is being coached a certain way. I am very concerned about Kolb’s future as long as Ken Whisenhunt is his head coach.
As the NFL moves toward a pass happy league, RB’s who can’t catch the rock are going to be phased out. In a couple years teams won’t even consider a RB who can’t be an option in the passing game. This is why players like Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy and Arian Foster are the better RB’s both in the NFL and in fantasy football.
Matt Flynn made himself a dump truck full of dough with his week 17 performance against the Lions. Flynn will be a free agent this offseason but my bet is on the Packers putting the franchise tag on him and then shopping him in a trade. My bet is on the Redskins to acquire Flynn for at least one first round pick and Mike Shanahan hooking his wagon up to him as the ‘Skins hopeful franchise QB.
Team defense is just stupid. I know those of you who won your championship games because of a 20+ point game from your DST will claim that you strategized the move but really you did the exact same thing we all do and play the defense who plays the worst opponent. If you want defense in your fantasy league then please switch to the Individual Defensive Player (IDP) format. It’s much more fun and far more reasonable than having your fantasy season come down to an 11 man unit.
Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham are first round picks next year in leagues that require starting a TE. While I never put much emphasis on TE’s, the numbers that these two put up make them so incredibly valuable that there could be a legitimate argument for them to be the top two overall picks. Seriously. In looking over my seven fantasy leagues this year every single one that required the starting of a TE had either Gronkowski or Graham on the championship roster.
Top 25 Most Valuable Keepers
1) Cam Newton – QB -- Carolina
2) LeSean McCoy – RB – Philadelphia
3) Ray Rice – RB – Baltimore
4) Calvin Johnson – WR – Detroit
5) Aaron Rodgers – QB – Green Bay
6) Drew Brees – QB – New Orleans
7) Adrian Peterson – RB – Minnesota
8) Arian Foster – RB – Houston
9) Larry Fitzgerald – WR – Arizona
10) Rob Gronkowski – TE – New England
11) Tom Brady – QB – New England
12) Darren McFadden – RB – Oakland
13) Matthew Stafford – QB – Detroit
14) Chris Johnson – RB – Tennessee
15) Andre Johnson – WR – Houston
16) Jimmy Graham – TE – New Orleans
17) Michael Vick – QB – Philadelphia
18) Maurice Jones-Drew – RB – Jacksonville
19) Ryan Matthews – RB – San Diego
20) A.J. Green – WR – Cincinnati
21) Phillip Rivers – QB – San Diego
22) Kenny Britt – WR – Tennessee
23) Roy Helu – RB – Washington
24) Matt Forte – RB – Chicago
25) Julio Jones – WR – Atlanta
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