With the calendar year coming to a close, many are taking this opportunity to reflect on the year in sports. However, it doesn't seem right to review an NFL season that is still building towards its finale, Super Bowl XLVII.
In fantasy football, champions have been crowned as the season came to a close for most owners over the weekend. With bragging rights awarded, it's time to take a look back at the surprise players that led our teams to victory, the disappointments that held us down, and the targets we should have our sights on for 2013.
Quarterbacks - While he may have let you down with a late season injury, Robert Griffin III delivered elite stats in his rookie season, scoring more than 25 fantasy points in seven games. The best part about owning Griffin may have been how exciting he made the Redskins to watch, making the experience of owning him that much more enjoyable... Andrew Luck was overshadowed by Griffin early in the season, but Luck established himself as a fantasy starter and his stock is sure to rise next season. With Bruce Arians as his offensive coordinator, there will be no shortage of passing in Indianapolis... It seems like history now, but in the off-season there were legitimate doubts about how Peyton Manning would respond after a year off and multiple neck surgeries. How foolish we were to doubt Peyton, who returned to his place among the best in the game and was an excellent value in the mid-rounds.
Running Backs - Rookies and sophomores made for excellent draft picks at running back, most notably Doug Martin, who was incredibly consistent with only three games with less than 10 fantasy points. Martin also had one of the highlights of the year, scoring over 50 points in a Week 9 win over the Raiders... The other rookie to steal headlines this season was Alfred Morris, who benefitted from playing in a backfield with Griffin in Washington. Morris was a sixth-round pick and went in the final rounds of most drafts, but he proved to be an RB1 and maybe the best value of any pick this year... C.J Spiller finished 2011 on a tear and when Fred Jackson went down to injury in Week 1, Spiller picked up where he left off. Even when Jackson returned, Spiller was able to post double-digit points in most outings. If the Bills decide to make him their lead back, he could be a top five fantasy rusher...
Wide Receivers - We all knew the Packers' passing game was potent, but we didn't expect Randall Cobb would be their best fantasy receiver in 2012. Cobb showcased his explosive talent in 2011, but with injuries to Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, Cobb was able to step into the starting lineup and become the most dangerous weapon in Green Bay's offence... When Maurice Jones-Drew went down to injury, there wasn't much in the way of fantasy options in Jacksonville. When Cecil Shorts got into the starting lineup, all that changed. After Week 7, Shorts was one of the most productive fantasy wide-outs, despite playing in a Jaguars' offence that had trouble at the quarterback position. While Justin Blackmon showed flashes, Shorts is the Jaguars' pass catcher to own.
Tight Ends - Maybe the most difficult position to predict on a weekly basis, tight ends were a crap shoot in 2012. Waiting till the later rounds of the draft was the best call as some of the top performers came from late picks... Tony Gonzalez was an afterthought at draft time, as owners assumed his age would catch up with him, but this year he was the top scoring tight end... Heath Miller was always one of Ben Roethlisberger's favourite targets, but this season the Steelers used their tight end even more and Miller responded with a career year... Greg Olsen became a true weapon for the Panthers, as Cam Newton searched for a secondary option after Steve Smith... Brandon Myers found a steady role in the Raiders' attack, catching passes from Carson Palmer.
Quarterbacks - After throwing for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns last season, Matt Stafford was drafted early with the expectation that he would remain an elite fantasy passer. Despite being on pace to set the record for passing attempts, Stafford has not been able to recapture his touchdown totals from a year ago, throwing for just half as many passing scores this season... Eli Manning fell just short of joining the 5,000 yard club in 2011, but this season has brought its share of struggles for the Super Bowl MVP. Stafford is still in the top 12, but Eli is barely in the top 20 for fantasy quarterbacks. Lingering injuries to his receiving corps have hurt, but from Week 8 to Week 10 Eli scored a combined total of 12 fantasy points, which is unacceptable for a player of his status... Philip Rivers' skills may be declining, but injuries to his offensive line have left him under siege on every play in the pocket. The Chargers will likely clean out their front office, however no changes will be able to restore Rivers' fantasy stock to where it once was.
Running Backs - Prior to suffering a pre-season injury, Ryan Mathews was being discussed as a top five fantasy back. How the times have changed. Mathews returned from injury, but dealt with fumbling issues and even split carries with Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle. It will take a lot for fantasy owners to buy into Mathews next season, but a new regime in San Diego could help... With a new zone blocking scheme in Oakland, Darren McFadden never seemed to find his stride. McFadden also may have lost a step from his growing list of injuries that he has dealt with in his career. The Raiders' tailback will definitely be drafted outside of the first round next season... When on the field, DeMarco Murray has been a force for the Cowboys, giving them a whole new dimension to their offence. The problem is that for the second straight season, Murray missed a significant portion of the year. The talent is there, but so is the risk heading into 2013.
Wide Receivers - Greg Jennings has missed the majority of the season with injury and in the games he has played, he hasn't made much of an impression. If you drafted Jennings in the second or third round, you basically didn't get a single worthwhile start out of him. There is a good chance that this season is his last in Green Bay, so we will have to wait to see where Jennings lands in 2013... Dwayne Bowe was healthy for most of the season, but Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn effectively rendered him useless. Bowe has plenty of talent, but the Chiefs' passers weren't able to get him the ball. Just like Jennings, Bowe is likely to find a new team in free agency.
Tight Ends - Several top tight ends let both their fantasy and actual teams down. All reports out of training camp had Antonio Gates looking healthier than he has in years, but Gates is currently in the midst of his worse season since his rookie year... Things haven't been much better for Vernon Davis, who came on strong during the post-season last year, setting up high hopes for 2012. After three good games to start the year, Davis has fallen off the map and is no longer the top option in the 49ers' passing game... Not only has Jermichael Finley been plagued by drops on the field, he has also caused issues off it with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Finley claims poor chemistry with Rodgers is at fault for his performance, but he has simply not had the kind of impact on the game that the Packers had hoped for.
PLAYERS TO TARGET IN 2013
Quarterbacks - Assuming Michael Vick is in a new city for next year's training camp, there could be hope for the veteran passer. Vick's days in Philadelphia are almost guaranteed to be over and a team like the Jets, Bills, or Cardinals (to name a few) could be in the market for help at the position. Vick could be in position for a bounce back season in 2013 and fantasy owners may be able to get him at a discount... It's tough to predict where rookies may end up, but we've seen in recent years that first-year signal callers can step in and make a difference. Geno Smith will be the top quarterback off the board in April and depending where he lands, he could be available in the later rounds like Griffin and Luck were this season... Sam Bradford has played well this season and he has done so without top talent in his receiving corps. If the Rams can get him help, Bradford could take a big step forward as a fantasy player... Ryan Tannehill is in a similar situation to Bradford, trying to win games with pedestrian talent outside. Bringing in someone who can help move the ball downfield should be one of Miami's top priorities in the off-season.
Running Backs - We're getting to see what David Wilson can do with the football in his hands and the Giants' coaches must be pleased. Wilson is a threat to score from any spot on the field, even as a return man. With Ahmad Bradshaw battling injuries, Wilson could get a chance to take the lead back role at some point next season... Giovani Bernard has a good chance to be the first running back taken in the NFL Draft this year. It all depends on his situation. With a team like the Bengals, Bernard could have an instant impact and maybe even flirt with 1,000 yards... Jonathan Dwyer had to battle for carries this season, but is now the Steelers top back. In 2013, with an offensive line that is maturing together, Dwyer has the talent to make noise in the fantasy world...The Saints have had trouble deciding which one of their tailbacks to feature, with Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory all seeing carries. Darren Sproles is locked into his role, but Ingram, Thomas, or Ivory all have the skill to excel if given the opportunity.
Wide Receivers - Dwayne Bowe will be an intriguing receiver in next year's fantasy drafts, once we find out which jersey he will be wearing. Bowe has all the physical talent and has put up big stats in the past. A top 10 receiving season is not out of the question for the soon-to-be former Chief... Josh Gordon looked like a bust in September, but the Browns' wideout has come on late in the year and will go into 2013 at the top of the Browns' depth chart... Chris Givens emerged as more than just a deep threat for the Rams. With Danny Amendola sidelined, Givens was thrust into the starting the lineup and he answered with big games. With another year under his belt and Bradford throwing him the ball, Givens will be someone to keep a close eye on.
Tight End - Kyle Rudolph was dependent on touchdowns in the Vikings' offence, but that was alright as he found the end zone often to make him a boom or bust play. Rudolph has the athleticism of Rob Gronkowski, with his main limitation being Christian Ponder's inability as a passer. With Adrian Peterson drawing attention and a healthy Percy Harvin, Rudolph could be a sneaky target in 2013... Coby Fleener was drafted first, but it has been Dwyane Allen who has had the better season in Indianapolis. Allen is a more complete tight end and is a reliable red zone option. The most important lesson to take away from this season is to wait on tight ends in 2013 and Rudolph and Allen are perfect players to wait on.