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2011 In Review: How The Top Ten Fared

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Published January 25, 2012

“What do I do now?” It’s a question many contemplated a mere five months ago across many a computer desk or living coffee table throughout the country. It’s draft time, and the answer may have altered the course of many a fantasy league from Maine to Ohio to California. The owner’s three personal favorites were snatched off the board already, and now he is left with a bunch of guys he considered second-tier. No one stood out.

“What do I do?” he thought, taking a sip of his drink (surely a diet soda). Then he suddenly snapped out of his quizzical trance and remembered the stapled sheets of paper in front of him. Research – from experts. They always have the answer. Always! He grabbed the still-neatly laid out papers (after all, it was his first pick) and scanned down to the first available name. Confident he had the backing of the top fantasy minds on the internet, he announced his pick, “With the fourth pick, I’ll take Chris Johnson.”

“Not the guy I definitely wanted,” the owner mused, “but you can’t argue with three seasons of 1,200-plus yards and an average of 11 TDs a year.

“THERE’S NO WAY THIS CAN GO WRONG!”

Unless you're an extremely shady league commissioner, it’s hard to cheat in fantasy football. It is easy to get a tiny bit of assistance in the form of a cheat sheet, though. Fantasy fanatics everywhere know those diminutive listings of experts’ knowledge can be found in roughly a gazillion places around the internet. Heck, I even used four of them when drafting my three standard leagues and one dynasty league.

Typically, the sheets will hit for a decent average, perhaps saving a season when it tells you to draft some tight end named Gronkowski in the eighth round. But in a year where a QB-centered fantasy strategy went from an interesting experiment to being a complete necessity, those same little lifesavers on 8-1/2 by 11 inch paper became the albatross that might just have dragged you under. Names like Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, and LeSean McCoy became second-tier (or in Johnson’s case, much worse) options this season. In the year of the 5,000-yard passer, you absolutely had to have a top-tier quarterback to win it all. Several national experts were making this case as far back as two years ago. This year, it became official – fantasyland is a quarterback’s paradise, complete with beachfront sand to slow down the opposing rush.

In the end, it all culminated in a season that continued a trend that Peyton Manning (ironically not playing at all this year) started a few years ago – start your draft with a top-notch QB-WR combo and filling in the RB slots later. Rules changes (making a passer-friendly league), injuries (Jamaal Charles, anyone?) and flat out bad play (staring straight at you CJ) all contributed to the shift. It’s something we supposedly all saw coming, but a fantasy owner’s habits die about as easy as Jack Bauer, John McClain, and Jason Bourne combined. We still love running backs for some reason.

To prove the point, let’s look at the ESPN (my personal first stop in fantasy land – I know, I am a shaking-my-head slave to the four-letter network) average draft results heading into the season:

  1. Adrian Peterson, RB, MIN
  2. Chris Johnson, RB, TEN
  3. Jamaal Charles, RB, KC
  4. Arian Foster, RB, HOU
  5. Ray Rice, RB, BAL
  6. LeSean McCoy, RB, PHI
  7. Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB
  8. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, JAC
  9. Andre Johnson, WR, HOU
  10. Michael Vick, QB, PHI

Whoa! To be certain, it was a rough year to have a top five pick. From what I saw before the year, those rankings were pretty standard. Interesting to note: despite the “experts” pleas to do away with the RB-first drafting system, the top six players listed were all folks who were expected to line up somewhere in the area of five yards behind the quarterback for 80 percent of snaps. If your league drafted like what is shown here, you are ecstatic right now that you were picking seventh.

You can see why in the end of the season scoring ranks. A quick glance shows a huge change:

  1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB
  2. Drew Brees, QB, NO
  3. Tom Brady, QB, NE
  4. Cam Newton, QB, CAR
  5. Matthew Stafford, QB DET
  6. Ray Rice, RB, BAL
  7. Eli Manning, QB, NYG
  8. LeSean McCoy, RB, PHI
  9. Tony Romo, QB, DAL
  10. Matt Ryan, QB, ATL

Now that isn’t something we have ever seen before in that little online game we love – eight signal callers in the top 10 fantasy scorers. That’s not changing for a while, folks. There is no reason to think the big three of Rodgers, Brees and Brady will be crashing and burning over the next few seasons - not in their pass-happy offenses. Newton was a rookie – yes, a rookie! – last season and threw for more than 4,000 yards. Stafford finally had a full season at the helm. Manning is suddenly in charge of a pass-first offense with serious weapons in the form of Hakeem Nicks and “where-the-hell-did-he-come-from?” all star Victor Cruz. It can even be argued that Ryan and Romo will get better as their offensive attacks become more and more Packer and Saint-like.

Throw in the injury comebacks that will be required for Peterson, Charles, Darren McFadden and the the disparity between the RB and QB positions could grow. Toss in an extra year of age on veteran standouts like Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner, and the disparity gets even wider. Don’t forget, the year of the quarterback also featured down performances from Philip Rivers and Michael Vick. Some of you may be thinking that you drafted CJ and ended up alright since you got Brees in the second round. Good luck turning that trick again next year if anyone in your league is paying attention.

Despite this, you may be sitting there, next August, staring at a RB-laden stack of cheat sheets while deciding on your first pick. Do yourself a favor. Ignore them! The quarterback era announced itself this year in the grandest fashion possible. When picking a RB in the first round these days, you need to know the one thing that our poor fantasy owner mentioned earlier didn’t know:

It can go wrong… HORRIBLY, TERRIFYINGLY WRONG.

Chuck Ludwig

About , Staff Writer

Norfolk, VA

Charles has written for FIC sporadically since 2003. After a recent trip to Germany for a "controversial" stem cell procedure, he found his long lost love for fake sports involving real athletes. Born in New Orleans, he now calls Norfolk, Va., home and is a diehard Saints, Padres and Hornets fan - so he knows a little something about losing.
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