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Fantasy Football Fast Forward: Lessons from 2012 season

Photo: Hunter Martin/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images

Rookies in the mold of Robert Griffin III have been able to provide stud-caliber contributions at quarterback in recent years.

It's over. The pleasantly plump lady is singing, and most of you are left with a sour taste in your mouth about fantasy football in 2012.

For the precious few of you celebrating a Week 16 victory, congratulations. For the rest of you, take heart: Sports, especially fantasy sports, tend to teach us that we can learn more from losing than winning. With that in mind, this week's Fantasy Football Fast Forward outlines the top 10 things we learned this fantasy season:

1. Quarterback is your most important position.

The QB spot has always been the highest-scoring position in fantasy, but fantasy owners still see the volatile running back spot as the most important. This year and this week might have done even more to change that.

There have been some erratic QB results down the stretch -- awful slides of Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Freeman included -- that might make you change the way you approach drafts. Whether you draft your QB early or late, you should target a top-15 caliber backup by the time the middle rounds come around. And, in those two-QB formats, you might want consider picking QBs with your first three picks. Seriously.

Save for the weekly no-brainer starters like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, you are going to lose if you don't get a monster performance out of your QB in this pass-happy NFL. Just look at the top performances in the league championship games in Week 16: Tony Romo (416 yards, four TDs), Rodgers (342-3 and one rushing TD), Brees (446-3), Matt Ryan (279-4) Manning (339-3) and Joe Flacco (309-2 and one rushing TD).

If you didn't have one of those guys, particularly if they were in your opponent's lineup, you probably lost.

2. Adrian Peterson takes the torch from Arian Foster.

Peterson's 86-yard, no-TD performance was disappointing for his owners, but only because they expected so much. Just the fact he's still in the hunt for 2,000 yards and Eric Dickerson's long-standing, single-season rushing record less than a year after major knee reconstruction is beyond remarkable.

Couple that with Foster's 29 total yards and a lost fumble in Week 16, we have a new No. 1 RB in fantasy for 2012. Peterson is the top pick at the position now -- even if you might consider locking up a QB before your RB next fall.

3. Knee reconstructions aren't fantasy death sentences.

Peterson is fairly obvious, but he's a freak of nature. It is returns like that of Jamaal Charles, who help us trust running backs coming off major knee surgery.

No, Charles wasn't consistently dominant like Peterson. It was because his team stunk.

But, despite the obstacles, Charles rushed for 226 yards and a TD on Sunday -- the second time he reached that level this season -- and will set a career-high in rushing yards with even a bad performance next week. Science has helped extend the career of most backs, but make sure the ones you're trusting coming off knee surgery are still 27 years old and younger.

4. Tight end took a huge step back.

After record-setting years by Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham in 2011, many fantasy owners were lured -- tricked? -- into picking a tight end earlier than ever. Heck, there were even some leagues where these two were off the board late in Round 1 or early Round 2.

Boy did that learn us.

The tight end position was set back years with the injuries and struggles of Gronk and Graham. Then, none of the second- and third-tier TEs managed to prove consistent enough for fantasy owners. The position was a crapshoot throughout.

You are best off dealing with scraps at the position, because, in a game of no sure things, the TE position is the least sure of all.

5. Rookie quarterbacks can contribute, if not star, right away.

Cam Newton shattered the mold of the rookie QB a year ago, but just when you think that kind of a rookie QB season is once-in-a-generation, we get Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and even third-round pick Russell Wilson impacting fantasy games. And those weren't just bye weeks they impacted.

These rookie QBs were out there in playoff and championship lineups, too. The rookie QB crop for 2013 doesn't look all that promising, but you probably need to consider taking late fliers on the rookie QB flavor of the year, just in case.

6. Your fantasy title game has to be Week 16.

Sure, there are still some teams playing for playoff positioning, but you're going to learn the hard way that it is unfair to decide your league's champion in the lame-duck Week 17. There figures to be a lot of teams resting players to avoid injury before the postseason.

The Falcons are likely to rest their players having clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, while the entire set of six AFC playoff teams might not risk much having already clinched their berths. It is going to be very frustrating to have the waiver wire or team's benches decide the final week of fantasy.

If you're looking for a radical change to the way fantasy is played, consider multiple-week playoffs. You need to add two more weeks to the postseason by making your semifinals and finals the totals of two weeks apiece. It might be worth it, if you want to get a truer champion and adjust for some of the week-to-week variance.

7. PPR leagues are the better way to go.

Calvin Johnson set the single-season yardage record with a game to play and he might not even finish the highest-scoring player at his position. That seems a bit unjust.

Point-per-reception leagues reward receivers for their hard-working, busy days and fantasy owners who can track targets and decipher matchups. It seems to give a bit more prominence to receivers -- versus those incredibly high-scoring QBs -- and also takes the heat off some of the misfortune of injuries at the always-risk running back position.

It has been a slow process for fantasy football to widely accept PPR scoring, but this year seems to make it a better way to go. Nominate that rule change to your commissioner.

8. Dez Bryant has arrived.

It is remarkable how much a few months can change things. Bryant was a fantasy pariah for most of the first-half of the season and he broke a finger a few weeks ago, looking like his hot stretch would end the way his season started: with fantasy frustration.

Boy, did Bryant man up and come through in crunch time. He reeled in nine catches for a career-high 224 yards and two touchdowns.

Bryant won't go off the board before the Lions' Johnson, Falcons' Julio Jones, Bengals' A.J. Green or the Bears' Brandon Marshall, but he has a legit case to be drafted among the top-five WR next fall.

9. Matt Ryan has arrived.

With the consistent excellence of Rodgers, Brees and Brady, the return to prominence of the Broncos' Manning, arrival of RGIII and strong finish of the Panthers' Newton, Ryan won't finish in the top-five fantasy QBs, but the elite class of fantasy QBs should expand to include him.

Ryan showed with his four-TD performance Saturday night, he belongs in the early round consideration next fall, too. Matthew Stafford's disappointing year might have soured those who reached up to pick a QB in Round 2, but Ryan has the multiple weapons -- two elite WRs in Jones and Roddy White -- that Stafford's Lions lack.

10. It's better to be lucky than good.

This one is a bit of a copout, because the best fantasy players make their own luck. They do it by minimizing risk, analyzing matchups and allowing their best players decide things for them.

The trick is drafting and building (through waivers) a deep team that can overcome injury and come through in crunch time. It is somewhat refreshing this 2012 season wasn't merely decided by who won the rights to the No. 1 overall pick (Foster) and just rode him to a championship.

If you're a champion this year, you earned it. You had the right mix of talent, player health and luck. Again, congratulations.

If you're still playing for something in Week 17, check back next Sunday night for SI.com's early look at a 2013 draft.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. Track his weekly starts and sits every Thursday, his last-minute Cheat Sheet on Sunday mornings and his Fantasy Fast Forward on Sunday nights. You find also him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice or challenging him to a head-to-head fantasy game @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).

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