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Risers/Sliders: Breakouts, busts and future stars

Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After throwing 16 touchdown passes in 2011, Josh Freeman rebounded with 27 scoring passes in 2012.

The regular season is over and all of the numbers have been tallied. Fantasy championships have been won and lost and deep wounds have been licked. As the NFL playoffs have yet to begin, what better time is there to look back at the 2012 fantasy season's top risers and sliders and those who should be on your radar for 2013?

Quarterbacks

Riser of the Year, Veteran: Josh Freeman, Buccaneers -- Although he tailed off dramatically at the end of the year, Josh Freeman was one of the hottest quarterbacks in fantasy for much of the regular season. That was a far cry from his 2011 season when he threw 11 fewer touchdown passes and five more interceptions than he did in 2012. With the receiving tandem of Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson alongside him, and Doug Martin behind him, 2013 should see him take yet another step forward.

Riser of the Year, Rookie: Robert Griffin III, Redskins -- In the days leading up to fantasy drafts everyone was warning fantasy owners that they shouldn't expect RGIII to approach the incredible season that Cam Newton enjoyed in 2011. There was no way that he could reach those lofty stats, the thinking went. While Griffin fell short in total fantasy points, he offered owners a sense that he'll be a more consistent passer than Newton, who barely outscored Griffin this season.

Slider of the Year: Matthew Stafford, Lions -- There are a few possibilities, but since I picked him as a first-round talent prior to last season's draft, Stafford is the call. He nearly became one of only two quarterbacks in NFL history to post back-to-back 5,000-yard seasons, but a lack of touchdowns (20 compared to 41 last season) doomed his owners.

Riser to Watch in 2013: Colin Kaepernick, 49ers -- Everything that Tim Tebow aspires to do on a football field comes easily to Kaepernick. A quicksilver runner with a rifle arm, he clicked with top receiver Michael Crabtree for 172 yards and two touchdowns in the final game of the season. If he somehow can get Vernon Davis more involved and reap the rewards of an entire offseason as Jim Harbaugh's top pupil, the sky's the limit for Kaepernick.

Running backs

Riser of the Year, Veteran: Adrian Peterson, Vikings -- When the season began Peterson owners were hoping that the Vikings' top weapon would return to prominence sometime around midseason. Peterson not only was full strength from the get-go, a mere nine months after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery, he managed the second-highest rushing total (2,097 yards) in league history.

Riser of the Year, Rookie: Alfred Morris, Redskins -- Mike Shanahan's running back roulette of seasons past went right out the door from Day 1 when the rookie from Florida Atlantic took the reins of the Redskins' ground game and wouldn't let go. The sixth-round pick placed second in the league with 1,613 rushing yards, setting a Redskins franchise record in the process. He also placed second in the league in rushing touchdowns with 13 and fifth overall in PPR fantasy points for running backs. Morris was a revelation who led many teams to fantasy titles.

Slider of the Year: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars -- I believed that MoJo was a major injury risk based on his prolonged holdout and the history of players in the past doing the same and coming up lame during the season. In no way did I believe that he would be so useless. Making things worse was the belief that he would return late in the year, causing many owners to waste a valuable roster spot waiting for a player who did not return. Jones-Drew was good for two double-digit fantasy point days (Weeks 2 and 3) and then offered virtually nothing afterwards.

Riser to Watch in 2013: Trent Richardson, Browns -- The rookie's season was plagued by injuries and inconsistency yet he managed to finish ninth among all running backs in fantasy points, thanks largely to his 12 touchdowns, matching the likes of Stevan Ridley, Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin. Given how poor the Browns offense was and the likely sweeping changes that will come with new management and a new coaching staff, Richardson has top-three value written all over him at late first/early second round prices. (Honorable mention: Knowshon Moreno and Mark Ingram).

Wide receivers

Riser of the Year, Veteran: James Jones, Packers -- The chips all fell into place for Jones, who went from a draft afterthought to the leading touchdown receiver in the NFL while supplanting Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings as the Packers' most valuable receiver. Certainly he was feast or famine, going for at least two touchdowns four times while dipping below 10 fantasy PPR points six times. Still, when he was on, he gave his fantasy owners much to smile about. (Honorable mention to the Broncos' duo of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, but with Peyton Manning in town they accomplished what they were supposed to do. Also worthy of mention is Dez Bryant, who overcame a broken index finger and offseason troubles grasping the offense to become a must-start fantasy stud).

Riser of the Year, Rookie: T.Y. Hilton, Colts -- The University of Miami has been providing top NFL talent for decades but neighboring Florida International hasn't. Maybe that will change following the emergence of the speedy Hilton, who finished second to the much more ballyhooed Justin Blackmon (seventh pick overall) in both yards and catches, while leading all rookie receivers with seven touchdown grabs while tying Anquan Boldin, Anthony Carter and Julio Jones for the most 100-yard receiving games as a rookie since the AFL-NFL merger.

Slider of the Year: Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals -- Not only did Fitzgerald, one of the greatest receiving talents of our time, rank 42nd among wide receivers for the 2012 season, he even finished behind his teammate Andre Roberts, who outscored Fitzgerald by five points (thanks in no small part to the double and triple teams Fitzgerald regularly faced). Of course, there's nothing that Fitzgerald could have done about the worst quarterback situation in the league. Here's hoping that he can regain his rightful place among the game's elite next season under a new regime.

Riser to Watch in 2013: Danario Alexander, Chargers -- Going from the street in October to the fantasy penthouse by the end of the season, the oft-injured ex-Ram found a home in San Diego's previously moribund offensive attack. Despite playing just 10 games, he outscored the likes of Larry Fitzgerald, Dwayne Bowe, Hakeem Nicks and DeSean Jackson. The Chargers will get a new offense in the offseason and he'll be a big part of it.

Tight ends

Riser of the Year, Veteran: Tony Gonzalez, Falcons -- Many fantasy pundits had sprinkled Gonzo's professional grave with dirt before the season, rationalizing that there was no way the all-time tight end could survive while battling Roddy White and Julio Jones for Matt Ryan's attention. Well, not only did he survive, but he thrived, placing third overall at his position in fantasy points and yards while ending up fourth in touchdowns to give him 103 in his Hall of Fame career.

Riser of the Year, Rookie: Dwayne Allen, Colts -- Andrew Luck's college teammate Coby Fleener was supposed to be the man to take over the lead tight end duties for the Colts. Instead, it was Allen who proved to be fantasy-injury-replacement- worthy with 521 yards and three touchdowns. They were modest numbers but the best for rookies at the position.

Slider of the Year: Vernon Davis, 49ers -- Someone who I and many others thought would be elite ended up being nothing more than a roster filler most of the time. Heck, he wasn't even the best tight end in the Bay Area, as that distinction went to the widely undrafted Brandon Myers of the Raiders. Barring a monster postseason, it'll be difficult to draft Davis as a TE1 in 2013.

Riser to Watch in 2013: Kyle Rudolph, Vikings -- How could someone who caught nine touchdown passes be a riser? Well, Rudolph was maddeningly inconsistent as a fantasy player, going for less than one fantasy point in a quarter of the games he played. Yet Christian Ponder's most trusted outlet finished the season as someone more valuable than Antonio Gates, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Pettigrew. As Ponder improves, so will Rudolph, who potentially has a long run ahead of him as Minnesota's main man in the red zone.

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