Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy and Arian Foster all began the year as consensus top picks and are among the Top-10 players in standard scoring leagues. That doesn't necessarily mean their owners are reaping the benefits in the playoffs. While the stars get divvied up pretty evenly, quite often the guys that swing fantasy leagues are the unconventional draft targets we talked about back in August and September. If you're in multiple leagues, take a look at all of them and the makeup of the teams still alive. Chances are the same names from the middle and late rounds of drafts are peppered throughout.
As we prepare for the fantasy semifinals, let's take a minute to honor the 2011 All-Unconventional team. Remember, these are guys who were under-the-radar picks when they became roster-worthy. Big-name pickups like DeMarco Murray and Victor Cruz were largely expected to star from the moment they became relevant for fantasy purposes, so they're not eligible.
The envelope please ...
Cam Newton, QB, Panthers -- Newton was a late-round flier in most leagues, thanks largely to his status as the No. 1 pick in last April's draft and his cachet coming out of Auburn. He stormed right out of the gates, throwing for 854 yards and three touchdowns, running for two more, and becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 400 yards in his first two games. He hit a few bumps along the way, but basically hasn't looked back since. The rookie QB has 3,573 yards (7.9 YPA) and 15 touchdowns to go along with 554 rushing yards and 13 scores on the ground, the most ever by a quarterback in a season. Owners who turned the keys over to Newton early in the season are likely in a car that's still rolling down the fantasy highway. Not only is he the captain of this team, he's the 2011 Unconventional MVP.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks -- A great showing against the Saints in the playoffs couldn't erase the memories Lynch had left with fantasy owners the previous three seasons when he ran for a combined 1,187 yards. Throw in a Seattle team most owners expected to be less than explosive, and Lynch went overlooked in most drafts, despite being among the select few who weren't looking at a real timeshare. Unlike Newton, Lynch struggled early, but has come on in the second and third quarters of the season, running for 828 yards and eight touchdowns in his last eight games. Lynch may not be much of a factor during the biggest games of the year when he faces the Bears and 49ers, but he has already done much of the heavy lifting to get his owners to the semifinals, and that earns him a spot on this team.
Willis McGahee, RB, Broncos -- McGahee became a sleeper by default with the majority of the fantasy community doubting Knowshon Moreno more than they believed in the wily veteran. Still, a lack of faith in Moreno paid off in the form of McGahee, who has 971 total yards and five touchdowns thus far. As a guy who didn't come off the board for the first 70-80 picks or so in most drafts, McGahee has likely ended up a key flex player in nearly every league across the country. That's the sort of widespread playoff impact that always seems to elude one or two of the top picks every season.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers -- Like McGahee, Nelson was another player a large portion of the fantasy community saw coming. It was obvious Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were going to have a prolific passing offense, and that everyone in it would almost surely benefit from being in such a great environment. Nelson also appeared to have his quarterback's trust last year, and the fact that he was a holdover after a lockout-shortened offseason made him even more attractive. He hasn't disappointed, exploding for 957 yards and 10 touchdowns with three games left in the season. Nelson joins Newton as the two true draft lottery tickets to pay off in a big way this year, and is the quarterback's main competition for the Unconventional MVP.
Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers -- You could essentially just read the above paragraph and just change the name from Nelson to Brown to sum up the Steelers' candidacy for this team. Like Nelson, Brown seemed to have the trust of an elite quarterback. Like Nelson, Brown was playing in an offense with a lot of holdovers that figured to benefit from a continuity standpoint after the lockout robbed teams of mini camp, OTAs and part of training camp. Like Nelson, Brown has shined this season, catching 55 passes for 925 yards and two touchdowns. Brown may not have had as diffuse an impact as his All-Unconventional teammates had on the fantasy playoff races, but his low draft stock and current status as an every-week starter earn him inclusion on the team.
Fred Davis, TE, Redskins -- The growing class of game-changing tight ends made it easy to overlook Davis back in draft season. New stars Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and JerMichael Finley joined reliable commodities Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez and established second-tier guys like Vernon Davis and Owen Daniels to make this year's crop quite possibly the deepest group of tight ends the fantasy game has ever seen. Davis went behind all those guys -- and likely a few others -- but has scored the seventh most fantasy points among tight ends, hauling in 59 catches for 796 yards and three scores. He's done for the year thanks to violation of the league's substance abuse policy (although thankfully not to the degree that Sam Hurd flouted the rules), but he gave his owners quality and consistent production at a bargain price this season.
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