January 02, 2012

Well, 2012 came in with a bang. Week 17 isn't commonly used for Fantasy Super Bowl purposes, but anyone who did got all the boxscore stat-gorging they could want. More than a few teams kept the gas pedal down for some prime fantasy production -- thank you, Saints and Patriots, while the Lions and Packers are still scoring. With most leagues already done, the focus here is on the fantasy year of 2011.

Overall, the year of the quarterback amounted to four 5,000-yard passers and nearly a fifth with Eli Manning just missing. Cam Newton, meanwhile, was an all-purpose force of nature. The separation between haves and have-nots made owners who traditionally wait to draft QBs, get their heads handed to them, unless they picked up Newton or drafted Eli or Matthew Stafford as a sleeper/backup.

It was also the year to own running back handcuffs. Someone had to step up, and thankfully, some RBs did, because backs fell by the wayside to injuries all year long. The names were a who's who of fantasy stardom: Jamaal Charles, Darren McFadden, Fred Jackson, Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy and Adrian Peterson to name a few, while up-and-comers like Jahvid Best and DeMarco Murray were cut down just as they started to blossom. Rashard Mendenhall became the latest victim with a knee injury Sunday, as the plague apparently had one more bad-luck bullet left.

It was also a tough year for wide receivers. Only two ended up with double-digit touchdowns (Calvin Johnson and Wes Welker) while four others sat at nine scores each. With Andre Johnson out hurt, Roddy White getting off to a slow start, Larry Fitzgerald facing another year of shaky QB play and Hakeem Nicks fighting injuries, it made for an off-year. Victor Cruz and Jordy Nelson stepped up to help fill the void, but Nelson needed Week 17 to go over the 1,000-yard mark while Cruz's final numbers also got a hefty bump with his Sunday night heroics.

Two tight ends became dominant receivers in their own right, as Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham might as well have been WR1s for any fantasy team lucky enough to own them, although the position in general produced about average across the board.

Without further ado, here are your 2011 award winners ...

MVP: QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers

He averaged 290 passing yards and 2.8 touchdown passes per game, and don't forget a sneaky 3 TDs with 257 yards rushing, too. In every game but Week 15's loss to the Chiefs, Rodgers threw two or more touchdowns and was as consistent as it gets at the position. The decision was close but Brees (2.5 TD passes in 16 weeks) had three games with only one touchdown pass each, and Rodgers' rushing bonus helped him get the nod.

Breakout Player: QB Matthew Stafford, Lions

After playing only about nine games his first two seasons, the sky is the limit for the 5,000-yard passing 23-year old. In many ways 2011 was just his first full season, meaning he and Calvin Johnson going forward could become the best fantasy tandem we've seen ever.

Runner-up: RB Reggie Bush, Dolphins

Finally the one-time Saint delivered on his immense promise and became an every-down back. Bush, the king of highlight teasing and frustrating injuries, went over 1,000 yards and was a dynamo for the Dolphins.

Comeback player of the year: RB Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks

Left for dead with the Bills, his Pro Bowl rookie year seemed a distant memory. His playoff push a year ago got him back on the radar but he began the season with a slow first three games. But in Week 5 he took off, en route to 1100 yards and 12 rushing TDs as the Skittles legend was born.

Runner-up: WR Steve Smith, Panthers

His time in Carolina looked up after a brutal 2010 season, which begged the question whether he lost a step. In came Cam, and Smith was reborn with the fourth most receiving yards in the league.

Rookie of the Year: QB Cam Newton, Panthers

It's like Newton was created in a lab from the best DNA of Michael Vick, Vince Young and Daunte Culpepper (pre-injuries). Not only did he come within shouting distance of 700 rushing yards this season, but Newton also set a new passing yardage rookie record with almost 3,900. With a combined 34 passing and rushing touchdowns, the potential for Newton is off the charts as a true fantasy game-changer.

Runner-up: WR A.J. Green, Bengals

Defying expectations on a green offense, Green was a strong WR3 and low-end WR2 this season. Despite a rookie throwing to him and an inconsistent running game, he posted more than 1,000 yards and seven TDs.

Bust of the Year: RB Chris Johnson, Titans

CJ2K he wasn't, as he mustered only four rushing touchdowns and four 100-yard games. His pre-draft position for next season will be one of the hottest debates going forward.

Runner-up: QB Michael Vick, Eagles

Vick started off well enough, but receivers underachieved, his injuries mounted behind a shaky offensive line and consistency eluded him. By the time he missed games late, the season was a colossal disappointment for his owners, who most likely invested too much to get him.

QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers -- Who needs a running game with the best WR corps in the league?

RB Ray Rice, Ravens -- Almost 1,900 total yards, plus he finally got goal-line carries with 12 rushing TDs.

RB LeSean McCoy, Eagles -- Led the league in rushing TDs (17) and prospered while the Eagles imploded.

WR Calvin Johnson, Lions -- Led NFL in receiving yards with over 1,600 and 16 TDs doesn't hurt either.

WR Wes Welker, Patriots -- Scored in bunches with three 2-TD games, but had 100-plus yards eight times.

TE Rob Gronkowski, Patriots -- In a six-week span, scored 10 TDs; for the season had five 100-plus games.

PK David Akers, 49ers -- Akers made 42 field goals, including seven of nine from 50 yards or more.

QB Drew Brees, Saints --Yardage king had 12 games of 300-plus yards in 16 weeks; two 400-plus games.

RB Arian Foster, Texans - 1,800 total yards and 12 TDs despite early season injury issues.

RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings -- No Vikings passing game slowed his yards, but he still scored 13 TDs.

WR Roddy White, Falcons -- Finished with 96 catches, over 1,200 yards.

WR Victor Cruz, Giants -- Had seven 100-yard games including five in his last seven.

TE Jimmy Graham, Saints -- Scored six of 10 TDs in his last eight games.

PK Dan Bailey, Cowboys -- The No. 2 scoring kicker; a bright spot on an inconsistent offense.

Honorable Mention: Maurice Jones-Drew- Rushing champ had a great final month.

QB Michael Vick, Eagles -- A solid early season start soured quickly with injuries and inconsistency

RB Chris Johnson, Titans -- His holdout talk and late preseason arrival set up a miserable season.

RB LeGarrette Blount, Bucs -- Three 100-yard games and only five touchdowns

RB/WR Peyton Hillis, Browns -- The Madden cover curse lives. Injured or ineffective most of the year.

WR DeSean Jackson, Eagles -- Contract squabbles were insidious, injuries and drops didn't help.

WR Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs -- We expected a drop-off from 2011, but not 10 less TDs.

TE Vernon Davis, 49ers -- Not a disaster, but underachieved with 674 yards and six TDs

QB Cam Newton, Panthers -- Rookie had record 14 rushing TDs and should be a Top-3 or 4 pick in '12.

RB Michael Bush, Raiders -- Darren McFadden who? Bush was huge (911 yards, 7 TDs) down the stretch.

RB Willis McGahee, Broncos -- Out of nowhere, the one-time vulture was a workhorse once again.

WR Victor Cruz, Giants -- Got his chance with Mario Manningham's injury issues and never looked back.

WR Jordy Nelson, Packers -- A sleeper in deeper leagues, he won't last past the mid-rounds in '12.

WR Laurent Robinson, Cowboys -- With Miles Austin hurt almost all year, Robinson (9 TDs) blew up.

TE Brandon Pettigrew, Lions -- Was fourth among all TEs in catches with 76; at times played like a WR2.

PK Dan Bailey, Cowboys -- Formerly a bit of an unknown, Bailey hit 10 FGs from 40-49 yards.

These guys all battled back from injuries, father time, bad team situations or bad career decision. Two of them, Stafford and Vincent Jackson, hardly played at all last season before coming back strong in 2011.

QB Matthew Stafford, LionsRB Marshawn Lynch, SeahawksRB Reggie Bush, DolphinsWR Steve Smith, PanthersWR Vincent Jackson, ChargersWR Brandon Marshall, DolphinsTE Tony Gonzalez, Falcons

Bad luck or injury prone, these guys had the biggest and longest impacts on fantasy teams that were depending on them. The following are patients who forced a shortage of owners' patience.

QB Matt Schaub, TexansRB Jamaal Charles, ChiefsRB Darren McFadden, RaidersWR Andre Johnson, TexansWR Miles Austin, CowboysWR Mario Manningham, Giants

These guys saw the ball thrown to them more than anyone else at their respective positions this year, leading the league in targets.

RB Darren Sproles, Saints 105RB Ray Rice, Ravens 102WR Roddy White, Falcons 172WR Wes Welker, Patriots 161WR Calvin Johnson, Lions 141TE Jimmy Graham, Saints 140

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