December 04, 2012

The NFL fantasy season is filled with tough decisions. Join SI's roundtable of fantasy experts each week to help sort through the lineup choices, injuries and waiver wire options that can make or break a season. Check in each Thursday night and all day Sunday on the @SInow Twitter feed for SI's real-time fantasy analysis of each week's games.

1. The fantasy season has ended for many owners. Which highly ranked player proved to be the biggest culprit in sinking the fortunes of many this season?

Mike Beacom: LeSean McCoy was selected third in most drafts but has been a major disappointment. He scored five touchdowns in 10 starts, with just three 100-yard rushing games, before missing the past two weeks with a concussion. That's a far cry from the 1,600-yard, 20-touchdown all-purpose back he was a year ago. McCoy's average per carry also fell by more than half a yard. Fantasy owners can't afford to strikeout with a top-five pick; McCoy was a whiff.

Will Carroll: McCoy came into the season as the "safe" pick at the top of the draft. Instead, a bad team, a reverse fluke of touchdowns and a head injury have made him pretty close to a bust. I made the mistake of taking Larry Fitzgerald in a couple drafts early, thinking he had done just fine with poor quarterbacks in 2011. It got worse this year and his numbers have suffered. Cam Newton also comes to mind, but that is more about expectations than actual numbers. If anyone names Darren McFadden or Maurice Jones-Drew, you have my permission to smack him. They entered as injury risks and are leaving by living down to expectations.

Eric Mack: While quarterback might have been the biggest frustration -- especially for those who drafted the likes of Matthew Stafford, Newton or Eli Manning in the early rounds -- there were some sleepers at the position. Robert Griffin III, Andy Dalton, Andrew Luck, Josh Freeman and even Carson Palmer performed on the level of fantasy starters at times. Fantasy football hopes were instead crushed by the position that remains the toughest to figure: running back. First-rounders McCoy, McFadden and DeMarco Murray were nearly impossible to replace and their owners undoubtedly struggled in the standings. Further down draft boards, Jones-Drew, Greg Jennings and Vernon Davis also proved to be costly draft picks.

David Sabino: For me the three biggest culprits were McCoy, even before his injury, Stafford, and, even though he's come on strong of late, Newton. That trio left owners, many of whom used first-round picks on them, high and dry for most of the year. McCoy was doomed by a team -- especially Michael Vick -- that couldn't hold onto the ball long enough to score a lot of points. Stafford had no problem racking up yardage but his lack of touchdowns was troublesome. Newton's immaturity led to inconsistency, especially early in the season, sending him to the bench in many leagues and even to the waiver wire in some leagues.

2. What new players have worked their way into the top of drafts next season?

Beacom: A few rookies -- Robert Griffin III, Trent Richardson and Doug Martin -- will be considered among the top players at their respective positions. Martin is a No. 1 back; with better supporting casts Griffin and Richardson can become elite. As for other emerging stars, I think fantasy owners will view Randall Cobb as the Packers' top wide receiver prospect next summer, regardless of what the team does with Greg Jennings.

Carroll: I think Griffin will get the same sort of treatment in next year's draft as Cam Newton did this year.

Mack: Well, many are going to fall in love with Griffin in the early rounds, but keep in mind that Newton had the legendary rookie season only to struggle in Year 2. Might RGIII do the same next season after defensive coordinators develop different schemes for him? No owner should feel safe about drafting Griffin over the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and (perhaps) Peyton Manning. Instead, look to the running backs who have emerged as first-round answers: Martin, Richardson, Stevan Ridley and (perhaps) C.J. Spiller. All are better picks than most quarterbacks.

Sabino: There's no question that Martin will be an early-to-mid first-round pick next season. Alfred Morris will also be worthy of a first- or second-round pick as will his teammate Griffin. As for the overall No. 1, it'll be between the comeback player of the year candidate, Adrian Peterson, and fantasy running back extraordinaire Arian Foster.

3. Bryce Brown has been better in two games than LeSean McCoy was all season. Has Brown played his way into a timeshare with McCoy?

Beacom: The Eagles are in self-evaluation mode, so even though Brown has failed to hold onto the football in two starts, fantasy owners will see plenty of him the rest of this season, even if/when McCoy returns. Brown has good power, can escape tackles and can catch the football. Brown is tremendously talented, but you can bet this upcoming offseason will be dedicated to ball security.

Carroll: No. McCoy is clearly better and this brings up a point that I get to a lot. We believe that coaches are inherently good at their jobs, despite incessant cries to fire them. We know that they see the players a lot more and that their judgment on talent and fit is usually dead on. So why does it always happen that when a player comes in like Brown or Colin Kaepernick or Matt Cassel and plays well, we don't question the coaches' judgment? If Kaepernick or Brown or anyone was this good, why did the coaches not see it? I realize there are morale reasons, even contract reasons, but it could also be that it's a simple fluke and that the coaches' judgment was correct. McCoy had an ADP of 1 in drafts, and Brown was a guy most people didn't know in Week 10 of the season. You're going to tell me that guy is better? Not every replacement is Tom Brady.

Mack: Absolutely. That's the easy answer. The tough call will be just how much does he take from McCoy? In the short term, it should be quite a bit. McCoy likely will return on a limited basis at first, but could be at risk for further serious injury (remember Jahvid Best?) on any given play. That means Brown will still get plenty of work for a franchise that needs to look to the future. But Brown has limited himself a bit with his own fumbling woes, losing three fumbles in two games.

Sabino: It's hard to see how the Eagles don't give Brown a substantial role in the offense, no matter whether McCoy is healthy or not. With the distinct possibility of regime change in Philadelphia, the new coach would probably be licking his chops at the thought of having two backs as talented as McCoy and Brown. And before you think that McCoy might be moved along, he has $20 million guaranteed from the contract extension he signed last spring, so he's not going anywhere.

4. Russell Wilson engineered a surprising win over the Bears in Week 13. Can he be trusted in fantasy?

Beacom: The past five weeks suggest so. Wilson has thrown 11 touchdowns and just one interception during that stretch (with an average of 35.8 rushing yards). Where Wilson falls short is in passing yards, as he's averaging less than 200 per start this season. The concern is not Wilson, but his remaining schedule: Three of the four opponents rank among the top 12 in passing yards and touchdowns allowed.

Carroll: Not yet. He's still a rookie, still doesn't have trusted receivers (especially if Sidney Rice is out a while), and there are better choices. Is he in the conversation as a starter, depending on matchup? Sure, I can buy that. He's a guy I'd definitely want as a backup. I've had a dilemma all season in one of my leagues that really makes me question the value of a "good backup." I have Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. Nice problem to have, right? But the problem is picking them. I went with Manning on Sunday, thinking Luck on the road might be an issue again (and it was). Luck would not have been enough for me to win, but he was better. Each week, I have the stress of trying to pick "which one?" and I hate it. I may very well go with one quarterback next year in the draft.

Mack: For those still in the hunt in a standard league, there is little chance an owner is relying on Wilson right now. He just doesn't rank among the top-15 quarterbacks to start on a weekly basis. But he is a high-ceiling option after that select group, if you play in a two-quarterback format or are allowed to start a quarterback at the flex position. Consider him in one-quarterback leagues only when facing a favorable matchup at home and when your regular starter is doing something dangerous (like traveling to Chicago to face a Bears defense that just doesn't play the way it did Sunday very often).

Sabino: I would certainly trust Wilson at home, where he's undefeated and has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 11-to-0. He's developed a great rapport with Golden Tate and Sidney Rice on the outside and can create offense with his legs. He's a good option against the Cardinals this week, although you should likely stick with the starter who got you into the playoffs.

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