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Choosing fantasy football's most valuable player of the 2014 season

Unless you’re in one of those bizarre leagues that goes to Week 17, your fantasy season is over. All that’s left for us to do now is get in the holiday spirit and hand out gifts in the form of MVP trophies.

We’ll nominate five of the best players this season, with at least one at the four major positions, as the potential fantasy MVPs. By taking into account overall production, week-to-week consistency, standout performances and draft-day price, and then select our one true MVP for the 2014 season.

Quarterback: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

Luck was easily the most valuable fantasy quarterback in 2015. He was the fifth quarterback selected in an average draft, coming after Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford. He outpaced all of them, as well as every other quarterback in the league, to lead the position with 358.84 points in standard-scoring leagues. Rodgers was second a full 22 points, or nearly 1.5 points per game, behind Luck.

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Luck finished the fantasy season second in the NFL in passing touchdowns with 38 and third with 4,601 passing yards. He added to his fantasy value by running for 258 yards and three scores. Luck’s greatest asset, however, was his consistency. He was a top-three quarterback for an individual week six times this season, while falling outside the top 12 just twice. Of course, one of those came in Week 16, when he ranked dead last among all starting quarterbacks. Luck may have let down his owners in the fantasy championship, but he was also the primary reason why many were there in the first place. When you consider that he outscored Manning, Rodgers and Brees while coming off the board anywere between 15 and 30 picks later than those three in an average draft, you can see how great the return on investment was with Luck.

Honorable mention: Rodgers, Russell Wilson

Running Back: Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

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It would have been unthinkable to give this award to anyone other than DeMarco Murray a few months ago, and the Dallas star who led the league in rushing would have been a worthy choice. It’s just that Bell is more worthy. The second-year man out of Michigan State kept pace with Murray for much of the first half, despite a maddening inability to find the end zone. He chipped away at Murray’s lead in fantasy points over much of the second half of the season, finally edging ahead during the fantasy playoffs. It was Bell’s three-week run during the postseason that put him, and not Murray, atop the running back totem pole for 2014.

Bell was second among running backs in rushing yards (1,341), receiving yards (774), total yards (2,115), and receptions (74), and fifth in total touchdowns (11). Bell racked up more than 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first eight games, and matched Walter Payton’s NFL record by recording three consecutive games with more than 200 yards from scrimmage. He hit paydirt nine times in the final seven games of the fantasy year, and saved his best for when it mattered most. Bell put up a huge three-game stretch in the playoffs, scoring 78.7 points.

Bell carried an average draft position of 23.4 back in August. That means you were able to get him at the end of the second round in a typical 12-team league. That, along with his playoff performance, broke the virtual tie between he and Murray, making Bell the MVP at the running back position.

Honorable mention: Murray, Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch

Wide Receiver: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

The wide receiver race was the hardest to call. Odell Beckham took the league by storm after recovering from a pre-season hamstring injury, scoring 11 touchdowns and racking up 1,120 yards in just 11 games. Demaryius Thomas went on a seven-game 100-yard streak in the middle of the year, and surpassed 1,500 receiving yards with 11 scores of his own. Every other time you looked at a Green Bay game, it probably seemed like Jordy Nelson was streaking to a 40-plus yard touchdown. He did that six times this year, scoring a total of 13 touchdowns and piling up 1,433 receiving yards

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All of those players could rightly lay claim to the award. Unfortunately for them, there was one receiver who was just a touch more deserving, and that was running back MVP Bell’s teammate, Antonio Brown. Brown led all wide receivers with 226.3 total fantasy points, and was second with 15.1 points per game. He led the league in receptions with 122 and receiving yards with 1,570, and checked in at third among receivers with 12 touchdowns. Brown scored fewer than 10 points just three times all year, and had at least five receptions and 70 yards in every game this season.

Brown was considered a second-tier wide receiver heading into the year, and was ranked alongside Alshon Jeffery and Randall Cobb. He came off the board a full round after guys like Brandon Marshall and Julio Jones. Couple that with his wire-to-wire consistency, and you get a player worthy of an MVP label.

Honorable mention: Beckham, Thomas, Nelson, Dez Bryant

Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

Conversely, the tight end MVP race was the biggest runaway in the field. Rob Gronkowski outscored fantasy’s No. 2 tight end, Antonio Gates, by nearly 40 points. There was as wide a gap between Gronkowski and Gates as there was between Gates and the No. 8 tight end, Coby Fleener. That should tell you pretty much all you need to know about the year Gronk had.

In case it doesn’t, however, allow me to expound. Gronk led tight ends in receptions (82), receiving yards (1,124) and touchdowns (12). He had more fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues than Cobb, T.Y. Hilton and Jeffery, who ranked eighth, ninth and 11th, respectively, at the wide receiver position. Any time a tight end is putting up WR1 numbers, he’s going to be an MVP candidate. Remember, there were some serious injury concerns with Gronkowski heading into the regular season. As such, he wasn’t selected until the third round of a typical 12-team draft, after both Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas. Gronk was an easy MVP choice at tight end, and will be a worthy first-round pick in 2015.

Honorable mention: Gates, Greg Olsen

Wild Card: Odell Beckham, Wide Receiver, New York Giants

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Losing the first month of the season to a hamstring injury may have cost Beckham the wide receiver MVP award, but he simply has to be in the overall MVP discussion. Beckham was first made active for the Giants’ Week 5 win over the Falcons. He caught four passes for 44 yards and a touchdown in that game. The next week, he had just two receptions for 28 yards, and the following game saw him haul in four balls for a paltry 34 yards, though two of those did go for touchdowns.

From that point forward, he was the best receiver in the NFL. And it really wasn’t very close.

Beckham had at least 90 yards in each of the final eight games of the fantasy season and 130-plus in five of them, scoring eight touchdowns in those games, as well. His average stat line in that stretch was 8.6 catches, 126.8 yards and one touchdown. That goes for a whopping 18.68 points in standard-scoring leagues. In other words, for the final eight weeks of the season, Beckham was Le’Veon Bell. Like Bell, he, too, saved his best for last. From Week 14 through Week 16, Beckham gave his owners in the playoffs a total of 31 receptions, 421 yards and six scores.

So, the question remains, who of these five players is the overall MVP? There are strong arguments for each of them, but this season proved once again that there is no weapon in fantasy football quite like an elite running back. Bell paced his owners all season long, and saved his best three-week stretch of the season for the fantasy playoffs. Bell carried you to the postseason, and then delivered when it mattered most. That is what being an MVP is all about. Le’Veon Bell is your 2014 fantasy football MVP and will rightly be the No. 1 pick next season.