These players broke hearts and submarined title hopes with brutal seasons, but who was the least valuable of them all?
Earlier in the week, we handed out playoff MVPs. If you missed that column — and don't try to tell me that you weren't all over SI.com on Christmas Eve — you can find it here. But as we all know, it isn't all sugar plums in the fantasy football world. Just as there were players who met or exceeded expectations and carried their owners to championships, so, too, were there players who went bust and submarined countless fantasy seasons in the process. This column honors (dishonors?) this year's Least Valuable Players.
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Just how bad was Stafford this season? There are plenty of ways to quantify that.
The following quarterbacks outscored Stafford this season: Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Ryan Tannehill, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Joe Flacco and Cam Newton. That's 15 quarterbacks. That isn't good for a guy who was the fourth quarterback off the board in a typical draft.
What's more, the following quarterbacks had more points per game than Stafford: Everyone listed above, plus Carson Palmer, Kirk Cousins, Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Kyle Orton. There is seriously an argument to be made that you would have been better off playing Orton every week, once he became the starter in Buffalo, over Stafford.
Week 1 was arguably the high point for Stafford owners, as he threw for 346 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score, finishing the week as the third-best quarterback. He would break the top 10 just four more times all year, the same number of times he was outside the top 25.
You could have used a late-third- or early-fourth-round pick on Stafford, or grabbed a receiver or running back there, waited another 50 or so picks, and then taken Wilson or Romo or many of the other 15 quarterbacks who had a better fantasy season than Stafford this year.
Dishonorable mention: Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton
Running Back: Montee Ball, Denver Broncos
There are plenty of candidates for this one, with LeSean McCoy and Zac Stacy chief among them. McCoy frustrated his owners all season by never quite reaching the heights expected of him as the first or second pick in nearly every draft. Stacy, meanwhile, was an unmitigated bust, rushing for a total of 290 yards and one touchdown, then losing his job to Tre Mason. Their resumés, however, don't quite measure up to Ball's.
With Ball, the hope was that the former first-round pick out of Wisconsin would slide right into the role Knowshon Moreno had inhabited in 2013. You'll recall that the Denver offense turned Moreno from a real-life and fantasy bust into a top-five running back, as the once proud Georgia Bulldog ran for 1,038 yards, caught 60 passes for 548 yards, and hit paydirt 13 times. Surely Ball, the NCAA's leader in career touchdowns, should be able to duplicate that effort.
Instead, Ball sputtered in Denver's first four games, running for 172 yards and a touchdown on 55 carries. After suffering a groin injury in that fourth game, he didn't touch the ball again for the rest of the season. Ball seemed like a square peg in the round hole that was the first round of 2014 drafts, but plenty of owners were able to talk themselves into him, given his role in a high-powered offense. He ended up with a total of 28.4 points in standard-scoring leagues.
What makes it even worse for Ball owners is that they had to watch both Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson succeed where their first- or second-round pick failed, as Hillman and Anderson combined for 1,056 yards and 11 touchdowns in their respective tenures as the starter in the Denver backfield. The idea with Ball may have been right, but the player was oh so wrong.
Dishonorable mention: McCoy, Stacy, Doug Martin, Toby Gerhart
Wide Receiver: Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears
There weren't a ton of strong candidates at wide receiver, and even Marshall is a bit of a stretch given that he scored eight touchdowns. He is deserving, however, because he was supposed to be a rock-solid WR1 in a supposed high-powered Chicago offense this year. That offense never showed up, and Marshall's fantasy stock took a major hit as a result.
Back in draft season, Marshall had a higher price than Julio Jones, Jordy Nelson, Antonio Brown, Alshon Jeffery and Randall Cobb. Those five receivers, along with 24 others, outscored Marshall this season.
Marshall's campaign becomes even more grisly when you look at his week-by-week numbers. He scored in single digits eight times, and had fewer than five points in a whopping six games. Almost all of his entire fantasy value was tied up in Chicago's victories over San Francisco and Minnesota. He scored a ridiculous 36.8 percent of his points in those two games. Take those two out of the equation, and he averaged just 6.85 points per game, on par with the likes of Allen Hurns, James Jones and Andrew Hawkins. That's not exactly what you're expecting out of a top-15 overall pick.
Dishonorable mention: Keenan Allen, Cordarrelle Patterson
Tight End: Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos
This might seem a curious choice, given that Thomas tied with Rob Gronkowski for the most touchdowns at the tight end position. Unfortunately for Thomas owners, you don't just add up your players' total points at the end of the season to determine a fantasy champion. You need consistent weekly production, and Thomas was essentially a ghost after Week 6.
It's true that Thomas likely helped get you out to a nice start this season. Though Denver's first five games, he had nine touchdowns, but also had just 24 catches for an anemic 277 yards in those games, a sign that his touchdown rate simply had to regress. That's exactly what it did, and rather sharply. Thomas made just three more trips to the end zone the rest of the season. Predictably, his reception and yardage totals remained low, as he ended the fantasy year with 43 catches and 489 yards. An ankle injury cost him three games, as well, leaving Thomas as fantasy's No. 6 tight end. That he slipped so far down the rankings despite scoring 12 times should tell you how ineffective an overall player he was this season.
Fifteen tight ends, including Jared Cook and Mychal Rivera, had more yards than Thomas. Jason Witten managed to find time in between blocking for DeMarco Murray to haul in 60 passes for 654 yards. Travis Kelce spent half the year playing fewer than 60 percent of the snaps for a team that can't manage to get a receiver in the end zone, and he caught 60 balls for 778 yards. Thomas' entire value was tied up in touchdowns, and he disappeared on his fantasy owners before Halloween. That you had to take him with an early-third-round pick, ahead of Gronkowski in an average draft, locks him in as the LVP.
Dishonorable mention: Jimmy Graham, Jordan Cameron
Which of these players most ignobly embodied the antithesis of value this season? Fantasy owners should well know by now that they're putting a lot of faith into a running back by taking him toward the end of the first round. That's where Ball landed in most drafts this season. A savvy owner may have been able to maneuver around that mistake, but Ball dashed innumerable fantasy hopes this season. From his dreadful opening month to his groin injury to his understudies succeeding where he failed, Ball was the mistake who kept on adding further insult to his owners this season. That makes him our 2014 fantasy football LVP.