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  • Todd Gurley amazed, Matt Ryan disappointed, and the non-elite tight ends just didn't even show up. Handing out MVP and LVP awards to fantasy players at each of the four major positions.
By Michael Beller
January 04, 2018

Awards Week for the 2017 fantasy football season here at SI.com continues with a look at our MVPs and LVPs. We’ll hand out an award, as well as a dishonor, for each of the four major fantasy positions. At the end of the column, we’ll also select an overall MVP and LVP.

 A few stipulations about each award: For MVPs, total production, week-to-week consistency, average draft-day price, and playoff performance were all taken into account. The first three criteria were more important than the final one, though it was a helpful tiebreaker, and, in one case, tie maker, if nothing else.

For LVPs, the degree to which they fell short of expectations, and their draft-day price were the two most important factors. Elite fantasy players who suffered significant injuries early in the season, such as David Johnson or Odell Beckham, were not considered for LVPs.

QUARTERBACK

MVP: Russell Wilson, Seahawks

I was a bit reluctant to give Wilson this title because of his playoff letdowns, but it was too hard to ignore the fact that he outscored every other quarterback by at least 55 points in standard-scoring leagues. Had Carson Wentz stayed healthy, or had Tom Brady or Alex Smith carried teams during the fantasy postseason, that may have been enough to go against the top scorer at the position. Absent that, however, Wilson was the only logical choice.

Sure, it wasn’t always pretty, but Wilson delivered nearly every week for his fantasy owners. He gave his owners nine top-five weeks, including four inside the top three. He scored at least 24 points, the equivalent of 300 yards and three touchdowns, seven times. He put up anywhere between 19 and 33 points every game from Week 7 through Week 14, all but guaranteeing that his owners made the playoffs. He finished ninth among quarterbacks with 3,983 passing yards and first with 34 touchdowns, offset by just 11 interceptions. Wilson also ranked second to Cam Newton among quarterbacks with 586 rushing yards and three scores on the ground. It all ended up being more than enough to secure him this honor.

Honorable Mentions: Carson Wentz, Eagles; Tom Brady, Patriots; Alex Smith, Chiefs

LVP: Matt Ryan, Falcons

4for4’s composite ADP tool had Ryan as the fourth quarterback off the board in a typical draft, behind only Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Coming off an MVP season in which he nearly led the Falcons to a Super Bowl championship, there was good reason to believe Ryan would withstand the loss of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who left to become the head coach of the 49ers. Instead, Ryan, and the entire Atlanta offense, crashed back to earth.

Ryan had three top-10 weeks this season, and was never better than QB8, a mark he reached in Week 17, which is utterly meaningless for fantasy purposes. He had five weeks where he was QB20 or worse, and spent most of the season as a glorified streamer. Ryan was sixth in the league in passing yards and eighth in YPA, but had just 20 touchdowns against 12 interceptions, and failed to hit on the big plays that drove his MVP candidacy last year. All told, he was the No. 15 quarterback in standard-scoring leagues, and even that mediocre finish owed in part to volume. Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, Josh McCown and Tyrod Taylor all scored more points per game than Ryan.

Dishonorable Mentions: Marcus Mariota, Titans; Derek Carr, Raiders

RUNNING BACK

MVP: Todd Gurley, Rams

Running back had more legitimate overall MVP candidates than any other position, but the winner here was obvious. Gurley was a dominant force all season, running for 1,305 yards, catching 64 passes for 788 yards and scoring 19 touchdowns. He was the No. 2 scorer in standard leagues, ahead of all quarterbacks other than Russell Wilson, and the top scorer in PPR formats. He carried his owners to the playoffs and then saved the best of a potential NFL MVP season for last— he racked up 135 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in Week 14, 180 yards and four touchdowns in Week 15, and 276 yards and a pair of scores in Week 16. All told, Gurley scored 107.1 points during the fantasy playoffs, which would have made him the No. 37 running back for the entire season.

The Rams back gave his fantasy owners elite production regularly, scoring at least 20 points in standard leagues eight times this season and putting up at least 11.6 points in all but one game this year. For the sake of comparison, only 11 backs averaged 11.6 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. In other words, Gurley’s weekly floor was a low-end RB1, while his ceiling, which he hit more than any other player in the league, was in a class of its own.

Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram and Le’Veon Bell were all great this year, but this was no contest. Gurley, who didn’t come off the board until the end of the second round or beginning of the third round of a typical draft, was easily the most valuable fantasy running back this season.

Honorable Mentions: Alvin Kamara, Saints; Mark Ingram, Saints; Le’Veon Bell, Steelers, Kareem Hunt, Chiefs; Melvin Gordon, Chargers

LVP: Jay Ajayi, Dolphins/Eagles

It’s hard to remember that Ajayi was considered a round better than Gurley by ADP back in the summer. Talk about a haunting decision. Ajayi never got things going this season, failing to score a touchdown over his first seven games. In fact, he left Miami without hitting paydirt, and the midseason trade that sent him to Philadelphia failed to galvanize his fantasy value. Ajayi showed hints of the breakout player he was in 2016, but the Dolphins’ offense was too inconsistent for him to the be fantasy weapon he was expected to be, and his playing time with the Eagles was too sporadic, especially when Carson Wentz was healthy. He had a couple of decent games during the fantasy playoffs, though it’s likely that many owners who counted on him all year didn’t make it that far, in large part because of his disappointing campaign. Considering the opportunity cost associated with taking Ajayi at his ADP was passing on Gurley, Michael Thomas, Ezekiel Elliott and Rob Gronkowski, he’s an uncontroversial choice as the LVP of his position.

Dishonorable Mentions: DeMarco Murray, Titans; Ty Montgomery, Packers; Joe Mixon, Bengals

WIDE RECEIVER

MVP: DeAndre Hopkins, Texans and Antonio Brown, Steelers

Through Week 14, Brown had this award all but locked up. The best receiver in the league was adding another Picasso to the gallery that is his Pro Football Reference page. Brown had 99 catches for 1,509 yards and nine scores in 13 games. Had he remained on that pace the rest of the season, he would’ve finished with 113 receptions for 1,724 yards and 10 touchdowns. Of course, Brown suffered a partially torn calf in Week 15, and that opened the door for Hopkins.

Hopkins put together another remarkable year, further indicting Brock Osweiler’s ability as a quarterback. He caught 96 passes for 1,378 yards and 13 touchdowns, finishing the year as the No. 1 receiver in both standard and PPR leagues. While Brown was nursing his calf injury during the fantasy playoffs, Hopkins was lifting his owners to titles. After piling up 11 grabs for 149 yards and two scores in Week 14, Hopkins caught four passes for 80 yards and a score in Week 15, and four more for 65 yards and a touchdown in Week 16. That performance during the most important part of the season, capping another exceptional year, forced Hopkins into the MVP spotlight.

And yet, he couldn’t completely take it away from Brown. The Steelers star was simply too good all year, producing elite-level WR1 numbers almost every week before suffering his injury. Brown may not have helped his owners in the playoffs (through no fault of his own), but he almost certainly got them in the position to win a championship in the first place. Brown and Hopkins sharing the receiver MVP award is a fitting end to both of their seasons.

Honorable Mentions: Keenan Allen, Chargers; Michael Thomas, Saints; Adam Thielen, Vikings; Davante Adams, Packers

LVP: Mike Evans, Buccaneers

Many in the fantasy industry, myself included, believed Evans would firmly place himself among the elite at the wide receiver position this year. He was the fourth receiver off the board in a typical draft, with an overall ADP of 7.4, just ahead of Devonta Freeman, Melvin Gordon and A.J. Green. He didn’t have a terrible year, catching 71 passes for 1,001 yards and five touchdowns, but it was well short of what was expected, and nowhere near good enough for a mid-first-round pick. One classic fantasy cliché is that you can’t win a league in the first round, but you can lose it. Chances are many Evans owners dug themselves a hole with their first-round pick that proved too deep for their championship hopes.

Evans finished the year as the No. 21 receiver in standard leagues, and the No. 17 receiver in PPR formats. Players who outscored him in standard leagues included Juju Smith-Schuster, Robby Anderson and Devin Funchess. Not to belabor the point, but that simply isn’t good enough for a player selected in the first round of every fantasy draft this year. No healthy receiver provided less of a return on investment than Evans this season.

Dishonorable Mentions: Dez Bryant, Cowboys; Amari Cooper, Raiders; Terrelle Pryor, Redskins

TIGHT END

MVP: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots

This came down to Gronkowski and Travis Kelce. Gronkowski led the position with 1,083 yards, while Kelce was second with 1,038. Kelce led all tight ends with 83 receptions, and Gronkowski checked in fifth with 69. They both scored eight touchdowns, tied for second behind Jimmy Graham. Gronk did his damage in 12 games, so while he gets a bonus for his per-game prowess, Kelce’s health is valuable skill, especially given the irreplaceability of elite tight end production. They finished 1-2 in both standard and PPR formats, with Gronk atop the leaderboard in the former, and Kelce earning supremacy in the latter. This was as close as it could possibly be.

So why does Gronkowski take home the tight end MVP award? It’s all about the fantasy playoffs. Gronk hurt his owners with his boneheaded, dangerous hit on Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White, which trigged a suspension in Week 14, but he made up for it the next two weeks. He caught nine passes for 168 yards in Week 15, and five more for 67 yards and a touchdown in Week 16. Kelce, meanwhile, scored fewer than 7.5 points in standard leagues in Week 14 and Week 15. He had four grabs for 47 yards and a touchdown in Week 16, but many of his owners were likely done by that point, thanks in part to his uncharacteristically quiet games in the first two rounds of the playoffs. That was enough to break the tie and give the award to Gronkowski.

Honorable Mention: Travis Kelce, Chiefs

LVP: The Non-Elite Portion of the Position

The only big-name tight ends who came up noticeably short of their draft-day expectations—Greg Olsen, Jordan Reed and Tyler Eifert—all did so due to injury. As we stipulated at the beginning of the column, that’s not justification for an LVP case. Beyond those three, however, there wasn’t a tight end whose struggles were surprising enough to warrant an LVP designation. That, in and of itself, is an indictment of the entire position.

Tight end was a nightmare spot all year for owners who didn’t have Gronkowski, Kelce, Zach Ertz, Graham or Evan Engram. Players like Jack Doyle, Kyle Rudolph and Delanie Walker were mostly fine, while Hunter Henry, Vernon Davis and Charles Clay were various flavors of the month. Still, offensive football reached dizzying heights this year, and there were never more than six or seven tight ends about which the fantasy community could feel confident. All the non-elite tight ends share in that shame.

OVERALL

MVP: Todd Gurley, RB, Rams

When you’re a late-second or early-third round pick who racks up 2,093 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns, and outscores every player in the league, including quarterbacks, you’re the runaway MVP. It’s as simple as that.

Honorable Mentions: Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints; Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers; Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers

LVP: Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers

This is just as easy a case to make on the bad side as Gurley’s is on the good side. Evans heard his name called in the middle of the first round in most fantasy drafts. He was outperformed by Juju Smith-Schuster and Robby Anderson, two of our Waiver Wire All-Stars. He put his owners in a hole, relative to nearly every other first-round pick who didn’t suffer an injury this season. That’s the stuff of an LVP.

Dishonorable Mentions: Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons; Jay Ajayi, RB, Dolphins/Eagles

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