Now that the Giants have won the NFC East crown with a measly 9 wins, so concludes another wild and wacky 2011 NFL and fantasy season. Our fantasy players had the highest of the highs (Aaron Rodgers) and the lowest of the lows (I'm looking at you Benjarvus Green-Ellis). This year saw an astonishing 8 quarterbacks fill 90% of the top 10 fantasy options from this past season. With teams relying more on the passing game, this could be a trend that continues through 2012.
Now that the regular season is over, I would like to take a look back at and rank the top 25 fantasy players of 2011. Hopefully some of these guys were able to push you to a championship or at least won you a little bit of loot to pay off some of those Christmas bills. I took these rankings right from the BLOG WARS league that Diggs and I participated in.
1. Aaron Rodgers - QB - GB: There are several players I could have ranked at the top spot, but Rodgers still deserves to be No. 1. Coming off a Super Bowl victory last year, many teams have that "down season" the year after, but Rodgers progressed instead. He had career highs in passing yards (4,643), passing yards per game (309.5) and broke his previous career high for touchdown passes with 45, behind only Drew Brees (46). As we enter the playoffs, don't be surprised to see Rodgers either taken at the top spot or in the top 3 during Fantasy Football Playoff Drafts this week. Even with a first round bye, Rodgers playing at home is too much to pass up.
2. Drew Brees - QB - NO: Brees capped off his 2011 season with not only getting the Saints the NFC South crown, a spot in the playoffs, but he also broke Dan Marino's long-standing single-season passing record by throwing 5476 yards. Brees averaged an astonishing 342.3 passing yards a game and heaved up 46 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. I could have put Brees in the top spot alone. But unlike Rodgers, Brees had a better running game helping him out.
3. Tom Brady - QB - NE: As you can see, going quarterback in the first round of fantasy leagues that give you 6 points per passing touchdowns does have it's advantages. Brady set a career high in passing yards with 5235 and also set a personal best in rushing touchdowns with 3. After locking up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Patriots are going to need to rely heavily on Brady with an iffy defense and shaky running game.
4. Matthew Stafford - QB - DET: After suffering through two injury-riddled seasons, we finally saw what Stafford could do in a full 16-game season. He had career highs across the board in every passing category and finally got the Lions into the playoffs for the first time since 1999. For dynasty leaguers, Stafford is gold. He's not even 24. And after an offseason with question marks surrounding his injury history, it's safe to say Stafford will be one of the top quarterbacks selected in 2012 drafts.
5. Cam Newton - QB - CAR: If Newton doesn't win Rookie of the Year by a landslide, I smell a fix. Playing for a team that had question marks on the coaching staff, running game, offensive line and receiving game (outside of Steve Smith), Newton didn't break, but shattered most NFL and a few franchise records. What set Newton apart from other quarterbacks wasn't his passing totals, but his ability to become a running back nere the redzone by totaling 14 rushing touchdowns. Some think this year was a fluke. But unlike Tim Tebow, whose value is going to plummet in 2012 in my opinion, Newton is the real deal.
6. Eli Manning - QB - NYG: Eli may not get the street cred like his big brother Peyton, but he should. With a decimated defense, Manning managed to slide the Giants into the NFC East crown and land the final position in this year's playoffs. He had career highs in completions (359), passing yards (4933), 300+ games (8) , yards per game (308.3) and yards per attempt (8.4). A lot of these numbers can be attributed to the busting out of Victor Cruz. Unfortunately for Eli, he will likely be passed up again next year and be limited to a QB2 in most leagues.
7. Tony Romo - QB - DAL: If drafting a fantasy quarterback had anything to do with the NFL playoffs mixed in, Romo would likely be one of the last guys drafted. Romo had one of the best seasons of his career and he did manage to get the team close to the playoffs. But, once again, question marks at other areas kept the Cowboys out of the post season. Romo will be another QB1 once again in 2012. No one should question Romo's toughness after cameras showed his right throwing hand against the Giants, which looked like a big yellow soft ball.
8. Matt Ryan - QB - ATL: HC Mike Smith said the Falcons were going to open up their passing game a lot more this year and that they did. With the addition of Julio Jones, Ryan averaged 261.1 passing yards a game and threw for 29 touchdowns. The Falcons managed to talk Tony Gonzalez into staying for another year, so Ryan should be drafted as a mid-tier QB1 in 2012.
9. Ray Rice - RB - BAL: I know: "Finally a player who isn't a quarterback." Rice took full advantage of a departed Willis McGahee by rushing for a career-high 1364 yards, catching 76 passes for 704 receiving yards and totaling 15 touchdowns. Some of the Ravens' play-calling came into question during certain times when they didn't use Rice enough in certain situations. But rest assured, if you have a top 3 pick next year, taking Rice will reap the benefits. Especially in PPR leagues.
10. Philip Rivers - QB - SD: There were many rumors swirling around Rivers' down year. The biggest one was his mechanics were flawed due to an injury he wasn't telling anyone. Still, he averaged 289.0 and threw 27 touchdowns, but his 20 interceptions were a career high. If Vincent Jackson comes back, Rivers will go as another QB1 next year.LeSean McCoy will see his fantasy value go up as the Summer weeks go by.
11. LeSean McCoy - RB - PHI: Who's Brian Westbrook? McCoy had most Eagles fans forget that Westbrook was no longer in Eagle green. In his three-year career, McCoy has averaged a lofty 4.7 yards a game. And like Westbrook, is a big part of the passing offense. Some, like myself, wish McCoy would run more. But he isn't a beast like a Brandon Jacobs, so we should want him to keep a steady pace instead of getting himself injured just in time for our fantasy playoffs. McCoy is a top 5 option next year.
12. Mark Sanchez - QB - NYJ: Yeah you read that right. Sanchez makes the top 12. Sanchez's passing numbers (3474YDS/29TDs/18INTS) may have been somewhat average compared to his peers, but he did rush for 6 touchdowns, which skews his fantasy numbers a bit. There have been rumblings that Sanchez simply isn't good enough to be considered the team's franchise quarterback, but he has gotten the thumbs up from the front office and Rex Ryan. Still, I would only draft him as a QB2 in 2012.
13. Calvin Johnson - WR - DET: Stafford and Megatron's fantasy value goes hand in hand. With Stafford playing a full 16-game schedule, Johnson tore defenders up with 96 receptions, a league-leading 1681 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. If I am drafting in the late first next year, I would have zero problems taking Johnson as my first pick.
14. Maurice Jones-Drew - RB - JAX: With the news that MJD was close to being done for his career with a knee injury he played with all of last year, he blew up the fantasy world and won the rushing title with 1,606 yards. What made the feat even more impressive was he played for, what I consider, the worst passing offense in the league. Still only 26, MJD should bounce back as an RB1, especially if the team signs a run-oriented head coach.
15. Ryan Fitzpatrick - QB - BUF: Shocked? So am I, but Fitz still passed for 3832 yards. He may have started off with a bang this year, but he was a turnover machine with 23 interceptions. He was a decent rusher, carrying the rock 56 times for 215 yards. But the Bills should be regretting the $24 million guaranteed they gave him in late October. Fitz is nothing more than a QB2 and that's if he even stays on as the starter.
16. Michael Vick - QB - PHI: Whats not to love about Vick? He still has a cannon for an arm and can run just as well as he used to. Unfortunately, he will never be a guy you can count on for 16 games in 2012. He takes too many hits.
17. Arian Foster - RB - HOU: If Foster started all 16 games in 2011, he would have easily been in the top 10. Even after missing 3 games, Foster still racked up 1224 rushing yards, 12 total touchdowns and proved 2010 wasn't a fluke. He will, or should be, the No. 1 overall option in 2012.
18. Rob Gronkowski - TE - NE: Now the NFL's all-time single-season yardage record for a tight end with 1327, Gronk should have solidified his case as the new No. 1 fantasy tight end for 2012. Those 17 touchdown receptions certainly don't hurt either.
19. Ben Roethlisberger - QB - PIT: Big Ben may be a pervert off the field, but he is still one of the best in the game today. His 4,077 passing yards ranked 9th in the regular season and he'll continue to shine with the likes of Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders catching passes in 2012.
20 Andy Dalton - QB - CIN: Dalton struggled in the second half, but the fact that he got the Bengals into the playoffs speaks volumes on just how good he played overall. His 3398 passing yards and 20 touchdowns were more than many experts thought he could produce and he found a great rapport with fellow rookie A.J. Green. Dalton will never be anything more than a QB2 in 2012, but he is looking like a solid dynasty find.