2011 Fantasy Football End-of-Season Recap

New York WRs

By John Paulsen
Now that the postseason is behind us, it's a good time to reflect on the 2011 fantasy football season to see what we can learn as we look ahead to 2012. It's also a great time to lock in our Early Bird Discount rate of $24.95 for the entire 2012 fantasy football season.
Since the crux of our preseason work is ranking players based on relative value, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at postseason value. In other words, knowing what we know now, how would the positions/players rank in a standard, 12-team snake draft?
Note: For an explanation of Value Based Rankings and Relative Value, read this.
Below you'll find the top 12 players in terms of relative value (RV). By the end of the season, these players essentially held first-round value and should fly off the board early and often in 2012. For reference, I included their total fantasy points (FP), points per game (PPG) and their preseason average draft position (ADP).

# Player Pos FP PPG RV ADP
1 Rice, Ray RB 297 18.6 198 Pick-1.03
2 Rodgers, Aaron QB 397 26.5 187 Pick-1.09
3 McCoy, LeSean RB 280 18.7 181 Pick-1.07
4 Brees, Drew QB 388 24.2 178 Pick-2.11
5 Jones-Drew, Maurice RB 262 16.4 163 Pick-1.11
6 Brady, Tom QB 366 22.9 156 Pick-2.08
7 Newton, Cam QB 366 22.9 156 Pick-15.11
8 Johnson, Calvin WR 263 16.5 156 Pick-1.12
9 Foster, Arian RB 250 19.2 151 Pick-1.02
10 Gronkowski, Rob TE 241 15.1 146 Pick-11.03
11 Stafford, Matthew QB 339 21.2 129 Pick-7.08
12 Lynch, Marshawn RB 216 14.4 117 Pick-6.12

Over the years, I'm certainly guilty of taking advantage of the depth at QB by loading up on RBs and WRs early. But with the way that Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady are playing, there's nothing wrong with drafting a QB in the first round or two, especially when the no-brainer, bell-cow RBs are off the board.
Even those no-brainer RBs weren't necessarily no-brainers in 2011. Sure, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy and Arian Foster all had great years, but Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Jamaal Charles are noticeably absent from this list. Charles got injured early, while Peterson missed three games with an ankle injury before tearing two ligaments in his left knee late in the season. And Chris Johnson... well, other than a nice midseason run against three of the worst rush defenses in the league, he cracked the 100-yard rushing barrier just once in his other 13 games.
There were two big surprises that finished with top 12 value: Cam Newton and Rob Gronkowski. While we were pretty high on Gronk -- we had him ranked TE8 when his ADP had him around TE12 -- no one was expecting Newton to turn in an elite QB-type season, coming in as a rookie with a lockout-shortened offseason. But back to Gronkowski, who turned in the best-ever season by a TE, racking up 90 receptions for 1327 yards and 17 TDs. In fact, had he been considered a WR, he would have finished second, trailing only Calvin Johnson.
Let's revisit that first round QB/RB question: Is it better to draft an elite QB, like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, or take a RB? Assuming we're picking outside of the top 4 next season, this will be a real dilemma for fantasy owners.
Interestingly, we have a mid-round QB (Matthew Stafford) and a mid-round RB (Marshawn Lynch) that also finished in the top 12. Going Rodgers/Lynch would have yielded 613 points, while a Maurice Jones-Drew/Stafford combo would have scored 601 points. Since we're looking at a difference of less than a point a week, it's pretty much a wash, though there is something to be said about the year-to-year consistency of a Rodgers, Brees, Brady, etc. as compared to the less stable RB position. Then again, it was easier to foretell Stafford's strong season than it was to predict that Lynch would flip on the Beastmode switch after a rather lackluster 2010. It's an interesting discussion that will no doubt continue into the summer.
Now let's take a look at the 12 players that held second round value in 2011.

# Player Pos FP PPG RV ADP
13 Turner, Michael RB 213 13.3 114 Pick-2.03
14 Nelson, Jordy WR 216 13.5 109 Pick-13.06
15 Welker, Wes WR 214 13.4 107 Pick-4.09
16 Graham, Jimmy TE 195 12.2 100 Pick-7.02
17 Cruz, Victor WR 206 13.7 99 -
18 Peterson, Adrian RB 189 15.8 90 Pick-1.01
19 Mathews, Ryan RB 187 13.3 88 Pick-4.04
20 Bush, Michael RB 186 11.6 87 Pick-9.07
21 Sproles, Darren RB 185 11.6 86 Pick-14.04
22 Jackson, Steven RB 182 12.1 83 Pick-2.10
23 Fitzgerald, Larry WR 189 11.8 82 Pick-2.04
24 Gore, Frank RB 177 11 78 Pick-2.05

There were a couple of big WR surprises in this range. Jordy Nelson was a popular 6th/7th-round pick when it looked like James Jones was leaving, but his stock slipped into the double-digit rounds when Jones re-signed. It turned out that the WR2 job was Nelson's the entire season and he certainly didn't disappoint for those owners who took a chance on him. In 2012, he'll be hard-pressed to match his 2011 totals, but he's a relatively safe pick considering his talent, age and situation.
Victor Cruz's story has been well documented, but he may not have emerged quite as quickly if Mario Manningham had the kind of season that many of us thought he would. It will be interesting to see where Cruz's 2012 value stands in comparison to Hakeem Nicks, who had a nice season but wasn't quite the playmaker that Cruz was. Nicks's big postseason will likely push his value ahead of Cruz's heading into the summer.
For all the grief that Ryan Mathews took throughout the season, there he is at #19, well ahead of his 3rd/4th-round preseason value. He always seemed to be dinged up, but only missed two games and finished with 1,546 total yards and six touchdowns.
One of the best value picks in this range was Darren Sproles, who exceeded even the most optimistic predictions with his 1,313 total yards, nine TDs and 86 receptions. He was better than Reggie Bush in the role that Reggie Bush made famous, and while Mark Ingram is likely to be more involved in 2012, Sproles should continue to be extremely productive with his 10-13 touches per game.
Another member of the Saints that had a great year was Jimmy Graham. He was overshadowed by Gronkowski a bit, but Graham's 195 fantasy points would have ranked him #5 amongst WRs, so I wouldn't be surprised if he goes in the 2nd or early 3rd next season. TEs have a tendency to linger on draft day, so both Gronkowski and Graham could represent excellent value. 
Where will Michael Bush land in 2012? The Raiders are expected to make a big push to retain him, which means he'll once again be a must-handcuff for those owners brave enough to draft Darren McFadden in the early rounds. DMC is the more explosive runner, but Bush is no slouch, as evidenced by his 1,395 total yards and eight TDs. If Bush lands elsewhere, he'll likely be at worst a 3rd round pick.
Speaking of the 3rd round, let's take a look at the 12 players that held value in the #25-#36 range in 2011.

# Player Pos FP PPG RV ADP
25 Bush, Reggie RB 176 11.7 77 Pick-7.10
26 Smith, Steve L WR 183 11.4 76 Pick-8.04
27 Manning, Eli QB 282 17.6 72 Pick-8.09
28 Jackson, Fred RB 170 17 71 Pick-6.09
29 White, Roddy WR 178 11.1 71 Pick-2.01
30 Forte, Matt RB 169 14.1 70 Pick-2.09
31 Johnson, Chris RB 169 10.5 70 Pick-1.04
32 Harvin, Percy WR 175 10.9 68 Pick-5.11
33 Wells, Beanie RB 166 11.9 67 Pick-6.04
34 Romo, Tony QB 276 17.2 66 Pick-4.12
35 Ryan, Matt QB 275 17.2 65 Pick-6.07
36 Greene, Shonn RB 163 10.2 64 Pick-4.03

It was a bit of surprise that Reggie Bush did such a fine job in a featured role in Miami, especially with the promise that rookie Daniel Thomas flashed early in the season. Bush didn't play against the Jets in Week 17, but had 100+ yards and/or a TD in eight of his last nine games, and it will be interesting to see where his stock settles heading into 2012 with a new coaching staff in place and Thomas nipping at his heels.
Steve L Smith rode the Newton wave into the WR6 slot and is poised for another good year in Newton's sophomore season. He is turning 33 in May and definitely tailed off some in the back half of the season with only one 100+ yard game. (He broke that mark five times in the first eight games.)
Our next group of QBs pop up here, with Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Matt Ryan rounding out the top 7. I doubt any of these guys go earlier than the 4th round in 2012 with Philip Rivers and Michael Vick looming as potential bounceback candidates. Ben Roethlisberger, Tim Tebow and perhaps Matt Schaub or Peyton Manning may very well round out the preseason top 12.
One big offseason situation to watch is the Buffalo backfield. The Bills say they still plan to extend Fred Jackson (who turns 31 in February), which will limit the long-term upside of C.J. Spiller. The second-year RB finished with 633 total yards and five TDs in his last six games. Keep in mind that Jackson is signed through 2012, but if he doesn't get an extension, don't be surprised if the Bills trade him away to avoid the distraction. A preseason trade would pave the way for Spiller to be a 3rd/4th-round pick in 2012.


- Of the ACL injuries, Jamaal Charles probably has the best chance to bounce back due to his age and how early in the season he suffered his injury. Adrian Peterson and Rashard Mendenhall may be able to make it back to start the season, but given the history of RBs with ACL injuries, it's doubtful that they will return to form in 2012.
- At RB, it looks like we have a top tier that includes Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy and Maurice Jones-Drew. After that, it's something of a crapshoot, which is why taking an elite QB or a WR like Calvin Johnson in the mid- to late-1st is so appealing.
- Marshawn Lynch will hold first round value if he re-signs with the Seahawks. Keep in mind that he's only 25 and Seattle could very well slap him with the franchise tag if the two sides can't come to terms on a long-term deal.
- Many predicted that Michael Turner's production would fall off the cliff but 4for4 had him relatively high at RB9. He finished as 2011's RB6 with 1,508 total yards and 11 TDs. The bad news is that he topped 300 carries for the third time in the last four seasons and just turned 30. On the flip side, he averaged a solid 4.5 yards per carry and broke the 10-TD mark for his fourth-straight season. The end is no doubt near, but does Turner have one or two more RB1/RB2-type seasons in him?
- Larry Fitzgerald finished with fringe 2nd round value, which is pretty impressive given the motley play of Arizona's QBs. The Cardinals have to decide whether or not to exercise a $7 million option for Kevin Kolb in March, and that call will go a long way towards revealing which direction the franchise is headed at the QB position.
- Michael Vick finished the season as QB11, but on a per game basis he was QB6. It may be safer to draft Eli Manning or Matt Ryan, who don't take as much punishment, but Vick will be a high-upside QB likely to be available in the 3rd or 4th round.
- In terms of relative value, the top rookies were Newton (#8), A.J. Green (#49), Julio Jones (#54), Torrey Smith (#68) and DeMarco Murray (#70). The consensus top rookie, Mark Ingram, finished #134. And it wasn't just due to injury, Ingram trailed all five aforementioned rookies in points per game as well. 
That about wraps up the 2011 fantasy football season. We've only hit the tip of the iceberg in terms of our analysis, so be sure to check back throughout the spring and summer for more content. If you haven't yet renewed or signed up for the 2012 season, now is a great time to lock in our Early Bird Special rate of only $24.95. We have lots of great things in store for 2012.
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