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Heed These Lessons From 2011


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Another fantasy football season is so close we can almost hear the pads popping in training camp.

Wait, are they allowed to do that anymore?

While pondering that, let’s not turn the page on the 2011 season quite yet. And even if you spent first-round draft picks on Jamaal Charles in eight of your 11 leagues, or your quarterback’s late-game interception in Week 16 wound up derailing your only shot at a league title, 2011 still deserves a year-end toast.

Why, you ask? After all, this was a season in which you went with Zach Miller instead of Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham as your sleeper tight end.

Just flip your mental calendar back to early July 2011. Remember the lockout, and the fate of the entire season seemingly hanging on every Roger Goodell or DeMaurice Smith sound bite?

Those uncertain times have since been buried under the passing numbers compiled by Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, but six months ago, they were very real. Lest we forget, NFL 2011 almost didn’t happen.

So take a moment to cherish the 2011 season, including Charles, Miller and that late-game interception. League title or not, I think we all can agree that whatever happened in our 2011 fantasy seasons, it sure beat the heck out of the alternative.

Still, before we completely close the book on 2011 and turn our sights to 2012, here are a few fantasy points to ponder, starting with a little something we call …

If You Don’t Know, Now You Do

Who’s a top fantasy quarterback’s best friend? Is it a complementary running back? A game-changing wide receiver? Or a dependable tight end? Take the Top 12 quarterbacks from this past season in terms of total fantasy points. Those were, in order, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Mark Sanchez, Michael Vick and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Of that dandy dozen, only four – Brees (who had Darren Sproles), Ryan (Michael Turner), Rivers (Ryan Mathews) and Vick (LeSean McCoy) – lined up with a running back who finished among the 12 highest-scoring backs.

Meanwhile, seven of the quarterbacks had a receiver finish in the Top 12, led by Manning, who had a pair in Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Still, the biggest correlation can be found between Top 12 quarterbacks and Top 12 tight ends with a full 10 of the leading dozen tight ends serving as targets for Top 12 quarterbacks. The only leading dozen quarterbacks without a Top 12 tight end were Newton, Manning and Fitzpatrick, and the only one without a Top 12 tight end or wideout was Fitzpatrick.

Those of you in keeper leagues with a stud running back are in for a hectic training camp. Injury updates and rehabilitation reports will need to be on your radar with no fewer than nine starting running backs – led by the likes of Charles, Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte – finishing the 2011 campaign on Injured Reserve. It was just that kind of season for a number of top-shelf backs. Some (Charles, Jahvid Best) were injured relatively early in the season, while others (Peterson, Forte) went down just prior to the fantasy playoffs.  In all, 12 of the Top 40 running backs, ranked by average fantasy points per contest, played 10 or fewer games, making handcuffs and deep benches more valuable than ever. Unfortunately, most of the injuries involved varying degrees of knee damage, so the 2012 projections are going to be tricky at best.

Feel free to proceed to the next item if you waited until the final two rounds of your draft to select a team defense. Those who didn’t – ahem, you with that Pittsburgh Steelers pick in Round 7 – please read (and then re-read) the following: DO NOT DRAFT A TEAM DEFENSE UNTIL THE FINAL TWO ROUNDS! Need proof? Take a look at the average draft position for team defenses. The first five off the board were the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots.

Fast forward to season’s end and take an average of where this no-so-fabulous quintet finished in the final team defense points scored rankings. That would be 10.8. Now take the Top 5 stop units (the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks and Houston Texans) in the year-end rankings and go back and average their respective average draft positions among defenses. Try 14.2. The lesson? Don’t invest heavily to draft a defense, because many of the top defenses each season will more than likely emerge from the waiver wire.

Trivia Timeout

Who is the only quarterback, running back or receiver to rank in the Top 5 in total fantasy points at his position in each of past three seasons? No peeking, but the answer can be found below.

It Figures

4 – Non-wideouts who finished among the Top 20 in targets in 2011. They were: Jimmy Graham (sixth with 149), Brandon Pettigrew (15th, 126), Rob Gronkowski (18th, 124) and (very quietly) Kellen Winslow (20th, 121).

44 – The average draft position of Green Bay Packers wideout Jordy Nelson, who finished 2011 as the second-leading receiver in terms of total fantasy points. Nelson had company with Victor Cruz (largely undrafted at wide receiver), Cam Newton (average draft position of 24 among quarterbacks), Marshawn Lynch (29th running back picked),  Josh Kasay (undrafted kicker) and the Seattle Seahawks defense/special teams (average draft position of 21 among defenses) all coming out of nowhere outside the Top 20 picks at their positions to finish in their respective, year-end Top 5.

90 – Field goals of 50-plus yards made in 2011. That’s an eye-grabbing 36.4 percent increase over the next best single-season total in NFL history (66 in 2008). It also made for a lot of five-point plays in many leagues. The success rate of 64.29 percent on 50-yard kicks also established an NFL single-season standard. (Hey, we had to show the kickers some love after their record-setting season was dwarfed by the marks set by the quarterbacks and tight ends).

Trivia Answer

It’s Aaron Rodgers, who paced all quarterbacks with 350 points in 2009 before two straight, close runner-up finishes to Michael Vick and Drew Brees over the past two seasons.