Drew Magyar
What Did We Learn? - Week 17

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Last week, I talked about Rocky IV, drawing a parallel between the two punch-drunk fighters stumbling to the center of the ring for one more round, ready to leave it all on the line. And now, the fight is over.

I don’t know why, but I’m more excited for next season than I normally am at this time of year. I’m usually ready to relax, get into the holidays, and get into the NFL playoffs. But for some reason, I’m trying to take note of some of the things I’ve learned this season. I’m trying to reflect on the fantasy season that was, as I literally ask myself, “What did we learn?”

Stud running backs are few and far between. Not rocket science, I know. But every year, we start trying to talk ourselves into someone being an “elite” fantasy back. This year, we all expected much, much more from Doug Martin, Trent Richardson, and Steven Jackson. Martin was a second-year guy who had scored 51 of his 248 points in 2012 in one game. Richardson was coming off a decent year, but he always seemed to be nicked up in addition to being very touchdown-dependent. Jackson was on the wrong side of 30 and wound up missing significant time this season on a surprisingly bad Falcons team.

So what makes a stud back? To me, there are LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch, and Adrian Peterson. The second tier is loaded with guys I’d love to have on my squad, but they all have question marks about them. Eddie Lacy has been great lately, but he’s really blownup with Aaron Rodgers on the shelf, and I’m not sure what their offense looks like with No. 12 under center. Knowshon Moreno was fantastic this season, but will he still be the guy next year with Montee Ball chomping at the bit? Arian Foster has injury issues, and the Texans offense may be in a state of flux. C.J. Spiller can’t stay healthy. Steven Jackson is aging in dog years. Le’Veon Bell is a RB2, and you’re only really comfortable with him as your RB1 if you have Calvin Johnson or Aaron Rodgers. DeMarco Murray plays in an offense that throws the ball WAY too much. And Alfred Morris doesn’t score enough. And Zac Stacy needs to show me more. So I count five studs.

Receiver is really deep. Similar to the running back position, the wide receivers have a handful of studs, but then there’s a ton of depth. Calvin Johnson will still probably be the top wideout in drafts next year, but what about Josh Gordon? That guy is unstoppable, and he missed two games. Demaryius Thomas always seems to be in a highlight for the Broncos. Dez Bryant is almost unstoppable, but the Cowboys don’t utilize his talents effectively. And Julio Jones was off to an incredible start prior to his injury.

Then there’s the second tier. DeSean Jackson is loving the Chip Kelly offense, but he struggles with consistency. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are beasts, but they’ll compete for targets. A.J. Green is unbelievable, but he had a few rough starts this season. And Antonio Brown emerged as the top guy for Pittsburgh, but I’m not quite ready to move him up. Then there are a boatload of guys with talent that you can get in the later rounds. If you can grab one of those guys listed above, load up on backs, and add depth at receiver when you get around to it.

You should wait on quarterbacks. We said this back in the preseason, but it really was true. The quarterbacks that folks reached for back in the summer were Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Cam Newton. Rodgers has missed a lot of time with a broken collarbone, but was having a solid year averaging 20-25 points per game. Brees has been about the same. Newton has been a little lower than that. But Peyton Manning has clearly led the way, and he was drafted probably in the third or fourth round. Philip Rivers came back to life in San Diego. And if you needed someone midseason, Nick Foles blewup and he’s been unbelievable for Philadelphia. Wait. On. Quarterback.

In the first three-four rounds, don’t bet on a guy “making the leap.” This piggybacks on my earlier point about studs. Don’t be so eager to have the guy on your team that no one knew about. If you load up on a bunch of guys like that, you’ll be playing in the Loser’s Bracket come Week 14. The aforementioned Richardson’s struggles have been well-documented. David Wilson had finished the 2012 season strongly, but his ball security issues combined with his injury history should have been glaring red flags. Lamar Miller had done nothing to deserve all the preseason hype we threw his way, and we should’ve realized something was up when the Miami coaching staff said that he’ll split time with Daniel Thomas. Better to load up on known quantities in the early rounds. Instead of Richardson this year, you could have had Jamaal Charles or Matt Forte. In place of Wilson, you could have landed  Reggie Bush. And if you passed on Lamar Miller, you could have grabbed a really solid receiver like DeSean Jackson or Antonio Brown.

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