Patriots Insider: Fantasy Football Awards

With the culmination of the NFL regular season in Week 17, we take a look back at this year in fantasy football. By now, most fantasy leagues have wrapped up and crowned their champion… so, in this week's installment of FantasyInsiderOnline.com's Fantasy Football Report, we will crown our winners (and losers) of 2006.

Here are some of the players that helped fantasy owners win that coveted title, and others that left some scratching their heads and wondering "Why?":

Beast of the Year - LaDainian Tomlinson (SD)
Could there be any argument for why this guy shouldn't be considered "Beast of the Year"? In most standard scoring leagues, Tomlinson ranks best in fantasy points overall and has posted about 120+ more points than the next best fantasy running back (Larry Johnson). There were many questions regarding Tomlinson coming into 2006… mainly due to QB Phillip Rivers taking over starting responsibilities under center for the Chargers. Would teams stack the line to shut down Tomlinson? Well, thanks to Rivers' quick maturation process, San Diego didn't become a one-dimensional team… and Tomlinson reaped all the benefits.

In 15 games this year, Tomlinson has posted 100+ yards rushing ten times... and has seen the endzone multiple times in the same amount of games. He has shattered all sorts of records this year and led the Chargers to a Divisional Championship. Currently, Tomlinson leads all running backs in a number of offensive categories… including rushing yards (1,749), rushing yards per game (116.6), rushing touchdowns (28) and total touchdowns (31). Let's not forget that in most standard scoring leagues, Tomlinson is tops in total fantasy points, outscoring the second best player (QB Peyton Manning) by about 70+ points. Basically, he's a man amongst boys on the field and a lock on any fantasy squad. In keeper leagues, it gets no better than having LT as your franchised player.

Biggest Bust of 2006 - LaMont Jordan (OAK)
Is there really any question here? Just as RB LaDainian Tomlinson is undoubtedly the top fantasy player of '06, LaMont Jordan has to be this year's biggest disappointment. Prior to the season, many believed Jordan to be a Top 10 fantasy running back, and most standard drafts supported the claim… on average, Jordan was the ninth running back drafted overall and was usually off the board by mid-second round. And really, there was no reason why this wouldn't be the case, since Jordan posted 1,500+ total yards and 11 touchdowns in 2005.

Nevertheless, Jordan's 2006 was a disaster. After only amassing 314 rushing yards and one TD in the Raiders first five games, Jordan suffered a back injury in pregame warm-ups in Week 7 and didn't play. In the four weeks that followed, he carried the ball a total of 30 times and rushed for 120 yards. By Week 12, Jordan was placed on injured reserve and packed it in for the remainder of the 2006 season. In most standard scoring leagues, Jordan left you scratching your head with just under 60 total fantasy points… Tomlinson has the ability to post those numbers in two games, let alone a whole season.

Most Overrated Player - Steve Smith (CAR)
Yes, Smith has posted 1,000+ yards receiving and six touchdowns so far in 2006. However, these numbers don't even compare to those that Smith ended up with in '05 (1,563 yards receiving and 12 TD's). Apparently, many believed that he would be able to duplicated his success from last year, as Smith was drafted as the #1 WR overall in many standard scoring leagues (often, not even making it thru the first round). Nevertheless, this couldn't be farther from the truth... currently, Smith doesn't even rank in the Top 10 fantasy receivers.

It's almost as if the preseason hype surrounding the Carolina Panthers trickled down to Smith's fantasy value. Before the start of the regular season, Carolina was figured to be a Super Bowl contender and Smith was slotted to have another outstanding year. Yet, largely due to the demise of QB Jake Delhomme and the Panthers lackluster rushing attack (ranked 24th overall), Carolina is sitting at 7-8 (most likely out of the playoff picture) and Smith has greatly fallen off in 2006.

Most Underrated Player - T.J. Houshmandzadeh (CIN)
It is plain and simple why Houshmandzadeh is the Most Underrated player in football… the guy could be the #1 WR on more than half the teams in the NFL. In regards to fantasy football, it is very likely that you could be a powerhouse in your league with Cincinnati's #2 as the #1 on your own squad. Thru Week 16, Houshmandzadeh has amassed 1,037 receiving yards, nine touchdowns, and ranks among the Top 10 fantasy receivers in most standard scoring leagues. In a majority of fantasy leagues, however, he was the 20th WR selected overall on draft day and was regarded as a solid #2 guy. Nevertheless, the numbers don't lie… Houshmandzadeh has improved year after year since his rookie season in 2001.

What makes Houshmandzadeh so valuable is that critics overlook his consistency. In the four games in which Housh has not hauled in at least 70+ yards receiving, he's posted two games of at least 60+ yards and a touchdown (really only leaving him with two "bad" games). In most standard scoring leagues this year, on average Houshmandzadeh has given owners just over 11 fantasy points per game… not too bad for someone who is considered a #2 receiver. And remember, the one characteristic of a fantasy player that is necessary to winning your leagues championship is "consistency".

Biggest Sleeper - "The Freshman Class"
This year's class of NFL rookies has produced a slew of great performances. With the exception of RB Reggie Bush (NO), many of these players were not drafted until after the 10th round in most standard fantasy leagues… if they were even drafted at all. Many have defied the odds and shown that the long 16-game schedule of the NFL wouldn't be a factor in their performances. Besides Bush, there really were not a lot of expectations for any standout seasons from this group. Nevertheless, there were a number of rookies in '06 who rank among fantasy football's elite thru Week 16:

Joseph Addai, RB, IND
Typically drafted in the 9th round of most standard fantasy leagues, Addai leads all rookie running backs in rushing yards (1,017) and has posted eight total touchdowns thru Week 16. He currently ranks in the Top 15 fantasy running backs of 2006.

Marques Colston, WR, NO
Another Top 15 guy at his position, this rookie from Hofstra came out of nowhere. Largely due to QB Drew Brees' uncanny abilities this year, Colston has hauled in 1,038 yards receiving and eight touchdown passes thru Week 16.

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, JAX
What makes Jones-Drew so appealing is his knack for the endzone… so far, he has scored a total of 15 touchdowns (12 rushing, two receiving and one kick return). Although Jones-Drew was figured to be a non-factor because of his size, he has undoubtedly proved all critics wrong… in most standard leagues, he is listed as a Top 10 running back.

Vince Young, QB, TEN
Though he was not Tennessee's original starter at the beginning of the season, Young's will to win places him in the Top 15 fantasy quarterbacks thru Week 16. Young has posted 18 total touchdowns and gained 2,495 yards of total offense for the Titans. If you were struggling at quarterback early, Young proved to be a great option for your fantasy squad later on.

Comeback Player of the Year - Drew Brees (NO)
Now, you're probably thinking to yourself: "But Brees had a good year in 2005… how could he be the Comeback Player of '06?" Indeed, he did… throwing for 3,500+ yards and 24 touchdowns. However, you can't forget about all the sketchy speculation surrounding Brees coming into the 2006 season. Could he bounce back after a tough shoulder injury? How would he do in a city that was devastated by recent events, on a team in which about 80% of the roster wasn't even a Saint in 2005? And what about new head coach Sean Payton? The answer: Brees has led the Saints to a Divisional Championship and is posting the best numbers of his career.

With all the question marks regarding Brees coming into this year's fantasy draft season, he fell down into the 10th round of most standard scoring leagues. On average, Brees was the 16th quarterback selected on fantasy draft day. Nevertheless, he currently ranks in the Top 3 overall in total fantasy points thru Week 16. Brees, on the top-rated offense in the NFL, ranks first in passing yards (4,372), and is second only to QB Peyton Manning in QB Rating and touchdown passes among active quarterbacks. Many drafted Brees as their second fantasy quarterback, but if you were lucky enough to pick him up for your squad, it definitely paid off in 2006.

Brightest Future - Frank Gore (SF)
Coming into this year, there were a lot of good things coming out of 49ers camp about Gore… and when San Francisco moved RB Kevan Barlow, it solidified the fact that Gore was the Niners back of the future. The move definitely paid off… Gore's running style and speed allowed him to fit perfectly in Norv Turner's power-run offense. In 2006, Gore posted eight 100+ yards rushing thru Week 16 of the regular season (one of those games being a 212 yard day). Add in his 453 yards receiving and nine total TD's, and Gore currently ranks in the Top 5 fantasy running backs in most standard scoring leagues. As the leading rusher in the NFC (and third in the NFL) with 1,542 yards, the sky is the limit for this second-year RB out of Miami University.

Gore's offensive line is fairly young, with LG Larry Allen being the only lineman over 30-years-old. QB Alex Smith and TE Vernon Davis are evolving into legit players, and the receiving corps (Arnaz Battle and Antonio Bryant) can make big plays. Gore has all the surrounding elements that can help lead him to become one of the NFL's elite running backs. With the young talent on the 49ers, opposing teams won't be able to only focus on slowing down Gore, which will allow him to keep up the present pace into 2007 and beyond.

Gutsiest Draft Move That Paid Off - Drafting Chicago DEF/ST Early
How many times did you hear this when the Chicago DEF/ST was picked in your fantasy draft: "TOO EARLY!" Drafting etiquette has taught us to hold off on two positions in any fantasy draft, DEF/ST and kickers. Yet, in 2006, the Chicago DEF/ST was off the board by the end of the fifth round in most leagues. Nevertheless, for any owner of the Chicago defensive unit, it definitely paid off. In most standard scoring leagues, this DEF/ST ranks in the Top 15 overall in fantasy points thru Week 16… edging out the likes of RB Willie Parker (PIT), RB Rudi Johnson (CIN) and RB Tiki Barber (NYG). The Chicago DEF/ST has posted roughly about 15 fantasy points per game on average, which is comparable to having another running back on your fantasy squad. Many knew that this unit would be one of the top defenses of 2006, however, there was no way to tell that the Chicago DEF/ST would have the kind of impact on fantasy football it has had this season.

What Happened to…? - Randy Moss (OAK)

With the newly acquired QB Aaron Brooks at the helm, and the reemergence of the Raiders running game, Moss was set to go off in 2006. Many people bought into the hype, and on average in most standard scoring leagues, Moss was the eighth receiver taken overall (being taken off the board by the end of the third round). And then... nothing. In 2006, Moss has posted his worst season to date, with career lows in receptions (42), receiving (553) yards and touchdowns (3). This is a guy who hauled in 1,000+ yards in seven of his first eight seasons in the NFL, and saw the endzone 10+ times in six of those years. It's a good bet that most fantasy owners of Moss left him out of the starting lineup after the first few weeks of the year. Think about it… how could a #2 WR on a sub-par team like Mike Furrey (DET) have a better fantasy (and actual) season than five-time Pro Bowler Randy Moss? Yet, the thing about Moss is that he almost just vanished from existence in 2006. Maybe it was because of the Raiders horrendous offense (currently ranked dead last overall), but we hardly heard anything about Moss this year. Luckily for Moss, and the rest of the Raiders organization, there's only on more game left in 2006… putting to bed a dismal year in Oakland.

2006 saw the emergence of some great fantasy players, as well as a few big-time busts. Who knows… maybe next year's issue going into fantasy drafts will be the realignment of "The Big Three" - LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and… Steven Jackson? Perhaps Frank Gore will take over the vacancy left by Tiki Barber as one of fantasy's elite running backs. And rookie Marques Colston may slide in to the ranks of top receivers alongside Marvin Harrison and Chad Johnson. Either way, fantasy football has become a craze over the last decade or so, allowing you to root for guys that you would otherwise despise… just because their fantasy points can help you get a win in any given week.

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Patriots Insider has partnered with guest sports writers to provide insightful, expert advice for readers interested in fantasy football. This week's Patriots fantasy report is brought to you by Matt Hinzpeter at FantasyInsiderOnline.com. If you have any questions for Matt, you can reach him, or any of the other FIO experts, at TheTeam@FantasyInsiderOnline.com.

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