By John Evans
Editor’s Note: Originally published at ChiefsSpin.com, republished here with permission.
For my final article of the season, I thought I would dish out some “spanks and thanks,” as my pod partner @TheFFGirl and I like to do on The Xs and Ys Podcast. I played in nine leagues this year and rostered a lot of players. But certain guys really played a role in my team’s thrilling victories or crushing defeats. Here is a personal, fantasy-oriented perspective on each player’s 2013, plus thoughts on what 2014 has in store for them.
BTW, much to the chagrin of the Fantasy Football Girl, I am a PPR guy all the way and that’s reflected in the stats I reference.
Thanks: Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
My two Peyton Manning teams both won championships this year, but there was another guy that got me one I had no business winning. As an increasingly brittle Michael Vick faltered, I was lucky enough to scoop up Nick Foles in several leagues. This waiver-wire gem ended up starting for me over guys like Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler and even Matthew Stafford, at least as a matchup play. In just nine starts Foles put up dynamite numbers, passing for 2,628 yards and an eye-popping 25:2 TD-to-INT ratio. Among QBs in ESPN standard leagues, only Peyton has put up more fantasy points since Week 8.
There will be some debate next year about where to rank Foles, and some are saying that any decent quarterback could thrive in Chip Kelly’s system. Well, Chip said Foles would be his QB for the next thousand years, so coaching hyperbole aside, we can probably bank on him for one more at least. The Eagles aren’t doing anything as gimmicky as the read option and I don’t think there’s an easy fix for defenses bedeviled by their up-tempo attack. Another year of experience together is only going to make this offense more potent. Nine games doesn’t put a guy in must-start, no-questions-asked territory, but Foles has earned my faith as a QB1. But he’s one that you want to back up.
Spanks: Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
It speaks to the depth of the position that I don’t have a lot of animus toward quarterbacks this year — no one really sunk any of my teams. But Eli Manning would be the obvious choice, and in a dynasty league I did burn draft-pick capital to “buy low” on him midseason (ugh).
It might be unfair to tab Bradford here because it’s not his fault he tore his ACL halfway through the season, but I was high on Slingin’ Sammy in August and even when he was in there, he was pretty disappointing. You have to wonder how the emergence of Zac Stacy and signs of development from Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey would have benefited Bradford, but the fact remains that he only averaged 16.2 fantasy points per game in his seven starts and in three of them, he tossed just one TD pass.
The future is somewhat murky for Bradford, who is falling behind the pack in terms of statistics, wins and big-game experience. I don’t expect the Rams to move on from their big-contract QB next year (he’s signed through 2015), but drafting someone to “push” him isn’t out of the realm of possibility, given their rich larder of draft picks (including two of the first 14 selections). It’s definitely a put up or shut up situation. I like Bradford’s intangibles and will be rooting for him to take a big step forward, but the clock is ticking on him in St. Louis. He’s a high-upside flier at QB2.
Thanks: Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
Obvious as hell, but I drafted him on three teams and reaped the rewards. While there were huge games — my beloved Raiders padded stats for both Jamaal and Foles, a few weeks earlier — it was mostly consistency and good health that made this RB a week-winner. In PPR Charles didn’t have one single-digit game, with the low-water mark being Week 11 at Denver (78 rushing yards, 2 receptions for -6 yards). Not bad. On my teams he paired with Peyton Manning like fine wine and Alaskan king crab.
The specter of fumble-itis was raised for rookie Knile Davis in Week 16, but he’s an explosive player who will probably earn a larger piece of the pie in 2014. Charles is still very much in his prime, but concerns about his inexperienced understudies must have contributed to his herculean workload this year. It’s hard to think that Charles will match, let alone top, his 2013 totals next season. Still, he’ll be vying for consensus status as the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 fantasy drafts. And with so much uncertainty at RB, I would draft him No. 1 with confidence.
Spanks: Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions
Sooooo many candidates for this one, right? With that in mind it has to be a wholly personal decision. To be fair, Reggie gave fantasy owners 1447 total yards, 49 receptions and 6 scores in 13 games. But he was also a frustrating player to own. First, there were the injuries. Bush was banged up several times, notably pulling up lame during warm-ups at Philly in Week 14 and then being a risky start the following week, when Detroit played Baltimore on Monday night. Of course he scored a touchdown that night and coaxed me to trust him in Week 16… When he did nothing except cough up the ball (again) and get benched.
All year, Bush flirted with disaster and spent quarters of games in Jim Schwartz’s doghouse. It didn’t help that Joique Bell was a superb alternative who earned 1-A status and may now be the undisputed lead dog in the committee. How can I forget Week 11 at Pittsburgh, the infamous “mudder” game in which Bush fumbled and Bell got all the carries at crunch time. Schwartz said he benched Bush because he wasn’t a “mudder” and Bush took exception to that. What he definitely was was disappointing, with 34 total yards.
Joique Bell is the main reason Bush is my choice here. Bush looked good enough early that I waived Bell. Joique did little between weeks 4 and 10, and by the time he had regained indispensable handcuff status, someone else had him. Gah…
All in all, despite only eight RBs posting more points in the league where I had him, Bush was a headache and contributed mightily to my bid for a threepeat being halted. Bush will be an early round pick next year, especially if there’s a hot new coach in Detroit. I’m not going to reach for him.
Dishonorable mention: Donald Brown. It was a career year for Brown and I’m glad the former first-round pick finally elevated his play to a high level, but his on again, off again production killed me. Brown scored in single digits nine times. In his last eight games, he averaged 22 points in four “on” games and just 5 points in four “off” games. I always guessed wrong, culminating with Brown on my bench when he scored two TDs in Week 16.
I still wouldn’t be surprised if slow-footed Trent Richardson loses some weight and supplants Brown next year, given Richardson’s hard-charging style and ability as a receiver. Yes, T-Rich is a more limited player than we thought, but if OC Pep Hamilton gets smart or is replaced, I expect more I-formations and pass routes to better utilize Richardson’s capabilities. The offensive line can’t get worse, which bodes well for both guys.
Thanks: Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins
Frenchy was one of “my guys” in the preseason, meaning I was higher on him than most people and he ended up on my roster in almost every mock and a couple of real drafts, too. Speaking of mockery, I got some whenever I picked him in the fourth or fifth round.
So it was doubly nice to see Garcon thrive this year, even in the chaos that was Washington, and not be hampered by his troublesome foot. In fact, I saw him find a missing gear at midseason and show a burst absent since his first game in burgundy and gold. That bodes well for next year and I think he’s got to be one of the first 12 wideouts drafted. With a franchise-record 107 catches he was more of a PPR special this year, finishing in the top 10 vs. top 15 in standard scoring.
Even with many question marks swirling around his team, I expect Garcon to break more big plays in 2014. He’ll be another year removed from the foot thing and will hopefully have Jordan Reed drawing defensive attention.
Bonus Thanks: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Going into the year, I had a feeling he would be a solid PPR play, but expert opinions were really divided on Brown’s talent. He lacks the frame, blazing speed or leaping ability I look for in a wide receiver, and there were many question marks about the Steelers’ offense (OC Todd Haley being a big one). So I was fairly skeptical. But it all came together for Brown and he was an incredibly steady play, all year long. He’d never scored many touchdowns in the past, but in his first season as the No. 1 guy in the Steel City, he’s got eight through 15 games. Brown is here to stay as a top 10 WR in PPR leagues.
Spanks: Eric Decker, Denver Broncos
I could never figure out what to do with Decker. He was a boom-bust guy from the start, averaging 7.2 points in five of the season’s first 12 weeks (PPR). Then Decker dropped a six-pointer in between 53, 27 and 36 point days, fomenting just enough doubt to keep him on my bench when I needed him most.
If he re-signs with Denver, Decker is the ideal WR3 because of his ability to go off at any time but I wouldn’t want to count on him week to week next year, unless something changes in the Broncos’ pecking order. Though he can thank Peyton and his teammates for his monster games, Decker is an above-average talent. If he becomes “the guy” somewhere else it might not be a bad thing. Depending on who is throwing him the ball, of course.
Dishonorable mention: Dez Bryant. Between the yelling and the crying, Dez was pretty good. But he gained fewer receiving yards than you would expect a stud No. 1 WR to see in a pass-first offense — 14 guys had more, including a tight end (Jimmy Graham). Jordy Nelson had more, and he was missing Aaron Rodgers for half the season. The Cowboys did become more run-centric as the year went along, but for a team fielding an atrocious defense, there just didn’t seem to be many frantic passing binges for Bryant to rack up numbers on. He was consistent (four “bad” games spread throughout the schedule) but for a guy I thought could easily finish as the second-best fantasy receiver this year, Dez had a disappointing year and finished one spot ahead of Decker in my league’s scoring.
Change is in the wind in Dallas. A great new offensive coordinator could help Dez reach his potential in 2014.
Thanks: Tony Gonzalez
Jimmy Graham’s bagel in New England Week 6 and plantar fasciitis scare led me to trade him for a package that included Dez Bryant, ultimately costing me first place in that league when Rob Gronkowski went down. Top Jimmy is King, but that incident soured his season ever-so-slightly for me, great as it was.
So that leads us to the ageless wonder. My Tony G team was in a tight-end premium league and I traded for him during an early season “buy low” window. He chipped in week after week. There were some real high points — like his 12-catch Week 4 vs. the Pats — but mostly it was the infrequent duds that made Gonzo such a great asset at the ever-tumultuous tight end position.
Three years ago, The Fantasy Football Girl and I agreed that Gonzalez was done and he’s spent those three years making us completely wrong. Sadly, it does look like he’s finally hanging up his cleats. But it’s been a privilege watching the 37-year-old put up 79 receptions, 800 yards and 8 touchdowns this year. G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time)!
Honorable mention: Julius Thomas. He took me far in one league and I turned him into a first-round-pick in another, so I tip my cap to a talent I’ve had my eye on since he was a rookie. Orange Julius broke out in a big way and might be fantasy’s second-best TE next year.
Spanks: Dennis Pitta
It’s not Pitta’s fault how many snaps he gets, or how few catchable passes Joe Flacco puts in his general vicinity, but Pitta tantalized fantasy owners with his first game back from injury (6 for 48 and a TD). After that he barely played in Detroit and didn’t do much in a blowout loss to New England. In the preseason this was a guy many pundits thought could crack the top five at his position, but it really was a lost year for him. I gambled on him coming back strong and that dice-roll came up snake eyes.
Next season Pitta should pick up where he left off in 2012. Let’s just hope the Ravens upgrade their offensive line and Pitta stays healthy.
After writing light-hearted sports columns in college, John Evans covered a variety of sports for The Olympian, a daily newspaper. While chasing Hollywood dreams for most of the last decade, he discovered that the entertainment industry loves fantasy football! For three seasons and counting, John has co-hosted The Xs & Ys Podcast with The Fantasy Football Girl and he now writes for ChiefsSpin.com. Follow him on Twitter @Evansjo5.