The season that was

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As with any NFL season, there are highs and lows. Our goal in fantasy football is to not just weather the storm; rather, we try to outsmart everyone else and be the last boat left in the fleet. The problem is that injuries, depth chart moves, and benching/promotions are often things we cannot predict. So what do you do, you ask? You follow me on Facebook or Twitter, and I give you the inside information before those big-box websites announce it.

The first component to the fantasy season is the draft, a two-hour (ish) event when we pray we don't end up with the 12th pick in a 12-team league. Sure, you get the 1st pick in round 2 of a snake draft. But your best player is now outside the top 10. Being at the top-end, or bottom-end, of a draft round usually means you end up adopting a "need" based strategy, rather than a "want" based strategy. You end up chasing runs on specific positions, and take players earlier than you would have liked just so you don't get stuck with someone else.

That is why I prefer to be at pick 5 or 6 in a draft. I am then right in the middle of the pack, and can be either ahead of the runs, or right on time for them. And in the middle rounds, I can take who I want because I've been able to shore up my RB, WR, and TE positions. QBs can be found in the middle rounds; drafting one in round 1 is almost never a successful strategy.

After the draft, we move on to the 16-week fantasy season. The grind of all grinds. You have to be on your "A" game every week to ensure you not only get the win, but also get the waiver wire target you want. You have to keep your ear to the ground so you know what is going on in the rumor mill, so you can make moves like the Jordan Howard pick-up I told you about in Week 2 of this season. You can mess up the draft and recover to make the playoffs. But if you don't pay attention during the season, your chances for success plummet.

Let's take a look back at this season and see who was key to winning; who you wished you had passed on; and still, guys you grabbed off the waiver wire and will be bragging about until the start of next season.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

QB: Kirk Cousins – Redskins: Cousins finished the fantasy season ranked 4th for QBs, far outperforming his 12th-round Average Draft Position (ADP). His 4,630 passing yards ranked 2nd in the NFL heading into Week 17, while his 24 TD passes ranked 12th, and his 10 interceptions rank him 18th.

With just over 430 fantasy points for the season, Cousins was someone's MVP this season for sure.

RB: David Johnson – Cardinals: Johnson was taken either before or after Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliot, making them the top 3 picks in virtually every draft. Elliot had the best offensive line in the NFL opening running lanes for him; Gurley was a bust; Johnson, however, finished the season as the #1-ranked player overall, and did it with a QB (Carson Palmer) who was ranked 21st at his position this season.

Johnson's 1,233 rushing yards may have ranked 5th in the NFL, but it was his 77 receptions for 841 yards, and 20 TDs (16 rushing, 4 receiving), that propelled him to #1 status. If you want him next season, be prepared to grab him with one of the first two picks in the draft.  

WR: Antonio Brown – Steelers: Brown is the #1 WR in fantasy leagues, a title he has held for 3 years with this season included. Brown finished with an average of 10.3 targets, 7.1 receptions, 85.6 yards, 0.8 TDs, and 10.9 return yards this season. Total that all out and divide by 16 and you get 18.15 fantasy points per game from Brown.

Anytime you can get 18 points from a WR, it was a good week for sure. Brown scored 18 or more points 8 times this season, with the next -losest WRs scoring 18-plus points just 6 times. As long as Brown has Ben Roethlisberger throwing to him, he will be in the #1 WR discussion. At 28 years old, he has many more years before he slows down.  

TE: Travis Kelce – Chiefs: Kelce was the safety net for Alex Smith all season, finishing with 115 targets, 84 receptions, 1,117 yards, 4 TDs, and a 2-point conversion. In the final 9 weeks of the season, Kelce racked up 6 games of 100-plus receiving yards. For a TE to get 6 games down the fantasy football stretch with 100 receiving yards, that is somebody, somewhere, praying awfully hard to our God in Heaven!

Kelce took a monster leap forward this season, but the question is, will he keep it up next season? He put up 862 and 875 receiving yards in his first two seasons respectively, so the 1,117 this year is roughly a 22 percent increase in his 3rd NFL season. Kelce will be drafted before Rob Gronkowski on my teams, simply because I don't trust Gronk's injury history and future medical status.

Defense: Kansas City Chiefs: Staying in Missouri, the Chiefs finished with fantasy football's #1-ranked defense for the 2nd year in a row. Their 284 points allowed and 16 INTs both ranked 6th in the NFL, but it was their special teams that vaulted them to the top of the rankings thanks to their 1,379 return yards and 2 TDs. 

It's actually kind of amazing the Chiefs were a top-tier fantasy defense this season, despite registering just 28.0 sacks (27th in the NFL). Typically a low sack total is indicative of fantasy performance. However, that wasn't the case with the defending fantasy defensive champ Chiefs this season.

LVP (Least Valuable Player)

QB: Tom Brady – Patriots: WHAT? Stay with me… I'll explain. Brady was drafted as the 9th QB off the board on average, and in the middle of the 8th round. Yet he finished the fantasy season with roughly 350 fantasy points, and an 18th-place ranking among QBs.

For a guy to be pretty much universally owned, and started, but ranking in the bottom-end of the teens, that is LVP material to me. Brady is one of the best players to ever play the quarterback position in the NFL. But for 2016 he was one of the worst fantasy QBs that teams were starting week in and week out. 

*Honorable mention: Carson Palmer –23 TDs, 13 INTs, and 4 lost fumbles won't get it done. The light at the end of his playing career tunnel is as bright as the noon sun.

RB: Todd Gurley – Rams: The Rams as a whole were a disaster, so it's really no wonder that Gurley was one too. After running for 1,106 yards in his rookie season, Gurley entered this season as one of the first players off the board, if not the first player. Instead of rewarding his owners for their faith, Gurley proceeded to average just 3.2 yards per carry, and finished the season with 845 rushing yards.

Gurley was able to add 53 reception for 290 receiving yards for those in PPR formats. Regardless of the receptions, Gurley ranked 15th for RBs, and 61st overall. With the state of the Rams organization, it wouldn't be any surprise to me to see Gurley fall to round 2, or even 3, next year.

*Honorable mention: Adrian Peterson –A knee injury derailed his season before it could get going.

WR: DeAndre Hopkins - Texans: Speaking of disasters, welcome in the Houston Texans passing game! Brock Osweiler is by far the worst FA signing of the 2015-16 offseason, thus causing Hopkins to drop all the way down to the 44th-ranked fantasy WR this season. For a guy to go from the 3rd-ranked WR in 2015 to 44 in 2016, and not miss a single game due to injury, that is just mind-boggling.

Hopkins saw 140 targets this season, catching 71 of them for 831 yards and 4 TDs, down from 192 targets, 111 receptions, 1,521 yards, and 11 TDs last season. If the Texans run Osweiler back out there in 2017, Hopkins runs the risk of seriously being on my Do Not Draft list.

*Honorable mention: Keenan Allen –A torn right ACL ended Allen's season in game 1 of 2016.

TE: Rob Gronkowski – Patriots: As I mentioned above under Kelce, Gronk's injury history is becoming a real concern, especially when you consider the injuries are to his back. He may be a freak athlete, but back injuries to a guy who is 6'6" and 265 pounds could shorten his career considerably.

Gronkowski was always going to miss the first few games of the season, but that didn't stop owners from taking him near the top-end of the 1st round. From that pick, they got just 25 receptions, 540 yards, and 3 touchdowns. That is end-of-the-14th-round value for a guy people took in the 1st round (on average). With Brady being 39 years old and obviously not the same QB, Gronk fans will need to do some soul searching before taking him in the 1st round next season.

*Honorable mention: Colby Fleener –Outside of Weeks 3, 6, and maybe 13, Fleener was never able to put up the fantasy numbers worthy of being owned, despite being the 6th TE taken in most drafts.

Defense: Oakland Raiders: There was a lot of talk in the offseason about Khalil Mack and the Raiders defense, causing the defense to be drafted in roughly 90 percent of fantasy leagues. And while we all have to draft a defense, the Raiders were one of the worst defenses overall this season with an average fantasy points score of 11.12 PPG. I know 11 points sounds pretty solid for a defense, but that number ranks them the 22nd-best fantasy defense through 16 weeks.

Oakland was giving up 24.1 PPG to opposing offenses, which instantly put their fantasy defense in a hole. When a team gives up 24 points, that gives them just 2 fantasy points for the week. So in order to become worthy of Def1 rankings, they will need multiple INTs, recovered fumbles, or defensive touchdowns. The Raiders defense just didn't live up to the hype.

*Honorable mention: Seattle Seahawks –To be the 2nd defense taken in the draft, but finish the season ranked 10th, that makes you a disappointment. They did average 12.98 PPG for fantasy owners, but 10th place is 10th place.

Sleepers

QB: Matt Ryan – Falcons: Ryan could have easily been the MVP for QBs, but it was the number of leagues he went undrafted in that put him in the sleeper category. Did you know that Ryan was drafted in just 74 percent of fantasy leagues this year? That means 26 percent of leagues had fantasy football's #3-ranked QB sitting on the waiver wire heading into Week 1.

His 4,613 passing yards and 34 TDs both ranked 3rd-best in the NFL, while his 7 INTs tie him for 23rd. If you were smart enough to grab Matty Ice, stand up and take a bow!

RB: Jordan Howard – Bears: Howard was a waiver wire add probably around Week 4 when he took over as the Bears' starting RB. Despite getting just 12 carries for 67 yards through the first 3 weeks of the season, Howard was able to finish as fantasy football's #10 RB thanks to his 1,178 rushing yards, 29 catches, 298 receiving yards, and 7 TDs.

The Bears team will look different next season, with Jay Cutler almost certainly gone, and Alshon Jeffery an unrestricted free agent. If Jeffery leaves, Howard may find defenses stacking the line to stop the run. If that happens, we will see a Gurley situation unfold in Chicago just as it did in Los Angeles. Be aware, and beware.

WR: Tyreek Hill – Chiefs: Hill came out of nowhere in Week 8 and reeled in 5 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown. And as if that wasn't enough, he also racked up 78 return yards. From that point on, Hill scored fewer than 10 fantasy points just once. That's right. Outside of Week 9 against Jacksonville (8.58), Hill scored 10-plus fantasy points every game from Week 8 to Week 16.

I will be the first to admit that I was not a believer in Hill, even after Week 8. Because of that, I missed out on a FA that finished the season ranked 9th for WRs in PPR formats. Jeremy Maclin has been a bust fantasy WR in Kansas City, but the Chiefs may have just found their true difference-maker at the WR position. Hill fits their offensive scheme FAR better than Maclin.

TE: Cameron Brate – Buccaneers: Brate wasn't even drafted in fantasy leagues. If you say you did, I want a screen shot of your draft recap and the meta data from the picture to prove you didn't photoshop it! Despite being a free agent on the waiver wire, Brate put up 57 receptions, 660 receiving yards, and 8 touchdowns this year.

While Brate was truly a 40-50 receiving yard guy this year, the touchdowns and receptions for a TE is what did it. I like him next year, but be careful to not get a little too overzealous and draft him higher than the 6th or 7th TE off the board.

Defense: Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles finished the season as the 3rd-best fantasy defense thanks to their 31.0 sacks, 14 INTs, 10 recovered fumbles, 3 defensive touchdowns, and 2 special teams touchdowns. It wasn't that the Eagles were good all season either, but rather they were the epitome of highs and lows.

The Eagles had a season-high of 30.92 fantasy points against the Vikings in Week 7, and a low of 3.60 points against the Seahawks in Week 11. Over the course of the season, the Eagles scored 15-plus fantasy points 6 times, and 20-plus points 4 times. For a defense to score almost 31 points is crazy, but for them to score 15 and 20 points multiple times, that is just bananas.

Well, there you have it, fantasy football fans. The 2016 fantasy season is over, and we all get to take a long vacation until we start doing mock drafts for the 2017 season next week. It was a long year, filled with bumps, bruises, laughs, cries, and just about every emotion in between. Just remember, 2nd place is nothing more than the first loser!

See you next year.

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