and Bill Enright
Last Updated: Jan 06, 2011 6:54 PM
FANTASY KING: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts – The Colts had a bumpy road to the playoffs, but it was a smooth ride for fantasy owners as Manning contributed 4,700 yards and 33 touchdown passes. His 17 interceptions were his worst mark since 2002 (19), but his yardage total was a new career high, and he topped 300 seven times. He also fired two or more touchdown passes in each of the final seven games, with a total of 17 over the span. He was clearly the best at the position for 2010.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers – Rodgers missed crucial Week 15 with a concussion, but did his job getting fantasy owners into the playoffs with 3,922 yards and 28 touchdown passes. He also reached paydirt four times on the ground. The 27-year-old gunslinger should challenge for the top spot next season.
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints – Brees registered a career-worst 22 interceptions, but was easily forgiven by fantasy owners as he also generated 4,620 yards and 33 touchdown passes. He topped 300 yards seven times, with four of those coming in the final seven games. He also managed to beat the Madden Cover Curse, for those familiar with the urban legend of the video game franchise.
Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers – Rivers could not lead the Chargers into the playoffs, but likely did so for fantasy owners with 4,710 yards and 30 touchdown passes. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider that he was without stud tight end Antonio Gates for five of the final seven games and elite receiver Vincent Jackson for 11.
Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles – Vick generated 3,018 passing yards and 21 touchdown passes, to go along with 676 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, which set a new career high –- in just 12 starts. He also reached a new high with a 100.2 efficiency rating and may have ranked atop this list if he was Philly's starter for the full 16. It remains to be seen if Vick is fully a changed man following the horrific events that sent him to prison, but it is clear that he is a different quarterback on the gridiron. He is sure to be a high draft pick in 2011, assuming he is a starter.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots – “Tom Terrific” passed for 3,900 yards and 36 touchdown passes, and was notably on a tear down the stretch with 24 touchdown passes and zero interceptions over the final nine games. He topped 300 yards four times over that span, and his 111 efficiency rating is the second highest of his career (117.2 in 2007).
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Eli Manning, New York Giants – Manning was considered a borderline No. 1 fantasy quarterback at the beginning of the year, but ended the season with 4,002 yards and 31 touchdown passes. He also chucked an NFL worst 25 interceptions, but was still among the best fantasy quarterbacks of 2010 –- which is even more impressive when you consider that Steve Smith missed seven games and Hakeem Nicks was on the shelf for three. He will still probably go undervalued in 2011, making him a nice steal for fantasy owners who wisely wait on their quarterbacks in the draft.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs – Cassel ties Manning for this honor, after racking up 3,116 yards over 15 starts with 27 touchdown passes against just seven interceptions. His hottest stretch came between Week 9-12 when he fired 12 scoring strikes and just one interception, with a season high of 469 yards coming in Week 10 at Denver. He also helped the Chiefs claim the AFC West title for the first time since 2003.
MOST IMPROVED: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons – “Matty Ice” made strides in his third NFL campaign, setting new highs in yards (3,705), touchdown passes (28) and efficiency rating (91). He also registered a new low in interceptions with nine. He is yet to reach his peak at just 25 and should be considered a No. 1 fantasy quarterback for 2011.
MOST IMPROVED: Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Freeman tied with Ryan for this honor, as he racked up 3,451 yards with 25 touchdown passes against just six interceptions in his first season as a full-time starter. He did not chuck an interception in his final four outings, and gunned down opposing fantasy managers with five scoring strikes in Week 16 vs. Seattle. The 22-year-old pro has a very bright future in Tampa Bay, and should be considered a No. 1 fantasy quarterback soon as well.
STANDOUT ROOKIE: Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams – The No. 1 pick in the draft gave the Rams a quick return on their investment, as he registered 3,512 yards and 18 touchdown passes against 15 interceptions over 16 starts, while falling just short of leading the club to the NFC West crown. He stumbled down the stretch with one touchdown pass and six interceptions over the last five games, but he did enough over the course of the year to have us very excited about his future prospects as a fantasy quarterback.
HOME-STRETCH HERO:Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos – An injury to Kyle Orton lent an opportunity for Tebow to show what he can do, and the rookie rose to the challenge with 651 passing yards and four scoring strikes over the final three games, to go along with 199 rushing yards and three trips to the end zone. He may never develop into a true NFL quarterback, but he does have exciting potential as a fantasy weapon, notably with his great mobility. He proved to be an excellent waiver wire pickup for the playoffs, and will likely rank as a hot sleeper for 2011 if he wins the starting gig out of training camp.
FANTASY KING: Arian Foster, Houston Texans – Foster closed out 2009 on a tear, and gained steam like a locomotive this season as he led the NFL with 1,616 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, to go along with 604 receiving yards and two more scores. He did not slow down late in the year with a 180-yard effort in Week 17 vs. Jacksonville, and he unseated Chris Johnson as the fantasy king at the position. It will be a tough decision for fantasy managers in 2011 regarding who should be the No. 1 pick of the draft.
Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns – Hillis was underestimated as a member of the lowly Browns, and proved his critics wrong with 1,177 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, plus 477 receiving yards and two more scores. He failed to reach paydirt in the final five games, and only topped 100 rushing yards once over the span, but the wrecking ball in pads and cleats did plenty of damage up to that point to help nail down wins for fantasy owners. He is fully deserving of the MVP list.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings – Peterson broke down late in the year and failed to perform up to lofty expectations as a top-3 fantasy pick in most drafts, but he still had a strong campaign with 1,298 rushing yards and 12 scores over 15 starts, as well as 341 receiving yards and another score. Most importantly, he came through in fantasy championship Week 16, with 118 yards and a trip to the end zone at Philadelphia.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs – The third-year sparkplug out of Texas ran wild for 1,467 yards and five touchdowns with a stellar 6.4 yards per carry average, and also caught 45 passes for 468 yards and three more scores. He played in all 16 games, and proved critics wrong who thought he was too small to hold up over a full campaign. He topped 100 rushing yards in three of the final six games, and is a key reason why Kansas City won the AFC West title with a 10-6 mark.
Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans – Instability at quarterback in Tennessee prevented Johnson from living up to high expectations while coming off a 2,000-yard campaign, but he still had a great year with 1,364 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, to go along with 245 receiving yards and another score. He topped 100 rushing yards eight times, and still has room to get better at just 25.
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles – McCoy tallied 1,080 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 207 carries, and also led all running backs with 78 receptions for 592 yards and two more scores. He topped 100 rushing yards three times, with a high of 149 coming in Week 14 at rival Dallas. The second-year pro was also one of the most improved players in the NFL, at any position.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England Patriots – BJGE was likely a waiver wire pickup in most leagues outside of the Boston area, and proved to be a tremendous steal with 1,008 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Seven of those trips to the end zone came down the stretch in the final seven games, and he averaged 76 rushing yards over the span.
MOST IMPROVED: Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders – McFadden tapped his potential as the No. 4 pick in the 2008 draft, as he racked up 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns over 13 starts, to go along with 47 catches for 507 yards and three more scores. His numbers would have been even better if he didn't miss three games with injuries and we love his fantasy prospects for the future if he can just stay intact.
STANDOUT ROOKIE: LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Blount was black-flagged on many draft boards around the NFL after punching a Boise State player in Oregon's 2009 season opener, but the Buccaneers were rewarded by taking a chance on him as a free agent pickup, as he pounded out 1,007 yards and six touchdowns over 201 carries. He rewarded fantasy owners down the stretch as well, averaging 102 yards over the final five games –- with a high of 164 coming in championship Week 16. He has his career on the right track and could develop into a strong fantasy back with the rising Buccaneers, just as long as he learns from his aforementioned mistake and keeps his temper under control.
HOME-STRETCH HERO: Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers – Mathews was a dud for most of the season due to nagging injuries, but proved to be an asset down the stretch, as he generated 278 total yards and four touchdowns over the final three games. He has stud potential, if he can just avoid the injury bug in the future.
FANTASY KING: Brandon Lloyd, Denver Broncos – The 29-year-old late bloomer hauled in 77 receptions for an NFL-high 1,448 yards with 11 touchdowns after failing to make much of an impact with the 49ers, Redskins and Bears. He was consistent over the full course of the season, and averaged 87 yards with two touchdowns over the final three games. He could fade back into obscurity next season, but his 2010 campaign was truly one to remember for fantasy owners who picked him up.
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs – Came close to “fantasy king” status, with 72 catches for 1,162 yards and an NFL-leading 15 touchdowns. The only thing that held him from the top spot is the fact that he faded down the stretch when fantasy owners needed him the most, reaching paydirt just once in the final five games. He had a zero-catch performance in Week 13 vs. Denver too.
Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons – White was the most reliable among the receivers in the elite class, and he set new personal highs in receptions (115) and yards (1,389) to go along with 10 trips to the end zone. He averaged just 56 yards over the final three games, but did score a touchdown in each outing over the span.
Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers – Jennings bounced back from his “unstudly” 2009 campaign, as he reeled in 76 receptions for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns. He topped 100 yards four times in the final seven games, and reached paydirt six times over the span. He was money in the bank for fantasy owners who invested in him for 2010.
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions – The man called Megatron snagged 77 catches for 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns, despite dealing with nagging injuries for a good chunk of the season and with instability at quarterback in Detroit. All of those scores came in the first 13 weeks of the season, and he likely did enough damage to carry most fantasy owners into the playoffs.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Steve Johnson, Buffalo Bills – Johnson took a major nosedive late in the season when fantasy owners needed him the most, but ended the year with 82 catches for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. He scored a touchdown in five straight battles from Week 3-8 and is worthy of being called the biggest surprise of 2010 among fantasy receivers.
MOST IMPROVED: Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers – Wallace is TNT in pads and cleats and made strides in his sophomore campaign with 60 grabs for 1,257 yards and 10 scores. He was a force in the fantasy playoffs, as he racked up 311 yards and two scores in the final three games. Wallace is bound to be a future No. 1 fantasy receiver, and could claim that title as early as his third season in 2011.
STANDOUT ROOKIE: Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Syracuse product was a fourth-round steal for the Buccaneers, and proved to be a steal for fantasy owners as well with 65 catches for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns over 16 starts. He did not hit the “rookie wall” late in the year either, as he made four trips to the end zone in the final three games. Williams and quarterback Josh Freeman should continue to develop into one of the most dazzling aerial combos in the NFL, and he is bound to be a hot ticket in fantasy drafts next season.
HOME-STRETCH HERO: Mario Manningham, New York Giants – Manningham topped 100 yards and reached the end zone in each of the final three games of the season, with a total of 346 yards and four scores over the span. He also came close to hitting 1,000 yards on the year, as he ended up with 944 on 60 catches.
Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys – Stud was not really affected by the loss of star quarterback Tony Romo, as he reeled in 94 passes for 1,002 yards and nine touchdowns. He saved his best for the stretch run to the delight of fantasy owners, as he reached paydirt in each of the last five games and averaged 68 yards over the span. Witten was easily the most valuable fantasy tight end of 2010.
Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers - Gates was slowed by a painful foot injury that forced him to miss six games, but he impressively still finished second in points among fantasy tight ends with 50 receptions for 782 yards and 10 touchdowns. He opened the season on a tear as he reached the end zone in each of the first five games, topping 100 yards twice over the span. He would have easily held the top spot on this list if not hurt, and should continue to dominate in 2011 after a restful off-season.
Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers couldn't decide on one quarterback, juggling Alex and Troy Smith over the course of the season -- but that instability didn't hurt Davis' numbers that much, as he plucked 56 passes for 914 yards and seven touchdowns. He reached at least 70 yards nine times, and was even more valuable to fantasy owners with studs like Jermichael Finley and Dallas Clark going down with season-ending injuries.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars – Lewis increased his productivity in each of the previous three campaigns and truly broke out in 2010 with 58 catches for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns. The 26-year-old could continue to raise the bar higher next season.
MOST IMPROVED: Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions - Pettigrew made strides as an NFL sophomore, plucking 71 passes for 722 yards and four touchdowns -- which is even more of a feat when you consider that he was coming off a torn ACL suffered at the end of his rookie campaign. He topped 60 yards six times and his fantasy stock shall continue to point up with the young up-and-coming Detroit offense.
STANDOUT ROOKIE: Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots – The guy called "Gronk" quickly became a fan favorite with the Patriots, and for good reason as he caught 42 passes for 546 yards and 10 touchdowns -- which set a new NFL record for a rookie tight end. Teammate Aaron Hernandez made a big splash in New England as well with 45 grabs for 563 yards and six scores.
HOME-STRETCH HERO: Owen Daniels, Houston Texans - Daniels rewarded patient fantasy owners who stashed him, as he caught 17 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns over the final three games. His career is back on the right track after the rising star suffered a serious knee injury in 2009.