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Four Downs: The top fantasy scorer is ...

12/30/2012

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was a fantasy monster this season, while Arian Foster, Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch certainly produced like champs as well. Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson broke the record for receiving yards in a season. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots scored like the first-round picks they were, and nobody could complain about Denver Broncos veteran Peyton Manning or rookie Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins. However, none of these fellows led all of fantasy in standard scoring for the 2012 season.

Congrats to somewhat overlooked, but incredibly consistent, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees for this first-time honor. He has been a top-10 quarterback for an amazing nine consecutive seasons -- Rodgers, Brady and Manning can't say this -- and there's little reason for concern about falling short of a 10th year in 2013. Back in August, there was mild concern about Brees being able to repeat his monster 2011 campaign due to various factors (age, contract, the bounty mess, loss of coach, change in weapons), and perhaps it factored into him being merely the third quarterback chosen on average in ESPN live drafts . Regardless, with his 29 standard points against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in Sunday's Week 17 loss, Brees ended up with 337 points, tops in the game, and one must wonder, is that enough to make him the top quarterback for 2013 drafts?

Well, the case can certainly be made. After all, on Sunday Brees completed consecutive seasons with 5,000-plus passing yards and 40-plus touchdown passes, a first for either statistic in NFL history. There have been six individual seasons of 5,000 passing yards, and Brees owns half of them. Neither he nor returning coach Sean Payton are leaving the Saints anytime soon, and while arguably the worst defense ever needs a lot of help, the offense cruised again, even with surrounding injuries and modest change, just like always. Brees closed the season with three consecutive 29-point performances, and his only bad performance was in Week 13, when he threw five interceptions at Atlanta. Other than that, nobody could complain, because no player scored more.

I won't be ranking any quarterbacks in my overall top 10 for 2013 drafts. To be honest, I didn't want to do so for this season, but succumbed to reality due to a lack of reasonable running back options forcing this one-year philosophy change. That will not be the case in 2013, meaning my top quarterbacks will be in the second round, but Brees deserves to lead that group. Nothing against Rodgers or Brady since they're just as qualified -- I won't put Griffin in this class yet -- but thanks in part to the Saints' lack of defense, Brees might be the better bet to again score the most points. He's the safest, most reliable combination of top statistics and durability, and the fact that he turns 34 in a few weeks is irrelevant. Brees fell short of the NFL postseason in 2012, but fantasy owners rode him to championships, and will again.

Second down: As for the rest of Week 17, the No. 3 scorer (after the surprising Tennessee Titans D/ST and Sunday night star Alfred Morris) was fantasy tormentor DeAngelo Williams of the Panthers. Certainly facing the defenseless Saints was a factor, but 210 rushing yards and two touchdowns (33 standard points) is quite an explosion, especially considering Williams reached double digits in fantasy scoring only four times over the first 16 weeks. You could blame others in the offense, with Newton and Mike Tolbert stealing rushing touchdowns and the prolonged presence of Jonathan Stewart, but Williams has underachieved from a fantasy sense since winning the scoring title in 2008. That's four years ago! He'll be 30 by next season, and who knows where he will be playing and with whom, but it's tough to trust him despite this Week 17 performance that was enjoyed by so few, based on recent track record. We've been fooled long enough.

Third down: The top wide receiving performance of Week 17 came from a surprising place, as San Francisco 49ers No. 1 option Michael Crabtree scored a career-high 29 fantasy points. He entered the week 19th in season scoring at wide receiver, but eight catches, 172 yards and two touchdowns neatly drove attention to his strong second half. Crabtree topped 100 receiving yards three times in the final five weeks, no doubt aided by the presence of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. It's tough to justify top-10 status for 2013 drafts -- there are simply too many reliable veterans -- but Crabtree is not far from that status. As for Kaepernick, he'll similarly miss my top-10 quarterbacks, but also by merely a few spots after reaching 14 fantasy points in each of the final eight games this season. No other quarterback, including Brees, accomplished this.

Fourth down: It's typical for a Week 17 to introduce new names to the fantasy landscape and perhaps attain relevance the following season, and this year was no different. At quarterback, Terrelle Pryor of the Oakland Raiders produced 22 fantasy points at San Diego, with nearly half of it coming with his legs. Those in dynasty formats, as noted in Friday's Sneaky Pickups blog, should be intrigued by all running quarterbacks at this point, though Pryor is guaranteed nothing in 2013. At running back, Baltimore Ravens reserve Bernard Pierce (89 rushing yards), a rookie from Temple, closed well in place of a healthy Ray Rice. Pierce ran for 212 yards the final two games, and for the season averaged nearly 5 yards per carry. Rice's owners shouldn't be concerned, as their man is again a first-rounder in 2013, but Pierce will be among the most popular handcuffs, perhaps the next version of Ben Tate from 2011. And at wide receiver, Arizona Cardinals rookie Michael Floyd, with 39 standard fantasy points all season, scored 20 Sunday on 166 receiving yards and a touchdown. The Cardinals desperately need a quarterback, and Larry Fitzgerald is secure, but Floyd has the look of a future star as well. Other rookie wide receivers who starred Sunday include Rueben Randle of the New York Giants, T.Y. Hilton of Indy, Jarius Wright of the Vikings and Justin Blackmon of the Jaguars. Each will be an intriguing mid-round pick in 2013 drafts.