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Fantasy Football Week 16: What We Learned

Peyton Manning’s dominance assures him of being taken within the first 3 picks in every draft next season.

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning

Dec 22, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) passes while being rushed by Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) during the second half at Reliant Stadium. The Broncos won 37-13. Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy football’s championship week will leave owners with sharply polarized views of how the quarterback position should be handled in 2014.

Because yes, we’re now looking forward — not to next week or next month, but to next season.

In one corner we have Peyton Manning, who sliced and diced the lifeless hoard known as the Houston Texans defense as he put a nice 400-yard, four-touchdown cap on history’s most prolific fantasy quarterback campaign. The age-defying signal calling master averaged an eye-popping 25.6 fantasy points per game, 4.3 more than Drew Brees and six more than Cam Newton, fantasy’s No. 2 and 3 quarterbacks, respectively.

Manning, like he has been in so many 2013 fantasy throw downs, was the deciding factor in countless championship games. He surely left an impression with an unknowable number of fake footballers who are ready and willing to take the elder statesman with the first pick of 2014’s first round. He is the key — the only key — to fantasy domination, as they see it.

In the other corner sit the streamers, the dreamers, and me.

We see Manning’s unholy numbers and part of us is supremely jealous. To have such a safety blanket — someone to bail out the rest of your squad when they lay a collective egg — is a luxury unknown to most. How wonderful that must be.

A glance at the rest of 2013’s quarterback rankings reminds us of why we’ll likely never own Manning and his ilk. Value is our mantra, and many of the game’s top-10 signal callers are living odes to value.

There’s Andy Dalton, who, after his Week 16 decimation of the heinous Vikings’ secondary, finishes 2013 as a top-5 fantasy quarterback. He was taken, on average, in the middle of the ninth round. Philip Rivers, taken in the 13th round of 12-team drafts, outscored all but five quarterbacks. Alex Smith, undrafted in most leagues, was a top-10 fantasy quarterback this season, despite the unwarranted, unhinged, un-funny, and objectively nonsensical hatred of him in fantasy circles.

There was tremendous value to be had with those quarterbacks and many more who emerged as single-week streaming options. Guys like Terrelle Pryor, Jake Locker, Brian Hoyer, Christian Ponder, Josh McCown, Ryan Tannehill, Geno Smith, and Jason Campbell were top-12 quarterbacks many times in 2013.

They were hardly assured of single handedly winning a week like Manning was for so much of the 2013 campaign, but to ignore the late-round quarterback approach in 2014 — taking Manning with your first pick and being done with it — would be, in my estimation, a mistake.

Manning and Dalton: the polar opposites of fantasy football’s quarterback thinking. Perhaps neither approach is wrong; I’m sure Manning owners the world over bathed in champagne last night as they took home their fantasy league titles on the strength of their quarterback’s 32 points.

Manning’s domination will undoubtedly shift the quarterback market in 2014, leaving greater opportunity for market exploitation among late-round quarterback adherents. Manning, like Michael Vick in 2011, will be taken in the first three picks of every last 2014 draft.

  • Reggie Bush, an August riser in fantasy drafts as the Lions showed the ways in which the back’s pass-catching ability would be used in Detroit, saw his fantasy reputation reach new lows in Week 16. Benched for fumbling once again, Bush totaled 44 yards against the Giants while Joique Bell scored 31 points in PPR leagues. It was a true debacle for Bush owners, as evidenced by the spate of tweets promising — with so many expletives — never again to invest in Reggie. This should suppress Bush’s 2014 stock, barring a mass forgiving of his fake football sins. I think he’ll be a significant value next season.
  • Related to Bush’s title week woes: we’re going to see Manning and a bunch of wide receivers go early and often in the first couple rounds of 2014 drafts. Prepare yourself to see the likes of Calvin Johnson, Josh Gordon, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Green, Antonio Brown, Jordy Nelson, and Dez Bryant fly off the draft board during the first 20 picks. A willingness to cut across the grain of conventional wisdom can pay huge dividends, as those who took receivers while league mates scrambled for running backs in 2013 know very well. Be bearish when others are bullish, and vice versa, as many smart people have preached.
  • We learned, once more, how delightful it can be to leech off the value of the game’s elite signal callers. Eric Decker was fantasy’s top-scoring receiver in Week 16, torching the Houston secondary for 131 yards and two scores. Decker, despite a late-season swoon, finished as fantasy’s ninth highest scoring wide receiver, six spots behind teammate Demaryius Thomas. Let’s not forget that Wes Welker was among the five highest scoring receivers for much of the season, and that Julius Thomas — un-drafted in August — scored the third-most points among tight ends. Late-round quarterback adherents can have nice things too. We can benefit indirectly from elite quarterback production.
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