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Fantasy Football

The 2014 Fantasy Football Awards

XN Sports crowns the year’s fantasy football MVP, top values and waiver wire adds of the season, and the biggest busts of the draft.

Le'Veon Bell

Leonardo DiCaprio never won an Oscar.

Titanic won Best Picture in 1998, Inception won Best Motion Picture in 2011, yet Leo, who is one of the better actors we’ve seen over the last 15 years, has never taken home the big one. Now, I’m not the biggest DiCaprio fan. Probably because I’m not a middle-aged woman who salivates over his good looks, but if it were up to me, I’d have at least given him one Oscar. I mean, dude can act. Sadly, I know next to nothing about movies and film. But guess what?

When it comes to fantasy football, it is up to me.

With the 2014 campaign coming to an end, I figured it would be an opportune to hand out some fantasy awards from the memorable season. Over at Sportable, my co-host John Kerwin and I spent over an hour handing out some hardware, but I still wanted to go a little more in-depth and write some guys up. It’s always fun to do these columns, especially when the 2014 season had so many incredible fantasy happenings. We saw huge games from some unexpected players, an insane rookie class and some emerging stars hit the scene. It was a titanic season for many, so catch me if you can, while we hand out the hardware.

Yeah, I’m sorry.

MVP

This was incredibly, incredibly difficult.

MVP is always a tough choice because it can be looked at two different ways. The first is the overall best player in fantasy football, in which case, would almost always be a quarterback, seeing as the position has set records for single-season fantasy points in five of the last six seasons. However, that number just proves how truly deep the position is, so I tend to never go the quarterback route. So let’s name a few guys who make my final cut.

Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers- Le’Veon didn’t score the most fantasy points among running backs. No, that title belongs to DeMarco Murray, who totaled 10 more than Bell’s 272. However, he was incredibly good, nonetheless, as only Clinton Portis (2002) and Edgerrin James (1999) scored as many fantasy points at a younger age than Bell. His sophomore season was no slump, finishing second in rushing yards, third in rushing yards per game, and eighth in touchdowns.

Bell averaged 23 offensive touches per game for Pittsburgh, so fantasy owners never had to worry about him not touching the ball. He carried the ball 290 times while hauling in an awesome 83 passes. Le’Veon was also as consistent as they come, finishing as at least an RB2 (top-24 back) every single week of the season, while serving as an RB1 almost 70 percent of the time. That, via Rich Hribar and his excellent consistency piece. He’s very deserving of this award, and imagine the touchdowns he could have accumulated if Pittsburgh ran the ball more than 35 percent of the time when inside the red zone. He’ll be my number one pick in drafts this summer.

-Of course, DeMarco Murray deserves the same amount of attention, at the very least. He opened the season breaking an NFL record, rushing for at least 100 yards in eight straight games. His workload was insane, carrying the ball 392 times, while finishing as the league’s rushing champion (1,845 yards) and scoring 13 touchdowns. Murray also served as a top-six fantasy running back a league-leading 10 times this past season. He rushed for 100 yards on 11 different occasions, so even if he didn’t score a touchdown, his floor was still incredibly high for fantasy owners this season.

Rob Gronkowski was the biggest advantage at his position in fantasy, and it wasn’t even remotely close. His 184 fantasy points were 30 more than any other tight end in the league, as he finished as a top-12 tight end 93 percent of the time. The next highest rate? Greg Olsen at 73 percent. According to Tristan Cockroft, Gronk posted the fifth-best fantasy season from a tight end since the 1960 season, and he rested during the meaningless Week 17 contest against Buffalo. The record, of course, was set by Gronkowski himself, when he accumulated 233 fantasy points back in 2011. It also helped that Gronk, who will be drafted in the first round next year, was had in the second and sometimes third round in drafts this past summer.

Bust

Montee Ball, Denver Broncos- This was a pretty simple one for me. Sure, Ball only played five games this year. But in those five games, he was absolutely terrible, averaging a Trent Richardson-like 3.1 yards per carry, scoring one touchdown, and losing a fumble. I was never crazy about the talent around him, which was why I wrote up C.J. Anderson in a few magazines. Ball wouldn’t have been as much of a bust if people weren’t investing a first round fantasy pick in him, so for many folks, their number one overall draft pick was a lost cause, putting them in a major hole to open the season.

Honorable Mention: Another first round pick that wasn’t always there for owners was Jimmy Graham, who barely finished inside the top-three among fantasy tight ends. On a consistency basis, Graham ranked fourth among fantasy tight ends, and only had four top-six finishes at the position. That’s pretty bad considering how horrible the tight end position actually is. Graham scored about 67 less fantasy points than he did in 2013, and had six occurrences where he finished not only outside the top-10 among fantasy tight ends, but outside the top-16. He was a major disappointment in regards to his sticker price, for sure.

Waiver Wire

And then there were three…

Three guys instantly come to mind when talking about the waiver wire darling of the year. Of course, Odell Beckham Jr. is a stud, but he’ll be mentioned throughout this column, so I’m going to focus on two other guys who are just as deserving. Don’t worry, ODB. You’ll have your time to shine soon enough.

-If you were to tell me that Justin Forsett would score more fantasy points in 2014 than LeSean McCoy, Alfred Morris and Andre Ellington, I would have said some not nice things to you. But, with Ray Rice out of the picture and being reunited with former head coach Gary Kubiak, Forsett absolutely seized the opportunity to control the Ravens backfield. His 1,147 rushing yards, 42 catches, and eight touchdowns were all career-highs. The former practice squad back led the NFL in yards per carry among qualified backs (5.4) and finished with the eighth-most fantasy points among rushers. No one drafted him in fantasy leagues.

-And then there’s C.J. Anderson, who was a top-12 running back in fantasy this year, despite only starting six games in the Denver backfield. In those six starts, he was arguably the safest running back in fantasy, serving as at least a top-24 running back 100 percent of the time, while posting a top-12 finish in five-of-six starts. We all touted Montee Ball as the beneficiary of the Denver offense, but it appears we were all locked in on the wrong back. In limited action, he nearly rushed for 1,000 yards and still ranked eighth in the league in rushing scores. He was also a prime producer in the fantasy playoffs, scoring seven touchdowns over the final four weeks of the season. Denver relied on the run a lot more during the second half of the year, and Anderson proved that he could handle the uptick in usage, averaging 23.3 carries per game over his final six outings.

Rookie of the Year

Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.

As far as I’m concerned, Odell Beckham Jr. is the greatest rookie wide receiver ever. Sure, he may have finished 31 points shy of Randy Moss‘ rookie wideout fantasy record of 228 points, but Beckham missed the first four games of the season. However, through a player’s first 12 games, no wideout ever has accumulated more fantasy points than ODB’s 197. No one. Here’s how he ranks among some of the great rookie wide receiver seasons ever. Hat tip to Tristan Cockroft of ESPN, who broke it all down here.

Rookie WR

Beckham also became the first rookie receiver to ever post at least 75 catches, 1,000 yards, and 10 touchdowns in a single season. Through weeks 9-16, no one scored more fantasy points than Beckham, who finished the year averaging over 16 fantasy points per game. Only Murray and Bell scored more points per game on the season. Mike Evans, Jeremy Hill and Kelvin Benjamin were also all very good. But no one even came close to Beckham, who will now be playing in the Pro Bowl, for what it’s worth.

Honorable Mentions: Mike Evans, Jeremy Hill.

Best Value

Two quarterbacks top this list, at least for me. It’s no coincidence that both players are currently still in the playoffs, either.

Let’s start in Seattle with Russell Wilson, who was incredibly, incredibly safe all season long. Wilson finished the year with the third-most fantasy points among any player in football, behind just Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck. He was good throwing the football, passing for 20 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, but it was his rushing that put him over the top. Wilson ranked 16th in the entire league in rushing yards (849), scoring six touchdowns on the ground. Now for his three-year career, Wilson has accumulated over 800 fantasy points, as Cockroft states, only Cam Newton has scored more during a player’s first three seasons. According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson scored 0.61 fantasy points every single time he dropped back to pass, only trailing Rodgers for the league-lead. He had three 100-yard rushing games on the season, giving owners a safe floor during the games where he didn’t excel through the air. On draft day, Wilson was drafted as the eighth quarterback, on average, in ESPN leagues, but has once again finished as a top-10 guy, making that the third-straight season.

Then there is Tony Romo, who, once again, was undervalued on draft day. He wasn’t quite a top-10 passer, but Romo did rank 12th in fantasy points, but was drafted as the 16th quarterback in leagues. 16th? Highway robbery, if you ask me. Romo was especially incredible during crunch time–the fantasy playoffs. During the final four weeks of the season, Romo averaged 247 passing yards and three touchdowns per game, helping fantasy owners (such as myself) win fantasy titles.

Honorable Mentions: Emmanuel Sanders, Ben Roethlisberger, Lamar Miller.

Breakout

I’m eating lots of crow.

All offseason, I was pro Reggie Wayne and anti T.Y. Hilton. I just didn’t think Hilton was consistent enough, a boom-or-bust guy who depended on broken coverages to make big plays. I was wrong. Hilton finished 2014 as the number-12 fantasy wideout, scoring seven touchdowns and accumulating 1,345 yards, a career-high. The main concern I had with Hilton was that he wouldn’t consistently catch passes, so if he didn’t haul in a long touchdown, he was hurting you. However, Hilton was solid in PPR, too, catching 82 balls, posting at least five receptions in 62 percent of his games. He clearly separated himself as the number one receiver in Indianapolis, finishing as a top-24 fantasy wideout 64 percent of the time. He was targeted on about 21 percent of passes thrown by Andrew Luck this past season, and he was easily my biggest miss all year long.

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