Fantasy Football Takeaways from the 2013 NFL Season

We bid adieu to 2013 and the NFL regular season this week with a final edition of Bleacher Report’s Top Takeaways. Instead of focusing on the Sunday action and the week that was, we paint with a broader brush and outline the top takeaways from the fantasy football season as a whole.

We could go in-depth on each of the 10 takeaways contained in this slideshow and figure to do so with the long, cold and lonely winter months before us. For now, get a sneak peak on the detailed rehashing of the year and on the 2014 fantasy football season right here.

Jamaal Charles Doesn’t Need Week 17, He Already Had No. 1 in 2014 Sewn Up

The No. 1 takeaway from the 2013 season has to be the No. 1 take going into 2014, right? Well, welcome Jamaal Charles to the fantasy football elite.

Charles just missed playing a 16-game season in back-to-back years after reconstructive knee surgery, but that was because of choice. Charles was ready to go in Week 17, but the Kansas City Chiefs and Andy Reid decided to hold him out for the playoffs.

That’s OK, though. The damage—1,289 rushing yards with 12 touchdowns; 70 receptions and 693 receiving yards with seven touchdowns—had been done.

Charles should be the consensus No. 1 pick for August 2013, barring an injury in the postseason, particularly with the way Reid orchestrates his West Coast attack and uses his best weapon heavily in both the running and passing games.

Just be carefulthe stay at the top hasn’t been kind in recent years, but that’s for the next slide…

Adrian Peterson Failed to Live Up to His 2012 Season, or Fantasy’s No. 1 Billing

The bad news from 2013 for Jamaal Charles is the No. 1 picks in the past few years haven’t performed up to expectations the following year. Fantasy football hasn’t had a repeat No. 1 running back since LaDainian Tomlinson’s heydays (2006-2007).

Adrian Peterson was this year’s best running back coming into the season off his near record-breaking 2012, only to slump to the seventh-best running back in standard-scoring leagues. Here is the final top 10 in CBS Sports standard scoring:

  1. Jamaal Charles (295 points)
  2. LeSean McCoy (262)
  3. Matt Forte (251)
  4. Marshawn Lynch (224)
  5. Knowshon Moreno (220)
  6. Eddie Lacy (198)
  7. Adrian Peterson (194)
  8. DeMarco Murray (190)
  9. Chris Johnson (189)
  10. Ryan Mathews and Fred Jackson, tied (175 apiece)

Peterson dropped from a near record-breaking 2,097 rushing yards to 1,266. It is interesting to note that a season Peterson likely will never repeat only netted him 293 points in standard leagues. Charles’ 2013 in 15 games outscored Peterson’s in 16 games—just in case your mind was preparing a case to pick Peterson over Charles next August.

Getting the No. 1 overall pick in your draft doesn’t guarantee you the highest-scoring player, though, because it’s always a quarterback. Nowadays, you are not even picking who will wind up the best running back.

Here are the No. 1 scoring fantasy backs in standard leagues the past decade, according to

  1. 2013: Jamaal Charles
  2. 2012: Adrian Peterson
  3. 2011: Ray Rice
  4. 2010: Arian Foster
  5. 2009: Chris Johnson
  6. 2008: DeAngelo Williams
  7. 2007: LaDainian Tomlinson
  8. 2006: LaDainian Tomlinson
  9. 2005: Shaun Alexander
  10. 2004: Shaun Alexander

Marshall Faulk and Priest Holmes were repeat No. 1s before this past decade, too. It used to be running backs had a few years at the top. The past six years have been a revolving door.

So, that begs the question, who can unseat Jamaal Charles at the top in 2014…?

The Real McCoy? Eagles’ LeSean McCoy Was the Rushing Champ, After All

Jamaal Charles might have won over fantasy owners, but LeSean McCoy still has a case to make. He was, after all, the rushing champion.

Unlike Charles or Peterson, it was McCoy who finished strong in Week 17. He tailed 131 yards Sunday night in the finale to finish with a league-best 1,607 yards. If he hadn’t been trumped in the total touchdown category, you might have wanted to consider McCoy over Charles for 2014.

McCoy and the Philadelphia Eagles will have another full year to ingest the Chip Kelly system, which made the Eagles the No. 1 rushing offense in football. Kelly’s hurry-up attack has always been more about the running game, and his Eagles averaged a remarkable 5.1 yards per rush.

Having a full offseason and preseason with Nick Foles as the sure-fire starting quarterback will help the Eagles offense become even more dynamic and productive in the scoring totals. That should make for a windfall for McCoy, who will be just 26 next fall.

We will stick with Charles as the projected No. 1 pick in 2014, but have McCoy as a potential next fantasy running back scoring champion as a caveat.

Do We Have to Move Calvin Johnson out of His Own Wide Receiver Tier?

We have a debate on our hands for the No. 1 wide receiver now. Calvin Johnson’s injury-plagued season is mostly to blame, but you have to tip your hat to sophomore wideout Josh Gordon, too.

Gordon finished the season as the receiving-yardage champion, leading the league with 1,646 yards, despite missing the first two games to suspension. He also held on to the No. 1 scoring receiver title in standard leagues (221 points), edging Demaryius Thomas (220) and Megatron (212).

Gordon was the best fantasy wideout, and he had to deal with the suspension and quarterback changes—not to mention mostly shoddy quarterback play when they weren’t changing and no running game to take the pressure off.

We still would rank Johnson as the No. 1 fantasy wideout because of the talent and potential of Matthew Stafford, but you have to like what Gordon did under extenuating circumstances. It might be enough to put him among the top five wideouts, if you’re picking safer vets Megatron, A.J. Green and Thomas ahead of him.

Brandon Marshall and Dez Bryant have a case to be picked in Round 2 ahead of Gordon, too, but that debate can rage on as the Cleveland Browns go through yet another coaching change.

Peyton Manning’s Season Was Incredible to Point of Being Improbable to Repeat

Peyton Manning had a season to remember in the annals of NFL history. For fantasy, it is a season to forget.

That is because these kinds of performances just haven’t been duplicated, especially not the following season. Ask Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Dan Marino.

Manning has unified the NFL single-season-record title belt, so to speak, setting the mark for touchdowns at 55 and passing yards at 5,477. In one year, he broke Brady’s touchdown record and Brees’ yardage mark. The titles hadn’t been unified like this since Marino set the standard in 1984.

Tip your hat to Manning, but don’t dare expect a repeat on this level.

The No. 1 reason for that is age. Manning set these marks at age 37 in the twilight of his career. Marino, Brady and Brees were all in their prime.

Sure, you can rank Manning the No. 1 quarterback in fantasy for 2014, but don’t dare pick him No. 1 overall in a standard league. Heck, you might not want to even pick him in Round 1 at all.

There just are so many solutions at the high-scoring quarterback position, particularly at the top. But we have already learned that over and over again through the years.

R.I.P. Read-Option Fad as a Primary Weapon

A fad is defined as something that is temporary in nature. That is the NFL’s read-option craze in a nutshell.

The read-option quarterbacks finished last season as all the rage. This season, they created a different kind of rage: that from frustrated fantasy owners.

Colin Kaepernick couldn’t rekindle his postseason and Week 1 magic, while Robert Griffin III finished the season on the bench and barely in the top 20 among quarterbacks in standard scoring (19th with 232 points). Cam Newton and Russell Wilson performed nearly up to expectations, but neither was more than a middle-of-the-pack starter among fantasy quarterbacks.

We feel sorry for you if you bought into the hype and overrated the stretch runs of Kaepernick, Griffin and Wilson. We warned you in the preseason here.

Tight Ends Are Frustrating as Always

OK, we admit, we blew it listing Jimmy Graham as one of the potential busts of the tight end position, particularly because he was in a contract year. We didn’t miss the boat on the overriding belief that “tight end has proven to be a position loaded with risk.”

Even Graham’s owners might have been embittered this season. Despite 86 catches for 1,215 yards and a remarkable 16 touchdowns (211 fantasy points in standard leagues), Graham was good for just two catches for 25 yards in Week 15.

That week was the fantasy football semifinals in most standard leagues. That is a bad, bad time to have your second-worst week (he was shut out in Week 6 against the New England Patriots).

Graham was also marginalized in Week 10 (five points) and 11 (four points). Those represented the crucial stretch run in the fantasy regular season for owners who needed a big performance out of their star to even make the playoffs.

But enough of ripping the clear No. 1 tight end in fantasy, even if Vernon Davis and Julius Thomas had strong seasons. Overall, Graham was good enough to remain a potential second-round pick next fall.

It is the rest of the tight ends we are angry with. Rob Gronkowski took too long to come back from his back and arm surgeries, and then he went out for the year with a torn ACL. Early-season breakouts Jordan Cameron and Jordan Reed faded in the second half. Tony Gonzalez is retiring and Antonio Gates, 33, just might consider doing that, too.

If you don’t get Graham in Round 2 or early in Round 3, you should wait a long, long time to pick your tight end next year. Yes, this is a broken record, and not one of the Peyton Manning variety.

You Still Should Hate 30-Year-Old Running Backs

You scoff at the notion 30-year-old running backs can’t do just fine in fantasy football because there is nothing sudden that happens on your 30th birthday that changes your potential.

Well, how did Steven Jackson and Darren Sproles work out for you?

You couldn’t be jumping for joy at the return on investment from Frank Gore or DeAngelo Williams either. Heck, only the surprising revival of Fred Jackson—thanks mostly to the typical disappointment of C.J. Spiller—gave any juice to a 30-plus-year-old running back for fantasy owners.

Running back is a kids position, evidenced by the seasons put in by rookie running backs Eddie Lacy, Le’Veon Bell, Zac Stacy and Giovani Bernard. They put the position in good hands for at least the next few years.

The good news for 30-year-old running back haters—or even haters of the theory of them breaking down: Pierre Thomas will be the highest-scoring 2013 fantasy back who will turn 30 for next season. No one will be expecting as much out of him as they did Jackson and Sproles.

You have to continue to be wary of Steven Jackson, Fred Jackson, Gore and Williams, too, though.

2013 Running Back Class Was Vastly Underdrafted

This was the first year in almost 50 a running back didn’t go in the first round of the NFL draft. Well, it didn’t keep the later-round backs from making a significant impact for their teams and fantasy owners.

Eddie Lacy finished with 1,178 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns, outscoring the likes of the No. 1 overall fantasy football player, Adrian Peterson, in standard leagues. He won’t be alone in this draft class in getting picked in the first round of fantasy leagues next year.

As many as four 2013 rookie running backs can make a case to be picked in the back half of the first round of fantasy drafts next August: Lacy, Le’Veon Bell, Zac Stacy and Giovani Bernard. Bell, Stacy and Bernard were must-start fantasy options in the second half along with Lacy.

Elite Receiving Combos Make a Comeback

The Denver Broncos, thanks to Peyton Manning, have re-answered the question of whether wide receivers on the same team can have good seasons together. The question is whether it can be trusted to happen again.

As long as Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker remain working with Manning—and as long as Brandon Marshall sticks in concert with Alshon Jeffery—you should feel confident in drafting receivers from the same team and starting them simultaneously in all leagues, every week and regardless of the matchup.

The jury will remain out on the combos for the Green Bay Packers (Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones) and the New York Giants (Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks), but will have a duo to reconsider with the attacking Philadelphia Eagles (DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin (knee)).

A lot of things need to go right for multiple receivers from the same team to rack up 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns—only six receivers hit those marks together this year in the entire league. The Denver Broncos showed it is possible to bank on, and the Chicago Bears showed it is possible to anticipate next year.

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