One of my favorite post-Fantasy-Football exercises to do is to look back at the stats of the final few weeks of the NFL regular season. For the most part, the only people really paying attention to players and stats in the final few weeks are those fortunate few that make it deep into the playoffs, and Fantasy writers that are forced to follow it. Everyone else is busy with eggnog, trimming the tree and getting ready to break not-yet-made New Year’s resolutions.
But now’s our chance to use a little hindsight to see what players impressed over that stretch, and which players disappointed. Remember Peyton Hillis’ final three games in 2010? He wore down quickly (107 rushing yards, zero TDs, 3 G) and it was certainly a harbinger for Fantasy owners in 2011.
What about Jamaal Charles’ games in Weeks 13-17 in 2009? He rushed for 714 yards and five TDs, making him a top-five pick entering 2010.
Considering most Fantasy Football commissioner services will begin clearing their league stats soon, rolling the 2011 stats into the career stats for each player, now is the time to peruse incremental stats.
Here are my 2012 Fantasy Football Climbers and Fallers:
Five players whose value swung UP between Weeks 13-17
Cam Newton, QB, CAR: The No. 1 pick out of Auburn started the season like gangbusters and never looked back. He became the ’10-Michael Vick-like waiver pickup of 2011, and many road him deep into the playoffs. He was responsible for 12 TDs in the first five weeks of the season, including rushing and passing TDs, and he was responsible for 13 TDs in the final five weeks. Can a falloff be expected? You’d have to think he’s going to regress in Year 2, as defenses begin to figure him out. But he’s still going to warrant a high draft pick – like, first three rounds high. The only people that shouldn’t think about taking Newton in Round 3 are those with players on their roster named Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Tom Brady.
C.J. Spiller, RB, BUF: Fred Jackson was the best mid-round pick of the season, before finally going down with a broken leg. Spiller, in his second year, finally started showing the flash and consistency Fantasy owners had been praying for since he left Clemson. A broken fibula shouldn’t keep Jackson off the field for training camp, but that definitely left a crack (pun intended) open for Spiller to steal some carries away in 2012. Only four other RBs had more Fantasy points at the position in this five-week time period. And only three RBs had more than his five TDs in that span. (Spiller was also targeted a position-high 32 times – four more than Darren Sproles – in that time span.)
Shonn Greene, RB, NYJ: This name’s kind of a cuss word for many Fantasy owners because of the undelivered promise we saw out of him in the 2009 playoffs. At least this season, he started 15 games and eclipsed 1,000 yards for the first time. My favorite thing about Greene is – he battles through injuries, with just three missed games in his three-year NFL career. Granted, that could limit him once in a while, but he still has a ton of potential on a team that would prefer to win the game on the ground. I can see drafting him as an RB2 in the third round, but a breakout year will end up putting him in the top 10 at his position.
Percy Harvin, WR, MIN: If Christian Ponder can continue to develop and the Vikings offensive line can protect him, we could see a top-10 season out of the fourth-year receiver in 2012. His headaches weren’t a headache this season, and he built a strong rapport with the rookie QB. He needs a healthy Adrian Peterson to take some defensive attention away, but then again, in the final five weeks of the season, only Calvin Johnson and Jordy Nelson outscored him in Fantasy. He had 36 catches for 413 yards and four receiving TDs, but don’t forget he’s a threat on the ground, too, with 110 rushing yards and another score. And only Roddy White and Wes Welker were thrown to more than Harvin among receivers. He’s the WR version of Reggie Bush … wha?
Titus Young, WR, DET: Matthew Stafford stayed healthy, Calvin Johnson dominated and Young emerged as a good Fantasy receiver in the second half of last season. He’s the perfect example of a player that turned it on late, that your opponents might not realize because they were busy visiting Aunt Maude in Maryland for Christmas. Young had 19 catches for 231 yards and four touchdowns in the last five weeks. He was targeted 32 times. Oh, and remember that he was thrown to 10 times in the Lions’ Wild Card loss to New Orleans. He’s an excellent sleeper pick for 2012.
Five players whose value swung DOWN between Weeks 13-17
Andy Dalton, QB, CIN: The rookie out of TCU showed flashes of Fantasy success in the middle of the season, with 10 TD passes between the Bengals’ fifth and ninth games. But the last five weeks of the season saw a conservative passing game in Cincinnati, allowing him to throw just four touchdown passes. He finished his rookie campaign with three interceptions in a playoff loss to Houston. With A.J. Green in the fold, Dalton has a playmaker for the next few years, but it’s tough to look at Dalton as anything but a backup in 2012.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, TB: With no ability in the passing game, and very few bright spots from his 2011 efforts, it’s tough to think good things are ahead for Blount in 2012. But the Bucs’ offensive line is the least of their worries, and former head coach Raheem Morris frequently bailed on the running game early, keeping Blount on the sidelines. A new head coach and system should protect Josh Freeman better, allowing the running game to get some traction. In PPR leagues, Blount loses value, but in standard leagues, he’s a nice mid-round upside gamble.
Daniel Thomas, RB, MIA: His counterpart, Reggie Bush, emerged as a top-15 Fantasy running back with explosiveness and ability to score from anywhere. Thomas had just 45 carries in the final five weeks of the season. Bush, meanwhile, had nearly twice as many carries, and he finished with more Fantasy points than all but three RBs. Consider him a nice late-round pick in 2012. The Dolphins’ next head coach will no doubt lean on Bush’s playmaking ability, and Thomas will pick up scraps.
Beanie Wells, RB, ARI: While Wells’ final few games were disappointing (less than 200 yards rushing and just two TDs in four games), it’s actually other news that makes me skeptical for his 2012 outlook. A knee injury has hampered him all season, and the Cardinals chose to keep him out of Week 17. And let’s not forget that the Cardinals drafted Ryan Williams (knee) out of Virginia Tech. A torn patellar tendon is not a torn ACL, and Williams should take away a large chunk of Wells’ touches next season.
Mike Williams, WR, TB: The sophomore receiver was likely the Fantasy anchor for many teams that drafted him early, sinking them to the bottom of the standings quickly. The only saving grace for Williams is that the entire Bucs offense took a huge step back. Shades of Michael Clayton have people wondering which Williams will show up in Year 3. A new head coach and system should revitalize Williams’ work ethic, but not enough to make him anything more than a WR3 gamble. He caught just 13 of the 26 passes thrown his way in the final five weeks.
David Gonos spent 5 years as a CBSSports.com Senior Fantasy Writer and three more years writing with SI.com. Over the past 17 years, his work has been published on NFL.com, MLB.com, FanDuel, FoxSports.com and USA Today. Since 2001, he has been tracking down the Top 50-plus Free Fantasy Football Draft Tools online. You can contact David Gonos here.