San Diego RB Ryan Matthews never got on track after an early season injury and failed to follow up a big 2011 with much success in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
The NFL regular season is officially over, which means the fantasy season is officially over (unless you're in a postseason fantasy league, which, you know, is cool...I guess).
That leaves us with seven months to analyze, assess and understand the season the just happened. By July next year, we'll have full list of sleepers, breakout candidates and busts (some of which might actually be correct).
But for now, we're just going to focus on the most and least valuable players at each offensive position from 2012, taking into account overall performance and relative draft position/expectations.
MVP: Robert Griffin III, Redskins. Griffin only ranks seventh in fantasy points among QBs – and he missed a key game in the fantasy playoffs because of injury – but it's unlikely that any quarterback provided more bang for your buck. Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan scored more points and also provided excellent value, but Griffin was likely taken at least three rounds after them. Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson might have provided more overall value considering how much later they were drafted than Griffin, but RGIII shined from Day 1 and was a no-doubt, every-week starter, something that can't be said for this year's other two prized rookie signal-callers. Owners will be worried about a “sophomore slump” in 2013, but just like Cam Newton last year, Griffin looks like the real deal. Honorable mentions: Tony Romo and Andy Dalton.
LVP: Matthew Stafford, Lions. This (dis)honor could easily go to Michael Vick or Eli Manning, especially when you consider that Stafford finished the year as a top-11 fantasy QB. But Stafford, who was likely drafted in the early second round in most leagues, was still a disappointment, and he was inconsistent virtually all season, which is best shown by his point totals from Week 7-Week 12: 16.6, 37.3, 11.2, 30.5, 11.8, 30.3. It was easy to get in a cycle where you were benching him during his good weeks and playing him during his bad weeks. Stafford still has the potential to be a top-three fantasy QB, but he'll need another receiving threat to emerge opposite Calvin Johnson and he'll need to be more reliable. Dishonorable mentions: Philip Rivers and Jay Cutler.
MVP: Adrian Peterson, Vikings. If we really wanted to get technical in regards to who provided the most value relative to their draft position, we'd probably have to go with Washington's Alfred Morris, but let's face it -- this has to be Peterson. There isn't much left to say about Peterson's incredible season, but it's clear that he was in a class by himself this year. The fact that was available in the third round of many fantasy drafts makes his performance all the more sweet for his owners – and all the more gut-wrenching for everyone else who passed on him. It's worth noting that Peterson wasn't the only player who had an incredible recovery from a torn ACL. Jamaal Charles and Knowshon Moreno also suffered that injury last season (though much earlier than Peterson), and both also excelled this year. Owners shouldn't expect these types of results from every player coming off a serious injury, but perhaps we don't need to be as cautious on draft day as we've been in the past. Honorable mentions: Doug Martin, C.J. Spiller and Stevan Ridley.
LVP: Ryan Mathews, Chargers. This could go to any of the high-round backs who missed extended time because of injury (Darren McFadden, DeMarco Murray, Maurice Jones-Drew), but at least those guys had some good games when they were healthy. Mathews had just one game with more than 9.3 fantasy points all season, and his yards per touch dropped from 5.7 last year to 4.3 this year. He missed four games for the second time in his three-year career, as he somehow managed to break both collarbones, and he's missed at least two games in all three seasons. What's funny, though, is that after all this, Mathews will likely be a good value pick in next year's draft, as anyone who's had him in the past won't want anything to do with him. Look for him in the late-third or early-fourth round. Dishonorable mentions: Fred Jackson and Donald Brown.
MVP: Brandon Marshall, Bears. Wide receiver is the toughest position to evaluate. Inevitably, there are always some low-round picks and/or undrafted guys that become borderline WR1s (Randall Cobb, Cecil Shorts) or guys who were drafted as WR2s or WR3s who perform well above expectations (Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker). Plus, almost every player, even the very best, have a couple games where they do virtually nothing. That's a big reason why we're going with Marshall over Calvin Johnson, who actually led all receivers in fantasy points. While Johnson had an amazing and historic season, he had three games with fewer than 5.5 fantasy points. Marshall only had two, one of which came in Week 17. Johnson did have one more double-digit game than Marshall, but the fact that Megatron went as high as fourth overall in some drafts and Marshall was probably taken in either the late-second or early-third round gave Marshall just a little more value. If not for a fluky lack of touchdwons, Johnson would have ran away with this award, and that's why he should still be the No. 1 receiver taken next season. Honorable mentions: Vincent Jackson and Reggie Wayne.
LVP: Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals. It's not Fitzgerald's fault that he had such a disappointing season, but that really doesn't matter to fantasy owners who invested a second-round pick in him. We know that he's one of the most talented WRs in the NFL, and with just halfway-decent QB play, he'll be back among the fantasy elite. After all, he was the No. 5 receiver in 2011 and didn't exactly have any future Pro Bowlers throwing to him. Still, Fitzgerald's nightmare season included eight games with fewer than 3.3 fantasy points and only five games where he hit double digits. He'll likely come at a discount on draft day next season, so take advantage. Dishonorable mentions: Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings.
MVP: Tony Gonzalez, Falcons. Like receiver, tight end is usually a volatile position throughout the year, with guys emerging and disappearing every other week (think Brandon Myers, Dennis Pitta, Martellus Bennett and even Kyle Rudolph). At least fantasy owners can always count on Gonzalez – even though they want to write him off every season because he's “old and boring.” Gonzalez just keeps producing, and this year was no different, as he actually entered Week 17 as the top-ranked fantasy tight end and finished third overall. The 36-year-old future Hall-of-Famer has said that he will likely retire after this season, but if he's back next year, fantasy owners shouldn't continue to doubt him. Honorable mentions: Heath Miller and Jason Witten.
LVP: Aaron Hernandez, Patriots. Hernandez gets this dishonor by virtue of essentially missing seven games because of an ankle injury. He was decent while on the field, particularly in Weeks 13-15 when he averaged 14.2 fantasy points per contest, but it still feels like a lost season. You could argue that his running mate, Rob Gronkowski, and even Jimmy Graham also disappointed relative to their lofty draft positions, but they both still finished one-two among fantasy TEs. Hernandez finished just 16th. The talent is there for a major breakout next year, but owners might be a little more leery of New England's “other” tight end. Dishonorable mentions: Antonio Gates, Vernon Davis and Jermichael Finley.
Matt Lutovsky is a fantasy football writer for Sporting News' Fantasy Source. You can read more of his work on the Fantasy Source football homepage.