And while you’re kicking yourself for not drafting these guys in the first place

Here’s a look from Sports Data Hub at the top fantasy performers at each position as of the beginning of December. [Update: Link no longer available]

We all wish we could go back to the draft and change something, whether we want to draft Miles Austin or not draft Matt Forte, but looking at the cold, raw numbers after almost an entire fantasy football season shows us many of our mistakes (and in bar graph form, which makes it slightly less depressing).

Where did we get surprised?

Quarterbacks

The big surprise at quarterback this year for me was Brett Favre, who not only joined the ranks late but also became a fantasy stud down the stretch. He may be fading now, but he still established himself among the top at the position for another year. As much as I loathe him, I’ll give him credit for that.

Jay Cutler, on the other hand, bottomed out more than expected. Clearly, the receiver situation in Chicago isn’t to his liking, and he’s not comfortable in that offense just yet.

Time will tell whether the team takes a new direction by getting a new offensive coordinator or makes a move to acquire a top talent at wide receiver like Anquan Boldin. The only problem with the latter solution is all the picks they gave away to get Cutler in the last offseason.

Cutler’s performance against the Vikings on Monday Night Football could be a good sign that they’re getting on track for 2010.

Running Backs

Chris Johnson was an iffy top running back prospect to start the year. Some took the chance and were greatly rewarded. Others warned that LenDale White would still steal all his scoring opportunities. It’s clear he’s become a fantasy force, one who will continue to be highly drafted. He’s probably the No. 1 overall pick in your draft next season.

But the big surprise was Ray Rice (even though I predicted he’d be good, I didn’t know he’d be this good). He jumped from a murky Baltimore running back situation to become one of the top backs in fantasy, and he’ll probably stay among the elite with Willis McGahee on his way out.

Ricky Williams and Thomas Jones certainly have more staying power than any of us realized. They’re still getting it done, even at their advanced age. Williams owes his scoring chances early in the year to Ronnie Brown, who made the Wildcat a legitimate threat at the goal line throughout his reign of terror until he was injured.

It’ll be interesting to see what Miami and New York do in the offseason. Ronnie Brown is likely to assume the starting duties again once he is healthy, but New York could part ways with Jones if they so choose, opting instead to ride Leon Washington and rookie pounder Shonn Greene.

In recent weeks, they’ve given Greene more than his usual number of carries to see what they have behind Jones for next season.

Wide Receivers

DeSean Jackson came up in the world in a big way as McNabb’s favorite target this season. Is it finally safe to start a Philadelphia receiver? It seems that way for 2010.

The hot names to add to the list of the elite are Miles Austin and Sidney Rice. Both were touted for their physical attributes and explosive talents, but neither had lived up to expectations, falling victim to injury or being buried on the depth chart the past two seasons.

Rice broke out this season as the Vikings’ biggest threat in the passing game, and he’ll only get better, regardless of who comes in to quarterback Minnesota once Favre finally leaves — but will that EVER happen?

Austin should continue to be one of Tony Romo’s favorite, most trusted targets, and that’s extremely valuable with a quarterback as determined to make a play as Romo is every down.

Tight Ends

Vernon Davis, we hardly knew ye. He did it. He finally did it. All it took was a new coach and a new offense geared around his ability to separate from mismatches. Well done, sir.

Brent Celek also proved that the Eagles had really been missing L.J. Smith’s contributions in recent years when injury and ineffectiveness kept Smith from playing the part. Celek’s role at tight end in the Philadelphia offense only adds to the stockpile of weapons at Andy Reid’s disposal.

Kickers

Ha, just kidding. Nothing’s drastically shifted here, but there was a lot of musical chairs being played around the league as certain kickers lost their leg and teams were forced to make a change.

This year has been a surprising one once again, at least for me. A lot of players that we’d looked forward to seeing finally made a show of themselves. It’s safe to say I wish all my leagues were keeper leagues. The young talent we’ve seen this year should be a factor in fantasy football for years to come.

So now, armed with the knowledge of what’s altered the fantasy landscape this season, what can we say? Better luck next year?

Preseason Fantasy Football Product Roundup 2009

From time to time, I get emails from folks within the fantasy football community telling me about their great products, and most of them really are useful. Unfortunately, I rarely get a chance to highlight them for you, the readers, because fantasy football talk, the heart of all we do here at Fantasy Football Fools, always comes first.

To make you aware of some of the cool fantasy football projects, applications and items out there, and to clean out my email inbox, I’ve decided to do the occasional product roundup post — starting with the one you’re reading right now if you couldn’t tell where this is going.

Many of them are products that I haven’t gotten a chance to test out. I’m just relaying the info to you. If you have any experience with them, if you like what they have to offer or if you want to take it upon yourself to review them for the fantasy football community, please, by all means, share your knowledge in the comments.

For Your Fantasy Football Draft

I know it might be too late already for some of these draft products, but if you like what you see, there’s always next year.

Free Footballguys.com Fantasy Football Magazine and Tools

Football Jabber highlighted the Footballguys.com free magazine offer earlier this offseason, but if you missed it, you should visit their free offering now before you draft. Footballguys.com provides some of the best analysis and fantasy football scouting in the biz, and if you’d rather have them speak it at you, their podcast, The Audible, provides you with more sound-bite-size nuggets of fantasy football information than you can listen to in any given week.

Not only is Footballguys.com giving away their 250-page magazine electronically, but they are also providing in-depth fantasy football tools like Rate My Team, which provides you with a complete analysis of your draft once you’ve assembled your squad. People love it. It drills down to which players might start for you each week throughout the season and where bye weeks could hurt you. I’ve enjoyed plugging in a few of my teams to see what they recommend.

For all this fantasy football research and more, visit the Footballguys.com free tools section.

iPhone Fantasy Football Draft App: Studs & Duds

I’m not an iPhone user, but the creator of the Studs & Duds Fantasy Football Draft Kit contacted us about testing it out, and it seems to be one of the good ones.

If you’ve used this app or any other iPhone apps to draft your fantasy football team, how did they stack up? The only person I’ve seen using an iPhone app cheatsheet thus far was a Houston Texans homer who drafted Matt Schaub in the third round. I’m guessing the draft app didn’t tell him to do that.

FanDraft Digital Draft Board

The first of its kind, FanDraft is a piece of software that projects your draft board onto a wall or television and allows players to select teams with all the excitement of the real NFL draft … but without the Mel Kiper — is that an upgrade?

The application looks pretty entertaining with team logos, an automated draft clock, a streaming ticker and sound effects. I’ve been tempted to try out a digital draft board, but most of my leagues are still in the dark ages — hauling that giant sheet of paper and cardboard stand into the draft room for players to select their teams with stickers.

The paper draft board for one of my leagues was actually pretty unreliable this year. They should apologize to “Steve Slayton” and “Austin Miles” (a.k.a. Miles Austin) for botching their names on the sticker sets.

If you’ve ever used FanDraft, I’d be interested to hear how you liked the draft experience.

Managing Your Team and Lineups

Sports Data Hub

Sports Data Hub is great as a draft prep tool and a hot spot for mid-season research. A friend of the Fantasy Football Fools, SDH has made some updates this offseason and exited beta this August. You can now import your Yahoo! leagues straight into the site and analyze player rankings and projections based on your own custom scoring rules.

They also offer instant projections via Twitter and a Facebook app so that you can continue to trash talk your friends and stalk your ex-girlfriends while you research your fantasy team. Just tweet “@SDHnow Player Name” to get projections on demand. I’m a fan of their work.

SDH requires you to subscribe for the really meaty material, but based on their free tools and various demos that I’ve seen, I’d say it’s worth a few bucks a month for the serious fantasy football stat addicts out there.

RallyCast

Rallycast Demo in LabAvailable in Best Buy on September 6, RallyCast allows you to view your scores and stats for fantasy leagues on CBS, ESPN or Yahoo! right on your TV screen. It’s for those times when sitting with a computer in your lap is impossible, such as binge eating … or drinking … as the case may be.

Apparently, you can view RallyCast on top of any channel, so you don’t even have to miss the in-game action — or the latest episode of So You Think You Can Dance — while you check your scores.

The app also allows you to post to Facebook and text message your friends from your remote control. It sounds like you never have to leave the couch on Sunday again, or move more than your little finger … Awesome.

For more on RallyCast, you can watch this handy little clip they put together to introduce it to the fantasy football world.

Impressing Your Friends

Fantasy Football Trophies: FantasyTrophies.com and iwonmyleague.com

Fantasy TrophiesIs it time for you league to upgrade your trophy? Or does your league even have a trophy?

In my most serious and bloodthirsty league, our trophy could probably use an upgrade, and both FantasyTrophies.com and iwonmyleague.com offer some very cool alternatives to the norm. I mean, a fantasy football trophy should stand out from all those trophies you collected by playing in little league every year, right?

It just doesn’t say fantasy football unless the trophy on your mantel contains a fat metal man in an armchair. That’s one that not only impresses your friends but also ruins your reputation at the same time.

Fantasy Football T-Shirts

You can find some of the most snazzy fantasy football t-shirts around at Art of the Fan if you want to sport your addiction on your chest. (Just note that these may get you beat up depending on where you wear them.)

I like the fantasy sleeper shirt.

Protecting Your Dough

Fantasy Sports Insurance

Playing fantasy football is risky, and I’m sure we’re all still feeling the hurt of losing Tom Brady in the first game of the season last year. But you can protect your investment in big money leagues with some insurance.

Oh, that’s right. Fantasy football insurance exists, and Chris Cooley is a fan.

If you draft a lot of Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams or Kansas City Chiefs, insurance on your entrance fee might not be a bad idea.

League Safe

If you’ve ever worried that your league commissioner spent your entrance fees on his last beer run or lost it in Vegas, League Safe might help establish that nice level of trust … by not trusting at all.

Fantasy Football Goat wrote up a great explanation of the service last season, and Football Jabber tried it out.

With League Safe, You can also collect your league dues online through their site so that your out-of-state buddy doesn’t skate by without paying when his team starts 0-4.

Fantasy Football Games and Hosts

FanSection Fantasy Football 2009 on Facebook

FanSection_FF2009HomeFanSection LogoCombining two things that fantasy football players love, playing it and flaunting your success in front of friends, Watercooler’s FanSection Fantasy Football 2009 Facebook application is a full-featured fantasy football management suite inside Facebook.

You can invite friends, get news updates from CBSSports.com and post your latest scores right in your Facebook news feed. The only knock I have on it is that it doesn’t offer free live scoring.

If you’re a Coors Light fan, you’ll like that the beer that tastes like licking a mountain has also sponsored the FanSection experience.

eCouchCoach

If you want a more custom-tailored approach to fantasy football this season, you might find what you’re looking for at eCouchCoach.

They offer custom league domains so that you never suffer from lag during the afternoon games on Sunday, and even if you don’t host your league with them, they offer a handful of useful Twitter bots to get your fantasy football fix on the go — or on the couch.

Fantasy Fat Cat

For instant gratification, Fantasy Fat Cat offers daily and weekly fantasy contests. I can’t vouch for it since I’ve never tried their games, but they offer free live scoring on your iPhone.

Fantazzle

A fantasy sports games site with some of the best rankings around as proven by Fantasy Football Librarian, Fantazzle not only gives you rankings but also a few games to test their rankings out on and win money. Isn’t that nice of them?

RapidDraft

If you always wanted to draft against the pros or just like Second Life avatars, RapidDraft is another fantasy football contest out there. Unlike the typical fantasy football league, you play in single-player mode at RapidDraft.

After buying a team, you draft against the avatars of 11 experts in the fantasy football industry. If you put together a winner, the grand prize is $250,000. If not, at least you can pretend Victoria is your girlfriend, right?

Share Your Reviews

Good luck this season, and if you’re drafting this weekend, prepare by reading our 2009 Foolish Fantasy Football Draft Kit.

As always, the comments are yours. If you’ve tried out any of the above products or have more info, please share your reviews with the foolish community.