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?

Bye, Bye Ronnie Brown: Foot injury takes RB to IR

The Miami Dolphins have placed Ronnie Brown on IR with a foot injury to end his season. Adam Schefter filed the story this afternoon, and ESPN now has the official word. Apparently, his foot injury was much more serious than we all feared.

What does this mean for the Miami Wildcat?

“Who knows? May not even run it,” a coy Sparano said. “Never know.”

But don’t order your coffins yet, fantasy owners. There’s still hope, right? Even though this is most definitely now your fault.

Well, there’s always Ricky Williams, who now assumes the duties as starting running back. With increased carries, we can’t expect him to take over both Ronnie Brown’s and his own production, becoming some sort of “double your pleasure, double your fun” bargain back, but it’ll be something more than what he’s doing for owners right now.

Williams has already had his fair share of big days even while sharing with Brown, and for at least the next two weeks, he gets to run the ball against the Panthers and the Bills. No complaints there.

Even if the Miami offense takes a step back without Brown’s Wildcat wrinkles and burst, Williams should be an adequate replacement. Plus, there’s no frustration when the other part of the RBBC gets all the touchdowns, right?

Well, if that didn’t get you smiling, you probably didn’t get Williams as a handcuff or backup to Brown this season. It’s okay. I wouldn’t have done it either. But you got options, kid.

You do have the good fortune of losing your starting running back when a great deal of the best running backs in fantasy went down with injury and left replacements littering the waiver wire.

Bernard Scott would be the most lucrative grab of the multitude available out there, but only if Cedric Benson ends up missing time (and if Larry Johnson really does just ride the bench as depth). My gut feeling is that Benson misses at least one game.

The Bengals could at least do us a favor and hold him out a week for the sake of keeping him fresh. It’s only the Raiders after all, and then the Browns, and then the Lions…

Yeah, Scott’s a good grab.

And if you can’t get your hands on him for a one-week tour of duty, try to seek out Beanie Wells, Jamaal Charles, or Jason Snelling. Wells and Charles, in particular, have two of the best playoffs schedules around.

So don’t punch your ticket to miss the playoffs…yet. Just remember the good times you had with Brown–two-touchdown days against the Colts, the Bills, and the Jets, and those fall days when he didn’t just walk beside you. He carried you.

I think I just got something in my eye.

Foolish Thoughts: Wherefore art thou Patriots?

These Patriots are clearly not the same team that we expected to see back on the field with Brady’s return.

When New England traded Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders, it proved one thing: Bill Belichick will do anything for a first round draft pick. Draft picks are like crack to him. Belichick cannot refuse. If you gave him enough first round picks, he’d probably give away Tom Brady and his own kidney. Maybe two kidneys.

While that 2011 pick looks delicious right now, the Patriots defense does not. Belichick couldn’t have planned on losing Jerod Mayo in the first game of the season, but he certainly knew that the defense would suffer without Mike Vrabel, traded to Kansas City, and Richard Seymour. The new blood on defense hasn’t found their rhythm yet this season, and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez capitalized on their failings in Week 2.

Belichick seems to have an uncanny ability to find spare parts and plug them in as exact clones of the starters he has in place — *cough* Julian Edelman *cough* — but the team as a whole can’t get back to 2007 form.

Tom Brady hasn’t been getting the same zip on his passes, and the Jets’ Darrelle Revis was an absolute stud against Randy Moss, much like he was against Andre Johnson in Week 1. It might be time to sit your stud wide receiver when he faces the Jets.

Should you abandon your Patriots? No, of course not. As long as they aren’t playing the Jets defense, the Patriots offense should still create fantasy stars.

But if you drafted the New England defense with the expectation that they would enjoy a healthy dose of turnovers once Brady forced opponents into a throwing match, you might need to look for a second option.

Speaking of teams playing out of character
In the midst of the Titans-Texans score-a-thon, it was obvious to everyone watching that Chris Johnson is the Titan’s offense. The Titans rode the wave of that undefeated streak last year off the play of their excellent defense, which has lost the ability to generate a pass rush without Albert Haynesworth and exposed some holes in the secondary.

Maybe Kerry Collins is the problem. Maybe his time has come, or maybe I just give Vince Young too much credit. Without a doubt, the Titans are going to need some creativity on offense.

Maybe they can just direct snap to Chris Johnson and call it a day. My fantasy team would be completely cool with that. Completely.

One rib shy of the rack
Matt Hasselbeck took a big hit that knocked him out of his game this week, but it looks like he’ll be okay. It was just a broken rib, and it’s not like he has a history of injury or anything… Oh, wait, this could be a problem.

Discharged
The Chargers defense lost Shawne Merriman again at the end of yesterday’s game against the Ravens to a groin strain, but the bigger blow was the loss of Jamal Williams this week. Without him in the middle of the defense, the Chargers might run into some trouble.

Are things coming together in a perfect storm for Philip Rivers owners? He just might have to carry the Chargers for a few weeks.

The Wildcat comes to special teams
Maybe that’s why they list Sage Rosenfels as the third quarterback, eh? Sneaky Brad Childress…

Have you seen the Green Bay bomber?
Greg Jennings, where did you go? He checked out of the Bengals game Casper-style, but I don’t think Aaron Rodgers will let that happen again if the Packers want to keep that offense on the right track.

Breaking ankles
With this week’s sprained ankle for Brian Westbrook and last week’s sprained ankle for L.T., we could be looking at a season of Darren Sproles and LeSean McCoy pretty soon. Waiver wire accordingly.

At the closing Bell
Mike Bell may have lost his hold on the running back job in New Orleans by spraining his own MCL Sunday. It was too good to be true, but we’ll have to wait until the final diagnosis to see if Bell was just a two-week waiver wire savior.

Pierre Thomas owners certainly wouldn’t mind Bell being removed from the competition.

Even after two weeks of play, we’re still not quite sure who some of these teams are. Are the Jags the worst team in football? Are the 49ers really going to smashmouth their way to an NFC West title? Is Cadillac Williams a member of the undead, come back to own the running game in Tampa Bay? I guess we’ll see.

As always, the comments are yours.

Michael Vick signs with Eagles, playing tight end?

When you think about it, an eagle is just an older, more mature cousin to the falcon. I guess once you’re a bird, you’re always a bird.

Michael Vick finally landed in Philadelphia after an offseason of speculation. The most recent rumors had him signing with the Patriots or Bills, but the Eagles jumped to work out a deal this week after current backup quarterback Kevin Kolb went down with a knee injury.

The Eagles expect Kolb to return “in about a week,” but his injury along with all the other freak injuries the Eagles have had in camp may have urged them to err on the side of caution and add more depth with Vick. Current statements from McNabb and Andy Reid suggest there is no threat to McNabb’s starting job or Kolb’s backup role, but if that is the case, how will Vick be involved in this offense?

One theory out there has him slotted as a tight end, but can you really believe what you hear on TMZ? It’s an interesting proposal, nonetheless, since playing Vick at tight end would keep him on the roster each week without unseating Kolb or McNabb and allow for some creative playcalling with Vick, McNabb and Brian Westbrook on the field at the same time.

From a fantasy perspective, getting him on the field more can only serve to increase his value. If put on a shelf as a backup quarterback or used only in a Wildcat role, Vick’s fantasy stock would be nothing more than as a late flier in your drafts this season. As a tight end, he might really be worth something.

We know that the Eagles are in “win now” mode this year. McNabb isn’t getting any younger and Philly fans have tasted blood too often not to have made it to a Super Bowl in recent years. Three weapons in the backfield may be the surest way to guarantee they make it as far as possible this season even if their defense comes up shorter than expected without their starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley or Brian Dawkins’ leadership.

On less of a fantasy note, the reactions to the Vick signing have been mixed. The NFL’s tweeting players seem excited, but some NFL fans are having a hard time accepting the news. When it comes to Philly fans, every single one of them that types in all caps seems to like this decision.

How good will Pat White be?

Now that that the 2009 NFL Draft has come to and end and Mel Kiper Jr.’s hair has been safely removed and returned to its storage locker in Guantanamo Bay, the fantasy football world has to slot, rank and file the rookies of 2009 based on their expected fantasy impact.

But when it comes to classifying Pat White, he just doesn’t fit.

White was one of the most talented rushing quarterbacks college football has ever seen, and he holds the NCAA record for career rushing yards by a quarterback with 4,385 yards.

All eyes are on White to takeover the Ronnie Brown role in the Dolphins’ Wildcat formation. A gimmick play that turned into an offense against the New England Patriots last season, the Wildcat has its doubters heading into 2009. With an entire offseason to game against it, defenses should be able to stop most of the single-wing offenses they’ll see this year.

Would Bill Parcells, proving himself as a master of rebuilding franchises, draft Pat White as high as he did just to have White star in his Wildcat? I don’t think so. And neither do many of the draft analysts out there.

Along with his rushing records, White was also a pretty good all-around quarterback. His record as West Virginia’s starter was 34-8, the best of any WVU quarterback and more victories than all but five quarterbacks ever to play in the NCAA. He is the only quarterback to win four bowl games as a starter in Football Bowl Subdivision history, and he joins an elite club in NCAA history as one of eight athletes to rush for 200 yards and pass for 200 yards in a single game.

Determined to play at quarterback at the pro level, White almost refused to run any sort of wide receiver drills before the draft. He caved only once and then never did it again. Apparently, teams didn’t need to be convinced since many still had him ranked highly on their draft boards.

While Pat White may be listed on the roster as a wide receiver in his first season and see some time in the slot, he might just have a shot at the starting gig in Miami. He was the MVP of the 2009 Senior Bowl at that position after all. Chad Henne, be warned.

For dynasty and keeper leagues, ranking Pat White is a real problem. Is he a gimmick player like Devin Hester before Hester became a starting receiver, a player who never lives up to his role as a full-time fantasy starter? Or is he the quarterback of the future in Miami and someone who can generate points immediately as a slot receiver?

At this point, we don’t even know what position he’ll play, but his role should become clear after his rookie workouts this weekend, closed to the public. It’s turning into a big story and intel should be plentiful out of Miami.

Where do we rank Pat White? How big will he be in 2009 and beyond? Let the debate begin. Drop your take in the discussion thread below.

A-11 Offense: The Next Wildcat?

Deadspin’s Rick Chandler exposed this devil-spawn offense to the jaw-dropping masses this summer — the A-11, two quarterbacks in the backfield causing chaos for opposing defenses.

The real debate with A-11 was whether a kicking formation was a legal offense. Should high school teams should be able to “gimmick” their way into the win column? Despite its haphazard ways, A-11 seems to do the job and keeps things interesting.

NCAA rules limit the use of the A-11 formation in college football, but given the popularity of “Wildcat” plays last season after the Miami Dolphins torched the New England Patriots with Ronnie Brown, how long is it going to be before this offensive scheme saves the Detroit Lions? And perhaps your fantasy team?

The A-11 Explained

The A-11 offense is actually a scrimmage-kick formation using two quarterbacks, two tight ends, one center and six potential receivers. As long as one quarterback lines up more than seven yards deep, there’s no need for those fatties on the offensive line to take the field.

From A11Offense.com:

The A-11 Offense (All Eleven Players Potentially Eligible) is an innovative new offense that blends aspects of almost every type of offense in the history of football such as the West Coast, Spread Option, Run and Shoot, Shotgun Zone Fly, Wing-T, Single Wing, Notre Dame Box, Triple Option and Veer just to name a few. Teams can use the A-11 as a “package” to supplement their own offense & feature up to eleven players as potential threats, and even two quarterbacks in the shotgun!

When the ball gets snapped, the quarterback is on his own — except for the other quarterback, of course. The two quarterbacks keep the defense at bay by splitting the field and moving the ball. If you need a visual, Deadspin’s got one for you, and you can read all about the offense and its California-dreamin’ co-creators Piedmont High coaches Kurt Bryan and Steve Humphries

Is it the wave of the future? Maybe. But it’s definitely the hottest thing to hit high school sports since Allison Stokke.

NFL Impact

The “Wildcat” was the experimental stepchild of every NFL coach after Miami’s offensive coordinator Dan Herring, who had experimented with the concept in Carolina with DeAngelo Williams in 2006, and quarterbacks coach David Lee, who was the offensive coordinator at Arkansas in 2007 when they were running the “WildHog” formation with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, unleashed it full force against the Patriots with Ronnie Brown.

The A-11 could not only have a similar rise to prominence within the NFL, it could also make fantasy football a much different affair.

As Bryan points out in his blog, the athletes are getting faster and more suited to a wide open, speedy offense. The formation protects athletes and gives smaller schools a chance to compete at the high school level. What if it could save a rebuilding franchise or two?

The biggest danger is leaving highly-paid quarterbacks exposed, but if your offensive line is already doing a lot of that, there’s not much harm in designing a few A-11 plays to see what happens.

Obviously, the Lions come to mind, but teams like the St. Louis Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars, who had all kinds of issues at the line of scrimmage this year, might help themselves out by adding some A-11 formations to the playbook.

If teams deep with receiver talent like the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals adopted it, the A-11 could cause devastation for a few plays.

Maybe it’s time the Lions signed Michael Vick and threw Vick and a quarterback of the future from the draft or their roster onto the field in the A-11. Vick would add the run threat to the offense and a veteran presence while a younger quarterback could develop.

Fantasy Impact

While good for struggling NFL franchises, the A-11 is not such a welcome change for fantasy owners.

These wrinkles added into the offense increase the number of players touching the ball even if they do make the offense more explosive. That means fantasy owners will have more wide receivers to track and more options for their roster each week who will only be getting a portion of the stats.

The A-11 could make it practically impossible to know which of six receivers is going to be the most effective on any given Sunday. The offenses could generate more yards and points while also involving more players.

In short, we might all be screwed. The A-11 is offensive chaos, but it’s the good kind of chaos, just like your first Mardi Gras…right?

How scared are you right now?