We say it repeatedly -- injuries suck. There's really no other way to look at it. While there's no real way to quantify it, it felt like 2017 was just lousy with injuries to star players. Aaron Rodgers, David Johnson, and Odell Beckham were the headliners but the list goes deep to the likes of Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, Dalvin Cook, Tyler Eifert, and Julian Edelman ... to name a few. That's before even mentioning that Andrew Luck didn't take a single snap this season. It's one of those things that you can't really do anything about. It's nearly impossible (and also a bit unseemly) to predict when/if a player would get injured. All you can really do is try to stockpile depth at certain positions to cushion the blow as well as play the waiver wire. Also ... maybe don't have your fantasy draft in July.
Looks like running backs are a thing again in fantasy. Sort of. It was thrilling to see this year's crop of rookies explode onto the scene (and that's without getting a full season of Dalvin Cook) as well as watching Todd Gurley rebound while Melvin Gordon continued to evolve into a more well-rounded player. That's to say nothing of the talented rookie class expected to hit the field in 2018. But this is where it gets tricky. If pure talent were all it took to be a fantasy stud, then Joe Mixon would have been one of this season's breakout stars. There's a lot to be said for offensive scheme and a player's fit within it. It's also worth noting that running backs aren't traditional running backs anymore. Of the top 15 fantasy backs (standard scoring), 12 of them recorded 300-plus receiving yards as well. Get yourself a running back who can catch the football.
One of the overarching themes of the season was the lack of consistency at the tight end position. There was Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce ... and everyone else. But what if we were looking at this wrong? What if the tight end position wasn't in decline? What if it was just in transition? As the season progressed, we started to see some newer names contributing at the position. Eric Ebron was the TE1 over the final four weeks! No one saw that coming. But there ware also a few younger players who began to penetrate our consciousness. O.J. Howard, George Kittle, and Adam Shaheen left us with the impression that they could all have a lot more to offer in 2018.
Forget everything I just wrote. Burn it all down.
The face of the "elite" fantasy receiver is changing. A lot of the wideouts taken early in drafts broke your heart. Discounting the OBJ injury, Antonio Brown was the only one who truly gave you a return on your draft investment. Mike Evans was a flat-out first-round bust. A.J. Green was a roller-coaster. Then there was The Mystery of Julio Jones (more on that in a bit). In their place, we etched a new crop of names. DeAndre Hopkins proved to us that he's nearly quarterback proof -- I'm looking at you, Brock Osweiler. Keenan Allen finally stayed healthy and lived up to the promise many saw in him. Tyreek Hill appeared to have made the leap to the next level. And ... where did Marvin Jones come from? Some of it is a changing of the guard. Some of it comes from offenses spreading the ball around to more pass-catchers, including running backs. Regardless, it's likely to spark some interesting conversations about how to rank receivers and where to draft them next season.
Early in the season, Matt Harmon and I had a conversation about considering a player's week-to-week finishes over his season-long finish when it comes to considering draft value for the following year. Enter Julio Jones. There's no argument that he has elite talent. But that translates to exactly zero fantasy points per game. As for actual production, Jones ended up as the WR6 on the season in standard scoring without having a ton of weekly top 10 finishes. In reality, Jones had nearly as many top 10 finishes (3) as finishes outside of the top 60 (2). This is fairly normal for Jones. He's been a volatile fantasy receiver for most of his career which only adds to the frustration when you consider that Jones has just one double-digit touchdown season to his name. The overall numbers continue to look great but the ups-and-downs might be a little more than many fantasy managers want. Julio is going to be an interesting discussion point next season.
Sean McVay is the anti-Bill Belichick in that he actually likes your fantasy football team. OK, that might be an exaggeration but "McBae" was the NFL head coach that fantasy managers deserved. Not only did he resurrect Todd Gurley's fantasy value but he made us eat our words about Jared Goff while turning Robert Woods into a real threat and introducing Cooper Kupp into our fantasy lives. Things were going so well with this offense that it even gives hope that Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett or even (gasp!) Sammy Watkins can be fantasy relevant. On top of that, the Rams improved offense helped make their defense that much better. It's always nice to not be on the field all the time, y'know.
If there's one mantra that's repeated consistently by fantasy analysts the world over, it's "you can wait on a quarterback." In fact, I have it on good authority that it's going to be inscribed on the tombstones of several fantasy writers. Anyway, it's true, you can wait on a quarterback. But you can also draft a quarterback early. You just have to pick the right one. This year, "the right one" was Russell Wilson. Not only was the top scorer in all of fantasy but the gap between him and the QB2 (Cam Newton) was nearly as big as the game between Newton and the QB13 (Blake Bortles). But here's the rub ... trying to pick the "right" quarterback every year is a massive guessing game. Getting a QB1 isn't too difficult. Getting the one who will be head and shoulders above the pack is a different story altogether. So, yeah ... wait on a quarterback.
Speaking of waiting on quarterbacks, there is a nice crop of young signal-callers who should have an impact for a long time in fantasy football. Between Jimmy Garoppolo, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, and Deshaun Watson, the game looks to be set up well. And that's without knowing what the future might hold for some of the rookie prospects set to enter the league in 2018. Just as we were wondering what to do about some of the aging vets, it looks like the millennials are here to save the day.
Have I mentioned Jimmy GQ? Because he's definitely one to watch next season. In addition, he could do a lot for the fantasy value of his 49ers teammates. Let's not forget that we're barely one season removed from Kyle Shanahan's Atlanta Falcons putting up record-setting offensive numbers. It's a stretch to expect next season's 49ers to do something similar but the pieces are there for this team to have a lot of sneaky fantasy prospects. Keeping an eye on what happens in the Bay Area could be the key to finding a couple of 2018 fantasy sleepers.
And one for the road...
That's as true today as it was after Week 16. We'll see you next season, folks.
Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com and a man who will need new ways to occupy his mind for the next several months. Maybe this will finally be the year he stars in his own personal production of "Hamilton" about former Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Tweet him your offseason plans or ask fantasy questions on Twitter @MarcasG. If you read all of that, congrats. He also dishes out fantasy advice -- and life shenanigans -- on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat (marcasg9)