Believe It or Not - Week 16
by Heath Cummings
December 19th, 2012

As I mentioned last week it's transition time for most fantasy owners. A majority of those that play are no longer playing. While for many that means forgetting about it until next summer, if you're still reading this column I'm guessing that's not you. So for the final couple of weeks I'm transitioning into dynasty mode to discuss what we've seen this year and how it applies to the future.

We got a little ahead of ourselves with the tight end in the first round craze (no tight end with a VBD higher than the top nine receivers or top thirteen running backs)

The highest scoring tight end in fantasy football this season is 36 year-old Tony Gonzalez, and he's outscored the twelfth best tight end in the league by 45 points. That value is essentially equal to what should have been the fifth pick in the third round. What we saw Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski do in 2011 was more of an anomaly than a trend and we overrated tight ends this year because of it.

Verdict: Believe it. It's easy to point to injuries as a reason that Gronkowski and Graham didn't dominate the way they did in 2011, and that's true. The problem is that injuries are a reality for tight ends, especially tight ends that are heavily involved in the passing game. The health and longevity of Gonzalez is not the norm, and even he had an extremely high variance when it came to VBD. While their sheer talent make the best tight ends tempting in the mid to late second round, we should be done discussing them as first round picks.

Until they show signs of their age, keep drafting Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as elite QB1s, even in dynasty (Both are currently top six fantasy QBs despite being 35 and 36 years old)

Manning proved a whole lot of experts wrong with his play this season, and anyone that predicted a down year for Brady just looks foolish. Everything statistically tells us that these quarterbacks are due to start regressing any time now, but in watching the game tape it's hard to find anything that suggests that at all. Both quarterbacks are in stable situations with young weapons and can be trusted until they start to prove otherwise.

Verdict: Don't believe it. Manning just became the seventh quarterback ever to throw 30 touchdowns at age 36 or older. Only Y.A. Tittle has ever done it twice after his 36th birthday. Yes, this is a different league today with more passing, better science and (most importantly) more protection for quarterbacks. It's also still an extremely violent sport. In redraft leagues I'm fine if you want to wait and see with Brady and Manning, but you cannot draft either as a top three option in dynasty leagues. Father Time always wins, and the odds of either of these quarterbacks finishing in the top ten of all quarterbacks over the next three seasons are very low.

Fred Jackson is done as a starting running back in the NFL, and in fantasy (33rd amongst running backs in fantasy points in his second consecutive injury-shortened season)

Jackson's career arc has been about as unique as they come. He was 26 years old before his first NFL carry and 28 during his first (and only) 1000 yard season. Last year he lit the world on fire for ten games before a season ending injury in week 11. That led to a lot of speculation as to what 2012 might be, and unfortunately it was more injury and less success.

Verdict: Believe it. It has become crystal clear that C.J. Spiller is now the most talented back in Buffalo and there's no way even Chan Gailey can argue that now. When next season starts Jackson will be a 32 year old back up running back, assuming the Bills don't draft someone to replace him. Unless there's a major injury to Spiller I have a hard time seeing him as anything other than a short yardage back in 2013.

Doug Martin is not only the top scoring rookie running back in 2012, but he's also the best to own in dynasty (17% more fantasy points in 2012 than Trent Richardson and Alfred Morris)

Despite what he just did to a majority of his fantasy owners in the playoffs last week, Martin has had an incredible rookie campaign. He's on pace to eclipse the rookie marks of Adrian Peterson and every other running back that's still active in the NFL. With Greg Schiano calling the shots he can look forward to several seasons of high usage, and he has a downfield passing game to keep defenses from stacking the box.

Verdict: Don't believe it. You know who the last rookie running back to have a better rookie season than Martin is? Clinton Portis. Before that it was Edgerrin James. Both were extremely successful running backs for a short time, but neither became the beast that Peterson has. If that beast exists in this year's rookie crop it's Trent Richardson. The fact that Richardson has put the numbers he has in an offense virtually devoid of any other threat is a hint as to just how great he could be. If you're going to bet on one of these three being the best over the next five years, Richardson is the one to make that bet on.

Pierre Garcon could be one of the steals of the draft next season (351 yards and 3 touchdowns since week 12)

How many of Pierre Garcon's owners have spent the last four weeks wondering what could have been? At the beginning of this season the question marks were mostly about Robert Griffin III and whether he could be as good as advertised. Instead, he was better but Garcon spent a majority of the year watching his brilliance from the sidelines. He's been everything we'd hoped for since returning and 2013 could be a monster year.

Verdict: Believe it. Griffin is a transcendent talent and we saw this week that even when he goes down the Redskins have a very nice Plan B. A full season with Griffin and Garcon should propel the receiver to top ten production, and neither of them is going anywhere any time soon. Draft Garcon as a WR2 next season and then be thrilled when he gives you WR1 production. In dynasty, I would certainly be making an offer for him this summer.

A.J. Green should be the #1 receiver taken in dynasty leagues next season (3rd in fantasy points this season but at least three years younger than Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall)

With Calvin Johnson going for the all-time receiving record it's difficult to say someone has passed him up on the dynasty rankings, but Green has. Green leads all receivers with 11 touchdowns this season and he is still only 24 years old. It's possible that he'll slightly trail Johnson in fantasy points in 2013 (although not guaranteed) but I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone that expects Johnson to outproduce him over the next three.

Verdict: Believe it. It's hard to believe but Johnson enters his seventh season in 2013, generally the last for receivers as a truly elite producer. It's possible that he's another Jerry Rice in terms of longevity, but it is also extremely unlikely, especially when you consider that both he and his quarterback have a pretty extensive history of getting dinged up. Green is just now beginning to enter the prime of his career, which may mean that a Johnson-like explosion is around the corner.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to cummings@footballguys.com.

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