Football season provided surprises, both good, bad



December 29, 2005|By CHILDS WALKER

Another fantasy football season ends and we enter those bleak two months before pitchers and catchers report and preparations for fantasy baseball can begin.

But it's not time to get somber yet (maybe next week), so let's look back at a fun season and celebrate the biggest achievers. May those of you who won titles last weekend or are playing for them this weekend read along with particular glee.

Fantasy Most Valuable Player: Shaun Alexander

This turned into a no-brainer as Alexander, picked second overall in many drafts, produced one of the most productive running seasons in NFL history. You want yards? He's leading the league. You want touchdowns? He tied the NFL record with his 27th last week. You want big plays? He's averaged 5.2 yards a carry and broke an 88-yarder in Week 9. You want consistency? He's gone over 100 yards in 11 of 15 games and scored in all but two.

It's the last fact that made Alexander so valuable. He gave his owners an anchor every week.

Honorable mention goes to Larry Johnson, who didn't become Kansas City's full-time starter until Week 9 but emerged as the most productive runner down the stretch. Johnson has rushed for 100 or more yards in eight straight games and has scored in all but one of those. He became a special treat for owners who picked him in the late rounds or snagged him off the waiver wire. Johnson probably provided more bang for your buck than Alexander, who was a first-round pick in most leagues.

Golden Arm (best quarterback): Carson Palmer

It's hard to pick against Peyton Manning, but for week-to-week production, no quarterback matched Cincinnati's Palmer. The third-year star ranks second in yards and first in touchdowns and had only one bad game all season. Like Johnson, he provided great value because he was a middle-to-late-round pick in many leagues.

Palmer looks tremendous in the flesh as well, effortlessly making every throw an NFL passer needs to make. He should rank near the top of the quarterback list for years to come.

Jerry Rice's Heir (best receiver): Steve Smith

It wasn't a great year for receivers as Randy Moss flopped in Oakland and Terrell Owens' talent couldn't overcome his nature. In fact, no one could rightly be called an heir to the greatest receiver of all time, who finally retired this year.

But Smith is first in receiving yards and second in touchdown catches after missing 15 games to injury last season. Huzzahs to those who pegged him as a sleeper. Smith provided great value from the middle rounds. Honorable mention goes to Chad Johnson, whose end-zone gyrations sum up the stick-it-to-them joy fantasy owners feel at defeating a hated (ok, not really hated) rival.

Kellen Winslow Award for Tight End Preeminence: Antonio Gates

We all loath picking tight ends. They represent uninteresting sameness. But Gates represents something else entirely, a combination of size, speed and grace that has the feel of an evolutionary leap. A tight end in the second round? Owners will at least think about it next year, because Gates gives you top-receiver numbers at a barren position.

Brian Bosworth Biggest Bust: Daunte Culpepper

A lot of competition for this one. The aforementioned Moss and Owens are candidates, but we knew they were crazy coming in. Baltimore's own Jamal Lewis sank plenty of teams, but we also know heavily used runners can break down suddenly. No player proved quite as shocking a disappointment as Culpepper.

He and Manning were so dominant last season that many owners reached past top runners to snag them with third- and fourth-overall picks. That wasn't such a terrible move with Manning, but Culpepper? Yeesh. Six touchdowns, 12 interceptions, a season-ending knee injury and a sex scandal. You'd have been better off with Kyle Boller as your starting quarterback.

Culpepper is young and talented enough to rebound, and he will be among the most interesting draft decisions next year.

So there you have it. Another season down. Congratulations to all who won championships last week and good luck to any still playing this week.

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