2012 fantasy football retrospective: Top studs, duds and waiver wire gems

USA TODAY Sports

We take a look back at the season to review the best, worst and weirdest developments of fantasy football.

The 2012 fantasy football season is now in the books, and as with most seasons, there's no telling what will happen. Your best-laid plans in August may turn out to be hilariously wrong by December, and there are countless "experts" who look like fools in the process. As a full disclosure, I played in a serious, 12-team league with close friends that's been running for years. I did my draft research, kept my eye on the waiver wires and generally thought I knew what I was doing.

That team finished in 10th place. Meanwhile, my auto-draft Yahoo! team made it all the way to the title game and finished second. Fantasy football is weird, is what I'm saying.

So let's take a look back at the season that was, looking at the biggest studs, duds and waiver gems. Since this is the Internet, I have to do it in list form, and that also means many angry, overly personal comments about people who should/should not be on the lists. You know what you must do, peanut gallery.

Anyway, here's the real meat of the article: the lists. You didn't read my intro anyway, did you? I know you all too well, Internet.

Top 5 Fantasy Studs

5. Robert Griffin III

Some pundits love to go on about "The Year of the Quarterback," to the point where they say that every year now. But there's no doubt that 2012 was "The Year of the Rookie Quarterback," and RGIII rose head and shoulders above the rest. The No. 2 overall pick was mostly drafted as a roster stash, but came storming out of the gate in Week 1 and never looked back since. His dual-threat ability puts him above Andrew Luck in my book, and he didn't have the early struggles of Russell Wilson, which puts him on this list above the both of them.

4. Drew Brees

Brees never missed a beat when Sean Payton got suspended for the year. Aside from an uptick in interceptions (mostly fueled by a brief cold streak when he tossed nine picks in three games), Brees was the same Brees you could draft high and never worry about your quarterback position till bye week. With Sean Payton slated to come back next season, expect the good times to keep rolling. He's as reliable as they come in fantasy.

3. Calvin Johnson

The Lions took a big step backwards this season, but Megatron was one of their few bright spots. In addition to breaking Jerry Rice's single-season record for receiving yards, Johnson came 36 yards short of becoming the first receiver in NFL history to reach 2,000. Enjoy him while you can -- he's one of the greatest talents the game will ever see.

2. Peyton Manning

By now, you're all aware of the major question marks surrounding Manning -- the four neck surgeries, the rumors that he will never play again, the offseason circus surrounding his free agency period. In the end, the Broncos rolled the dice, and they were rewarded with homefield advantage and one of Manning's best seasons ever. He never skipped a beat, and his success trickled down to the rest of the offense, getting career years out of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. This should be the last time anyone ever doubts Peyton.

1. Adrian Peterson

In some ways, Peterson's injury comeback was even more impressive than Manning's. He tore his ACL last December, and there were doubts that he would even be ready for the 2012 regular season, which made his stock drop in some fantasy circles. How did Peterson respond? Only by having one of the greatest seasons by a running back in history. Shockingly, All Day Purple Jesus looked even better than he did before the injury, single-handedly taking the Vikings to the playoffs and coming nine yards short of Eric Dickerson's rushing record. He will be the first man off the board in many fantasy drafts next August.

Honorable mentions: Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, Aaron Rodgers, Alfred Morris, Tom Brady, Jamaal Charles

Top 5 Fantasy Duds

5. Michael Vick

Pegged as a borderline-QB1 mostly due his running ability, Vick instead turned into a turnover machine, throwing nine interceptions and losing five fumbles in just nine games as the Eagles went into a tailspin. By the time he suffered a concussion in Week 10, the Philly brass has seen enough and inserted rookie Nick Foles as the starter the rest of the season. At least until Foles broke his hand and Vick was called on to start the season finale, which went about as well as you'd expect. There's very little chance Vick will be back with the Eagles next year, and there's very little chance he will be on fantasy teams next year.

4. Eli Manning

Eli's downfall was even more frustrating to fantasy owners, because he had a great first half and seemed to finally enter legitimate QB1 territory. But then in Week 8, Eli began to unravel, and took the whole team down with him -- he had less than 200 yards three times in the last nine games, never got over 300 yards, and threw eight interceptions in that time. Eli burned a lot of fantasy owners during the critical late-season stretch, and is one of the biggest reasons why the Giants will be watching the playoffs on TV.

3. Ryan Mathews

Mathews was targeted as a top breakout candidate in 2012, but that potential fizzled like a deflating balloon. He broke a collarbone on his first carry of the preseason, causing him to miss the first two regular season games. Once he came back, he struggled with the same fumble troubles and inconsistency that made many fantasy owners swear off him in the first place. By the time he broke his other collarbone in Week 15, he was sitting at 707 yards, one touchdown and 3.8 YPC. He has one more year to avoid the "first-round bust" label.

2. Larry Fitzgerald

Bless this man, he had nothing to do with his poor season. Fitz hasn't had any dropoff in talent, but he was by far the biggest victim of inept quarterback play in the league. The low point came at the end of the season, when he had a paltry 20 catches, 213 yards and zero touchdowns over the last seven games. Fitz remains one of the best receivers in the league, but fantasy owners need to keep a close eye on Arizona's quarterback situation over the offseason before they spend another second-round pick on him.

1. Darren McFadden

Here's another example of a player who was more a victim of circumstance than ineptness, but DMC got bit by the injury bug once again, missing four games with a high ankle sprain. His other big problem was offensive coordinator Greg Knapp's ill-conceived zone blocking scheme, which completely neutralized a back who thrived under a power-blocking offense. Knapp is almost certainly fired in the offseason, but how many more first-round picks can you spend on McFadden? When do the excuses end? If a running back is so dependent on a certain scheme to succeed, is he really worth trusting? These are some big questions fantasy owners need to ask themselves over the summer.

Honorable mentions: Maurice Jones-Drew, Vernon Davis, DeSean Jackson, DeMarco Murray, Philip Rivers

Top 5 Waiver Wire Gems

5. Knowshon Moreno

Left for dead as a first-round bust, Moreno was a healthy scratch for most of the season. He finally got another chance when Willis McGahee went down, and made the most of it. Through the final six games, Moreno piled up 515 rushing yards and three touchdowns, bailing out many fantasy teams in the process. It remains to be seen if this is a fluke or a true career resurrection, but Moreno was a godsend to fantasy owners who gambled on him in the playoff stretch.

4. Danario Alexander

Released by the Rams in training camp after several injury troubles, Alexander was a complete afterthought until the Chargers signed him off the streets in October. Since then, he quickly established a rapport with Philip Rivers and made a meteoric rise to the top of the depth chart. DX finished with 36 catches for 624 yards and six touchdowns in nine games, which translate out to 64/1,109/10 over a full season. He's a keeper as long as those knees hold up.

3. Colin Kaepernick

The second-year quarterback wasn't expected to make much of an impact this year, but when Alex Smith went down with a concussion, he took over the job and never gave it up. Kaep was no doubt the subject of the most furious waiver moves before Week 11, and for the most part he's lived up to it. He opens up a new dimension of the 49ers' offense that they never really had with Smith, and has way more long-term upside. Pat yourself on the back if you grabbed him in a keeper/dynasty league.

2. Randall Cobb

The multipurpose receiver was seen as more of a long-term stash than a real option in 2012. He quickly proved himself worthy of fantasy attention early, and when Greg Jennings went down with a groin injury Cobb took the starting job and never looked back. If not for an ankle injury that kept him out of Week 17, Cobb would've been the first player with 1,000 receiving yards and 1,000 return yards. With Jennings projected to leave the Packers in free agency, Cobb projects as an easy WR2 in 2013.

1. Russell Wilson

Even when the third-round rookie was named the Week 1 starter, he wasn't much more than a deep league stash, and his early-season struggles justified that decision. However, Wilson hit a switch around the halfway point, and has thrust himself into the ROY discussion behind some inspired performances. Perhaps the biggest boost to his fantasy value came from the Seahawks incorporating more of a read-option package, which gave him several rushing touchdowns down the stretch. Wilson is a special talent, helped many fantasy teams in the playoffs, and will be a strong QB2 in next year's drafts.

Honorable mentions: Cecil Shorts III, Alfred Morris, James Jones, Mikel Leshoure, Golden Tate

Like all Internet lists, there's many I wanted to include but couldn't, some I just plain forgot about, and more importantly, a good amount of personal opinion. Let me know in the comments who got robbed or overrated, along with your personal death threat of choice.

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