The Biggest Fantasy Football Surprises from the 2012 Season

Craig RondinoneCorrespondent IDecember 31, 2012

The Biggest Fantasy Football Surprises from the 2012 Season

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    Some of the biggest surprises in the NFL of 2012 were also the biggest surprises in fantasy football and, if you had one or two of these guys on your fantasy squad, you probably made the playoffs. 

    All fantasy teams have franchise players who post huge numbers as expected, which is why fantasy championships are not won entirely because of superstars like Drew Brees, Arian Foster or Calvin Johnson, but in thanks to players who came out of nowhere to have 1,000-yard years and double-digit touchdowns.

    So here are the biggest fantasy football surprises from the 2012 season!

Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks, QB

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    More hyped rookies such as Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III received all the attention from the media and were the ones drafted in the early rounds by fantasy owners, while Wilson had to fight to win his starting job in Seattle. He was taken in the late rounds in fantasy leagues because he was a rookie in a run-first offense with the size of Sky Low Low.  

    But, once Wilson left Matt Flynn in his rear-view mirror and got more comfortable as the season went along, his numbers skyrocketed. His mediocre passing yard totals more than evened out by the touchdowns he scored and all the rushing yards he racked up. 

    Wilson finished with 30 total touchdowns—26 passing, four rushing—along with 3,118 passing yards and 489 rushing yards. His fantasy value is on the rise going into next year and can go through the roof if Seattle sets him up with a top-notch wide receiver

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings, RB

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    While fantasy owners figured Peterson might return to 1,500-yard form at some point of the season, not many owners believed it would happen as early as Week 1. But what we all witnessed, from his two-touchdown performance Week 1 onward, was one of the most spectacular individual comebacks in the history of football.  

    Peterson shut doubters up and made doctorslook foolish as he returned nine months after tearing his ACL to not just lead the league in rushing but to run for the second-most yards in NFL history in one season.

    Peterson demolished the competition at running back and won the rushing title in a landslide, with 2,097 yards, just nine short of Eric Dickerson’s NFL record. He also contributed 13 total touchdowns and 217 receiving yards, all while opposing defenses keyed on him with eight and nine-man fronts because of his success and the fact that Minnesota’s passing attack was anemic after the loss of Percy Harvin.

    Peterson’s picture will be gracing fantasy magazines next August, and many draft lists and cheat sheets will rank him No. 1 overall next season. Not many would have believed this miracle of modern medicine, heart and determination would have been able to bounce back so quickly, but Peterson proved the impossible is possible.   

Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins, RB

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    That Mike Shanahan is a tricky devil. He had fantasy owners thinking at many fantasy drafts that Evan Royster, who ended up with 23 carries, was going to be Washington’s top tailback. Morris was sometimes mentioned as the backup at best, possibly third-string behind Roy Helu. And why not?  Morris was a sixth-round draft choice with no fanfare coming out of college. 

    Then suddenly Morris was announced as the starter just days before Washington’s first game and he proceeded to steamroll defenders for 96 yards and two touchdowns.  This bowling ball with legs never stopped rolling strikes for fantasy owners all season long.

    Morris finished second in the NFL behind Peterson with 1,613 rushing yards, including ending the year on the highest note possible with 200 yards and three TD against the Dallas Cowboys, which likely won millions of owners their fantasy leagues. 

    Morris also scored 13 touchdowns overall and only rushed for under 60 yards in games twice the entire season. The Redskins' franchise leader in single-season rushing yards now goes from being totally unknown and ignored to being a first-round pick in fantasy leagues heading into 2013.

Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars, WR

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    If you mentioned the name “Cecil Shorts” at the beginning of the season, most fantasy owners would have probably thought you were referring to a cartoon character or a DJ at a radio station. Fantasy owners know the name now, though. 

    99.9 percent of fantasy owners probably assumed that rookie Justin Blackmon or free-agent signee Laurent Robinson was going to be Jacksonville’s best receiver, not the little-known Shorts, who was coming off a rookie year where he caught a grand total of two passes.

    But Shorts was a dominant fantasy force, catching 55 passes for 979 yards and seven scores. He was especially effective in distance leagues thanks to countless plays of over 40 yards. He would have easily topped the 1,000-yard plateau if not for a couple concussions that cut his season short.

James Jones, Green Bay Packers, WR

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    The leader in touchdown catches this season was not Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, Chicago’s Brandon Marshall or Dallas’ Dez Bryant. It was a drop-prone speedster who entered the season as Green Bay’s No. 3 wideout.

    While Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson were nursing leg injuries, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers needed someone to throw to inside the red zone, and that someone was not overrated tight end Jermichael Finley.

    Jones stepped up big time and posted career-highs in receptions (64), yards (784) and touchdowns (14). Instead of being the high-risk, high-reward receiver he had been from week to week, Jones was downright dependable, posting two or more touchdown on four occasions.  He allowed Rodgers to have more faith in him than ever before.

    Jones and fellow surprise Randall Cobb helped Rodgers have a fantastic fantasy season even though Rodgers’ top two targets were injured for much of the season. 

Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers, TE

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    Not many fantasy pundits were calling on the veteran Miller to have a career year at age 30, but he quietly produced one even though quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed multiple games and slippery-fingered Mike Wallace was dropping passes nearby.

    Miller set personal bests with 816 receiving yards and eight touchdowns and posted better numbers than more heralded tight ends like San Francisco’s Vernon Davis and Houston’s Owen Daniels, nearly matching the fantasy value of New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham.

    It is a shame Miller could not add onto his numbers during Week 17 due to the torn ACL he suffered a week earlier. Let’s hope he is ready for the start of the 2013 season. 

Blair Walsh, Minnesota Vikings, K

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    Rookie kickers are usually ignored by fantasy owners on Draft Day, especially when they are on seemingly low-scoring teams. So Walsh was most likely passed over by many people when they selected their kickers in the late rounds of their drafts. Big mistake, fantasy folks!

    Walsh set the NFL single-season record for most 50-yard-plus field goals with 10 this year.  He was perfect from 50-plus-yards away, 35-of-38 on field-goal attempts overall and did not miss an extra point. Those 50-yarders were worth super bonus points for millions of lucky fantasy owners who had Walsh in their lineups.  

Tim Jennings, Chicago Bears, CB

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    Jennings was not exactly thought of as the Darrelle Revis of the NFC entering his 2012 campaign. He only had seven interceptions in his first six NFL seasons and was the cornerback that quarterbacks would target because they did not want any part of his teammate Charles Tillman.

    Yet, Jennings turned in a Pro Bowl season and led the league with nine interceptions, including one he returned for the first touchdown of his career. The fantasy owners who scooped Jennings up on waiver wires early on after his first couple picks were rewarded handsomely.