The Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson connection has paid major dividends in fantasy leagues
The 2011 Fantasy NFL regular season is close to being finished. So which players have been the most important for fantasy teams?
When ranking fantasy MVPs, its not enough to just look at the top overall point scorers in the game. There are many other factors that need to be analyzed.
Even players who didn't have value at the beginning of the year are very important since they are helping fantasy owners stay afloat now. An MVP can also be someone who came out of nowhere to have significant value.
With that being said, the following ranks the top 25 fantasy MVPs to this point of the season. You will most likely find at least a couple of these players on the first-place team in your league.
Oakland Raiders starting running back Darren McFadden has always been a stud guy when healthy, but has also been known for getting hurt. Hopefully if you drafted McFadden, you were able to also grab his handcuff, Michael Bush.
Bush has been just as good as McFadden over the last several weeks with the starter sidelined. He is coming up huge for his owners right now, whether they owned McFadden or not.
While the quarterback position is pretty deep from a fantasy prospective, there's no doubt that Tim Tebow of the Denver Broncos has been of use for several fantasy owners this season.
Since taking over as the starter for Denver in Week 7, he has been one of the better fantasy quarterbacks going. He doesn't turn the ball over and obviously racks up the points nicely with his ability to run the ball as well as throw it.
With all of the injuries going on among quarterbacks right now, many owners have Tebow right now as their top option. That's not a bad thing, as he has been playing well.
Dallas Cowboys rookie running back DeMarco Murray went from a third-stringer to a fantasy stud by the middle of this season. After starter Felix Jones went down with an injury, Murray took the reins and hasn't looked back yet.
Murray is averaging over 100 yards in the games he's started this season, and has been one of the top pickups this season. Any owners who were able to pick him up may have saved their season or went from one of the top teams to the top team in their league.
Willis McGahee of the Denver Broncos was expected to be a committee back at best in 2011, with Knowshon Moreno probably being the starter. He had some upside considering that he was the likely goal-line back, but not many expected him to have much value.
McGahee quickly overtook Moreno as the starter and also became the feature back for Denver. While he has had some consistency issues, a few of his games have been huge for owners.
The veteran has rushed for 658 yards and has four touchdowns. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it's important to remember that he was likely buried on fantasy benches before the season began.
Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks was drafted in fantasy leagues, but only because he was a starting NFL running back. Not many people were that thrilled about selecting him, as Seattle was projected as one of the more anemic offenses in football.
After a slow start, Lynch has come on strong, putting up low-end RB1 numbers over the last five weeks. He should easily maintain RB2 value throughout the rest of the season.
It's been quite a turnaround for Lynch, as he was beginning to lose playing time at the start of 2011. After being nearly droppable, he is now one of the better fantasy running back options going right now.
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career in 2011. It comes at a great time for his fantasy owners, as Manning's draft value was lower than previous seasons.
Manning had a subpar 2010 season, mostly due to his knack for turning the ball over. His 25 interceptions a season ago, combined with his struggles this preseason, had many fantasy owners shying away from the 2006 Super Bowl MVP.
Manning's ball control has been much better this year, and he has vaulted back into an every-week starter at the quarterback position. Not bad for a player whom not many even wanted as their backup at the start of the year.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson was a borderline WR3 option in standard leagues at best heading into the season. He hadn't scored more than two touchdowns in any season prior to 2011.
Instead, Nelson has turned into more of a high-end WR2, thanks to his nine touchdowns and impressive yards per catch average. He has even threatened to take over the top wide receiver honors in Green Bay from Greg Jennings.
Anyone who took a flier on Nelson later on in their fantasy drafts has enjoyed surprising production throughout the season from the relatively unknown player.
Savvy owners in deep PPR leagues might have drafted Saints running back Darren Sproles late in their fantasy drafts this season. But most people, however, had to pick up Sproles, who has turned into an every-week starter.
Sproles is likely to finish the season in the top five in receptions, and has also shown a surprising knack for finding the end zone in 2011. The Saints are among the league leaders in passing attempts, which means Sproles plays a lot of snaps.
Sproles took over for Reggie Bush in New Orleans this season and has been much more consistent than the current Miami Dolphin.
This was supposed to be the season that Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez was finally going to fall out of fantasy relevance completely. He had been slowly declining in recent seasons, and Atlanta was finally going to have a complement to Roddy White in rookie Julio Jones.
Instead, injuries to Jones and a disappointing year by White have given Gonzalez an opportunity to receive a lot of targets. He has responded well, scoring seven touchdowns and putting up consistent production week to week.
The veteran is one of the top tight end options on a weekly basis after he was slated to be just a TE2 this season.
It might sound like a broken record, but Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been one of the top fantasy studs again in 2011. He leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 11 and is among the league leaders in yards.
While you undoubtedly drafted Peterson with a top-two pick if you have him on your team, it isn't fair to disqualify him from the MVP race. Many of the top picks each year do not back it up with their stats, but Peterson always finishes among the top players each season.
Wide receiver Victor Cruz of the New York Giants is easily the best fantasy player no one drafted in 2011. He ended up making the most of the departure of Steve Smith instead of Mario Manningham.
With Hakeem Nicks not being 100 percent for most of the season, Cruz has been the favorite target of Eli Manning. His 800 yards and five touchdowns have made him a quality play on a weekly basis.
Any time you can get a weekly starter off the waiver wire, you're helping your team out in a big way. Cruz is one of those rare breakout players who had almost no attention at all during draft day.
Many fantasy owners were down on Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner at the start of the season. The rumors were that the Falcons were going to air it out more in 2011 and that Turner wasn't going to be the same player he had been in previous seasons.
The Burner has quietly put up a stellar season, rushing for at least 70 yards in nine out of 11 games and scoring eight times. The aerial attack has not taken the next step, and Turner has been receiving his normal touches.
The consistency by Turner has been his best asset in a year mired by injuries and fluctuating play in fantasy leagues.
Veteran Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers is enjoying a revitalized season. After nearly falling off the map in fantasy over the past couple of seasons, Smith is back to being one of the best wide receiver options.
Smith has 992 receiving yards through his team's first 10 games, and trails only Wes Welker in that category. He's still one of the best big-play guys in the game, and just needed a quarterback to show off his skills.
Smith was a WR3 at best on draft day, but has proven to be a top five overall receiver instead. He does not figure to decline with Cam Newton at the helm in the season's final weeks, either.
Over the past few NFL seasons, rookie wide receivers have been able to take the fantasy world by storm. This year, that was expected to happen with Julio Jones in Atlanta.
Instead, A.J. Green has taken the honors of best rookie receiver. He has put up consistent WR2-level production for a surprising Cincinnati Bengals team.
Not much was expected for the Bengals offense with a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton. That's why not many people figured Green would amount to much in his first campaign.
While Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears hasn't been finding the end zone much, he is still having a career season due to his 5.0 yards per carry average.
Forte has been getting used a lot as well, as Chicago has emphasized the run more than in previous seasons. His name is all over the box score on a weekly basis, making him a top running back stud every week.
In Weeks 4-9, Forte was probably the best running back in the league. His draft value was a little down this season, so his career numbers are coming at a little cheaper price for his owners.
All signs were pointing up for Ray Rice this offseason. He was expected to finally receive goal-line carries, and the Baltimore Ravens added a great lead blocker in Vonta Leach.
Rice has not disappointed, as he is near the top of the league in all-purpose yards and touchdowns. There is not a much better running-back option than Rice in any fantasy format.
There was a lot of hype surrounding New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham heading into 2011. Many had him pegged as a potential breakout candidate.
But Graham took it to the next level by surging to the top of the tight-end class as the favorite target of quarterback Drew Brees.
Graham has at least 50 yards in every game except one this season, including four 100-yard games. He is easily one of the better value picks to this point of the season.
Not many fantasy owners were looking at Fred Jackson with big eyes during their drafts this season. He was even rumored to be possibly losing his starting job to C.J. Spiller in the offseason.
Instead, the veteran has put together a career season and has been one of the top fantasy studs on a weekly basis. Only Maurice Jones-Drew and LeSean McCoy have more rushing yards.
Jackson has also been a major cog in the passing game, as he is fifth among running backs in receiving yards. Add in six touchdowns and Jackson has been one of the better stories of 2011.
While Jackson was placed on IR this week, meaning he will miss the rest of 2011, his fantasy owners can't complain about what he's done to this point. Hopefully, they were able to add Spiller as the safety net.
Matthew Stafford was one of the more interesting players heading into the 2011 fantasy draft season. He had shown a close to elite level on the field when he has been able to play in the past, but injuries always kept him off the field.
Stafford was drafted as a low-end QB1/high-end QB2 in most leagues this season, but has been one of the top fantasy quarterbacks. Only Aaron Rodgers had more touchdown passes entering Week 12.
Stafford's ability to stay on the field in 2011 has made it well worth the risk of drafting him. He is looking like a sure-fire fantasy stud for years to come.
The production of New England wide receiver Wes Welker has slowed a bit in recent weeks, but he is still on pace to outperform his projections by a wide margin.
Welker leads the NFL in receiving yards, and his play over the first several weeks most likely catapulted his owners to the top of the league. He was even getting into the end zone often, something that we hadn't seen much of in the past.
The veteran had always been a stud in PPR formats, but he has really made a strong name for himself in standard leagues this year.
Rob Gronkowski is one of the hottest players on the planet right now, scoring five touchdowns over the last three weeks and putting up over 300 combined yards.
The tight end is really blossoming with the New England Patriots right now, as defenses have been loading up on receiver Wes Welker. Gronkowski is the fastest tight end ever to record 20 career touchdown receptions.
Gronkowski is so valuable in fantasy because of his prowess for scoring touchdowns. Only Calvin Johnson has more receiving TDs in 2011.
Only Jimmy Graham has a shot to touch his numbers among tight ends by the time the season ends. That's quite an accomplishment for a player who was probably drafted as a low-end TE1 at the beginning of the year.
LeSean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles leads the NFL in rushing yards and has a chance at hitting 2,000 yards from scrimmage this season.
Add that to the fact that he’s scored in every game except one, and you know he’s been a major fantasy asset. He’s been one of the more consistent players across the league in 2011.
McCoy had a strong 2010, foreshadowing what he’s been able to do this season. He did not have much success hitting the end zone last year, however, and his 12 touchdowns have made a huge difference in his fantasy appeal.
Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson started off the 2011 season with two touchdowns apiece in the season's first three games. While he has cooled off from that pace, he has proven to be the best wide receiver in the NFL.
Johnson was likely drafted as a top stud, but he has gone above and beyond this year. Wide receiver production has been inconsistent around the league, but anyone that has Megatron doesn't have to worry a bit when throwing him out there.
The only game that Johnson didn't have at least 80 yards in during the first 11 weeks was in Week 2, when he still had two touchdowns.
While it hasn’t always been pretty for rookie quarterback Cam Newton on the field this season, fantasy owners don’t really care. Their only concern they have is how many fantasy points he puts up.
Newton’s 14 interceptions are tied for the third most in the NFL, but all his other stats put him among the elite fantasy scorers. He has 2,885 passing yards with 12 touchdowns and 411 rushing yards with nine touchdowns.
No other quarterback comes close to what Newton is able to do with rushing the football, which really gives him his elite fantasy status.
Newton was barely on the radar in fantasy leagues when the year started, but he is now one of the best in the business.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is playing the game better than anyone else right now, and it’s not even close. His strong play has certainly enabled him to carry some fantasy teams by himself.
Heading into Week 12, Rodgers led the league with 31 passing touchdowns and trailed only Drew Brees in yards with 3,168. But the big story is that he has just four interceptions, meaning he’s not erasing any of his other gaudy numbers.
While the Packers star was certainly expected to be a top fantasy stud in 2011, he has exceeded that. He really is on his own planet right now, and no one has a chance to top his fantasy output this season.