The 10 Biggest 2011 Fantasy Football (Positive) Surprises

Zach Greubel@@ZachGreubelCorrespondent IIDecember 20, 2011

The 10 Biggest 2011 Fantasy Football (Positive) Surprises

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    The 2011 fantasy football season is coming to its unfortunate end.  The following are the 10 players who I think pleasantly surprised fantasy owners this season in order of "least" surprising to most surprising.  

    Granted, these players could probably be moved up or down one spot and it wouldn't make much difference, but this is the order I chose.  Let me know who you think I got right and who you think I left out.

    Note: All statistics are through the first 14 games of the season.

No. 10: Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions

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    Passing: 356-568, 4,145 YDS, 33 TD

    Rushing: 73 YDS

    We've all seen glimpses of what Stafford is capable of in previous seasons, but we never got to see the whole picture until this season.  He has been one of the most reliable quarterbacks in fantasy football (I'd never thought I'd see the day) and is worthy of top-five fantasy quarterback status.

No. 9: Laurent Robinson, WR, Dallas Cowboys

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    Receiving: 49 REC, 792 YDS, 9 TD

    Robinson seemingly came out of nowhere en route to his surprising fantasy season.  Injuries to fellow Cowboy receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin enabled Robinson to prove himself worthy of playing every game.  He has rewarded Jason Garrett, Tony Romo, the Cowboys and fantasy owners who grabbed him off waivers with what will probably be a double-digit-touchdown season.

No. 8: Tim Tebow, QB, Denver Broncos

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    Passing: 107-220, 1,484 YDS, 11 TD

    Rushing: 610 YDS, 5 TD

    There's no need to explain what Tebow has done in 2011, but I will for context's sake.  He took over at quarterback for the Broncos when they possessed a lowly 1-4 record.  Now they are 8-6 and primed to win the AFC West.  He quickly became a must-start every week for fantasy owners with his versatility and, for the most part, did not let those owners down.

No. 7: Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Receiving: 55 REC, 925 YDS, 2 TD

    Returning: 879 YDS, 1 TD

    Rushing: 33 YDS

    Brown is a surprise because he came from doing next to nothing in 2010 to being one of the top players in all-purpose yards in 2011.  His total touchdowns aren't too attractive but the yards make up for it.  Brown can do everything and is arguably quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's favorite target now.

No. 6: Reggie Bush, RB, Miami Dolphins

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    Rushing: 973 YDS, 6 TD

    Receiving: 41 REC, 270 YDS, 1 TD

    Returning: 52 YDS

    Remember when Bush was only supposed to get around 10 carries per game for the Dolphins this season?  Rookie running back Daniel Thomas showed that he wasn't quite ready to be the featured back in Miami and Bush gladly took over the role for the Dolphins.  He quickly returned to his old ways of racking up yards and scoring touchdowns as he did in New Orleans.  Reggie Bush is fantasy-relevant again.

No. 5: Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks

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    Rushing: 1,011 YDS, 11 TD

    Receiving: 24 REC, 183 YDS, 1 TD

    Talk about being fantasy-relevant again!  Lynch has nearly doubled his yards and touchdown totals from last season and has put the Seahawks on his back in 2011.  It's weird saying this but Lynch is worthy of a second-round draft pick next season.

No. 4: Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers

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    Receiving: 53 REC, 986 YDS, 10 TD

    Believer it or not, Jordy Nelson has had as good a season statistically as Greg Jennings.  With Donald Driver nearing the climax of his career, Nelson has stepped it up big time for the Packers and fantasy owners.  Put Nelson near the top of your list of receivers on your draft board for 2012.

No. 3: Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots

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    Receiving: 75 REC, 1,141 YDS, 15 TD

    Rushing: 2 YDS, 1 TD

    Returning: 11 YDS

    Sure, Gronkowski scored 10 times last year, but not a lot of fantasy owners thought he would do it again, much less break the record for single-season touchdowns for a tight end.  Gronkowski is Tom Brady's favorite target in the red zone and has supplanted Antonio Gates as the best tight end in fantasy football.

No. 2: Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants

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    Receiving: 73 REC, 1,194 YDS, 7 TD

    2011 is basically Cruz's rookie season and he has excelled with flying colors.  He quickly turned into one of Eli Manning's favorite targets at the beginning of the season and flourished in the role.  Cruz is a WR2 going into 2012.

No. 1: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

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    Passing: 283-475, 3,722 YDS, 17 TD

    Rushing: 609 YDS, 13 TD

    Receiving: 27 YDS

    Newton showed signs of his rookie status this season, but no one knew he would do as well as he did in 2011, at least from a fantasy football perspective.  He is arguably the most dangerous quarterback in the league because of his running ability.  I would argue that he was the best fantasy quarterback this season aside from Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.  If I have a pick between the fifth and 10th spots in next year's drafts, I'll gladly take Newton.