2011 Fantasy Football: 10 Players That Changed Your Fantasy Season

Eli GreenspanSenior Analyst IDecember 28, 2011

2011 Fantasy Football: 10 Players That Changed Your Fantasy Season

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    The 2011 fantasy football season is either wrapping up with the conclusion of Monday's Saints-Falcons game, or will be finishing up next week in the regular season finale. If next week is your championship week, good luck, it is going to be tough.

    A lot of the players you likely relied on all season will be resting for the postseason, or will be in a limited role if the playoffs are already out of reach. 

    Week 16 was an exciting week where a lot of players returned to their season norms, or were shut down in embarrassing fashion. For those of you who own Tony Romo or Felix Jones, both were taken out of the game as a precaution (and for injury) because the Giants won and effectively eliminated the Eagles from postseason contention. 

    Rarely does the championship team make it all the way with the team they drafted. Waiver pick-ups, trades and sheer luck can make or break your season. 

    Let's take a look at 10 guys who made your fantasy season, and gave us some great highlights along the way. 

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

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    Aaron Rodgers was the No. 1 pick in my draft, and if he fell any farther in your draft, consider him a steal. Rodgers has been the best fantasy quarterback all season, and in a pass-heavy offense has improved the games of several players around him. 

    On top of that, his aggressive passing attack has also given James Starks and Ryan Grant a little more opportunity to expand their role. Luckily, they do not need to rely on the running game with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson and James Jones all raking in touchdowns. Oh yeah, and Jermichael Finley is at tight end.

    Rodgers only had one game where he dipped below 20 fantasy points, and he only has six interceptions on the year, which certainly helped his numbers. If you are in a dynasty league, keep enjoying the fruits of his labor.

Victor Cruz, New York Giants

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    Where did he come from? 

    It was Week 3 before he was truly on anyone's radar. Since then, Giants WR Victor Cruz has emerged as the No. 2 receiver in their offense and quite possibly the best receiver they have.

    Cruz has been one of the most consistent wideouts all season long, reeling in touchdowns and gaining big yards week after week. He was snagged off waivers in my league and was inserted in the lineup soon after for the rest of the season. 

    Without him, most teams would have a completely different dynamic and would not have made it as far as they did. That was certainly the case for my team.

    And you can bet Eli Manning was happy to see him emerge as a reliable target. 

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

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    Cam was the second best fantasy quarterback when it's all said and done, and he has lived up to all the hype and then some. People really weren't sure how he was going to perform in the NFL, and if he would have any growing pains playing for the lowly Panthers.

    The thing is, with Newton behind center, the Panthers became one of the most exciting teams to watch all season. With a combination of running and deep passing, he has improved the game of everyone around him.

    The biggest benefactor has to be Steve Smith, who went from being Mr. Irrelevant in 2010 to the NFC leader in total yards for much of the year. He had his ups and downs, but he had several big games of 100-plus yards and was one of Cam's favorite targets in the end zone.

Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers

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    Thanks to Aaron Rodgers, wide receiver Jordy Nelson had one of the best years of any wide receiver. He took advantage of matchups while teams keyed in on Jermichael Finley and Greg Jennings, making the most of his opportunities and moving up on the depth chart.

    Nelson reached 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, and has a team-high 12 touchdown receptions. He also amassed four 100-yard receiver games.  

A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

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    A.J. Green was a big question mark coming into the 2011 season, especially because he was a rookie and his quarterback, Andy Dalton, was not expected to be starting QB coming into training camp. Fortunately for Bengals fans, and a few gutsy fantasy owners, drafting Green was one of your best decisions. 

    Green has one of the best verticals in the league and proved to be quite the headache for CBs and FSs matching up on the deep threat. He should only get better.  

Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks

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    Marshawn Lynch was one of the more disappointing running backs for the first half of the season, but from Week 9 onward, he was one of the best running backs in the league. 

    He absolutely exploded, only dipping under 20-points twice in the second half of the season. He's also the only running back thus far to score on the ground versus the 49ers. 

    If you bought low on him before your trade deadline, you likely made it deep into the playoffs, if not to the ship!

Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins

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    Speaking of great second-halfs....

    Reggie Bush finally emerged with the Dolphins. I refuse to blame it on Kim Kardashian or the injuries in New Orleans that may have motivated Bush to step up his game. Bush finally got some great blocking in a system he could excel in, and clicked with quarterback Matt Moore much better than Chad Henne. The talent has always been there, and we can only hope it's here to stay. 

    I picked up Bush after Week 8 after he posted a solid 16 fantasy points against the New York Giants. He was a wait-and-see RB on my bench, as I had Ray Rice and was twirling my thumbs over Chris Johnson. He emerged as a great flex option and was my No. 2 running back by season's end, which was last week in the third-place game.

    He may be a worthwhile keeper option if you do not need to surrender a valuable draft pick. Certainly someone to keep an eye on.   

Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

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    I'm going to be honest, I don't think I ever called this guy by his full name. 

    Gronk was an absolute beast at tight end, proving to be even more valuable than a wide receiver. He combined speed with great hands and dominated matchups week in and week out. He seemed impossible to take down. 

    He is closing in on Kellen Winslow's yardage record for a tight end, and has already passed the 1,000-yard mark and has 15 touchdowns on the year. From a fantasy perspective, he has topped 25 points in a week three times this year. He could not have been more valuable to your squad and more exciting to watch if you had him.  

Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints

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    There hasn't been a more consistent tight end this season than Jimmy Graham. Thanks in part to Drew Brees, Graham has 1,213 yards on the year and has caught 10 touchdowns on 91 receptions. 

    There are some matchups that cannot handle Graham. Brees is a downfield threat, targeting Colston, Lance Moore and Robert Meachem with great consistency. Going into the playoffs, Brees is going to rely on Graham even more, and their relationship will get even stronger.

    Graham was under the radar coming into this season, so he should be a keeper in most leagues unless you had some pre-draft premonition that he was going to be a stud.  

    Aside from the Packers, the Saints appear to be the biggest Super Bowl contenders. 

Wes Welker, New England Patriots

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    Wes Welker went in the ninth round in my draft. Can you believe that? 

    Last week's game against the Dolphins was Welker's eighth 100-yard game of the season, and his 1,518 yards is a team record. Despite being on the shorter side, Welker has no trouble getting open and breaking tackles.

    He is one of the most exciting players to watch in Tom Brady's offense; it's hard to imagine what Brady would do without him. He's had several 15-plus point games, but two games with 30-plus points, which is just unheard of for a wide receiver.