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Fantasy Football Awards

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports

The 2004 fantasy football season has come to a close and, like anyone else, we here at Yahoo! Sports Fantasy are not immune to the pageantry and schmaltz of year-end awards. Yahoo! Sports' trio of fantasy experts has been answering fantasy football questions and offering advice all year long. Now they'll take a moment to reflect on the highs and lows of the season. We'd like to thank everyone who participated in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy leagues this season. And, for those who did not, we'd like to extend an invitation to join the party in '05. In the mean time, check out our panel's nominations for the 2004 fantasy football awards.


FUNSTON


HARMON


ROMIG

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Peyton Manning Peyton Manning Peyton Manning
This was no contest. Peyton Manning broke Dan Marino's record for TD passes in a season and easily outdistanced the competition to lead all fantasy players in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy default scoring.
BIGGEST BARGAIN: Antonio Gates Drew Brees Antonio Gates
San Diego had a monopoly on fantasy's biggest bargain. Drew Brees' 27 TD passes to just 7 INTs (through Week 16) was a boon for those that grabbed him off the waiver wire, while TE target Antonio Gates hauled in nearly half of Brees' scoring tosses (13 through Week 16) to set an NFL record for TDs by a TE. Not bad for a player picked on average late in the eighth round of Yahoo! drafts.
INJURY BUST: Steve McNair Stephen Davis Kellen Winslow
Every year, injuries wreak havoc on fantasy rosters, and '04 was no exception. The panel was split on whose injury had the biggest negative impact in the game. Steve McNair received a vote for a bruised sternum that forced him to miss half a season and rendered him questionable most other weeks. Stephen Davis was given a nod for checking out for good with a knee injury after Week 6, finishing the year with a meager 24 carries, 92 yards and nary a TD. And rookie Kellen Winslow received a vote for succumbing to a season-ending leg injury in Week 2.
PERFORMANCE BUST: Kevan Barlow Santana Moss Kevan Barlow
San Francisco RB Kevan Barlow took two of the panel's three votes. A consensus second-round fantasy pick, Barlow managed just one 100-yard rushing game through Week 16. With one game remaining in '04, Barlow was roughly 300 rushing yards shy of last season's total despite 18 more carries and nine more starts than '03. Santana Moss also received a vote for following up a 10-TD performance in '03 with just five TDs through Week 16 of '04.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Michael Clayton Lee Evans Michael Clayton
The panel shunned 1,000-yard rookie RB Kevin Jones in favor of receivers Michael Clayton (two votes) and Lee Evans. Clayton joined Joey Galloway, Terry Glenn, Randy Moss and Anquan Boldin as the only rookie receivers to top 1,000 yards in more than 10 years. And Evans paced all rookies with nine TDs through Week 16.
COMEBACK KID: Muhsin Muhammad Tiki Barber Drew Brees
It was the year of the comeback. The list of those returning to past glories was long: Corey Dillon, Curtis Martin, Tiki Barber, Emmitt Smith, Jerome Bettis, Muhsin Muhammad, Donald Driver, to name a few. The panel split its votes between Muhammad – he topped 1,000 yards for the first time since 2000 and surpassed double-digit TDs for the first time ever, Barber – who went from three TDs in '03 to 13 TDs through Week 16 of '04, and Brees – his 27 TD passes through Week 16 of '04 was just two shy of his total for the previous three years combined.
TOP WAIVER PICKUP: Muhsin Muhammad Muhsin Muhammad Willis McGahee
Like the comeback list, there was a plethora of impact waiver pickups in '04. The running back position saw a surprisingly vast supply of help shuttled through free agency, with widely available players like Willis McGahee, Reuben Droughns, Nick Goings, Julius Jones and Emmitt Smith making big splashes for extended stretches of the season. McGahee was given one vote for top waiver pickup, but it was receiver Muhsin Muhammad who stole the other two by emerging from the scrap heap to top 1,000 yards and 10 TDs.
SURPRISE OF THE YEAR: Reuben Droughns Nick Goings Reuben Droughns
If you would have taken a poll at the beginning of the season, asking who would emerge as a 1,000-yard rusher for Denver, the top four responses would have been Quentin Griffin, Tatum Bell, Garrison Hearst and Mike Anderson. Virtually nobody would have tabbed Droughns to be that guy. But given an opportunity to start in Week 5, Droughns didn't look back, collecting six 100-yard games in his first seven games with the first unit en route to a 1,000-yard season. He also added a three-TD performance in Week 16, helping him garner two votes for the biggest surprise fantasy performer of the season. Nick Goings earned one vote, following a similar track as Droughns, rising up through the Carolina depth charts to rush for five 100-yard games in the six contests from Week 11 through Week 16.
BEST SINGLE GAME: Drew Bennett (Week 14) Drew Bennett (Week 14) Billy Volek (Week 15)
Tennessee's Billy Volek/Drew Bennett combination proved magical for fantasy owners down the stretch. From Week 13 through Week 15, Volek passed for 1,187 yards and 11 TDs. He also rushed for a score. Bennett hauled in 517 of those yards and eight of the TD tosses. According to one of the panelists, Volek's best day in that three-week span was in Week 15 when he completed 40 of 60 passes for 492 yards, four passing TDs and a rushing score. But two of the panelists thought Bennett's 12-catch, 233-yard, three-TD performance in Week 14 trumped Volek's effort and deserved to be tabbed the best single-game fantasy performance of the season.
ON THE RISE FOR '05: Willis McGahee Willis McGahee Willis McGahee
The panel agreed that Buffalo's Willis McGahee is the player likely to make the most significant rise on draft lists from '04 to '05. In supplanting Travis Henry as the starter, McGahee rushed for 11 TDs and 810 rushing yards in the nine games between Week 8 and Week 16.
ON THE FALL FOR '05: Marshall Faulk Kevan Barlow Marshall Faulk
Two panelists believe that '04 officially marked the end of the Marshall Faulk era. The Rams running back will finish the season with less than 1,000 rushing yards for the third consecutive season. And he'll fail to reach 10 TDs for the first time since '96. With the emergence of rookie Steven Jackson as St. Louis' running back of the future and Faulk's injuries mounting in recent seasons, the Marshall plan for '05 could be a backup role or a change of locales. One vote was cast for Kevan Barlow in the belief that his bust season of '04 is more of a trend than an anomaly.
'05 IMPACT ROOKIE: Cedric Benson (RB) Mike Williams (WR) Mike Williams (WR)
We asked the panel to look into the crystal ball and predict which rookie-to-be will make the biggest fantasy impact in '05. Two votes were cast for former USC wideout Mike Williams, who declared for the '04 draft but was ruled ineligible. He sat out this season, but that doesn't scare away our two panelists, who feel he'll step right in and make fantasy owners very happy. One panelist even mentioned that Williams would look especially good in San Diego blue. University of Texas running back Cedric Benson received the other vote. The Longhorns' 6-foot, 225-pound senior scored 67 TDs in his collegiate career. Would the Miami Dolphins dare take a chance on hooking another 'Horns running back?
Top 5 for '05: 1. LaDainian Tomlinson
2. Peyton Manning
3. Shaun Alexander
4. Daunte Culpepper
5. Randy Moss
1. Peyton Manning
2. Shaun Alexander
3. Daunte Culpepper
4. LaDainian Tomlinson
5. Priest Holmes
1. Peyton Manning
2. Daunte Culpepper
3. LaDainian Tomlinson
4. Shaun Alexander
5. Priest Holmes
Our panel's early '05 draft list returns proved to have a consensus of four players among its top five picks: Peyton Manning, Daunte Culpepper, LaDainian Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander. Priest Holmes occupied the fifth spot in two of our experts' top-five lists, while Randy Moss earned a single top-five mention on the heels of a season in which he scored a dozen TDs despite missing five full games with a hamstring injury.

Finally, what is the most important lesson you'll take away from the 2004 fantasy football season?

Brandon Funston:

Come Draft Day, keep an open mind to any and all players. How many had written off Curtis Martin, Jerome Bettis, Emmitt Smith, Drew Brees and Muhsin Muhammad before a game had even been played in '04? All proved that their coffins were far from being nailed shut. And their efforts will cause all of us to pause before we write anyone off again.

Matt Romig

You can use a first-round draft pick on something other than a running back.

Mike Harmon

This season saw the emergence of more running backs as the season progressed than any in recent memory. Credit the schemes or plain dumb luck, there's no denying that hoarding backs at the draft this season was not only unnecessary, it was unwise. The drop-off at wide receiver was far more stark by contrast and the depth or lack thereof in the receiving corps signaled glory or doom.