In the age of Twitter, edges have become ever harder to come by in fantasy football. Information has never been in greater supply, but neither has the amount of people disseminating it. That tip you used to be able to find and keep for yourself? All 11 of your league mates have read it, too. It’s why Lamar Miller and T.Y. Hilton aren’t the insider secrets they may have been 10 years ago.
So the search for a leg up can take you some pretty wild places. Some can be quite useful (aDOT), others....not so much (which undrafted Raiders receiver lit up second- and third-string cornerbacks in pad-less practices). Which brings us to something in between: How certain players fared down the stretch last season. There are any number of factors that could play into a hot or slow finish. Filling in for an injured starter, a rookie receiver might happen upon four straight opponents who are already out of the playoff race because of their secondary. Or a journeyman veteran might get a shot at 2-3 starts because a hot-shot rookie finds himself in the doghouse.
On the flipside, someone who finishes slow might have decided it wasn’t worth finishing off every three- or four-yard run with aplomb out of fear of aggravating a lingering hamstring issue. Or perhaps the motivation simply wasn't there playing for a lame-duck coaching staff. The point is, hot/slow finishes could have everything to do with circumstance, and nothing to do with skill (just like any other 3-4 four game stretch). But that doesn’t mean they should be entirely written off, or don’t sometimes point to a larger trend. We’re not suggesting this is information that’s going to lead you from last place to the promised land. It’s just something to consider as you decide between Player X and Player Y. In an age of boundless information, you never know which seemingly random or incongruent factoid could make the difference.
Fast Finisher: Russell Wilson
Did anyone close out 2012 with a bigger bang? The surprise third-round starter was serviceable over his first eight games, posting an 82.4 QB rating, 61.4 completion percentage, 7.0 YPA and 10:8 TD:INT ratio. Then he went nuclear in the season’s second half as the Seahawks started dispensing raw justice, turning his first-half slash into a 120.3 QB rating, 67.2 completion percentage, 9.0 YPA and 16:2 TD:INT ratio. That is not to forget his 58 rushes for 361 yards (6.2 yards per carry) and four touchdowns after took the rock just 36 times for 128 yards (3.6 YPC) and zero scores in games 1-8. Throw in a postseason where Wilson posted a 102.4 QB rating, 62.9 completion percentage, 9.2 YPA and 3:1 TD:INT ratio in 62 passes over two games, and you have an unexpected hit film with one of the greatest endings of all time. We’re pretty sure it wasn’t all a dream.
Slow Closer: Reggie Wayne
Coming off the most disappointing year of his career, Wayne entered the season’s quarter pole with an eye-popping 36 catches for 506 yards and two touchdowns. He owned a 61/835/3 line through eight games. His production began to slip as the year wore on and Andrew Luck grew more comfortable with his other targets, however. Wayne looked much like the player he was in 2011 over the season’s final five games, snagging a good-but-not-great 22 passes for 250 yards and two scores. Well-conditioned and in a pass-happy offense, Wayne isn’t going to fall off the face of the earth this season. But with Luck a year older and wiser, Wayne is going to have to share in the wealth with Luck’s fellow sophomores T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener much more often than he did in 2012.
Fast Finisher: T.Y. Hilton
As Reggie Wayne cooled over the season’s second half, Hilton caught fire, totaling 32 catches for 608 yards and six touchdowns over the Colts’ final nine games. The outburst included four 100-yard efforts, and three six-catch performances. Being a rookie, Hilton also mixed in one doughnut and two other two-catch days, but still proved he has big-time upside in an offense piloted by perhaps the game’s brightest young quarterback.
Slow Closer: Daryl Richardson
With the Rams attempting to keep Steven Jackson fresh ahead of a potential trade, Richardson got off to a hot start, going into the Rams’ Week 9 bye with 62 rushes for 335 yards (5.4 yards per carry). It was a different story after the trade deadline, however, where S-Jax out-touched Richardson 175-46 over the season’s final eight games. Richardson got the rock just 24 times over the Rams’ final five contests, posting an anemic 70 yards from scrimmage. He’ll compete for the starting job this summer, but the Rams appear to prefer Isaiah Pead as their early-down runner.
Fast Finisher: Shane Vereen
That’s one way to put a slow regular season behind you. After scoring just four total touchdowns in Weeks 1-17, Vereen found paydirt three times across two postseason games. He caught seven playoff passes for 105 yards after notching only eight grabs in the regular season. Vereen’s January yards from scrimmage (162) was 40.5 percent of his regular-season total (400). The hot finish almost certainly solidified Vereen as Danny Woodhead’s heir apparent in hurry up/third down/passing situations.
Slow Closer: Brian Hartline
You could make the argument Hartline had a slow year outside of his 12/253/1 Week 4 outburst, but we digress. Hartline was particularly slow over the Dolphins’ final seven games, never surpassing five catches as he turned in a 25/342/0 line. Ryan Tannehill’s nominal No. 1 receiver was held below 50 yards four different times. None of that stopped the Dolphins from giving him a five-year, $30.775 million contract, of course. A No. 3 receiver stuck in a No. 2 wideout’s role, Hartline isn’t going to improve on his 74/1,083/1 2012 with Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller now in the fold.
Fast Finisher: Michael Floyd
It wasn’t just that Floyd caught 14 passes for 213 yards over his final two games. It’s that he largely did it with Brian Hoyer under center, the fourth quarterback to make starts for the Cardinals last season. Floyd’s eight grabs for 166 yards in Week 17 were both season highs, while his Week 16-17 yardage represented 37.9 percent of his rookie total. The beginning and middle to Floyd’s year were mediocre at best, but his finish suggests the 2012 No. 13 overall pick should be used to much greater effectiveness under living, breathing, actual QB Carson Palmer.
Slow Closer: Josh Freeman
Coach Greg Schiano is holding Freeman’s feet to the fire this offseason, routinely putting him on blast while passing up multiple opportunities to guarantee him the starting job. Perhaps it’s because Freeman fell apart down the stretch in 2012, tossing 10 interceptions to only six touchdowns over Tampa’s final five games. Freeman averaged just 6.23 yards per attempt over his final 209 passes, which would have been the worst in the league if extrapolated over the entire season. That means Freeman must “prove it” in 2013, both to Schiano and fantasy owners.
Fast Finisher: Joe Flacco
We’d seen great stretches from Flacco before, but nothing quite like what he did during the Ravens’ four-game run to the Super Bowl. Dispatching both the old (Tom Brady, Peyton Manning) and the new (Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick) along the way, Flacco roared to a 117.2 playoff QB rating. Along with it came an eye-popping 9.0 YPA, 11:0 TD:INT ratio and 285 yards per game. Flacco’s transformation really began in Week 14, when Jim Caldwell replaced a stale Cam Cameron at offensive coordinator. Prone to cold streaks and barely a career 60 percent passer, Flacco may never be an elite QB1, but has finally made the transition from fantasy hindrance to fantasy asset.
Slow Closer: Andy Dalton
Dalton’s struggles weren’t spectacular — he didn’t go down in a hail of interceptions like Freeman — but they were consistent. The red-headed sophomore surpassed 211 yards passing just twice over his final nine games, bottoming out in a dismal Wild Card performance. With the Bengals looking to notch their first postseason victory since 1990-91, Dalton completed just 14-of-30 passes for 127 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. Discounting a Week 17 tune up where he played only two quarters, Dalton averaged 198.5 yards per game over his final eight starts. That number simply won’t get it done in the modern NFL. OC Jay Gruden has admitted Dalton has a “long way to go,” and that he must improve his touch and deep-ball accuracy. His weak arm makes it unlikely the latter will ever get better.
Fast Finisher: Cam Newton
One of fantasy’s most hotly debated players, there’s no debating Newton’s finish last season: Scorching. After entering Week 9 with a brutal 5:8 TD:INT ratio (and three lost fumbles), Newton finished molten hot, ringing up 19 total touchdowns while committing just four turnovers. Along the way he piled up 2,599 yards from scrimmage (2,168 passing, 431 rushing). To put that — anecdotally, arbitrarily — in perspective, Tom Brady accounted for 2,746 yards from scrimmage over his final nine games. A more efficient player after the Panthers ditched their all-shotgun passing/exotic rushing attack, Newton is positioned to put it all together his third year in the league.
Slow Closer: Denarius Moore
Despite facing no real competition for No. 1 duties, Moore face-planted over the season’s final seven games, catching just 17 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Moore was held to one catch three different times during that stretch, “culminating” in a 1/5/1 line in Week 17. Moore has ability to spare, but must show more durability and consistency before owners can finally trust him as an every-week WR3.
Fast Finisher: Danario Alexander
Signed off the street in Week 7, “DX” was in the starting lineup by Week 10. The oft-injured former NCAA All-American ran with the opportunity, lighting up opponents to the tune of 34 catches for 597 yards and seven touchdowns over the Chargers’ final eight games. The hot finish earned Alexander surprisingly little interest as a restricted free agent — his infamously creaky knees are to blame for that — but proved he can produce like a star whenever he manages to get on the field. Even with the vertically-minded Norval Turner no longer calling the shots in San Diego, Alexander is a high-reward fantasy option if you can land him as your WR3.
Slow Closer: Trent Richardson
Richardson’s slow finish comes with two caveats: It was his first NFL campaign, and he was playing through multiple injuries. Alas, that doesn’t erase the fact that he totaled just 502 yards from scrimmage in Weeks 11-16, and averaged an anemic 3.26 yards per carry over his final 115 totes. Richardson sat out Week 17 with a “mild” high-ankle sprain and multiple broken ribs. Sidelined by a mysterious shin injury for the majority of the offseason, Richardson will be on the spot to prove he can stay healthy and productive as a sophomore.
Fast Finisher: Pierre Garcon
Playing through a painful toe injury, there was no guarantee Garcon would be able to stay on the field when he returned in Week 11. That’s why it was so surprising that he went off in Weeks 12-17, becoming Robert Griffin III’s favorite target as the Redskins won their final seven games to steal the NFC East title. Beginning with a 4/86/1 day on Thanksgiving, Garcon closed out the year with a 33/475/3 line over his final six games, rewarding patient fantasy owners who held his roster spot while proving he has WR2 upside in Washington if he can stay on the field.
Slow Closer: Jake Locker
Locker was an erratic wreck after the Titans’ Week 11 bye, turning the ball over 11 times while generating just five touchdowns in six games. He failed to top 152 yards passing in each of his final three starts. The stretch was a microcosm of Locker’s career to date, and one that has the Titans simplifying their offense and making it more run-based. Locker will be a shaky QB2 this season.
Fast Finisher: Bernard Pierce
One of the league’s most productive and consistent rookies last season, Pierce really kicked into gear after Week 12, taking the rock 105 times for 555 yards (5.29 yards per carry) over the Super Bowl champion Ravens’ final 10 games. After averaging 7.1 touches per contest during the regular season, Pierce saw that number jump to an even 10 in the postseason. Pierce lived up to his pre-draft reputation as a balanced, tackle-breaking dynamo, and enters 2013 as one of the league’s top handcuffs.
Slow Closer: Ryan Mathews
Mathews’ struggles have been well-documented, but some things bear repeating. The disappointing third-year back averaged just 3.21 yards per carry over his final 89 totes, and caught only nine passes over his final four games. Mathews struggled with a limited workload in Week 13 (nine carries for 26 yards against the Bengals), and a big one in Week 14 (25 rushes for 65 yards in Pittsburgh). His year ended in Week 15 with his second broken collarbone of 2012. Mathews’ slow finish, of course, came on the heels of a slow start, both to his year and career. A new coaching staff isn’t going to save him.
Fast Finisher: Rob Housler
Even with the Cardinals’ quarterback carousel spinning, Housler managed to pile up 33 catches between Weeks 7-14, finally flashing the skills that made him a third-round pick in 2011. A shoulder injury and Brian Hoyer made for a quiet final three weeks, but Housler put himself on the radar for the new coaching staff. New head man Bruce Arians has since described his 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end as a "a wideout playing tight end," and believes "the sky is the limit as far as where he can get talent-wise."
Slow Closer: Victor Cruz
Cruz averaged just 51.6 yards receiving over his final nine games, failing to surpass 36 yards five different times. Things bottomed out during the fantasy semifinals and finals in Weeks 15-16, where Cruz combined for just six catches and 36 yards. A slumping Eli Manning didn’t help matters, but it was a whimpering end to an 86/1,092/10 season.