Fantasy Football’s Misunderstood: Cam & AP

The 2012 Fantasy Football season saw a number of great things. The emergence of 3 incredible rookie quarterbacks, the amazing comebacks of Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson, the record setting year from Calvin Johnson, the list goes on.

But like every year, a number of players were chalked up as busts, and likewise others were touted as studs, when maybe that wasn’t really the case for either. There are plenty of players who really did disappoint, like Michael Vick and Brandon Lloyd – high draft picks who never panned out – and there are the usual studs like Aaron Rogers, Drew Brees and Arian Foster. We can talk obvious studs and busts all day, but what I want to focus on today is the guys who had seasons that weren’t so obvious to the public for one reason or another. The guys whose reputations weren’t backed up by the actual numbers. Let’s look a little bit deeper at some players from this season and gauge their value going forward.

Cam Newton, Panthers QB

I’ve heard a lot of people, both average joes and so-called experts, tear down the year Newton had in 2012. There’s all this talk about a sophomore slump, not living up to expectations and blah, blah, blah. Are these assessments fair? Do they paint a true picture of the season Newton had? I don’t think so.

Let’s start with the simple fact that the Carolina Panthers are not a very good football team. This season, while playing a difficult schedule (including games against Denver, Seattle, Dallas, Washington and Chicago) the Panthers started off terribly, going 2-8 through their first ten games of the season.

Particularly, Carolina struggled mightily this year with their rushing game; Newton was the team’s leading rusher with virtually identical totals to last season (709 yards in 2011, 742 this year), when he was third on the team behind D’Angelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. However this season both backs regressed, with Williams being a legitimate issue for the team, compiling 100 fewer yards on 18 additional carries compared to 2011. While Stewart missed 7 games with injury, he was far less effective when playing, garnering just 3.6 yards per carry after going for 5.4 last season.

Steve Smith also saw a regression this year, although to a much smaller degree. Smith had 1.5 fewer yards per catch this year with virtually the same workload (79 receptions in 2011, 73 this year). Reasons for this decline are various: a lousy offensive line, the fact that he’s 33 years old, lack of production from the backfield and the number two receiver in Carolina being Louis Murphy, with a woeful 25 catches for 336 yards in 16 games. Having to use tight ends Greg Olsen and Brandon Lafell regularly in the passing game when your quarterback is sacked on nearly 8% of drop backs (according to Football Outsiders) is not an ideal situation.

This cavalcade of problems has led to the public perception that Newton was not as valuable a fantasy quarterback this season; however, his numbers show that he was as good or better in 2012 then in his rookie season. He threw for 3,869 yards this year as opposed to 4,051 last year, only 11 yards less per week. And while Newton did throw fewer touchdowns this year (21 compared to 19), he also threw fewer interceptions (17 to 12), maintained his completion percentage (58%) and improved his yards per attempt (7.8 to 8.0). Rushing touchdowns were the one statistic that took a real hit this season, falling from 14 to 8. But those 8 touchdowns still led all quarterbacks and were tied for 11th overall among all rushers in the NFL.

Despite being stuck on a team with a terrible offensive line, a lousy running game, and only one true receiving threat, Cam Newton scored 22.8 points per game this year, good enough to be the seventh best fantasy quarterback and fewer then 4 points off MVP candidates Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

New Panthers GM Dave Gettleman is one of the best personnel men in the league after contributing to the Giants’ success in recent years, and will surely be able to improve a roster that already has several key pieces in place, and a coach in Ron Rivera that was able to keep his team motivated and upbeat to finish the year strong after so many early season troubles. Look for this team to be much improved in 2013, as it should feature a bounce back season from a healthy Stewart, and Gettleman will likely bring in more talented offensive personnel this offseason, particularly on the offensive line. Newton proved this year that he could perform at a high level with little to no help around him, and if he is given something more to work with next year, he very well could be a top 3 fantasy QB.

Adrian Peterson, Vikings RB

Adrian Peterson

Is AP really worth that 1-1 pick? He turns 28 in March…

Let’s get one thing straight right away – I am not bashing Adrian Peterson. He is the best running back in football, reality or fantasy, and it’s not even a contest. He averaged 22.8 points per game this year – 4 more then any other running back. He will be the first running back (and probably first player) taken in fantasy drafts next year, and rightfully so. I just want to play a little bit of devil’s advocate and issue a small “buyer beware” type of warning.

During the first eight games of the season, Peterson came out of the gate extremely strong and looking like his old self. Across the board he was on pace to return to his pre-injury numbers when he averaged about 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns per season, while also contributing around 28 receptions. Peterson was averaging 16.5 points per game, good for 5th among running backs and leaving all who took a chance drafting him feeling vindicated. And then…

Beginning in week 9 we saw one of the most incredible performances the sport-watching world has ever seen, as Adrian Peterson rushed for 1,322 yards, scored 8 of his 12 touchdowns, and and treated his fantasy owners to an astonishing 28.8 points per game in the second half, better then any other player in fantasy, regardless of position. The increase in points per game from the first 8 games to the last 8 was equal to adding an additional top 20 running back on your team.

But here’s the thing, do you know what else happened in week 9 of the 2012 season? Wide receiver Percy Harvin was lost for the year to an ankle injury. At the time, he was on pace to record 130 receptions for 1,500 yards, was running the ball 3-5 times per game for over 4 yards per carry and was arguably the best kick returner in the NFL.

It is in no way a coincidence that Peterson’s rise from great to historic exactly coincides with the Vikings loss of Harvin. That isn’t a criticism of AP – if anything, it speaks volumes about his talents that when the team needed him most, he delivered. But from a fantasy perspective you cannot ignore the correlation or the fact that it points to lesser numbers in 2013.

Peterson is always an elite fantasy player, but with Harvin playing, AP averaged 18 carries per game, as opposed to 25 without Harvin. You simply cannot expect AP to duplicate what he did this year. At the very least, with Harvin back in the fold, Peterson will not get the 350 carries he got this year and that fact alone will cut into his fantasy numbers. Harvin is equally important to the Vikings’ offense when healthy and with a very capable back-up in Toby Gerhart, there is no reason for Peterson to have that level of workload and risk injury, especially when you consider the guy gets 6 yards per carry and would still have led the NFL in rushing this year on 80% of his carries. Going into next season, I expect to see Adrian Peterson going 1st overall in most fantasy drafts. And while he should be the first running back taken, his fantasy points are unlikely (at best) to return that kind of value – I’d expect to see him in the range of 7th–10th in terms of total points next year. Consider your position carefully before going all in on All Day.

Written by contributor Adam Brindamour. Follow Adam on Twitter @arb01686.

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