Awards season is in full swing. The Golden Globes and Grammys have come and gone while the Oscars are right around the corner. We here at NFL Fantasy don't want to be left out of the fray. That's why we're presenting our first-ever NFL Fantasy Academy Awards, honoring the best of fantasy football in categories that you probably never even considered.
So here you have it ... our chance to hand out some kudos to celebrate the fantasy season that was all while piggybacking on Oscar buzz. (I mean, really, what did you think this was?) Just know that the band won't play you off the page if you take your time reading this. We promise. Without further ado, let's start the show.
Best running back in a supporting role
At the start of the 2015 season, Williams was just supposed to be a stopgap measure to hold down the fort as Le'Veon Bell served an early suspension. No one expected that the veteran would be the top rusher in the NFL over those first few weeks. When Bell went down with a knee injury in Week 8, Williams once again took the opportunity and ran with it -- literally -- going for 597 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. By the end of the season, Williams was the fourth-best running back in fantasy. Not bad for a guy signed as an insurance policy.
Best new performer
It was a two-man race between Johnson and Todd Gurley, but Arizona's do-it-all dynamo gets the edge simply because of his ability to ... do it all. Johnson topped Gurley in total touchdowns, far outpaced his fellow rookie in receiving yards, and added a kick return score for good measure. If that's not good enough for you, consider that fantasy owners likely didn't need to spend a draft pick to add Johnson to their rosters. That's how you introduce yourself to the world. Perhaps the best news in all of this is that with Johnson and Gurley in the same division, we'll hopefully get to watch this battle several times for years to come.
Achievement in visual effects
Was there any better visual effect in 2015 than Cousins looking like a top-10 fantasy quarterback? Barnidge was a nice find at a shallow position, but much of his production came in a four-week stretch. And Lamar Miller's sixth-place finish among running backs? That was as convincing any special effect in a SyFy Channel movie. Yet, fantasy enthusiasts will likely spend a good portion of the offseason debating whether Cousins' can replicate his surprise performance in 2016. In the meantime, we're still trying to believe what we just saw from him in 2015. Yes ... we liked that.
Best portrayal of a first-round pick
You might have noticed that the nomination process eschewed any running backs in favor of wide receivers. That's because injuries and underperformance left running backs as underwhelming as the cast of one of those schlocky holiday-themed "Love Actually" knockoffs. You know, like this one. Anyway, 2015 was the year when wide receivers asserted their fantasy dominance and few flexed their muscles like Brandon Marshall. Fears of the veteran being shoehorned into a lackluster Jets offense pushed his draft stock down to the ninth round. But a surprise change at quarterback helped Marshall prosper and he went on to be the third-best receiver in fantasy, ahead of such coveted wideouts as Odell Beckham, Jr. and DeAndre Hopkins. Allen Robinson made a strong push for the award, but came up just short.
Best fantasy performance in a single game
During what was an MVP season, Newton came up huge for fantasy managers at the right time. Superman was downright heroic in a much ballyhooed game against the Giants. While the Odell Beckham vs. Josh Norman shenanigans earned most of the headlines, Newton was the real story with 440 total yards (100 rushing) and five touchdown passes. The Giants were victimized by two of the nominees, giving up seven touchdown passes to Drew Brees in Week 8 -- a performance that could have taken home the prize were it not for a pair of interceptions. Plus ... what was in the water in Week 15?
Best fantasy production in a single game
It's kinda hard to deny a game that featured 13 total touchdown passes and had more people scoring on-screen than "50 Shades of Grey." If you had any of the principals in either offense, you were pretty pleased with how the day went. Week 8's three top scorers (Drew Brees - 44.30, Eli Manning - 38.00 and Odell Beckham, Jr. - 31.00) all came from this contest. In total, five players from this game were in the top 14 point-getters for the week with both Benjamin Watson and Brandin Cooks topping the 20-point mark. Surprisingly, the Week 7 tilt between the Texans and Dolphins nearly pulled the upset. If only the Dolphins hadn't taken their foot off the gas after halftime.
Best offensive defense
There's a lot that goes into being a good fantasy defense, but the ability to put the ball in the end zone without the aid of your offense can elevate a mediocre defensive unit. Not that the Cardinals had any problems with mediocrity. Arizona's defense was officially a "Birdemic" and it certainly didn't hurt that they accounted for nine total scores, including six defensive touchdowns and a kickoff return. Angry birds, indeed.
Best fantasy director
And the winner is ... Bruce Arians
We all know that coaches are in place to win real football games, not fantasy ones. Of course some coaches seem to spite our fantasy squads to the detriment of their own teams. In other words, they don't (as my collegue Matt Harmon simply put it) throw the ball to their good players. But not Arians. Apart from his matter-of-fact press conference quotes and James Bond villain attire, the beauty of the Cardinals coach is that he identifies his playmakers and allows them to succeed. That not only goes for the offensive performance of players like Carson Palmer and David Johnson, but for the fantasy fortunes of the defense as well.
Marc Bulger award for achievement in fantasy quarterbacking
And it wasn't even close. The "honor" is named for the former St. Louis Rams quarterback who was a top 10 fantasy quarterback in 2003 and 2004 despite turning the ball over 46 times in that span. That brings us to Bortles. The Jaguars quarterback led the league in interceptions (although in fairness, it took until Week 17 to regain that mantle from Peyton Manning) and was tied for third in fumbles lost among quarterbacks. Yet, somehow he parlayed all of that into a fourth-place finish at the position. If that's not succeeding in spite of yourself, I don't know what is. He's Quentin Tarantino continually casting himself in his own movies.
LaDainian Tomlinson award for lifetime fantasy achievement
There's a pretty good chance that we have seen the last of these two fantasy titans on a football field. That makes this feel like an opportune time to salute a pair of players who were continually among the elite at their respective positions for the overwhelming majority of their careers. Much like the award's namesake, both Johnson and Manning were considered first-round picks at their peak. Salute!