It happened in the blink of an eye.
Then defensive back Bernard Pollard came in low, hit Brady in the left knee and ultimately knocked him out for the remainder of 2008.
Brady's injury might have been a death sentence for owners who drafted him in the first round. But those who were diligent on the waiver wire were likely able to find a solid replacement in a season that saw several lesser-known quarterbacks thrive.
Cassel wasn't the most consistent quarterback, but he feasted on weaker opponents all season. Thigpen, who hails from Coastal Carolina, took over in Kansas City after the team lost Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard.
Despite starting just 11 games, Thigpen still finished with more fantasy points on NFL.com than Brett Favre and Ben Roethlisberger. He even led the entire league in fantasy points for several weeks down the stretch.
Ryan, the 2008 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, looked like a seasoned veteran in Atlanta. He didn't put up huge fantasy numbers on a consistent basis, but he did have a few very solid weeks. With a full season under his belt, Ryan looks like a fantasy star in the making. He'll also be a hot keeper across the board.
The biggest find of the season, however, was Kurt Warner.
He wasn't expected to open as the starter in Arizona (Matt Leinart appeared to be locked into the position), so Warner was left undrafted in most fantasy leagues. But when coach Ken Whisenhunt named him the starter, Warner became the hottest name on the fantasy waiver wire. He went on to throw for over 4,500 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Of course, the best quarterback in fantasy land was Drew Brees. He came within 15 passing yards of breaking Dan Marino's single-season record, and his 326 fantasy points (Weeks 1-16) led all players on NFL.com. He averaged over 20 fantasy points a week, threw for 300-plus yards 10 times and tossed multiple touchdown passes in 69 percent of his starts.
Rivers finished with career bests across the board and become one of the best draft values of 2008. He'll be ranked as one of the top quarterbacks of 2009. The same holds true for Rodgers, who replaced Brett Favre in Green Bay and far outscored him in fantasy land. The Cal product ranked third behind Brees and Rivers in fantasy points on NFL.com, scoring 304 during the fantasy season -- and 91 more points than Favre.
The season wasn't without it's disappointments, though, as Favre, Ben Roethlisberger and David Garrard failed to meet expectations.
Outside of his six-touchdown stat line against the Cardinals back in Week 4, Favre threw for 16 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Roethlisberger had awful protection from his offensive line the entire season, and his numbers suffered. One season removed from scoring 34 touchdowns, Big Ben was a big bust with just 19 scores. Garrard, a popular breakout candidate, also played behind a less-than-stellar offensive line that was hit hard by injuries.
Overall, we learned that having an elite quarterback is huge in that quest for a championship. But even without a superstar signal-caller, fantasy owners were still able to play the matchups and find success with the likes of Cassel and Thigpen. The same will be true next season at a position that will have a lot of depth with Brady back in the mix.
Running backs will rule the roast in the first and second round of 2009 drafts, but quarterbacks have taken a step forward in value on the fantasy food chain.
Player of the year -- Brees. It's hard to argue with his immense numbers and consistent level of fantasy production.
Bust of the year -- Brady. Yes, he did get hurt. But going from 52 touchdowns to zero sounds like a bust to me.
Breakout of the year -- Rivers. He completely exploded and put up better numbers than Manning and Tony Romo.
Sleeper of the year -- Cassel. Thigpen was also considered here, but Cassel hadn't started a game since high school before 2008.
Top player for 2009 -- Brees. How can you pass on a quarterback in a pass-laden offense who's coming off a 5,000-yard season?