Foster puts cherry on top of brilliant 2010 season

Scott Engel of reviews five of the biggest fantasy storylines from Week 17.

1. The Value King: Sunday's game officially marked the end of a major thrill ride for Arian Foster and his initially unsuspecting owners in 2010. Foster rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Jacksonville, as he ended one of the most improbable runs to the top of the fantasy football ranks in the history of the game. Foster will open the 2011 season as the certain consensus No. 1 pick in 2011 drafts after rushing for 1, 616 yards and 16 TDs in 2010. He also added 66 catches for 604 yards and two more scores. His versatility as a pass-catcher only solidifies his newfound status as the No. 1 player in fantasy football. No player in fantasy football provided fantasy owners with as much wire-to-wire outstanding value as Foster. He had a 2010 Average Draft Position of 85.76 (round nine) on, yet after he rushed for 213 yards and three scores in the season opener, it was apparent that he was something and someone special.

After just his second NFL season, the 24-year-old Foster has plugged a longtime hole in the backfield for the Texans. He presents a unique package of vision, strength, balance, power and the ability to make defenders miss when it counts most. He is going to be one of the top fantasy players in the game for at least a few seasons. And he is surely the type of player who his owners simply love to have on their teams, because he helps fantasy players deliver the ultimate bragging rights. If you drafted Foster, you looked a lot smarter than everyone else in your league. Well, at least you can tell them you were.

2. What a Steel: In 2010 drafts, Hines Ward had an ADP of 54.23, putting him in the sixth round of most selection processes, while his receiving partner, Mike Wallace, had an ADP of 62.52, landing him in the seventh round on average. Ward certainly earned the higher status prior to the season, as he was consistently reliable for many seasons and Wallace was being picked mostly on upside, not much experience. This past season, though, it became apparent that Ward has now ceded No. 1 WR status to Wallace, who enjoyed a major breakthrough season and will go into 2011 pegged much higher on cheat sheets than Ward has been in recent memory.

The anchor of the Pittsburgh receiving game since the early part of the decade, Ward finished the season with his fifth TD reception in Week 17 and ended the year with 755 receiving yards, his lowest total since 2000. Wallace, meanwhile, totaled 105 receiving yards on Sunday and caught his 10th TD. He finished the season with 1,257 receiving yards and there is some perception among fantasy leaguers that, at 24 years old, we have not even seen his best yet. Wallace has amazing open-field gears and separation speed. He will surely be drafted as a WR1 with even more possible upside in 2011. Keep in mind that he caught 60 balls this season, and if he starts to develop more as a possession type, he will truly rank among the very best at his position for a long time.

3. CJ1.3k:Chris Johnson was easily the first overall selection in many drafts in 2010, but his owners were often frustrated by inconsistency. Johnson finished with 1,364 rushing yards and 11 TDs this season, not bad numbers by any means, but he averaged approximately 40 less rushing yards per game than he did during his historic 2009 campaign, when he produced 125.4 YPG. The 2010 version averaged 85.3 YPG and finished with 39 rushing yards on 20 carries in Week 17. Eight times in 2010, Johnson rushed for less than 70 yards in a game, and he was even limited to five yards in a November matchup with Houston. He scored three rushing TDs in the second half of the season.

Johnson salvaged his Week 17 stat line with 51 receiving yards and a TD on six receptions. But his Sunday receiving score was his only one of 2010, and his receiving yards fell from 503 in '09 to 245. Few fantasy leaguers and experts were expecting another run to 2,000, yet Johnson was certainly much less effective and dependable overall this year. The emergence of Kenny Britt hopefully points to a more diversified and reliable passing game for the Titans in 2011, one that defenses must fear and honor much more. Johnson will be playing with a target on his jersey for a long time to come, and the only way to spring him free more regularly is for Tennessee to make defenses respect their passing game much more than they did in 2010.

4. Year Two Preview: The first-year hype machine generated much fantasy buzz for Chargers first-round pick Ryan Mathews, who had an ADP of 14.02 in leagues this season. The promising rookie had a higher ADP than Steven Jackson, Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy. Injury issues, however, derailed Mathews during much of his first pro season, and he entered the final week of the 2010 campaign with less than 600 rushing yards and four TDs in 11 games. Mathews saved his best for the last game, though, as he gave real glimpses of why both NFL and fantasy types should remain excited about his future prospects. Mathews rushed for 120 yards and three TDs at Denver. His pure talents were on display, as Mathews exhibited great vision, tenacity and elusiveness. Mathews is a special runner when he is healthy, as he operates well in short space and can use nifty moves and quickness well when he gets to the second level of defenders. Mathews still has a ton of upside for 2011, and it may turn out that those who predicted his quick rise in 2010 were simply a year early on being correct. Many owners will let Mathews drop to the fourth round or so in 2011 drafts, making him a fine potential value selection. He should emerge as at least a top RB2 in fantasy next season.

5. Silly 17: Sunday's action offered many reminders why fantasy Super Bowls should not be played in Week 17. The Eagles did not field many of their top players, including Michael Vick, arguably the fantasy MVP of 2010. Those playing without Vick in Week 17 may have lost out on a fantasy championship they truly deserved a week ago. The Patriots deactivated Wes Welker and Deion Branch, two players who were part of many runs to the championship rounds this past season. Calvin Johnson was active, yet did not play as the Lions elected to hold out their franchise player in a meaningless game rather than risk aggravating an ankle problem. The Jets deactivated two of their top RBs. Why should any fantasy championship game have Joe McKnight as a prominent performer? Teams such as Chicago and Kansas City looked mostly listless on offense, and did not appear to play with much intensity. Hopefully, your league manager learned these lessons as well. A Week 17 fantasy Super Bowl throws optimum results so far out of whack, it's not worth extending the season an extra week.

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