The 2008 fantasy football season was without question one of the strangest and most unpredictable ever.
Fantasy leaguers who drafted Michael Turner or DeAngelo Williams looked like football prophets, while those who took heralded superstars such as Joseph Addai and Braylon Edwards were left wondering what in the world went wrong. It was a season in which Matt Cassel, who hadn't started a game since high school, replaced an injured Tom Brady and led owners to a league title. There was the fall of LaDainian Tomlinson, the rise of Tyler Thigpen and an increase in the value of rookies across the board.
Now that this wild and wacky fantasy season is in the rearview mirror, it's time to award the best of the best for their statistical accomplishments. So without further ado, let's hand out some online hardware with our annual Guru Awards.
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina: Williams, who led all running backs in fantasy points, might have been the best value in all fantasy drafts. He wasn't even rated the best runner on his own team in the preseason (Jonathan Stewart was ranked ahead of him), but that didn't stop Williams from rushing for 1,515 yards and scoring 20 touchdowns. He scored four times in two different contests down the stretch, including a game against the Giants in fantasy championship week. In an offense that runs the ball a ton, Williams will be a top-five selection in most 2009 drafts.
Runner-up: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans
Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee: One of the most pleasant surprises in fantasy football, Johnson exceeded expectations in his first NFL season. The fast and elusive back out of East Carolina hauled in 43 passes, recorded 1,488 scrimmage yards and scored 10 total touchdowns, all while sharing the workload with LenDale White. He now has a full season under his belt and will continue to be featured in the Titans' run-based offense, so Johnson will remain a valuable option. He has become an attractive keeper in all leagues, and there's little doubt that he'll be a first-round pick in 2009.
Runner-up: Tyler Thigpen, QB, Kansas City
Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta: Williams took home the MVP award, but Turner deserves some recognition. "The Burner" was a fantasy Superman in his first season with the Falcons, rushing for 1,699 yards and an amazing 17 touchdowns. He was especially effective at home, rushing for 1,032 yards and 14 touchdowns at the Georgia Dome. He rushed for 100-plus yards eight times, including two 200-plus yard stat lines, and found the end zone at least once in 10 of his 16 starts in the regular season. The fact that he logged 376 carries is cause for some concern, but Turner will be a top-three pick next season.
Runner-up: Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego
Joseph Addai, RB, Indianapolis:Tom Brady was the biggest bust in fantasy football, but we're not counting a season-ending knee injury for this "award." Addai, a top-five pick in most drafts, was inconsistent and unproductive for much of the season. In fact, he finished with a mere 544 rushing yards and scored fewer fantasy points than backups like Ricky Williams, Leon Washington, Chester Taylor and Mewelde Moore. Addai left a lot of fantasy leaguers with a bad taste in their mouths, so don't be shocked to see him fall out of the first round in next season's drafts.
Runner-up: Braylon Edwards, WR, Cleveland
Matt Forte, RB, Chicago:Matt Ryan might have won the NFL's Rookie of the Year award, but Forte was the unquestioned top rookie performer in fantasy football. Most of the preseason talk about rookie runners centered around Darren McFadden, but Forte was the best back. The Tulane product caught 63 passes, totaled over 1,700 scrimmage yards and found the end zone a total of 12 times. Forte played more like a seasoned veteran than a rookie, and he'll remain the top option in the Bears' run-based offense in the foreseeable future. He'll be a top-five pick next season.
Runner-up: Chris Johnson, Tennessee
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans: When a quarterback throws for better than 5,000 yards (no one but Dan Marino had ever accomplished that feat) and 34 touchdowns, it's hard not to rank him at the top of his position. That was the case with Brees, who was a reliable and productive starter all season. He threw for 250-plus yards on 11 different occassions, with 10 performances of over 300 yards. Brees also threw for multiple touchdowns in 69 percent of his starts. In an offense that will continue to lean on the pass, Brees will no doubt be a top keeper and the first quarterback off the board in most 2009 drafts.
Runner-up: Philip Rivers, San Diego
Fantasy running back
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina: Williams, who was also our fantasy MVP, led countless owners to a championship in what was a breakout season. But here's the question: Can he do it again? Well, history suggests Williams is destined to see a decrease in numbers. Only four running backs who have scored 20 or more touchdowns in a single season came within five scores of equaling their previous season's total. Overall, the 17 runners (not including Jim Brown) to score 20 or more times averaged an impressive 22.7 scores. Those same 17 runners averaged a solid (but still decreased) 13.2 touchdowns the next season.
Runner-up: Michael Turner, Atlanta
Fantasy wide receiver
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona: Forget about Randy Moss or Terrell Owens, Fitzgerald has established himself as the top wideout in fantasy land. He hauled in 96 passes for 1,431 yards and scored 12 touchdowns and has now averaged an impressive 98 catches, 1,420 yards and 11 scores over the past two seasons. The talented Fitzgerald has also scored double-digit touchdowns in three of his last four seasons. Unless the Cardinals fail to re-sign Kurt Warner, who is slated to become a free agent after the season, Fitzgerald will remain one of the top (if not the best) wide receiver in fantasy land.
Runner-up: Andre Johnson, Houston
Fantasy tight end
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Kansas City: Gonzalez might have had a slow start to the season (he averaged just 39 yards in his first five games), but his final numbers down the stretch were enormous for fantasy leaguers. Overall, he hauled in 96 passes for 1,058 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. Much of his success came when the Chiefs turned the reins over to Tyler Thigpen and abandoned Larry Johnson as the centerpiece of the offense. While changes could be imminent in Kansas City, it's hard to see a scenario where Gonzalez wouldn't remain prominent in the offensive attack. He'll be a top-three tight end in 2009.
Runner-up: Jason Witten, Dallas
Stephen Gostkowski, K, New England: The Patriots offense wasn't as explosive without Brady, but it still allowed Gostkowski more than his share of opportunities to produce points for fantasy leaguers. He connected on 36 of his 40 field-goal attempts and all 40 of his extra points. His 150 fantasy points on NFL.com during the course of the fantasy season (Weeks 1-16) led all kickers. Gostkowski, who has connected on 89 percent of his field-goal attempts over the last two seasons, will be a coveted kicker in 2009.
Runner-up: Rob Bironas, Tennessee
Fantasy defender (IDP)
Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco: Willis was the top-rated individual defensive player in most preseason rank lists, and he didn't disappoint. The star linebacker out of Mississippi finished the season with 141 total tackles (109 solo), one sack, 10 defensed passes and one touchdown. While his 2008 totals were down from his immense rookie numbers (174 total tackles, four sacks), Willis should remain the consensus top defender in all IDP leagues.
Runner-up: Jon Beason, LB, Carolina
Baltimore Ravens: This was a close call between the Ravens and Steelers, but the Purple and Black get the nod. The unit finished the season with 35 sacks, 26 interceptions, 13 forced fumbles and six touchdowns. The Ravens also scored double-digit fantasy points in all but three weeks during the fantasy season (Weeks 1-16), so this team was a consistent producer of fantasy points. There's a chance defensive coordinator Rex Ryan could land a head coaching job elsewhere for 2009, but the Ravens will remain a valuable option in fantasy land.