With another fantasy football season in the books, it’s time to hand out some end-of-year hardware. The 2017 campaign, perhaps more than usual, was highlighted with plenty of unlikely heroes, and low-lighted, unfortunately, with injuries. Let’s first take a look at the many positives from another unpredictable season.
MVP: Rams RB Todd Gurley
Not only did he create easily fantasy’s biggest positional scoring advantage, Gurley, unlike, say, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown, was available in the second positional tier in some summer drafts. Gurley, who just might double as the league’s real-life MVP, was an absolute monster down the stretch, leading all of fantasy during the postseason by more than a 38-point (!) margin.
The pairing with Coach of the Year favorite Sean McVay helped rewrite the narrative of Gurley, who, admittedly, was included on our offseason bust list (whoops) after a disastrous sophomore season strained by an arhaic offense under Jeff Fisher's underqualified staff. Gurley merely rebounded to lead the NFL in total touchdowns in addition to passing Le'Veon Bell for the yards- from-scrimmage crown in the past two weeks despite handling 63 fewer touches.
Perhaps no NFL back offered a greater combination of explosiveness, strength, scoring propensity and versatility on a weekly basis.
Comeback Player of the Year: Rob Gronkowski
We considered DeAndre Hopkins, but he played a full season a year ago, albeit spoiled by Brock Osweiler. The way 'Nuk' bounced back to dominate regardless of which quarterback was throwing to him deserves mention.
Gronk, though, returned from Dec. 2017 back surgery to his old dominant self. He averaged a career-high 83.4 receiving yards a game, plus 8 TDs. Because this was the unofficial year of the streaming tight end, perhaps Gronk owners weathered his two absences better than the Patriots. They scored a season-low 19 points, albeit in a win, with him out with a quad injury in Week 5 and failed to convert a single third down in a noncompetitive Week 14 loss while he was suspended.
Top Newcomers: RB Kareem Hunt (AFC) and Saints RB Alvin Kamara (NFC)
Hunt was the flavor of September, for sure, but the play-calling duties being handed off to Matt Nagy helped Hunt catch up over the final three games with his first four touchdowns since the opening month and an average of 150 yards from scrimmage following a five-game streak of missing the century mark. Hunt, the third-rounder who took over for Spencer Ware early in Week 1, averaged 4.8 yards per carry and his only lost fumble on 324 touches came on his first chance in the NFL.
Kamara’s historic rookie season didn’t fully take off until Adrian Peterson was dealt to Arizona in Week 6. Over Kamara’s next nine full games (he exited early with a concussion in Week 14), he eclipsed 100 yards from scrimmage and/or found the end zone eight times. The explosive Kamara’s numbers in terms of efficiency — 6.2 yards per carry; 9.9 yards per catch — are right out of a video game and rivaled only by current or future Hall of Famers.
Most Improved Players: Chiefs QB Alex Smith (AFC) and Eagles WR Nelson Agholor (NFC)
Both of these players’ reinventions are nothing short of startling. Smith, in Year 13, elevated his average-per-attempt by more than a yard to 8.0. He did it while also completing a career high 341 passes for a 67.5 completion percentage and getting back to his dual-threat capabilities, nearly tripling his 2016 rushing total with 355 yards. Smith had never finished higher than QB13 overall prior to a top-three finish in a season that began with the Chiefs, coming off a division title season, moving up 17 spots in Round 1 to draft his replacement. He’s one of several fantasy flourishers who could be on the move this offseason.
Agholor’s improvements may be even more impressive than Smith’s. The 2015 first-rounder was nearing bust status before his Year 3 bust out including more than doubling his first two season’s production and becoming a dependable force for Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. Remember, Agholor also learned a new position, moving inside to the slot after the trade of Jordan Matthews, and he’s played like a seasoned pro while providing a dangerous complement to Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz in perhaps the NFL’s best pass-catching arsenal.
Front office of the Year: Saints
Like offensive line play and coaching— more on those momentarily — the front-office folks typically go unnoticed in fantasy because, well, you play the general manager in your league. But without GM Mickey Loomis and top scout Jeff Ireland, we’re not talking about both Rookie of the Year favorites (Kamara and Marshon Lattimore) belonging to the Saints, in addition to the top freshman blocker Ryan Ramczyk, who was selected with the draft pick acquired from the Patriots for Brandin Cooks. Between Kamara and free-agent signee Ted Ginn (career-high 78.1 percent catch rate), plus the addition of mauling OG Larry Warford to help emphasize the NFL’s best backfield, it’s safe to say the Saints survived Cooks’ departure.
Offensive line of the Year: Steelers
While units in Oakland, Tennessee and even Dallas were taking big steps back, Pittsburgh’s front wall continued to excel. And it did it with RT Marcus Gilbert missing nine games due to suspension and injuries. Offensive line coach Mike Munchak, one of the best in the business, has overseen a group that’s allowed Ben Roethlisberger to take the second-fewest sacks in a full season and be one of fantasy’s premier passers, particularly in December. Though Le’Veon Bell’s efficiency is down, his trust and patience in his movement generators remains incredibly high.
Coach of the Year: Rams coach Sean McVay
With apologies to the Eagles’ power trio of Doug Pederson, Frank Reich and John DeFillipo, responsible for overseeing Wentz’s brilliant sophomore ascent, and Minnesota's ultra-experienced and adaptable staff, McVay has to be the choice. His Rams more than doubled their total points in 2016, and he had a lot bigger mess to clean up without the benefit of an already-strong offensive line and season to get Wentz assimilated in a new scheme. McVay helped turn Jared Goff into a consistent force, Gurley into an MVP candidate and Buffalo’s castoff wideouts — Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins — and Eastern Washington product Cooper Kupp into a formidable offensive attack.
QB — Russell Wilson
RB — Todd Gurley and Mark Ingram
WR — Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins
TE — Travis Kelce
FLEX — Le’Veon Bell
PK — Greg Zuerlein
D/ST — Jaguars
All-Bust team (not injury related)
QB — Marcus Mariota
RB — DeMarco Murray and Isaiah Crowell
WR — Jordy Nelson and Terrelle Pryor
TE — Austin Hooper
PK — Brandon McManus
D/ST — Broncos
QB — Aaron Rodgers
RB — David Johnson and Dalvin Cook
WR — Odell Beckham and Allen Robinson
TE — Jordan Reed
FLEX — Julian Edelman