Pat Mahomes
Pat Mahomes — USA Today Sports Image

What better way to conclude the imaginary football season than by handing out imaginary hardware? Don’t answer that — we’re doing it anyway.

First, though, a sincere thank you for reading our fantasy coverage this season. We hope it helped you win your league(s), and if not, we hope it at least made losing more tolerable.

As we do each year, let’s look at some of the bigger surprises, disappointments and everything in between with another fantasy season behind us.

MVP

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes

He’s going to win the award in real life, and although we gave serious consideration to RB1 overall in PPR leagues, Christian McCaffrey, the fact that owners found Mahomes in the mid rounds and C-Mac was a premium pick was the principle tiebreaker.

Mahomes’ 399.74 points were the most by any fantasy quarterback in at least two decades and the highest mark by any player over that span, with the exception of 2006 MVP LaDainian Tomlinson.

From lefty throws to no-look passes, from excelling as a contortionist to a crunch-time assassin, Mahomes truly did it all for the Chiefs and his fantasy owners alike. His play epitomized MVP, often strapping a sieve ‘D’ to his back en route to the conference’s top seed, and his week-to-week consistency lifted many owners to league titles.

COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Texans QB Deshaun Watson

Andrew Luck would be a wonderful choice in most seasons. He finished as QB8 overall following more than a year away from football because of a career-threatening injury to his throwing shoulder. And he did it sliding seamlessly into a new offense under Coach of the Year candidate Frank Reich, surpassing Peyton Manning’s franchise record by throwing at least three TD passes in eight consecutive games.

But this wasn’t most seasons. And as brilliantly as Luck performed, Deshaun Watson was a tad better for owners after returning from his Nov. 2017 ACL tear. Watson finished as QB6 overall, but more importantly, he led all fantasy passers in the playoffs, dazzling on the road late in a win over the Jets and last-second loss to the Eagles.

No dual-threat QB threatened defenses more with his throwing-running combination than Watson, who had 700-plus more yards than Russell Wilson, one more passing touchdown than Aaron Rodgers and more rushing yards than every regular starter not named Cam Newton.

TOP NEWCOMERS

Giants RB Saquon Barkley (NFC) and Browns RB Nick Chubb (AFC)

You thought it had to be Saquon Barkley and Phillip Lindsay, right? Both were fabulous in their debut seasons as fantasy feature attractions, and Lindsay was one of the best values of the year. We’ll get to Barkley in a moment, but here’s why we’re siding with Chubb over Lindsay: though both were preseason afterthoughts, only Chubb was a postseason war daddy. And although neither were fully maximized by incompetent coaches, Chubb was more consistent than Lindsay once the Carlos Hyde handcuffs were removed.

As for Barkley, he didn’t finish with the flourish owners coveted, but outpacing the two previous Rookies of the Year in Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott in a more limited offense helps illustrate just how special he is. Drafting a running back No. 2 overall still wasn’t the right decision, but through zero fault of Barkley’s.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYERS

Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett (NFC) and Colts TE Eric Ebron (AFC)

For Lockett, it was all about staying fresh, while Ebron’s Year 5 breakout showed the power of a fresh start.

Seattle’s leading receiver, Lockett scored nine receiving TDs — equaling the total in his first three seasons combined — and posted not only team highs but career highs in catches (55), yards (899) and average per reception (16.3). What won’t show up in the stats is how much Seattle needed him to finally stay healthy and put it all together with uber-dependable Doug Baldwin missing action for the first time since Russell Wilson’s rookie season.

Although injuries marred Ebron’s fantasy postseason, he paced the decrepit TE position with 13 total touchdowns — he totaled 12 in his first four seasons with the Lions — en route to TE4 overall billing. In fairness, Ebron still battled his hands, so perhaps this is as much about most improved setting, but he regularly delivered for his new club, which played much of the season without fellow TE Jack Doyle.

FRONT OFFICE OF THE YEAR — Chiefs

Is this an 2017 achievement award? Perhaps. But it took some stones from Andy Reid and Brett Veach to trade away the highest-rated quarterback in the NFL — and franchise history — and every bit as much foresight to confidently replace him with … the new highest-rated quarterback in franchise history. And it’s not like Mahomes is the only big move they made. The signing of Damien Williams flew under the radar in March, but all he did was outscore every back besides McCaffrey and Derrick Henry in the playoffs. The Sammy Watkins signing wasn’t as big a hit, but Kendall Fuller — the sweetener in the Alex Smith deal — has been indispensable for a defense that’s better in fantasy than reality. And the club's first pick in the 2016 draft before drafting Mahomes last year, Chris Jones, is the NFL's best player with whom you're not familiar.

OFFENSIVE LINE OF THE YEAR — Colts

Luck has been sacked a league-low 17 times, one fewer than the Saints’ Drew Brees, and the importance of new-found protection for a franchise with perpetual O-line issues and a quarterback returning from such a stark injury layoff can’t be overstated. The Colts had a nice mix of big-ticket blockers (Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly) and under-the-radar additions (Mark Glowinski, Braden Smith), in addition to withstanding some attrition tests along the way.

COACH OF THE YEAR — Andy Reid

We could just as confidently and comfortably have given this award to Reich, Pete Carroll, Matt Nagy, Sean Payton or Anthony Lynn — all deserving candidates on an impressive ballot. But it was Reid who masterfully positioned Mahomes in his MVP campaign, incorporating Air-Raid concepts into his west coast system to make things as easy as possible for his bazooka-launching quarterback. Reid also oversaw the career years for Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill and ensured the offense didn’t skip a beat after Kareem Hunt’s release. At 35.3 points per game, Reid’s Chiefs are bested only in scoring over the past two decades by Peyton Manning’s 2013 Broncos and Tom Brady’s 2007 Patriots.

DREAM TEAM

QB — Patrick Mahomes

RB — Christian McCaffrey and Todd Gurley

WR — Davante Adams and Michael Thomas

FLEX — Saquon Barkley

PK —  Jason Myers

D/ST — Bears

ALL-BUST TEAM (not injury related)

QB — Tom Brady

RB — Kenyan Drake and LeSean McCoy

WR — Michael Crabtree and Larry Fitzgerald

TE — Jordan Reed

PK — Chris Boswell

D/ST — Eagles

ALL-INJURY TEAM

QB — Marcus Mariota

RB — Devonta Freeman and Leonard Fournette

WR — A.J. Green and Will Fuller

TE — Greg Olsen

FLEX — Cooper Kupp