The theme of this year’s fantasy football season is “new places, old faces.” That wasn’t our idea, but it brings us to yet another one of the 127 similarities between playing fantasy football and playing with Barbie Dolls: Both involve deciding if a new outfit looks better and your wife wouldn’t appreciate you playing with either for more than six hours at a time.
Hoping to make some sense of the giant off season player shuffle, we took a look at some of the most dramatic swings in fantasy football history…
The Five Best Moves
The only reason why Moss took the field in Oakland was because it was impossible for him to find a body double to replace his freakish figure. A mediocre first season in silver and black was followed up by an atrocious, 553-receiving yard and 3 touchdown year. Moss eventually ended up in a halfway home for criminals, also known as the New England Patriots.
There, he immediately posted the best fantasy season in wide receiver history. Nearly 1500 receiving yards and 100 catches. 23 receiving touchdowns. Anyone who had Moss or Tom Brady on their roster will clearly remember this video game season for the Pats. It just goes to show that all you have to do to appease these wide receiver divas is give them everything they want.
This breakout was expected by all. After four years playing backup to LaDanian Tomlinson, the gifted Turner got the starting job in Atlanta. He immediately dropped a 1,699 yard, 17 TD season, although he caught the ball about as often as Wile E. Coyote caught Roadrunner. He had over 100 more carries that year than his previous career total, and led the league with 376 touches. By switching coasts, Turner went from perennial backup to fantasy tier 1 overnight.
Interestingly, Turner fell victim to the curse of 350, which isn’t so much a curse as a suggestion that if you run a guy into a brick wall 350 times, that guy is going to hurt. Turner’s promising sophomore season was ruined by a persistent injury. This is significant because last season, Turner again led the league in carries.
Brees had started for the Bolts for 5 seasons without ever becoming more than a fantasy back up. He was expected to do pretty much the same when he was picked up to start for the New Orleans Saints. Instead, Brees bloomed, dropping an impressive 26-11 TD-INT ratio, and a monstrous 4418 passing yards. Dan Marino still holds the record with 5,084 yards, to illustrate how much fantasy leverage Brees was dropping. Brees was available deep into most drafts, and those who got him found a tier 1 quarterback immediately on their roster.
Based just on his name, we’re going to guess Holmes didn’t live up to his parents’ career expectations. But he more than exceeded fantasy expectations in 2001. Holmes had shown promise as a fantasy back, putting up 1,000 yards his second year. But the emergence of superfreak Jamal Lewis put James on the bench for most of the next two years. When Kansas City picked him up, he was barely on the fantasy radar. He immediately became an automatic first round pick by leading the league in rushing. Holmes is the ideal example of a dream mid-round pick, much like Arian Foster last season.
This may have been one of the most difficult single season leaps to predict, ever. After two do-nothing seasons in Denver, it looked like Hillis would be taking the role of reliever to Montario Hardesty. But then Hardesty went down with some sort of injury. We can’t remember what the injury was, specifically, but it was probably groin. Players are always hurting their groins by cramming their cup and monster unit into those tight little pants. (**Editor’s Note: #NoHomo)
Given the starting job, Hillis embarked on a campaign that put him in the top echelon of fantasy running backs. If not for a fade in the all important fantasy playoffs, Hillis could have finished as the number two running back in the entire league. His numbers were impressive for a previously undraftable player: 1177 yards rushing, nearly 500 receiving yards and he took it into the end zone 13 total times. He also captured enough of the significantly rabid Cleveland fan base to beat Michael Vick for the cover of Madden 12. So, he’ll probably tear his ACL week one this season. Thanks, Madden.
Interestingly, Hillis is the only one of these players who arrived at his prime location due to a trade. As this next section shows, teams don’t want to trade players unless they’re secretly awful.
The 5 Worst Moves
It’s hard to believe in retrospect, but the Raiders’ Randy Moss deal wasn’t initially as bad as it would turn out to be. Moss actually only lost about a dozen or two fantasy points during the first year after the move, having come off a rocky season at Minnesota. But it was Moss’s trip to the Vikings last year that really saw him fall off the fantasy cliff.
While never coming close to the totals of his record-setting 2007 season, Moss had proven to be a solid wide receiver. In 2009, he had 1264 yards and a league-leading 13 touchdowns. Many people spent an early second-round draft pick on him. However he struggled to catch a lot of passes in the start of the season, although the touchdowns were there. Still when Moss was reunited with the Vikings under Brett Favre, fantasy pundits were certain he’d redeem his fantasy season. But instead, Moss pissed off everyone by putting the team’s buffet lunch on blast, and not catching many passes. Rarely worth a start before, Moss was sent to free agency by fantasy teams everywhere.
Ahman Green became a fat green dot on the fantasy radar after six over-1,000 yard rushing seasons with the Packers. A season-crippling injury seemed to be behind him after posting 1,069 yards rushing and 373 receiving in just 14 games of the 2006 season. But then he joined a crowded Houston Texans backfield in the off season, and fell off the fantasy map. He got just 70 carries and 14 catches the next season, with Steve Slaton gobbling up most of the attention like Pac Man gobbles up ecstasy, err we mean “power pellets.”
Interestingly, Ahman Green has one of the best single season improvements in history as well. After moving from Seattle to Green Bay for the 2000 season, Green came through with over 1700 combined rushing and receiving yards plus 13 touchdowns. This just goes to prove that a young runner getting the starting job on a new team is a pretty safe proposition, whereas a proven veteran rusher switching teams is likely a sign that they are through (like Emmitt Smith during the five or so years he played well after the point when he should have retired had passed).
Elvis lived to rule the football field at the turn of the millennium. His best season was 2000, when he pitched the pigskin for over 4,000 yards and a 28-14 touchdown-to-pick ratio. Definitely looking like a lower tier 1 QB, Grbac went to Baltimore in 2001, following their Super Bowl season. There he had a meager 3,033 passing yards and threw more interceptions than touchdowns. Then, Grbac turned keeper leagues into weeper leagues by hanging up his cleats at the end of the season. Although, he will always be a first-round pick in “fantasy stupid name” leagues.
After perhaps the most famous trade in NFL history, Walker left his fantasy value in the lone star state. 1988 saw Walker emerge as an elite running back fantasy option, with 2,000 rushing-plus-receiving yards. Jimmy Johnson shipped him to Minnesota in exchange for like three football teams worth of players.
But, Minnesota had gotten too fervent in the bidding war for Walker, and soon realized he didn’t exactly fit their scheme (their scheme being, “lose really hard because Walker never gets the ball”). Walker finished the fantasy season with about 900 rushing yards and 400 receiving, bobsledding all over the hopes and dreams of a fantasy nation.
The Cleveland Browns are a football team who often purport to be part of the NFL. But really, their stadium is like one of those “Pet Sematary” graveyards because it is frequently filled with the walking dead.
Rison was a multiple pro bowler coming off three straight 1,000 receiving yard seasons with the Falcons. But the Falcons traded him to Cleveland in 1995, and things went straight down. Despite playing all 16 games, Rison managed only 47 receptions and 3 touchdowns, and fell off the roster of every self-respecting fantasy team.
The promise and danger of these classic NFL team changes makes the 2011 fantasy draft even more exciting. With all of the player movement, there’s ample opportunity for “sure thing” tier 1 studs to become fantasy zeroes. There’s also plenty of chances for Cinderella players to become queen of the fantasy ball (which is yet another one of the 127 similarities between fantasy football and Barbie dolls).
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