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Updated: December 29, 2008, 4:54 PM ET

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Tom Brady being escorted off the field was the defining image of Week 1 of the 2008 fantasy season.

Brady injury set tone for season

Fantasy owners always should take note of their draft day hunches, because after what we saw this past season, those have just as good a chance of working out as anything else. You may want to avert your eyes when you look back at the preseason top 10. It looks nothing like how things ended up.

The big story in fantasy football for the 2008 season probably isn't the actual leaderboard -- which shows that Drew Brees and DeAngelo Williams came through with terrific performances -- but the loss of 2007 record-breaking hero Tom Brady, whose season ended just a few minutes into Week 1. Brady went from 50 touchdown passes in 2007 to a big, fat zero in 2008; when his knee was blown out, many fantasy seasons went with it. He was the fourth overall selection in ESPN.com average live drafts. Hopefully you drafted or found a good backup, maybe even … Brady's backup.

Then again, with so many players stepping up to become top-10 quarterback options, one could say Brady owners had little excuse to pack their seasons in so quickly. Replacement Matt Cassel was useful his first two months leading the New England Patriots, then delivered a pair of league-leading 30-point performances in November and was helpful some of December. Aaron Rodgers replaced Brett Favre in Green Bay and walloped him -- and every other quarterback not named Brees -- for fantasy points, and Philip Rivers, Kurt Warner and Chad Pennington became draft day steals. Tyler Thigpen and Matt Ryan joined Cassel as in-season free-agent finds.

If there's a lesson to be learned in yet another topsy-turvy, unpredictable fantasy football season, it's that there aren't any bad draft picks anymore. Listen to your gut when making picks, trades, free-agent pickups, etc. If you thought DeAngelo Williams was going to emerge as the best running back in fantasy even though the Carolina Panthers spent a first-round draft pick on Jonathan Stewart, you might have been chuckled at, but you had the last laugh. Greg Jennings and Roddy White weren't supposed to be this good with new quarterbacks, but they exceeded expectations anyway and became must-plays each week. And the case can be made that nobody dominated his position in fantasy more than Tony Gonzalez, yet those who selected him over Antonio Gates probably got looked at as if they were from outer space. Gonzalez nearly ended up in the top 10 … among wide receivers!

Later in this, the final Instant Replay of the 2008 season, you'll see some early draft day thoughts for 2009. I'm not saying to disregard them, but if you really believe JaMarcus Russell is a top-10 quarterback or Tim Hightower was wrongly ignored, hey, go with your gut.

In Other News

Rookies were a positive story in 2008, as Matt Forte, Steve Slaton and Chris Johnson were top-10 running backs much of the season and never really slowed down when it counted most. They were joined in effectiveness, at times, by Kevin Smith, Jonathan Stewart, Tim Hightower and Darren McFadden. Sure, the rookie running backs whose stars shined the brightest might not have been the ones you expected, but it was a banner season for the first-year guys. Not since Peyton Manning had a brand-spanking-new quarterback been as reliable for fantasy production as Atlanta's Matt Ryan -- no, not even Ben Roethlisberger -- and Joe Flacco was a consistent double-digit performer as well. Even at wide receiver, the fantasy world was helped by rookies DeSean Jackson, Eddie Royal and Donnie Avery.

Way to go, Ohio! Not that there were legitimate Super Bowl aspirations for the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, but who thought these teams would win fewer combined games than Ohio State? Carson Palmer and Derek Anderson were the Nos. 6 and 7 quarterbacks on draft day, but each struggled mightily and got shut down before December. Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn't a fantasy factor, and he helped T.J. Houshmandzadeh join him in obscurity. Chad Johnson was terrible. Cedric Benson was summoned from the scrap heap to lead the team in rushing. Meanwhile, Anderson was finally benched for Brady Quinn, who had his moments before a finger injury ended his season. From Thanksgiving on, the team didn't score an offensive touchdown. Hard to do. At least the Lions occasionally scored.

Speaking of disappointing, it's possible the wide receiver position hadn't mattered less in fantasy this entire decade. A season after Randy Moss broke records, only one wide receiver (Larry Fitzgerald) managed as many as 200 fantasy points. Moss was barely top-10 at his position, and only once did he top 18 fantasy points in a week. Draft day second-rounders Moss, Terrell Owens, Reggie Wayne and Braylon Edwards underachieved but at least were playable. Plaxico Burress was not. Nor was Torry Holt, Roy E. Williams, Santonio Holmes or Joey Galloway. The drop in Moss' fantasy points can be attributed to Brady's injury, but in general, the lack of wide receiver productivity would certainly make me think twice about using a top-30 pick on someone from the position.

What I Noticed
This Week In Fantasy Football History
By Neil Tardy

A lot of fantasy leagues don't play Week 17. Many owners find it unbearable seeing a championship decided by Lee Suggs (two touchdowns in the '03 finale, only three more for his career), Chris Redman (remember last year's four touchdown passes in Week 17?) or even LaDainian Tomlinson (a healthy scratch to close the '04 regular season). But Week 17-phobic owners do have a friend in Larry Fitzgerald. Amid the closing-week chaos, Fitzgerald remains a steady stat producer. Sunday's two scores and 130 yards versus the Seahawks is no aberration. In his past four Week 17s, Fitzgerald has 26 catches for 414 yards and six touchdowns.

Let's discuss Week 17 briefly, because we might have learned something for 2009. The Raiders have Darren McFadden going forward, but it wouldn't shock me if Michael Bush emerges. That was a serious performance against the Buccaneers. … By the way, JaMarcus Russell with good wide receivers would be interesting. … Kyle Orton won't be a top-15 quarterback next draft day, but look at the pass defenses in his division. Orton closed with his top game of the season. … Shaun Hill got into double digits in every game he played this season. And he doesn't need Mike Martz. … LaDainian Tomlinson owners complained all season, but if you got to Week 17, he won it for you with that season-best 27 fantasy points. … Darren Sproles wasn't just a Week 17 fluke. He could be the next Michael Turner, but with LT showing his age, the Chargers would be wise to keep him around. … A better comparison for the next Turner could be Jonathan Stewart; he's good, but he might have to wait a while in Carolina. … A year ago, nobody would have predicted the Falcons would be in the playoffs. Well, the Lions should draft a quarterback to throw at Calvin Johnson, and Kevin Smith is a future 1,400-yard back. … This Ronnie Brown-Ricky Williams time-share was such a fantasy downer, but won't Williams be relevant in 2009 as well? … Quite a December for Cedric Benson, with 282 yards the final two weeks. Can't imagine he'll be back in Cincy, but he will find work. I'll probably avoid him in drafts, though. Fool me once, twice, what's that line? … Deion Branch finally won fantasy championships for owners, twice scoring two touchdowns in December. Everything will be new in Seattle next season. … I'll take Terrell Owens in Round 4 when he's a Buccaneer in '09. … You'll see my rankings for next year to the right. Tony Gonzalez again will be my top tight end, followed by Jason Witten and Antonio Gates. … Top defense? I think Ravens, Steelers and Titans stand out from the pack. … Hope you enjoyed the 2008 season!


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Best and Worst …

BEST 2008 VALUE
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
Brett who? While Mr. Favre led the league in interceptions for the New York Jets, his replacement ended up the No. 2 fantasy quarterback. Aaron Rodgers was terrific pretty much all season, and based on his No. 20 rank in ESPN.com average live drafts -- behind Vince Young! -- I'd call him the best value of the season.

WORST 2008 VALUE
Joseph Addai, RB, Colts
Well, we don't want to keep picking on Tom Brady, so the fifth pick in ESPN.com leagues was Addai, and he didn't break 100 points for the season until the final week, when nobody was using him anyway. Durability looks to continue to be a problem for Addai, as do potential platoon partners.
Player Tracker

Kurt Warner, QB, Cardinals: Still think Matt Leinart will be a good fantasy quarterback next season? Warner was the No. 22 quarterback on draft day, and thanks to a big Week 17, he finished in the top five. Much of his second half was spent in the low teens for fantasy points, but still, don't bet against him in 2009.

Thomas Jones, RB, Jets: Like his teammates, he hardly finished strong, but he did prove even on the wrong side of 30 that if you give a guy an offensive line, a re-emergence can follow. With or without a Hall of Fame quarterback, this fifth-rounder was great value this season.

Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints: Invisible for 10 weeks, the third-string Saints RB wasn't drafted, then became the hottest running back free agent around Thanksgiving. Fantasy owners should be convinced by now that someone can coexist with Reggie Bush because the latter is more a receiver than a running back and rarely is healthy.

Antonio Bryant, WR, Buccaneers: Undrafted in fantasy, the journeyman took advantage of Joey Galloway's finally getting old to become a top-10 wide receiver. Bryant always had ability, and his 200-yard, 32-point effort in Week 14 made him a fantasy hero.

Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers: Philip Rivers was largely unstoppable this season, in part because he didn't throw to Antonio Gates on every down. Jackson had as many catches and touchdowns and topped 1,000 yards as Chris Chambers offered little resistance. Jackson was drafted after 46 wide receivers.

Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys: The No. 3 quarterback on draft day and consensus second-rounder nearly made the top 10 at his position despite the missed games, but shouldn't his annual December struggles worry potential owners? You do want to win your fantasy title, don't you?

Larry Johnson, RB, Chiefs: Health again was a problem for the No. 10 drafted running back, but when he came back from missing a month, he had another problem. Tyler Thigpen was throwing the ball a lot. A new Chiefs era is likely under way, and Johnson might never get the carries he wants in K.C. again.

Laurence Maroney, RB, Patriots: Unlike Randy Moss, Maroney can't blame the Brady injury for his plight. Even when healthy -- which has become rare -- it's clear the Patriots are fine using Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan types. Maroney was a second-round fantasy bust.

Chad Johnson, WR, Bengals: It didn't help when Carson Palmer hurt his elbow, but it's not as if Johnson was playing well anyway. His first double-digit fantasy effort came in Week 7, and his last one two weeks later. Whatever his name is these days, fantasy owners lost interest fast in the 11th drafted wideout.

Torry Holt, WR, Rams: His team's quarterback play wasn't exactly strong, but after consecutive 93-catch seasons, Holt fell 29 short. It'll be tough for fantasy owners to trust him as a starter again.

Early 2009 Rankings

It's still December, but it's never too early to look ahead.

Quarterback
1. Drew Brees, Saints
2. Peyton Manning, Colts
3. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
4. Kurt Warner, Cardinals
5. Tony Romo, Cowboys
6. Philip Rivers, Chargers
7. Jay Cutler, Broncos
8. Matt Schaub, Texans
9. Matt Ryan, Falcons
10. Tyler Thigpen, Chiefs

Notes: I'm not putting a rehabbing Tom Brady in my top 10 until I see a positive report on his shredded knee. This is the most watched injury of the season. I don't mean to be skeptical, but the Pats better keep Matt Cassel around. Atlanta's Ryan nearly made the top 10 this season, so you bet I'm buying in 2009. Same with Thiggy.

Running back
1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
2. Michael Turner, Falcons
3. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
4. Matt Forte, Bears
5. Chris Johnson, Titans
6. Brian Westbrook, Eagles
7. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers
8. Clinton Portis, Redskins
9. Steven Jackson, Rams
10. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars

Notes: I can't find anyone who thinks Williams will do this again, but I never hear a good reason why he won't. He still has young legs. Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch and Brandon Jacobs will make Round 2 a very strong one, heavy on the running backs.

Wide receiver
1. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
2. Andre Johnson, Texans
3. Calvin Johnson, Lions
4. Anquan Boldin, Cardinals
5. Greg Jennings, Packers
6. Steve Smith, Panthers
7. Marques Colston, Saints
8. Randy Moss, Patriots
9. Roddy White, Falcons
10. Brandon Marshall, Broncos

Notes: Warner will be back, and his wide receivers will be terrific again. Even though the Lions don't have a quarterback, Calvin Johnson is safe. Reggie Wayne will provide nice value.