by Jeff West
January 1, 2005
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    Since most of you have probably completed your fantasy seasons (hopefully with great success), I'll dedicate this week's column to some of those players who had a profound impact (positive or negative) on your fantasy teams in 2004.  (All stats mentioned in this article are through week 16 of the NFL season.)

QBs

Best of the Class:  Peyton Manning rewrote the history books and, in the process, carried many a fantasy team to glory.  Once again, he eclipsed 4000 yards and came very close to throwing 50 TD passes.  He also limited his INTs to a paltry ten.  While it is unreasonable to expect another year like this in 2005, he should clearly be the #1 QB on the draft boards next summer.

Surprise, Surprise:  Well, this one clearly has to go to Drew Brees, a player most likely undrafted in most fantasy leagues.  He started training camp as a lame duck who would likely give way to Philip Rivers quickly.  But the Chargers started winning and Brees was largely responsible.  While he didn't have the yardage totals of some of the other big guns, he tossed 27 TDs and only seven INTs and made those waiver wire watchers who grabbed him very happy.

#%&@!$^%:  While Matt Hasselbeck elicited this kind of response from his owners on many an occasion, the one most clearly deserving of the verbal tirades was Steve McNair.  Coming off a tremendous season in 2003, he managed to start only half of the team's games in 2004 and was terrible in most of those.  Billy Volek served notice that it may be time for McNair to hang up those cleats.

RBs

Best of the Class:  While Priest Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson were getting all the hype before the season, it was Mr.  Consistant, Shaun Alexander, who made the most of the 2004 season.  He leads the league in rushing yards (1616) and total TDs (19).  It will be interesting to see if Seattle can hold onto him in the off-season as Alexander is an unrestricted free agent.

Surprise, Surprise:  Curtis Martin had his best season as a pro in 2004 at the ripe old age of 31.  Martin, who was regarded as a weak #2 or even a #3 fantasy back coming into the season surprised everyone with more than 1500 rushing yards and the TDs (14 total) he's been lacking for years.  His success in 2004 makes it more likely that he'll return as a #1 in 2005 and LaMont Jordan will be heading elsewhere.

#%&@!$^%:  I'll admit that I bought into the Kevan Barlow hype prior to the season.  After all, he performed marvelously in part-time duty in the past and he was finally going to be the #1 in SF.  What we didn't realize is how bad the Niners entire team would be, limiting Barlow's opportunities and effectiveness.  Barlow, who was a top ten pick in some leagues, had only 719 rushing yards and seven TDs through week 16.

WRs

Best of the Class:  He was in the headlines as much for his mouth and his dancing as for his play, but Terrell Owens quieted many of his critics with an outstanding (albeit injury-shortened) 2004 campaign.  His 1200 yards and 14 TDs kept smiles on his owners' faces, especially during the first ten weeks of the season before his stats slipped some.  He has certainly returned to the top tier of WRs and could merit a #1 WR position on draft boards in 2005.

Surprise, Surprise:  There are two that really stand out here.  First, Muhsin Muhammad, who was being supplanted by teammate Steve Smith, did his best Curtis Martin imitation (both are 31 years old) and had his career year in 2004.  Moose surpassed 1300 receiving yards and scored 14 TDs.  The other surprise at the WR position is Drew Bennett.  He stepped into the role vacated by Justin McCareins' departure and exploded over the second half of the season.  Bennett will exceed 1200 receiving yards and put up double digit TDs, most of them with the #2 QB.

#%&@!$^%:  It's tough to look at a player who has scored 12 TDs as a bust, but Randy Moss is pretty darn close to it.  While Moss is scoring plenty of TDs, he has only 700 receiving yards and has missed a good deal of time with a bad hamstring.  He even hamstrung his owners by teasing them with a meaningless start where he lined up for two plays and then spent the rest of the game on the sidelines.  For a player who was the concensus #1 overall WR in fantasy drafts, much more is expected.

TEs

Best of the Class:  2004 was one of the best years for TEs in recent memory.  Teams utilized them more and more, possibly because of the increased attention on defensive players making contact with receivers.  San Diego's Antonio Gates was the popular sleeper pick at TE in the off-season, and he did not disappoint as he broke the all time TE TD record with 13.  He was a very consistent scorer at TE (a rarity at the position) for most of the year and will challenge Gonzo for top TE billing in 2005.

Surprise, Surprise:  While Gates may have surprised many casual NFL fans with his season, fantasy owners were well aware of him so he doesn't qualify for this designation.  Dallas TE Jason Witten entered his second NFL season with little fanfare and will likely finish third overall in TE receiving yards and has added nearly a half dozen TD catches as well.  Imagine what kind of stats he'll have when Dallas gets a decent QB.

#%&@!$^%:  Boo!  Boo!  Boo!  Those derisive chants are also the nickname of the most disappointing fantasy TE in 2004.  Eddie "Boo" Williams closed out the 2002 and 2003 seasons in grand style, leading owners to expect more the following season.  He remained dormant for the entire 2004 season, scoring only two TDs amongst his meager 32 receptions.

Misdirection

    I'd like to ask you to stop reading this column for a minute and pay homage to the passing of DE great Reggie White.  ...  As an Eagles fan I got to watch Reggie White toss offensive tackles around every weekend.  Not many people would bat an eye when hearing that Reggie White was the best at his position, ever.  But White was much more than just a football player.  While White was feared on the field, he was, more importantly, respected by all.  He was one of the league's most giving humanitarians.  Through his faith and his fortune, he gave and gave and gave to the less fortunate.  It is a shame that he passed at such a young age, but he left his mark on countless people during that short time.

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