The Top-10 Fantasy Football Moments of 2013

Peyton Manning gave us the gift of "Are you kidding me?" this season.

Countdowns and lists are common during this time of year. “The Top [insert thing here] of 2013” articles will be hitting your Facebook feed over the next couple of days like it’s nobody’s business, showing the best songs, video games, technology, movies – you name it, and there will be a list.

So I figured, “Hey, we all like fantasy football, and we’ve all gone through another roller coaster fake football season together. Why not make a top-10 list for us?”

And that’s what I’ve done. I went back – not in a DeLorean, but in my mind – and revisited the 2013 season, producing a list of the best fantasy moments that the campaign saw. A few of them may bring back horrible, horrible memories, while some, hopefully, shed tears of joy. But that’s fine – isn’t that the week-to-week emotion we feel with fantasy football anyway?

Without further adieu, I bring you the top-10 fantasy football moments of 2013.

10. Gronkowski returns. Gronkowski tears his ACL.

Let’s begin with one of the more depressing fantasy football topics, Rob Gronkowski’s health. After missing the first six weeks of the season as a third- to fifth-round fantasy selection, Gronk returned in Week 7 against the Jets, looking like he hadn’t missed a single game.

And after six weeks of playing, the Pats tight end saw five double-digit fantasy contests, including four games with a touchdown reception. He was rolling, and patient owners were being rewarded.

That is, until Week 14 – the week Gronkowski owners learned that their championship hopes would eventually come down to a streaming option, and their prized tight end would be out for the season, perhaps into next year.

It wasn’t a fun moment for 5-10% of the fantasy community (Gronkowski owners). But it was one that begins our countdown to the top fantasy football moment of 2013.

9. Bat it down, Ihedigbo!

The Bengals were down by a touchdown in Baltimore with just seconds remaining in their Week 10 contest, as quarterback Andy Dalton dropped back to pass from his team’s 49-yard line. The Bengals needed a miracle for a chance to win, and that miracle was going to come in the form of a Hail Mary catch.

Safety James Ihedigbo decided that he wanted the game to go on. Instead of batting the ball down, the Ravens’ safety decided to bump it – volleyball style – directly into the air, straight into the hands of a Bengals’ receiver. But it wasn’t just any Cincinnati wideout – it was the one started in 100% of fantasy football leagues, A.J. Green.

There’s no doubt that the 51-yard bomb helped teams win that week. And, if not for Ihedigbo, I’m sure there are some league champions out there who shouldn’t have even made the playoffs.

8. Welcome aboard, Marvin Jones.

We go from one Bengals’ receiver to another, this time looking at Marvin Jones.

Two weeks before that ridiculous Ravens game, Cincinnati was hosting the Jets at Paul Brown Stadium. Because Andy Dalton likes to – and can – tear up miserable defenses, that’s what he did. And no receiver benefited more than Marvin Jones.

Jones didn’t just have a fluky “Hey, this is my coming out party and I’m going to score a couple of lucky deep balls” game. Instead, he had one of those fluky, “Hey, I’m an NFL wide receiver and I’m going to score four touchdowns against the Jets today.”

Marvin finished the game with eight catches for 122 yards and the aforementioned four touchdowns, and he did so on eight targets. Not only was his game the sixth-best in full-point PPR leagues this year (with just eight catches), but in that contest, Jones increased his Target Net Expected Points total by 18.04, a number that’s higher than Andre Johnson’s 2013 season total.

Sure, that has more to do with Johnson seeing a ridiculous number of “bad” targets, but man, Marvin Jones beasted in Week 7, scoring a ton of points on fantasy football team benches.

7. Justin Tucker makes everyone hate kickers.

Each year, there’s a big, friendly debate among fantasy circles about whether or not kickers should be included in the standard fantasy football lineup. But after Week 15, that discussion was in full-blown argument mode, as the Ravens’ Justin Tucker hit six field goals in the fantasy football playoffs, scoring over 20 standard fantasy points, including a 61-yarder to win the game for Baltimore.

Tucker ended up outscoring everyone in that game, catapulting fortunate fantasy teams into the finals. Perhaps Tucker will now go down in fake football history not for mentioning fantasy football in his initial post-game interview, but for changing the landscape for the kicker position forever.

6. Josh Gordon arrives.

Because of a two-game suspension at the beginning of the season, Josh Gordon fell in a number of fantasy football drafts. Pre-suspension Gordon saw him as a fifth- or sixth-rounder, while post-suspension Gordon fell all the way into the seventh, eighth and ninth rounds.

I’m sure fantasy owners who skipped over him would love to have that one back.

After a very solid rookie campaign that was filled with big-play touchdowns, Gordon instantly showcased his talent in his first game, Week 3, against the hapless Minnesota secondary, catching 10 balls for 146 yards and a score.

And even while playing just 14 games with a quarterback carousel, Gordon was able to compile 147 more receiving yards than second-place Antonio Brown. His Reception NEP total, which measures the point contribution on receptions only, ranked second behind only Calvin Johnson this season, too. If not for the suspension, Gordon probably would have been, hands down, the best receiving asset in fantasy this year. And you could actually make the argument that he was, despite the suspension.

5. Josh McCown looks like Dan Marino.

This “moment” has more to do with just backup quarterbacks as it does specifically Josh McCown. In fact, if it were up to me, I'd dub 2013 as “The Year of the Backup Quarterback.”

I’ve written a lot about drafting quarterbacks late, and why the position doesn’t hold a lot of value in fantasy football. But I never expected this. I never expected the playing field to even out so much to the point where backups aren’t just serviceable weekly options, but top ones.

Last season, 38 different quarterbacks finished in the weekly top 12 (QB1) at the position at least once, excluding the fantasy worthless Week 17. While I thought that number was a little higher than usual, it actually increased in 2013. This year, 44 different signal-callers finished with at least one top-12 weekly finish. We can credit this to the high number of quarterback injuries mixed with backups stepping up, playing as legitimate fantasy options.

Josh McCown was the most surprising backup to produce impactful numbers, finishing the season with the second-highest Passing NEP per Pass average in the NFL. McCown, in fantasy, started five games and finished with five top-12 performances, proving to be one of the best fake football quarterbacks when he actually got a chance to play.

Thank you, Marc Trestman.

4. Nick Foles throws seven touchdowns. Wait, what?

At the start of the season, if you would have asked me to rank quarterbacks in terms of the probability of throwing for seven touchdowns in a single game this year, Nick Foles probably would have been the 35th passer listed. Maybe even 36th.

But in Week 9, two games after a concussion-filled, 80-yard performance against Dallas, one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL, Nick Foles did just that. The “backup” passer threw for over 400 yards and seven touchdowns, totaling the second-highest fantasy quarterback performance of the season. Unfortunately, the majority of owners didn’t trust him after his dud against the Cowboys, benching him in favor of someone like Alex Smith.

Foles’ season, in total, could be captured in this moment as well, as he finished as a top-12 passer while missing five games. He ended the season as the fourth-best quarterback in terms of Passing NEP per Pass, too.

3. Calvin Johnson tears up the Cowboys’ defense.

Before writing this article, I hit Twitter to make sure I wasn’t forgetting any big moment or happening from this season. Though my DeLoreon (mind) and Google is usually pretty trustworthy with this stuff, I wanted to make sure there was no performance missed.

And for whatever reason, folks seem to have forgotten about Calvin Johnson’s record-breaking Week 8, where he caught 14 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown. It was one of those games where you sit back and just enjoy history, as you watched the biggest freak of nature in the league go completely bonkers against a defense that had no idea how to stop him.

In that game, Megatron’s Reception Net Expected Points total rose 23.09 points, the most from any receiver in a single game this season. In full-point PPR leagues, Calvin’s game was the top scoring one from a wide receiver all season long.

2. Jamaal Charles takes over the RedZone Channel.

It’s the fantasy football semi-finals, and Jamaal Charles rushes eight times for 20 yards and a touchdown. Great. The man who seems to score 15 points each week via the rush ends up getting eight fantasy points…wait, what? He caught eight passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns, too?

JC’s day will go down in fantasy football history, single-handedly moving teams into their league championship round. His performance was the best by a running back all year, and it came at the perfect time. How is this not the best moment of 2013?

1. Peyton Manning throws seven touchdowns on opening night.

We entered the season with a performance of a lifetime, and we exit with Peyton Manning breaking every quarterback record imaginable, en route to the best statistical season we’ve ever seen from a passer.

That’s why he beats out Jamaal Charles.

Peyton Manning was brilliant this season, both in real and fake football. In his 15 relevant fantasy football matchups, Manning finished in the weekly top eight – nearly a top-half QB1 – at the quarterback position 11 times. For some comparison, Drew Brees did this just six times.

Manning broke our NEP machines. He broke our databases. He broke the hearts of any statistical mind that hates outliers.

That’s why Peyton Manning deserves to be number one. He gave us the best start to the 2013 season we could’ve asked for, throwing for seven touchdowns on opening night against Baltimore. And he leaves us scratching our heads, keeping us interested, despite the obvious depth at the quarterback position, in the potential of drafting a fantasy quarterback early in 2014.