With the Super Bowl on the horizon, the annual Brett Favre retirement watch under way, and the "best of the rest" gathering in Miami to square off in the NFL's annual all-star affair, we thought this would be the perfect time to take one last look back on the 2009 fantasy football season and give credit where credit is due. In other words, it is once again time to hand out the ESPN.com All-Pro honors to those deserving individuals who had the most fantasy impact this season. We're not talking about "value" picks, mind you, although certainly some of the players who made our list were nowhere on the fantasy radar way back on draft day. We're simply recognizing those players who put up the cumulative stats that merit their inclusion in the following list of the "best of the best" of 2009 as determined by ESPN Standard scoring.
So behold! The "quest for perfection" in fantasy football this season began and ended with the following fantasy lineups:
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (Average Draft Position: 35.5): He may have been the fourth quarterback taken in most leagues, but he certainly proved to be the most valuable. The only blemish on his 2009 slate was a Week 14 "clunker" against the Chicago Bears when he totaled just seven fantasy points. Rodgers had 10 weeks with multiple passing touchdowns, helping him to finish head and shoulders ahead of his peers, finishing with 47 more fantasy points than the next-best signal-caller.
Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans (ADP: 8.0): Talk about a runaway ... Johnson was the top fantasy player overall and ended up a full 64 points ahead of the second-best running back. With 2,006 yards rushing, four weeks with 35 fantasy points or higher, and at least 100 yards rushing in every game from Week 6 on, you can bet this guaranteed double-digit point scorer won't be the fifth running back taken in 2010.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (ADP: 1.2): He went No. 1 overall in nearly every league, and while he wasn't as dominant as expected, apart from a 19-yard dud in Week 13 against the Arizona Cardinals, he never dipped below nine fantasy points in any single game. With five touchdowns and an average of 21 fantasy points over the playoff weeks (Week 14-16), you have to agree that you got your money's worth by taking Peterson before all-comers. Now if we can just get him to stop fumbling!
Andre Johnson, Houston Texans (ADP: 13.4): Johnson was the only wide receiver to post more than 200 fantasy points, but like his team, he had his ups and downs early in 2009. Still, he turned it on in the second half of the season, with a 10-catch day against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 10, and just under 200 yards in both Week 14 and Week 15 for a combined 50 fantasy points just when your team needed it the most.
Randy Moss, New England Patriots (ADP: 15.6): Consistency? That's not what you got from Randy Moss. He was frustratingly awful at times, most notably the "day off" and negative fantasy points against the Carolina Panthers. That fiasco was one of seven games on the season in which Moss failed to give you 10 points. But when he was good, boy, was he good. He had three scores in Week 16, making all the frustration of the season worth it in the end.
Flex Spot (Next-best Running Back or Wide Receiver)
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP: 4.7): Perhaps he lost a bit in receiving from past seasons, tallying a career-low 374 yards, but he more than made up for it by proving he could shoulder a full load of carries. MJD made fans in Jacksonville all but forget about Fred Taylor, by recording 1,391 yards on the ground and a career-best 15 rushing scores. Of course, owners who lost their game when Jones-Drew took a knee late against the New York Jets on what should have been six points probably aren't too happy with this pick, but we're willing to forgive and forget.
Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers (ADP: undrafted): Davis wasn't considered worthy enough to be drafted even as a backup in a 10-team league. Boy, did he show us. He showed early flashes with a Week 3 explosion against the Vikings (seven catches for 96 yards and two scores), and a few weeks later showed he was serious by finding the end zone three times against the Houston Texans. Yes, he fell short of 1,000 yards, unlike Jason Witten, but the 13-2 touchdown difference between the two more than bridged the gap.
Nate Kaeding, San Diego Chargers (ADP: 134.1): Kaeding didn't miss from Week 8 on -- in the regular season, that is. Thank goodness most fantasy owners didn't have to suffer through his playoff disaster versus the New York Jets. With the Chargers scoring more than any other AFC team, there was ample opportunity for Kaeding to take center stage and post the most place-kicking points.
San Francisco 49ers (ADP: 134.7): Not too many fantasy owners had faith in Mike Singletary's defense, as the Niners were the 15th drafted unit on average. However, bolstered by a three-touchdown game against the St. Louis Rams in Week 4, they ended the season on top of the D/ST scoring leaderboard. The Niners held the opposition to 10 points or fewer seven times in 2009, and come the fantasy playoffs, they were on fire, recording 15 turnovers during Weeks 14-16.
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (ADP: 4.7): Super Bowl participant Brees opened up 2009 strong with a six-touchdown game against the Detroit Lions, immediately justifying his status as the No. 1 quarterback selected overall. Although he followed that up with a bumpy two-week stretch with no scoring passes against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, he rebounded nicely, and after the Saints' bye week, Brees threw for more than 300 yards in each of four straight home games -- including a five-touchdown torching of the New England Patriots -- until the Dallas Cowboys stopped New Orleans' run at perfection in Week 15.
Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: 61.7): Where'd this guy come from? Rice was the 24th running back taken in the average ESPN league showing how few owners believed in him, especially with Willis McGahee lurking as a touchdown vulture. From a strict rushing standpoint, Rice's seven scores aren't that impressive. However, the 78 catches for 702 yards put him over 2,000 combined yards for the season and propelled him to a nine-week midseason stretch with at least a dozen fantasy points in each contest.
Thomas Jones, New York Jets (ADP: 34.2): Owners were also skeptical of Thomas Jones, the 17th overall running back on draft day. Fears that the opposition would be able to key on the run with rookie Mark Sanchez at quarterback were unfounded. Jones struggled early against the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans, but then ripped off 10 straight double-digit fantasy games. While some teams rested their stars as early as Week 16, Jones finished off the season with 16 and 19 points against two future playoff foes. Not too shabby.
Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys (ADP: undrafted): Roy E. Williams was the 16th wide receiver taken overall, but it was the mostly undrafted Austin who ultimately stepped up. Austin burst on the scene in Week 5 with a 10-catch, 250-yard, 37-fantasy-point day against the Kansas City Chiefs, and after a bye week, followed it up with 29 fantasy points against the Atlanta Falcons. He faltered a bit when teams first took notice of him, but quickly adjusted to life in the spotlight, scoring four times in Weeks 12-15 and solidifying himself as a fantasy force.
DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: 61.8): Jackson sure knows how to make the big play, with two return scores and seven other scoring plays of 40 yards or more. What a bargain as the No. 21 wide receiver taken off the board! But this isn't just about bang for your buck. Considering Jackson disappeared completely in both regular-season games against the Dallas Cowboys and missed a contest against the Atlanta Falcons after a concussion, the fact he had more fantasy points than both Larry Fitzgerald and Reggie Wayne is all the more impressive.
Flex Spot (Next best Running Back or Wide Receiver)
Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers (ADP: 11.5): Gore was a borderline first-round pick in most leagues and absolutely lived up to those expectations. What makes his 2009 season all the more impressive was that he missed nearly three full games with a high ankle sprain, and still finished the year with 1,120 yards rushing (his most since 2006) and had career-highs in both rushing touchdowns (10) and receiving scores (3). Imagine what he might have done in a full 16-game season.
Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts (ADP: 53.4): Clark may have been the last of the elite tight-end quartet (along with Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Witten) selected in most leagues, but he was the one who got the last laugh as well. Clark caught 14 balls in Week 9 against the Houston Texans, and had five touchdowns and 43 fantasy points in crucial fantasy playoff Weeks 14 and 15. If the Colts had not called off the dogs in the middle of Week 16 and all of Week 17, Clark easily could have been the No. 1 scoring fantasy tight end. As it is, with 100 receptions and 10 scores, he's still right there at the top of the class.
David Akers, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: 126.2): Akers' placement on this All-Pro team has more to do with the fact that the Eagles had only a 36 percent success rate on third downs this season -- only eight teams in the league were worse -- affording Akers plenty of opportunities to kick the ball through the uprights at three-points-a-pop. Interestingly, Akers was perfect at home, but on the road, he missed five field goals. Perhaps he makes a perfect test case for being part of a kicker platoon in 2010?
New York Jets (ADP: 108.8): With Rex Ryan coming to town, fantasy owners were clearly excited about this unit's prospects -- the Jets were the seventh defense taken off the board on average. Sure, it helped that Curtis Painter's presence led the Jets to 21 fantasy points in Week 16, but this unit didn't need any favors. With 11 weeks of allowing 17 or fewer points, possessing the stingiest pass defense in the league by nearly 500 yards, and allowing less than 100 yards on the ground per game to boot, there's no doubt the Jets deserve this honor.