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The 2018 Midseason Fantasy Football Awards

Who’s the new Calvin Johnson? Which running back is most like Bitcoin? And which wideout is always the bridesmaid, never the bride?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

One team wins in fantasy football while everyone else loses at different speeds. There are no moral victories, no resolutions to the existential angst of a slowly dying season, and no personal growth or life lessons to speak of. Seasons end, players disappear, and we are left with an entire offseason to confront our poor managerial decisions. Fantasy football is bleak, and every championship-less season seems to chew the soul a little harder and spit it out a little further.

In the moment, however, fantasy football’s cycle of hope is profoundly captivating. The ebbs and flows of the season that power us through the fall are precisely what your coworkers could not care less about. Not everyone will capture (virtual) hardware, but there are still plenty of players to celebrate. Without further ado, here are the Ringer’s 2018 Midseason Fantasy Football Awards.

Always the Bridesmaid: Julio Jones, Falcons WR

Julio Jones is no. 2 in receiving yards (behind Adam Thielen), no. 6 in targets (ahead of Antonio Brown), and no. 202 in receiving touchdowns (tied with you). Meanwhile, teammate Calvin Ridley scored as many touchdowns in the first four games of his career as Jones has in his last 33 regular-season games. Jones is the 13th-ranked receiver in standard fantasy scoring, but just three touchdowns would vault him up to no. 7.

Jones’s touchdown-less streak has gone from a running bit to a semi-serious concern and is now rounding third base into historic territory. Jones has had more than 60 receiving yards but no touchdowns in all seven games this season—and, including last year, his streak is nine regular-season games long. That drought is tied with Keyshawn Johnson for the longest in NFL history. If Jones doesn’t score a touchdown next week, there will officially have never been anything like this.

The Prince That Was Promised: Todd Gurley, Rams RB

Todd Gurley was the no. 1 overall pick in most fantasy leagues this year, and he may deliver a season that would have been worth the no. 1 overall pick in any year. Halfway through the season, Gurley leads the league in rushing attempts (169), yards (800), rushing touchdowns (11), touches (200), yards from scrimmage (1,151), and total touchdowns (15), plus in an advanced stat called “moments you’re genuinely surprised to see him get tackled” (79). He has more rushing yards than 15 NFL teams, and just two fewer yards than Alvin Kamara and David Johnson combined. As a receiver, he has more yards than Alshon Jeffery and Jordy Nelson and more touchdowns than Emmanuel Sanders or Zach Ertz (and infinity times more than Julio Jones).

The platinum standard in fantasy football is LaDainian Tomlinson’s 2006 season, when he scored 31 touchdowns and totaled 2,323 yards from scrimmage (and threw two touchdown passes) for 427 standard fantasy points, an average of 26.7 points per game (almost six more fantasy points per game than the second-best player that year, Larry Johnson, and more than twice as many as the 10th-best running back, Ladell Betts). Tomlinson’s season has been without parallel, but Gurley is in range, with 26.1 fantasy points per game this season. The people lucky enough to get the first overall pick or wise enough to spend for him in auction drafts this year have been rewarded.

Divisional Round - Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers
Le’Veon Bell
Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The Stood Up on a Date Award: Le’Veon Bell, Steelers RB

Thoughts swirl while you grapple with the other person’s absence.

Could they be in traffic? Did their phone die? Maybe there was an emergency?

Deep down, you know the truth.

Injured Guys Who Have Crushed Your Team, Ranked

There haven’t been a ton of fantasy-relevant season-ending injuries this year. *Knocks on wood so hard that various people look up from their desks, concerned.* But there are still plenty of fantasy teams lost in the injury wreckage this season.

5. Jay Ajayi, Eagles RB, torn ACL: Adding insult to injury is that someone else in your league already had Corey Clement.

4. Jerick McKinnon, 49ers RB, torn ACL: We hardly knew ye.

3. Devonta Freeman, Falcons RB, groin: Potentially coming off IR is worse than just being out for the season, because you have to debate whether you should drop him.

2. Leonard Fournette, Jaguars RB, hamstring: Your record likely depends on whether you snagged T.J. Yeldon. Nobody’s happiness should depend on T.J. Yeldon. (No offense to T.J. Yeldon.)

1. Dalvin Cook, Vikings RB, hamstring: The only thing worse than a second-round pick being out every week (Fournette) is a second-round pick being questionable every week.

The Bitcoin Award: James Conner, Steelers RB

The early investors were considered out of touch for questioning the most dependable, consistent option in recent memory (physical money backed by financial institutions/Le’Veon Bell), but it turns out they were simply ahead of their time. By the time the broader population heard the news, it was too late to get in on the ground floor, and those initial investors reaped enormous profits to show for it ($19,000 a Bitcoin/James Conner being the fourth-best fantasy running back).

Like early adopters of cryptocurrency, Conner owners looking for a short-term gain were lucky to sell high. Bitcoin is worth about a third of its peak value, and Conner may get a third of his current touches if Le’Veon Bell returns. However if you’re looking at a longer-term investment (worldwide adoption of cryptocurrency/a keeper league) ignore the short-term price decrease and stay focused on the potential future value.

The Plot-Twist Award: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots TE

Gronkowski’s average draft position was 22nd this year, but he’s just the 10th-highest scoring tight end per week this season, behind tight ends who went largely undrafted in fantasy leagues this year, such as Indianapolis’s Eric Ebron, Oakland’s Jared Cook, and even Atlanta’s Austin Hooper.

Rather than Gronkowski being a bust this season because of injuries, which would be disappointing but understandable, Tom Brady is just throwing Gronk’s way less often. The tight end is on pace for 6.14 targets per game, tied for the third-lowest mark of his career. To see what Gronkowski owners are feeling this season, I contacted former Ringer editor Ryan O’Hanlon, who drafted Gronkowski in the second round of the Ringer fantasy draft this year.

“It’s like buying a ticket for one of those Heat games where they randomly benched LeBron,” O’Hanlon said. “And then when you realize that you don’t want to go anymore, you realize you can’t give the tickets away because you don’t have any friends.”

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals
Larry Fitzgerald
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Old Yeller: Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals WR

Let’s not mourn Fitz’s fantasy death, but rather celebrate his fantasy life. Fitz, a surefire Hall of Famer who is just 32 yards from passing Terrell Owens for second on the all-time receiving list, has been cranking out excellent fantasy seasons with subpar quarterbacks for a decade. This is not one of them. After Fitz had seven catches for 76 yards in the Cardinals’ Week 1 loss to Washington, he failed to surpass 40 yards and caught just one touchdown over his next six games. He finally broke out Sunday with 102 yards, but it’s probably better to end on that high note rather than keep riding him through the end of the season. RIP, Larry Fitzgerald’s fantasy relevance. You lived a good life.

The “Never Draft a Quarterback High” Award: Patrick Mahomes II, Chiefs QB; Matt Ryan, Falcons QB; Andrew Luck, Colts QB; Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buccaneers QB

The only near-universal advice from fantasy analysts this year was to avoid drafting a quarterback high, and for good reason. Here are the top five quarterbacks by average draft position before the season, according to FantasyPros:

No. 1: Aaron Rodgers (24th overall)

No. 2: Deshaun Watson (36th overall)

No. 3: Tom Brady (44th overall)

No. 4: Russell Wilson (48th overall)

No. 5: Cam Newton (56th overall)

And here are the top five quarterbacks by average weekly scoring:

No. 1: Patrick Mahomes II (preseason ADP: 110)

No. 2: Matt Ryan (preseason ADP: 100)

No. 3: Cam Newton (preseason ADP: 56)

No. 4: Mitchell Trubisky (preseason ADP: 176)

No. 5: Andrew Luck (preseason ADP: 83)

There are a lot of great quarterbacks in football, and Mahomes, Ryan, and Co. have proved that there is no penalty for waiting to draft a signal-caller in one-quarterback leagues (or perhaps they have shown that we should all switch to two-quarterback leagues).

Calvin Johnson Award: Adam Thielen, Vikings WR

Look at your Fantasy God and ask for mercy. Thielen leads the league in receptions and receiving yards, but his consistency has been the most impressive part of his campaign (along with his gentleman reputation in the locker room). He has notched more than 100 receiving yards in every game so far this season, a streak matched by only Calvin Johnson, and Thielen has a chance for a place alone in history against Detroit this week. With 74 catches and 925 yards through eight games, he’s on pace for the most catches and third-most receiving yards in a season in NFL history. To put that perspective for fantasy: In PPR leagues Thielen’s 74 catches—without any of the yards or touchdowns—have been almost the same as Bears running back Jordan Howard (76 PPR points).

Healthy Guys Who Have Crushed Your Team, Ranked

5. Royce Freeman, Broncos RB: Too good to cut but not good enough to start. The only silver lining was buying into him instead of Rashaad Penny.

4. Derrick Henry, Titans RB: The highlight of his season will be the replays of his 2015 season shown during the broadcast of Bama-LSU this week.

3. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals WR: See: Old Yeller Award.

2. Kenyan Drake, Dolphins RB: Drake owners are almost as angry that he isn’t no. 1 on this list as they are about him not being no. 1 on Miami’s depth chart.

1. Keenan Allen, Chargers WR: He has fewer fantasy points than Tyrell Williams in standard leagues. On the bright side, he’s even on points with Brock Osweiler.

The Blake Bortles “Don’t Watch Him” Player of the Year: Big Mitch Trubisky

This award goes to a player who is a top-10 fantasy quarterback and a bottom-10 real-life quarterback, but Trubisky is pushing for top (and bottom) five. He entered Week 8 fifth in per-game fantasy scoring and, by my highly scientific grading system, is the sixth-worst NFL starter after C.J. Beathard, Eli Manning, Bortles, Buffalo QB X, and Brock Osweiler. Trubisky has been great in fantasy this season, but if you watch him you might never plug him into your lineup again.

The Friend Zone Award: Amari Cooper, Cowboys WR

You think you can make it work even though everyone around you knows it’s never going to happen. You had your eyes on him in the draft even though there were plenty of other strong options. You’re still obsessed over that one night from more than a year ago (210 yards and two touchdowns against the Chiefs in 2017) but make excuses for what happened on the trips to Miami and Los Angeles (three catches for 27 yards combined against the Dolphins and Chargers). You make up excuses for why it’s not working—it’s the long distance (the Seahawks game was in London!) or the timing (the pass rush is throwing Derek Carr off his rhythm!)—but ignore all the evidence that it’s over (fewer than 70 yards in 10 of the last 13 games and a league-leading drop percentages in two of three seasons).

Now that person is moving halfway across the country, and you’re trying to convince yourself a change of scenery will fix it. It won’t. There is no chemistry. This person is not going to change—and that’s OK. Wake up. Move on. As long as you keep playing him, you’re playing yourself.