Fast Finisher: Cam Newton
One of fantasy’s most hotly debated players, there’s no debating Newton’s finish last season: Scorching. After entering Week 9 with a brutal 5:8 TD:INT ratio (and three lost fumbles), Newton finished molten hot, ringing up 19 total touchdowns while committing just four turnovers. Along the way he piled up 2,599 yards from scrimmage (2,168 passing, 431 rushing). To put that — anecdotally, arbitrarily — in perspective, Tom Brady accounted for 2,746 yards from scrimmage over his final nine games. A more efficient player after the Panthers ditched their all-shotgun passing/exotic rushing attack, Newton is positioned to put it all together his third year in the league.
Slow Closer: Denarius Moore
Despite facing no real competition for No. 1 duties, Moore face-planted over the season’s final seven games, catching just 17 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Moore was held to one catch three different times during that stretch, “culminating” in a 1/5/1 line in Week 17. Moore has ability to spare, but must show more durability and consistency before owners can finally trust him as an every-week WR3.
Fast Finisher: Danario Alexander
Signed off the street in Week 7, “DX” was in the starting lineup by Week 10. The oft-injured former NCAA All-American ran with the opportunity, lighting up opponents to the tune of 34 catches for 597 yards and seven touchdowns over the Chargers’ final eight games. The hot finish earned Alexander surprisingly little interest as a restricted free agent — his infamously creaky knees are to blame for that — but proved he can produce like a star whenever he manages to get on the field. Even with the vertically-minded Norval Turner no longer calling the shots in San Diego, Alexander is a high-reward fantasy option if you can land him as your WR3.
Slow Closer: Trent Richardson
Richardson’s slow finish comes with two caveats: It was his first NFL campaign, and he was playing through multiple injuries. Alas, that doesn’t erase the fact that he totaled just 502 yards from scrimmage in Weeks 11-16, and averaged an anemic 3.26 yards per carry over his final 115 totes. Richardson sat out Week 17 with a “mild” high-ankle sprain and multiple broken ribs. Sidelined by a mysterious shin injury for the majority of the offseason, Richardson will be on the spot to prove he can stay healthy and productive as a sophomore.
Fast Finisher: Pierre Garcon
Playing through a painful toe injury, there was no guarantee Garcon would be able to stay on the field when he returned in Week 11. That’s why it was so surprising that he went off in Weeks 12-17, becoming Robert Griffin III’s favorite target as the Redskins won their final seven games to steal the NFC East title. Beginning with a 4/86/1 day on Thanksgiving, Garcon closed out the year with a 33/475/3 line over his final six games, rewarding patient fantasy owners who held his roster spot while proving he has WR2 upside in Washington if he can stay on the field.
Slow Closer: Jake Locker
Locker was an erratic wreck after the Titans’ Week 11 bye, turning the ball over 11 times while generating just five touchdowns in six games. He failed to top 152 yards passing in each of his final three starts. The stretch was a microcosm of Locker’s career to date, and one that has the Titans simplifying their offense and making it more run-based. Locker will be a shaky QB2 this season.
Fast Finisher: Bernard Pierce
One of the league’s most productive and consistent rookies last season, Pierce really kicked into gear after Week 12, taking the rock 105 times for 555 yards (5.29 yards per carry) over the Super Bowl champion Ravens’ final 10 games. After averaging 7.1 touches per contest during the regular season, Pierce saw that number jump to an even 10 in the postseason. Pierce lived up to his pre-draft reputation as a balanced, tackle-breaking dynamo, and enters 2013 as one of the league’s top handcuffs.
Slow Closer: Ryan Mathews
Mathews’ struggles have been well-documented, but some things bear repeating. The disappointing third-year back averaged just 3.21 yards per carry over his final 89 totes, and caught only nine passes over his final four games. Mathews struggled with a limited workload in Week 13 (nine carries for 26 yards against the Bengals), and a big one in Week 14 (25 rushes for 65 yards in Pittsburgh). His year ended in Week 15 with his second broken collarbone of 2012. Mathews’ slow finish, of course, came on the heels of a slow start, both to his year and career. A new coaching staff isn’t going to save him.
Fast Finisher: Rob Housler
Even with the Cardinals’ quarterback carousel spinning, Housler managed to pile up 33 catches between Weeks 7-14, finally flashing the skills that made him a third-round pick in 2011. A shoulder injury and Brian Hoyer made for a quiet final three weeks, but Housler put himself on the radar for the new coaching staff. New head man Bruce Arians has since described his 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end as a "a wideout playing tight end," and believes "the sky is the limit as far as where he can get talent-wise."
Slow Closer: Victor Cruz
Cruz averaged just 51.6 yards receiving over his final nine games, failing to surpass 36 yards five different times. Things bottomed out during the fantasy semifinals and finals in Weeks 15-16, where Cruz combined for just six catches and 36 yards. A slumping Eli Manning didn’t help matters, but it was a whimpering end to an 86/1,092/10 season.