Here is my official 2016-17 Fantasy MVP ballot. Production relative to average draft position was a factor, but overall points obviously served as the North Star.
10. Melvin Gordon
Gordon’s 16.4 points per week were tied for fourth most with LeSean McCoy. That number shoots up to 17.7 if you exclude his injury-ruined Week 13. Which brings us to the main problem with Gordon’s MVP candidacy: Just three of his 254 carries came during the fantasy playoffs. If Gordon carried you during the regular season, you were out of luck when it mattered most. But carry teams he did, and as an extreme value as the RB23 by ADP. 63 players were drafted ahead of the second-year back. Infamously held out of the end zone as a rookie, Gordon scored 12 touchdowns across 12 healthy games. That’s the kind of unexpected production that makes a squad.
9. Michael Thomas
The No. 149 overall player by ADP, Thomas wasn’t just the star of a loaded receiver class, but one of the most productive players in fantasy. Drafted as the WR51, Thomas stunningly finished as the WR9, producing just 0.6 fewer points than teammate Brandin Cooks. The No. 47 pick of April’s draft, Thomas provided absurd return on his 12th-round fantasy investment. He also did so in a more even fashion than fellow down-ballot receiver Davante Adams. The rare late-round sleeper to blow by expectations, Thomas was a league-winning pick for many who took the plunge.
8. Antonio Brown
The consensus top player off the board, Brown held up his end of the bargain, averaging 13.4 points per game, 0.3 more than any other wideout. Brown fell well short of his 2015 heights — he averaged 15.4 points that season — but did what he was supposed to do. That’s more than half the battle, even at No. 1 overall. Predictability at the top provides leeway at the bottom. Brown has been providing it for years now, and should do so again in 2017.
7. Jordy Nelson
Returning from a torn ACL, Nelson was not the same, but just as good. Perhaps a step or two slower, Nelson compensated with savvy and toughness, not to mention magnets for hands in the red zone. Nelson’s 97 catches and 14 touchdowns were both just one off his previous career highs, an astounding achievement for a 31-year-old receiver who missed all of 2015. No wideout visited the end zone more often. The WR1 by overall points, Nelson accomplished all this as the WR8 by ADP, providing exceptional value from the No. 17 slot.
6. Matt Ryan
Ryan had as many turnovers as touchdowns in 2015 (21). Let that sink in for a moment. Going on 31, Ryan looked like a plateau searching for a valley. Instead he was literally the most valuable player in football, rebounding with a vengeance that helped make the 2016 Falcons the seventh-highest scoring offense of all time. The results weren’t quite as explosive in fantasy, where Ryan got out-pointed by Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, but still made for the No. 3 overall campaign at the position, and eye-popping value in drafts. Ryan was the 140th player off the board, going as the QB19. He was drafted behind the likes of Andy Dalton, Eli Manning, etc. You didn’t have to bother with streaming if you lucked into Ryan as your quarterback, a luxury in these days of zero-QB. He gets the nod over Brees because of his superior consistency — Brees isn’t the same on the road — and production-to-price ratio.
5. LeSean McCoy
The No. 3 back by overall points, McCoy averaged a career-high 5.41 yards per carry while scoring 14 total touchdowns, his highest total since 2011. Shady turned the Big Three of David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott and Le'Veon Bell into the Big Four from Week 12 onward, averaging 149 yards from scrimmage during fantasy’s five most important weeks. If you throw out McCoy’s injury shortened Weeks 7 and 17, he averaged 18.7 points per game. It was a gangbusters campaign for a player available in the third round of fantasy drafts, one that likely salted away many championships.
4. Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers scored 19.9 more points than any player in fantasy, outpacing Drew Brees and real-life MVP Matt Ryan. At first, Rodgers’ baffling 2015 seemed to be turning into a trend, as he entered Week 7 with a modest 10 scores through five contests. Then he went completely nuclear, ringing up 30 touchdowns across his final 11 starts, tossing at least two in 10-of-11 games to end the year. Many Rodgers owners probably “reached” for him in fantasy drafts — by now most know the virtues of waiting on quarterbacks — but they ended up getting their money’s worth. No streaming, no slumps. Just dominant football for the final two months of the year. If you had Rodgers, you had a bankable weekly floor, and the ability to use roster spots on upside fliers instead of spot-starting quarterbacks. You had one of the most valuable players in fantasy.
3. Le’Veon Bell
Bell averaged 157 yards from scrimmage. Extrapolated over 16 games, that would have been an NFL-record 2,512. The only problem with Bell’s fantasy campaign was that he missed 23 percent of it. If your team was 3-0 or 2-1 when Bell returned in Week 4, you probably won your league. If you were 0-3 or 1-2, you were in a hole. Bell did all he could to dig you out of it, but still produced 53 fewer points than Ezekiel Elliott, and 89.4 fewer than David Johnson. If this were the Weeks 4-16 MVP award, Bell would have edged Johnson. But it’s not, and Bell missing nearly a quarter of the fake campaign isn’t washed away by his historic 16-game pace. Bell is a special player in a special offense. Hopefully he’s there for all of 2017.
2. Ezekiel Elliott
The No. 4 overall pick of the draft would have been the No. 1 overall fantasy player in most other seasons. Elliott led the league in rushing (1,631), scoring 16 total touchdowns and tacking on 363 receiving yards for good measure. The fully-formed rookie averaged 5.06 yards per carry, and posted at least 87 yards from scrimmage in every game between Weeks 2 and 16. Elliott was uncommonly steady and productive for a first-year pro, even one taken so high in the draft. He exceeded expectations that, in reality, were not fair. Still only 21, Elliott should have longevity at the top of fantasy’s most volatile position. He’s a predictable cornerstone in an era of uncertainty.
1. David Johnson
The No. 5 overall player by ADP, Johnson faced outsized expectations for a player with 161 career touches. He proceeded to shatter them, leading the league in yards from scrimmage (2,118) and clearing 100 in 15-of-15 healthy games. Johnson scored 20 touchdowns, making him the first player to do so since LeSean McCoy in 2011, and only the second since DeAngelo Williams in 2008. Johnson was amazingly consistent. On a week-by-week basis, he finished: RB7, RB12, RB4, RB17, RB1, RB3, RB9, RB21, RB5, RB2, RB4, RB2, RB18, RB5 and RB1. The league’s RB1 produced as an RB1 in 12-of-15 healthy appearances, and never once finished as an RB3. There were no busts for fantasy’s best player, just a prolonged sonic boom of production. It was a throwback campaign, one you might expect from Marshall Faulk, a player Johnson’s own general manager compared him to in the preseason. Rarely, if ever, do owners get such a predictable, loud bang for their buck. Johnson was without peer in fantasy this season.