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LIKE SEEMINGLY EVERYTHING ELSE IN THIS WORLD—ANIMAL LIFE, TECHNOLOGY ... MADONNA—FANTASY FOOTBALL KEEPS EVOLVING. NFL PLAYERS GET BIGGER, FASTER, STRONGER; COACHES PULL NEW TRICKS OUT OF THEIR SLEEVES; AND FANTASY PARTICIPANTS GROW INCREASINGLY SAVVY. YOU DEFINITELY HAVE to keep up with these trends. Just don't be held captive by them. Remember the Wildcat formation that was in vogue several years ago? Ask Tim Tebow how much that gimmicky formation matters today.
Other recent passing fantasy fancies have included the idea that the feature running back was extinct; that wide receiver combos could sustain top 10 value year in and year out; and that elite tight ends—all of a sudden, last year—were worthy of those same precious early picks. What have we learned from those missteps? That we still have much to learn.
The extinct back? Somehow, in this modern-day, pass-happy NFL, Adrian Peterson nearly broke Eric Dickerson's 28-year-old single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards. In each of the previous three seasons we had seen just one player surpass even 1,500 yards: Maurice Jones-Drew with 1,606 in 2011, Arian Foster with 1,616 in '10 and Chris Johnson with 2,006 in '09. But in '12 four backs broke that plateau: Jamaal Charles (1,509), Marshawn Lynch (1,590), rookie Alfred Morris (1,613) and the irrepressible Peterson (2,097). What's more, Peterson accomplished that immediately after spending eight months recovering from major knee reconstruction. (Medicine, you see, evolves too.)
How in the world did we all allow Peterson, damaged though he was, to slip so far in the draft—if yours was the one league in which he went in round 1, then congrats—while we jumped on loads of receivers, suspect quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford and, sigh, all of those tight ends?
In short, fantasy players were all trying to keep up. That's as it always is, and how it will be again in 2013. But really, if you take away anything at all from '12, it should be this: When you're trying to get in vogue in fantasy, caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware. Last season's trends are so ... last year.
Beyond reminding you to not consider picking anyone before Peterson, here are four things to think about in 2013 when trying to keep pace with evolution.
HOW TO READ THE READ-OPTION QBS
FANTASY DRAFTERS LOVE TO JUMP ON THE TRENDS that they watched unfold in the previous postseason, and they had to have been motivated by what they saw in January and February out of the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick, the latest in a line of mobile, read-option quarterbacks emerging in the mold of the Panthers' Cam Newton. Lump in burgeoning Redskins superstar Robert Griffin III and surprise rookie Russell Wilson, and there you have a trend.
Now the lesson: Don't reach too high for these guys. Potential doesn't win fantasy games—touchdowns and 300-yard passing games do. And neither Kaepernick nor Wilson has even one 300-yard regular-season game under his belt yet. Nor has either one thrown for more than 30 touchdowns (let alone the 40 you should be aiming for).