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Fantasy Football: The 10 Most Surprising Players So Far In 2012

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Fantasy Football: The 10 Most Surprising Players So Far In 2012

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Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE

Every year there are surprises in fantasy football, as players come out of nowhere to perform well and more proven names fail to reach expectations and justify their draft position. As we now nearly have five weeks of the NFL schedule in the books, trends have started to emerge and players have largely built a body of work one way or another that fantasy owners can begin to trust. A player’s role can always change, due to injury and other factors, but it’s fair to say we know a lot more some of the more notable position battles and injury recoveries than we did heading into Week 1.

Any list of surprising players can, and most certainly will, be different for each fantasy football owner at any point in a season as individual perceptions and expectations dictate that. Things can and will change over the course of the rest of the season, and injuries will definitely become a deciding factor going forward. At the very least it will be interesting to look back at the end of the season and see if this list has changed much.

With that, I offer my list of the “Top 10 Fantasy Football Surprises” to this point in the 2012 season. I have tried to leave no position by the wayside in compiling the list, and I have also attempted to go both directions with players who have surprised positively and negatively. Who makes your personal list? How does it differ from mine? Feel free to comment on, debate and disagree with my choices.

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10. Arizona Cardinals WR Andre Roberts

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Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE

When the Cardinals used their first round pick in April on wide receiver Michael Floyd, it was assumed he would just step in as a starter opposite Larry Fitzgerald and not look back. But the Arizona coaching staff has made him earn his role, opening the door for Roberts to emerge as a legitimate second fiddle to Fitzgerald. The third-year man has been impressive so far, with 20 catches for 268 yards and four touchdowns, including a six-catch, 118-yard and two touchdown effort in Week 4 against the Miami Dolphins. It’s fair to think Floyd’s role will increase at some point, but as long as Roberts continues to produce well his role should not go away

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9. St. Louis Rams K Greg Zuerlein

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Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

Zuerlein has yet to miss a field goal this season (13-for-13), and also has five makes from 50 or more yards out. He had made multiple field goals in every game prior to Week 5 against the Arizona Cardinals, and his lone make in that game came from 53 yards out. The Rams’ offense has been good enough to give the rookie out of Missouri Western State plenty of opportunities to this point, and that should continue most weeks down the road. It is dangerous to rely on long-range field goals on a weekly basis, but since St. Louis plays their home games indoors those opportunities may not go away.

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8. Atlanta Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez

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Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

Gonzalez started the season solidly, with at least five catches in all four games and touchdowns in each of the first three games of the season. He upped the anty significantly in Week 5 against the Washington Redskins with 13 receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown. Not bad for a guy who has said he will retire after the season and looked likely to have a minimized role in the Falcons’ passing game with the emergence of wide receiver Julio Jones. Gonzalez is benefiting from attention Jones and Roddy White draw from opposing defenses, and should at least be a top red zone option for quarterback Matt Ryan for the rest of the season. Week 5's 13 catches are clearly not likely to be repeated, but fantasy owners can expect the future Hall of Famer to remain a good scorer each week.

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7. Miami Dolphins WR Brian Hartline

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Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE

Hartline lead the league in receiving yards (455) entering Week 5, and was also among the most targeted wide receivers (47) entering the week. He had 12 receptions (on 18 targets) for 253 yards and a touchdown-against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 4, which is clearly not sustainable week in and week out, as evidenced by a disappointing game in Week 5 against the Cincinnati Bengals (four catches for 59 yards). That said, Hartline’s budding rapport with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill should keep him getting plenty of targets going forward. It’s easy to disregard players on bad teams such as the Dolphins, but Hartline should continue to help fantasy owners that gave him a longer look and wound up adding him.

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6. Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning

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Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE

Perhaps no player was as risky a draft day proposition for fantasy owners as Manning, as he was going to a new team after having missed all of 2011. But he has performed very well thus far, with all three of his interceptions on the season coming in the first quarter of Week 2 against the Atlanta Falcons. Manning has now had three straight games with at least 330 passing yards after Week 5 against the New England Patriots, with eight touchdown passes and zero interceptions in that span. We should not expect the elder Manning to revert to his form from 10 years ago, but somewhere close is possible going forward as he continues to get closer to 100 percent healthy and more comfortable with his teammates.

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5. Detroit Lions WR Titus Young

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Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Young entered the season as a popular sleeper candidate for fantasy owners, and rightfully so considering the potential of the Lions’ passing game. But he has just one game with more than one catch so far this season, and his lone touchdown thus far came on a tipped ball in Week 3 against the Tennessee Titans. Fellow wide receiver Nate Burleson has been targeted nearly twice as much as Young to this point (31 to 16), so the assumed changing of the guard to Young as Detroit’s No. 2 wide receiver has not come to fruition yet. Young’s production really has nowhere to go but up from here, and maybe having a Week 5 bye will help him turn things around.

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4.Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson

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Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

No one expected Johnson to return to the 2,000 yard form of 2009 campaign this season, but his performance thus far has been a major disappointment. A 141-yard performance against the Houston Texans in Week 4 created some hope for a turnaround, but the Minnesota Vikings were able to hold him in check in Week 5 as he had just 24 yards on 15 carries. Poor offensive line play has definitely been a big factor in Johnson's dismal performance thus far, and he could be a solid buy-low candidate for those fantasy owners that can make a trade for him. But it’s also possible we are looking at case of another running back (see Shaun Alexander-2006) that earned a big contract and then is not close to the player he was previously ever again.

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3. Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson

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Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE

There were a lot of questions surrounding Peterson entering the season, as he was less than nine months removed from a devastating knee injury entering Week 1 and had not seen any game action during the preseason. But he has looked close to his old self so far with more than 20 carries in two straight games in Week 3 and Week 4 and at least 84 rushing yards in four out of five games overall. Peterson has not scored a touchdown since Week 1, but his performance as a whole has rendered backup Toby Gerhart virtually useless to fantasy owners right now. It’s fair to wonder how Peterson will perform down the road as he has clearly not been eased back into action coming off his torn ACL, but for now he has justified the faith of fantasy owners that used a draft pick on him.

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2. Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton

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Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

No realistic fantasy football owner expected Newton to repeat his historic 2011 rookie season, but those that spent a high draft pick or a lot of auction money on him certainly expected better than they’ve gotten to this point. He threw for over 300 yards in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but since then it has been a downward spiral culminating in a 12-for-29, 141-yard passing effort against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5. Newton has saved his fantasy grace some with his running ability and he does have three rushing touchdowns on the season, but this is shaping up to be an epic sophomore slump. That said, if you can buy low in a trade for Newton now would be the time to do so.

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1. Washington Redskins RB Alfred Morris

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Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

It’s always anyone’s guess what Redskins’ head coach Mike Shanahan will do with his backfield rotation, and the mystery continued during the 2012 preseason. But he seems to have found a keeper in Morris, and through five games he has been the clear-cut primary ball carries for Washington. The 2012 sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic is among the league leaders with 494 rushing yards, and he also has four rushing touchdowns. With Roy Helu (toe, Achilles’) out for the season and Evan Royster (knee) also banged up, Morris is in line for plenty of work going forward and should remain a top tier fantasy back. Plans can always change for inexplicable reasons in a Shanahan backfield, but fantasy owners that were able to add Morris have certainly been happy with his performance so far.