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Best Fantasy Football Season Ever? 16-player tournament to decide greatest campaign of all time

Andy Behrens
·12 min read
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We know what you're thinking: Wouldn't it be great if some mainstream sports outlet would produce a bracket-style feature in which readers could vote on impossible matchups?

LITERALLY NO ONE HAS THOUGHT TO DO THIS, EVER.

Well, today is your lucky day, sports consumer. It's happening.

Our objective here is to determine the greatest single fantasy season in NFL history, via the most precise and scientifically valid method available: Online fan voting.

We've selected sixteen stellar individual seasons, seeding and slotting them into four regions. Your votes will determine which players advance. Let's not focus entirely on total points or per-game scoring; we need to also consider a player's performance relative to his era and position. Context is key.

Best Fantasy Football Seasons Ever Bracket. (Photo by Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
Who will win the title of best fantasy football season ever? (Photo by Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

(Editor’s Note: Voting for this round closes at 2 PM EST on Tuesday, April 14 — so let your voice be heard!)

You know what to do, voter. We begin with a matchup between the league's two most recent MVPs ...

Quarterback Region

(at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD)

2019 Lamar Jackson vs. 2018 Patrick Mahomes

No. 1: Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens)

  • Highest per-game scoring average in the history of his position

  • Destroyed the single-season record for QB rush yards (1,206)

  • Led NFL in passing TDs (36) and yards per carry (6.9)

Jackson authored the greatest dual-threat quarterback season in history, obliterating Michael Vick's positional rushing record while also producing a passer-rating of 113.3. He basically functioned as a combo QB1 and RB1. Somehow, Jackson topped 30 fantasy points in seven of his 15 games. He was a monster in the fantasy playoffs, too, delivering eight passing scores, zero INTs and 189 rushing yards in Weeks 15-16.

No. 4: Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs)

  • Second QB to pass for 5,000 yards and 50 TDs in a season

  • Established all-time record for total fantasy points by a QB

  • Produced seven games with at least four TD passes

Mahomes was the no-doubt MVP in 2018, leading the NFL in passing touchdowns (50) and adjusted yards per attempt (9.6) by wide margins. In his worst game of the season, a 30-14 win over Jacksonville, he still passed for 313 yards and ran for a touchdown. Mahomes threw multiple TD passes in 14 of 16 games, including a three-score performance in title week.

2013 Peyton Manning vs. 2007 Tom Brady

No. 2: Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos)

  • Set single-season records for pass yards (5,477) and TDs (55)

  • Produced four games with at least 400 yards and 4 pass TDs

  • Passed for 19 touchdowns in five December games

Manning's ridiculous year opened with a record-tying seven-touchdown performance against the Ravens, then closed with a series of multi-TD games in the most important weeks of the fantasy season. He threw for over 300 yards in a dozen games and topped 250 yards in 15 of 16. He also tossed four or more TD passes nine times, including Weeks 14, 16 and 17.

No. 3: Tom Brady (New England Patriots)

  • First QB to throw 50 touchdown passes in a season

  • Outscored the No. 2 fantasy QB by 99 points

  • Led NFL in pass yards (4,806), TDs (50), Y/A (8.3) and rating (117.2)

Brady opened his greatest individual season by throwing at least three touchdown passes in ten straight games en route to a 16-0 campaign. His only off-week, fantasy-wise, was a 140-yard performance in a Week 15 win against the Jets, but he followed it with yet another 3-TD effort vs. Miami. Brady's top two receivers, Randy Moss and Wes Welker, finished as WR1 and WR9 in PPR scoring.

Superflex Region

(at Miami Orange Bowl, Miami, FL)

1984 Dan Marino vs. 2011 Rob Gronkowski

No. 1: Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins)

  • No one had ever even imagined a season like Marino's '84

  • Broke the previous record for single-season passing TDs by 12

  • First player to throw for over 5,000 yards

Even by modern standards, Marino's numbers from 1984 are eye-popping. At the time, it seemed impossible. Hall of Famer Joe Montana had one of his best individual seasons in '84, yet Marino threw 20 more TD passes — twenty! — than the Niners' QB. He finished with 16 more touchdown passes than the guy who finished second in '84 (Dave Krieg). Marino also closed his season with four straight 4-TD games, dominating in the money weeks. It's really a shame more of us couldn't appreciate this season as fantasy managers.

No. 4: Gronk (New England Patriots)

  • Most receiving TDs in a season by a tight end (17)

  • Broke the previous record for receiving yards by a tight end

  • Highest-scoring season by a TE in both standard and PPR

Sure, we could have devoted an entire region to various tight ends, but what would even be the point? With all due respect to Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce and Todd Christensen, no tight end ever produced a season like Gronk's 2011. He smashed all fantasy scoring records at his position by significant margins. He established career highs in receptions (90), receiving yards (1,327) and receiving scores (17), plus he added a rushing TD.

2000 Marshall Faulk vs. 1951 Elroy Hirsch

No. 2: Marshall Faulk (St. Louis Rams)

  • Broke existing RB scoring records for standard and PPR

  • Led NFL in total TDs (26) and yards per carry (5.4)

  • Highest-scoring season in PPR history on a per-game basis

It was, at the time, the greatest fantasy season ever produced by a running back. Faulk outscored the No. 2 fantasy RB by 64 points in PPR leagues. Despite missing a pair of November games, he still rushed for 1,359 yards and 18 TDs, catching 81 balls for 830 yards and eight scores. His performance in Weeks 15-17 was legendary: 571 scrimmage yards, 11 TDs. From 1998 to 2001, Faulk averaged an incredible 149.9 scrimmage yards per game and 2,248 per season.

No. 3: Elroy Hirsch (Los Angeles Rams)

  • His NFL record for receiving yards (1,495) would hold for 33 years

  • Finished 669 receiving yards ahead of any other player in 1951

  • Led league in receptions (66), scrimmage yards (1,498) and TDs (17)

Everything about Hirsch's 1951 season was remarkable. He tied Don Hutson's record for receiving scores and absolutely demolished the previous mark for receiving yardage. His Hall of Fame teammate Tom Fears had exceeded 1,000 yards in 1949 and '50, but no player had ever approached 1,400. Did we mention that Hirsch produced his unprecedented year in a 12-game season?

Well, he did.

He still holds the NFL record for receiving yards per week (124.6) over any season of 10 or more games. Unfortunately, Hirsch's monster season occurred more than a decade before the formation of the first fantasy league.

[Create or join a 2020 Yahoo Fantasy Football League for free today]

Running Back Region

(at Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA)

2006 LaDainian Tomlinson vs. 1975 O.J. Simpson

No. 1: LaDainian Tomlinson

  • Highest-scoring season in history at any position, PPR or standard

  • Established the single-season TD record (31), which still stands

  • Only non-QB to top 400 standard fantasy points in any season

Tomlinson's best season was, for fantasy purposes, nearly perfect. He destroyed the single-season touchdown record (set by Shaun Alexander the year before) while leading the league in rushing (1,815) and producing an obscene 2,323 scrimmage yards. He also caught 56 passes for 508 yards, tossing a few bones to PPR managers. Tomlinson had an incredible eight-game streak with multiple touchdowns and 100-plus rushing yards. He was a one-man wrecking crew.

Several running backs had huge years in '06 — Larry Johnson, Frank Gore, and Steven Jackson were notably great — yet Tomlinson dominated them all. He outscored the No. 2 RB in standard leagues by 93 points. The only slight blemish on his all-time season was the fact that he didn't cross the goal line in championship week, although he still delivered 133 scrimmage yards in a win at Seattle.

No. 4: O.J. Simpson

  • Highest single-season TD total (23) of the NFL's 14-game era

  • First player to reach 2,100 scrimmage yards in a season

  • Established a new AFL-NFL fantasy scoring record, PPR or standard

Hey, it's a tough first-round draw for Juice, but at least he made the bracket, narrowly edging 1995 Emmitt Smith. Simpson may have received more attention for breaking the 2,000-yard rushing barrier two years prior, but his 1975 season was substantially better in fantasy terms. He rushed for a league-leading 1,817 yards, caught 28 passes for a career-high 426 yards and scored a then-record 23 touchdowns. He led the NFL in rushing, yards per carry (5.5), TDs and scrimmage yards (2,243). It should be noted that Minnesota's Chuck Foreman nearly matched Simpson's full-season fantasy production in ‘75, breaking the plane 22 times and leading the league in receptions (73). Still, O.J.'s massive year ranks fourth all-time at RB in per-game standard fantasy scoring to this day.

2019 Christian McCaffrey vs. 2003 Priest Holmes

No. 2: Christian McCaffrey

  • Second-highest PPR single-season scorer of all-time

  • Broke his own record for receptions by a RB in a season (116)

  • Produced the third 1,000-1,000 campaign in history

CMC led the league in scrimmage yards (2,392), touchdowns (19) and total touches (403) last year, joining Faulk and Roger Craig as the only players to top 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in the same season. McCaffrey's performance was outstanding in any format, but it was downright historic in full-PPR. He's one of only four RBs to catch 100 passes in a season and the only back to do it twice. An astonishing 82 percent of Yahoo fantasy teams that rostered McCaffrey last year qualified for their league's playoffs.

No. 3: Priest Holmes

  • Broke the previous NFL record for single-season touchdowns

  • Gained over 2,100 scrimmage yards for a third consecutive year

  • Scored 10 TDs in four December games, including six in Weeks 15-16

Holmes' peak years are among the very best in the history of his position. He scored an absurd 31 touchdowns over 30 games in 2002 and 2003. (He was on pace to produce another 20-plus scores and 2,000 scrimmage yards in 2004, but injury limited him to eight games.) Holmes saved his best for the critical weeks in '03, reaching the end zone a dozen times in his final five games, carrying fantasy managers to championships.

Wide Receiver Region

(at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, CA)

1995 Jerry Rice vs. 2002 Marvin Harrison

No. 1: Jerry Rice

  • Highest-scoring season ever for a WR, PPR or standard

  • Third-highest single-season receiving yardage total (1,848)

  • Only WR to reach 400 fantasy points in full-PPR

Twenty-five years later, and this remains the all-time fantasy season among wide receivers. Rice finished the year with 122 receptions for a league-leading 1,848 yards and 15 scores. He also ran for 36 yards and a touchdown, plus he passed for another score. (Only five receivers in NFL history have completed that single-season hat-trick.) In Rice's prime, over an 11-year period (1986-1996), he averaged 91 catches, 1,405 yards and 14 touchdowns per season. He's the career leader in ... well, in every important stat related to non-quarterbacks, including touchdowns (208) and scrimmage yards (23,540).

No. 4: Marvin Harrison

  • Set single-season reception record that held until 2019

  • Led NFL in catches (143) and receiving yardage (1722)

  • His fourth of eight straight years with double-digit TDs

Just in case you incorrectly think of Harrison as some short-range catch-and-fall specialist, please note that his 1,722 receiving yards from '02 still hold as the seventh-highest total in NFL history. Harrison's single-season reception record withstood the best efforts of volume receivers like Welker, Megatron, Julio and AB before Michael Thomas finally took it down last year. From 1999 to 2002, Harrison somehow averaged 117 receptions, 1,581 yards and 13 TDs per season.

2007 Randy Moss vs. 2015 Antonio Brown

No. 2: Randy Moss

  • Established single-season record for receiving TDs (23)

  • Caught multiple TD passes in eight games

  • Second highest-scoring season by any WR in standard leagues

Let's please never forget that Oakland gave away Randy Moss to New England for a fourth-round pick in the '07 draft. With the benefit of hindsight, that just seems scandalously dumb. But Moss was coming off an uninspired 553-yard, 3-TD season and he wasn't exactly being pursued by every team. As soon as the regular season began, however, he demonstrated that he was still the league's most dangerous receiving threat. Moss opened with four straight 100-yard performances; he finished the season by scoring seven TDs in five December games.

No. 3. Antonio Brown

  • Third-highest reception total (136) in NFL history

  • Second highest-scoring PPR season among all WRs

  • Fourth-best receiving yardage total (1,834) all-time

Brown's back-to-back seasons in 2014-15 are rivaled only by Rice's 1994-95 in league history. In fact, AB's performance in 2014 was actually slightly better than his 2015 in standard-scoring leagues, thanks to an edge in touchdowns (13 vs. 10). But he delivered historic reception and yardage totals in '15. In any case, he was an unfair fantasy weapon, the rare wide receiver who became a consensus No. 1 fantasy pick.

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