The skill of fantasy football is making the playoffs, the long run. The luck of fantasy football is what happens to you the next three weeks, the short run. Heroes and goats will come out of nowhere in Weeks 14-16, and sometimes there's no explaining where these stories come from.
Today we‘ll focus on the heroes, my 10 Favorite Fantasy Football Playoff Runs from the decade. Full disclosure, this is a subjective list I've assembled (with some help from my Yahoo! colleagues), with extra consideration given to the journeyman players who came up big (that's why a Dayne made this list – he produced when no one expected it – while a Tomlinson didn't, no fault of his own). It's a fun collection and it's without question an incomplete collection; please add your fantasy memories and victory laps in the comments.
Enough with the preamble, it's time to celebrate the guys who put virtual trophies on that virtual mantle. To the highlights:
• Billy Volek(notes) and Drew Bennett(notes), 2004: They're the patron saints of Scrubs Gone Wild in the fantasy playoffs and yes, they have to be linked (though to be fair, Bennett was a solid player, Volek the true scrub). They justly get the lead-in to this piece and the longest narrative.
The Tennessee defense absolutely fell apart in the final third of 2004, which basically turned every game into pinball on the gridiron. The scores were straight out of the Arena League – 51-24, 49-38, 45-30. The Titans weren't winning but it didn't stop Volek and Bennett from going ballistic.
Volek's best work came in the first two rounds of the fantasy playoffs, as he went for 918 yards and eight TD passes (plus another score on the ground) in a pair of losses to Kansas City and Oakland. Bennett basically turned into Jerry Rice(notes) during this run; over a three-game stretch (including a loss at Indy) he collected 28 passes, 517 yard and eight touchdowns . If you like your touchdowns from distance, even better: the touchdowns covered 235 yards, just under 30 a pop.
Alas, the Faustian Pact didn't last – Volek and Bennett turned into pumpkins in a Week 16 loss to Denver. But hey, it was a blast while it lasted.
• Larry Johnson(notes), 2005: I've yet to meet anyone who owned LJ in 2005 that didn't at least finish second in their league. He finally got the keys to the Kansas City offense in the middle of the year and his final nine games were ridiculous (nine straight 100-yard efforts, 17 touchdowns). He was on top of his game in Weeks 14-16, collecting 534 total yards and seven scores. I've never seen a modern running back look more unstoppable (or for that matter, more angry while he trampled over defenders).
• DeAngelo Williams(notes), 2008: The Panthers have always been looking for excuses not to play Williams, as strange as that sounds; Williams had to sit behind DeShaun Foster(notes) for two years, and then the team drafted Jonathan Stewart(notes). But the Carolina coaching madness couldn't stop Williams in the second half last year, as he went on a silly eight-game stretch that decided so many fantasy titles (923 rushing yards and 16 TDs, including four in Week 16).
• Clinton Portis(notes), 2003: The touchdowns rained from the sky when Portis faced the Chiefs in Week 14; CP scored five times (including jaunts of 28, 53 and 59) and rolled up 254 yards from scrimmage. He backed this up with a 38-139-2 line the following week against Cleveland but it came with a price (knee and ankle injuries ); the physical problems ended his regular season (and perhaps expedited his offseason trade to Washington).
• Nick Goings(notes), 2004: The Panthers couldn't keep their running backs healthy in 2004 and by default they looked to Goings, a straight-line plodder, in the second half of the year. Seriously, this guy couldn't fake out the lawn chairs on your backyard patio but for a six-game stretch, he was fantasy gold: 797 total yards, six touchdowns. It was a one-shot deal all the way; Goings saw just 57 carries for his career after 2004.
• Antonio Bryant(notes), 2008: Bryant didn't have a lot of street cred in the fantasy world when the 2008 season began – I promoted him in a September blog post that year and spent the rest of the week ducking tomatoes. Bryant had the last laugh, putting up 23 catches for 435 yards and four scores in the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 14-16).
• Lee Suggs(notes), 2003: The little-known Cleveland rookie had just 10 carries to his name before a respectable 20-68 line against Baltimore in Week 16 (remember, no one ran on the Ravens in those days). That audition was enough for me – we took a shot on Suggs with our big-money team in Week 17 and he responded with 198 total yards and two long scores against Cincinnati (78, 25). Suggs also offered three 100-yard efforts out the door in 2004, but after that thumb and ankle problems wrecked his career.
• Ron Dayne(notes), 2006 and 2007: For the most part the former Heisman Trophy winner was a bust in the pros, but something about December coaxed out his best game (he scored 14 of his 28 NFL touchdowns after Dec. 1). Dayne was a workhorse in the 2006 fantasy playoffs (71-333, five TDs) and he had a useful closing run the following year.
• Priest Holmes(notes), 2002 and 2003: A hip injury prematurely ended Holmes's season in 2002 (just in time for Week 16, sorry about that) but he made amends the following year, scoring eight times in the three money games. For a team that never really went anywhere in the playoffs, the Chiefs at the early part of the decade sure were a lot of fun.
• Muhsin Muhammad(notes), 2004: Moose was in the midst of a solid-if-unspectacular season (and career) when something clicked midway through the year; in the final eight games he scored a ridiculous 12 touchdowns. He had plenty left in the tank for the fantasy playoffs, giving us 24-348-4 during those three games.
That's my walk down memory lane. Time for yours, tell your story.