Fantasy Football All-Decade Team: From Drew Brees to Calvin Johnson, the best of the 2010s
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Do you love lists? Of course, you love lists! Everyone loves lists!
As the season comes to a close so too do the 10s. The 2010s? The Tens? All of that looks ugly, to be honest, but you know what I’m getting at.
Ten years are down and we’re in a fantasy space, so let’s talk about the All-Decade Fantasy Team.
Here’s the criteria I used to determine who is on this extremely prestigious list: Basically, I figured out who you, angry reader, like, and I shafted him; gave him the boot.
With that here’s the TL:DR version for those of you who want to see it and immediately go into the comments section to blast it:
QB: Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers
RB: Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy
WR: Antonio Brown, Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones
TE: Rob Gronkowski
FLEX: Adrian Peterson
K: Stephen Gostkowski
(Note: There are limitless scoring systems out there but for this column, we’ll assume 4 points for passing touchdowns, -2 for interceptions and 1 point for every 25 yards passing.)
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
There were a few other worthy nominees but the consistency Brees has exhibited is unreal. Not only that, his upside was just as high as anyone else you might be considering for the top quarterback spot on this All-Decade Team.
When we talk about heights, his 2011 campaign saw Brees throw for a then-record 5,476 yards with 46 passing touchdowns. According to Pro Football Reference, it is currently the fifth-highest scoring fantasy season of all time among quarterbacks. In fact, Brees is the king of 5K as he eclipsed 5,000 passing yards FOUR different times this decade.
What makes him the clear-cut top fantasy quarterback (real-life quarterback too???) of the decade was the unrivaled consistency. He finished as a top-5 fantasy quarterback an unreal seven times this decade. And 2019 will be the first time in 10 years where Brees has not finished as a top-9 fantasy quarterback. If he had stayed healthy, let’s be real, he probably would’ve made it 10 of 10 in the top 10.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
The former Cal Bear turned Favre understudy turned all-time great just beat out Peyton Manning as my second All-Decade QB. His highs weren’t quite as high as Manning’s but Rodgers was no slouch and also had a few more notable seasons in the 2010s.
Ironically, Rodgers’ greatest statistical season came in 2011, the same season we saw Brees go gangbusters. Rodgers laid waste to any and all defenses before him, posting 4,643 passing yards and 45 passing touchdowns (48 total) — and he did it in 15 games. He and the Packers were so good (15-1 record) Rodgers sat out the last week. But the way he was going, 5K and 50 total touchdowns would have been a foregone conclusion if he played. And even playing a game short, his 2011 is currently the fourth-highest scoring QB season of all time in fantasy.
On five different occasions, Rodgers finished as either the QB1 or 2 which speaks to his dominance this decade. His decline in performance over the last few seasons will sway some with recency bias but there was that six/seven-year stretch where Rodgers was widely considered one of the two best quarterbacks in the game and the numbers backed it up. He was an absolute savage in his prime and quite deserving of this spot.
Arian Foster, Houston Texans
Call it a one-way relationship because as much as fantasy fans loved them some Arian Foster, the great Texans back was no fan of fantasy football. But it’s all good, I certainly have no ill will towards the man currently known as Bobby Feeno. He was a beast on the field and finished with four of the top 50 fantasy RB performances of the decade, only one of two running backs to do so.
Running in the famed Gary Kubiak outside zone run scheme, Foster came out of absolutely nowhere to decimate the opposition in 2010. Then an undrafted second-year player out of Tennessee, Foster racked up 2,220 total yards, 66 receptions, and 18 touchdowns.
Even in hardcore leagues, Foster was nothing more than a sleeper pick. In most leagues, he was a flyer you took in the later rounds. Steve Slaton was at the time considered the potential starter as he had the most recent success. Foster, in his rookie year, collected all of 257 rushing yards.
As it turned out, the Foster selection ended up being a league-winner and one of those legendary fantasy moves you remember forever, doubly so in keeper or dynasty setups.
For the uninitiated, Foster was about as graceful of a power runner as you’ll ever find. A 6-foot-1, 225-pound gazelle, he was a gifted pass catcher and fluid with the ball in his hands. His signature “namaste” touchdown celebration seemed all too fitting as his running style was that of water flowing downhill; he’d find a crack and go. He didn’t bowl you over even though he could, he didn’t pitter-patter his feet on juke moves. He most certainly never reversed field.
But what he would do is leave defenders in his wake using a subtle but powerful cutback. He’d mix in an occasional spin move, but it was that powerful cutback that I will always remember him for.
There was a five-year stretch from 2010 to 2014 where Foster was a force of nature. He got hurt in 2013 but in all the other seasons in that early decade stretch, Foster collected 1,500 or more yards and 12 or more touchdowns.
Injuries robbed Foster of his explosiveness after 2014 and he stepped away from football to pursue a music career after the 2016 season but his dominance in the early part of the decade made him an easy selection for the all-decade team.
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles/Buffalo Bills
In his prime Shady was as electric a runner we’ve ever seen in the NFL. Both his 2011 and his 2013 campaigns carried countless fantasy enthusiasts to championships. In 2011, McCoy brought in north of 1,600 total yards and crossed pay-dirt TWENTY times. A couple years later, Shady was back racking up 2,100 yards and 11 scores in a unique Chip Kelly offense.
His highs were plenty high but what I marvel at is his longevity. Other than a few bumps and bruises, McCoy has remained relatively healthy, never missing more than four games in any given season throughout his illustrious 11-year career.
McCoy has obviously fallen on hard fantasy times over the last couple of years but his sustained excellence and productivity gave him the nod over other notable backs like Le’Veon Bell and Adrian Peterson who, while brilliant in their own right, also missed huge chunks of games. LeSean’s 2016 was particularly notable because literally everyone had put his career in the dirt at that point and McCoy responded by having one of his best years, amassing 1,623 yards and 14 touchdowns.
McCoy was such a fun back to watch. Lightning quick, McCoy broke ankles on the regular and seemingly had a “Holy s*%#” moment once per game. The way he would carry that ball, holding it out roughly 10 feet away from his body, created quite a few anxious moments for his fantasy managers (hand raised) but that kind of stuff only added to the excitement in watching him play.
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
A football savant with legendary work ethic, Antonio Brown is, in my humble opinion, one of the five best receivers of all time and the clear-cut top receiver of the decade — with no close second.
He’s posted the top two fantasy WR seasons this decade in PPR and has six of the top 30 fantasy seasons in that same span. The next closest would be Calvin Johnson with three top-40 fantasy campaigns.
His 2014-2015 run was as dominant as they come. In 2014 he had 129 receptions for nearly 1,700 yards and 13 touchdowns. He followed that up with 136 catches for 1,834 and 10 more scores. In a position known for its depth, he was so far ahead of his peers it was almost unfair to go against him in fantasy.
You know the deal: A pristine route runner, Brown combined super glue hands with acrobatic body control. It felt like his catch radius was as wide as the donut atop the legendary Randy’s shop.
If Antonio Brown ends up having played his last NFL snap, we all have been robbed of seeing another few years of one the greatest receivers to ever play the game.
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
Megatron was a freak-of-nature receiver. We tend to throw around “generational talent” nowadays but that really was Calvin Johnson. We’ve never seen a receiver with that size and speed combined with those hands and body control. It’s not hyperbole to say Johnson was one of the greatest pure athletes to ever play in the NFL.
His four-year run from 2010 to 2013 was absurd. He averaged nearly 95 receptions, 1,575 total yards and 11.3 touchdowns per season in that stretch.
He obviously retired early but when he played, there was no more feared receiver in the NFL during this decade.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Entering the league in 2011, it would be almost impossible to not include Julio Jones on this list. Touchdowns aside, he’s been spectacular since 2014. But it was his 2015 season that was his most impressive from a statistical standpoint. That season he went off to the tune of 136 receptions, 1,871 yards, and 8 touchdowns. And six different times over the last 10 years Julio Jones finished as a top 5 fantasy receiver in PPR.
A freakish combination of size and speed, Jones has been and continues to be one of the elite deep threats in the NFL. His ability to track the ball and make tough catches in traffic is unbelievable.
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
The injuries and early retirement made this an interesting choice between Gronk and Jimmy Graham but ultimately I went with the former Patriot because, when healthy, there was no question who the first tight end off the board would be.
Gronk owns three of the top EIGHT fantasy seasons from this decade, four in the top 20. His 2011 season is the greatest tight end season in fantasy history. His 17 flippin' touchdowns that year is a single-season NFL record among tight ends. And oh, by the way, he caught 90 receptions for 1,327 yards.
A huge, imposing athlete, Gronk was 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds of diesel fuel. Then you add in all the gear: The elbow braces, the knee braces — Gronk looked like a giant ball of muscle and machine parts barreling toward the end zone. When you combined that bulk with some of the best hands ever at the tight end position, you got a fantasy cheat code.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings/Washington Redskins
How do you not put a player who ran for 2,097 yards in a single season on this list? At his peak, there was not a more ferocious runner in NFL history.
And this selection is a nod to those of us who grew up playing “standard” leagues (read: non-PPR). Never much of a pass catcher, Peterson was perhaps the best pure runner many of us under the age of 40 have ever seen. There were times I would watch his combination of power, speed, and lateral quickness and think, “My god, he really is a cyborg out there!”
Watch these highlights; for much of his career, it just looked like he was playing at a totally different speed than the other guys on the field.
The reason he’s a flex and not my RB2 is because of the huge chunks of time missed due to injury and suspension but watching him run in his prime, the one word that always came to mind: Awesome.
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The dreaded Legion of Boom for much of the decade was one of the most feared defenses in football history.
Truth be told, the Patriots after this season will have scored more fantasy points than the Seahawks but from an impact standpoint, it’s not close.
Fantasy managers were benching stud receivers in fear of Richard Sherman and company. Star running backs and quarterbacks were being shuffled out of starting lineups because their respective managers didn’t want to deal with the downside risk of possibly getting knocked out of games by Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Fantasy points aside, that respect, that fear, permeated the fantasy landscape for years.
So again, maybe they didn’t score the most fantasy points year in and year out, but their impact on the game, both in real life and in fantasy, could not have been bigger.
Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots
Yes, kickers do indeed matter and there was no better fantasy kicker than The Ghost. The Patriots boot notched five of the top 13 kicker seasons over the last decade. He was incredibly reliable and for a time there was an easy and automatic first kicker off the board.
Look, Justin Tucker may very well end up going down as the best real-life kicker of all time, but from a fantasy perspective, there really was no contest for this particular all-decade team.
Notable snubs: Peyton Manning being left off this list is a legit gripe. Manning, of course, had that 55 touchdown season in 2013 and also had three other really, really good seasons this decade but other than those four seasons, there was literally nothing.
Patriots’ fans, sit down. Tom Brady’s 50-touchdown season came in 2007. Other than 2011 when he posted 5,235 yards passing and 39 passing touchdowns, there’s not really a season that sticks out as notable from a fantasy perspective. Barring a miracle and including 2019, Brady will have finished outside the top-10 on four different occasions and has never finished as the QB1 during these 10 years.
James Koh is a fantasy football analyst and an award-winning journalist. Tell us what he got wrong in the comments below and/or hit him up on Twitter @JamesDKoh.