August 25, 2010
OK, the ground rules for this gimmick are simple, and they give us the deepest possible player pool: I'm selecting names from any era in pro football history, compiling the best possible fantasy roster. I'll take my nine and beat your nine, whoever they are, whenever they played. And I won't need a bench.
This first name shouldn't surprise anyone who lives outside New England…
QB Dan Marino, 1984 — In his second season, Marino basically played like a visitor from the future, torching the league and treating the NFL record book like his own personal scrapbook. A quarter-century later, he still holds the single-season passing yardage mark (5,084). Marino threw 48 touchdown passes in '84, an almost incomprehensible number at the time. In the 1970s, no quarterback even reached 30 TDs.
In '84, Marino also delivered the greatest end-of-year binge we're likely to ever see at this position. He closed with four straight 4-TD games, reserving his best performances for the fantasy playoffs. In the final three weeks, these were his yardage totals: 470, 404, 340. Good luck beating that, Dave Krieg owners. As great as Tom Brady was in '07 when he set the all-time passing TD record, his 140-yard, zero-touchdown effort in Week 14 got many of his owners bounced from the playoffs.
[Ready to make your picks? Sign up for Yahoo! Fantasy Football]
Honorable mention: Daunte Culpepper in '04 and '00, Randall Cunningham '90 and '98, Peyton Manning in '04, Tom Brady in '07, Kurt Warner in '99, Marino in '86, Dan Fouts in '81, Steve Young in '94 and '98, Johnny Unitas in '59, Sammy Baugh in '47, Sid Luckman in '43.
RB Priest Holmes, 2003 — Christian Okoye had always been the fantasy community's favorite Chief, but Holmes claimed the title with a phenomenal three-year run from 2001 to '03. During that stretch, he totaled 6,566 scrimmage yards and 61 TDs. Holmes was a touchdown machine in '03, finishing with 27 scores, 1,420 rushing yards, and a career-high 74 receptions for 690 yards. Over the last five games of the season, he was simply unfair. Holmes broke the plane 12 times, with at least two TDs in every game.
RB Marshall Faulk, 2000 — Holmes was spectacular from '01 to '03, but Faulk may have been better from 1998 to '01. In fact, during that stretch, he was arguably as productive as any NFL back has ever been. I'm not sure that 2000 was even his best season — the prior year, he was a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver — but check out the insane finish: Faulk had 178 total yards and four TDs in Week 15, then 132 yards and four scores in Week 16, then 261 and three TDs in Week 17. If you owned him, the fantasy playoffs were a victory parade.
Honorable mention: Earl Campbell in '79 and '80, Eric Dickerson in '84, Jim Brown in '58, O.J. Simpson in '73, Terrell Davis in '98, Shaun Alexander in '05, Emmitt Smith in '95, Walter Payton in '77, Jamal Lewis in '03, Barry Sanders in '97, Chris Johnson in '09, Steven Jackson in '06, Marcus Allen in '85, Larry Johnson in '05 and '06, Roger Craig in '85, Holmes in 2002, Faulk in '98, '99, '01.
Extra honorable mention: LaDainian Tomlinson in '06. No TDs in the final two weeks, though.
WR Don Hutson, 1942 — Go ask your grandfather what it was like to own Hutson in a PPR league from '36 to '45. He'll tell you just how dadgum awesome it was. Hutson finished with 74 catches, 1,211 receiving yards and 17 TDs in an 11-game season. No other player (except Hutson himself) had reached 800 receiving yards. If someone were to deliver a fantasy line like Hutson's today, we'd consider him a top-tier receiver and he'd be drafted no later than Round 2.
WR Jerry Rice, 1995 — Rice's 1,848 receiving yards remain an NFL record, and the 122 catches and 17 TDs weren't too shabby, either. (He had 15 receiving scores, one rushing TD, and one passing). Many of us lost fantasy titles back in '95, thanks to Rice's epic performance on a Monday night in mid-December. Recalling the details is a little too painful (14 REC, 289 yards, 3 TDs), so we'll just link the box score and move on. Sigh.
WR Randy Moss, 2007 — There's no ignoring this ridiculous year. Moss set the all-time single-season record for receiving touchdowns (23) while hauling in 98 catches for 1,493 yards. He crossed the goal line six times between Week 14 and Week 17, too. Take a quick scan of the Honorable Mention quarterbacks above, and note how many of those seasons were Moss-related.
Honorable mention: Moss in '03, Rice in '87 and '93, Elroy Hirsch in '51, Marvin Harrison in '02, Cris Carter in '95, Isaac Bruce in '95, Sterling Sharpe in '94, Charley Hennigan in '61, Bill Groman in '61, Mark Clayton in '84, Lance Alworth in '65.
FLEX Herschel Walker, 1985 — Walker rushed for 2,411 yards and 21 TDs for the USFL's New Jersey Generals. We have to acknowledge this season somehow, don't we? Of course we do. Let's flex it. And no, this isn't just an excuse for me to break out my USFL cards (pictured). This here is serious journalism.
TE Todd Christensen, 1983 — This year is a remarkable outlier in the history of the position. Christensen led the NFL in receptions (92), becoming just the second tight end in history to do so. He also finished fourth in the league in receiving yards (1,247) and third in TDs (12). At the time, his touchdown total was an all-time record for a tight end.
Honorable mention: Mike Ditka in '61, Kellen Winslow in '80, Tony Gonzalez in '00, '04 and '08, Antonio Gates in '04 and '05, Shannon Sharpe in '93 and '96, Vernon Davis in '09, Wesley Walls in '99.
K George Blanda, 1961 — He successfully kicked 16 field goals in 26 attempts, including two from 50-plus, and he converted 64 of 65 extra-points. Not bad, eh? Oh, and he also quarterbacked the AFL's Houston Oilers, passing for 3,330 yards and 36 TDs. This might be the greatest multi-position eligibility situation of all-time, any sport.
Honorable mention: Gino Capilleti in '64, Paul Hornung in '60.
DEF Canton Bulldogs, 1922 — Atop the list of great, useless barroom arguments, you'll find this question: "Who had the greatest defense in NFL history?" The '85 Bears have their supporters, as do the Ravens of '00 and the Steelers of '76. But today, we raise a glass to the undefeated Bulldogs of '22, a team that limited opponents to 15 total points over a 12-game season — 15 points! They managed to shutout seven of their first eight opponents, and their defense/special teams actually recorded more touchdowns (4) than they allowed (2). That's some dominance, gamers. If you've ever wondered why the Pro Football Hall of Fame is located in Canton, Ohio, then you should really read up on the Dogs.
[Related: The five worst habits in fantasy football]
THE ALL-TIME BUSTS (MODERN ERA)
For this exercise, we’re defining the modern fantasy era as starting in the late 90s, a time that gave rise to the online fantasy football experience…
QB Jeff Blake, 1997 — On many ’97 draft boards, Blake trailed only Brett Favre at the QB position. He’d averaged more than 4,000 combined pass/rush yards and 28 pass/rush TDs in the previous two season, but opened the ’97 season by throwing for just 8 TDs in 11 games before getting benched for the final five games of the schedule (the fantasy playoff season!) while a soon-to-be Monday Night Football broadcaster, Boomer Esiason, returned to Cincy and captivated the city with a swan song that included 13 TD passes, just two interceptions and four wins.
Dishonorable Mention: Kordell Stewart in '98; Jake Plummer in ’99, Donovan McNabb in ’03, Derek Anderson in ‘08, Ben Roethlisberger in ’08, Marc Bulger in ’07, Vince Young in ‘07.
RB Emmitt Smith 1997 — At age 28 and coming off three consecutive seasons of 15-plus touchdowns, Smith was a popular top overall choice in ’97 fantasy drafts. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, he stubbornly played through a myriad of injuries (shoulder, rib, groin, knee, neck, thumb) en route to a 1,074-yard, 4-TD campaign — numbers that landed him outside the top 15 running backs in fantasy.
RB Eddie George 2001 — A year after falling just 60 yards from scrimmage shy of 2,000 and scoring 16 TDs to finish as the No. 3 fantasy running back in all the land, George couldn’t even crack 1,000 rushing yards (939) despite the sixth-most carries in the league (315). He also crossed the goal line just five times (only once in the first 10 games) and ultimately finished outside the top 20 among running backs in fantasy points per game.
Dishonorable Mention: Tiki Barber in '03, Mike Alstott in '00, Tatum Bell in '05, Matt Forte in '09, Rudi Johnson in '07; Jamal Lewis in '04, Cadillac Williams in '06.
WR Randy Moss 2006 — We all expected life to be a little worse off for Moss in Oakland, but he managed to top 1000 yards and score eight touchdowns in his first year with the Silver and Black in ’05. That was good enough to keep him in our top 10 good graces heading into the ’06 season. Our bad. Moss clearly wanted no part of an ’06 Raiders squad that was held without a TD in seven games. For his part, Moss topped 47 receiving yards just three times and didn’t score after Week 7. This all made for quite the discount the following season, his first in New England, when he broke the NFL single-season receiving TD record (23).
WR Braylon Edwards 2008 — The former Michigan star and No. 3 pick in the ’05 NFL Draft enjoyed a classic third-year breakout campaign in ’07, recording the 13th best TD total by a receiver in NFL history (16) while also snagging 80 passes for nearly 1,300 yards. It’s fair to say we fell in love with him heading into ’08. He returned our affections with a mere 873 receiving yards and three touchdowns (none in the final eight games) — the 33rd best fantasy performer at the wide receiver position.
Dishonorable mention: Terrell Owens in '99, Santana Moss in '04, Chris Chambers in '06, Derrick Alexander in '01, Joe Horn in '05, Roy Williams in '08, Lee Evans in '07, Marcus Robinson in '00, Plaxico Burress in '03.
TE Rickey Dudley 2000 — Before Antonio Gates, there was Rickey Dudley, the freakish athlete who excelled at both football and basketball at Ohio St. before embarking on an NFL career. The No. 9 pick in the ’96 NFL Draft, Dudley quickly emerged as a top four fantasy tight end in each season from ’97-’99 and was a consensus top three tight end pick going into the ’00 season, which proved to be the beginning of the steep slope on the downside of his career. He caught just 29 balls for 350 yards and four scores, finishing well outside the TE top 10.
Dishonorable mention: Bubba Franks in '03, Byron Chamberlain in '02.
THE ALL-TIME ONE-HIT WONDERS
Like Soft Cell, Deee-Lite and Miles Simon, they gave us only one shining moment…
QB Steve Beuerlein, 1999 — Born in Hollywood, California, the journeyman quarterback’s fairy tale season 11 years ago was ideal fantasy theater. Largely undrafted in leagues, the waiver gem finished ’99 with 36 touchdowns and over 4,400 yards. Many of his season and single game records from that magical year are still Carolina records.
Honorable Mention: Scott Mitchell in '95
RB Ickey Woods, 1988 — It’s only appropriate the same year the Bangles were blowing up the pop charts an NFL Bengal was blowing up opponents. Totaling 1,265 yards and 15 touchdowns, the "Ickey Shuffle" became a national phenomenon. Unfortunately his time in the spotlight was short-lived. By 1991, injuries forced Woods out of football.
RB Dalton Hilliard, 1989 — Used occasionally in his previous three seasons with the Saints, the product from nearby Patterson, Louisiana morphed into a workhorse in ’89. Gripping the rock nearly 400 times, he compiled 1,700-plus yards and 18 touchdowns. Plagued by injuries over the rest of his career, Hilliard never again surpassed 500 rushing yards in a single season.
Honorable Mentions: Olandis Gary in '99, Lamar Smith in '00.
WR Patrick Jeffers, 1999 — Welling up from the depths, the Panthers receiver was the surprise sensation of ’99. As Beuerlein’s right-hand man, he hauled in a completely unforeseen 63 passes for 1,082 yards and 12 scores. His career totals minus his breakthrough season: 35 receptions, 481 yards and two touchdowns.
WR Marcus Robinson, 1999 — Historically very conservative, the Bears drifted away from tradition by turning to the air. Robinson’s out-of-nowhere 1,400 receiving yards and nine touchdowns is still a team record that stands today. Though sporadically useful, he failed to surpass 800 receiving yards in a single season again.
Honorable Mentions: Mike Furrey in '06, Michael Clayton in '04
TE Cam Cleeland, 1998 — A second round pick from Washington, Cleeland entered ’98 with a fair level of expectation. However, few expected the rookie to be the buzz of Bourbon Street. Over 16 games, the oversized target finished with 54 receptions, 684 yards and six scores. Then his offensive contributions vanished. He managed just 77 catches 794 yards and seven scores over the next six seasons.
Honorable Mention: Eric Johnson in '04
Photos via Getty Images
Other popular football stories on Yahoo!:
• Why does the NFL want to shorten the preseason?
• Former teammate accuses Plaxico Burress of 'stealing'
• Female football coach suffers another huge setback