We’ve all been there. If you play fantasy football, you’ve probably spent at least one Friday afternoon in the office, pouring through spreadsheets and charts that look like they could maybe have something to do with your actual job—just in the case the boss walks by.
Numbers. Stats. Projections. If you play fantasy football, you’re all too familiar with the nuances of optimizing the perfect lineup every week, hoping to avoid yet another loss that could cripple your season.
Now imagine a lineup so perfect—so utterly dominant—that you would never have to worry about losing any matchup. Ever.
That’s what we’ve assembled in this slideshow, each roster spot filled by a player who posted an all-time great fantasy season. The players in this lineup span several decades of NFL history, but each left an indelible mark with statistical performances most fantasy owners only dream of.
The idea is simple: We select players to fill a standard fantasy lineup, each of whom recorded an all-time great fantasy season, as dictated by standard fantasy scoring. Here’s a look at the scoring breakdown:
|Passing Yards||25 yards per point|
|Rushing Yards||10 yards per point|
|Receiving Yards||10 yards per point|
|Defensive Fumble Recovery||2|
|0 Points Allowed||10|
|1-6 Points Allowed||7|
|7-13 Points Allowed||4|
|14-20 Points Allowed||1|
|21-27 Points Allowed||0|
|28-34 Points Allowed||-1|
|35+ Points Allowed||-2|
|Field Goals 0-29 Yards||1|
|Field Goals 30-49 Yards||2|
|Field Goals 50+ Yards||3|
No bonuses. No independent defensive players or points-per-reception scoring. Just pure, unadulterated fantasy football greatness—the way you would draw it up in your cubicle or corner office before the boss takes off early for the weekend.
All stats acquired from Pro-Football-Reference.com.
I was wrong.
Using standard scoring, Brees’ 5,476 yards and 47 touchdowns (one rushing) still outshined Newton’s marvelous rookie campaign in that same year, during which the Carolina Panthers’ signal-caller passed for 4,005 yards, rushed for 706 more and tacked on 35 total touchdowns, setting the record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 14 scores in 16 games.
But Brees’ dominance transcended what we have come to expect from fantasy quarterbacks. Despite the added scoring boost from rushing yards and touchdowns, no mobile quarterback has ever topped the prolific passer’s 2011 campaign (402.64 points). Newton’s rookie season came close (as did Steve Young’s 1998 season), but not close enough to land either at the top of the all-time fantasy quarterback list.
While Brees lit up the scoreboard en route to a historic season, recent history indicates he could be replaced on this all-time roster in the very near future. Tom Brady’s 2007 mastery (4,806 yards, 52 total touchdowns) previously would have held this spot, and Peyton Manning is in the midst of a dominant season in which he is projected to pass for 5,500 yards and 54 touchdowns—both of which would be new NFL records.
Still, until it happens, Brees sits alone atop the list of greatest fantasy seasons by any quarterback in NFL history.
2011 Stats: 5,476 passing yards, 46 passing TDs, 14 interceptions, 86 rushing yards, one rushing TD, one fumble
With the way the NFL has evolved into high-volume passing league—with an added emphasis on backfield platooning—we’ll probably never see another season from a running back like the one we saw from LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006.
At a time when traditional feature backs were being phased out of NFL offenses, Tomlinson was carrying his team to a 14-2 record and a 2,323 total yard-season with 31 total touchdowns tacked on—good for 416.3 points in standard fantasy scoring formats.
To put that in perspective, Adrian Peterson tallied 2,097 yards last season and nearly broke Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, yet finished with just 307.4 fantasy points. The year before, Ray Rice led all running backs in scoring with 296.8 points.
What made Tomlinson’s 2006 season so special wasn’t its singular brilliance. The future first-ballot Hall of Famer made a career of making and breaking fantasy owners, as Bill Simmons noted following Tomlinson’s 2012 retirement:
Chris Johnson, Larry Johnson, Priest Holmes … those guys were A-list blips. They came and went faster than your average UFC champ. LaDainian Tomlinson hung around. He wasn't just great; he was great for a prolonged period of time. He owned the 2000s, basically. When you think of a running back from that decade, you will think of him first.
Peterson will likely be that decade-encompassing talent for this generation of NFL rushers, but the generation that featured versatile, three-down backs—the generation that produced one of the greatest backs of all time—is in the past. And we’re not likely to ever see that kind of single-season production again.
2006 Stats: 1,815 rushing yards, 28 rushing TDs, 508 receiving yards, three receiving TDs, two fumbles
Long before Mike Martz was an outcast in the modern vertical NFL passing offense, he was orchestrating perhaps the best offense the league has ever seen, led by one of the most versatile running backs to have ever played the game.
Marshall Faulk was the focal point of the “Greatest Show on Turf,” his 2000 season highlighting the dominance of the St. Louis Rams’ offensive attack with the likes of Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt in the fold. During that season, Faulk tallied an astounding 2,189 yards from scrimmage and 26 total touchdowns, en route to NFL MVP honors.
Warner took home the MVP award in 1999 and 2001, but it was Faulk who drove the engine in 2000. With 384.9 points, he also made the difference for a ton of fantasy owners, setting the benchmark for what an NFL running back could do with 300-plus touches in an incredibly balanced offense.
But what makes Faulk’s 2000 fantasy production so impressive is that he missed two games due to a right knee injury, only to return to the field for the final six games of the season to tally 863 total yards and 12 total touchdowns. Had Faulk played the full 16-game slate, he would have been on pace for 439.9 fantasy points and the top spot on this roster at the running back position.
2000 Stats: 1,359 rushing yards, 18 rushing TDs, 830 receiving yards, eight receiving TDs, zero fumbles
When Priest Holmes returned from retirement in 2007, many fantasy owners (myself included) clamored to the waiver wire in the hopes of cashing in on what was left of the 34-year-old three-time All Pro rusher. Holmes played in just four games that season and tallied just 160 yards, but he didn’t need a triumphant epilogue to cement a tremendous legacy, preserved by two of the best seasons by any running back in league history.
Holmes deserves an honorable mention on the all-time fantasy roster. In 2002 and 2003, the University of Texas product rumbled to 51 total touchdowns and nearly 4,400 yards of total offense. While he was unable to sustain that explosive production following an injury-plagued 2004 campaign, Holmes remains the only other running back in NFL history with back-to-back 20-plus touchdown seasons, alongside Dallas Cowboys great Emmitt Smith.
In 2002, Holmes amassed 371.7 fantasy points, only to top that with 372 points in 2003. If not for injury issues that ended his 2004 season after eight games and 15 total touchdowns, he may have continued the trend and found his way into the fantasy football all-time starting lineup.
2002 Stats: 1,615 rushing yards, 21 rushing TDs, 672 receiving yards, three receiving TDs, one fumble
2003 Stats: 1,420 rushing yards, 27 rushing TDs, 690 receiving yards, zero receiving TDs, one fumble
Prior to Drew Brees’ 2011 campaign, Tom Brady held the all-time mark for single-season fantasy points by a quarterback. Randy Moss was a huge reason for that.
In 2007, Moss was a disgruntled member of the hapless Oakland Raiders, and the New England Patriots were quick to take advantage of the discord. The Patriots dealt a fourth-round draft pick and a big bucket of seller’s remorse to Oakland, and the rest is history.
Developing a special connection with Brady, Moss posted 98 receptions for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns, taking sole possession of the single-season receiving touchdowns record. While the Patriots went on to lose Super Bowl XLII and see their pursuit of perfection dashed by Eli Manning and the New York Giants, Moss left his mark on that historic offense.
With 287.3 points, Moss also provided fantasy owners with unmatched production at the position. Only Calvin Johnson has come close to eclipsing that total since 2007, and Moss’ receiving touchdowns record remains a nearly untouchable mark.
Then again, that’s probably what everyone thought when the following receiver set the mark in 1987.
2007 Stats: 1,493 receiving yards, 23 receiving TDs
When all is said and done, the three receivers on this all-time fantasy team will likely comprise the Holy Trinity of NFL pass-catchers. And as good as the other two are, Jerry Rice is probably going to remain at the top of that short list.
Rice’s list of accolades is eclipsed only by his highlight reel, and while he wasn’t the flashiest of receivers, his ability to run for big yards after the catch was the staple of the San Francisco 49ers’ success with Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense.
In 20 NFL seasons, Rice recorded 1,549 receptions for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns—all three categories seemingly out of reach, even for receivers in the modern pass-happy NFL. Simply put, Rice is considered the greatest receiver of all time for a reason.
The list of seasons Rice didn’t eclipse 1,000 yards is sparse. In fact, you only need one hand and a thumb to count them, and that thumb represents a 1997 season he lost due to a serious left knee injury. Of the other 14 seasons of 1,000-plus yards, it was his 1995 campaign that truly epitomized his impact on the 49ers franchise.
With Steve Young at the helm, Rice hauled in career highs in catches (122) and yards (1,848), while adding 15 touchdowns and some miscellaneous rushing stats—good for 281.4 fantasy points. It was the last season the Hall of Famer would record double-digit touchdowns, but his fantasy production would remain consistent well into the final seasons of his career.
And were it not for the next player on this roster, Rice’s name would appear twice behind Moss.
1995 Stats: 1,848 receiving yards, 15 receiving TDs, 36 rushing yards, one rushing TD
Most of the players in this lineup are no longer playing football. If you’re lucky enough to have this one on your fantasy team, sit back and enjoy the ride.
If there’s a modern NFL receiver capable of commandeering Rice’s perch atop the all-time greats list, Calvin Johnson is it. At 6’5” and 236 pounds—with the straight-line speed Rice was never known for—Johnson embodies the prototypical NFL receiver, and he proves it week in and week out.
It isn’t as if Megatron needed a massive 2011 campaign to announce his dominance, but it certainly didn’t hurt. The Georgia Tech product tallied 96 receptions for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns that season, truly cementing his status as the best pass-catcher in the league. He also rewarded fantasy owners willing to gamble on him in the first-round, producing 265.2 fantasy points and a permanent spot as the first receiver off the board in most drafts since.
In 2012, Johnson broke Rice’s single-season receiving record, but his touchdown production dipped considerably (five). Now, 11 starts into the 2013-14 season, Johnson is on pace for 1,771 yards and 16 touchdowns (273.1 fantasy points), despite missing a game due to injury and being seriously limited in another.
By the end of the season, Johnson might be eyeing a second spot on the all-time fantasy roster.
2011 Stats: 1,681 receiving yards, 16 receiving TDs, 11 rushing yards
Whether you like Bill Belichick or not, there’s no denying the massive impact he’s had on the way NFL offenses adopt new philosophies. Perhaps the most influential of those philosophies includes the two-tight end sets he began rolling out in 2010—now a staple of many NFL offenses.
Part of Rob Gronkowski’s 2011 success with New England can be attributed to the multitude of weapons around him. With Aaron Hernandez in the fold, Tom Brady carved up opposing secondaries too thin to put a safety on each ultra-athletic tight end. And even with a safety covering him, Gronkowski (6’6”, 265 pounds) is still nearly unguardable.
Injuries have since slowed Gronkowski’s production, but his 2011 campaign was far and away the best statistical performance of any tight end in NFL history, surpassing a couple tremendous seasons from former Denver Broncos great Shannon Sharpe and future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez.
Gronkowski’s 1,327-yard, 17-touchdown campaign in 2011 edged out those record-setting efforts by a wide margin. All told, Brady’s favorite red-zone target racked up 240.9 fantasy points and set a new standard for what offensive coordinators (and fantasy owners alike) would love to have on their rosters.
The New Orleans Saints have a similarly talented tight end in Jimmy Graham, and while Graham has been dinged up this season, he’s currently on pace for 1,235 yards and 15 touchdowns (213.5 fantasy points), which would bring him dangerously close to stealing this spot from Gronkowski. As it stands, Brady’s right-hand man is in sole possession of the most impressive fantasy season for any tight end in NFL history—and he’s still just 24 years old.
2011 Stats: 1,327 receiving yards, 17 receiving TDs, two rushing yards, one rushing TD
Fantasy football scoring for kickers is always a little different. Default values for short kicks range anywhere from one to five points depending on the format, which means selecting an all-time fantasy season at the position is up for some debate.
For the sake of this lineup, however, I chose a more conservative scoring system, meaning field goals of 50-plus yards hold significantly more value than those of the shorter variety.
But any way you slice it, it’s hard to overlook David Akers’ record-setting season of 2011, during which he connected on 44 of 52 field goal attempts (84.6 percent), including seven makes beyond 50 yards. With six more in the 40-49 yard range and a slew of chipshots, Akers tallied 98 fantasy points in his first (and more successful) season with the San Francisco 49ers.
Akers caught the injury bug in 2012 and shanked his way to a 69-percent conversion rate in his final season with the 49ers, eventually to sign with the Detroit Lions for the 2013-14 season. Through 12 games this year, the 38-year-old has connected on 15 of 20 attempts (eight of 40 yards or longer) and has seemingly revived his kicking career.
But for the older crowd, Akers’ 2011 season probably isn’t the most impressive fantasy performance worth noting. Technically, that performance dates back to 1961.
As a member of the Houston Oilers, George Blanda pulled double duty as both quarterback and kicker, amassing 3,330 passing yards and 36 passing touchdowns to go along with 16 successful field goal attempts (approximately 325 fantasy points)—if you want to get technical about it.
2011 Stats: 44-of-52 (seven 50+ yards, six 40-49 yards, 13 30-39 yards, 18 inside 30 yards), 34-of-34 extra points
The dominance of the 1985 Chicago Bears defense is a bit of a cliché at this point. Most people accept its pure talent as gospel, even if modern defenses come close to eclipsing its clout.
But for fantasy football purposes, there’s really no equal. The Bears absolutely dominated for an entire season, churning out turnovers like a 24-hour bakery.
That defense (led by the likes of Mike Singletary and Otis Wilson) held opponents to just 198 total points, racking up 64 sacks and 34 interceptions in the process. By the time the dust from Super Bowl XX had settled, the Bears had allowed just 10 points through three playoff games.
Using standard scoring, Chicago’s 64 sacks, 34 interceptions, 27 fumble recoveries and five touchdowns (along with three safeties and 198 points allowed) equates to 283 fantasy points—roughly 57 more fantasy points than Chicago’s defense scored in a league-leading campaign last season. There simply hasn’t been a fantasy football defense as productive as the 1985 Bears. Period.
1985 Stats: 198 points allowed, 64 sacks, 34 interceptions, 27 fumble recoveries, three safeties, five touchdowns
|Position||Starter||Season||Total Points||Per-Week Average (16 Games)|
Per-Week Team Average: 166.25 Points