There’s a sharp contrast between the real NFL and its fantasy counterpart, and the difference is particularly evident when comparing each world’s best players.
In some cases, the two are indistinguishable.
Aaron Rodgers wins in the NFL, for example, and Aaron Rodgers wins in fantasy football too.
He’s a reigning Super Bowl MVP, his 7-0 Packers are the only undefeated team left in the NFL and any fantasy player that happens to own him probably has a pretty decent record, too, as the quarterback’s six 300-yard passing games and 20 touchdown passes have helped make him the leading fantasy scorer so far this season.
It all makes perfect sense.
The same can be said of bad players too, who often fail equally in both gridiron realms, like in the case of Reggie Bush.
Bush the real world NFL running back is little more than a glorified decoy, currently splitting carries on one of just three winless teams in the entire league, while Bush the fantasy back is something of a decoy himself, a familiar name who always has the potential to make an impact but never actually does (his 190 rushing yards are the second fewest in the league among backs with at least 50 attempts).
For most NFL players, however, the picture is quite a bit murkier, and for many stars, the stat-heavy, imaginary fantasy universe is a much more favorable environment than the one they unfortunately have to actually play in.
Here are the 10 of those very two-faces, guys who dominate the make-believe world but struggle here in the real one, and who’d probably trade places with their non-existent alter egos in a second if only they could.
Hey, at least their outstanding individual production hasn’t gone completely to waste, right?
The Fantasy Version: In fantasy world, Vick is the stuff legends are made of, and his 2010 season specifically was one of the most memorable in fantasy football history (he was the overall leading scorer despite playing in only 12 games).
His production is definitely back down to human-like levels so far this season (he’s the sixth-best quarterback in ESPN standard leagues), but he’s still a decent play if for no other reason than the potential to completely explode on any given Sunday, which by this point has been clearly established.
The Real Version: The real Michael Vick is generally considered somewhat of a gimmick.
He’s a flashy, do-it-yourself micro-manager who puts on a highly entertaining one-man show but doesn’t have what it takes to effectively lead an offense, and no matter how mesmerizing the highlight reel he’s compiled over the years may be to watch, it still doesn’t cover up the fact that more traditional pocket passers have been overshadowing Vick his entire career.
Vick still has talent and time on his side, but from what we’ve seen so far (in eight years as a starter, he has just three playoff appearances and a 2-3 record), Vick is an NFL loser.
The Fantasy Version: Newton has only played in seven career games so far, but from a fantasy perspective, they represent some of the most productive games any player has had all year.
He’s the second-leading scorer in ESPN standard leagues right now. His year began with back-to-back 400-yard performances (including one against the defending world champions in Week 2), and with 15 total touchdowns so far (eight passing, seven rushing), it’s obvious the rookie’s natural playmaking ability will definitely convert to fantasy success, even if it doesn’t show up in his official win/loss ratio too.
The Real Version: We don’t have much to go on with regard to young Cam at this point, but because what he have seen so far hasn’t translated into very many victories (the Panthers sit at 2-5 currently), it’s too early to call him a winner.
Newton’s placement on the list is a more a result of the staggering difference between his personal success and the Panthers’ record this season than anything else anyway, and the good news for Cam is that he has more time and ability to play his way off of it than anyone else.
The Fantasy Version: After last season’s breakout campaign in which he finished as ESPN’s No. 6 fantasy running back, McFadden’s encore this season has been even better. His 614 rushing yards are still the fourth most in the league even after he basically sat out all of yesterday’s game against Kansas City with an ankle injury, and his 5.4 yards per carry is still the fourth highest average among running backs with at least 100 carries on the year.
The Real Version: When McFadden plays well, the Raiders usually do too, but because the real Darren McFadden is not nearly as consistent as his fantasy numbers would have you think, he’s on the losing side of real-world football games way more often than you’d expect.
McFadden’s career record is 19-25, but in games in which he tops the 100-yard rushing mark, a milestone any fantasy football participant can appreciate, the Raiders are 6-2.
It’s clear the Raiders depend on McFadden for their success, then, so until Oakland finishes with a winning record for once (their drought extends back to 2002), there’s no way McFadden will be considered a winner.
The Fantasy Version: Matt Schaub has been a fantasy beast ever since joining Houston in ‘07 and has forged a spectacular bond with receiver Andre Johnson that today represents one of the most consistent quarterback-receiver tandems in all of fantasy land.
He’s currently ESPN’s No. 9 quarterback, the same position he finished in last year.
The Real Version: In real life, Matt Schaub has yet to prove he has the intangible qualities necessary to become a successful quarterback in this league.
Schaub posts great numbers, but the Texans have been an extremely disappointing team throughout his tenure, and even though everyone probably still expects them to, Houston has yet to arrive as the NFL’s next elite team.
Schaub is 29-32 as the Texan’s starter. Until those numbers are reversed, Schaub will remain an NFL loser.
The Fantasy Version: Steve Smith is a completely rejuvenated player this season and has to be a leading candidate for “Comeback Player of the Year.”
Most of his success can be directly attributed to new quarterback Cam Newton and the dynamic he brings to the table every game, but no matter what factors created them, Smith’s numbers speak for themselves: 39 catches, 818 receiving yards (most in the league) and three touchdowns.
The Real Version: Steve Smith’s career with the Panthers has produced very mixed results.
His third year in the league, Carolina made it all the way to the Super Bowl just to lose on a last second field goal. In 2005, they advanced to the NFC Championship but lost again, and in 2008, their 12-4 No. 2 seed team got blown out by a 9-7 Arizona squad that no one thought belonged in the postseason to begin with.
Carolina has definitely proven it can make some noise in the playoffs, then. The problem has simply been getting there; those three aforementioned runs also mark the only three times the Panthers have posted a winning record since Smith joined the team in 2001.
With a track record like that, you can’t help but label the guy an NFL loser at this point.
The Fantasy Version: Eli has been a steady fantasy quarterback for years now, finding his production week in and week out even as the pieces all around him continue to constantly shift.
He’s currently the No. 7 quarterback in ESPN leagues and finished at No. 10 last season.
The Real Version: Eli is unique in that he’s the only player on this list with a Super Bowl Championship to his credit, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still a loser.
Since winning the title after the 2007 season, the Giants have just one postseason appearance, a 23-11 loss to division rival Philadelphia (a game in which Eli threw for only 169 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions), and Manning, who everyday looks more and more like the uneven risk-taker we used to think he was and less and less like the behemoth-slayer we all witnessed him portray in Super Bowl XLII, has thrown over 50 interceptions, including a career-high 25 just last season.
As long as Manning continues playing that erratically, he’ll never be thought of as an elite quarterback and will remain a lackluster talent.
The Fantasy Version: When he’s healthy, MJD is a fantasy powerhouse, period.
He has 572 rushing yards heading into tonight’s game against Baltimore, just 141 away from becoming the league-leader. He’s so far rushed for no fewer than 84 yards in any game this year, and at the age of 26, the 5’7" human wrecking-ball still has plenty of fantasy value remaining in his career moving forward.
Last season, Jones-Drew finished as ESPN’s No. 12 running back despite missing two games.
The Real Version: The real MJD is stuck on a perennial loser and has accordingly been slapped with the same tag himself.
Since they drafted Jones-Drew back in 2006, the Jaguars have gone 40-46 and have just one playoff appearance to their credit, a 1-1 run back in 2007 that ended in the divisional round.
This year, the Jags are off to their worst start since Jones-Drew joined the team, currently sitting at 1-5 while fielding what is currently the lowest ranked offensive attack in the entire league.
MJD the fantasy player would be ashamed of that kind of performance, and the MJD that we all know, at least at this point in his career, is definitely an NFL loser.
The Fantasy Version: Stephen Jackson is the reason lists like this exist.
He practically coined the term “workhorse back” when he became the centerpiece of the Rams’ offense back in 2004, and he’s been a consistent producer in any fantasy format ever since. And even though he rarely survives an entire 16-game season without missing some time, he’s failed to top the 1,000-yard rushing mark only once in his eight-year career.
Jackson has had a slow start this year thanks to an early injury that’s so far limited him to just three full games, but he has almost 170 yards over the last two weeks and is definitely trending back toward his standard level of play right now.
Last year, he finished as ESPN’s No. 13 running back.
The Real Version: Stephen Jackson’s career has been one of very few bright spots during one of the darkest eras in St. Louis Rams history, an era that’s been defined by losing more than anything else.
Jackson has never played on a team with a winning record. The Rams are 35-82 since the running back was drafted; their six total wins between ’07 and ’09 is the lowest three-year total in franchise history. So far this season, they’ve yet to win a single game.
Jackson is an undeniable loser at this point in his career, and his team’s dismal performance over the last eight years has given him arguably the toughest route toward shedding that label of anyone included on this list.
The Fantasy Version: Bowe’s emergence as a fantasy freak show took place in 2010, when he exploded for a streak of seven consecutive touchdown-scoring games and wound up finishing as ESPN’s No. 2 receiver, and even though his production has dropped off this year playing without Jamaal Charles and missing some of the rhythm he’d established with quarterback Matt Cassel last season, he’s still one of the best wideouts you could have on your fantasy team, currently ranked No. 9 heading into Week 8.
The Real Version: The Chiefs surprised everyone last season with a 10-6 record and a playoff berth, but this year’s 3-3 notch seems a little more accurate in terms of how good we perceive this team to actually be.
In fact, if you just take out last season entirely, Bowe’s career winning percentage drops to just 24 percent, and even including that breakout performance, it’s still a meager 33 percent over his five NFL seasons.
As long as he keeps scoring touchdowns, Bowe will be a fantasy force to be reckoned with, but until those scores start equating to Kansas City victories too, he won’t be deemed an NFL winner.
The Fantasy Version: Benson has probably been the deciding factor in thousands of fantasy football matchups over the years because he’s usually an excellent value pick after all the elite fantasy running backs have already been taken.
In 2010, Benson was the 16th overall running back according to ESPN, the same position at which he clocks in today, with two 100-yard performances already under his belt.
The Real Version: Benson has played for two teams across seven seasons, but at this point, has been more successful as a backup than a starter.
During Benson’s rookie and sophomore seasons, both as a backup with the Bears, the team went 24-8, made the playoffs both years and even earned a trip to the Super Bowl after the ’06 campaign.
Since leaving the Bears and becoming a starter for the Bengals in 2008, Benson has gone 22-31 with just one more playoff appearance, a 24-14 loss to the Jets in ’09 in which he ran for almost 170 yards and a touchdown but still lost.
Granted, the Bengals offense surrounding Benson has been in rebuilding mode for the last couple of years now and Benson has still been productive nevertheless, but as long as his better days are behind him (which at this point they clearly are), Benson will never shake the loser tag he’s been branded with.