The Best Fantasy Football Players Since 2000

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2021

The Best Fantasy Football Players Since 2000

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    Even for the most casual NFL fans, putting together a fantasy football team has become an annual tradition.

    The game's popularity has increased dramatically in the last two decades. According to a report from the Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association, the number of fantasy players across all sports multiplied four times from 2003 to 2017 aloneand in 2018, 78 percent of them played fantasy football. 

    During this explosive time, we've also seen the highest-scoring players in fantasy football history. The 2000s featured LaDainian Tomlinson and Peyton Manning, while the recent decade brought the rise of Aaron Rodgers and Julio Jones, among many others.

    Ordered by position, the list features the most reliably high-level fantasy players. Key factors are longevity and both season totals and averages for points-per-reception leagues since 2000. 

Peyton Manning, QB

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    Considering he holds multiple NFL records, it should be no surprise Peyton Manning has a spot on the list. 

    Manning posted five seasons of 19-plus fantasy points per game, maxing out at 25.6 in 2013. That year, he set NFL standards with 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns while guiding the Denver Broncos to an AFC title and Super Bowl appearance.

    The Indianapolis Colts legend had a steady career for his fake general managers. He averaged 15-plus fantasy points in every season from 2000 to 2014 aside from the 2011 campaign he missed with a neck injury. 

    For his post-2000 career, Manning put up 18.1 points per game. 

Tom Brady, QB

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    Though not quite as prolific as Manning in the fantasy realm, Tom Brady has had a similarly steady output.

    Entering the 2021 campaign, the six-time Super Bowl champion has 15 seasons of 15.6 fantasy points per gameincluding six at 21.1 or above. For his career, Brady is at 17.0 points per game.

    To date, Brady's top year came in 2007 when he set an NFL record with 50 touchdown passes. The longtime New England Patriots star averaged 24.4 fantasy points and totaled a season-high 390 while the Patriots had an undefeated regular season.

    No matter what happens in 2021 or beyond, the Greatest of All Time is an all-time fantasy player, too. 

Drew Brees, QB

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    After an unspectacular run with the San Diego Chargers, Drew Brees became a consistent fantasy weapon.

    Brees averaged at least 16.1 fantasy points in all 13 seasons on the New Orleans Saints. He notched eight seasons of 19-plus pointsthree more than Manning and two more than Bradyand barely missed the mark in 2008 and 2014 (18.9 in each season). 

    Bolstered by his peak of 24.5 fantasy points per game in 2011, Brees provided 17.4 points per game overall. His consistency was the backbone for many successful fantasy teams. 

Aaron Rodgers, QB

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    Russell Wilson and Cam Newton both deserve a mention, but Aaron Rodgers is the last of four quarterbacks.

    Since becoming the Green Bay Packers' full-time starter in 2008, he's recorded 13 straight years of 17.4 fantasy points per game. Rodgers has seven season averages of 20 or higher, which is tied with Brees for the most among any quarterback since 2000.

    While not an overwhelming runner, Rodgers' mobility has helped separate him as a fantasy player. Rodgers has 3,271 career rushing yardscompared to 2,462 for Manning, Brady and Brees combined.

    Excluding his scattered appearances as a backup from 2005 to '07, Rodgers has amassed 21.0 fantasy points per game.

LaDainian Tomlinson, RB

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    Denis Poroy/Associated Press

    In a word: legend.

    The fifth overall pick of the 2001 NFL draft, LaDainian Tomlinson was a machine in fantasy football for about a decade. During his first eight seasons in San Diego, he tallied no fewer than 1,536 yards from scrimmage, 51 receptions or 10 touchdowns.

    Tomlinson peaked at 30.1 fantasy points per game in 2006, which remains the greatest fantasy season ever. Plus, his 27.7 per game in 2003 is the fifth-best in fantasy history (minimum of six games played).

    During his 11-year NFL career, Tomlinson racked up 20.1 fantasy points per game. And if you exclude 2011 when he was a backup for the New York Jets, the number rises to 21.3.

LeSean McCoy, RB

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    Yes, the gap between Tomlinson and the next-best running back is most accurately described as a chasm.

    Nevertheless, this honor goes to LeSean McCoy.

    Other top options—namely Priest Holmes, Shaun Alexander, Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles—didn't sustain their production quite like Shady. Le'Veon Bell has a strong case to replace McCoy but trails in the longevity department, too.

    Formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills, McCoy has four seasons of 19.8-plus points per game and three more of 14.9 or better. During his peak from 2010 to '17, McCoy recorded 17.9 points per game and five top-seven finishes at his position.

Antonio Brown, WR

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    As you can imagine, the first player to ever register six straight 100-catch seasons doubled as the king of PPR leagues.

    Antonio Brown began his historic run in 2013, averaging 19.3 fantasy points per game and totaling the third-most points among NFL receivers. Most impressively, that was the Pittsburgh Steelers star's lowest output of this stretch. Brown finished first at his position in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 and fifth in 2018.

    For good measure, Brown ended as the WR24 in his rookie year (2011) and WR32 the following season. Plus, he even managed 14.6 points per game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020.

    Off-field and legal issues, including sexual assault allegations, have hovered around him for several years. But Brown's on-field production is undeniably elite. He's averaged 17.4 fantasy points through 11 NFL seasons.

Calvin Johnson, WR

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    If only the Detroit Lions hadn't driven Calvin Johnson to early retirement.

    Johnson only played nine seasons, but he finished as a top-15 fantasy receiver in seven of them. Megatron led all wideouts in PPR scoring during both the 2011 and 2012 campaignstwo of his three seasons with at least 21.4 fantasy points per game.

    Additionally, he had an incredibly high floor. Johnson's worst two finishes came as a rookie (WR35) and third-year player (WR22), yet those are still both starting-quality ranks in fantasy football.

    Johnson tallied 17.7 fantasy points per game in his career.

Julio Jones, WR

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    Once in a while, you might hear criticism that Julio Jones doesn't get many touchdown catches. And it's sort of true among elite receivers. Through 10 years, he's had 60 TDstwo fewer than Packers star Davante Adams, who debuted three seasons after Jones.

    In fantasy football, however, the reward of Jones' volume has far outweighed the downside of lower scoring totals.

    Jones has collected 18.7 points per game during his decade-long career on the Atlanta Falcons, posting six top-seven finishes at his position. He also ranked as the WR11 in 2012 and WR21 as a rookie in 2011. Even in two injury-shortened years, Jones averaged 21.9 (2013) and 16.2 (2020) points.

    Following an offseason trade, Jones will continue his career in 2021 as a member of the Tennessee Titans.

Randy Moss, WR

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    Although his production dwindled in the final three seasons of a Hall of Fame career, Randy Moss assembled a tremendous 10-year stretch from 2000-09.

    In that decade, Moss crossed the 1,000-yard barrier eight times. He paced the NFL in receiving touchdowns in four seasonstwice for both the Minnesota Vikings and New Englandhighlighted by his 23-score year with the Patriots in 2007.

    From 2000 to '03 as Minnesota's top target, he ranked no lower than sixth in fantasy scoring at the position. Moss finished first, 13th and second in New England from 2007 to '09.

    Ultimately, he averaged 17.4 points in the 10-year span and played an integral role in many fantasy championships.