In the NFL’s wildest Super Wild Card weekend, we saw a few linebackers lead their teams with huge plays. Christian McCaffrey had 119 yards on the ground, Travis Etienne had the Jaguars with 109 rushing yards, and Saquon Barkley had 109 completing yards and two touchdowns. As a result, it’s time to push back some love today.
During the 2023 NFL Playoffs, I’ll be taking a look back at some of the best fantasy football seasons of all time. Although it is mainly an exercise for fun, I wanted to see how much we have been spoiled lately or how much we have forgotten the greatness of the past.
we He started last week with the midfield position, So we’ll turn to their back field mates today.
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I used Professional Fantasy Football Stats References, which dates back to 1978, compiled PPR’s seasons best half-point (listed under the FanDuel log on the site). Below are the top 20 leaderboards ranked by points per game. I think that’s a fair way to adjust to the current long season as well as give proper credit to situations like Marshall Faulk in 2011 when he missed two games through injury but was absolutely dominant when he was on the field.
I’ve broken down some of the best seasons below for greater context, and you’ll also see VBD mentioned, which was popularized by Joe Bryant in the ’90s and is a player’s fantasy points minus the base player’s fantasy points in that mode. It is used to highlight how good a player is compared to their peers, so think of it like Wins over Replacement.
Honorable Mention: Eric Dickerson (1983)
statistics: 1,808 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns on 4.6 yards per carry, 404 receiving yards, and 2 receiving touchdowns
Dickerson is the only pre-1995 running back to have a season in the top 25 all-time for points per game or total points. Obviously, this has a lot to do with how the running back’s stance has evolved over time, and it’s not a pat on the back for former running backs because they weren’t here.
However, it also indicates how special Dickerson’s 1983 season was. By VBD, Dickerson was the most valuable player in fantasy football in 1983, which is incredible considering it was his rookie season. He led the league in rushing and rushing yards and had great success in receiving yards. What’s actually interesting is that he only had four touchdowns in the rest of his career. It’s also important to note that VBD still ranks this season as the 25th best running back season of all time, so there isn’t much arguing about Dickerson being above an honorable mention.
Honorable Mention: Terrell Davis (1998)
statistics: 2,008 rushing yards, 21 touchdowns on 5.1 yards per carry, 217 receiving yards, and 2 receiving touchdowns
The 2018 season was ranked by Terrell Davis as the second best season of all time by VBD. He led the league in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and yards per carry and won Most Valuable Player honors. However, due to a non-receipt, he finished the season 11th all-time in total fantasy points scored and 13th in points per game, so he just missed out on the top 10. The sad thing is that this was the last season we 100% saw Terrell Davis. He tore his ACL in Week 4 of the following season while handling an interception return He was never the same again. Considering the success of his first four seasons, Davis is one of the biggest “what if?” players in NFL history.
#9 Emmett Smith (1995)
statistics: 1,773 rushing yards, 25 touchdowns on 4.7 yards per carry, 375 receiving yards
It might come as a surprise to people to see that Emmitt has only one season in the top 25 in terms of points per game and only two seasons in the top 25 in terms of points per game. But that’s the nature of running in fantasy with a limited reception ceiling.
In 1995, Emmett Smith led the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns and his 375 receiving yards was second all-time in his career. However, he had no contact. It’s hard to blame him because that wasn’t really in the nature of many racers in the mid-’90s, but these are the kind of generational changes we see when we compare players through the years.
1995 marked the end of a six-year run in which Smith was an All-Pro or MVP candidate. Despite playing nine more seasons, Smith never had more than 12 rushing touchdowns in a season again and never made another All-Pro team. He also never averaged more than 4.2 yards per carry in a season again. Considering that Smith was only 26 years old in 1995, it really shows how short her window of emergence is when it comes to elite productions.
Also contains the #10 season of all time (2017)
statistics: 1,251 rushing yards, 17 touchdowns on 4.9 yards per carry, 580 receiving yards, and four receiving touchdowns
If you want to talk about short windows, we need to talk about Todd Gurley. The Georgia product debuted as a 21-year-old in 2015 and was one of the NFL’s top running backs by 2017. He rocked two consecutive seasons where he led the NFL in rushing touchdowns, posting 30 rushing touchdowns across 2017 and 2018.
What people also forget is that Gurley was a very solid receiver who gained 580 yards in 2018 and 788 yards and six touchdowns in 2017. Although he was runner-up for MVP in 2017, an extra touchdown in 2018 put him over the top. . For the imagination when it comes to points per game.
It should be noted that despite leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 2018, he only played 14 games. In fact, Gurley also only played 15 games in 2017 which is why those two seasons are outside the top 10 when listed by total points scored. This is a kind of perfect encapsulation of Gourley’s career; He was formidable when he was on the court, but he simply couldn’t stay healthy enough to reach his full potential and only played three seasons in the NFL at full strength.
# 5. Priest Holmes (2003)
He also has the #6 all-time season (2002)
statistics: 1,420 rushing yards, 27 touchdowns on 4.4 yards per carry, 690 yards
Priest Holmes was one of the best stories in the NFL in 2001 when he came out of nowhere to lead the Kansas City Chiefs and was the NFL’s leader in rushing yards after being a backup in Baltimore for four years. After a stellar 2002 season that brought him sixth on this list, he had an even better season in 2003 when he led the NFL in touchdowns as a 30-year-old with 27, while also having nearly 700 receiving yards.
However, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but that was the end of Holmes’ run at the top. He was injured the following year, played only eight games, and was never able to recover in his career.
#4. Christian McCaffrey (2019)
statistics: 1,387 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns on 4.8 yards per carry, 1,005 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns
When people say “If only Christian McCaffrey could stay healthy,” that’s what they mean. McCaffrey led the NFL in total touchdown runs and yards from scrimmage even though he led the NFL in unspecified categories for running back. He is simply a tremendous all-around player who can contribute in countless ways on the football field. It is the exact reason why someone like McCaffrey has more historical fictional value than Emmett Smith. Although I should note that McCaffrey also averaged 4.6 yards per carry in his career, so he’s a pure runner who’s more talented than people often give him credit for.
By VBD, this season ranks eighth all-time, so even if you factor in changes in the fantasy game, McCaffrey had a phenomenal season in 2019.
#2 Ladenian Tomlinson (2006)
Also contains the seventh season ever (2003)
statistics: 1,815 rushing yards, 28 touchdowns on 5.2 yards per carry, 508 receiving yards, and three receiving touchdowns
This could be the prime rush season of all time depending on which way you slide it. During the 2006 season, Tomlinson had the most fantasy points by running back in a single season ever and the second-most ever if you go by points per game. This is also the best season ever based on VBD, ranking as a 33rd-best Terrell Davis season lead.
Tomlinson put up such a massive total because he led the NFL in rushing yards and total touchdowns. He averaged 145.2 yards per scrimmage per game and was the MVP in the league. 2006 was also the second best season of his career, and while he was always a really good running back, it really peaked in 2006 and 2007 when he scored 49 total touchdowns and gained 4,272 yards from scrimmage between the two seasons.
However, this would be the end of his dominance. In 2008, he was able to compile his way to 1,110 yards rushing and 426 receiving yards, but he lacked the same explosiveness, averaging only 3.8 yards as a 29-year-old. He would then average 641.3 yards over his next three seasons, and we can all agree just to forget those last two seasons with the Jets.
#1. Marshall Faulk (2000)
Also contains the #3 season of all time (2001)
statistics: 1,359 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns on 5.4 yards per carry, 830 receiving yards, eight touchdowns
Marshall Faulk is without a doubt one of the best fantasy racers of all time, but I know people aren’t going to like that he’s number one here. In 2000, Volk only played 14 games, missing 9 weeks to undergo surgery to remove the soft cartilage in his knee. He then missed Week 10 before returning to play the final six games of the season and the playoffs. He only missed 2 games to have knee surgery mid-season! However, those missed games mean his VBD points and points totals are lower than Tomlinson’s.
However, we also need to look at what Volk did in 14 games, while recovering from knee surgery, and be very impressed. He led the NFL in total touchdowns, gaining 156.4 yards from scrimmage per game, and won the MVP award. As people teased in the quarterback article that some of those players sat out the end of the season, we can also take into account that Faulk had 571 total yards and 11 touchdowns over the three weeks that would have been the fantasy playoffs in 2000. That should make that Fantasy directors are happy.
Anyway, I chop it up, it’s been a while since we’ve seen true fantasy dominance run backwards the way we used to. Obviously, as the NFL moves to more backcourts and fewer players carry the ball 300 times a season, it’s less likely that we’ll see the fantasy seasons of guys like Faulk, Tomlinson, and even Holmes challenged. But, hopefully, that means we get to see these running backs play longer before injuries take them down.
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