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The fantasy GOAT

The fantasy GOAT

Yesterday, we looked at the most dominant quarterbacks in fantasy history. Today, the running backs, using the methodology described yesterday. Let’s look at the three best seasons in fantasy history, since all shed light on the formula here. Those three are LaDainian Tomlinson, 2006, which is easy to argue as the best year ever as Tomlinson shattered the record for fantasy points scored. But O.J. Simpson in 1975 (not ’73) was also dominant, and did so in a 14-game season and when the baseline was lower. The darkhorse candidate is Priest Holmes, 2002, who put up insane numbers but missed two games due to injury.

I am using the following scoring system throughout this series: 1 point per 20 yards passing, 1 point per 10 yards rushing/receiving, 4 points per passing TD, 6 points per rushing/receiving TD, 0.5 points per reception.

In 2006, Tomlinson rushed for 1,815 yards with 28 TDs, caught 56 passes for 508 yards and 3 touchdowns, and even threw for 20 yards and two touchdowns. He totaled a still mind-boggling 455.3 fantasy points. On a per game basis, Tomlinson averaged 28.46 FP/G, while the baseline — which for these purposes is RB241 — was at 10.75 FP/G. Therefore, Tomlinson averaged 17.71 FP/G over the baseline, and he did it for 16 games, giving him a VBD of 283.3 fantasy points (17.71 x 16).

By using per game averages, we more closely approximate the way fantasy football really works, and that helps out Holmes in 2002. That year, he rushed for 1,615 yards and 21 touchdowns, while producing an impressive 70-672-3 stat line through the air.  That comes out to 407.7 fantasy points, but he did that despite missing two games due to injury.  Therefore, his per-game average was 29.12 FP/G, even higher than what Tomlinson did in 2006!

The baseline was also slightly lower: in 2002, RB24 scored 155.7 fantasy points, which comes out to 9.73 FP/G.  So Holmes averaged 19.39 FP/G above the baseline, the most by any fantasy running back in history.  However, that comes out to 271.5 points of VBD, meaning 19.4 for 14 is still not quite as dominant as 17.7 FP/G for 16 games.

What about Simpson? Well, in ’75, he rushed for 1,817 yards and 16 touchdowns, whiel chipping in with 28-426-7 in the receiving game. That’s 376.3 fantasy points, or 26.88 FP/G. The baseline was just 9.35 FP/G, so Simpson was 17.53 FP/G above the baseline. Because his 14-game season was the full year — i.e., he didn’t miss games due to injury like Holmes — we pro-rate those numbers to a full season, and multiply 17.53 by 16 to give him… 280.5 points of VBD. That’s still behind Tomlinson, but good enough for the second best fantasy season by a running back since 1950.

The table below shows the top 200 fantasy seasons using this methodology:

1LaDainian Tomlinson2006SDG348181528565083455.31628.4610.7517.71283.3
2O.J. Simpson1975BUF329181716284267376.31426.889.3517.53280.5
3Priest Holmes2002KAN313161521706723407.71429.129.7319.39271.5
4Priest Holmes2003KAN3201420277469004101625.639.3316.29260.7
5Marshall Faulk2000STL253135918818308415.41429.6711.3418.33256.6
6Marshall Faulk2001STL260138212837659382.21427.39.0318.27255.8
7LaDainian Tomlinson2003SDG3131645131007254394.11624.639.3315.3244.8
8Chuck Foreman1975MIN280107013736919344.61424.619.3515.26244.2
9Emmitt Smith1995DAL377177325623750395.81624.749.5915.14242.3
10Terrell Davis1998DEN3922008212521723731623.318.6714.64234.3
11Marcus Allen1982RAI16069711384013215.2923.9110.0113.89222.3
12Emmitt Smith1992DAL373171318593351348.31621.777.9813.79220.7
13Ahman Green2003GNB3551883155036753701623.139.3313.79220.7
14Jim Brown1965CLE289154417343284336.21424.0110.4113.6217.7
15Walter Payton1977CHI339185214272692321.61422.979.4513.52216.3
16Marshall Faulk1999STL253138178710485358.41622.48.8813.52216.3
17Arian Foster2010HOU3271616166660423631622.699.3813.31213
18Chris Johnson2009TEN358200614505032371.91623.241013.24211.9
19Shaun Alexander2005SEA37018802715781371.31623.219.9713.24211.8
20Jamaal Charles2013KAN2591287127069373471523.139.4413.69205.3
21Edgerrin James1999IND369155313625864346.91621.688.8812.8204.8
22James Wilder1984TAM407154413856850348.21621.769.0112.75204.1
23Steven Jackson2006STL346152813908063374.41623.410.7512.65202.4
24Jim Brown1963CLE291186312242683315.11422.5110.1412.36197.8
25Emmitt Smith1994DAL368148421503411339.51522.639.5113.12196.8
26DeMarco Murray2014DAL392184513574160332.61620.798.5112.28196.5
27Eric Dickerson1983RAM390180818514042366.71622.9210.7812.14194.2
28Leroy Kelly1968CLE248123916222974290.31420.748.612.13194.1
29Le'Veon Bell2014PIT290136188385433291620.568.5112.06192.9
30Adrian Peterson2012MIN348209712402171329.41620.598.5412.04192.7
31Larry Johnson2005KAN336175020333431351.81621.999.9712.02192.3
32Ricky Williams2002MIA383185316473631347.11621.699.7311.96191.4
33LaDainian Tomlinson2002SDG372168314794891346.71621.679.7311.94191
34Marcus Allen1984RAI275116813647585334.51620.919.0111.9190.4
35LaDainian Tomlinson2007SDG315147415604753337.81621.119.2911.82189.2
36Marcus Allen1985RAI380175911675553349.71621.8610.0711.79188.6
37Edgerrin James2000IND387170913635945369.81623.1111.3411.77188.3
38Brian Westbrook2007PHI27813337907715327.41521.839.2912.54188.1
39Barry Sanders1997DET335205311333053336.31621.029.2911.73187.6
40Jamal Anderson1998ATL4101846142731923261620.388.6711.71187.3
41Marshall Faulk1998IND32413196869084325.71620.368.6711.69187
42Lydell Mitchell1975BAL289119311605444293.71420.989.3511.63186.1
43Dalton Hilliard1989NOR344126213525145317.41619.838.2811.56185
44Thurman Thomas1992BUF31214879586263312.31619.527.9811.54184.7
45LaDainian Tomlinson2005SDG339146218513702343.11621.449.9711.47183.6
46Larry Johnson2006KAN416178917414102354.41622.1510.7511.4182.4
47Roger Craig1985SFO214105099210166342.61621.4110.0711.34181.5
48Barry Sanders1991DET3421548164130713081520.538.5112.03180.4
49Jim Brown1958CLE257152717161381282.51223.5412.3111.23179.7
50Thurman Thomas1991BUF28814077626315306.81520.458.5111.95179.2
51Wendell Tyler1982RAM1375649383754190.9921.2110.0111.2179.2
52Ray Rice2011BAL291136412767043338.91621.189.9811.2179.2
53Terrell Davis1997DEN369175015422870314.71520.989.2911.69175.3
54Jamal Lewis2003BAL387206614262050324.11620.269.3310.93174.8
55Eric Dickerson1984RAM379210514211390317.91619.879.0110.86173.8
56Otis Armstrong1974DEN26314079384053272.21419.448.6210.82173.1
57Tiki Barber2005NYG357186095453023321620.759.9710.78172.5
58Clinton Portis2003DEN290159114383140293.51322.589.3313.25172.2
59O.J. Simpson1973BUF3322003126700282.21420.159.7310.43166.8
60Billy Sims1980DET313130313516213313.91619.629.3210.3164.8
61Chuck Foreman1976MIN278115513555671283.71420.2610.0110.26164.1
62Priest Holmes2001KAN32715558626142307.91619.249.0310.21163.4
63Barry Sanders1990DET255130413364803292.41618.288.2110.06161
64Thurman Thomas1989BUF29812446606696293.31618.338.2810.06160.9
65Chuck Foreman1974MIN1997779535866252.81319.458.6210.82160.8
66Emmitt Smith1993DAL28314869574141278.51419.898.4411.45160.3
67Barry Foster1992PIT390169011363440287.41617.967.989.99159.8
68Matt Forte2014CHI266103861028084295.61618.488.519.97159.5
69Walter Payton1984CHI381168411453680303.11618.949.019.93158.9
70Fred Taylor1998JAX264122314444213288.41519.238.6710.56158.4
71Tiki Barber2004NYG322151813525782325.61620.3510.469.89158.2
72LaDainian Tomlinson2004SDG3391335175344113141520.9310.4610.47157.1
73Eric Dickerson1988IND388165914363771311.61619.489.689.79156.7
74LeSean McCoy2011PHI273130917483153306.41520.439.9810.45156.7
75William Andrews1981ATL289130110817352316.11619.769.999.77156.3
76Terry Allen1996WAS347135321321940296.71618.548.789.77156.3
77LeSean McCoy2013PHI31416079525392306.61619.169.449.72155.5
78Terry Allen1992MIN266120113494782282.41617.657.989.68154.8
79Larry Brown1972WAS28512168324734256.91221.4110.1211.29154.8
80Bill Brown1964MIN2268667487039276.91419.7810.119.67154.7
81Thurman Thomas1990BUF271129711495322285.41617.848.219.63154
82Neal Anderson1989CHI274127511504344285.91617.878.289.59153.5
83Lenny Moore1958BAL825987509387262.61221.8812.319.58153.2
84Billy Sims1981DET296143713284512292.81420.919.9910.93153
85Arian Foster2011HOU278122410536172282.61321.749.9811.76152.8
86Doug Martin2012TAM319145411494721289.11618.078.549.53152.4
87Terrell Davis1996DEN345153813363102292.81618.38.789.53152.4
88Abner Haynes1962DTX221104913395736295.71421.1211.649.49151.8
89Jim Brown1961CLE30514088464592275.61419.6810.29.48151.7
90Marshawn Lynch2014SEA280130613373674287.81617.998.519.48151.7
91Adrian Peterson2009MIN314138318434360311.41619.46109.46151.4
92Matt Forte2013CHI28913399745943302.31618.899.449.45151.2
93Shaun Alexander2004SEA353169616231704318.11619.8810.469.42150.7
94Gale Sayers1965CHI16686714295076277.61419.8310.419.42150.7
95Ahman Green2001GNB30413879625942295.11618.449.039.41150.6
96Frank Gifford1956NYG1598195516034230.51219.29.89.4150.5
97Clinton Portis2002DEN273150815333642305.71619.119.739.38150
98Arian Foster2012HOU351142415402172286.11617.888.549.34149.4
99Deuce McAllister2003NOR35116418695160298.21618.649.339.31148.9
100Earl Campbell1980HOU37319341311470288.51519.239.329.91148.7
101Ricky Watters1996PHI3531411135144402891618.068.789.29148.6
102Emmitt Smith1991DAL365156312492581284.61617.798.519.28148.5
103Jim Taylor1964GNB235116912383543261.31320.110.119.99148.5
104Arian Foster2014HOU26012468383275258.61319.898.5111.38148
105Deuce McAllister2002NOR325138813473523293.51519.579.739.84147.5
106Barry Sanders1989DET280147014242820271.21518.088.289.81147.1
107Roger Craig1988SFO31015029765341301.61618.859.689.17146.7
108Ron Johnson1972NYG29811829454515269.81419.2710.129.15146.4
109Rick Casares1956CHI234112612232032227.41218.959.89.15146.4
110Charlie Garner2002OAK1829627919414301.81618.869.739.13146.1
111Walter Payton1979CHI369161014313132310.51619.4110.329.09145.4
112Shaun Alexander2002SEA2951175165946023011618.819.739.08145.3
113Garrison Hearst1998SFO310157073953522841617.758.679.08145.3
114Tiki Barber2002NYG304138711695970298.91618.689.738.95143.2
115Herschel Walker1987DAL2098917607151238.61219.888.711.18143.1
116William Andrews1982ATL1395735425032170.6918.9610.018.94143.1
117Ron Johnson1970NYG26310278484874247.41417.678.748.94143
118Don Woods1974SDG22711627263493228.51219.048.6210.42142.9
119Walter Payton1985CHI32415519494832302.71618.9210.078.85141.6
120Edgerrin James2005IND360150613443371290.31519.359.979.38140.8
121Stephen Davis1999WAS290140517231110265.11418.948.8810.05140.8
122Shaun Alexander2003SEA3261435144229522901618.139.338.79140.7
123Lydell Mitchell1977BAL30111593716204255.41418.249.458.79140.7
124William Andrews1983ATL33115677596094313.11619.5710.788.79140.6
125Chuck Muncie1981SDG251114419433620290.31519.359.999.36140.4
126Gerald Riggs1984ATL353148613422770275.31518.359.019.34140.2
127Wilbert Montgomery1979PHI33815129414945305.11619.0710.328.75140
128Shaun Alexander2001SEA309131814443432284.11617.769.038.73139.6
129Maurice Jones-Drew2009JAX3121391155337412991618.69108.69139
130Domanick Williams2004HOU302118813685881295.61519.7110.469.24138.7
131Jim Brown1962CLE23099613475175284.21420.311.648.66138.6
132Billy Cannon1961HOU2009486435869263.91418.8510.28.65138.4
133Jim Taylor1962GNB2721474192210602831420.2111.648.58137.3
134Earl Campbell1979HOU36816971916940301.11618.8210.328.5136
135Eddie George2000TEN403150914504532317.21619.8311.348.48135.7
136Eddie George1999TEN32013049474584277.71617.368.888.48135.6
137Lorenzo White1992HOU26512267576411263.21616.457.988.48135.6
138Leroy Kelly1966CLE209114115323661262.71418.7610.298.47135.5
139Brian Westbrook2006PHI24012177776994296.11519.7410.758.99134.9
140Barry Sanders1994DET33118837442831286.61617.919.518.4134.4
141Curtis Martin1996NWE316115214463333273.51617.098.788.32133.1
142Barry Sanders1995DET314150011483981286.41617.99.598.3132.9
143Neal Anderson1990CHI260107810424843255.21517.018.218.8132
144Dorsey Levens1999GNB27910349715731256.21418.38.889.42131.9
145Curtis Martin2004NYJ371169712412452298.71618.6710.468.21131.3
146Eric Dickerson1986RAM404182111262050286.41617.99.78.2131.2
147Ray Rice2009BAL25413397787021291.11618.19108.19131.1
148Joe Morris1985NYG294133621222120291.81618.2410.078.17130.7
149Frank Gore2006SFO31216958614851302.51618.9110.758.16130.5
150DeAngelo Williams2008CAR273151518221212294.61618.4110.268.15130.4
151Dorsey Levens1997GNB329143575337052791617.449.298.14130.3
152Curtis Martin2001NYJ333151310533200274.71617.179.038.14130.2
153Jim Taylor1961GNB243130715251751256.71418.3410.28.14130.2
154Jim Brown1964CLE28014467363402255.31418.2310.118.13130
155Joe Morris1986NYG341151614212331275.41518.369.78.66129.9
156Lydell Mitchell1976BAL28912005605553253.51418.1110.018.1129.6
157Tom Matte1969BAL235909114351322441417.439.358.08129.3
158Darren McFadden2010OAK22311577475073249.91319.229.389.85128
159Emmitt Smith1996DAL327120412472493258.81517.258.788.48127.2
160Wilbert Montgomery1981PHI28614028495212276.81518.459.998.47127
161Ottis Anderson1984STL28911746706112261.51517.439.018.42126.4
162Curtis Martin1995NWE368148714302611279.81617.499.597.89126.3
163Marshall Faulk1994IND314128211525221278.41617.49.517.89126.2
164Maurice Jones-Drew2011JAX34316068433743285.51617.849.987.86125.8
165Wendell Tyler1981RAM260107412454365275.51518.379.998.38125.7
166Curt Warner1986SEA319148113413420280.81617.559.77.85125.6
167Marshawn Lynch2012SEA315159011231961262.11616.388.547.84125.4
168Edgerrin James2003IND310125911512920246.61318.979.339.64125.3
169Peyton Hillis2010CLE270117711614772274.61617.169.387.78124.6
170Travis Henry2002BUF325143813433091280.21617.519.737.78124.5
171Herschel Walker1986DAL15173712768372279.41617.469.77.76124.2
172Priest Holmes2004KAN19689214191871207.4825.9310.4615.46123.7
173John Riggins1983WAS3751347245290284.11518.9410.788.16122.4
174Dan Reeves1966DAL1757578415578250.31417.8810.297.59121.4
175Chris Warren1994SEA33315459413232273.31617.089.517.57121.1
176MacArthur Lane1970STL20697711323652228.21416.38.747.56121
177LaMont Jordan2005OAK27210259705632259.81418.569.978.59120.2
178Ricky Watters1995PHI337127311624341273.71617.119.597.51120.2
179LeSean McCoy2010PHI20710807785922260.21517.359.387.97119.6
180Walter Payton1983CHI31414216536072292.11618.2510.787.47119.6
181Eddie Lacy2014GNB24611399424274255.61615.988.517.47119.5
182Chris Warren1995SEA310134615352471272.81617.059.597.46119.3
183Adrian Peterson2010MIN283129812363411259.91517.339.387.95119.3
184John David Crow1960STL18310716254623239.21219.9312.517.42118.7
185Fred Taylor2000JAX292139912362402265.91320.4511.349.11118.4
186Charley Taylor1964WAS1997555538145245.11417.5110.117.4118.4
187Adrian Peterson2007MIN238134112192681248.41417.749.298.46118.4
188Ricky Watters1992SFO20610139434052229.31416.387.988.4117.7
189Chuck Muncie1982SDG1385698252071156.3917.3610.017.35117.6
190Gale Sayers1966CHI22912318344472246.71417.6210.297.33117.3
191Floyd Little1973DEN25697912414231238.71417.059.737.32117.1
192Frank Gore2009SFO229112010524063256.61418.33108.33116.6
193Larry Brown1973WAS2738608404826238.21417.019.737.29116.6
194Ray Rice2012BAL25711439614781252.61615.798.547.24115.9
195Alfred Morris2012WAS33516131311770252.51615.788.547.24115.8
196O.J. Simpson1976BUF29015038222591241.21417.2310.017.22115.5
197Knowshon Moreno2013DEN241103810605483266.61616.669.447.22115.5
198Emmitt Smith1998DAL319133213271752254.21615.898.677.22115.5
199Herschel Walker1988DAL36115145535052270.41616.99.687.22115.5
200Edgerrin James2004IND33415489514830282.61617.6610.467.2115.2

Tomlinson and Marshall Faulk dominate the single-season list, so you won’t be surprised to see them take the top two spots on the career list. Below are the top 125 running backs in fantasy history:

RkPlayerFirst YrLast YrVBD
1LaDainian Tomlinson200120111521
2Marshall Faulk199420051509
3Emmitt Smith199020041444
4Walter Payton197519871372
5Barry Sanders198919981311
6Jim Brown195719651265
7Marcus Allen198219971073
8Curtis Martin19952005990
9Eric Dickerson19831993970
10Thurman Thomas19882000962
11Edgerrin James19992009951
12Ricky Watters19922001949
13Priest Holmes19972007917
14Adrian Peterson20072014847
15Shaun Alexander20002008823
16Tiki Barber19972006813
17Tony Dorsett19771988775
18Chuck Foreman19731980768
19O.J. Simpson19691979760
20Herschel Walker19861997725
21Clinton Portis20022010705
22Ahman Green19982009700
23Steven Jackson20042014698
24Matt Forte20082014697
25Arian Foster20092014683
26Roger Craig19831993680
27Ottis Anderson19791992663
28Terrell Davis19952001661
29Brian Westbrook20022010645
30Frank Gore20052014635
31Franco Harris19721984634
32Leroy Kelly19641973634
33Maurice Jones-Drew20062014620
34Ricky Williams19992011614
35Fred Taylor19982010605
36Marshawn Lynch20072014591
37Eddie George19962004588
38Lydell Mitchell19721980581
39Neal Anderson19861993579
40Jamaal Charles20082014579
41Chris Johnson20082014569
42Wilbert Montgomery19771985568
43LeSean McCoy20092014563
44William Andrews19791986551
45Corey Dillon19972006549
46Jim Taylor19581967544
47Billy Sims19801984540
48Ray Rice20082013531
49Earl Campbell19781985517
50John Riggins19711985507
51Larry Brown19691976501
52Terry Allen19912001490
53Larry Johnson20032011484
54Wendell Tyler19771986476
55Earnest Byner19841997467
56James Brooks19811992453
57James Wilder19811990452
58Chuck Muncie19761984452
59Clem Daniels19601968451
60Lenny Moore19561967451
61Jerome Bettis19932005449
62Jamal Lewis20002009442
63Curt Warner19831990423
64Warrick Dunn19972008417
65Frank Gifford19521964417
66Abner Haynes19601967414
67Freeman McNeil19811992413
68Deuce McAllister20012008412
69Stephen Davis19962006407
70Charlie Garner19942004398
71Lawrence McCutcheon19721981395
72Ron Johnson19691975393
73Gale Sayers19651971390
74Floyd Little19671975385
75Gerald Riggs19821991370
76Calvin Hill19691981364
77Chris Warren19902000360
78Jamal Anderson19942001352
79Greg Bell19841990350
80Joe Cribbs19801988348
81DeMarco Murray20112014348
82Rodney Hampton19901997348
83Bill Brown19611974336
84Pete Johnson19771984332
85Garrison Hearst19932004332
86Michael Turner20042012329
87Ted Brown19791986328
88Thomas Jones20002011326
89Timmy Brown19591968314
90Robert Smith19932000313
91John Williams19861995303
92Greg Pruitt19731984302
93Mike Pruitt19761986300
94Duce Staley19972006299
95Dorsey Levens19942004296
96Domanick Williams20032005295
97Tom Matte19611972284
98Dalton Hilliard19861993278
99Mike Garrett19661973278
100James Stewart19952002277
101Barry Foster19901994277
102Joe Morris19821991277
103Kevin Mack19851993276
104Le'Veon Bell20132014267
105John David Crow19581968259
106Terry Metcalf19731981258
107Ken Willard19651974255
108Sam Cunningham19731982255
109Joseph Addai20062011253
110Rudi Johnson20012008253
111Travis Henry20012007253
112Ahmad Bradshaw20072014252
113George Rogers19811987249
114Otis Armstrong19731980244
115Cookie Gilchrist19621967244
116Reggie Bush20062014240
117Hugh McElhenny19521964237
118Joe Perry19481963235
119Dan Reeves19651972235
120Lorenzo White19881995234
121Mel Farr19671973233
122Fred Jackson20072014231
123Keith Byars19861998228
124Knowshon Moreno20092014226
125Willis McGahee20042013224
  • Not a lot of surprises here. Although there is a certain Hall of Fame running back from Pittsburgh that fares very poorly here.
  • Adrian Peterson needs two more good years to really climb these lists.  Can he do that?
  • Edgerrin James (RB11) is the highest-ranking running back not in the Hall of Fame (well, other than Tomlinson).  Does this help his cause?  In fact, the five running backs from 11 to 16 (excluding Peterson) all are borderline HOF candidates, and all were active in ’00 and ’01.
  • What stands out to you in the career rankings list?
  1. Baselines used in this series: From 1968 to 2014, RB24. In ’66 and ’67, RB20, and from ’61 to ’65, RB16. In the 1960 AFL, the baseline is RB6, while it is RB8 in the NFL. From 1950 to 1959, the baseline used is RB8. []
  • dlanod

    What I took out of it was that I had two of the top 100 fantasy RB seasons of all time on my 2014 team… and finished 7th out of 10.

  • Todd T Davis

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  • Kibbles

    I did my list based on a 1/2/3/1/flex assumption, so my baseline was slightly lower. (I assumed 30 starting RBs a week, essentially.) Here’s my list of everyone since 1985 who topped 200 VBD, though:

    312.16 Tomlinson 06
    301.42 Faulk 00 (14 games!)
    279.86 Holmes 02
    277.28 Davis 98
    273.60 Holmes 03
    272.64 Alexander 05
    256.64 Smith 95
    254.38 Faulk 01
    244.48 Edge 00
    244.00 Larry Johnson 05
    243.36 Tomlinson 03
    239.68 Green 03
    230.10 Smith 94
    229.44 Chris Johnson 09
    229.12 Smith 92
    228.16 Anderson 98
    227.84 Tomlinson 05
    223.36 Foster 10
    222.56 Sanders 97
    222.40 Faulk 99
    219.84 Barber 05
    218.88 Larry Johnson 06
    215.36 Edge 99
    212.48 SJax 06
    211.68 Ricky Williams 02
    207.30 Davis 97
    206.85 Charles 13
    204.64 Lewis 03
    202.88 Alexander 04

    Special shout-out to Holmes 04, with 144.56 VBD… in 8 games.

    Also, that’s 29 backs in 30 years, so essentially one a year on average… but TWENTY THREE of those seasons came in a single 10-year span. The only guys to get 200-VBD before 1997 or after 2006 were: Emmitt Smith (three times), Chris Johnson, Arian Foster, and Jamaal Charles, (once each). Fantasy football just happened to explode in popularity during a freakish era of workhorse RBs that, sadly, many people now think was the norm instead of the exception.

    Regarding Faulk ’00, the big difference is that my method produced a much lower baseline for the season than yours. Your baseline was higher than the one for ’02, ’03, and ’06 by a good margin. Mine was lower by a good margin.

    I haven’t done the comparison to a weighted-average starter at RB yet, but I do have career rankings (since 1985). Thanks to my lower baselines (which manifest themselves a lot more at RB than at QB, because of the increased tendency for top-12 players to miss time), a certain unnamed Pittsburgh RB fares a lot better in my system than in yours.

    1 Emmitt Smith 3678.98
    2 LaDainian Tomlinson 3411.4
    3 Marshall Faulk 3401.88
    4 Barry Sanders 2933.19
    5 Curtis Martin 2666.98
    6 Edgerrin James 2371.82
    7 Ricky Watters 2349.16
    8 Thurman Thomas 2030.9
    9 Priest Holmes 2099.22
    10 Shaun Alexander 2093.8
    11 Tiki Barber 2029.44
    12 Adrian Peterson 1973.16
    13 Jerome Bettis 1871.34
    14 Corey Dillon 1864.76
    15 Clinton Portis 1857.14
    16 Fred Taylor 1849.38
    17 Steven Jackson 1816.5
    18 Eddie George 1763.6
    19 Ahman Green 1761.12
    20 Herschel Walker 1222.68
    21 Frank Gore 1646.58
    22 Terrell Davis 1644.96
    23 Marcus Allen 1200.33
    24 Ricky Williams 1574.76
    25 Warrick Dunn 1557.02

    • Kibbles

      Oh yeah, PPR!

      363.76 Faulk 00
      352.94 Tomlinson 06
      324.24 Holmes 02
      319.76 Holmes 03
      315.56 Tomlinson 03
      314.62 Faulk 01
      287.24 SJax 06
      286.14 James 00
      284.60 Smith 95
      279.34 Faulk 99
      272.14 Davis 98
      261.76 Green 03
      261.32 Smith 92
      253.16 Alexander 05
      253.02 Chris Johnson 09
      250.76 Foster 10
      248.96 Tomlinson 02
      247.34 Edge 99
      246.60 Charles 13
      246.34 Bell 14
      244.74 Larry Johnson 06
      244.46 Tomlinson 05
      242.66 Larry Johnson 05
      242.00 Smith 94

      Despite missing two games in 2000, Faulk takes over the top spot in PPR, because he is ridiculous.

      “Career” (since 1985) rankings:

      1 Marshall Faulk 2128.39
      2 LaDainian Tomlinson 2014.38
      3 Emmitt Smith 1962.71
      4 Barry Sanders 1634.79
      5 Curtis Martin 1515.93
      6 Ricky Watters 1383.13
      7 Edgerrin James 1382.57
      8 Tiki Barber 1317.36
      9 Thurman Thomas 1265.11
      10 Priest Holmes 1198.42
      11 Steven Jackson 1082.26
      12 Herschel Walker 1069.63
      13 Shaun Alexander 1067.04
      14 Ahman Green 1064.07
      15 Adrian Peterson 1004.43
      16 Matt Forte 994.22
      17 Brian Westbrook 981.25
      18 Fred Taylor 961.86
      19 Warrick Dunn 960.82
      20 Clinton Portis 956.93
      21 Corey Dillon 925.33
      22 Eddie George 921.26
      23 Marcus Allen 906.52
      24 Frank Gore 903.99
      25 Maurice Jones-Drew 888.70

      Tomlinson leaps Smith, but is in turn leaped by Faulk. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. The higher baselines cause an as-of-yet-unnamed Pittsburgh back to fall to 32nd, right behind Neal Anderson.

      • As a reminder, my initial list is 0.5 PPR. Thanks for putting this one together.

    • Thanks. That’s interesting about Bettis – what do you think is driving that?

      • Kibbles

        I’m guessing it’s a combination of two things.

        First, your list was 0.5 PPR and mine was 0 PPR. Bettis might conceivably be the worst PPR back in history, (meaning the back who was hurt most by the transition from 0PPR to 1PPR). He ranks 6th in career rushing yards. Of the top 50 players of all time, only THREE have fewer receptions than his 200 (Campbell, Csonka, and Stephen Davis- who rank 33rd, 46th, and 48th in career rushing yards, respectively. Reminder; Bettis ranks *SIXTH*). His Pittsburgh tenure in particular was awful: Bettis averaged 13.1 rushing yards for every receiving yard, which is higher than any RB in history with at least 3000 rushing yards except for Michael Turner, George Rodgers, Christian Okoye, and Ace Gutowsky. As I mentioned, switching to full PPR drops him nearly 20 spots and puts him right in line with where you had him.

        Second, a long-career compiler like Bettis really benefits from my lower baselines. By my numbers, he produced positive value in 12 seasons, which is a ton. He got to the top of my fantasy value chart in much the same way he got to the top of the career rushing chart: by adding a little bit a year every year for a really, really long time.

        • Kibbles
          • jtr

            Seeing Vick listed with 2 rec for 1 yd had me poke around his FR receiving stats and there has to be something wrong with their numbers. In 2002 he is listed as 0 rec on 1 target for 16 yards. He picked up 16 yards on an incompletion? And 2013 he’s listed as 0 rec on 0 target for -2 yards, again nonsense. In 2005 he did manage to catch one for -14 yards, which sounds like fun. Anybody know how that came about? Batted right back to him maybe?

            • Richie

              I was going to guess some kind of hook and lateral play. But I think a player gets rushing yards for that.

            • Kibbles

              Not entirely sure about the others, but in 2002, Michael Vick threw a pass, it was batted, his offensive lineman came down with it, and then he did what any sensible human being would do if he played for the Falcons in 2002- he gave it back to Vick and got out of the way.

            • Players are credited with yards but not catches on unique plays like laterals to end a game. For instance, last year versus the Jets, the trailing Titans had a 3rd and 10 play to end regulation. Charlie Whitehurst completed a pass to McCluster that eventually was lateraled back to him. The result was 10 yards receiving on 0 catches.

        • Richie

          “Ace Gutowsky”

          You made that one up, right?

          • Kibbles

            I did not. Gutowsky was a lesser-known contemporary of Clark Hinkle, Cliff Battles, Dutch Clark, Tuffy Leemans, and Bronko Nagurski. Wikipedia says he retired with the career rushing record in 1939, but (A) I’m pretty sure he ranked 2nd behind Cliff Battles, and (B) there’s a great chance Nagurski had more yards, too, but the NFL didn’t even track yards until 1932. Either way, he might be most famous as the guy who George Halas tripped on a kickoff return. In the 1932 championship, with Chicago holding a late lead, Gutowsky got free and was running down the sideline for a potential touchdown. Halas stuck his foot out and tripped him as he went past, and the refs didn’t notice.

            For an amazing read about how insane football was in the 1930s, check out this chapter about that game, which contains the delightful sentence “The officials caucused, but referee Bobie Cahn of New York determined it best not to reverse a touchdown on the home turf, where gangsters roamed.” Ah yes, fear of getting murdered by mobsters: the original home-field advantage.


        • sacramento gold miners

          There was a ton of value in how Bettis reached the top five in the NFL in career yardage, and he also ranks fourth all time in career 100 yard games. All those yards wore down opposing defenses, and were instrumental in winning games. 20 years from now, I think there will be a greater appreciation for Bettis’ career. We may never again see a back of his size with that type of production in the NFL.

          • Kibbles

            Look, you’re never going to convince me. There’s a spectrum of NFL running backs, and on one end you have Eddie George, and on the other you have Earl Campbell, and Bettis is a hell of a lot closer to the George side than the Campbell side. He was above replacement level for a really, really long time, and that’s impressive. But he was often only barely above, and that’s much less impressive. Yards per carry is a ridiculously overrated statistic, but I don’t even need to resort to that to make the case against Bettis: outside of his four best seasons, Bettis averaged just 900 yards and 8.5 touchdowns per year. Spin tales all you want about how gritty and gutty he was and how valuable those 900 yards were, you’re never going to convince me that that’s not the textbook definition of “compiling”.

            And oh yeah, he was also one of the least productive receiving backs in NFL history.

            Yes yes, his size was kind of unique. I believe we’ve covered that before, too. I betcha we’re more likely to see a back Bettis’ size match his production than we are to see a back Dunn’s size match his production. (Or a back Brandon Jacob’s size, for that matter.) And if “being very good and a unique size” was all it took to make the Hall of Fame, we would have seen Harold Carmichael enshrined decades ago.

            I respect that you feel differently than I do on this, and I respect your efforts on Bettis’ behalf, but I promise you that you are never going to change my mind on it. He’s not the worst running back in the Hall of Fame, but in my mind, he clearly does not deserve to be there, especially over guys like Davis, Edgerrin, Watters, Holmes, Alexander, or maybe even Corey Dillon.

            I stand 100% behind my original statement. Jerome Bettis got to the top of my fantasy value chart in much the same way he got to the top of the career rushing chart: by adding a little bit a year every year for a really, really long time.

            • Richie

              Jared “The Hefty Lefty” Lorenzen for the HOF!

              • Kibbles

                Ah, the Pillsbury Throwboy. Nobody had more or better nicknames than good old J-Load.

            • sacramento gold miners

              Respect your opinion, and when Hines Ward reaches Canton, I’m sure some of the similar points will be brought up, and folks will disagree. Ditto when Ben Roethlisberger makes it on the first ballot, and when L.C. Greenwood finally gets the call from the Veteran’s committee.

              When evaluating players, I just can’t dice up portions of a career, and the HOF seems to agree with me in terms of long term quality. When a back is durable enough to take over games when others at a younger age have already retired, that’s important. Wish we had a third down and short statistics available, have no doubt Bettis would rank about as high as he does for career 100 yard games. I do support Terrell Davis for Canton, with his great postseason a key part of the resume.

    • sn0mm1s

      I think part of the 23 in a 10 year span had a lot to do with coaches wanting to get their RB the TD record. Rushing TDs, especially short yardage, are pretty much just a coaching playcall. I really think there was some one-upmanship going on with Faulk, Holmes, Alexander, and LT’s coaching staff.

  • sacramento gold miners

    I feel like reality beats fantasy every single time, and a back who contributed more while another player either had a late start(like Holmes), or didn’t endure(like Alexander), was much more valuable. Watters will always be among the players who will always be borderline HOF candidates.

    James has a case, but the Colts winning a SB after he departed isn’t helpful, and he wasn’t the same player in Arizona. Come to think of it, I’m struggling to think of games, key games, when James took over. Very productive, yes, but what were his signature moments? Other teams with or without HOF QBs had HOF RBs who took over games, maybe a Colts fan will provide help on this one. Jerome Bettis, prior to the arrival of a future HOF QB, was often the focus of the offense, and still couldn’t be stopped. With
    James, it seemed like he complemented Manning, but when Peyton struggled in cold weather, where was James?

    • While everyone remembers how good James was pre-injury, I always think of his game against the Bears of ’04 when I think of Edge at his best:


      He put up a 23/204/1, but he did all of that in just three quarters (he sat out the final quarter because it was a blowout). It was a really dominant performance.

      • sacramento gold miners

        No doubt, that was a great game by James, but the Bears were a 5-11 team that year. I guess I’m looking for a performance like Jerome Bettis delivered on Monday Night Football in 1996. The Buffalo Bills were still a strong team, enroute to a 10-6 record, but were physically dominated by #36. 20 carries for 133 yards, playing behind the immortal Mike Tomczak. Buffalo had many of the defenders from their SB teams, knew what was coming, but that was one of many signature moments for Bettis.

        In 2001, another signature performance at Tampa versus the strong defense of the playoff bound Bucs. For James, many folks think of the 2003 fourth down carry late at home versus New England, which was a costly defeat.

    • Richie

      Unfortunately for me (a UCLA fan), my biggest memory of Edgerrin James is him killing UCLA’s National Championship hopes in 1998 when he rushed for 299 yards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQHIPVIN5OI

      The interesting note about this game was that it was played in December, but originally scheduled for early in the year. The game was canceled due to a hurricane, and then rescheduled for December. Miami was kind of a struggling team early in the year, and UCLA probably could have handled them.

      Just another example of how tiny little things can make a big difference in the end result of football.

  • Dr__P

    Herschel Walker would be much higher on the list if his USFL stats were added

    • Kibbles

      Not least because the USFL played an 18-game schedule.

  • Jeff Y

    I like a portion of this analysis except for the singular and highly significant flaw in your analysis ointment: the use of subtraction with respect to base vs FPG. A more accurate measurement of the greatest ‘relative’ fantasy seasons, would be *percentage* above the baseline, not the actual number above it. The prior method still gives too much credit to raw numbers rather than the relative dominance over the competition. To illustrate, suppose offensive numbers are seriously inflated as the game evolves so that the base for a given season were 50. But, a RB had 68 fpg. In that case, the difference above the baseline would be 18. In this calculation that would be the greatest fantasy season ever. However, from the standpoint of value relative to the rest of the league, it would not come close to matching Tomlinson’s dominance in points. The point differential, in essence, would be so close as to not be that large a difference in domination or greatness. To illustrate another aspect, 50 players hit 50 or more home runs, and all of the top 10 hit over 70, with the HR leader hitting 77, that would not be the greatest Fantasy HR season in history. In fact, Ruth’s 60 when the #2 HR hitter had 19, would far and away be the better fantasy season. In that situation, Ruth would have tripled the next best HR total. That would far and away be the greatest fantasy HR season ever – not in raw numbers but in terms of fantasy domination over the opposition. And not just in terms of subtraction, but in terms of % over – which is what makes the most dominant in terms of fantasy (as it puts one so much further ahead of the competition). In that respect, Jim Brown’s 1861 yard season and Simpson’s 2003 yards are so much more dominant relative to the competition they would be at or near the top. Rightfully so because they would add far more to winning that season in fantasy football than any of Tomlinson’s seasons, great as they were.