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Yesterday, I set up a method for ranking the flukiest fantasy football seasons since the NFL-AFL merger, finding players who had elite fantasy seasons that were completely out of step with the rest of their careers. I highlighted fluke years #21-30, so here’s a recap of the rankings thus far:

30. Lorenzo White, 1992
29. Dwight Clark, 1982
28. Willie Parker, 2006
27. Lynn Dickey, 1983
26. Robert Brooks, 1995
25. Ricky Williams, 2002
24. Jamal Lewis, 2003
23. Mark Brunell, 1996
22. Vinny Testaverde, 1996
21. Garrison Hearst, 1998

Now, let’s get to…

The Top Twenty

20. RB Natrone Means, 1994

Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
1994163431,35012392350103.0
2nd-Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
199714244823915104012.9

Big, bruising Natrone Means burst onto the scene in 1994 as a newly-minted starter for the Chargers’ eventual Super Bowl team, gaining 1,350 yards on the ground with 12 TDs. In the pantheon of massive backs, he was supposed to be the AFC’s answer to the Rams’ Jerome Bettis, but Means was slowed by a groin injury the following year and never really stayed healthy enough to recapture his old form. The best he could do was to post a pair of 800-yard rushing campaigns for the Jaguars & Chargers in 1997 & ’98 before retiring after the ’99 season.

19. WR Braylon Edwards, 2007

Best Season
yeargrecrecydrectdVBD
200716801,28916107.7
2nd-Best Season
yeargrecrecydrectdVBD
20101653904715.4

The 3rd overall pick in the 2005 Draft out of Michigan, Edwards seemingly had a breakout 2007 season catching passes from fellow Pro Bowler Derek Anderson. But both dropped off significantly the next season, and Edwards was sent packing to the Jets in 2009. He did post 904 yards as a legit starting fantasy wideout in 2010, but he has just 380 receiving yards over the past 2 seasons, and it’s not clear he’ll ever live up to those eye-popping 2007 numbers again.

18. WR Roger Carr, 1976
Best Season
yeargrecrecydrectdVBD
197614431,11211118.3
2nd-Best Season
yeargrecrecydrectdVBD
19801661924520.8

Playing with Bert Jones & the high-powered 1976 Colts’ aerial attack, Carr had the 2nd-best fantasy season of any NFL WR during just his 3rd pro season, pacing the league in receiving yards and yards per catch. However, a knee injury the following season dramatically altered the course of his career. Carr still played 6 more seasons and amassed 2,838 receiving yards after a lost 1977, but would never again crack 1,000 yards in a season; his best post-’76 effort was a 924-yard showing in 1980 that placed him 21st among WRs in fantasy points.

17. WR Jordy Nelson, 2011

Best Season
yeargrecrecydrectdVBD
201116681,26315100.2
2nd-Best Season
yeargrecrecydrectdVBD
2012124974570.0

These guys know how to make fantasy wide receivers.

These guys know how to make fantasy wide receivers.

You might think it a bit premature to anoint Nelson’s 2011 as one of the all-time great flukes, but consider that outside of his 1,263 yards, 68 catches, 15 TDs, and 216 fantasy points that season, his career per-16-game averages are just 565 yards, 42 catches, 4 TDs, and 78 fantasy points. Add to that the fact he never finished inside the top 30 WRs in any other season, and it’s clear 2011 sticks out like a sore thumb. Perhaps Nelson will prove this post wrong and have another great fantasy season someday (although knee issues will cause him to miss at least the rest of the 2013 preseason), but for now, his 2011 campaign is a heavy-duty outlier.

16. RB Chris Johnson, 2009

Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
2009163582,00614505032196.7
2nd-Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
2010163161,3641144245194.8

It seems like just yesterday that CJ2K was the darling of every fantasy player in America, having amassed a still-staggering 2,509 yards from scrimmage — the best-ever mark in a single season — and 16 total TDs. But that was 2009; one controversial holdout and 3 disappointing seasons later, and Johnson’s stock has dropped rapidly. By virtue of the carries he’s likely to get, Johnson still has a few good fantasy years left in his tank, but that insane 2009 season now looks like the kind of anomalous result you get when a guy is in just the right circumstance at just the right time, never to be repeated again.

15. RB Otis Armstrong, 1974

Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
1974142631,4079384053170.3
2nd-Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
1976142471,008539457168.0

As a rookie in 1973, Armstrong served as the backup to Floyd Little and fullback Joe Dawkins. The next season, the coaches turned Armstrong into the primary ball carrier, and he picked up 1,812 yards from scrimmage with 12 total TDs in one of the all-time dominant RB seasons. Missing 10 games to injury the following year, Armstrong responded with another 1,000-yard rushing season in 1976 (9th among RBs in fantasy points), then promptly failed to ever even crack 500 yards in a season again before retiring in 1980. 31% of his career yards from scrimmage came in that magical 1974 campaign.

14. RB Charles White, 1987

Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
1987153241,37411231210105.7
2nd-Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
198296925933428300.0

Despite winning the 1979 Heisman Trophy, White’s drug problems made him a journeyman for the majority of his career, splitting carries with the likes of Boyce Green and Cleo Miller behind Mike Pruitt in Cleveland, before sharing touches with Barry Redden as Eric Dickerson’s backup with the Rams. But in 1987, Dickerson was shipped to the Colts and the Rams had no choice but to turn to White, who produced 1,374 yards and 11 TDs on the ground in an unlikely All-Pro season. The next year, White went back to being an understudy (this time behind Greg Bell), and retired after the ’88 season to focus on his American Gladiators career. White’s season on here comes with a bit of an asterisk. In the tradition of USC, Heisman Trophy running backs, there’s more to the story than the stats. In 1987, White was one of just a few players to play in 15 games, as he crossed the picket line and played in the three replacement games. White rushed for 339 yards and 1 touchdown in those three games, giving him a leg up on the other fantasy running backs that season.

13. RB Peyton Hillis, 2010

Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
2010162701,17711614772106.0
2nd-Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
20111016158732213000.0

Is it too soon to declare Hillis a one-hit wonder? By now, most fantasy players wouldn’t put up much of an argument in his defense. Not after he followed up his breakout 2010 campaign (1,654 yards from scrimmage, 13 total TDs) by alienating his Browns teammates in an injury-riddled, Madden-cursed dud of a 2011 season, then notched just 371 yards from scrimmage & 1 TD a year ago for a Chiefs team that could have really used some rushing punch from the backup slot behind Jamaal Charles. Now with Tampa Bay (and freshly-injured this preseason), Hillis faces an uphill battle to prove he doesn’t deserve a place on this list.

12. RB James Wilder, 1984

Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
1984164071,54413856850179.6
2nd-Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
1985163651,3001053341073.5

Doug discussed Wilder’s career arc at length in a podcast here (feel free to fast-forward about halfway in to get through Chase’s Keith Lincoln spiel), but in a nutshell, he started out as a solid but unspectacular dual-threat back for some mediocre-to-bad Bucs teams in the early 1980s before putting up an awesome season (2,229 yards from scrimmage, 13 TDs) in 1984. The next year, he was pretty good as well (though nowhere near as dominant as in ’84 — hence the spot on this list), but had also carried the ball nearly 800 times in 2 years. Naturally, Wilder was injured the following season (arguably from overuse), and never had another 1,000-yard season. In fact, he only produced 1,830 rushing yards over the remainder of his career, though he did have three more 320-yard receiving seasons, reverting to his former 3rd-down RB status in the twilight of his career.

11. RB DeAngelo Williams, 2008

Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
2008162731,51518221212135.3
2nd-Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
2009132161,117729252028.7

Williams was a 1st-round RB expected to provide insurance for — and eventually replace — the injury-prone DeShaun Foster. That’s exactly what ended up happening; after 2 years of sharing touches with Foster, Williams was given the keys to Carolina’s ground attack in 2008 and generated 1,636 yards from scrimmage to go with 20 total TDs. But 2008 1st-round pick Jonathan Stewart had grown into an equal role with Williams by 2009 (they split carries almost exactly 50-50, and became the first pair of teammates to rush for 1,100 yards in the same season), and then Williams lost 10 games to injury during the Panthers’ miserable 2010 campaign. He’s been healthier the past 2 years, but has only racked up 1,573 rush yards in a role far removed from the undisputed feature-back status he enjoyed during his lone outstanding season.

10. RB Steven Jackson, 2006

Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
2006163461,52813908063168.4
2nd-Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
2010163301,241646383060.3

It’s shocking to see Jackson’s name on this list, since he’s been a fantasy staple practically his entire career. But although he has consistently been a productive RB over the past 8 seasons, only once did Jackson crack the league’s upper fantasy echelon: 2006. Overshadowed by LaDainian Tomlinson’s ridiculously dominant numbers and a Larry Johnson season that would have finished 1st among RBs most years, Jackson’s 2006 was a rushing/receiving masterpiece that only got more dominant down the season’s home stretch — in the final 6 weeks of the year, Jackson produced a staggering 1,041 yards from scrimmage and 11 TDs, single-handedly winning a ton of fantasy playoff games for owners across the country. Surprisingly, that was Jackson’s last super-elite fantasy year: on bad teams saddled with horrible passing games, he’s absorbed 1,661 carries over the past 6 seasons, churning out 1,000+ rushing/300+ receiving yards with regularity but never placing higher than 10th in fantasy points.

9. QB Scott Mitchell, 1995

Best Season
yeargcmpattpassydpasstdintskskydrushrushydrushtdVBD
1995163465834,338321231145361044128.9
2nd-Best Season
yeargcmpattpassydpasstdintskskydrushrushydrushtdVBD
1996142534372,9171717361993783420.7

Coaching Savant

Coaching Savant.

Mitchell has borne the brunt of much criticism over the past 20 years, most of it deserved, but in 1995 he was outstanding. That’s the year he put up what were, before Matthew Stafford’s 2011 season, the most passing yards (4,338) and touchdowns (32) in Lions history. That year, Mitchell also became just the 13th QB ever to record 32 passing TDs in a season, and the 9th to ever toss for 4,300 yards in a season. But although the Lions’ passing game had a +1.6 Relative ANY/A that year with Mitchell throwing to the likes of Herman Moore & Brett Perriman, the rest of Mitchell’s career was certainly disappointing — he had a lifetime -0.5 RANY/A outside of the ’95 season, and never finished higher than 9th among QBs in fantasy points after ’95. By 1998, Detroit had replaced him with Charlie Batch, and Mitchell ended his career with several ineffective years as a backup in Baltimore and Cincinnati. On an unrelated note, Mitchell is the only person who thinks of Batch as a young quarterback.

8. RB Mack Herron, 1974

Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
1974142318247384745111.5
2nd-Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
1973146120021826510.0

Herron had a short, interesting, and — ultimately — troubled career. A sixth-round pick of the Falcons in 1970, he opted to go to the CFL instead — joining the Winnipeg Blue Bombers as a RB/KR — and was an instant success as an all-around threat (he led the CFL in all-purpose yards during both of his seasons north of the border). After drug problems in Winnipeg ended his career in Canada, Herron headed to the NFL in 1973 and signed with the Patriots. He spent his rookie year buried on the RB depth chart, but he returned punts & kickoffs, leading the NFL in return yardage and yards per touch. In 1974, Herron finally broke through in a shared backfield with Sam Cunningham, finishing 4th among all RBs in fantasy points with a league-leading 1,298 yards from scrimmage and 12 TDs in a 14-game season. Unfortunately, the following season would Herron’s last in the NFL: the Patriots cut Herron midway through the schedule, citing a “drop in production.” (While it’s true that his all-purpose numbers were down across the board, the real culprit was a drug problem and an incident at a team party that came out later.) Sadly, addiction has dogged Herron to this day, and he was arrested again on drug charges this past March.

7. WR Wes Chandler, 1982

Best Season
yeargrecrecydrectdVBD
19828491,0329190.0
2nd-Best Season
yeargrecrecydrectdVBD
198515671,1991072.2

Chandler’s high ranking here is partly due to pro-rating stats from the strike-shortened 1982 season, but it’s also in no small measure because he was incredible that year. Catching passes from Dan Fouts, Chandler led the planet in receiving yards (1,032) and TDs (9); if extrapolated to a 16-game slate, his yardage total (1,835) would have stood as the all-time record for more than a decade. Chandler remains the single-season leader in receiving yards per game (he missed one game in 1982, which is why his pro-rated stats are not as impressive as his per-game stats). Chandler had been a very good WR before ’82 and would be so for years afterward (he was 3rd among WRs in fantasy points in 1985), but his superhuman 1982 earns a place on this list because it was so far beyond anything else he — or any other WR — had ever done. According to per-16-game VBD, it’s still the best fantasy season by a receiver since the merger.

6. RB Jamal Anderson, 1998

Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
1998164101,84614273192185.1
2nd-Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
1996162321,055549473160.9

Some images can't be unseen

Some images can't be unseen.

Anderson will be remembered as the author of two things: the Falcons’ regrettable “Dirty Bird” celebration (which still occasionally rears its ugly beak today) and one of the all-time great fluke RB seasons, when, in 1998, he improbably had 2,165 yards from scrimmage to go with 16 TDs. Anderson wasn’t completely unknown to fantasy players going into ’98 — after all, he’d just finished 10th among RBs in back-to-back seasons — but to say his owners got a pleasant surprise that year would be an understatement. Those who bought high on Anderson the following summer, though, were in for a rude awakening when he tore his ACL early in the ’99 season. He’d produce another 1,000-yard season in 2000, but it was nowhere near as dominant as his 1998 performance, and he suffered the same injury in his other knee during the ’01 season, ending his career for good.

5. QB Don Majkowski, 1989

Best Season
yeargcmpattpassydpasstdintskskydrushrushydrushtdVBD
1989163535994,318272047268753585124.3
2nd-Best Season
yeargcmpattpassydpasstdintskskydrushrushydrushtdVBD
1988131783362,119911311764722510.0

The “Majik Man” was not highly regarded coming out of Virginia (having been picked in the 10th round of the 1987 Draft), but he was nonetheless pressed into action early in his career because incumbent starter Randy Wright — himself pegged as the successor to Lynn Dickey (remember him?) — was horrendous, posting a -1.1 Relative ANY/A in 30 starts from 1986-88. Majkowski acquitted himself reasonably well for a young QB during his 1st 2 seasons (-0.3 RANY/A), and was handed the full-time starting job upon Wright’s release before the 1989 season. He responded with an outstanding fantasy season, leading all QBs in points (though it was better from a fantasy perspective than in reality; his +0.5 RANY/A that year was good, but hardly phenomenal). Green Bay thought they had their QB of the future, but Majkowski tore his rotator cuff the next season, and struggled mightily in ’91 & ’92 before another injury permanently spelled the end of his stint as the Packers’ starting QB… and the beginning for a certain replacement named Brett Favre. Meanwhile, Majkowski threw 298 more passes over 4 seasons with the Colts and Lions before hanging up the cleats, never having come close to replicating the success he had during the ’89 campaign.

4. RB Don Woods, 1974

Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
1974122271,1627263493126.1
2nd-Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
19781615151433429500.0

Woods’ career started as a 6th-round draftee of the Packers in 1974, but he never played a down for Green Bay — they cut him in training camp of his rookie year, whereupon San Diego grabbed him off the waiver wire. The Chargers promptly ended up getting by far the best year of Woods’ career: 1,511 yards from scrimmage and 10 TDs, the 3rd-best fantasy RB performance that season. Unfortunately, though, injuries limited Woods to 5 games in 1975, and he would never be the same runner in subsequent seasons. After amassing just 1,925 rushing yards from 1975-80 (cracking the top 40 fantasy RBs just once), Woods retired after the 1980 season.

3. RB Barry Foster, 1992

Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
1992163901,69011363440159.6
2nd-Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
19939177711827217133.1

For many readers, Foster will be the quintessential player on this list; his story certainly typifies those of many of the RBs we’ve seen so far. Though he wasn’t highly drafted (5th round), Foster worked his way up Pittsburgh’s depth chart to become their starting HB for most of his 2nd NFL season. By his 3rd year, he was given the reins as the Steelers’ primary ballcarrier and he didn’t disappoint, accumulating an incredible 2,034 yards from scrimmage with 11 TDs. But after 390 carries in 1992, Foster wore down late in the 1993 season, and injuries would continue to plague him into 1994. Intending to replace him with Erric Pegram & Bam Morris, the Steelers traded Foster to Carolina, but he failed a physical and never suited up for the Panthers. As it turned out, Foster’s last NFL carry came in 1994, just two seasons after his banner fantasy year.

2. QB Steve Beuerlein, 1999

Best Season
yeargcmpattpassydpasstdintskskydrushrushydrushtdVBD
1999163435714,436361550280271242141.5
2nd-Best Season
yeargcmpattpassydpasstdintskskydrushrushydrushtdVBD
2000163245333,7301918623314410618.8

Going into the 1999 season, there was absolutely nothing to indicate that Beuerlein (who had a perfectly average career RANY/A of 0.0 through 1998, and hadn’t ever been a top-12 fantasy QB) would be due for one of the 25 greatest fantasy QB performances of all time. But Muhsin Muhammad made his first Pro Bowl, Wesley Walls had his best receiving year, Patrick Jeffers had an inexplicable fluke fantasy season of his own (the only reason he doesn’t make this list is that he didn’t crack 100.0 VBD), and Beuerlein threw a career-high 571 passes… all of which led to a 2nd-ranked fantasy season for the Carolina QB. Only an even more unlikely season prevented him from finishing ’99 as the top quarterback. Beuerlein had an incredible finish to the season, throwing for 1,854 yards, 20 touchdowns, and just three interceptions in the final six games of the season.1 The former Notre Dame quarterback would follow that up with another starter-caliber fantasy season in 2000, but missed all of 2001 with injury and threw only 180 passes at ages 37-38 before retiring.

1. RB Dalton Hilliard, 1989

Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
1989163441,26213525145171.0
2nd-Best Season
yeargrushrushydrushtdrecrecydrectdVBD
199216115445348465423.2

Hillard earns the #1 spot on our list for his out-of-nowhere 1,776 yards from scrimmage & 18 total TDs with the 1989 Saints. After spending three years battling (and losing to) fellow 1986 draftee Rueben Mayes for touches, Hilliard was thrust into a featured-back role when Mayes was lost for the entire 1989 season. Hilliard simply proceeded to lead all RBs in total TDs and fantasy points that year, producing the 45th-greatest fantasy season ever. But like many of the names on this list, Hilliard’s 396 touches in ’89 portended an injury the following season; as it turned out, in early 1990, Hilliard tore a knee ligament and was out for the remainder of the regular season. Hilliard was never again the same player. While he finished 18th among RBs in fantasy points as Vaughn Dunbar’s backup in 1992, Hilliard would only play 3 seasons and carry the ball 244 more times after the knee injury before he called it quits.

  1. The last of those games came in some unusual run-up-the-score fashion. []
{ 8 comments }
  • Chase Stuart August 10, 2013, 11:13 am

    I’ll be the first to say it: Awesome work by Neil.

    Reply
  • Shattenjager August 10, 2013, 12:48 pm

    This was a really fun list. It’s funny that the list ends up with a couple of guys discussed on the p-f-r podcast, too. (Jason discussed Mack Herron briefly at one point, I believe during his segment on Terry Metcalf.)

    I did not remember Steve Beuerlein having that big of a year, ever. He was a drastically underappreciated pretty good quarterback for a while (even if he did take a TON of sacks) and a capable backup for seemingly 1000 years, but I would never have guessed that he had once led the league in passing yards.

    Steven Jackson was a surprise, though after thinking about how my history with him has gone in fantasy drafts, it makes some sense. I’ve always really liked him as a player and probably overrated him a good deal, but I couldn’t get him in any fantasy drafts in ’07 because he was going too high and I was obsessed with getting a certain rookie running back in Minnesota, so obviously he had a big year in ’06. Then, in ’08, I had him on every team I had because he was supposed to be “injury prone” (and then he actually did get hurt) and I’ve been able to get him ever since.

    Reply
  • Wade Iuele August 10, 2013, 12:57 pm

    I was surprised that Drew Bennett didn’t make the list. His 2004 was the flukiest season in my recent memory.

    Reply
  • Richie August 13, 2013, 7:42 pm

    I had Beuerlein that year. I was in a battle for a money spot in my league, and was very excited that Carolina went into the game trying to run up the score.

    From the article Neil linked to: “Carolina had to win Sunday by 18 points more than Green Bay’s winning margin over Arizona. The Packers won by 25, meaning the Panthers needed to win by 43 to have a chance.”

    Beuerlein ended up scoring 23 points (a good QB score for my league’s system) and I won my game by 7 points.

    Reply

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