Pinnacle of fantasy seasons? Here's a peek at contenders

ON FANTASY SPORTS

The Kickoff

December 07, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER

While I was watching LaDainian Tomlinson put together another incandescent performance Sunday, it occurred to me that we're smack in the middle of a golden age for brilliant fantasy seasons.

Some columnists have suggested that Tomlinson is having the greatest fantasy year ever. I say let him finish before we anoint it as such. But he's certainly in the argument with 1,794 rushing and receiving yards and 26 touchdowns (plus two passing scores) through 12 games. Tomlinson has been so great that pretty much any team he's on is playoff-bound.

Consider the league I play with local media folks. My team won its division and stands fourth out of 12 in total points. Willie Parker, my best running back, has had a solid season with 1,187 yards, 12 touchdowns and 107 fantasy points. He has been the third-best back overall, actually.

That's great. You know how many fantasy points Tomlinson has? 223. So he more than doubles a very good runner in Parker, and he has a full 74-point lead over his closest rival, Larry Johnson. The gap between him and Johnson is the same as between Johnson and the 32nd-best player, Corey Dillon. That, my friends, is dominance.

With LT in hand, my colleague, Jamison Hensley, has racked up 80 more points than any other team in our league and 120 more than me. That difference is almost entirely accounted for by the difference between Tomlinson and Parker, who, as I mentioned, has been the third-best back in the game. Sorry to dwell on the personal example, but I think it illustrates the havoc that one player is wreaking on fantasy leagues across the country.

Rarely have I seen a single guy transform so many mediocre teams to good ones and so many good teams to great ones. So maybe he really is having the best fantasy season ever.

But I feel like these super seasons have become almost the norm. Last year, it was Shaun Alexander with his 1,958 yards and NFL-record 28 touchdowns. The year before that it was Peyton Manning with his 4,557 yards and record 49 passing touchdowns. In 2003, it was Priest Holmes finding the end zone 27 times. None of those guys was quite as far ahead of the competition as Tomlinson is right now, but those were still some epic efforts.

It wasn't always like this. When I started playing fantasy ball in the late 1980s, the annual touchdown leaders usually petered out in the high teens. The difference between the No. 1 guy and No. 10 was six or seven touchdowns, not 12 or 15. When Brett Favre threw 38 touchdown passes in 1995, it seemed like a monster season.

I don't have the expertise with standard deviations to tell you if the best players hold a greater advantage over the rabble than before or if their numbers simply look better because scoring is up overall. But it feels like it's more important than ever to draft one of the top few scorers, because a player like Tomlinson or Johnson or Alexander can be an anchor that eight or nine other teams in your league simply can't match.

Anyway, it was fun combing the NFL archives for some of the great fantasy seasons in history. I know fantasy football didn't exist in Jim Brown's time but wouldn't it have been great to have him in 1963, when he led the league in touchdowns and rushed for 845 more yards than anyone else over a 14-game schedule?

If you like your greatness Colts-flavored, try Johnny Unitas' 1959, when he tossed 32 touchdown passes, a dozen more than anybody else in a 12-game schedule.

I know O.J. Simpson's 2,000-yard season gets all the acclaim, but for fantasy purposes, you have to love him in 1975, when he led the league in rushing by almost 600 yards and scored 23 times in 14 games.

Dan Marino's 1984 always deserves a mention because he was the first passer to exceed 5,000 yards and he threw 16 more touchdown passes than anyone else in the league.

The 1985 Chicago Bears defense allowed 65 fewer points than anyone else, led the league in creating turnovers, finished third in sacks and made a music video to boot. If William Perry's rushing touchdowns had counted toward the defense, the Bears really would have been on to something.

I always loved Jerry Rice's 1987, when he scored 23 times in a strike-shortened 12-game schedule. The next-best scorer was Mike Quick with 11.

Three years later, Randall Cunningham tossed 30 touchdown passes and added 942 yards and five scores on the ground. I remember that well because he carried me to my first football championship that season.

If you like your brilliance more modern, try Marshall Faulk's 2000, when he put up 2,189 yards and 26 touchdowns.

Anyway, that's some of what Tomlinson is up against in his quest for real and fantasy immortality. I like his chances, and if I face him and Jamison in the playoffs, I don't like mine.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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