The 2011 season is quickly approaching, and many fantasy owners are busy putting together their draft lists with an eye towards the end of the NFL lockout (and the upcoming free agency madness that promises to change most of said draft lists). But before we say goodbye to the first decade of the new millennium, let’s take a look at one guy’s “All-Fantasy” team, a best-of-the-best fantasy squad from the past decade.
QB1: Peyton Manning, IND Colts
2001-2010 numbers: 46,954 passing yards, 347 passing TDs; 15 rushing TDs.
Manning was the absolute model of consistency throughout the entire decade. He never missed a start. Prior to 2004, Manning was already thought of as a very good QB, but he blew the lid off his fantasy ceiling with 49 passing TDs that season.
He threw for less than 4,000 yards in a season only once, in 2005. His lowest TD total for a season was 28. Manning’s durability, high-floor, and high-ceiling play for the decade makes this an easy choice for my QB1.
Drew Brees, SD Chargers/NO Saints
2001-2010 numbers: 35,266 passing yards, 235 passing TDs; 7 rushing TDs
A second round pick by the Chargers, his numbers really took off after landing in New Orleans. In 2008, Brees averaged 317 yards/game to go with 34 TDs.
Tom Brady, NE Patriots
2001-2010 numbers: 34,738 passing yards, 261 passing TDs; 7 rushing TDs
Big numbers for the decade, despite being a backup in 2001 and injured for all of 2008. His 2007 season was arguably the best fantasy season for any player at any position, throwing for 4,806 yards (300 yards/game) and 50 passing TDs while adding two more rushing TDs.
QB Honorable Mention: Donovan McNabb, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner
RB1: LaDainian Tomlinson, SD Chargers/NY Jets
2001-2010 numbers: 13,404 rushing yards, 144 rushing TDs; 4,323 receiving yards, 15 receiving TDs
Although his numbers have predictably trailed off over the past few years due to age and usage, LT was an absolute beast in his prime. His 2006 season (1815/28 rushing, 508/3 receiving) single-handedly won fantasy championships for many owners. Tomlinson averaged 15.3 TDs per season as a Charger, and was frequently the consensus overall top pick in fantasy drafts during the decade. Best of all, he delivered for those owners that invested an early pick on him. He also passed for seven TDs during a three-year span in SD. A sure-fire Hall-of-Famer whenever he’s eligible, he’s also my sure-fire RB1 for the decade.
RB2: Shaun Alexander, SEA Seahawks
2001-2007 numbers: 9,116 rushing yards, 98 rushing TDs; 1,470 receiving yards, 12 receiving TDs
Once Alexander got the chance to start in 2001, he flourished with 1,318 rushing yards and led the league with 14 TDs. From 2001-2004 he was elite, averaging 1,406 yards rushing and 15 TDs, yet often went overlooked due to big numbers from Tomlinson and Kansas City’s Priest Holmes. Then came 2005: he tore up the NFL with 1,880 rushing yards and 27 TDs. He was injured in 2006 and never recaptured the magic from his early career, but he was dominant enough during his peak that “SA” earns my RB2 designation.
Edgerrin James, IND Colts/ARI Cardinals/SEA Seahawks
2001-2009 numbers: 8,984 rushing yards, 54 rushing TDs; 2,184 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs
Statistically, James’ best two years were his first two years in the league, ‘99 and ‘00; if I were able to count those years (3,200-plus yards rushing/1,180 yards receiving/35 combined TDs) towards this decade, he would easily be my RB2. James was a perennial high-draft pick for fantasy owners during his days as a Colt. After an injury-shortened 2001, he ended 2002 only 11 yards shy of 1,000 yards rushing; James would go on to piece together five consecutive 1,000 yard rushing seasons, including the last two in the desert in an admittedly weaker overall offense.
Clinton Portis, DEN Broncos/WAS Redskins
2002-2010 numbers: 9,923 rushing yards, 75 rushing TDs; 2,018 receiving yards, 5 receiving TDs
Portis was a machine when healthy. In six of his nine years in the league, he played at least 13 games. In those six healthy years, he didn’t rush for less than 1,262 yards. His average stat line for those six years: 1,446 yards and 11 TDs.
Priest Holmes, KC Chiefs
2001-2007 numbers: 6,070 rushing yards, 76 rushing TDs; 2,377 receiving yards, 7 receiving TDs
After languishing as a backup in Baltimore for three of his first four years in the league, Holmes moved to Kansas City and began arguably the best 3-1/2 year run of any player in fantasy football history. Holmes’ statline for 54 games: 1,156 rushes for 5,482 yards and 70 TDs; 225 receptions for 2,163 yards and six more receiving TDs. That’s an incredible game average of over 140 combined yards and 1.5 TDs per game. Injuries derailed his career after the 2004 season, but he was so dominant at the beginning of the decade that he has earned a bench spot on this team.
Honorable Mention: Curtis Martin, Jerome Bettis, Brian Westbrook, Jamal Lewis, Steven Jackson
WR1: Randy Moss, MIN Vikings/OAK Raiders/NE Patriots/MIN Vikings/TEN Titans
2001-2010 numbers: 729 receptions, 10,695 receiving yards, 110 receiving TDs
Yes, Moss took plays off… heck, he took the entire 2006 season off. Yes, he got in trouble. A lot. But when he was mentally focused, he was the dominant WR of the decade. Moss led the league in touchdowns three times during the decade, and had double digit TD years three more times. His 2007 (98/1493/23) was a season for the ages. He was always in the discussion (for most of the decade) to be the first WR drafted by fantasy owners, despite the off-the-field baggage.
WR2: Marvin Harrison, IND Colts
2001-2008 numbers: 689 receptions, 9,026 receiving yards, 81 receiving TDs
Harrison entered the decade as an elite WR, posting back-to-back monster years heading into 2001. From ‘01 to ‘06, Harrison had no less than 82 receptions or 1,100 yards, while producing double digit touchdowns every year during that stretch. Harrison’s consistency and dominance made him one of the first WRs picked in fantasy during his run… the fact that he wasn’t the typical “diva” made him among the safest high picks as well.
WR3: Terrell Owens, SF 49ers/DAL Cowboys/PHI Eagles/BUF Bills/CIN Bengals
2001-2010 numbers: 759 receptions, 11,176 yards, 110 receiving TDs
TO had some monster years, especially early in the decade, leading the league in TD receptions three different times. Picking Owens in fantasy drafts was a high-risk, high-reward option; most years he rewarded his owners but burned owners in other years, especially in 2005, when PHI de-activated him for the second half of the season. Like him or hate him (see Moss, Randy), he mostly put up monster numbers for the owner that was willing to use a high pick on the mercurial receiver.
Torry Holt, STL Rams/JAX Jaguars
2001-2009 numbers: 786 receptions, 10,959 receiving yards, 62 receiving TDs
A holdover from the “Greatest Show On Turf” days, Holt was a model of consistency, gaining no less than 1,188 receiving yards for seven straight years. Holt led the league with 117 receptions for 1,696 yards in 2003. His reception and yardage numbers are similar to my starting three, but Holt just didn’t score the TDs that the others did.
Chad Ochocinco (née Johnson), CIN Bengals
Reggie Wayne, IND Colts
Two very different personalities: Ochocinco has been the epitome of the WR diva for most of his career, while Wayne is as low-profile a WR as Marvin Harrison was. But their career numbers are remarkably similar. Both were rookies in 2001. Ochocinco’s career took off first, mainly due to him quickly becoming the No. 1 option in CIN, while Wayne played second fiddle to Harrison for his first few years. But Wayne has narrowed the gap, especially over the last three seasons. Ochocinco was the better receiver from a PPR standpoint. Their numbers:
Ochocinco 2001-2010: 1,051 receptions, 10,783 yards, 66 TDs
Wayne 2001-2010: 787 receptions, 10,748 yards, 69 TDs
Honorable Mention: Hines Ward, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith (CAR), Larry Fitzgerald
TE1: Tony Gonzalez, KC Chiefs/ATL Falcons
2001-2010 numbers: 808 receptions, 9,422 receiving yards, 64 TDs
Gonzo has been a Pro-Bowler every year of his career except for 2009, his first in Atlanta. He was the consensus No. 1 TE pick in drafts for the first half of the decade, playing for a run-first team without a lot of help in the passing game. This crafty veteran will be a first-ballot inductee into Canton.
Antonio Gates, SD Chargers
2003-2010 numbers: 529 receptions, 7,005 yards, 69 TDs
The college basketball player used his rookie year to learn the nuances of playing TE before exploding on the scene in 2004. Gates is too fast to be covered by linebackers and too big to be covered by defensive backs. The only thing that has slowed down Gates has been injuries. He was on pace for an absolute monster season in 2010 while playing hurt until he just couldn’t go anymore.
Gates has become the model of the new NFL tight end; teams are drafting big athletes that can fly down the field and get the jump balls, with less of an emphasis on in-line blocking (see Davis, Vernon; Gresham, Jermaine; Graham, Jimmy).
K: Adam Vinatieri, NE Patriots/IND Colts
2001-2010 numbers: 228/271 FGs, 400 extra points, 1,084 total points
I will take Mr. Clutch for my all-decade kicker. He rewarded owners with consistent point totals, partially owning to the fact that he kicked for two of the better offenses of the decade.
D: BAL Ravens
Led by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, the Ravens have been a perennial top-five defense for fantasy owners after winning the 2000 Super Bowl based largely on the defensive talent.
A few notes: I didn’t name a backup kicker or team defense, as I wouldn’t carry one on my fantasy team. I also didn’t name an honorable mention at the TE position, as I felt that Gonzo and Gates were easily the two best fantasy TEs. After Marshall Faulk, the RB position was probably the toughest for me to differentiate between starters, backups and honorable mention.
Also, while studying career numbers for this piece, the difference in effective career length between RBs and other positions was pronounced. Most elite RBs seem to have, at maximum, a five-to-seven year window of elite production.
I hope you enjoyed this retrospective of the last decade. Who did I omit? Who is higher or lower than they should be? Your comments are welcome.
Brendan grew up in Columbus, OH, as a college football nut; he has since evolved into an avid NFL fan and year-round fantasy geek. Brendan and his family now call Indiana home. Brendan posts under the name Indibuck.
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