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Top 25 Fantasy Seasons by Position
- What Happens the Following Year?

I have had several requests lately for two things, both of which fit nicely together here. PART A: Which players have posted the highest scoring fantasy seasons (by position)? PART B: How successful were the players the following year (the dreaded YEAR X + 1)?

I went ahead and compiled the Top 25 seasons since the NFL merger in 1970 for QB, RB, WR, and TE. With the way numbers have been escalating in recent years, many times we take for granted just how prolific some of these seasons have been.

As we steam into the 2005 regular season, of the 100 seasons contained here, 7 occurred last year (Culpepper, Manning, Alexander, Muhammad, Gates, Gonzalez, and Witten).

Like many other statistical comparisons, many times there were external factors that came into play in Year X + 1. The player could have been injured; teammates could have been injured in Year X and returned or injured in Year X + 1 and not returned. There could have been personnel or coaching change. In short, many environments changed from one year to the next, and just looking at the numbers will not reflect that.

Since there is no good way to evaluate some of the results, I broke it down to fantasy points scored, points per game, and value points to help give different data points for comparison. In terms of value, even though a player's value could have slipped from one season to the next, a value score of 100 would normally represent a Top 10 season overall (based solely on player value). So bear that in mind when looking at the value numbers.

Here are the numbers for each position based on a standard scoring system of:

Fantasy Points = (Pass Yards)/20 + (Rush Yd + Rec Yd)/10 + (Pass TDs)*4 + (Rush TDs + Rec TDs)*6 - (INTs)*1

Key

  • Position Played
  • Year Played (Year X in the first column and X + 1 in the second column)
  • FP = Fantasy Points (Regular season)
  • PPG = Fantasy Points Scored per Game
  • VALUE = Relative Value using the "Worst Starter Method" for a 12 team league (RB12, RB24, WR30, TE12). (Basically the number of fantasy points scored above the worst regular starter at that position).
Quarterback
Year X
FPs
PPG
Value
Year X+1
FP
PPG
Value
Culpepper
2004
433
27.72
166
2005
n/a
n/a
n/a
Marino
1984
428
26.78
201
1985
303
18.94
72
Young
1998
422
28.13
187
1999
36
12
0
Manning
2004
417
27.84
150
2005
n/a
n/a
n/a
Cunningham
1990
405
25.34
187
1991
0
0
0
Culpepper
2000
402
25.12
153
2001
245
22.27
0
Young
1994
400
24.98
179
1995
272
24.73
38
Favre
1995
396
24.73
161
1996
364
22.75
159
Garcia
2000
393
24.58
145
2001
348
21.75
91
Marino
1986
390
24.38
162
1987
259
21.58
98
Moon
1990
378
25.80
169
1991
324
20.25
124
Warner
1999
384
23.99
153
2000
239
21.73
0
Beuerlein
1999
375
23.45
145
2000
261
16.31
12
Majkowski
1989
370
23.11
124
1990
149
16.56
0
Warner
2001
370
23.09
113
2002
76
10.83
0
Cunningham
1998
368
23.05
95
1999
103
14.71
0
Mitchell
1995
367
22.96
133
1996
229
16.36
25
Favre
1996
363
22.10
159
1997
342
21.38
106
Lomax
1984
363
22.69
135
1985
233
14.56
2
Culpepper
2002
362
22.64
97
2003
329
23.50
60
Gannon
2002
362
22.63
97
2003
86
12.21
0
Fouts
1981
361
22.54
120
1982
370
23.11
120
Manning
2000
355
22.20
106
2001
327
20.44
70
Young
1993
354
22.12
136
1994
400
24.98
179
Testaverde
1996
353
22.04
148
1997
219
16.85
0
Average
379
23.85
144
240
18.30
50
% Change
-37%
-23%
-65%

So what does this tell us? For starters, QB get injured a fair amount. Nine of the QB here got hurt the following season, and others got banged up and may have missed a game or two. What else does it tell us? That the repeatability factor is not very high. Only 2 QB scored more fantasy points, 3 QB had a higher PPG average, and 1 QB had more value the following season. Only Steve Young was able to improve upon his numbers in all three categories.

Culpepper and Young appear 3 times with Manning, Marino, Cunningham, Favre twice. Cunningham is the only one to have done it on different teams. Only 5 QB had a value score of 100+ the following season.

Some people have wondered whether it takes a stud WR to have a great season at QB. Of these QB seasons, 21 had a Top 10 WR (04 Culpepper, 90 Culpepper, 95 Favre, and 02 Gannon did not). Some teams had at least two viable threats with 10 having two Top 10 WR (including 04 Manning with three Top 10 WR). The average ranking for their WR1 was #5 and WR2 was #24.

For those wondering if the Top 25 WR overlapped with the Top 25 QB seasons, there were 9 times when a QB/WR tandem made both lists.

The injury factor made many of the QB less valuable in Year X + 1, so PPG may be the best evaluation tool for QB. Only 11 QB had a PPG average within 3 points in Year X + 1. Eight of the seasons occurred in the past 5 years. The season with the most Top 25 QB seasons was 2000 with three.

Using the FBG Projections from 8/17, both Culpepper and Manning are projected to have Top 25 seasons this year. To date, only 2 QB have followed up a Top 25 season with another Top 25 season (Favre and Young), although Fouts was on pace for one in the 1982 strike season.

Culpepper would have to fall 80 points to miss the list this coming year (64 for Manning). The Vikings may still be potent but the loss of Moss could be a major obstacle for Culpepper in having another Top 25 season. The chances for Manning might be slightly better, as he did not lose any of his WR (and the loss of TE Marcus Pollard may not be that great).

Running Back
Year X
FPs
PPG
Value
Year X+1
FP
PPG
Value
Faulk
2000
375
26.78
216
2001
341
24.33
206
Holmes
2003
373
23.31
231
2004
198
24.75
41
Holmes
2002
373
26.62
220
2003
373
23.31
231
E. Smith
1995
365
22.80
225
1996
235
15.67
110
Simpson
1975
362
25.88
282
1976
230
16.43
122
T. Davis
1998
361
22.53
233
1999
36
8.9
0
Green
2003
345
21.56
203
2004
197
13.13
39
Tomlinson
2003
344
21.50
202
2004
288
18
130
Dickerson
1983
341
21.33
191
1984
307
19.21
182
Faulk
2001
341
24.33
206
2002
209
14.93
57
James
2000
338
21.14
179
2001
104
17.33
0
Williams
2002
324
20.23
171
2003
232
14.50
90
Sanders
1997
230
19.99
188
1998
0
0
0
E. Smith
1992
319
19.93
209
1993
250
17.86
138
James
1999
316
19.74
186
2000
338
21.14
179
Allen
1985
315
19.71
165
1986
163
12.54
25
Faulk
1999
315
19.68
185
2000
375
26.78
216
E. Smith
1994
315
20.97
187
1995
365
22.80
225
J. Anderson
1998
313
19.53
185
1999
9
9
0
Lewis
2003
311
19.44
169
2004
154
12.83
0
Foreman
1975
308
22.01
220
1976
256
18.29
152
Payton
1997
308
22.01
218
1978
254
15.88
112
Dickerson
1984
307
19.21
182
1985
208
14.86
57
Tomlinson
2002
307
19.20
155
2003
344
21.5
202
Alexander
2004
307
19.16
149
2005
n/a
n/a
n/a
Average
333
21.64
200
238
17.56
109
% Change
-29%
-19%
-46%

In many scoring systems, a fantasy season can be made or broken by the production of a first round draft pick invested in the right or wrong RB. Of course, predicting a good season is one thing, but a Top 25 season is another.

A heavy workload was a key ingredient to these seasons. These RB averaged 347 carries and 55 receptions (402 touches). Fifteen players had 400+ touches. On the low side, Faulk had the fewest carries (253 on two occasions), Eric Dickerson had the fewest receptions (21), and Faulk had the fewest touches of them all (in the #1 ranked season to boot-375 fantasy points in 334 touches).

Multiple Top 25 seasons were produced by Faulk (3), Emmitt (3), Holmes (2), Tomlinson (2), Dickerson (2), and James (2). Given the guys NOT on that short list should be an indicator of how difficult it is to even get on it. For example, O.J. Simpson's 2,000-yard rushing season DID NOT make it (only 6 receptions that year certainly didn't help any). No RB on the list did it for two teams. Only Faulk had a season where he improved in all three categories.

Injuries again played a role in skewing the Year X + 1 numbers, as Davis, Anderson, and James all suffered season ending injuries (Sanders was not included due to his retirement). Overall, 4 RB improved in total fantasy points, 4 in PPG, and 3 in total value.

The repeatability factor was somewhat better for RB compared to QB, as 7 RB followed up a Top 25 season with another Top 25 season. There were 13 players that had a value of 100+ points in Year X + 1.

With the recent surge in RB scoring, it's no surprise that 11 of the Top 25 seasons were from the past 5 years with 2003 the leader with 4 players from the same season.

Looking at the FBG projections from 8/17, there is no RB currently projected to have Top 25 seasons in 2005. With 44% of the list from recent seasons, that may prove to be an oversight.

Alexander had a fine campaign in 2004, and given the absence of WR Koren Robinson, he could get a heavy workload this year if his contract squabble hasn't comprised his standing with the team. If Alexander could get more involved in the passing attack, he would have a decent chance of bettering last season.

Wide Receiver
Year X
FPs
PPG
Value
Year X+1
FP
PPG
Value
Rice
1995
284
17.78
165
1996
187
11.69
71
Moss
2003
267
16.69
163
2004
156
14.18
28
Rice
1986
260
16.26
185
1987
251
20.91
216
Bruce
1995
258
16.11
138
1996
176
11.00
60
Rice
1989
254
15.85
145
1990
228
13.75
119
Rice
1993
253
15.83
147
1994
249
15.56
141
Moore
1995
253
15.79
133
1996
184
11.50
68
Rice
1987
251
20.91
216
1998
201
12.56
93
Clayton
1984
249
16.63
147
1985
125
7.81
16
Rice
1994
249
15.58
141
1995
284
17.78
165
Harrison
2001
243
15.17
114
2002
239
14.95
119
Holt
2003
242
15.13
138
2004
197
12.31
70
Owens
2001
239
14.96
110
2002
222
15.86
102
Harrison
2002
239
14.95
119
2003
188
12.53
83
Carter
1995
239
14.94
119
1996
176
11.00
60
Harrison
1999
239
14.92
119
2000
225
14.08
115
Muhammad
2004
238
14.88
111
2005
n/a
n/a
n/a
Moss
2000
234
14.64
124
2001
189
11.81
59
Moss
1998
234
14.61
111
1999
212
13.25
92
Brooks
1995
230
14.36
110
1996
59
8.37
0
Rice
1990
228
14.26
119
1991
205
12.81
101
Freeman
1998
227
15.13
104
1999
143
8.94
23
Green
1984
227
14.16
124
1985
1000
7.69
0
Pickens
1995
226
14.13
106
1996
190
11.88
74
Harrison
2000
225
14.08
115
2001
243
15.17
114
Average
244
15.51
132
193
12.81
83
% Change
-21%
-17%
-37%

For starters, Jerry Rice had 6 of the best 10 seasons ever for a WR (including one with only 12 games played). That's just insane. Rice has 7 of the Top 25 seasons, with Harrison (4), and Moss (3) the only players to have more than one.

As opposed to QB and RB, the injury factor was minimal in analyzing the follow-up seasons.
Only 9 players stayed above the 100 point value mark in Year X + 1. There were 4 WR that went up in total points scored, 4 that went up in PPG, and 3 that increased their relative value. On 9 occasions the WR followed up with a Top 25 season-and that was due mostly to Rice being so productive.

One of the weird statistical quirks was that the 1995 season had 6 of the Top 25 seasons. Michael Irvin had 1,600/10 that year and ranked as the 7th best fantasy WR on the season. By comparison, that stat line would have ranked Irvin 1, 1, 3, 2, 5, 3, 3, 3, and 2 in the each of the seasons since 1995.

I tried to research what might have caused that and could not find anything definitive. The league expanded the year before, but that did not really impact WR totals in 1994. Similarly, numbers dropped back down to more normal levels in 1996.

There were 9 seasons on the list from the past 5 years, but only one of them was in the Top 10. Only Rice had a season where he improved in all three categories.

For all the hoopla involving Terrell Owens, he's only on the list once. In the past few years, Harrison and Moss have been more productive and have posted elite numbers.

Last year's surprise, Muhsin Muhammad will need divine intervention to make the list again this year given the black clouds surrounding the Bears offense and QB situation.

Looking at the FBG projections, only Moss is pegged to have a Top 25 season. No WR on the list did so for more than one team, and he would be the first. Moss may have a solid season, but the bar may be set just a little too high this year for Moss to tack on another Top 25 season.

Tight End
Year X
FPs
PPG
Value
Year X+1
FP
PPG
Value
Christensen
1983
197
12.29
130
1984
143
8.92
64
Winslow
1980
183
11.44
110
1981
168
10.47
97
Gates
2004
174
11.63
105
2005
n/a
n/a
n/a
Gonzalez
2000
174
10.89
114
2001
131
8.19
55
Gonzalez
2004
168
10.52
99
2005
n/a
n/a
n/a
Winslow
1981
168
10.47
97
1982
108
12.00
121
Sharpe
1996
166
11.08
104
1997
129
8.06
67
Winslow
1983
165
10.33
99
1984
78
11.14
0
Christensen
1986
163
10.21
104
1987
78
6.50
42
Coates
1994
159
9.96
106
1995
128
8.00
60
Wells
1999
154
9.64
94
2000
54
6.75
0
Sharpe
1993
154
9.59
96
1994
125
8.33
72
Gonzalez
2003
152
9.48
87
2004
168
10.52
99
Gonzalez
1999
151
10.06
91
2000
174
10.89
114
Senser
1981
148
9.28
78
1982
0
0
0
Coffman
1983
147
9.21
81
1984
110
7.86
32
Christensen
1984
143
8.92
64
1985
135
8.42
55
Casper
1978
139
8.70
84
1979
95
6.33
23
Newsome
1981
138
8.64
68
1982
81
9.00
74
Sharpe
1998
137
8.55
70
1999
22
4.48
0
Bavaro
1987
135
11.23
117
1988
91
5.69
36
Christensen
1985
135
8.42
55
1986
163
10.21
104
Witten
2004
134
8.38
65
2005
n/a
n/a
n/a
Newsome
1983
133
8.31
67
1984
130
8.13
52
Newsome
1979
133
8.29
60
1980
79
4.94
6
Average
154
9.82
90
109
7.95
53
% Change
-29%
-19%
-41%

To clarify, there have been several other top years for TE that did not make the list that occurred prior to 1970. Christensen had 4 of the top seasons including the top slot and was a dominating force in the early 80's. Gonzalez is a modern day equivalent (also with 4 entries) and has also put up numbers close to a WR.

With TE not as high a scoring position, there were only 3 TE that had a value score of 100+ in Year X + 1, but there were only 8 that had that high a score in Year X. There were only five Top 25 seasons in the past 5 years-the fewest by far compared to the other positions. Six of the TE followed up a Top 25 season with another Top 25 season.

Gonzalez had two seasons where he improved his numbers in all three categories. Christensen accomplished that once.

Both Gonzalez and Gates are slated to make the list again this year based on FBG projections. However, those two ranked Top 5 all time last year, and both would need a lot of luck to have a successful encore. Witten, a surprise entry on this list, is projected to slip some.

Here's a quick recap looking at all the positions.

Pos
FPs
PPG
Value
Top 25 Again
FPs Up
PPG Up
Value Up
QB
-37%
-23%
-65%
2
2
3
1
RB
-29%
-19%
-46%
7
4
4
3
WR
-21%
-17%
-37%
7
2
4
2
TE
-29%
-19%
-41%
6
3
4
5
All
-29%
-20%
-47%
22
11
15
11

Of the players included in the Top 100 seasons compiled here, 22 had another Top 25 season in Year X + 1 (QB 2, RB 7, WR 7, and TE 6). The huge majority could not match their success, and many fell off a substantial amount.

By comparison to "regular" high scoring seasons, the drop off was even more severe. Depending upon the position, I believe that the expected decrease in total fantasy points scored is in the 10-15% range.

Most players would be expected to regress after a big season, and the numbers support that many players suffered a sizable drop-off in Year X + 1 after posting a Top 25 season.

Overall, it appears that pushing players coming off elite seasons up the player rankings for may not be the most prudent thing to do, as more than likely owners drafting players higher than previously expected will be paying for prior results instead of future returns.

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