Decades month continues here at the NFL Network and NFL Digital Media, as we look back at the history of this country's passion. Following our examination of the top fantasy stars of the 1960s and 1970s, it's time to move forward in the NFL's version of the "Back to the Future" DeLorean and examine the "Era of Excellence" ... the 1980s.
Using as close to a standard scoring system as possible (minus penalties for offensive turnovers), here are the seven players and one defensive unit that would make the most productive starting fantasy lineup during the decade.
Quarterback - Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers: You might think Dan Marino would be a lock to be the top quarterback of the 1980s, but he played in only seven seasons in the decade. Marino was also a one-dimensional quarterback ... he rushed for minus-18 yards during our timeframe! Montana was the NFL leader in passing yards (30,958), ranked second in passing touchdowns (215) and rushed for 1,383 yards with an impressive 19 touchdowns during the 1980s. His best season of the decade came in 1983, when Montana scored nearly 280 fantasy points on the strength of his 3,910 passing yards and 28 total touchdowns. In today's NFL, though, those totals would have ranked him just ninth at his position.
Running back - Eric Dickerson, Los Angeles Rams/Indianapolis Colts: Dickerson would have been the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy drafts for several seasons during the 1980s. The decade's leader in rushing yards (11,226), rushing touchdowns (82) and scrimmage touchdowns (86) among running backs, he rushed for 1,800-plus yards in three of his first four seasons at the pro level. The S.M.U. product had his best fantasy campaign as a rookie in 1983, when he went off for 2,212 scrimmage yards and a combined 20 trips to the end zone. That was good for over 340 fantasy points, which would have ranked him more than 30 points higher than last season's No. 1 fantasy running back, Jamaal Charles.
Running back - Walter Payton, Chicago Bears: The man nicknamed "Sweetness" would have been just that in fantasy football been it prominent in the 1980s. Payton was second in rushing yards (9,800) and tied for sixth among running backs in total touchdowns (62) during the decade. He also compiled the most scrimmage yards (12,914) at his position. His best fantasy season during the course of the 1980s came in 1984, when he recorded 2,052 scrimmage yards, 11 touchdowns and just under 280 fantasy points. That would have ranked him on the same level of LeSean McCoy if we're talking about current backs in the NFL. Payton was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993, six years before his death.
Wide receiver - Steve Largent, Seattle Seahawks: One of the best wide receivers in NFL history, Largent played his entire career as a member of the Seahawks. He was a statistical beast in the 1980s, ranking second in receiving yards (9,336) and first in touchdown receptions (69) at his position. The Tulsa product, who put up six 1,000-yard campaigns in the decade, posted his best fantasy season in 1984 on the strength of his 1,164 yards and 12 touchdowns. That was good for just under 190 fantasy points, which would have ranked him 10th among wide receivers this past season and on the same statistical level as both Eric Decker and DeSean Jackson. Largent was inducted into Canton in 1995.
Wide receiver - James Lofton, Green Bay Packers/Oakland Raiders/Buffalo Bills: There were a lot of strong wideouts in the 1980s, but few of them posted the same level of numbers as Lofton. Not only did he finish in the top 10 in touchdown catches (47), but no wide receiver had more receiving yards (9,465) than Lofton during the decade. In 1984, Lofton had his best fantasy season with what is a career best 1,361 yards and seven touchdowns for just under 190 points. Heading into the 2014 campaign, he is eighth in all-time receiving yards (14,004). Lofton retired after 16 years, eight trips to the Pro Bowl and one First-Team All-Pro honor. He was included into the Hall of Fame in 2003.
Tight end - Kellen Winslow, San Diego Chargers: Winslow played in eight of the 10 years in this decade, and he was absolutely dominant in the stat sheets. He put up three 1,000-yard campaigns while finishing the 1980s as the top tight end in both receiving yards and touchdown catches. Those accomplishments made him the best fantasy option at his position and just slightly ahead of Todd Christensen and Ozzie Newsome. Winslow's best fantasy campaign came in 1980, when he went off for 89 catches, 1,290 yards, nine touchdowns and over 183 fantasy points. Had he played last season, the Hall of Famer would have been the second-ranked tight end in fantasy football behind only Jimmy Graham.
Kicker - Nick Lowery, Kansas City Chiefs: Known for his mustache and single-bar helmet look, Lowery was a points-scoring machine back in the 1980s ... at least as far as kickers go. No one converted on more field-goal attempts (225) in the decade, and only three kickers (Jim Breech, Pat Leahy, Chris Bahr) had more extra-point conversions than the veteran out of Dartmouth. Lowery, who retired after the 1996 season, finished his career with a 80.0 field-goal percentage in 18 years.
Defense - Chicago Bears: Remember the "Monsters of the Midway?" Well, Buddy Ryan and his "46" Bears defense were pretty darn impressive too. In the early to mid 1980s, this unit was one of the NFL's most dominant ... ever. Behind the likes of superstars such as Richard Dent, William "The Refrigerator" Perry, Mike Singletary and Wilber Marshall (to name a few), the Bears led the decade in total defense while also posting a ridiculous 431 sacks (1982-1989) during an impressive run.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!