The 2010 NFL season saw a pair of the greatest single-season performances in fantasy football history. Arian Foster finished with 330 points, which ranked him among the top-scoring running backs of all time. Michael Vick also had an enormous season, scoring 314 points in just 12 games. If you project the numbers he posted in the 11 games where he saw the majority of his team's snaps over a full 16 contests, Vick would have scored more fantasy points than any other player in a single season. Ever. Of course, the success of Foster and Vick has owners buzzing about their potential draft value in 2011. These players are certain locks to once again finish in the top five in points again, right?
Well, maybe not. Based on the past, players who have had what I like to call a "magical" season rarely duplicated it again the very next year. Want proof? I've researched the best single-season fantasy performances in the Super Bowl era at both the quarterback and running back positions, along with how those players fared the following year. As you'll see, the norm was not continued statistical success, at least not on the same previous level.
1. Tom Brady, Patriots (2007): Brady threw for a career-best 4,806 yards and broke Peyton Manning's record for touchdown passes in a single season with 50. Overall, he scored 398 fantasy points. In 2008, Brady scored just three fantasy points after suffering a torn ACL in the regular-season opener against the Chiefs. In his first full season back from his record-breaking performance (2009), Brady finished with 272 fantasy points (126 fewer than 2007).
2. Daunte Culpepper, Vikings (2004): One of the most versatile quarterbacks in the recent NFL era, Culpepper recorded a total of 41 touchdowns and finished with what was the fifth-most passing yards (4,717) ever. He scored three or more touchdowns in eight of his 16 starts and had a total of 375 fantasy points. Culpepper missed most of the following season due to injury, though, and finished with just 73 points. He never again made a major fantasy impact.
3. Steve Young, 49ers (1998): Young came out from behind the shadow of Joe Montana to become one of the league's most accurate and versatile quarterbacks. He would produce his best fantasy numbers in 1998, when he recorded 368 points on a career-best 4,170 passing yards, 454 rushing yards and a total of 42 touchdowns. Unfortunately, the lefty quarterback missed half of the following season due to concussion issues that ultimately forced him to retire. Young would score just 28 fantasy points in 1999.
4. Peyton Manning, Colts (2004): One of the elite quarterbacks in fantasy football, Manning led countless owners to a league championship in 2004 when he threw for 4,557 yards and what was an NFL-record 49 touchdown passes. He set another NFL record with at least four touchdown passes in five consecutive contests and finished with 362 points overall. Manning had a nice 2005 season, but he threw for 21 fewer touchdowns and scored 116 fewer fantasy points.
5. Dan Marino, Dolphins (1984): Maybe the most prolific quarterback to ever grace the gridiron, Marino produced one of the greatest fantasy seasons at his position with what is still an NFL-record 5,084 yards and 48 touchdown passes. Marino, who also completed a career-best 64.2 percent of his passes in that record-setting campaign, recorded 361 fantasy points. He wasn't as good in 1985, though, recording 18 fewer touchdowns and 120 fewer fantasy points.
6. Randall Cunningham, Eagles (1990): At a time when pocket passers such as Marino, Warren Moon and Joe Montana were the norm, Cunningham's rocket arm and skills as a runner revolutionized the position. Once known as the "Ultimate Weapon," Cunningham scored 357 fantasy points with 3,466 passing yards, 942 rushing yards and 35 total touchdowns. In 1991, though, he missed most of the season with a knee injury and finished with one fantasy point.
7. Aaron Rodgers, Packers (2009): The current king of fantasy football among quarterbacks, Rodgers threw for 4,434 yards, rushed for 304 yards, scored 35 touchdowns and posted 345 points in 2009. He was solid in 2010 but still experienced a slight decrease in statistical success, scoring 39 fewer points. Overall, though, there hasn't been a more reliable signal-caller -- he's finished in the top two in points at his position in each of the last three seasons.
8. Brett Favre, Packers (1995): A surefire Hall of Famer (we think he's now retired, right?), Favre was a top fantasy quarterback for much of his career. His best statistical season came in 1995, when he recorded 339 fantasy points on a career-best 4,413 passing yards and 41 total touchdowns. While he did have a solid 1996 season with a career-high 39 touchdowns, Favre also experienced a 514-yard decrease as a passer and a 27-point drop in fantasy points.
9. Kurt Warner, Rams (1999): Warner came out of nowhere to become one of the league's most feared quarterbacks in 1995. Replacing an injured Trent Green, he threw for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns in his first season as an NFL starter. But like many players in this column, Warner wasn't able to duplicate his monster totals the following year. In fact, he missed four games due to injury and experienced a 140-point drop in fantasy production.
10. Steve Beuerlein, Panthers (1999): How in the world did Montana, Y.A. Tittle and Daryle Lamonica not earn a spot ahead of Beuerlein? Well, none of those three quarterbacks ever had a single season like Beuerlein did in 1999. He threw for 4,436 yards, posted 38 total touchdowns and finished with 316 fantasy points. While he did throw for 3,730 yards in 2000, Beuerlein also tossed 17 fewer touchdown passes and scored 110 fewer fantasy points.
1. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers (2006): Tomlinson led the NFL with 1,815 rushing yards, added 508 yards as a receiver, scored an NFL-record 31 touchdowns and finished with 437 fantasy points in 2006. He also rushed for 100-plus yards 10 different times. He did have another nice season in 2007, but Tomlinson still scored 129 fewer fantasy points. This is the quintessential example of failing to duplicate the magical season.
2. Marshall Faulk, Rams (2000): Faulk had several very productive seasons during his Hall of Fame career, but his best overall numbers came in 2000. He recorded 375 fantasy points on his 1,359 rushing yards, 830 receiving yards and 26 total touchdowns. The top fantasy player of his time, Faulk is one of the few athletes to come close to replicating his best fantasy campaign -- he recorded 341 fantasy points in 2001, just 34 shy of what he compiled in 2000.
3. Priest Holmes, Chiefs (2002): Holmes exploded onto the scene with the Chiefs and overtook Faulk as the top overall player in fantasy football. He thrived in the offense of coach Dick Vermeil, recording 1,615 rushing yards, 672 receiving yards, 24 total touchdowns and 373 fantasy points in 2002. One of the few exceptions to this trend, Holmes actually scored 373 points again in 2003. He's the only player to accomplish that feat.
4. Emmitt Smith, Cowboys (1995): The all-time leader in career rushing yards, Smith was a fantasy star throughout the 1990s. His greatest statistical season was 1995, when he recorded 365 fantasy points on a career-best 1,773 rushing yards, 375 receiving yards and what was an NFL-record 25 touchdowns. But even Smith couldn't duplicate his best statistical year -- he finished 1996 with 569 fewer rushing yards, 10 fewer total touchdowns and 130 fewer points.
5. Shaun Alexander, Seahawks (2005): Alexander rushed for an NFL-best 1,880 yards and scored what was an NFL-record 28 total touchdowns in 2005, finishing with 364 fantasy points. He also rushed for 100-plus yards 11 different times. He became a victim of the Madden cover curse and the Curse of 370, as he later saw an enormous decline in statistics. In fact, Alexander recorded 228 fewer points in 2006 and quickly fell off the fantasy radar.
6. O.J. Simpson, Bills (1975): Had fantasy football been prominent in 1975, Simpson would have been a superstar. He recorded 1,817 rushing yards, 426 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns for a total of 362 fantasy points, and he did it in just 14 games. While he did have a solid 1976 season, the "Juice" still scored 132 fewer fantasy points. Simpson played one more season with the Bills before ending up in San Francisco, where his career ended with a thud.
7. Terrell Davis, Broncos (1998): While his career was short lived due to injuries, Davis did make some real noise in Denver. His best statistical season came in 1998, when he became the fourth running back ever to reach the 2,000-yard rushing mark. He also scored 23 total touchdowns and 361 fantasy points. Davis' knee problems cost him most of 1999, though, as he posted a meager 36 fantasy points -- that was 325 fewer than he had in 1998.
8. Chris Johnson, Titans (2009): Johnson had a monster second season at the NFL level, rushing for 2,006 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also broke Faulk's record for scrimmage yards in a season (2,509) and finished with 347 fantasy points. The consensus top pick in 2010 drafts, CJ2K would have a nice statistical year with 1,364 rushing yards with 12 total touchdowns. However, he still recorded 114 fewer fantasy points compared to his previous totals.
9. Ahman Green, Packers (2003): Green scored a solid 345 fantasy points on a career-best 1,883 rushing yards, 367 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns in 2003. However, he rushed for 720 fewer yards, scored 12 fewer touchdowns and posted 148 fewer fantasy points the next year. A solid contributor for fantasy owners during his salad days, Green had 1,000-plus rushing yards in five straight seasons before injuries derailed his playing career.
10. Eric Dickerson, Rams (1983): One of the most graceful runners in pro football history, Dickerson had his best statistical season as a rookie with 1,808 rushing yards and what would be career bests in receiving yards (404) and total touchdowns (20). While he did put up an NFL-record 2,105 rushing yards in his second NFL season, the Hall of Famer still finished with 35 fewer fantasy points. That was one of the better "sequel seasons" based on our research, though.
Now that we have all of the data in front of us, let's examine it.
Among quarterbacks, none of the players we've listed duplicated the statistical success of their "magical" season the following year. Four of them (Brady, Culpepper, Young, Cunningham) suffered significant injuries, and a fifth (Warner) missed one quarter of the following season due to an injury. Of the remaining five players, the average decline was 82.4 points. The greatest decline was 120 points (Marino), while the smallest was 27 points (Favre).
At the running back position, only one player (Holmes) was able to duplicate his career season one year later. Two runners (Alexander, Davis) suffered injuries, and the remaining seven backs saw an average decline of 103.1 points. The biggest drop was 132 points (Simpson), and the smallest was 34 points (Faulk). So if you believe in trends and learning from the past, it's obvious that neither Foster nor Vick have a great chance to mirror their 2010 form.