Decades month concludes this week at the NFL Network and NFL Digital Media, as we've looked back at the history of this country's passion and some of the best players and moments on the gridiron. Following our examination of the top fantasy stars of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, it's time to move forward to a time when fantasy football started to make its ascent into the mainstream of sports ... the 2000s.
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 this period.
Quarterback - Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts: Manning has been a fantasy football superstar for most of his NFL career. During the 2000s, he led all quarterbacks in passing yards (42,254) and touchdown passes (314) while never missing a single game. His best statistical campaign of the decade was 2004, when he threw for an impressive 4,557 yards and what was then an NFL record 49 touchdown passes. Of course, that wasn't Manning's best fantasy football season ... that came in 2013, when he blew up for 5,477 passing yards and set up a new NFL record with 55 touchdown passes. So, the lone 2013 quarterback who was better than Manning circa 2004 was, well, Manning.
Running back - LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers: It can be argued that Tomlinson was the best fantasy running back of all time. At worst, he's second behind Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. The TCU product led all runners in rushing yards (12,490), scrimmage yards (16,445), rushing touchdowns (138) and scrimmage touchdowns (153) during the 2000s, and was the annual No. 1 overall pick in all fantasy drafts. He also recorded the best fantasy season ever, as Tomlinson went off for over 2,300 scrimmage yards with 31 total touchdowns (plus two touchdown passes) in 2006. He finished with almost 430 fantasy points that season ... or 100-plus more than Jamaal Charles in 2013.
Running back - Edgerrin James, Indianapolis Colts/Arizona Cardinals/Seattle Seahawks: One of the best fantasy runners of his era, James made an immediate and long-term impact in the stat sheets. He was second in both rushing (10,693) and scrimmage yards (13,471) during the decade, while also finishing fifth in rushing (67) and scrimmage touchdowns (74). Edge recorded his best fantasy campaign in 2000, his second NFL season, when he recorded over 2,300 scrimmage yards, 18 total touchdowns and a solid 338.3 fantasy points. That level of production would have been good enough for James to finish first in points at his position last year, more than 30 points ahead of Charles.
Wide receiver - Randy Moss, Minnesota Vikings/Oakland Raiders/New England Patriots: Moss was one of the more controversial but productive wide receivers in both the NFL and fantasy football during his impressive career. He ranked second in receiving yards (11,739) and first in touchdown catches (120) among wideouts for the decade, and he did it despite producing two mediocre seasons with the Oakland Raiders. His best fantasy campaign came in 2007 as a member of the Patriots, when he put up 1,493 yards, an NFL-record 23 touchdown catches and 287.3 points while paired with star quarterback Tom Brady. That would have been 60 more points than Josh Gordon scored last season.
Wide receiver - Terrell Owens, San Francisco 49ers/Philadelphia Eagles/Dallas Cowboys/Buffalo Bills: Like Moss, Owens was both controversial and productive during his NFL tenure. He was third in receiving yards (11,644) and second in touchdown catches (114) among receivers, and his numbers could have been better had he not missed half of the 2005 season. T.O. put up eight 1,000-yard campaigns in the 2000s, but his best fantasy numbers came in 2001 as a member of the 49ers. The athletic veteran went off for 1,412 yards, 16 touchdown catches and 237.2 fantasy points, which would have also bested Gordon's point total from a year ago. Owens' final NFL season came in 2010.
Tight end - Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City Chiefs/Atlanta Falcons: One of the best tight ends ever to grace the gridiron, Gonzalez was a stat-sheet stuffer during his NFL career. He was the top player at his position in the 2000s, finishing first in both receiving yards (9,969) and touchdown catches (67). Amazingly, Gonzalez had 3,746 more yards in the decade than the second-best tight end, Antonio Gates. His best fantasy campaign came in 2000, when he went for 1,203 yards and nine touchdowns as a member of the Chiefs. The 174.3 fantasy points he scored would have been good enough to finish second among tight ends last season, which was 43 fewer points than Jimmy Graham.
Kicker - David Akers, Philadelphia Eagles: The 2000s had some of the best kickers in fantasy football, but no one was better than Akers for the duration of the decade. He ranked second behind Matt Stover in field-goal conversions (259) at a 82.7 percent clip, and was second to Ryan Longwell in extra points (392). His most productive fantasy campaign came in 2008, when Akers hit 33 field goals and 45 extra points. He was a member of the Detroit Lions last season.
Defense - Baltimore Ravens: One of the most dominant defenses in NFL history, the Ravens fielded a number of superstars coupled with some hard-nosed, blue collar athletes on what was a ferocious line. For the decade, Baltimore was second in total defense, fifth in sacks, and first in both interceptions and takeaways. The best fantasy campaign this unit produced came in 2006, when the Ravens recorded 60 sacks, 28 picks, six touchdowns and 253 fantasy points.