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Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Top 10 fantasy performances since 2000

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

Fantasy football is a numbers game, through and through.

Sure, you might dispute the NFL's being termed that -- "a numbers game" -- but in the realm of fantasy, we're all about the statistics. Big plays, big games, records, whatever, we eat them up. Here's one: With his 24-for-26 performance in Week 2, Kurt Warner set an NFL record for completion percentage in a game (92.3).

Here's another: Chris Johnson is the first player in NFL history to record a 90-plus-yard rushing touchdown (91 yards), 50-plus-yard rushing touchdown (57) and 60-plus-yard receiving touchdown (69) in a game, ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky reports. Johnson also paced all fantasy players with 45 points (according to ESPN standard scoring) in Week 2.

And that got us to thinking: Where does Johnson's performance rank all time? I reported in my Instant Replay column Sunday that Johnson's 45 fantasy points ranked among the top 20 single games by any skill player since 1970. (Specifically, he's tied for 16th.) But with a bit more space to expound on the specifics, I also can tell you that Johnson's performance was matched or exceeded by only nine players in the past 10 seasons.

Looking at that list of names, the reactions should range anywhere from "fantasy stud" to "Wow, he did that?!" Let's take a stroll down Memory Lane, shall we? (You might have heard of it -- it's that street intersecting Cliché Way.)

Cliton Portis
Clinton Portis pulled off the rare feat of a having a huge fantasy game during a contest with real playoff implications.

1. Clinton Portis, 2003 Week 14, 54 fantasy points: This one actually meant about as much to his Denver Broncos as it did to his fantasy owners; without this win versus the eventual division-winning Kansas City Chiefs, the Broncos probably wouldn't have reached the playoffs in 2003. It was his fifth 100-yard rushing effort in a streak of six to conclude the season, and in the process, he upstaged an even bigger (at the time) fantasy stud, the Chiefs' Priest Holmes (44 rushing yards, two touchdowns).

2. Shaun Alexander, 2002 Week 4, 52: Ah, a Sunday night football classic. Surely you remember this one? In only the second game at Qwest Field (then Seahawks Stadium), Alexander set an NFL record with five touchdowns in the game's first half, establishing his reputation as a premier prime-time performer. He played 14 night games in his career, totaling 13 touchdowns.

3. Mike Anderson, 2000 Week 14, 49: Huh? Who? You might remember this name as another product of the Mike Shanahan running back juggernaut; each season, it seemed like the theme was "new back, same stats." Anderson snuck in there with one monster season sandwiched between the best from Terrell Davis and the aforementioned Portis, and on this day, he was a record-setter -- he set a rookie rushing record with 251 yards versus the New Orleans Saints.

4. (tie) Fred Taylor, 2000 Week 12, 48: Boy, he was lucky to manage that many fantasy points all last season. Still, flash back nearly a decade, before Taylor had truly earned the label "injury-prone player," and he was a pretty darned productive running back. On this date, he carved up the Pittsburgh Steelers' run defense -- as you know, historically one of the game's best almost every season -- for 234 yards, the most that franchise has ever allowed to a single player in a single game.

4. (tie) Priest Holmes, 2002 Week 12, 48: Holmes went for more than 100 yards both rushing (197) and receiving (110), making him one of only eight players in the past 20 years to do that. Sadly, Holmes' Chiefs lost 39-32 to the Seattle Seahawks as Matt Hasselbeck starred for the Seahawks (362 passing yards, three touchdowns).

6. (tie) Jimmy Smith, 2000 Week 2, 47: He caught 15 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns as his Jacksonville Jaguars raced to a 17-0 first-quarter lead over the Baltimore Ravens … a lead the Jaguars would promptly blow in the second half. It's the most receiving yards for any player in a game since 1989, and what's most amazing about the feat is that the Ravens in that season allowed the fewest points of any NFL team (165) en route to a Super Bowl championship.

Marshall Faulk
Marshall Faulk definitely had a nose for the end zone early in the decade.

6. (tie) Marshall Faulk, 2002 Week 7, 47: So many Seahawks games from 2002 on this list … this, Alexander's and Holmes' entries all involved the team from Seattle, and this was the second in which the damage was done to the Seahawks' bottom-ranked run defense. Faulk beat up on the Hawks for 235 total yards and four scores in this one, serving as a fitting preview for the team that a week later would allow Emmitt Smith to break the all-time NFL rushing record.

8. Adrian Peterson (the Viking), 2007 Week 9, 46: You might remember this one, and not simply because it occurred two years ago. No, "ADP's" big performance from his rookie season might linger in your brain because on this date versus the San Diego Chargers, he set the NFL's single-game rushing record with 296 yards. He stole the headlines from fellow record-setter and Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who returned a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown, the longest play in NFL history, as time expired at the half. From that point forward, Peterson scampered for 253 yards and two of his three scores.

9. (tie) LaDainian Tomlinson, 2002 Week 13, 45: Hey, he had to be on this list somewhere, right? Overtime helped Tomlinson pad his stats in a division game versus the Denver Broncos, but to be fair, he did the bulk of his damage with three touchdowns in an 11-minute span in the second quarter. Most impressive about "LT2's" outing: He had totaled only 262 yards in his first three career games against the Broncos, but in this meeting alone, he had 271.

9. (tie) Johnson: And here's where Johnson checks in. Not bad, eh?

Since you might be curious about some of the older standout outings in fantasy football (and NFL) history, the chart below highlights the 28 players since 1960 who have amassed at least as many as Johnson's 45 fantasy points in a game (ESPN standard scoring). He's in some pretty exclusive company.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is an FSWA award-winning fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.