Posted by Chase Stuart on December 21, 2006
Is LaDainian Tomlinson having the greatest season ever, and what does that have to do with John Brockington?
There's a whole lot to say about LaDainian Tomlinson. Readers of this blog probably know he set the single season scoring record this past weekend, even if Paul Hornung thinks there should be an asterisk. And everyone knows that Tomlinson set the single season touchdown record, too. So just how good of a season is he having?
Let's start by looking at pure dominance. Over a nine-game stretch last year, Larry Johnson scored an incredible 264 fantasy points. He rushed for 1,351 yards and 16 touchdowns, and gained another 276 yards and a score through the air. When it was over, I thought that might have been the greatest stretch in fantasy football history. Johnson averaged 29.3 FP/G, an absolutely unheard of number.
Marshall Faulk set the record for fantasy points in a season by a non-QB, with 374.9 in 2000. Faulk did that in just fourteen games, for an astounding 26.8 FP/G. Priest Holmes in 2002 averaged 26.6 (while also only playing fourteen games), but in the last thirty years only Holmes (2002, 2003, 2004) and Faulk (2000, 2001) averaged even 23 fantasy points per game. Emmitt Smith came closest, averaging 22.8 FP/G in 1995, with Shaun Alexander's 2005 season and Terrell Davis' 1998 season right behind him.
As we all know, then LaDainian Tomlinson happened. His season started innocently enough, with only one 100-yard rushing game and two scoreless games in the season's first month. But after eight straight 100-yard games and 28 more TDs, Johnson's great 2005 has been left in the dust.
Through fourteen games, Tomlinson has scored 406.1 fantasy points this year. That's an average of 29 FP/G, ever so slightly behind Johnson's great run in 2006. But let's compare apples to apples; LJ averaged 29.3 FP/G over nine games. Over his last ten games, LT is averaging 34.34 FP/G. That's the greatest stretch in the modern fantasy football era.
Tomlinson not only broke the single-season FP mark for non-QBs, he smashed it. But does that mean this is the best season in the history of fantasy football? To figure that question out, you need to know a bit more about Value Based Drafting ("VBD"). In short, we need to compare Tomlinson to his peers (other 2006 RBs), so we can compare him across eras and across positions.
LT's 406 points give him a VBD value of 266; simply, this means he's scored 266 fantasy points more than the 24th best running back, Corey Dillon. He's also scored 126 more points than the 2nd best running back, Larry Johnson. Obviously, that's really good. But is it the best of all time?
In that 2000 season, Marshall Faulk had a VBD value of 216, and in 2002 Priest Holmes' VBD number was 220. Those numbers actually understate their true values, since both only played 14 games while the rest of the league played sixteen. Terrell Davis (233 VBD, 1998) and Priest Holmes (231, 2003) earned the highest VBD values of any player at any position over the last thirty years.
Now, of course, LT has passed both of them. And he's likely to add to his total, and maybe even reach a mind-boggling 300 VBD points. So why are we discussing this now, instead of in a few weeks?
Because while TD's 233 points of value was the most in the last 30 years, it wasn't the most of all-time. For many years, it's been undisputed that O.J. Simpson had the greatest single season in fantasy football history. Many of us know that Simpson ran for 2,000 yards in 1973, becoming the first player to ever do so. What many don't know, was that his 1975 season was one of the greatest of all time. Simpson averaged 160 combined yards per game, and reached paydirt 23 times in a fourteen game season.
Simpson scored 362 fantasy points in 1975, an unheard of number for that era. It was the record for non-QBs until 1995, when Emmitt Smith scored 365 points. Last year, Shaun Alexander's 364 points knocked The Juice to sixth all-time. But what's most impressive is how Simpson distanced himself from his peers.
While Larry Johnson's streak last year was good, I really doubted that anyone would ever challenge Simpson's 247 VBD points in a fourteen game season. Simpson had one of the best seasons of all time, and the 24th ranked RB that season -- John Brockington -- totaled 676 yards and eight TDs.
But once again, LT continues to amaze. Simpson's VBD pro-rated for a 16 game season is 282 points, which Tomlinson seems likely to break. So while most of us will remember Tomlinson's 2006 season for how he set the single-season touchdown record, I'll remember it for what I consider to be a much more incredible achievement.
You might think the 24th best RB is an arbitrary baseline, so here is how many more points that LT (and O.J.) scored than the X ranked RB did that season. As you can tell, LT is better by any measure, save comparing the players to the fifth best fantasy RB that year.
LT O.J. Diff
2 125.7 54.2 71.5
3 154.5 98.6 55.9
4 164.5 150.3 14.2
5 167.9 171.5 -3.6
6 173.2 171.7 1.5
7 215.5 173.8 41.7
8 215.9 176.9 39.0
9 219.8 180.1 39.7
10 232.4 192.7 39.7
11 235.2 206.6 28.6
12 235.9 211.8 24.1
13 237.2 211.9 25.3
14 237.6 222.4 15.2
15 242.5 229.8 12.7
16 244.0 230.2 13.8
17 244.1 231.1 13.0
18 251.3 234.4 16.9
19 255.9 238.2 17.7
20 258.7 240.4 18.3
21 259.2 243.7 15.5
22 262.4 243.8 18.6
23 265.0 245.5 19.5
24 265.8 246.7 19.1
25 267.0 249.3 17.7
26 273.0 251.2 21.8
27 275.3 251.7 23.6
28 292.6 252.0 40.6
29 293.2 252.3 40.9
30 294.8 256.3 38.5
As I've stated a few times, I've long held O.J.'s record in high regard. But Tomlinson's going to smash another record, too. The most the number one RB has ever topped the number two RB by was 100 points, when Emmitt Smith lapped Curtis Martin and the rest of the NFL. Walter Payton (88.2, 1977), Jim Brown (76.7, 1963, based on somewhat incomplete data), Leroy Kelly (76.2, 1968, same data concern), Marshall Faulk (63.8, 2001) and O.J. were the only players to ever even beat the number two RB by 60 fantasy points. And right now, Tomlinson's topping Johnson by more than double that.