From Eli Manning's and Drew Brees's shootout to David Johnson's clutch performances in fantasy playoffs, Michael Beller presents the 12 best performances of the fantasy football season.
Randy Moss’s Thanksgiving Day game as a rookie in 1998. Billy Volek’s Week 14 in 2004. Jamaal Charles’s five-touchdown game, four of which came through the air, at the end of 2013. Some individual performances just stick with us years after they took place. When we look back in previous seasons we typically focus on season-long numbers, but those were made up of 14 or 15 or 16 games, the memories of which can fade over time.
Consider this, then, our attempt to capture the ephemera for posterity. SI.com presents to you the 12 best individual fantasy performances of the 2015 season.
Week 8: Drew Brees, Eli Manning trade touchdowns and set a record
Brees: 511 yards, seven TD, 47.5 points
Manning: 350 yards, six TD, 38 points
Back when the Giants and Saints met in New Orleans in Week 8, both teams had plenty of time to salvage what went on to became disappointing seasons. They’ll be watching the playoffs from home largely because of pass defense—the Saints were historically bad against the pass, allowing the most touchdowns through the air in a season, while the Giants surrendered the most passing yards in a season in NFL history. And both at their worst in Week 8, with Brees and Manning taking advantage.
Brees and Manning combined for 861 yards and 13 touchdowns in the Saints’ eventual 52–49 win. Individually, Brees had 511 yards and seven scores, while Manning had 350 yards and six touchdowns, which led to the highest-scoring game of the season and the most combined passing touchdowns in a game in NFL history. All told, Brees had 47.5 points in standard-scoring leagues, while Manning racked up 38 points.
Odell Beckham dominated the other end of all those Manning passes, catching eight balls for 130 yards and three scores. Brees spread the love a bit more, with Ben Watson and Marques Colston surpassing 100 yards with one score, while Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead both made two trips to the end zone. It was the single greatest fantasy bonanza of the season, and also the game that signaled to the fantasy community that it could exploit these defenses over the second half of the year.
Week 9: Antonio Brown just caught another pass against the Raiders
Brown: 17 receptions, 284 yards, 30.6 points
Brown’s remarkable Week 9 game wasn’t even one of the top-five scoring games by a wide receiver this year, based on fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues, but when you catch 17 passes for 284 yards, you’re making this list. This was the single most dominant performance of the season—Brown's 17 catches are tied for the sixth most in a game in NFL history, while his 284 yards have him ninth in the record books. It was also the most yards without a touchdown in a game ever.
The Raiders had no answer for Brown on this Sunday. He had three catches of at least 40 yards, with a long of 59. His 57-yard reception from Landry Jones, who replaced the injured Ben Roethlisberger late in the game, set up Chris Boswell’s game-winning field goal. Brown was the top fantasy receiver in the 2015 season, and this was his best game of the year.
Week 15: From Northern Iowa to future first-round fantasy pick
David Johnson: 187 yards, three TD, 42 receiving yards, 40.9 points
Johnson lurked beneath the surface for most of the season, finally breaking through after Chris Johnson’s season-ending leg injury. The rookie out of Northern Iowa delivered for his fantasy owners in his first two starts, totaling 191 rushing yards, 52 receiving yards and one touchdown, good for 15.15 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. That was merely an appetizer for the main course he delivered in the fantasy semifinals.
The Cardinals walked all over the Eagles in Week 15, cruising to a 40–17 win on the back of the Johnson, who ran for 187 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries, and also caught four passes for 42 yards. He piled up 40.9 points for his fantasy owners, essentially guaranteeing them a berth in the championship. Then, he came back the next week, totaling 127 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in Arizona’s win over Green Bay.
If you were a Johnson owner late in 2015, you likely raised your league’s fantasy championship trophy. That Week 15 game against the Eagles was the highest fantasy score by a running back this season.
Week 11: Thomas Rawls does his best Marshawn Lynch impression
Rawls: 209 yards, one TD, 46 receiving yards, 37.5 points
No back was more productive on a per-start basis than Rawls. He quickly made the Seahawks forget about Lynch, replacing the production the team would have expected out of its regular starter. In six games with Lynch completely or mostly out, Rawls ran for 712 yards and scored five touchdowns. Not including the game in which he suffered a season-ending broken ankle, Rawls averaged 18.13 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. His Week 11 performance against San Francisco, however, is the one that had his owners singing his praises most loudly.
Rawls had the most rushing yards in a single game in 2015 on this particular Sunday, rumbling for 209 yards on 30 carries and a touchdown in Seattle’s 29–13 win over San Francisco. He also caught three passes for 46 yards and another score—good for 37.5 points, which was the best game by a running back until David Johnson’s Week 15 dominance of the Eagles. The rookie out of Central Michigan will be on the fantasy radar during draft season next year, thanks largely to what he did in the second half of this season. This, of course, was his highlight game.
Weeks 15–16: You like that?! Kirk Cousins’s owners sure did
Cousins: 684 yards, eight TD, one rushing TD, 66.1 points
Some weeks are more important than others. Sure, if your players don’t show up in Week 1 through 13, Week 14 through 16 won’t matter to you all that much. The fact remains, however, that we remember more fondly the players who show up for us in the playoffs than the ones who carried us in the regular season. That’s why we must honor Cousins for what he gave his owners in the fantasy semifinals and championship.
Cousins was mostly steady this season, throwing at least one touchdown in every game. He only had two real standout performances, though, before the fantasy playoffs, and those were against a couple of terrible NFC South defenses in New Orleans and Tampa Bay. There was little reason to think Cousins would turn into a fantasy playoff MVP, but that’s exactly what happened.
In Week 15, he threw for 319 yards, 11.39 yards per attempt and four touchdowns, while adding a fifth score on the ground, in a win over the Bills. The following week, Cousins led Washington to the NFC East crown, racking up 365 yards, 7.94 YPA and four more scores in a 38–24 win in Philadelphia. Cousins had at least 30 points in both of those games, totaling 66.1 points over the final two weeks of the fantasy playoffs. Just like Johnson, if Cousins was in your lineup in Week 15 and 16, you’re likely your league’s champion.
Week 3: A.J. Green’s fourth quarter belongs to the ages
Green: 227 yards, two TD, 34.7 points
Green’s Week 3 game, in which he caught 10 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Ravens, wasn’t just the most productive day from a yardage standpoint by a receiver this year, but it was also the best game by a receiver in standard-scoring leagues. Green had 34.7 points for his owners, reaching a bigger number than any other receiver in a single week this season. What was even more stunning about the game was that he did nearly all the damage after halftime.
Green caught five passes for 73 yards before the teams headed into the locker room. He was having a solid day after three quarters, but had still yet to find the end zone. When the Bengals got the ball back with 6:37 left in the game, they trailed 17-14, and Green was still working on a touchdown-less day. He and Andy Dalton hooked up for an 80-yard score on the first play of the possession, with Green shaking a couple of would-be tacklers immediately after making the catch. Green then capped off the team’s next drive with a seven-yard score that proved to be the game winner. In the fourth quarter alone, Green had 22.1 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues. That’s the sort of day that you dream of out of your top wide receiver.
Week 3: Devonta Freeman locks onto Atlanta backfield
Freeman: 141 yards, three TD, 52 receiving yards, 37.3 points
Freeman was the breakout star at the running back position this season, taking the reins in the Atlanta backfield in Week 3 and refusing to relinquish control back to rookie Tevin Coleman. In what was one of the weakest ever seasons for running backs at large, Freeman led the way with 232 total points and 16.6 points per game—the lowest output by the No. 1 fantasy running back since Ray Rice’s 292.8 points in 2011. Still, Freeman had plenty of games worth savoring, most notably the game that showed he would be a force to be reckoned with in 2015.
Freeman got his first start of the season Week 3 when life was still great down in Atlanta. As Coleman nursed a rib injury, Freeman ran all over the Cowboys, netting 141 yards on the ground, 52 through the air and three touchdowns. That translates to 37.3 points in standard-scoring leagues, which was ultimately the third-best week by a running back this year. That kicked off a four-game run during which Freeman averaged 30.88 points per game. He would never, though, reach the heights of that first start.
Week 13: Allen Robinson puts an exclamation mark on a breakout season
Robinson: 153 yards, three TD, 33.3 points
Robinson was one of the true breakout players of the 2015 season, catching 75 catches for 1,292 yards and 14 touchdowns in 15 games. He was the only receiver to finish in the top 10 in both yards and yards per catch (17.2), and also happened to lead the league in receiving scores. Robinson finished the season as the No. 5 receiver in standard-scoring leagues, trailing only Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, and Brandon Marshall, and yet, he was 30th among receivers in average draft position. Next year, he’ll be long gone by time the 30th pick rolls around. That is, indeed, the mark of a breakout player.
The second-year receiver out of Penn State was one of the most consistent receivers all season. He had at least one touchdown or 80 yards in all but two games, and both of those came in the first three weeks of the year. He did, however, have a few monster days that jump out from his game log, none more so than his Week 13 torching of the Titans. The Jaguars actually lost this game 42–39, but it was no fault of Robinson’s. He had 10 catches for 153 yards and three touchdowns, notching 33.3 points for his fantasy owners. Robinson was mostly quiet in the first half of this game, hauling in just three passes for 61 yards in the first 30 minutes. He then found the end zone on Jacksonville’s first two possessions of the second half, and once more in the fourth quarter.
Week 13: Marcus Mariota does it all against the Jaguars
Mariota: 268 yards, 3 TD, 112 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD, 38.9 points
Mariota had a mostly steady rookie season, with a few standout games sprinkled within a solid, though not spectacular, year. He was one of two quarterbacks this season to have multiple games with at least four touchdowns and zero interceptions. The other was Tom Brady. Neither of those games, however, was his best, from a fantasy standpoint, of the season.
While Robinson was cutting up the Tennessee secondary in Week 13, Mariota was doing his best impression of Steve Young whenever the Titans took the field. For you younger readers, think 2012 Robert Griffin or ’10 Michael Vick. Through three quarters, Mariota was having a fine game, with 193 yards and two touchdowns, though it certainly wasn’t anything special.
But on the first play of the fourth quarter, Mariota hooked up with Dorial Green-Beckham for a 47-yard scoring strike. Then, on the third play of Tennessee’s next possession, Mariota broke contain and scampered for an 87-yard touchdown run, a single play worth nearly 15 points in standard fantasy formats. Mariota finished with 268 passing yards, three touchdowns through the air, 112 rushing yards and that 87-yard score, which was the longest rushing touchdown of the season. Add it all up, and Mariota gave his owners 38.9 fantasy points. It was the third-best fantasy score by a quarterback this season, trailing only Brees’s 511-yard, seven-touchdown game against the Giants in Week 8.
Week 15: The MVP’s MVPerformance
Cam Newton: 340 yards, 5 TD, 100 rushing yards, 43.6 points
With all due respect to Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Antonio Brown, Newton is going to be the 2015 NFL MVP. He checked every necessary box to win the award, leading his team to the best record in the NFL while racking up some of the best numbers at the game’s most important position.
He was also the fantasy MVP, especially when you take draft-day price into account. Newton, the No. 1 fantasy quarterback, scored 30 more points than Brady, the No. 2 quarterback. He was consistent, ranking as a top-12 quarterback in 11 of his 15 games. He also had the highest ceiling at the position, finishing in the top three six times. Newton saved his best game for Week 15, the fantasy semifinals.
Newton momentarily saved the Panthers’ quest for an undefeated season, leading the team to 14–0 with a 38–35 win over the Giants. The Panthers actually built a 35–7 lead in this game before surrendering 28 straight points. Newton then engineered a six-play, 49-yard drive in 1:46 to set up Graham Gano for the game-winning field goal. It was everything he did before that, however, that lifted his fantasy owners to the championship game. Newton threw for 340 yards and five touchdowns—his third five-touchdown game of the season—and added 100 yards on the ground, making him the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for five touchdowns and hit the century mark on the ground in the same game. In a season filled with signature performances for the eventual MVP, this was his true masterpiece.
Week 12–16: Who put Jerry Rice in Doug Baldwin’s body?
Baldwin: 29 receptions, 484 yards, 11 TD, 114.4 points
Before the final five weeks of the 2015 fantasy season, we were pretty sure we knew exactly who Baldwin was. He was well into his fifth season as a fantasy WR4/5, totaling 539 yards and three touchdowns in his first 10 games. It appeared a long shot he’d even set new career highs in yards (825) or touchdowns (five) let alone become a fantasy superstar. Who could have seen Baldwin turning into Jerry Rice right before our eyes.
Baldwin started off the best run of his career in Seattle’s 39–30 win over Pittsburgh, catching six passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns. The next week, in a win against the Vikings, he had five grabs for 92 yards and two scores. He became the first receiver since Drew Bennett in 2004 to have eight touchdowns over three games, after hauling in six passes for 82 yards and making three more trips to the end zone in a 35–6 drubbing of the Ravens. The next week against Cleveland he had just four catches for 45 yards, but two of those catches went for six points. Finally, in fantasy championship week, which he carried his owners to in the first place, he had eight receptions for 118 yards and one more touchdown.
Over that five-week stretch, Baldwin had 29 catches for 484 yards and 11 touchdowns, which comes out to a ridiculous 22.88 fantasy points per game. For comparison’s sake, during Jerry Rice’s 1987 season, in which he had 22 touchdowns in 12 games, he averaged 20.91 points per game. So yes, it is not a stretch to say that for five games, Baldwin morphed into the best receiver in NFL history.
Week 7: For one week, he was our hero
Lamar Miller: 175 yards, one TD, 61 rec yards, 35.6 points
There has never been a more frustrating, and yet rock-solid, RB1 than Miller this season. You might not know it if you talked to some of the owners who suffered through his bizarre usage, but Miller finished the fantasy season as the No. 6 running back in standard-scoring leagues. He did this despite having just one—yes, one—game with at least 20 carries. Whether it was Joe Philbin or Dan Campbell at the helm, Miami’s brain trust just didn’t want to commit to Miller, which was weird since he was the best player on the offense.
There was, however, a brief moment in the middle of the season, immediately after Philbin’s firing, when Miller’s owners could dare to dream big, when he put together one of the finest performances by a running back all year in Week 7.
Miami was one of the most disappointing teams this year, starting out 1–3 before firing Philbin. The team won its next two games, largely on Miller’s back. In the team’s first game post-Philbin, Miller got 19 carries, running for 113 yards and a touchdown in a win over the Titans. The next week against Houston is when things looked like they might be getting really exciting for Miller and his owners. He needed just 14 carries to get 175 yards and a touchdown in a 44–26 Miami victory. He also caught three passes for 61 yards and another score, giving him 35.6 fantasy points. It was the fourth-best day for a back this season, trailing only the games posted by David Johnson, Thomas Rawls and Devonta Freeman that we highlighted earlier. Miller would, of course, eventually suffer from the indefensible vagaries of the Miami coaching staff, but for one Sunday at least, he was a hero. Now please get him to a team that will actually use him next season.