Fantasy Football Playoffs are either here, or right on the cusp, depending on your league structure. Players you will not expect will ruin your day, or win you glory. Some of them might go on to bigger and better things in real-life (Jamaal Charles in 2009, Jordy Nelson in 2011) after surges in December. Others will be celebrated for their brief moments in the sun of the fantasy football playoff season.
These are their stories.
To make this list, a player had to be among the league leaders in scoring at their position over weeks 14-16, and never have another season where they finished in the top 12 in fantasy scoring at QB or TE, or the top 24 at RB or WR. Also, the list is limited to players since 1998, when I first began playing fantasy football.
#12 NATE BURLESON, JERRY PORTER, AND MICHAEL CLAYTON, 2004
2004 has to go down as one of the weirdest years, particularly with how it closed. The leading scorer at receiver will get his own section (see below), but these three all merit inclusion for different reasons.
Michael Clayton had 1193 receiving yards as a first round pick rookie for Tampa in 2004. He would never again have over 500 yards. He had been putting up numbers all year and continued in December.
Jerry Porter had been the young emerging star behind Jerry Rice and Tim Brown on the 2002 Raiders. He largely faltered relative to expectations, except for one glorious game. Porter had 148 yards and 3 touchdowns against Tennessee, in week 15.
Nate Burleson was the receiver opposite Randy Moss in Minnesota. He had a couple of big games with Moss out earlier in the year, and then in weeks 15 and 16, had 244 yards and 3 touchdowns. Burleson played 11 seasons in the NFL but never again approached 1,000 yards.
#11 RAY LUCAS, 1999
Ray Lucas, an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers, was pressed into action in 1999 after Vinny Testaverde suffered a season-ending injury, and then Rick Mirer stunk. In his four starts, he was a “game manager” who threw for less than 200 yards each week and averaged less than 26 pass attempts, and 2 total touchdowns. From weeks 13 to 16, he threw 11 touchdown passes, and was the 5th highest scoring QB during the playoffs.
#10 LADELL BETTS, 2006
Ladell Betts was another player who had a long career as a backup running back, rarely featuring in the limelight but always providing quality production. In 2006, Clinton Portis got hurt mid-season. Betts rolled off four straight games from weeks 13 to 16 of over 150 yards from scrimmage.
#9 ANTHONY GONZALEZ, 2007
Gonzalez was the first round pick that year. He wasn’t doing a whole lot (that was a year that Marvin Harrison played only 5 games), and had zero TDs into December. Then, he had 134 yards and 2 TDs in week 14, and followed it up with 86 yards and a TD the next week.
Gonzalez battled knee injuries and played in only 11 games after 2008.
#8 NICK FOLES, 2013
I think we can put Nick Foles on this list. How likely is it that he ever has a top 12 QB season again? Foles took over for Mike Vick in 2013, and put up a ridiculous 27 TD to 2 INT season. In week 15, he had 428 yards passing, threw 3 TDs, and also rushed for 41 yards, winning many a semifinal matchup.
#7 AARON STECKER, 2007
Aaron Stecker was the opposite story of the young guys that never again captured glory. He had been around as a backup running back forever, and at age 32 had his moment. Deuce McAllister had suffered another injury following up his comeback campaign the year before, and Reggie Bush also got hurt. Sticker had a 100 yard rushing game in week 14, had over 140 yards from scrimmage and 2 TDs the next week, and scored twice more in week 16. He finished with the 3rd most RB points during that span.
When I searched YouTube, I found this. Seems like an appropriate video for this post.
#6 KEVAN BARLOW, 2003
Garrison Hearst suffered a season-ending injury during week 13, and Kevan Barlow became the hot young back who finally got his opportunity. He did not disappoint (well, until everyone drafted him in the first round the next year). He had over 500 yards and 5 TDs over a three-week span.
#5 DOMINIC RHODES, 2001
Edgerrin James blew out his knee in the sixth game, suddenly putting undrafted rookie Dominic Rhodes in as the starter in Indianapolis. The Colts had lost five straight going into week 14, but at Atlanta, Rhodes had the game of his life: 177 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He would average 100 yards and score a TD in each of the next two weeks also.
#4 JEROME HARRISON, 2009
This was Jamal Lewis’ final season. He suffered a season-ending injury, and the Browns struggled to find any running game. Then, inexplicably in week 15, Jerome Harrison began one of the most ridiculous RB stretches. Brady Quinn passed for only 66 yards and two interceptions, yet the Browns beat the Chiefs 41-34. Harrison rushed for 286 yards and 3 touchdowns. He would follow that game up with 148 yards and a touchdown the next week, and again hit 100 and a TD in the finale.
He was traded to the Eagles four games into the season. His career sadly ended after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Here’s his story:
#3 ANTONIO BRYANT, 2008
Antonio Bryant was always talented, but a head case. He got traded out of Dallas in a swap with Cleveland after run-ins with Bill Parcells. He signed as a free agent with the 49ers, but lasted one season before he was released. He missed the entire 2007 season because of a positive drug test. He then went to Tampa Bay.
He had put up okay numbers for the season heading into week 14. Then on Monday Night against Carolina, he had 200 yards and 2 touchdowns. The second came on the catch of the year on a one-handed twisting attempt. He would follow it up with two more 100 yard games, scoring in each, and had the most receiving fantasy points in the 2008 playoffs.
#2 DREW BENNETT AND #2 BILLY VOLEK, 2004
Drew Bennett and Billy Volek have to be the unlikeliest super-duo in NFL history.
Drew Bennett was coming off a game where he had 3 touchdowns, on 3 catches, for 124 yards the previous week. In week 14, on Monday Night against Kansas City (so keep in mind that there were people who had him in the lineup that were staring at a loss), he went for 12 catches, 233 yards, and 3 TDs. You haven’t lived until you’ve been eliminated by a Drew Bennett 233 yards, 3 TD game. I’m alive.
Billy Volek had come on for an injured Steve McNair, and in two straight weeks, had 400 yards and 4 TD passes. Do you know how many people have done that in consecutive weeks in NFL history? Two. Dan Marino in his record-setting 1984 season, and Billy Freaking Volek.
Volek threw 9 career touchdown passes in all his other years in the NFL combined.
#1 PATRICK JEFFERS, 1999
Patrick Jeffers: Fantasy Football Playoff Legend.
From Weeks 13 to 17 in 1999, catching passes from Steve Beuerlein with the Panthers, here were Patrick Jeffers’ numbers: 35 receptions, 717 yards, 8 TDs.
For the rest of his NFL career, here were Patrick Jeffers’ numbers: 63 receptions, 846 yards, 6 TDs.
Jeffers would blow out his knee the next year in the preseason and never make it back. But for one brief moment in time, he put up video game numbers that have not been matched over that stretch by many receivers, even the very best in the game.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]