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Greatest Fantasy Football WR Seasons of All-Time: Where Does Cooper Kupp Rank?

Cooper Kupp - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, Draft Targets

The NFL playoffs are exiting the Conference Championship rounds and preparing for the Super Bowl as I wrap up my look back at some of the best fantasy football seasons of all-time, position by position.

While it's mainly an exercise for amusement, I wanted to see just how spoiled we've been of late or how much we've forgotten the greatness of the past.

We started with the quarterback position, then discussed the best running back seasons ever, and then discussed the greatest tight end seasons, so now it's time to finish up with wide receivers.

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Best Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Seasons of All-Time

I used Pro Football References fantasy stats, which go back as far as 1978, and collected the best half-point PPR seasons (listed under FanDuel scoring on the site). Below is the top 20 leaderboard sorted by points per game. I believe this is a fair way to adjust for the current longer season as well as giving proper credit to situations like Jerry Rice, who was having an elite year in 1987 when there was a strike.

I've broken down some of the best seasons below for a larger context, and you'll also see VBD mentioned, which was popularized by Joe Bryant in the 90s and is the player's fantasy points minus the fantasy points of the baseline player at that position. It's used to highlight just how much better a player was than their peers, so think of it like Wins over Replacement.

#11. Calvin Johnson (2011)

Stats: 1,681 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns on 96 catches and 158 targets

Ah, Megatron. What could have been?

Everything about Calvin Johnson's career is part myth, even down to the rumor about him forgetting his shoes at the Combine and having to use somebody else's.  He just seemed capable of doing anything he wanted on the football field but was saddled with quarterbacks like Dan Orlovsky, Jon Kitna, Shaun Hill, and Drew Stanton before Matthew Stafford came to the rescue in 2011.

That season, Johnson put up what is the 8th-best season of all time by VBD. In 2012, Johnson had 1,964 yards on 122 catches but only had five touchdowns, which is why that season didn't even crack the top 25 of all-time. Still, once Stafford came to Detroit, Johnson only recorded fewer than 1,200 receiving yards once and it was a season in which he only played 13 games. He certainly could have given us a few more high-end years even though he decided to retire at age 30.


#10. Marvin Harrison (2002)

Stats: 1,722 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on 143 catches and 205 targets

Harrison is another receiver who really benefitted from a change in quarterback. He was a fine wideout in his first two years in the NFL but surged forward in 1999 with Peyton Manning under center (Harrison only played 12 games in Peyton's rookie year).

By 2002, Harrison had already led the NFL in receiving yards and receptions in separate seasons, but he combined the two for his electric 2002 year. In fact, he had 31 more catches than the next closest player, Hines Ward, and almost 400 more receiving yards than the player behind him, Randy Moss. Yet, the Colts finished 10-6 that year and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Jets, 41-0.

His 2022 season didn't rank higher because he only had 11 touchdowns. In fact, Manning only threw for 27 touchdowns that year, and the Colts were just 16th in the NFL in scoring rate, likely costing Harrison a few places on this leaderboard.

#9. Isaac Bruce (1995)

Stats: 1,781 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns on 119 catches and 199 targets

Despite being part of the Greatest Show on Turf, Bruce's best season actually came before that era. Back in 1995, their first year in St. Louis, the Rams were quarterbacked by Chris Miller and led by Bruce and an aging Jerome Bettis. They finished just 7-9 and nobody apart from Bruce had more than 450 receiving yards. It was a bit of a one-man team.

However, despite Bruce's impressive stat line, it's wild that he didn't actually lead the league in any of those categories. Herman Moore led the league with 123 catches, Jerry Rice posted 1,848 yards, and both Cris Carter and Carl Pickens hauled in 17 touchdowns. Bruce would remain a talented receiver for the Rams but enter into more of a tandem with Torry Holt for the remaining part of his career before finishing with a few forgettable years on the 49ers.


#6. Antonio Brown (2014)

Also has the #8 all-time season (2015)

Stats: 1,698 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns on 129 catches and 181 targets

Before all of the off-field antics became all anybody could talk about, Antonio Brown was a pretty damn good football player. Despite playing behind Mike Wallace and Hines Ward, Brown showed what he could do in his second season, totaling 1,108 yards on 69 catches.

However, his true breakout came in 2013 when the wide receiver room was turned over to him and Emmanuel Sanders. Brown had 1,499 yards and eight touchdowns that year and kicked off a six-year stretch of utter dominance where he averaged 1,524 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns per season. In 2014, he led the NFL in both receiving yards and catches and solidified himself as one of the most dominant fantasy receivers in the game. Until everything went wrong.


#5. Randy Moss (2007)

Also has the #7 all-time season (2003)

Stats: 1,493 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns on 98 catches and 160 targets

It's surprising that Moss' 2007 season doesn't rank higher since he led the NFL with an absurd 23 receiving touchdowns, but that just goes to show you how incredible some of these other seasons were. Plus, Moss is hampered in half-PPR scoring by being a big play threat who didn't accumulate the number of catches that the guys ahead of him.

Still, this is the 3rd best season of all time by VBD and is made all the more impressive since many people thought Moss was done. He was coming off of a three-year stretch (one year in Minnesota and two in Oakland) where he averaged 775 receiving yards and eight touchdowns per year. Then he came to New England as a 30-year-old and exploded with Tom Brady since there was no Rob Gronkowski to compete for targets with.

The Patriots had the number one scoring offense in the league, and Moss was 6th in the NFL in targets and 2nd in receiving yards. He had two more solid but unspectacular years with New England before retiring in 2011 and then coming back for an underwhelming encore with the 49ers in 2012.


#4. Davante Adams (2020)

Stats: 1,374 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns on 115 catches and 149 targets

We finally have an entrant from a current receiver, and it's not shocking that it's Adams, who many consider to be the best receiver in the league. After struggling to stay healthy and breakthrough in a crowded Packers receiving room, Adams finally emerged as a bonafide stud in 2018, which was actually his fifth year in the league. He posted 1,386 yards and 13 touchdowns but then followed that up by only being able to play 12 games in 2019.

Then, in 2020, Adams came back with a vengeance, leading the league in receiving touchdowns despite playing only 14 games. That's where I know some people will argue this since Adams' season is just 15th all-time in total points and 19th in VBD. However, Adams missed Weeks 3 and 4 and was dominant when he was on the field, including 299 yards and three touchdowns in what would have been the fantasy playoffs. I believe his on-field excellence is deserving of recognition despite the two missed weeks.


#3. Cooper Kupp (2021)

Stats: 1,947 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns on 145 catches and 191 targets

This is the year everybody knew would be on this list because of our recency bias. Just last year we saw Kupp lead the league in catches, yards, and receiving touchdowns. However, it was just the 4th best season of all time by VBD, which is, in part, because Kupp had an extra week of games to put up these stats.

Like many of the receivers on this list, Kupp took his game to a new level with the arrival of a new quarterback. For his first four years in the league, Kupp was a solid but unspectacular fantasy wide receiver outside of a strong 2019 season. Yet, the arrival of Matthew Stafford took things to a new level, and Kupp exploded not just over the middle of the field but in the red zone as well.

Unfortunately, Kupp had surgery on his ankle in December of this year and will now look to rebound as a 30-year-old in 2023 with question marks surrounding his entire team and coaching staff. Given that suddenness and route running are so crucial to his success, it's fair to wonder if discussions of Kupp's career will really center around that one magical season.


#1. Jerry Rice (1987)

Also has the #2 all-time season (1995)

Stats: 1,078 receiving yards, 22 touchdowns on 65 catches

Any way you want to look at it, Rice had the best fantasy football season of all time. You can consider 1987 the best season since it is the number one season by VBD. Rice put up 1,078 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns in just 12 games because of the NFL players' strike in the middle of the season. The league canceled Week 3 and then played Weeks 4-6 with replacement players before an agreement was reached.

Considering the missed games were out of Rice's control, I don't think it's right to penalize him for it.

However, if you wanted to then you can turn to Rice's 1995 year, which is the number two season of all time by points per game and VBD. In 1995, Rice also put up 1,848 yards and 15 touchdowns on 122 catches and 176 targets. So any way you slice it, the top spot of all time belongs to Jerry. In fact, Rice has five of the top 10 seasons ever by a receiver according to VBD, which is just insane. He truly was the best to ever do it.

The only other current receivers to crack the top 25 were Tyreek Hill (#15), Deebo Samuel (#18), Michael Thomas (#19), and Justin Jefferson (#22 and #25). So despite the narrative that it's a passing league, we're not seeing the same top-end results. Perhaps teams are spreading the love a little more, which prevents the one receiver from dominating in the way they did in the past. Or perhaps we're just waiting on the right receiver to come along.

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