Greatest Individual Seasons: By Position

BaseballJones

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It's hard to quantify linemen, so I'm gonna leave them out of it. But I want to talk about the greatest individual seasons players have had at each position. I think it should combine both statistical greatness and team success as well, if possible, but the team success probably comes as more of a tiebreaker if the regular season stuff is pretty even. So here are my candidates for offensive positions:

QB
- 2013 Peyton Manning: 68.3%, 5,477 yds, 9.3 ay/a, 55 td, 10 int, 115.1 rating - also went 13-3 and went on to play in the Super Bowl
- 1984 Dan Marino: 64.2%, 5,084 yds, 9.4 ay/a, 48 td, 17 int, 108.9 rating - at a time when such passing stats were UNHEARD of
- 2007 Tom Brady: 68.9%, 4,806 yds, 9.4 ay/a, 50 td, 8 int, 117.2 rating - also went 16-0 and went on to play in the Super Bowl
- 2011 Aaron Rodgers: 68.3%, 4,643 yds, 10.5 ay/a, 45 td, 6 int, 122.5 rating
- 2019 Lamar Jackson: 66.1%, 3,127 yds, 8.9 ay/a, 36 td, 6 int, 113.3 rating, 1,206 rush yds, 6.9 y/a, 7 td

The Jackson season is the iffy one because as great as his passing numbers were (and they WERE great), they're not as good as the other gaudy numbers of these other guys. Or as good as many other seasons by Mahomes, Brady, Brees, Manning, Favre, Warner, etc. But add in the 1,206 rush yards and he accounted for 4,333 yards and 43 touchdowns, which is incredible. But I'd totally respect the opinion that Lamar's 2019 season should be replaced by someone else's. I've just never seen that kind of passing and rushing combined by a QB before.


RB
- 2000 Marshall Faulk: 1,359 rush yds, 5.4 y/a, 18 td, 81 rec, 830 yds, 10.2 ypc, 8 td (2,189 total yards, 26 touchdowns)
- 2006 LaDainian Tomlinson: 1,815 rush yds, 5.2 y/a, 28 td, 56 rec, 508 yds, 9.1 ypc, 3 td (2,323 total yards, 31 touchdowns)
- 2019 Christian McCaffrey: 1,387 rush yds, 4.8 y/a, 15 td, 116 rec, 1,005 yds, 8.7 ypc, 4 td (2,392 total yards, 19 touchdowns)
- 1998 Terrell Davis: 2,008 rush yds, 5.1 y/a, 21 td, 25 rec, 217 yds, 8.7 ypc, 2 td (2,225 total yards, 23 touchdowns)
- 1958 Jim Brown: 1,527 rush yds, 5.9 y/a, 17 td, 16 rec, 138 yds, 8.6 ypc, 1 td (1,665 total yards, 18 touchdowns) - IN JUST A 12 GAME SEASON

Project Brown's numbers out over 16 games and it's: 2,036 rush yards, 23 rush TD, 184 receiving yards, 1 rec TD, 2,220 total yards, 24 touchdowns, and a crazy 5.9 yard per carry average against defenses that were designed to basically stop just him. But there's no denying what Tomlinson did in 2006. I mean....insane. There are so so many other great RB seasons, obviously. But these are my five nominees.


WR
- 2007 Randy Moss: 98 rec, 1,493 yds, 15.2 ypc, 23 touchdowns
- 1995 Jerry Rice: 122 rec, 1,848 yds, 15.1 ypc, 15 touchdowns
- 2019 Michael Thomas: 149 rec, 1,725 yds, 11.6 ypc, 9 touchdowns
- 2002 Marvin Harrison: 143 rec, 1,722 yds, 12.0 ypc, 11 touchdowns
- 2001 Terrell Owens: 93 rec, 1,412 yds, 15.2 ypc, 16 touchdowns

Again, TONS of amazing WR seasons to choose from. These are my five, though an argument could be made for many others. I think any list ought to have 2007 Moss and 1995 Rice on it, however. The other three, much more up for grabs because there's great arguments for so many - 2015 Antonio Brown, 2015 Julio Jones, for two examples right off the top of my head. I put Thomas on there because 149 receptions, I don't care how you slice it, is just unfathomable.


TE
- 2011 Rob Gronkowski: 90 rec, 1,327 yds, 14.7 ypc, 17 touchdowns
- 2020 Travis Kelce: 105 rec, 1,416 yds, 13.5 ypc, 11 touchdowns
- 2013 Jimmy Graham: 86 rec, 1,215 yds, 14.1 ypc, 16 touchdowns
- 1983 Todd Christensen: 92 rec, 1,247 yds, 13.6 ypc, 12 touchdowns
- 1961 Mike Ditka: 56 rec, 1,076 yds, 19.2 ypc, 12 touchdowns

Ditka gets in here because of his otherworldly yards-per-catch number, and the fact that his stats were insane at that time of the NFL. It's hard to judge these guys because a huge part of their job is blocking, so from what I can see on the field, Kelce and Graham get lower marks because they're not considered great blockers but more like glorified WRs. Still, their production was incredible.


So these are my nominees. Out of these nominees, my winners are:

QB - 2013 Peyton Manning (soooo tempted to put 2007 Brady in here)
RB - 2006 LaDainian Tomlinson
WR - 2007 Randy Moss
TE - 2011 Rob Gronkowski

Who you got?
 

Was (Not Wasdin)

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- 2006 LaDainian Tomlinson: 1,815 rush yds, 5.2 y/a, 28 td, 56 rec, 508 yds, 9.1 ypc, 3 td (2,323 total yards, 31 touchdowns)
I've always thought this was better than his 2,000 yard season

1973, in a 14 game season: OJ Simpson: 1,817 rushing yards, 5.5 y/a, 16 tds, 28 rec, 15.2 ypc, 7 tds, 2,243 total yards, 23 touchdowns-projects to 2,563 total yards, 26 total tds for 16 games
 

tims4wins

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I think I disagree with Manning in 2013, and not just because I despise him. It was an all time great season, but the rules had been changed at that point. Relative to the era I think his 2004 season was more impressive (yes I know that the illegal contact rules went into effect in 2004).

As you mention, Marino's 84 was incredibly ahead of its time.

If the helmet catch doesn't happen, this may be Brady's 2007 (which is dumb). I think Brady's 2007 and Rodgers' 2011 are somewhat neck and neck for best ever.
 

JohnnyK

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TE
- 2011 Rob Gronkowski: 90 rec, 1,327 yds, 14.7 ypc, 17 touchdowns
- 2020 Travis Kelce: 105 rec, 1,416 yds, 13.5 ypc, 11 touchdowns
- 2013 Jimmy Graham: 86 rec, 1,215 yds, 14.1 ypc, 16 touchdowns
- 1983 Todd Christensen: 92 rec, 1,247 yds, 13.6 ypc, 12 touchdowns
- 1961 Mike Ditka: 56 rec, 1,076 yds, 19.2 ypc, 12 touchdowns
- 2018 George Kittle: 88 rec, 1377yds, 15.6 ypc, 5 touchdowns

Not enough touchdowns probably. but a great blocker as well
 

BuellMiller

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- 2018 George Kittle: 88 rec, 1377yds, 15.6 ypc, 5 touchdowns

Not enough touchdowns probably. but a great blocker as well
Yes, a bit of a homer take, but Ben Coates in 1994 was pretty good:
96 rec, 1174 yards, 12.2 ypc, 7 td, while being Bledsoe’s goto. The team passed a lot that year, but a lot of that was because their primary RB was the corpse of Marion Butts.

and I never realized Christiansen had such a good 4 year peak; if he wasn’t in the original Tecmo Bowl, I probably never would have heard of him.
 

BaseballJones

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- 2018 George Kittle: 88 rec, 1377yds, 15.6 ypc, 5 touchdowns

Not enough touchdowns probably. but a great blocker as well
Yeah I considered this one, as well as Coates' 1994 that BuellMiller spoke of. Just didn't think they quite made the grade.
 

reggiecleveland

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Walter Payton 1977 has to be in the running.
14 gane season 1852 yards, 5.5 yards/carry 27 catches 269 yards 151 yards a game run/pass.
5.5 yards a carry when everyone knew you were running with the immortal Bob Avellini throwing the ball.
 

azsoxpatsfan

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2012 Adrian Peterson has to be considered. 348 carries for 2097 yards and 12 TD on 6.0 ypc against teams that were absolutely stacking the box to stop him. Plus 40 catches for 217 and 1 TD. 2314 total yards, 13 total TD, and basically single handedly beat the Packers week 17 to get to the playoffs. Did it all coming back from a torn acl and mcl like 8 months prior
 

azsoxpatsfan

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Also 2012 Calvin Johnson. Only 5 tds, so that might bring it down a bit, but 122 receptions for 1964 yards on 16.1 ypr
 

Seels

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Calvin Johnson's year had a shit load of garbage time yards in a season that was garbage time from the start. They were clearly playing for a records for him pretty early on in the year.

Honestly think it's one of the more overrated seasons. He averaged 9 targets in their 4 wins, and averaged 14 in their losses. There were times late in the year against the Falcons and Cardinals that Stafford would just throw it to Johnson play after play after play, despite being down 20-30 points, and despite it not making any damn sense in the context of the game.
 

luckiestman

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Terrell Davis’s 1998 is my favorite RB season.

Warner coming out of nowhere and running the greatest show on turf was the most fun watching a QB I remember. But a lot of this is the underdog story not that it is so much the best.
 

Koufax

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For running back, consider OJ Simpson. While he was the first to rush for 2,000 yards in a season in 1973, averaging 143 yards per game and 6 yards per carry, his best season for total yards was 1975 when, in a 14 game season, he put up these numbers:

yards rushing 1,817, yards per carry 5.5, TDs 16, receptions 28, receiving yards 426, yards per catch 15.2

Projecting the counting stats over 16 games gets you:

yards rushing 2,077, TDs 18, receptions 32, receiving yards 487
 

Mystic Merlin

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2012 Adrian Peterson has to be considered. 348 carries for 2097 yards and 12 TD on 6.0 ypc against teams that were absolutely stacking the box to stop him. Plus 40 catches for 217 and 1 TD. 2314 total yards, 13 total TD, and basically single handedly beat the Packers week 17 to get to the playoffs. Did it all coming back from a torn acl and mcl like 8 months prior
2006 Tomlinson is in the convo for RB.

348 carries for 1815 yards (5.2 YPC) and 28 rushing TD. 56 catches for 508 yards and 3 TD. He also threw for 2 TD. Most points accounted for by a player in a single season.

1997 Sanders has to be there, too.

335 carries for 2051 yards (6.1 YPC) and 11 rushing TD. 33 catches for 305 yards and 3 TD. 6.1 YPC with that usage rate, and playing for a team where he was the focus for every defense, is INSANE.

Also, Jim Brown (the GOAT) had several ridiculous seasons, like his 1963 performance. 291 carries for 1863 yards (6.4 YPC) and 12 rushing TD. Easily the best YPC in a single season (min 200 carries) by a RB.
 

Kliq

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Walter Payton 1977 has to be in the running.
14 gane season 1852 yards, 5.5 yards/carry 27 catches 269 yards 151 yards a game run/pass.
5.5 yards a carry when everyone knew you were running with the immortal Bob Avellini throwing the ball.
Yes, a few years ago I saw a very convincing video on this being the GOAT running back season.

The argument is based on how bad that supporting cast was; the Bears were super young that season (average age of 24.5 on offense) and the passing attack was terrible. Avellini had four games with five or fewer completions that season. The Bears offensive line didn't have a single pro-bowl player, not just in 1977 but in their careers period.

The crappy offensive line is, imo, what separates '77 Payton from '73 OJ Simpson. The Bills that year had really bad QB play, but the offensive line was very good. Dave Foley made the pro-bowl and Reggie McKenzie was first team All-Pro. Joe DeLamielleure was a rookie but already very good and went on to the HoF. Simpson's main backup, Jim Braxton, only played in six games but still managed to total 494 yards and 4 touchdowns, averaging 82 yards per game. The Bills offense that year was incredible at running the ball. The Bears did not have a backup close to as good as Braxton, and no talent on the line. It was more of a one-man-band performance. The video also has some sick Payton highlights.

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmcQPMo8L3E


When it comes to running backs, I'm going to choose seasons from previous eras. Guys like Faulk and Tomlinson had awesome years, but they also played on awesome offenses that would have been very good if they had merely gotten average production from their RB. The Payton, OJ, Jim Brown era; they just had a bigger role.

For WRs, to throw in a random old guy, let's take a look at 1951 Crazy Legs Hirsch. In 12 games, he had 66 catches, 1,495 yards and 17 Touchdowns. That is in an era where nobody threw the ball at all. The second place guy in receiving yards had 826 yards, for comparison. Over a 16 game season, he would have 1,993 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns.
 

Gunfighter 09

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Adding a couple QB seasons:

QB - 1999 Kurt Warner 65.1% / 4353 yards / 41 TD / 13 Int / 8.7 YPA / 109.1 Rating / Super Bowl title - 5 more TDs than 2nd place, TD% 1.2% higher than second place, QB rating 15 points higher than second place, ANY/A 1.31 yards higher than second place.

QB - 2018 Mahomes 66% / 5097 / 50TD / 12 Int / 8.8 YPA / 113.8 Rating / 80.3 QBR / AFCG appearance
 

coremiller

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Manning's 2004 is his best season, and maybe anyone's best season. His volume numbers weren't as high because he didn't throw as much and sat several fourth quarters, but his rate stats that year were ludicrous. It's the best ANY/A season ever by a huge margin, and it's still the best even after adjusting for era. I think it's also the best passing season ever by DVOA.

Another to consider is Young's 1994. In addition to his all-time level passing, he also had 293 rushing yards and 7 rushing TDs.

Adding a couple QB seasons:

QB - 1999 Kurt Warner 65.1% / 4353 yards / 41 TD / 13 Int / 8.7 YPA / 109.1 Rating / Super Bowl title - 5 more TDs than 2nd place, TD% 1.2% higher than second place, QB rating 15 points higher than second place, ANY/A 1.31 yards higher than second place.

QB - 2018 Mahomes 66% / 5097 / 50TD / 12 Int / 8.8 YPA / 113.8 Rating / 80.3 QBR / AFCG appearance
The dirty secret to the 99 Rams is that they played a ludicrously easy schedule. I think by Football Outsiders' numbers it was the easiest schedule anyone has played as far back as their numbers go (1985). They were still really good, but not quite as dominant as they seemed.

2012 Adrian Peterson has to be considered. 348 carries for 2097 yards and 12 TD on 6.0 ypc against teams that were absolutely stacking the box to stop him. Plus 40 catches for 217 and 1 TD. 2314 total yards, 13 total TD, and basically single handedly beat the Packers week 17 to get to the playoffs. Did it all coming back from a torn acl and mcl like 8 months prior
This would be my pick. It's the only example I've ever seen of an RB just about single-handedly carrying an offense to the playoffs. They were QBed by Christian Ponder, who started only 11 more games in his career after that year. They had only one receiver over 500 yards. Their line wasn't anything special -- no all-pros and Matt Kalil was the only pro-bowler, which he probably didn't deserve (he's never made one since). Everyone knew they were going to give the ball to Peterson 25 times a game. It didn't matter, he just ran over and through everyone.
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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I can see why you might not call it the greatest season ever since he only played 12 games and his offense only passed the ball like 500 times, which isn't a lot, but Jerry Rice's 1987 season deserves some kind of recognition in this conversation. I think you could at least argue that no modern day WR has ever been more dominant in a season, vis-a-vis the rest of the league, than Rice in 1987.

Rice only played 12 games but had 22 receiving TDs, which is a completely insane number that becomes even crazier once you consider that this was a different era and the second place WR in the entire league only had 11. And it gets even crazier when you consider that he actually took a little while to get going after coming back from injury, then had 16 TDs over the last seven games of the season once he was up to full speed again. He had a five game stretch where he scored more TDs (12) than any other WR in the entire NFL scored over the whole season.

He "only" had 65 catches for 1078 yards but he missed four games and he was playing during a time when passing offense just wasn't nearly so prolific. Only four WRs went over 1000 yards and only one WR had over 70 catches.
 
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I can see why you might not call it the greatest season ever since he only played 12 games and his offense only passed the ball like 500 times, which isn't a lot, but Jerry Rice's 1987 season deserves some kind of recognition in this conversation. I think you could at least argue that no modern day WR has ever been more dominant in a season, vis-a-vis the rest of the league, than Rice in 1987.

Rice only played 12 games but had 22 receiving TDs, which is a completely insane number that becomes even crazier once you consider that this was a different era and the second place WR in the entire league only had 11. And it gets even crazier when you consider that he actually took a little while to get going after coming back from injury, then had 16 TDs over the last seven games of the season once he was up to full speed again. He had a five game stretch where he scored more TDs (12) than any other WR in the entire NFL scored over the whole season.

He "only" had 65 catches for 1078 yards but he missed four games and he was playing during a time when passing offense just wasn't nearly so prolific. Only four WRs went over 1000 yards and only one WR had over 70 catches.
Yeah but...wasn’t that a strike year? What was his on field competition?
 

Mooch

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Kind of surprised that Chris Johnson's 2009 season hasn't been mentioned yet:

358 rushes, 2006 yards, 5.6 ypc, 125.4 yards/g, 14 TDs
50 rec, 503 yards, 10.1 yds/rec, 2 TDs
408 total touches, 2509 yards from scrimmage (the single season record), 6.1 yards per touch, which is insane for a running back.

While the total TD count is relatively low compared to some of the other guys on the list, most of his touchdowns were explosive big plays. Here's the yardage on his scoring plays that season: 57, 69, 91, 52, 89, 1, 2, 28, 1, 85, 39, 66, 3, 30, 6, 1. His average scoring play was 39 yards!

Here's the really crazy part: Johnson accounted for a whopping 45% of the Titans offense that season. His QBs were Vince Young and Kerry Collins. The second best skill position player on that team was Kenny Britt. The defense ranked 28th in the league in yards and points allowed. Chris Johnson somehow single-handedly led that tire fire to a .500 record.
 
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Dick Drago

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Yes, a few years ago I saw a very convincing video on this being the GOAT running back season.

The argument is based on how bad that supporting cast was; the Bears were super young that season (average age of 24.5 on offense) and the passing attack was terrible. Avellini had four games with five or fewer completions that season. The Bears offensive line didn't have a single pro-bowl player, not just in 1977 but in their careers period.

The crappy offensive line is, imo, what separates '77 Payton from '73 OJ Simpson. The Bills that year had really bad QB play, but the offensive line was very good. Dave Foley made the pro-bowl and Reggie McKenzie was first team All-Pro. Joe DeLamielleure was a rookie but already very good and went on to the HoF. Simpson's main backup, Jim Braxton, only played in six games but still managed to total 494 yards and 4 touchdowns, averaging 82 yards per game. The Bills offense that year was incredible at running the ball. The Bears did not have a backup close to as good as Braxton, and no talent on the line. It was more of a one-man-band performance. The video also has some sick Payton highlights.
Braxton spent lots of time at fullback in the backfield with OJ-he was a great blocker, and usually ran only as a change of pace. It buoys your point on OJ having terrific blockers unlike Payton.
 

mauf

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If you believe that a significant fraction of INTs aren’t on the QB (because many throws are made before the receiver makes his cut), then Marino’s 1984 season is a cut above the rest. If you’re going to put those 17 picks fully on Marino, then maybe 2011 Rodgers was better. I see those two seasons as a cut above the others.
 

coremiller

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If you believe that a significant fraction of INTs aren’t on the QB (because many throws are made before the receiver makes his cut), then Marino’s 1984 season is a cut above the rest. If you’re going to put those 17 picks fully on Marino, then maybe 2011 Rodgers was better. I see those two seasons as a cut above the others.
This also wasn't a crazy amount of INTs in 1984 given how many passes Marino threw and how otherwise productive he was. He had the 6th best INT% that season, while being 3rd in Comp%, first in TD%, 5th in Y/C, and 1st in sack%.