Fantasy History: 1997 Fantasy Football Rankings

May 08

Fantasy History: 1997 Fantasy Football Rankings

Think back with me now, as you get ready for your 1997 Fantasy draft, and you’re looking over your 1997 Fantasy Football rankings from whichever magazine you grabbed that month. Think back with me about when you were wondering what the NFL was going to be like with no team in Cleveland or Houston for the first year neither city had an NFL team since the NFL merger.

Bud Adams picked up his Oilers and he moved them to Nashville (well, at first, they moved to Memphis while the stadium was being built in Nashville). Houston would rejoin the NFL in 2002, which was also the first year we had the current realignment of the NFL teams into eight divisions.

John Elway finally ended up on the right side of a Super Bowl win, as he beat Brett Favre’s Packers for the first of two titles for the Broncos HOFer.

NFL fans had to say goodbye to TNT broadcasts on Sunday night, with Pat Haden as the color commentator. This broadcast was a highlight of my 20s and the early years of my Fantasy Football life. Remember that the Sunday Night TNT halftime show was the first to show a stats crawl across the bottom, which helped Fantasy owners everywhere figure out if they were winning! Also, NBC wouldn’t broadcast NFL games again until 2006.

My beloved Buccaneers got rid of the winking pirate (Bucco Bruce!) and their creamsicle uniforms, while the Broncos also made the change to tougher shades of orange and blue, with a new horse logo.

1997 Fantasy Football Rankings

1997 Fantasy Football Rankings for Basic TD and Yardage Leagues from Fantasy Index Magazine.

Another major Fantasy history point was that 1997 should be considered the death of the run-n-shoot offense, as both Lions coach Wayne Fontes and Falcons coach June Jones were fired by their respective teams. And the NFL took a hard stance on showboating, installing the “Emmitt Smith” rule, which penalized a player for taking his helmet off on the field.

Fantasy Football was still in its early stages, as was the Internet in general. Some were buying commissioner software at this point, still getting used to not running their leagues on paper. We were in the late stages of the careers of several NFL deities, like Dan Marino, John Elway and Thurman Thomas, who was coming off what would end up being his last 1,000-yard season.

Fantasy Football owners were still getting used to “yardage leagues,” as opposed to the more popular “basic TD” scoring up to this point. Remember, back in the early stages, most Fantasy leagues based scoring on touchdowns only, which meant good running backs on bad teams weren’t quite as useful as they would be later on.

Every now and then, I like to go back in time and look through my old Fantasy magazines (like the 1992 Fantasy rankings, when Mark Rypien was ranked the No. 1 QB). I like to read some of the articles, check the rankings, and just enjoy a time when there was limited information for most Fantasy Football owners. It was a nice time, in spite of our ignorance.

How ignorant?

Well, you’ll notice that there are four quarterbacks ranked in the top 10 overall players. Looking back now, that makes no sense whatsoever, because we’ve smartened up. It makes me wonder what we’ll think, 17 years from now, about what we’re being ignorant about in 2014.

So enjoy these rankings, but please realize that this article was not meant to mock the magazine’s rankings. It was only meant to show some Fantasy history.

1997 Fantasy Football Rankings

Fantasy Index Magazine was still running basic TD scoring for their default rankings, but they did list the “yardage league” rankings next to the basic TD rankings. Also, remember that these rankings were the preseason rankings, not end-of-the-season rankings. I’ll show the top 25 Fantasy scorers at the end of the 1997 season at the bottom of this article.

Top 25 Overall Rankings

1. Brett Favre, QB, Green Bay

2. Emmitt Smith, RB, Dallas

3. Curtis Martin, RB, New England

4. Terrell Davis, RB, Denver

5. Barry Sanders, RB, Detroit

Emmitt Smith, 1997 Fantasy Football Rankings, Matt_Cordon12

Emmitt Smith was a fantasy beast in the ’90s. Photo Credit: Matt Cordon

6. Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco

7. Carl Pickens, WR, Cincinnati

8. Mark Brunell, QB, Jacksonville

9. Jeff Blake, QB, Cincinnati

10. Drew Bledsoe, QB, New England

11. Steve Young, QB, San Francisco

12. Herman Moore, WR, Detroit

13. Isaac Bruce, WR, St. Louis

14. Tim Brown, WR, Oakland

15. Ricky Watters, RB, Philadelphia

16. Jerome Bettis, RB, Pittsburgh

17. Eddie George, RB, Tennessee

18. Terry Allen, RB, Washington

19. Vinny Testaverde, QB, Baltimore

20. Terry Glenn, WR, New England

21. Michael Jackson, WR, Baltimore

22. Cris Carter, WR, Minnesota

23. Joey Galloway, WR, Seattle

24. Adrian Murrell, RB, N.Y. Jets

25. Antonio Freeman, WR, Green Bay

Favre looks weird at the top, doesn’t he? Seeing a non-50-TD-throwing quarterback leading the Fantasy rankings is just odd. Also, seeing Brunell as a first-round Fantasy pick makes my eyes hurt. Bruce fell out of the top 20 players when the scoring system switched to basic TD scoring. Terry Allen was one of my favorite running backs, as he came back from TWO torn ACL surgeries. He led the NFL in 1996 with 21 rushing touchdowns, which somehow only earned him second-round pick status?

Quarterbacks

1. Brett Favre, Green Bay

2. Mark Brunell, Jacksonville

3. Jeff Blake, Cincinnati

4. Drew Bledsoe, New England

5. Steve Young, San Francisco

6. Vinny Testaverde, Baltimore

7. John Elway, Denver

8. Dan Marino, Miami

9. Brad Johnson, Minnesota

10. Steve McNair, Tennessee

11. Tony Banks, St. Louis

12. Kerry Collins, Carolina

13. Jeff George, Oakland

14. Jim Harbaugh, Indianapolis

15. Scott Mitchell, Detroit

16. Stan Humphries, San Diego

17. Ty Detmer, Philadelphia

18. Gus Frerotte, Washington

19. Elvis Grbac, Kansas City

20. John Friesz, Seattle

21. Troy Aikman, Dallas

22. Trent Dilfer, Tampa Bay

Kordell Stewart, 1997 Fantasy Football Rankings

In 1997, we became huge fans of Slash, as he became to be known.

23. Kordell Stewart, Pittsburgh

24. Neil O’Donnell, N.Y. Jets

25. Warren Moon, Seattle

26. Rick Mirer, Chicago

27. Chris Chandler, Atlanta

28. Dave Brown, N.Y. Giants

29. Todd Collins, Buffalo

30. Jake Plummer, Arizona (rookie season)

31. Heath Shuler, New Orleans

32. Kent Graham, Arizona

33. Mark Rypien, St. Louis

34. Jim Miller, Pittsburgh

35. Rodney Peete, Philadelphia

36. Erik Kramer, Chicago

37. Billy Joe Hobert, Buffalo

38. Randall Cunningham, Minnesota

39. Eric Zeier, Chicago

40. Frank Reich, Detroit

41. Dave Krieg, Tennessee

42. Craig Erickson, Miami

43. Boomer Esiason, Cincinnati

44. Steve Beuerlein, Carolina

45. Steve Bono, Green Bay

46. Jeff Hostetler, Washington

47. David Klingler, Oakland

48. Tommy Maddox, Atlanta

49. Jeff Lewis, Denver

50. Danny Kanell, N.Y. Giants

51. Jim Everett, San Diego

52. Paul Justin, Indianapolis

53. Rich Gannon, Kansas City

54. Mike Tomczak, Pittsburgh

55. Glenn Foley, N.Y. Jets

56. Steve Walsh, Tampa Bay

57. Scott Zolak, New England

58. Danny Wuerffel, New Orleans

59. Bobby Hoying, Philadelphia

60. Jim Druckenmiller, San Francisco (rookie season)

61. Rob Johnson, Jacksonville

62. Bobby Hebert, Retired

63. Wade Wilson, Dallas

64. Doug Pederson, Green Bay

65. Jeff Brohm, San Francisco

66. Alex Van Pelt, Buffalo

67. Craig Whelihan, San Diego (rookie season)

68. Jason Garrett, Dallas

69. Jon Kitna, Seattle (rookie season)

70. Pat Barnes, Kansas City

Yay! Top-70 rankings for quarterbacks for those 50-team Fantasy leagues!

Note where Kordell Stewart was ranked. He went on to be the second-highest scoring player in Fantasy this season, bringing back memories of Randall Cunningham’s run-and-gun ability. He threw for 21 touchdowns and rushed for 11 more that season, as he beat out Mike Tomczak for the job that summer. Unfortunately, he was like Fantasy heroin, as he would be a first-round pick for a couple more seasons, but never come close to his 1997 season ever again.

Speaking of TNT broadcasts and Cunningham, he was actually an analyst with the network in 1996 after he retired from the Eagles. The 1997 season saw him come back with the Vikings, where he worked as the backup to Brad Johnson. However, in 1998, he went on to have the best season of his NFL career, after the Vikings drafted WR Randy Moss out of Marshall University.

Jim Harbaugh was kind enough to play badly behind a horrible offensive line, allowing the Colts to get the first overall pick the next season, which turned into Peyton Manning.

Also, notice Dave Brown’s ranking in the top 30. Little known fact: Brown was the second-best fantasy quarterback ever to be coached by Steve Spurrier in college. (Rex Grossman should be considered first.) Brown played for Spurrier at Duke, but it’s interesting to know that Spurrier’s NFL legacy was the same as a coach and from when he was a player.

Running Backs

1. Emmitt Smith, Dallas

2. Curtis Martin, New England

3. Terrell Davis, Denver

4. Barry Sanders, Detroit

5. Ricky Watters, Philadelphia

1997 Fantasy Football Index, Jerome Bettis

Steelers RB Jerome Bettis would go on to lead the NFL with 375 carries in the 1997 season.

6. Jerome Bettis, Pittsburgh

7. Eddie George, Tennessee

8. Terry Allen, Washington

9. Adrian Murrell, N.Y. Jets

10. Marshall Faulk, Indianapolis

11. Karim Abdul-Jabbar, Miami

12. Bam Morris, Baltimore

13. Jamal Anderson, Atlanta

14. Chris Warren, Seattle

15. Troy Davis, New Orleans (rookie season)

16. Dorsey Levens, Green Bay

17. Natrone Means, Jacksonville

18. Napoleon Kaufman, Oakland

19. Lawrence Phillips, St. Louis

20. Thurman Thomas, Buffalo

21. Larry Centers, Arizona

22. Tshimanga Biakabutuka, Carolina

23. Garrison Hearst, San Francisco

24. Gary Brown, San Diego

25. Corey Dillon, Cincinnati (rookie season)

26. Greg Hill, Kansas City

27. Mike Alstott, Tampa Bay

28. Tyrone Wheatley, N.Y. Giants

29. Rashaan Salaam, Chicago

30. Errict Rhett, Tampa Bay

31. Robert Smith, Minnesota

32. Ki-Jana Carter, Cincinnati

33. Edgar Bennett, Green Bay

34. Leeland McElroy, Arizona

35. Antowain Smith, Buffalo (rookie season)

36. Raymont Harris, Chicago

37. Terry Kirby, San Francisco

38. Warrick Dunn, Tampa Bay (rookie season)

39. Tiki Barber, N.Y. Giants (rookie season)

40. Jerris McPhail, Miami

41. Terrell Fletcher, San Diego

42. Leroy Hoard, Minnesota

43. William Floyd, San Francisco

44. Lamar Smith, Seattle

45. Ironhead (Craig) Heyward

46. Kimble Anders, Kansas City

47. Zack Crockett, Indianapolis

48. Marcus Allen, Kansas City

49. Joe Aska, Oakland

50. Anthony Johnson, Carolina

51. Byron Hanspard, Atlanta (rookie season)

52. Aaron Hayden, San Diego

53. Rodney Hampton, N.Y. Giants

54. James Stewart, Jacksonville

55. Stephen Davis, Washington

56. Tommy Vardell, Detroit

57. Leon Johnson, N.Y. Jets

58. George Jones, Pittsburgh

59. Ronnie Harmon, San Diego

60. Rodney Thomas, Tennessee

61. LeShon Johnson, Arizona

62. Lamont Warren, Indianapolis

63. Jay Graham, Baltimore

64. Charlie Garner, Philadelphia

65. Harvey Williams, Oakland

66. Sedrick Shaw, New England

67. Marc Edwards, San Francisco

68. Mario Bates, New Orleans

69. Derek Loville, Denver

70. Duce Staley, Philadelphia

I’d like to point you to the fact that you do not see Priest Holmes ranked in the top 70 players. This was his rookie season with the Ravens, and he would still be a few years away from becoming the consensus No. 1 overall pick with the Chiefs.

Remember when fullbacks were pretty awesome in Fantasy play? Note that Mike Alstott, Larry Centers and Edgar Bennett were all ranked among the top 35 running backs. There was no true fullback ranked in the top-40 running backs before the 2013 season.

This was also the season that WR Michael Westbrook put a beatdown on second-year running back Stephen Davis in training camp. Good times.

Wide Receivers

1. Jerry Rice, San Francisco

2. Carl Pickens, Cincinnati

3. Herman Moore, Detroit

4. Isaac Bruce, St. Louis

5. Tim Brown, Oakland

6. Terry Glenn, New England

7. Michael Jackson, Baltimore

8. Cris Carter, Minnesota

9. Joey Galloway, Seattle

10. Antonio Freeman, Green Bay

11. Robert Brooks, Green Bay

12. Michael Irvin, Dallas

13. Tony Martin, San Diego

14. Jimmy Smith, Jacksonville

15. Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis

16. Chris Sanders, Tennessee

17. Jake Reed, Minnesota

18. Eddie Kennison, St. Louis

19. Irving Fryar, Philadelphia

20. Derrick Alexander, Baltimore

21. Curtis Conway, Chicago

22. Chris T. Jones, Philadelphia

23. Yancey Thigpen, Pittsburgh

24. Michael Westbrook, Washington

25. Keyshawn Johnson, N.Y. Jets

26. Keenan McCardell, Jacksonville

27. Muhsin Muhammad, Carolina

28. Fred Barnett, Miami

29. Horace Copeland, Tampa Bay

30. O.J. McDuffie, Miami

1997 Fantasy Football Rankings, Terrell Owens

In 1997, Terrell Owens’ second season, it was officially time to “Get your popcorn ready!”

31. Terrell Owens, San Francisco

32. Johnnie Morton, Detroit

33. Frank Sanders, Arizona

34. Wayne Chrebet, N.Y. Jets

35. Bert Emanuel, Atlanta

36. Tamarick Vanover, Kansas City

37. Bobby Engram, Chicago

38. Yatil Green, Miami

39. Darnay Scott, Cincinnati

40. Eric Metcalf, San Diego

41. Eric Moulds, Buffalo

42. Rod Smith, Denver

43. Anthony Miller, Dallas

44. Terance Mathis, Atlanta

45. Ed McCaffrey, Denver

46. Andre Reed, Buffalo

47. Ike Hilliard, N.Y. Giants (rookie season)

48. Charles Johnson, Pittsburgh

49. Rob Moore, Arizona

50. Shawn Jefferson, New England

51. Brian Blades, Seattle

52. Sean Dawkins, Indianapolis

53. Raghib Ismail, Carolina

54. Derrick Mayes, Green Bay

55. Andre Hastings, New Orleans

56. Quinn Early, Buffalo

57. Henry Ellard, Washington

58. Amani Toomer, N.Y. Giants

59. Bryan Still, San Diego

60. Daryl Hobbs, New Orleans

61. Andre Rison, Kansas City

62. James Jett, Oakland

63. Reidel Anthony, Tampa Bay (rookie season)

64. J.J. Stokes, San Francisco

65. Joey Kent, Tennessee

66. Brett Perriman, Kansas City

67. Will Blackwell, Pittsburgh

68. Willie Green, Denver

69. Jeff Graham, N.Y. Jets

70. Kevin Lockett, Kansas City

This was the rookie season for Rae Carruth, also. This was back in his pre-murderer days. He would lead all rookie receivers in Fantasy points this season. Derrick Mason would eventually be the class of this rookie class of receivers, but wow, this was a bad rookie WR crop. There were only two WRs in the top 80 WRs in Fantasy scoring, and none in the top 45. This was a year after Terry Glenn, Marvin Harrison, Eddie Kennison and Keyshawn Johnson all finished as top-25 receivers in their rookie year (1996). And this 1997 class of WRs was the year before Randy Moss led all WRs with 234 fantasy points.

Speaking of ’96 rookie WRs, Terrell Owens was coming off his first year in 1997, when he caught 35 passes for 520 yards and four touchdowns. He would finish 1997 with 142 Fantasy points, ranking 20th among all WRs.

The ’97 rookie WR class took a big hit when WR Yatil Green went down with a knee injury in training camp. He was the 15th overall draft pick by the Dolphins in the 1997 NFL Draft, but the Hurricanes product wouldn’t end up playing in the NFL until 1999 – when he started just one game and played in eight. Then he retired.

See Andre Rison there, in the late 60s? He was coming off two stinky seasons with three teams (Cleveland, Jacksonville and Green Bay). He signed with the Chiefs in 1997, and he went on to post his last 1,000-yard season of his career, ranking 15th among Fantasy wide receivers.

Veteran WR Rob Moore would end up leading the position in Fantasy points, despite being ranked outside the top 45 before the season began. The arrival of rookie QB Jake Plummer made the difference for Moore.

Tight Ends

1. Shannon Sharpe, Denver

2. Mark Chmura, Green Bay

3. Ben Coates, New England

4. Wesley Walls, Carolina

5. Rickey Dudley, Oakland

6. Jamie Asher, Washington

7. Ken Dilger, Indianapolis

8. Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City

9. Troy Drayton, Miami

10. Brent Jones, San Francisco

11. Jason Dunn, Philadelphia

12. Jackie Harris, Tampa Bay

13. Eric Green, Baltimore

14. Tony McGee, Cincinnati

15. Frank Wycheck, Tennessee

16. Pete Mitchell, Jacksonville

17. Aaron Pierce, N.Y. Giants

18. Damon Jones, Jacksonville

19. David LaFleur, Dallas

20. Irv Smith, New Orleans

21. Freddie Jones, San Diego

22. Lonnie Johnson, Buffalo

23. Kyle Brady, N.Y. Jets

24. Keith Jennings, Chicago

25. David Sloan, Detroit

Shannon Sharpe went on to post 1,107 receiving yards, which was nearly 500 yards more than second-place Coates. It’s crazy to see Tony Gonzalez ranked eighth before he ever caught an NFL pass. He ended up finishing as the 19th-best Fantasy tight end, catching 33 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns. He would go on to play another 16 years, finishing as the greatest tight end in Fantasy Football history. Having Elvis Grbac as his QB in his rookie season might be why he stunk in 1997.

Kickers

1. John Kasay, Carolina

2. Jason Elam, Denver

3. Adam Vinatieri, New England

4. Cary Blanchard, Indianapolis

5. Chris Boniol, Dallas

6. Al Del Greco, Tennessee

7. Mike Hollis, Jacksonville

8. Doug Pelfrey, Cincinnati

9. Scott Blanton, Washington

10. Brett Conway, Green Bay

11. John Carney, San Diego

12. Todd Peterson, Seattle

13. Jason Hanson, Detroit

14. Richie Cunningham, Dallas

15. Matt Stover, Baltimore

16. Steve Christie, Buffalo

17. Norm Johnson, Pittsburgh

18. Cole Ford, Oakland

19. Jeff Wilkins, St. Louis

20. Michael Husted, Tampa Bay

21. Jon Baker, San Francisco

22. Joe Nedney, Miami

23. Morten Anderson, Atlanta

24. Chris Jacke, Washington

25. Olindo Mare, Miami

26. Ryan Longwell, San Francisco

27. Jeff Jaeger, Chicago

28. Marshall Young, Dallas

29. Pete Stoyanovich, Kansas City

30. Brad Daluiso, N.Y. Giants

31. Greg Davis, Minnesota

32. Doug Brien, New Orleans

33. Scott Sisson, Minnesota

34. John Hall, N.Y. Jets

Defenses and Special Teams

1. Carolina Panthers

2. Green Bay Packers

3. San Francisco 49ers

4. St. Louis Rams

5. Miami Dolphins

6. Oakland Raiders

7. Pittsburgh Steelers

8. Philadelphia Eagles

9. Cincinnati Bengals

10. San Diego Chargers

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

12. New England Patriots

13. Kansas City Chiefs

14. Dallas Cowboys

15. Indianapolis Colts

16. Seattle Seahawks

17. Minnesota Vikings

18. Washington Redskins

19. Buffalo Bills

20. N.Y. Giants

21. Denver Broncos

22. Jacksonville Jaguars

23. N.Y. Jets

24. Arizona Cardinals

25. Tennessee Oilers

26. Baltimore Ravens

27. New Orleans Saints

28. Detroit Lions

29. Chicago Bears

30. Atlanta Falcons

I’d like to take this time to point out that my Buccaneers made the playoffs for the first time in 13 years in 1997, and they beat Scott Mitchell and the Detroit Lions in the final game played at Tampa Stadium (the Big Sombrero). I’m proud to say I was actually at that game, and I was loudly screaming along with Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” playing on the PA system after the game ended. “I get knocked down, but I get up again! And you’re never gonna keep me down!”

That just makes me sad now, to think about what a horrible song that really was.

Final 1997 Top Fantasy Football Scorers

These are taken from the stat database over at FootballGuys.com, which is just awesome.

Quarterbacks that scored over 300 fantasy points

  1. Brett Favre, QB, GB – 342
  2. Kordell Stewart, QB, PIT – 332
  3. Jeff George, QB, OAK – 307
  4. John Elway, QB, DEN – 307

RBs that scored over 200 fantasy points

  1. Barry Sanders, RB, DET – 320
  2. Terrell Davis, DEN – 294
  3. Dorsey Levens, GB – 253
  4. Jerome Bettis, PIT — 232
  5. Napoleon Kaufman, OAK – 218
  6. Karim Abdul-Jabbar, MIA – 211
  7. Marshall Faulk, IND – 201

WRs that scored over 175 fantasy points

  1. Rob Moore, ARI — 206
  2. Antonio Freeman, GB – 198
  3. Cris Carter, GB – 192
  4. Joey Galloway, SEA – 185
  5. Yancey Thigpen, PIT – 184
  6. Herman Moore, DET – 182

TEs that scored over 100 fantasy points

  1. Shannon Sharpe, DEN – 129
  2. Ben Coates, NE – 122
  3. Rickey Dudley, OAK –121
  4. Wesley Walls, CAR – 111

Hopefully, you enjoyed this look down Fantasy memory lane, and maybe you even came home with a championship using these 1997 Fantasy Football rankings — or a version of them. Good luck this season, too!

Remember when you agreed/disagreed with me!?! ... Feel free to leave a comment or share it with friends/enemies!

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4 comments

  1. Nice to see the 1997 rankings trotted out. I was surprised to see that we hadn’t yet switched over to yardage as being the main rankings at that time (or at least printed two different Cheat Sheets — one for each scoring system). Very surprised to see Mark Brunell ranked as the No. 2 quarterback. Had to flip open my copy to remember the reasoning. At the start of his career, recall, it looked like he might be kind of a poor man’s Steve Young. In his first season as a starter, he had put up the 5th-most total yards by a quarterback in NFL history. Thinking was that the yards would be there again in 1997, and the touchdown numbers would improve (and that he’d be helped along by his Young-like running ability).

    • Good point about Brunell as a young Young! Those Jaguars picked up Fred Taylor I think the next year and just became a better running team I think. Hindsight rankings are so much easier for us than future rankings, haha, I’m happy you don’t have access to my personal cheat sheet from back then! (I don’t either, or I’d post that, too. But I’m sure I had some stinkers in there.)

      Great to see you on here, Ian. Great magazine that has helped millions through the past few decades, and millions more in the coming decades.

      The 2014 Fantasy Football Index comes out July 10, I see! Looking forward to it.

  2. Thanks, David. Nice to see the Bucco Bruce avatar. It always bugs me, with teams doing those throwback uniform games, that the Seahawks and Bucs (as sister franchises) could never get on the same page and do 1976 original-season uniforms together.

    • Yeah, that’s a good point. I’m officially going to start a campaign to make it happen the next time they play each other!

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