Era-adjusted fantasy football player rankings: Bobby Layne, Barry Sanders are kings of the Detroit Lions

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the creation of fantasy football, The Athletic is reviewing the best fantasy players and fantasy seasons in NFL history.

A detailed overview of the system used to grade historical fantasy performance can be found in our greatest fantasy players of all-time introduction page, but here’s a quick summary.

Fantasy player performance is era-adjusted so that players who dominated during lower scoring eras can compete versus players who racked up huge point totals in higher scoring eras.

After these adjustments are made, players are then given credit for having a starter-caliber season (one point), a quality season (one point), an impact campaign (1.5 points) or being an elite starter (two points). These points stack and are measured in both non-PPR and PPR and serve as the basis for determining who are the best fantasy players in NFL history.

Now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, let’s look at the best fantasy players in Detroit Lions team history!

(Note: the numbers listed below are for the player’s performance while on the Lions.)

All-time fantasy starting lineup

QB: Bobby Layne

RB: Barry Sanders

RB: Dutch Clark

WR: Calvin Johnson

WR: Herman Moore

TE: Charlie Sanders

SuperFLEX: Greg Landry


Quarterback – Bobby Layne

Starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
7 5 7.5 10 7 5 7.5 10 59

Layne didn’t do much in his first two NFL stops, but he had an immediate fantasy impact when he landed in Detroit in 1950. Layne placed in the Top 3 in QB scoring in 1950-52 and had four straight 11-career point seasons at one point. He remained a QB1 for the rest of his Lions tenure and his 181.1 points in 1951 remained a Detroit record until Earl Morrall posted 184.3 points in 1963. Layne’s 59 career points also make him the most valuable Detroit fantasy player of all time.

Running back – Barry Sanders

Starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
10 9 7.5 0 10 9 4.5 2 52

Sanders excelled in posting quality seasons, as only Jim Brown and Walter Payton equaled Sanders’ total of nine quality-caliber campaigns. Sanders was a Top 4 fantasy RB in his first three seasons in the league, but what truly made Sanders so amazing is that the second half of his 10-year career was as good as the first half. He placed in the Top 3 in non-PPR RB scoring in 1994, 1995 and 1997, and was sixth in 1996. Sanders ’52 career points also placed fifth all-time among running backs.

Running back – Dutch Clark

Starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
6 6 7.5 8 6 6 7.5 6 53

Clark was arguably the best back in the league from 1931-37, as he was a Top 5 fantasy scorer in each of the seasons he played and finished as the highest fantasy scorer in the league on three occasions. Clark’s career points totals could have been higher had he not left the NFL in 1933 to become the head coach of the Colorado School of Mines. Even with that missed season, Clark still ended up with the second-highest career points total among Detroit players.

Wide receiver – Calvin Johnson

Starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
8 5 1.5 0 8 4 1.5 0 28

The man known as “Megatron” was a phenom in 2011-12, as he placed first in WR fantasy points in both of those seasons and racked up an incredible 701.6 PPR points in that span. Johnson was a WR1 in four other seasons and when that is combined with the two aforementioned dominant campaigns, it ends up being more than enough to give him the top fantasy WR spot in Lions history.

Wide receiver – Herman Moore

Starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
7 4 1.5 0 7 4 1.5 0 25

Moore gave Johnson a run for the money as the top Detroit fantasy wide receiver, as Moore at one point racked up four straight Top 7 WR scoring campaigns. Moore’s 371.6 PPR points in 1995 remains a Detroit fantasy scoring record at any position. Moore booked that quartet of strong seasons with three more starter-caliber campaigns, and that was enough to land him a spot on this roster.

Tight end – Charlie Sanders

Starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
6 1 0 0 9 0 0 0 16

Charlie Sanders isn’t the most famous player named Sanders in Detroit history, but don’t let that fool status you, as he was one of the greatest tight ends the NFL has ever seen. His nine starter-caliber PPR seasons is a total equaled or surpassed by only eight other tight ends, and he was a strong TE1 in five of those seasons. Sanders never played in an offense that was going to allow him to post elite single-season numbers, but this level of consistent excellence landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and earned him the top tight end spot in Detroit history.

SuperFlex – Greg Landry

Starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
3 3 3 4 3 3 3 4 26

Landry was fantasy football’s best quarterback, and maybe his best player, in 1971-72, as he led the league in quarterback scoring in both of those seasons. His 224 points in 1972 may not sound like much, but once one considers that no other quarterback posted 200+ points in that season and only six had more than 150 points, it illustrates just how incredible Landry’s numbers were when compared to his contemporaries. Those consecutive 11-career point seasons are the cornerstone of Landry’s SuperFlex roster slot.


All-time best era-adjusted fantasy seasons

QB: Greg Landry, 1971 (193.5 points)

RB: Barry Sanders, 1991 (283 non-PPR, 323.5 PPR)

WR: Cloyce Box, 1952 (182.4 non-PPR, 224.4 PPR)

TE: Jim Gibbons, 1964 (108.5 non-PPR, 153.5 PPR)

SuperFLEX: Dutch Clark, 1934 (153.8 non-PPR, 159.8 PPR)

(Top photo: Brian Cleary / Getty Images)

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