Fantasy owners are demanding of their first-round picks: Come playoff time, they ask leaderboard-topping performances of them.
Charles' effort was indeed one for the record books, literally from an NFL perspective. His four receiving touchdowns were the most by any running back in the game's history. From a fantasy perspective, he tied for the sixth-best single game by any player since 1960, using ESPN's standard scoring system.
It came at an especially opportune time, as Week 15 is a playoff week in the vast majority of fantasy football leagues, a semifinal matchup in most. It matched the highest fantasy point total for any player that late in the year -- going by numbered weeks -- joining Corey Dillon for the only two performances worth at least 50 points in Week 15 or later. Dillon's was in Week 15 of the 1997 season, and coincidentally, his was also worth 51 points.
Want even more fantasy goodness? In a PPR (points per reception) league that merely adds those points to ESPN's standard scoring system, Charles' 59 points -- 51 standard fantasy points plus one point apiece for his eight receptions -- set a new standard for an NFL running back, breaking Gale Sayers' 48-year-old record of 57. Charles also moved into fourth place among running backs in terms of receptions this season, extending his career high to 65.
Folks, we appear to have found our 2013 fantasy football MVP.
Charles' fantasy owners have no reason to gripe, even if they're cognizant that he didn't even lead his own team in rushing yards on Sunday, his 20 falling 14 short of backup Knile Davis' 34, 26 of which came in the fourth quarter after Charles had been removed with his Kansas City Chiefs up by 18 points. What those owners should appreciate is the historical context of his game.
So let's put said game into context, shall we?
Using ESPN's standard scoring system, listed below are the nine instances since 1960 -- the earliest season for which detailed NFL box scores were available -- in which a player scored 50 fantasy points or more. No, ESPN leagues didn't exist back then, but this is all for fun, and historical perspective. Besides, there is compelling evidence that fantasy football leagues existed at least as far back as 1962, the first year of the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League (GOPPPL).
(All statistics come from my historical research, collected in a database of individual player game logs.)
1. Gale Sayers, 1965 Week 13, 55 fantasy points: Sayers scored six touchdowns on this day, four rushing, one receiving and one on an 85-yard punt return, at the time becoming only the third player to score that many; he matched the record previously set by Ernie Nevers (1929) and Dub Jones (1951). The punt return score, his final one of the day, was especially significant: It gave him a then-record-setting 21 touchdowns for the season. Sayers even had a chance to break the touchdown record on a late-game punt; per the Associated Press, he ran 30 yards before slipping and being yanked by a man he had previously eluded on the return. No matter, as Sayers' performance is not only the greatest by any rookie in fantasy football since 1960, it's the greatest by any NFL player during that time.
2. Clinton Portis, 2003 Week 14, 54 fantasy points: This one meant about as much to his Denver Broncos as it did to his fantasy owners; without this win versus the eventual division-winning Kansas City Chiefs, the Broncos probably wouldn't have reached the playoffs in 2003. It was his fifth 100-yard rushing effort in a streak of six to conclude the season, and in the process, he upstaged an even bigger (at the time) fantasy stud, the Chiefs' Priest Holmes (44 rushing yards, two touchdowns).
3. (tied) Jim Brown, 1961 Week 10, 52 fantasy points: He'd have dominated fantasy football like no other running back could have for nine seasons, winning the league's rushing title in eight. But on this day, Brown was particularly productive, setting a then-NFL-record rushing mark with 242 yards … breaking his own record of 237, set four years earlier. His four rushing touchdowns would set a new career high, which he would match almost exactly one year later, in Week 10 of the 1962 season.
3. (tied) Jerry Rice, 1990 Week 6, 52 fantasy points: Rice matched an NFL record with five receiving touchdowns in this game against the Atlanta Falcons; Bob Shaw (1950) and Kellen Winslow Sr. (1981) previously shared the mark. Oddly, neither he nor his quarterback, Joe Montana, characterized it one of their better games. "I had a decent game today," Rice told the Associated Press. "But I don't compare games. I don't think I made two mistakes in the Super Bowl. Today, I made four or five."
3. (tied) Shaun Alexander, 2002 Week 4, 52: Ah, a Sunday night football classic. Surely you remember this one? In only the second game at CenturyLink Field (then Seahawks Stadium), Alexander set an NFL record with five touchdowns in the first half, establishing his reputation as a premier prime-time performer. He played 14 night games in his career, totaling 13 touchdowns.
6. (tied) Corey Dillon, 1997 Week 15, 51 fantasy points: Though it has since been eclipsed, Dillon's 246 rushing yards on this day set an NFL rookie record. Particularly impressive about Dillon's performance was that it came against a Tennessee Oilers defense that, entering the game, was ranked third in the NFL against the run.
6. (tied) Doug Martin, 2012 Week 9, 51: Though he had placed himself firmly in the class of fantasy studs with a 32-point breakout outing a week earlier against the stingy Minnesota Vikings defense, the "Muscle Hamster" affirmed himself as 2012's top rookie rusher thanks primarily to this game, during which he became the first player in NFL history to score three rushing touchdowns of 45 yards or longer (per ESPN Stats & Information). And if you're looking to toss cold water on the effort due to an "easy matchup," know this: There were actually four defenses that allowed more fantasy points per game to opposing running backs than the Raiders in 2012.
6. (tied) Jamaal Charles, 2013 Week 15, 51 fantasy points.
9. Jerry Butler, 1979 Week 4, 50 fantasy points: The third rookie on the list to cross the 50-point threshold, Butler's is the best by any rookie wide receiver since 1960. He caught two touchdowns of greater than 70 yards -- one was 75 and the other 74 -- to help his Buffalo Bills rally from a 24-12 deficit to defeat the New York Jets.
What about the AFL?
As the NFL record book does recognize marks set in the pre-merger AFL, I thought it might be interesting to expand the scope of fantasy football records to include AFL performances. There were three worth 50 points or greater:
1. Billy Cannon, 1961 Week 13, 62 fantasy points: Cannon's 330 yards from scrimmage on this day would set a record, eclipsed by Flipper Anderson 28 years later, but unlike Anderson, Cannon would score five touchdowns -- three rushing and two receiving -- to go along with it.
2. Cookie Gilchrist, 1963 Week 13, 54 fantasy points: He set then-AFL records with 36 carries and five touchdowns.
3. Abner Haynes, 1961 Week 11, 53 fantasy points: He scored five touchdowns on the day, four rushing and one receiving, and added 242 yards from scrimmage.
Running backs and wide receivers dominate the all-time leaderboard, but what about quarterbacks, tight ends and kickers? Here are the current record-holders (since 1960) at those three positions:
QB: Michael Vick, 2010 Week 10, 49: On the day that then-Washington Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb celebrated signing a five-year contract extension, it was the opposing quarterback, Vick, who lit up the fantasy scoreboard. Vick had three passing and two rushing touchdowns in the first half, becoming the first player to do that, routinely lighting up the Redskins' secondary en route to the NFL's first-ever performance of at least 300 passing yards, 50 rushing yards, four passing and two rushing scores. Vick would finish the 2010 season as fantasy's leading scorer.
TE: Kellen Winslow Sr., 1981 Week 12, 44 fantasy points: He scored a whopping five touchdowns, four of them coming on throws from Dan Fouts and the fifth on an option pass from running back Chuck Muncie late in the fourth quarter. It capped a key victory en route to a streak of four wins in Winslow's San Diego Chargers' final five games to rally from behind to take the AFC West crown; his Chargers would make it all the way to the conference championship.
K: Rob Bironas, 2007 Week 7, 29 fantasy points: He set an NFL record with eight field goals, the first of them coming from 52 yards, the final one the game-winner as time expired to defeat the Houston Texans. Remarkably, Bironas entered the Tennessee Titans' sixth game of the 2007 season with only eight field goals all season; he doubled his seasonal output in one day.
Fantasy football single-game leaderboard (since 1960)
The chart below highlights the 34 players since 1960 -- a total 35 instances -- who have amassed at least as many as 45 fantasy points (ESPN standard scoring).
* Sayers also had a return touchdown. # Blanda had seven extra points and missed one field goal. @ Peterson and Rice each lost a fumble.