Commentary

Greatest fantasy performances: Receivers/Tight Ends

Updated: February 1, 2008, 7:26 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft

Generally speaking -- or at least with regard to the regular season -- wide receivers rarely dominate the fantasy landscape. In 2008, for instance, only one -- Randy Moss -- ranked among the top 14 in total points earned. Five placed among the top 25 overall.

In the Super Bowl, however, receivers have been bigger contributors than you might expect. Fourteen have registered 20-point fantasy days, and a good share more have come close. The greatest fantasy performance by a wide receiver actually topped any ever accomplished by a running back, and it ranked third best when accounting for all skill positions.

That's not to say the MVP voting has been right in line with receivers' statistical outputs. Five receivers in Super Bowl history have taken home those honors; by comparison, eight defensive players have done it. And of the five who won, only two actually cracked the top 10 for fantasy. In fact, Fred Biletnikoff was named the MVP of Super Bowl XI; he managed a paltry seven points, taking home the hardware mostly because of his three key first downs, each of which set the Raiders up at the goal line. To think, had he merely snuck into the end zone those three times, instead of being stopped twice at the 1-yard line and once at the 2-yard line, he'd have placed fourth on the all-time fantasy list.

Something else interesting stands out on the list below: I've grouped wide receivers and tight ends into one position, but only one of these 11 names was a tight end. And besides Dan Ross, no other tight end was even close. Sorry Dave Casper, John Mackey and Jay Novacek, your days were good, but not that good.

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1. Jerry Rice, 49ers
Stats: 33 points, 10-149-3 receiving, 1-10-0 rushing
Super Bowl XXIX, Jan. 29, 1995: 49ers 49, Chargers 26
Get ready to see a lot of this name on the list. Rice, only once in his career a Super Bowl MVP, actually had two better fantasy efforts than his Super Bowl XXIII MVP day, including this one. He's the only man to have multiple three-touchdown games in the Super Bowl, and this one earned him the top fantasy performance in a Super Bowl -- of any position -- that didn't earn the player an MVP award. Surely Steve Young, who did earn those honors in this game, appreciated Rice's value, in real life or for fantasy.

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2. Jerry Rice, 49ers
Stats: 32 points, 7-148-3 receiving
Super Bowl XXIV, Jan. 28, 1990: 49ers 55, Broncos 10
The other three-touchdown Super Bowl on Rice's résumé, this one trailed only the one ahead of it because he didn't run for 10 yards, as he did in Super Bowl XXIX. Everyone on the 49ers got in the action in this one; besides Rice at No. 2 among receivers, Joe Montana notched the No. 3 fantasy performance by a quarterback in a Super Bowl, while Roger Craig managed 15 points and Tom Rathman had 19 in the 55-10 blowout.

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3. Ricky Sanders, Redskins
Stats: 31 points, 9-193-2 receiving, 1-(-4)-0 rushing
Super Bowl XXII, Jan. 31, 1988: Redskins 42, Broncos 10
Only two men in Super Bowl history had more total yards than Sanders' 235 in this contest: Andre Coleman in Super Bowl XXIX and Desmond Howard in Super Bowl XXXI, who tied with 244. That demonstrates how much of a force Sanders was on this day, even if he didn't land MVP honors for it. He managed the second-most receiving yards in a Super Bowl, the third-longest reception in a Super Bowl (an 80-yard touchdown catch), and added three kick returns for 46 yards. It'd be the start of an impressive run for Sanders; he'd follow this up with back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns in 1988 and '89.

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4. Jerry Rice, 49ers
Stats: 27 points, 11-215-1 receiving, 1-5-0 rushing
Super Bowl XXIII, Jan. 22, 1989: 49ers 20, Bengals 16
Incredibly, Rice's lone MVP award didn't coincide with his best fantasy performance, which, in a way, demonstrates how much he dominated the big game even when others stole the spotlight from him. He scored a touchdown in each of his four Super Bowl appearances, totaled 105 fantasy points in those contests, and finished with eight 100-yard receiving efforts and 22 scores in 28 career playoff games. Rice's 11 receptions tie him for the most ever in a Super Bowl, and his 215 yards to this day stand as the record.

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5. Max McGee, Packers
Stats: 25 points, 7-138-2 receiving
Super Bowl I, Jan. 15, 1967: Packers 35, Chiefs 10
Even in the early days of the Super Bowl -- then called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game -- there were dominant fantasy efforts to be found, like this one, from perhaps one of the least likely candidates in the game's history. Not that McGee had endured a poor career in the NFL, by any means, but by 1966, he was a 34-year-old receiver who had managed a paltry four catches for 91 yards and a score. That's for the season, folks. McGee would have one last big day left in him, though, and of all places, he saved it for Super Bowl I. Incredibly, his quarterback, Bart Starr, would pick up MVP honors despite 16 fantasy points, a noticeably lower score, but we'll give McGee the credit he deserves.

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6 (tied). Michael Irvin, Cowboys
Stats: 23 points, 6-114-2 receiving
Super Bowl XXVII, Jan. 31, 1993: Cowboys 52, Bills 17
While Troy Aikman was never considered an elite fantasy quarterback -- or, at least, not on the Peyton Manning/Tom Brady level -- his top receiver, Irvin, always registered as one of the game's best, particularly in an eight-year stretch from 1991 to '98 when the Cowboys averaged 11 wins per season. So, on a day when Aikman exploded for four touchdown passes, it's only natural that Irvin reaped the benefits, with a two-score, 114-yard receiving effort. Surprisingly, it'd be the only time in his three appearances in the Super Bowl that Irvin would crack double digits; he totaled 13 points in his other two.

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6 (tied). John Stallworth, Steelers
Stats: 23 points, 3-115-2 receiving
Super Bowl XIII, Jan. 21, 1979: Steelers 35, Cowboys 31
No receiver in the top 10 would catch as few as the three balls Stallworth did in Super Bowl XIII, but he sure made 'em count. To this day his 38.33 yards-per-catch average has him tied for third in the game's history, and his two touchdowns in the game helped him leapfrog teammate Lynn Swann, whose seven catches for 124 yards and a score on the same day, good for 18 fantasy points, missed the cut. It wouldn't be the first time Stallworth managed a three-catch, 100-yard receiving day. He'd follow this up with a three-catch, 121-yard, one-score performance in Super Bowl XIV, good for a solid 18 fantasy points.

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8 (tied). Isaac Bruce, Rams
Stats: 22 points, 6-162-1 receiving
Super Bowl XXXIV, Jan. 30, 2000: Rams 23, Titans 16
At the onset of the 1999 season, no one was giving the Rams much of a shot at the playoffs, and Bruce was being labeled an injury-prone, broken-down receiver. Flash forward four months and 1,165 yards and 12 scores later, and Bruce would be back as a fantasy stalwart, and his Rams would be Super Bowl champions. His 162 receiving yards in Super Bowl XXXIV rank him third all time, and they'd help him regain the trust of his fantasy owners.

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8 (tied). Antonio Freeman, Packers
Stats: 22 points, 9-126-2 receiving, 1 lost fumble
Super Bowl XXXII, Jan. 25, 1998: Broncos 31, Packers 24
Ah, those costly lost fumbles. Had Freeman not committed one on this day, he'd have vaulted to sixth on the list, although fortunately his gaffe didn't cost his Packers much. They regained possession on an interception the very next play. Still, matched against a Broncos team at its peak, starring John Elway and Terrell Davis, Freeman's efforts wouldn't be enough to earn his team a victory. Not that he performed poorly -- he registered the third-most total yards in a Super Bowl (230), adding six kick returns for 104 yards to his healthy nine-catch, 126-yard receiving total. Not bad at all.

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8 (tied). Dan Ross, Bengals
Stats: 22 points, 11-104-2 receiving
Super Bowl XVI, Jan. 24, 1982: 49ers 26, Bengals 21
The lone tight end on the list, Ross' record-setting 11 receptions would almost certainly have earned him MVP honors had his Bengals won, but like Freeman, he came out on the losing end despite his standout performance. In the best season of his seven-year NFL career, Ross led the Bengals with 71 receptions in 1981, adding a respectable 910 yards and five scores, though he saved the best single-game effort of his career for his lone Super Bowl appearance. He was a solid, reliable option at his position in the early days of fantasy, but matched against Joe Montana and the 49ers, it wouldn't be enough on this day.

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8 (tied). Lynn Swann, Steelers
Stats: 22 points, 4-161-1 receiving
Super Bowl X, Jan. 18, 1976: Steelers 21, Cowboys 17
Only the second MVP-winning performance to crack the top 10, Swann's Super Bowl X effort actually looked better 30 years ago than it does today. At the time he recorded it, Swann ranked second on this list and set a Super Bowl record with 161 receiving yards, not bad for 10 years of the game's history. Today, he still owns the distinction of the second-best yards-per-catch average in a Super Bowl (40.25). He'll also be remembered for what's widely considered one of the game's most acrobatic plays, a 53-yard, tumbling, stumbling (but not fumbling) reception caught in midair, parallel to the ground.

Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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