Era-adjusted fantasy football player rankings: Walter Payton, Sid Luckman lead the legends of the Chicago Bears

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 Chicago Bears team history!

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

All-time fantasy starting lineup

QB: Sid Luckman

RB: Walter Payton

RB: Red Grange

WR: Harlon Hill

WR: Ken Kavanaugh

TE: Mike Ditka

SuperFLEX: Joey Sternaman


Quarterback—Sid Luckman

starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
7 5 4.5 4 5 4 4.5 4 38

It speaks volumes for the history of the Chicago Bears that Sid Luckman, a star who played from 1939-1950, is hands down the best Bears quarterback of all-time. That also applies to fantasy scoring, as Luckman has the most starter-caliber seasons among Chicago field generals and is tied for the top in quality-caliber campaigns in non-PPR scoring. Luckman’s 38 career points also placed second among all Bears players.

Running Back—Walter Payton

starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
12 9 4.5 two 12 9 3 0 51.5

The man known as “Sweetness” is the best Chicago fantasy player ever, as his 12 starter-caliber seasons and nine quality-caliber campaigns are by far the tops in Bears history, and his 51.5 points also easily claim the lead on Chicago. Payton led running backs in non-PPR and PPR scoring for three straight seasons (1977-79), was a Top 5 running back in non-PPR nine times and Top 6 RB in PPR on nine occasions.

Running Back—Matt Forte

starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
8 5 3 0 8 4 1.5 two 31.5

A strong argument could be made to place Red Grange or Bronko Nagurski here, as each posted higher scores in career points (33 for Grange, 32 for Nagurski) but Forte had more starter-caliber seasons among Bears running backs than anyone except for Payton and was tied for second in quality-caliber campaigns at this position. That type of longevity was enough to justify vaulting him over those two old school superstars.

Wide receiver—Harlon Hill

starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
5 3 4.5 4 4 3 4.5 4 32

Hill was the best wide receiver in fantasy football in 1954-56, as he ranked first or second in non-PPR in each of those seasons and placed in the Top 3 in PPR in each campaign. Two of those years (1954 and 1956) were so impressive that they resulted in a perfect 11 score in career points. Hill was only a solid starter in two other seasons, but the 22 points from the perfect campaigns alone would have ranked tied for first, and the two other starter seasons move Hill to the top spot among Chicago wide receivers.

Wide receiver—Ken Kavanaugh

starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
7 5 1.5 two 7 4 3 two 31.5

Kavanaugh is a forgotten name in Chicago history, but he was one of the best fantasy wide receivers of his era. He posted a starter-caliber season in 1941 and then left the Bears to serve as a fighter pilot in World War II. Kavanaugh returned for the 1945 season and posted six straight starter-caliber years, including a dominant 1947 season in which he ranked first in non-PPR wide receiver scoring, second in PPR scoring, and tallied a perfect 11 career points.

Tight End—Mike Ditka

starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
5 4 3 0 5 4 4.5 0 25.5

It would have been surprising if anyone other than “Iron” Mike Ditka ended up as the best fantasy tight end in Chicago Bears history. He was the best tight end in the league from 1962-64, as he ranked first or second in both non-PPR and PPR scoring in each of those seasons. Ditka was also a mid-tier first-string at the end position in 1961 (tight end-specific scoring didn’t commence until 1962) and a TE1 in 1965, which was more than enough to land him the top tight end spot.

SuperFlex—Joey Sternaman

starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
6 4 6 two 6 4 6 two 36

This was a close battle between Sternaman, Grange, and Nagurski, as they all were top-flight fantasy players back in the early days of the NFL, but Sternaman had an edge in fantasy scoring because he served as the Bears kicker in addition to being one of Chicago’s top touchdown scorers. Sternaman finished in the Top 7 in fantasy scoring four times from 1922-28.


All-time best era-adjusted fantasy seasons

QB: Sid Luckman, 1943 (177.8 points)

RB: Rick Casares, 1956 (209.9 non-PPR, 232.9 PPR)

WR: Jim Keane, 1947 (149 non-PPRs, 213 PPRS)

TE: Mike Ditka, 1961 (177.6 non-PPR, 233.6 PPR)

SuperFLEX: Beattie Feathers, 1934 (178.4 non-PPR, 184.4 PPR)

(Top photo: James V. Biever/Getty Images)

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