INDIANAPOLIS — It's almost impossible to fathom what could've been had Peyton Manning and Marshall Faulk been in the same backfield for more than just one season with the Indianapolis Colts.
That season, 1998, Manning's rookie year, obviously wasn't great for the team — the Colts finished 3-13 and last in the AFC East Division race — but it was a tremendous building block and the start of a new era in Indianapolis.
Faulk — who was selected second-overall by the Colts in the 1994 NFL Draft — would eventually be traded to the St. Louis Rams after the season, and the Colts would quickly move on by selecting future Hall of Fame finalist Edgerrin James in the first round of the 1999 draft. With Faulk's (and the Rams') subsequent success, as well as what the Colts were able to do with James in the backfield, in mind, we won't dwell on those post-1998 moves too much.
But Football Outsiders recently reminded us just how good Faulk — and Manning, for that matter — were individually as players for the Colts' offense.
The organization, in conjunction with ESPN, recently published several lists of the Top 30 offenses, defenses, special teams units and teams of the past 30 years in the NFL, but perhaps its most interesting piece is its "best QB, RB, WR, TE seasons of the past 30 years," which might as well be named "The Peyton Manning and Marshall Faulk Chronicles."
(You can read the entire piece by clicking here, but ESPN Insider access is required; you can also see which Colts' offensive units made the grade in Football Outsiders best offenses of the past 30 years by clicking here.)
Anyway, Football Outsiders utilizes its own analytic, "DVOA" (defense-adjusted value over average), to measure "success on each play based on down and distance and then compares it with an NFL average baseline adjusted for situation and opponent" for quarterbacks, while it uses "DYAR" (defensive-adjusted yards above replacement) for running backs and receivers.
And while many great names are found through these top individual seasons lists, let's take a look at where the Colts' players landed, specifically:
1. Peyton Manning, 2004 Colts
58.9 percent DVOA
The big difference between Brady's 2007 and Manning's 2004 is that it took Brady 578 pass attempts to throw 50 passing touchdowns, but it took Manning only 497 pass attempts to throw 49. Manning's 9.9 percent touchdown rate was the highest since 1960, and his 8.74 net yards per pass attempt were the highest all time for a quarterback who started at least a dozen games.
3. Peyton Manning, 2006 Colts
51.3 percent DVOA
Manning's raw totals in 2006 didn't match those of more famous seasons, but he was extremely efficient in a season in which quarterback play around the league was down a bit. He led the league with 31 touchdowns and had only nine interceptions. His completion rate of 65.0 percent was third in the league, and his net yards per pass attempt of 7.55 was second. Manning also took just 14 sacks and fumbled only twice.
(Manning's 2013 season with the Denver Broncos also ranked at No. 8.)
6. Marshall Faulk, 1998 Colts and Terrell Davis, 1998 Broncos (tie)
There were two fantastic and very different all-time great running back seasons in 1998. Davis gained 2,008 yards on the ground with a league-leading 5.1 yards per carry and 21 rushing touchdowns. As a receiver, however, he had a mediocre 66 percent catch rate and just 217 yards.
Faulk, on the other hand, gained 1,319 rushing yards on just 4.1 yards per carry, although he did this against the second-hardest schedule of opposing run defenses in the NFL. More impressive were his receiving numbers: 86 catches for 908 yards and four touchdowns, with an 82 percent catch rate.
So in the same season, 1998, Davis had 602 rushing DYAR, the highest value for any running back in the past 30 years, while Faulk had 421 receiving DYAR, also the highest value for any running back in the past 30 years.
If we considered only rushing value, our top five would be Terrell Davis (1998 Broncos), Stephen Davis (1999 Redskins), Terrell Davis again (1997 Broncos), Emmitt Smith (1995 Cowboys), and Marshall Faulk (2000 Rams). If we considered only receiving value, the top five would be Faulk in 1998, 1999 and 2001, plus Garner in 2002 and Larry Centers (1995 Cardinals). The best rushing season of the past decade belongs to Adrian Peterson (2012 Vikings, ranked No. 11 since 1987) while the best receiving season belongs to Le'Veon Bell (2014 Steelers, ranked No. 7 since 1987).
The top five seasons for combined rushing and receiving value are essentially The Marshall Faulk Show with special guest Priest Holmes.
(Faulk's 2001 [fifth], 1999 [third] and 2000 [first] seasons with the St. Louis Rams also appeared on this list.)
The analysis from those producing content on Colts.com does not necessarily represent the thoughts of the Indianapolis Colts organization. Any conjecture, analysis or opinions formed by Colts.com content creators is not based on inside knowledge gained from team officials, players or staff.