Note: This article also appears in USA Today's 2011 fantasy
In every draft, there are “blue-chippers” – young
amateur players who possess such incredible skill they are often
considered essential building blocks in order to build a winning
team. In fantasy football, blue-chip prospects are often established
veteran players who possess a decorated professional resume. Much
like their NFL counterparts, fantasy owners cannot win their league
by simply landing a blue-chipper with each of their early picks.
However, they can almost guarantee themselves a non-championship
season if they miss on a player or two in the first few rounds.
Considering the highlight-heavy culture we live in nowadays, consistent
can often be mistaken for boring. With that in mind, many fantasy
pundits find more value in trying to unearth the next fantasy superstar
rather than emphasize the importance of building a solid core. While
owners need to spend time identifying the 2011 version of Arian
Foster, the difference between winning and losing in fantasy each
week can come down to the failure of a player or two on one team
living up to their usual production. As tempting as it is to chase
the aesthetically-pleasing and sometimes overhyped playmakers in
the first few rounds, choosing players who consistently post good
games wins more fantasy titles.
Along with many other factors – such as talent, playing time,
supporting cast and scheme – player consistency in fantasy
warrants a great deal of consideration on draft day. Sadly, most
owners build their draft board each year based primarily on the
previous season’s statistics, regardless of how a player achieved
those numbers. High roster turnover and coaching changes often dramatically
affects a player’s ability to meet or exceed his production
from the previous season because it can alter many of the aforementioned
factors vital to a player’s fantasy production. So it stands
to reason that owners can leave themselves in great shape by selecting
one consistent player after another as opposed to the one-year wonder.
Just like the stock market, no investment is guaranteed to perform
at the highest level every year, but some have a better foundation
for continued success than others. Fortunately, just like investment
firms, fantasy owners have a tool at their disposal to help them
identify which stocks stand the greatest chance to deliver solid
returns year after year – consistency rankings. Just like
a portfolio of consistent stocks often leads to a happy retirement,
a portfolio of consistent fantasy players often finds itself challenging
for the league title.
With the theory of drafting consistent fantasy players now explained,
it may be beneficial to review the top 10 most consistent players
by position courtesy of the Consistency
Calculator found on FF Today. The first table will feature the
best 2010 had to offer while the second table will highlight the
most trustworthy players over the past three seasons.
For the purposes of this article, all touchdowns are worth six
points. Otherwise, standard point-per-reception scoring will be
applied to this format that requires two starting running backs
and three receivers in a 12-team league. In order to qualify, a
player must have played in at least 75% of his team’s games.
In what can only be described as an incredible coincidence, exactly
five players at each position made both lists. As amazing of an
occurrence as this is, it does speak to the conventional wisdom
that approximately 50% of players will fail to live up to their
fantasy draft position each year. Assuming that axiom holds steady
on a yearly basis, it becomes clearer why owners are better served
starting their draft preparation with consistency rankings as opposed
to just observing a player’s final numbers and rankings from
the previous season. Therefore, let’s take a deeper look at
the 20 players who appeared on both lists. What becomes apparent
very quickly is that on-field consistency – in terms of supporting
cast, scheme and the like – quite often leads to fantasy consistency.
At quarterback, the five-man honor roll reads like a who’s who at
the position: Aaron
Roethlisberger and Drew
Brees. It should come as no surprise that each player has essentially
played in the same system since 2007 and also enjoyed the benefit
of playing with his top receiver in every season. The five most
consistent rushers are also considered fantasy royalty: Chris
Jones-Drew and Steven
Jackson. While consistency in terms of system and coaching staff
doesn’t affect runners as much as the other positions, opportunity
does. Since 2009 – when Jones-Drew, Johnson and Rice joined the
other two at his team’s unquestioned full-time starter – not one
of the backs has registered fewer than 333 touches. This kind of
workload not only speaks volumes about their talent and team’s trust
in them, but also their durability.
Wide receivers can be considered an odd combination of quarterbacks
and running backs, at least as it relates to consistency in fantasy.
Because a receiver’s production is invariably tied to impeccable
timing with the quarterback, supporting cast and experience in the
same offensive system are vital for their success. And since a receiver’s
production is almost entirely reliant upon his durability and opportunity,
tracking receptions and targets goes a long way in identifying what
players stand the best chance of being the most consistent. Although
Johnson has dealt with a myriad of injuries – his own as well
as his quarterbacks’ – over the last three years, Andre
Wayne and Greg
Jennings have each had the benefit of playing with the same
signal-caller for at least three seasons. Not surprisingly, all
five receivers have averaged at least 7.3 targets per game every
season since 2008.
Andre: As consistent as they come.
The same logic that allows receivers to succeed usually applies
to tight ends as well, however, the 2010 season was a rough one
for tight ends as both Antonio
Gates and Dallas
Clark could not reach the 12-game benchmark established above
due to injury. While inaccurate quarterbacks usually spell disaster
for receivers, their presence can sometimes result in solid numbers
for the team’s best tight end in fantasy because they often run
shorter routes against overmatched linebackers and safeties, which
helps explain the presence of players like Vernon
Cooley and Zach
Miller on the list of the five most consistent tight ends since
2008. However, relying on tight ends playing with average quarterbacks
does not lend itself to consistency. Had Gates and Clark met the
minimum-games qualification, they would have joined Jason
Witten and Tony
Gonzalez on this list.
So, what bearing does all this information have on fantasy owners
as they prepare for the 2011 season? First of all, always keep upside
in mind when considering a player while remembering the chances
that a player like Roethlisberger will let his owners down next
season is much less than someone like Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman,
who will have the full attention of opposing defensive coordinators
next season as well as a tougher schedule than he did in 2010. Freeman
may very well outperform Roethlisberger, but is the former’s
upside so high that it outweighs the fact that the latter has been
posting top-end numbers longer than Freeman has been in the NFL?
Fantasy owners who consistently win year after year tend to possess
the most consistent players. As a rule, most of these fantasy blue-chippers
are spoken for by the end of the fourth round, therefore owners
can be excused for drafting for upside after that point. However,
it is rarely ever a bad idea to look for scheme, coach and supporting
cast consistency even when making upside picks because talent does
not always win the day. In the end, fantasy championships are won
when owners mix consistent performers with potential breakout players.
So while very few people strive to be boring, everyone loves a winner
– which is exactly what fantasy owners have a good shot of
being when they load up on consistent players.
Suggestions, comments, musings about the article
or fantasy football in general? E-mail
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006, appeared
in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in each
of the last two seasons and served as a weekly fantasy football
analyst for 106.7 The Fan in Washington, D.C. this past season.
He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
You can also follow him