The “Gut Feeling” is often synonymous with a sense
of desperation resulting from a lack of preparation. The Gut Check
is a huge proponent of studying the numbers, but there’s
a point where one can place too much emphasis on the wrong information.
This can result in the undervaluing or overlooking a player’s
potential. Therefore, The Weekly Gut Check is devoted to examining
the frame of reference behind certain number-driven guidelines
that fantasy football owners use to make decisions.
Although The Weekly Gut Check doesn’t claim to be psychic,
he does believe that he can dispel certain numbers biases and
help you make the best choices for your team. We’ll keep
a running tally of The Weekly Gut Check’s insights. This
way you can gauge his views as something to seriously consider,
or at least seriously consider running the opposite way as fast
as you can!
Justin Dean is The Gut Check's long-time friend and heated fantasy
league rival. Justin and Yours Truly created a dynasty league three
years ago that incorporates a salary cap and market values that
fluctuate according to weekly performance. Although The Gut Check
has bested Jut in their division two out of the league's three years
of existence, Jut won the championship in both of those seasons-including
a half-point victory over Yours Truly to decide the league title
in 2003. This is another reason this writer speaks in third person-between
losing his stats database and the championship by such a slim margin,
The Gut Check is lucky to be sane.
The other day, Jut suggested an idea for an article. Jut usually
has good ideas and if he doesn't, The Gut Check often finds one
after they debate a player or team's prospects. Jut's suggestion
(email below) was profiling the most consistent players in fantasy
Take the perspective that it's not just about last year's
numbers. Point out the players [that] may not have the eye-popping
stats at the end of the week, but always gets several catches
and a TD every other game. If you just based it on stats, you'd
say that [one player] was better than [another] in our league,
but, to me, [the more consistent player] was much more valuable.
He got his points every week. [The other] didn't
Excellent idea. Few people haven't had a season where their team(s)
scored a ton of points one week then under-performed the next.
When haven't you heard a story (or told one) where an owner has
a roster filled with players that are statistically considered
quality talent but the team seems to have bad luck for one too
many weeks? These tend to be the squads that suffers tough losses,
goes 7-6 or 6-7 in the regular season, and find themselves scuffling
for a playoff spot. Finding out which players are consistent might
yield some surprising results and be a new wrinkle for various
fantasy personnel strategies.
The methodology involved is pretty simple, but the process is
potentially time-consuming depending on how much data and reporting
tools you have at your disposal. Fortunately, The Gut Check is
somewhat handy with database queries and Doug Drinen of www.pro-football-reference.com
is very generous with his tables of data:
For anyone not familiar with the term "baseline performance,"
The Gut Check is referring to the minimum performance required of
that category. For example, in a 12-team league with a starting
lineup of 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE the average fantasy points per
game of the 12th rated QB would be the baseline for all QB#1's.
If one wishes to calculate the baseline just multiply the number
of teams in your league by the number position designation (QB#1,
#2, #3, etc.). For example, a WR#3 is the 36th ranked receiver.
This is very similar to the preliminary steps for VBD calculations
for X values.
- Compile weekly statistical performance of each player
by position for any given year.
- Calculate the fantasy points for each week. The Gut Check
used this basic scoring system:
- 0.1 points per rushing and receiving yard.
- 0.05 points per passing yard.
- 4 points per passing touchdown.
- 6 points per rushing touchdown.
- Calculate the average fantasy points per player by position
for any given season.
- Calculate the baseline Fantasy Points per Game for positions
in a 12-team league from 2000-2003 using these designations:
- Elite PerformerThese are the top player or players in terms
of average fantasy points per game at their respective position-in
other words, they are the cream of the crop. During this time
span, The Elite is comprised of the best quarterback, the best
two running backs, the three best receivers, and the three best
- QB#1, RB#1, WR#1, TE#1Based on average fantasy points, these
are the top 12 starters including the elite.
- RB#2, WR#2,WR#3These are generally starting lineup positions
in most leagues and are the top 24-36 starters (including the
elite and #1s)
- QB#2, RB#3, WR#4Depending on the league, these are positions
in a starting lineup or first-line substitutions for bye weeks/injuries.
- RB#4, WR#5, TE#2These are generally substitution positions
on a roster.
- Sub-Par Performance-These are performances lower than the average
baseline for the lowest-ranked positional category (QB#2, RB#4,
WR#5, & TE#2). The Gut Check designated these categories to
take in account bye weeks and roster-quality depth. These are
players most leagues deem draft-able and will likely start these
players at some point during the season.
Here is the baseline averages for each position from 2000-2003:
|Baseline Average Fantasy
Points Per Game
The Gut Check used these baselines to determine how consistent individual
players have performed in comparison to their peers from 2000-2003.
Using this data, The Gut Check rated positions on the following
criteria for seasons 2000-2003:
- Average fantasy points per game
- Lowest Percentage of Sub-Par games
- Highest Percentage of Elite quality games
- Highest Percentage of #1WR, #2WR, #3WR, #4WR, and #5
A great example to show how this works is the comparison of Marvin
Harrison and Chad Johnson in 2003:
|| Avg Pts
|| Sub Par
From strictly the perspective of 2003's fantasy points with this
basic scoring system, Johnson is slightly better but Marvin Harrison
would have had the edge if he had played 16 games. But how consistently
did Harrison accumulate his points last season? Harrison had sub-par
fantasy performances (less than 7.13 fantasy points in a game)
for 33.33% of the 2003 season. Although this percentage is still
indicative of a very good fantasy receiver, that's five games
where he performed worse than the average #5 WR in fantasy football.
Yes, Harrison is a great player and there's no denying he's a
key cog for many a team, but for an elite receiver you count on
five sub-par performances accounts for almost half of a regular
In contrast, Chad Johnson was sub-par for only three games in
2003-18.75% of the time. Furthermore, the Bengal's Pro Bowl receiver
was 17% more likely to have an elite level performance than Harrison
and 10% more likely to perform at least like a #1 WR.
Heading into 2003, taking Harrison over Johnson would be a no-brainer
in most leagues. Unless you are in rotisserie-style league modeled
after fantasy baseball where total season points determines the
champion, it's actually more detrimental for an owner to have
too many players that score a lot one week then play below expectations
the next. Johnson turned out to be the better player because he
had two fewer sub-par performances and three more elite-level
games. Although they only had a total of 5-6 fantasy points separating
them, this level of consistency from game to game could have a
significant impact on your team's win-loss record.
Which receivers have been the most consistent for the last three
years? The Gut Check chose the active receivers with the highest
percentage likelihood of performing at least as a #3WR-a clear
fantasy starter in traditional leagues:
|| WR #1
|| WR #2
|| WR #3
|| WR #4
|| WR #5
The names on the list aren't much of a surprise, but the difference
in consistency does jump off the page. If one were to draft according
to these results, Terrell Owens and Randy Moss would be considered
the best fantasy receivers in the game today. Moss isn't a shock,
but Owens is a surprise when most people consider Harrison and
Holt as better options. Let's look at the data:
- Owens averaged the most fantasy points per game in this
- Only Randy Moss had a smaller sub-par percentage-20.31%
to Owens' 22.03%, but it still comes out to the same amount of
games where they scored lower than 7.14 points.
- Owens and Moss had nearly the same number of games where
they performed like a #1, #2, or #3 WR-with Owens' percentages
slightly higher as a #1 & #3 and nearly 10% higher as at least
a #2 WR.
- Additionally, Moss' and Owens' best fantasy total in
a game during the last three years (36.9 and 36.3 points respectively)
is nearly the same.
The Gut Check wouldn't tell you that based on this data Owens
is the top fantasy choice over Moss, but he should be mentioned
in the realm of Moss and Harrison. For the same period of time,
Torry Holt is actually the player-not Owens-that should have been
described as just a notch below for the last three years.
Holt, to his credit, had a terrific 2003 and he and Moss were
the most consistent high-performers at the receiver position so
it's likely he's actually earning the credit he got a bit prematurely.
Along with Chad Johnson, Steve Smith is another receiver that
was very consistent last year and may be trending upward. The
Gut Check could also throw Peter Warrick, Chris Chambers, and
David Givens on this list but the presence of other up and coming
pass catchers on their teams (Washington, Booker, and Branch)
makes Yours Truly more hesitant to tab them with the same confidence.
Jut initially used Hines Ward and Derrick Mason as examples for
comparison. Just looking at the 2003 stats, the results were basically
even-Ward had slightly more elite level and #1 WR performances
but Mason was playing at a quality starter level more often than
Ward. But from a three-year perspective, the difference is noticeably
in favor of the Titans primary receiver. Nearly two-thirds (64.91%)
of Mason's games were equivalent to a #3 WR compared with less
than half (48.44%) of Wards'.
Consistency ratings for running backs are yet another way to
illustrate the old fantasy axiom that the top backs tend to be
more consistent and prolific than the top receivers.
|| Avg Pts
|| RB #1
|| RB #2
|| RB #3
|| RB #4
There are seven backs that had a lower sub-par performance percentage
than the most consistent receiver. Six out of these seven also
averaged more points per game during this three-year span. The
fifteenth-ranked back according to fantasy points was still better
than the fourth-ranked receiver. This means knowing your values
among positions and is an important draft day tool.
If you judge a back by the percentage of games where he performs
at least on par with the average starting-quality RB in a fantasy
lineup then Clinton Portis is your back of choice. Over three
quarters of his games amounted to at least #2 RB-level performances.
That's as solid as you can get. Marshall Faulk, Ahman Green, and
Ladanian Tomlinson aren't too far behind, but there's a clear
drop off after Tomlinson.
Edgerrin James is as consistent a fantasy player you can hope
to draft-over 80% of his games resulted in performances that were
at least better than the baseline for even a #2 fantasy quality
receiver and no worse than quality, #3 RB in any given week. Considering
the fact that James has been recovering from his ACL for two out
of those three years, that's still very impressive. Maybe the
most overrated back in fantasy drafts for the last three years
was Shaun Alexander. The Gut Check believes the Seahawks starter
is a terrific player, but the data shows that he was far less
consistent than the back that many owners shied away from for
two of the last three years-Fred Taylor.
The injury factor obviously plays into this decision, but even
against the rest of this list only Anthony Thomas had a higher
instance of sub-par performances than Alexander over this three-year
span. Once again, Alexander's numbers from 2003 alone show a dramatic
improvement and there where only five running backs with fewer
sub-par performances. Seattle continues to improve, so expect
a similar level of consistency from Alexander as his 2003 outing.
So like Holt, he's earning the hype that may have been a bit too
generous in the past.
Priest Homes? Incredible 2003 campaign-and it is no surprise
that he had zero sub-par outings last year and 75% of his games
were on the elite level. Jamal Lewis? Great yardage season, but
his elite games percentage 37.5% was far lower than Tomlinson
62.5%, Ahman Green 56.25%, and Clinton Portis 46.15%. But Lewis
won many a title for an owner because only 6.25% of his games
Quarterbacks tend to have a great drop off after the first three
players. Unlike the other positions, the difference in performance
among the first three passers in comparison to each other is very
|| Avg Pts
|| QB #1
|| QB #2
Based on this data, Daunte Culpepper is dramatically the best
player in fantasy football today. The Viking has an elite-level
game more than half the time he plays-only Marshall Faulk and
Marvin Harrison are even remotely close to the 50% mark here.
More impressive is combining his elite-level output with only
14% of his performances falling below the #2 QB level-only Ahman
Green and Edgerrin James are more consistent and not by much.
Marc Bulger and Kurt Warner illustrate the effectiveness of the
Rams' system. Although Peyton Manning ranks near the top of the
list, he's only the best choice among passers if you factor in
his health-something many owners don't take into account. Jeff
Garcia's performances underscore the point that he's a very underrated
player in both the NFL and fantasy football.
Both Garcia and Steve McNair continue to be overlooked #1 quality
fantasy quarterbacks and present excellent value. Garcia was only
behind McNair and Culpepper in consistency over the course of
the 2003 season. In fact he was nearly 20% more consistent than
Manning. McNair's performances over this three year period is
trending upward-only Daunte Culpepper had a higher number of #1
QB quality performances than the co-MVP of the NFL. Speaking of
co-MVP's Peyton Manning had a very un-MVP-like amount of sub-par
fantasy performances in 2003-37.5%--and only a #1 QB quality performer
50% of the season!
The data for tight ends offers no surprises. Tony Gonzalez is
the dominant player at the position. Jeremy Shockey is a player
that matches Gonzalez's consistency as a #1 TE and has a similarly
low percentage of sub-par games. Unfortunately, Shockey hasn't
performed up to par in one the most basic elements that factor
into consistency-getting out of the training room.
|| Avg Pts
|| Sub Par
|| #1 TE
|| #2 TE
After Gonzalez, (and a healthy Shockey) there isn't much consistency
to be had. Todd Heap, Marcus Pollard, and a pre-retired Shannon
Sharpe were just a notch below, but don't present the combination
of productivity and consistency that approach the Chief's superstar.
Daniel Graham came on during the second half of 2003 and if he continues
this trend, he could move up into Heap-Pollard territory of the
last three years. This is still a risky proposition, because Ben
Watson is a talent rookie capable of supplanting Graham if he reverts
back to his first year and a half of under-performing.
The Gut Check will try to find ways incorporate these ratings
into more of his analysis as the season goes along and definitely
into his rankings for next year. This information also looks like
helpful data for evaluating trades, lineup choices, and FFTOC
strategy. As always, share your thoughts and ideas. Maybe we can
figure out even more practical applications of this idea.