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The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 16
Consistency Ratings

Rookie Scouting Portfolio 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 football:

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 is very generous with his tables of data:

  • 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 Performer—These 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 tight ends.

    • QB#1, RB#1, WR#1, TE#1—Based on average fantasy points, these are the top 12 starters including the elite.

    • RB#2, WR#2,WR#3—These 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#4—Depending on the league, these are positions in a starting lineup or first-line substitutions for bye weeks/injuries.

    • RB#4, WR#5, TE#2—These 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.
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.

Here is the baseline averages for each position from 2000-2003:

Baseline Average Fantasy Points Per Game
 Pos  Elite  #1  #2  #3  #4  #5
 QB 24.59 18.96 16.49 NA NA NA
 RB 19.44 13.71 11.63 9.76 8.67 NA
 WR 13.6 10.2 9.22 8.39 7.54 7.13
 TE 7.6 5.12 4.6 NA NA NA

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 WR-quality games

A great example to show how this works is the comparison of Marvin Harrison and Chad Johnson in 2003:

WR Comparison
Last  First  G  Avg Pts  Sub Par  Elite  WR#1  WR#2  WR#3  WR#4  WR#5
Harrison Marvin 15 12.5 33.33% 26.67% 46.67% 53.33% 66.67% 66.67% 66.67%
Johnson Chad 16 12.22 18.75% 43.75% 56.25% 56.25% 62.50% 68.75% 81.25%

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 fantasy season!

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:

The WRs
Last  First  G  Avg
Sub Par  Elite  WR #1  WR #2  WR #3  WR #4  WR #5
Owens Terrell 59 14.4 22.03% 44.07% 61.02% 72.88% 74.58% 76.27% 77.97%
Moss Randy 64 13.6 20.31% 43.75% 60.94% 62.50% 73.44% 78.13% 79.69%
Harrison Marvin 63 14.2 23.81% 46.03% 58.73% 66.67% 73.02% 76.19% 76.19%
Boldin Anquan 16 11.86 31.25% 31.25% 37.50% 50.00% 68.75% 68.75% 68.75%
Holt Torry 64 12.13 23.44% 35.94% 53.13% 59.38% 67.19% 75.00% 76.56%
Mason Derrick 57 10.47 31.58% 22.81% 42.11% 57.89% 64.91% 68.42% 68.42%
Smith Jimmy 58 10.41 34.48% 22.41% 48.28% 50.00% 60.34% 60.34% 65.52%
Horn Joe 63 11.05 34.92% 30.16% 47.62% 50.79% 57.14% 63.49% 65.08%
Smith Rod 62 10.83 32.26% 25.81% 43.55% 45.16% 56.45% 66.13% 67.74%
Coles Laveranues 55 9.18 41.82% 18.18% 45.45% 47.27% 54.55% 58.18% 58.18%
Boston David 54 10.39 44.44% 33.33% 44.44% 50.00% 53.70% 55.56% 55.56%
Johnson Chad 40 9.53 37.50% 27.50% 40.00% 42.50% 52.50% 55.00% 62.50%
Bruce Isaac 62 10.2 35.48% 16.13% 37.10% 41.94% 51.61% 56.45% 64.52%
Toomer Amani 64 9.71 46.88% 26.56% 40.63% 48.44% 50.00% 53.13% 53.13%
Ward Hines 64 9.85 42.19% 28.13% 40.63% 46.88% 48.44% 56.25% 57.81%

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 span.

  • 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.

The RBs
Last  First  G  Avg Pts Sub Par  Elite  RB #1  RB #2  RB #3  RB #4
Portis Clinton 29 19.44 17.24% 37.93% 62.07% 75.86% 82.76% 82.76%
Faulk Marshall 53 20.78 20.75% 45.28% 67.92% 73.58% 75.47% 79.25%
Green Ahman 62 17.38 14.52% 38.71% 61.29% 72.58% 82.26% 85.48%
Tomlinson LaDainian 48 18.05 18.75% 39.58% 64.58% 70.83% 75.00% 81.25%
James Edgerrin 49 16.63 12.24% 34.69% 53.06% 63.27% 81.63% 87.76%
Williams Ricky 69 14.91 23.19% 30.43% 49.28% 62.32% 72.46% 76.81%
Taylor Fred 47 15.26 23.40% 25.53% 46.81% 61.70% 74.47% 76.60%
Holmes Priest 61 18.3 22.95% 42.62% 59.02% 60.66% 73.77% 77.05%
McAllister Deuce 43 13.29 32.56% 23.26% 39.53% 60.47% 62.79% 67.44%
Barber Tiki 62 13.62 17.74% 11.29% 45.16% 59.68% 72.58% 82.26%
Alexander Shaun 61 13.94 36.07% 26.23% 49.18% 59.02% 60.66% 63.93%
Lewis Jamal 48 15.24 20.83% 27.08% 47.92% 58.33% 68.75% 79.17%
Davis Stephen 57 13.6 26.32% 22.81% 40.35% 56.14% 64.91% 73.68%
Henry Travis 44 13.42 36.36% 25.00% 40.91% 52.27% 56.82% 63.64%
Thomas Anthony 39 11.4 43.59% 17.95% 38.46% 51.28% 51.28% 56.41%

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 were sub-par.

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 noticeable.

The QBs
 Last  First  G  Avg Pts Sub Par  Elite  QB #1  QB #2
Culpepper Daunte 57 24.59 14.04% 54.39% 73.68% 85.96%
Bulger Marc 22 21.08 18.18% 27.27% 77.27% 81.82%
Manning Peyton 64 21.84 21.88% 34.38% 65.63% 78.13%
Warner Kurt 36 21.05 27.78% 38.89% 58.33% 72.22%
Garcia Jeff 61 22.14 27.87% 40.98% 65.57% 72.13%
Brooks Aaron 54 20.49 29.63% 27.78% 55.56% 70.37%
McNabb Donovan 57 21.34 29.82% 28.07% 66.67% 70.18%
Gannon Rich 55 21.01 32.73% 30.91% 60.00% 67.27%
McNair Steve 61 19.35 37.70% 22.95% 50.82% 62.30%
Green Trent 56 19.43 39.29% 23.21% 46.43% 60.71%
Favre Brett 64 18.96 40.63% 17.19% 54.69% 59.38%
Griese Brian 43 18.09 41.86% 20.93% 46.51% 58.14%
Vick Michael 28 17.8 42.86% 25.00% 50.00% 57.14%
Plummer Jake 57 16.8 43.86% 12.28% 28.07% 56.14%
Pennington Chad 28 16.2 46.43% 21.43% 46.43% 53.57%

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.

The TEs
 Last  First  G  Avg Pts  Sub Par  Elite  #1 TE  #2 TE
Gonzalez Tony 63 9.11 26.98% 46.03% 66.67% 73.02%
Shockey Jeremy 24 6.95 25.00% 41.67% 66.67% 75.00%
Heap Todd 40 5.99 42.50% 25.00% 52.50% 57.50%
Sharpe Shannon 58 7.17 39.66% 41.38% 51.72% 60.34%
Pollard Marcus 57 5.96 52.63% 29.82% 47.37% 47.37%
Walls Wesley 42 4.9 52.38% 28.57% 40.48% 45.24%
McMichael Randy 30 4.84 56.67% 30.00% 40.00% 43.33%
Mili Itula 46 4.45 54.35% 15.22% 39.13% 43.48%
Graham Daniel 21 4.12 61.90% 23.81% 38.10% 38.10%
Clark Desmond 42 4.86 61.90% 21.43% 35.71% 38.10%
Franks Bubba 57 4.61 63.16% 24.56% 35.09% 35.09%
Crumpler Alge 43 4.64 60.47% 18.60% 34.88% 39.53%

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.