Consistency ratings: Week 4

"Year of the Quarterback," indeed!

Quarterbacks are positively dominating fantasy football, occupying 12 of the top 20 spots on our Scoring Leaders page through three weeks. Not that this is any surprise to seasoned fantasy owners; quarterbacks routinely occupy the majority of the top spots on that page due to their weight in ESPN's standard scoring system.

But it's the level to which they have dominated that warrants discussion, and in this week's Consistency Ratings, we'll see that quarterbacks are increasingly becoming the difference-makers, both in terms of their volume of "Stud" fantasy performances, as well as their impact relative to replacement level (a little thing we like to call "Value Based Drafting," or VBD).

Consider this:

• Through three weeks of the season, quarterbacks have amassed 26 "Stud"-caliber fantasy performances, per the statistical benchmarks described below, putting the position on pace for a whopping 139 such outings. They've also totaled 46 "Start"-worthy efforts, per those same benchmarks, a pace of 245.

Tom Brady is on pace to set season records for passing yards (7,077) and touchdowns (59), and interestingly enough, he would need to average only 289.1 passing yards per game -- or 153.2 fewer per contest than his 2011 average so far -- in order to set the standard in that category.

Cam Newton is on pace for 5,397 yards passing, which would obliterate Peyton Manning's 13-year-old rookie record of 3,739. In fact, Newton would need to average just 209.8 yards per game to set the standard.

• Whereas a week ago, quarterbacks were suffering in terms of VBD -- "replacement level" being quite a productive player -- this week the position as a whole has begun to rebound, with Brady soaring from 14th to fifth (40), and six quarterbacks residing in the top 29 in the category, a substantial improvement from the three out of 46 through Weeks 1-2.

At their current paces, quarterbacks are assured of two things: One, they're increasingly likely to be the players who win you fantasy championships; and two -- and most important as our Consistency Ratings are concerned -- they're guaranteed to alter the benchmarks for what constitutes a "Start"-worthy player. We haven't quite reached that point, but at this pace, it might be coming.

As always, don't take "pace" numbers too seriously. After all, while quarterbacks might be off to a hot start in 2011, let's not forget that they began 2010 similarly strong. Through three weeks of 2010, quarterbacks were responsible for 25 "Stud" fantasy performances, just shy of this year's number, and ended the season with 110. So they might not always rule the day.

Why Fred Jackson hasn't gotten a fair shake

Of any of these consistency numbers through the first three weeks -- always remember to take a three-game sample size with a grain of salt -- perhaps there is no more notable example than that of Fred Jackson, a player the Buffalo Bills desperately tried to avoid proclaiming their starter during the preseason … but a player who, so far, has shown he unquestionably deserves the role.

Through three games, here's how Jackson ranks among all NFL players: Fourth in VBD (41), 11th in "Stack" rating (21.7) and 15th in raw PPR fantasy points (65). Only six players have had three "Stud" performances; Jackson is one of 17 who have two. He's also one of the 33 players who is a perfect 3-for-3 in terms of "Start"-worthy fantasy efforts.

Ryan Fitzpatrick might be getting much of the love for the Bills' scorching-hot start, but Jackson might deserve more. From a mere Consistency Ratings angle, Jackson matches or bests Fitzpatrick in every one of the aforementioned five categories. In fact, there's only one fantasy-related category in which Fitzpatrick leads: ESPN standard fantasy points, in which Fitzpatrick has a 64-57 advantage.

Jackson also rates remarkably well during the past 34 weeks -- or two calendar years -- something unexpected considering he has started only 24 of 34 Bills games during that span, as well as managed double-digit touches 28 of 34 times. He's 25th among running backs during that time period in terms of start percentage (43.8) but ranks 12th in "Stud" performances in standard (seven) and PPR (seven) scoring. And remember, he wasn't really "the guy" until the Marshawn Lynch trade of Oct. 5, 2010 (between Weeks 4 and 5).

One reason for Jackson's success: His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield; he ranks 14th in targets (104) and 24th in receptions (70) among running backs in the past 34 weeks. That dual-threat status provides an underrated amount of safety to fantasy owners, certainly cementing his status as a weekly No. 2 running back, at the minimum, the rationale twofold: If you believe the Bills' offense is for real, then Jackson should continue to average at least the 15.7 rushing attempts per game he has so far; if you do not, then at least you can take solace in knowing that Jackson should be targeted regularly as the Bills play from behind.

Position benchmarks

As always, the following chart lists the benchmarks for each of the Consistency Ratings designations. Players are rated both for their 2011 performances alone, as well as their performances in the past 34 regular-season weeks (from Week 4 of the 2009 season through Week 3 of 2011).

Players' 2011 numbers are initially ranked by their VBD. Players' numbers in the past 34 weeks are initially ranked by the percentage of their teams' scheduled games in which their weekly point total was classified a "Start." All statistics are sortable by category.

Quarterbacks: 2011

Something to think about: Matt Cassel now has only one "start"-worthy performance in his past seven games, and three of those times he was a "stiff." Incidentally, in four of those seven contests, he was facing a defense that had allowed at least 15 points per game to quarterbacks in the given season.

Quarterbacks: Past 34 weeks

Running backs: 2011

Something to think about: Rookie Daniel Thomas is a perfect 2-for-2 in "Start"-worthy fantasy performances since the Miami Dolphins activated him in Week 2. In his two games he has 18 and 23 carries, and nine and 17 fantasy points, and don't overlook that his opponents, so far, rank only 21st and 13th in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs.

Running backs: Past 34 weeks

Wide receivers: 2011

Something to think about: While Cassel received criticism above, don't overlook that his No. 1 wide receiver, Dwayne Bowe, hasn't entirely suffered as a result of his quarterback's struggles. Bowe is 2-for-3 in terms of "Start"-worthy performances, and that goes for both standard and PPR scoring. That's compelling evidence in favor of the old argument that the quarterback doesn't always make -- or break -- his wide receiver.

(For the record, I -- and Bowe's mediocre past-34-weeks Consistency Rating -- still stand behind the idea that he'll be terribly unpredictable from week to week.)

Wide receivers: Past 34 weeks

Tight ends: 2011

Something to think about: Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined have five "Stud" points; only four tight ends (Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates, Zach Miller and Jason Witten) had at least that many in all of 2010. That feeds the argument for regression, but conversely, it supports the idea that the New England Patriots involve both of their tight ends -- when healthy -- enough for either to matter in most fantasy leagues.

Tight ends: Past 34 weeks

Kickers: 2011

Something to think about: Jason Hanson, the No. 1 kicker in terms of ESPN standard fantasy points (40) as well as most of the categories listed above, wasn't even drafted in the majority of ESPN leagues.

Kickers: Past 34 weeks

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.