Let's declare today "opposite day."
In this space each week, we discuss fantasy football's most consistent players. We chart weekly point totals and calculate Consistency Ratings, helping identify your old reliables, players you can most trust to have active in any given week.
But there's a hidden value to the weekly Consistency Ratings charts that you might not realize: They help identify your boom/bust performers as well.
Today, it's those all-or-nothing players who go under the microscope.
Fantasy football isn't entirely about consistency; it's also about taking chances on the players with the ability to individually win you a week. Such boom/bust types bring value too, but in order to appreciate them, you need to understand the varying degrees of risk and reward involved.
Remember, any weekly lineup is a careful blend of differing styles of players. A lineup comprised entirely of "consistent" performers might rarely disappoint, but it might also lack the upside necessary to beat your league's elite. Conversely, a team with a full lineup of "boom/bust" players might obliterate the opposition some weeks but finish with the league's worst point total in others.
Accounting merely for performance in the past 34 weeks -- since Week 7 of the 2009 season -- the following represent my top five "boom/bust" players:
1. Michael Vick: This will either shock you or it won't, and it'll depend entirely upon your opinion of him. Vick's boom/bust status, however, is linked to one significant factor: His propensity for injury. (And, yes, that is absolutely a factor in determining whether a player fits the description.) There's no question that a completely healthy Michael Vick should be a mainstay in any fantasy lineup. After all, he has made 17 starts since Week 2 of the 2010 season and in 12 of them he managed 20 or more ESPN standard fantasy points, meaning he earned "Stud" points for each according to this column's benchmarks.
The problem, however, is that since Week 2 of the 2010 season, his Philadelphia Eagles have had 21 scheduled games. That means Vick has missed four games during that time, and in two others -- Week 4 in 2010 and Week 3 this year -- he left early due to injury, the latter a noticeable frustration for fantasy owners. Vick's propensity for injury is significant, as in his eight NFL seasons as a starting quarterback (2001-06, 2010-11), he has missed 26 games total. He also ranks among the league's leaders in hits -- his Eagles as a team have surrendered 34 quarterback hits, sixth-most in the NFL -- and sets himself up for physical punishment due to his running style, meaning that, for all the good, Vick could be lost for an extended period at any instant, crushing his fantasy team's hopes.
2. Vincent Jackson: Wide receivers, to a certain degree, are inherently boom/bust performers, their statistics often at the whim of their quarterbacks or how the opposing defense chooses to play them. But Jackson's case is extreme; there is just oh-so-much talent present, yet his weekly results could fill a bingo card. In the past 34 weeks, 20 wide receivers have managed a 29-point fantasy day or better, and Jackson has two of them (so, though, do Miles Austin and Dwayne Bowe). He also, however, has been a Stiff three times in his past nine games, including twice this season (Weeks 1 and 5).
HOW CONSISTENCY RATINGS WORK
Using both the past 34 weeks -- Week 7 of 2009 through Week 6 of 2011 -- of data, as well as 2011 alone, and fantasy points determined by ESPN's standard scoring, the charts contained in this column rate players based upon how consistently reliable they are. To familiarize you with some of the terminology:
Start: The number of times that the player's point total in a given week was worthy of having had him active in an ESPN standard league.
Stud: The number of times the player's point total ranked among the top at his position.
Stiff: The number of times the player's point total ranked among the worst at his position, making almost any waiver-wire option a smarter choice.
These are the benchmarks for what constitutes a "Start," "Stud" or "Stiff" performance:
Sat: The number of times the player missed a game. Players are not charged "Stiff" points for sitting out, but it hurts their overall Consistency Rating.
%: The player's overall Consistency Rating, calculated as number of "Start" performances divided by scheduled team games.
Stack: A formula designed to weigh how much of the player's 2011/past-34-weeks fantasy point total was driven by matchups, this compares his weekly point totals to the average weekly amount his opponent typically allows to a player at his position (RBs and WRs are weighted differently). Higher scores mean the player succeeded beyond the strength of his matchups; lower (or negative) scores mean the player might have been a matchups product.
VBD (or Value Based Draft score): This compares the player's season fantasy point total to that of a replacement-level player at his position, to demonstrate relative value across different positions. My methodology for "replacement level": No. 15 QB, No. 35 RB, No. 35 WR, No. 15 TE, No. 15 K, No. 15 D/ST.
One of the reasons is the absence of Antonio Gates; with their All-Pro tight end on the sideline, the San Diego Chargers are a far more predictable pass offense and defenses can freely bracket Jackson. Gates' long-term injury concerns -- we've hinted since the preseason that his foot could be an issue all season -- are what push Jackson up the list, as the prospect of him playing additional games without Gates, or with a less-than-usual-self Gates, increases his boom/bust potential.
3. DeSean Jackson: This isn't a mere matter of "as his quarterback goes, so does he." The other problem for Jackson is that teammate Jeremy Maclin is as talented a No. 2 wide receiver as there is in the league. There will be weeks Maclin is open and Jackson is not, though between the two, Jackson is the one with the lengthier history of standout performances; he's the one with 12 Stud-worthy games in the past 34 weeks (Maclin has three). Jackson has also been a Stiff more often; he also leads Maclin in that category, 10-7.
Don't simply assume Jackson's numbers would go into the tank if Vick is lost for an extended period, however. In the past 34 weeks, Jackson has appeared in 12 games in which Vick wasn't the "starter," and in those he has averaged 12.9 fantasy points. In the 18 games in which he and Vick both played and started, he has averaged 10.4.
4. Owen Daniels: The surprise entry on the list, Daniels' recent career has been littered with games missed due to injury as well as maddening performances such as his 1-point, 1-catch-on-2-targets Week 1 or 1-point, 2-catches-on-3-targets Week 6. Overall, he has two apiece of Stud and Stiff performances in 2011, and in the past 34 weeks he has five of the former and eight of the latter. Daniels' fantasy owners -- who selected him a surprisingly high 72nd overall -- were probably expecting he'd be an automatic each week during the games Andre Johnson was sidelined. But the Baltimore Ravens, who effectively shut down Daniels this past Sunday, were apparently expecting it too.
5. Dwayne Bowe: You didn't really think I'd make it through a boom-or-bust list without including Dwayne Bowe, did you? He's the epitome of the risk/reward wide receiver, and I'll state the compelling statistic again: He scored 150 of his 200 ESPN fantasy points in 2010 in a mere six games, almost all of which came against the worst pass defenses in the league. (Hello, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars!) This season, Bowe has been a Stud twice and a Stiff once, and certainly Kansas City Chiefs opponents are aware that, with Jamaal Charles out for the season, Bowe is now the offense's most lethal remaining weapon.
Here's another statistic that increases the level of fear with Bowe on a week-to-week basis: Since Todd Haley took over as Chiefs coach in 2009, his team has averaged 31.1 pass attempts per game, eighth-fewest in the NFL. And since the beginning of 2010, the Chiefs have averaged the second-fewest (29.3). Fewer throws mean fewer targets, and Bowe's value will be somewhat predicated upon volume of targets.
Consistency Ratings charts
Each position has two charts below: One for 2011 statistics alone, and one for the past 34 NFL weeks (Week 7 of 2009 through Week 6 of 2011). All categories are sortable both ascending and descending; just click on the headers to sort.
(Note: Due to the byes in Weeks 4-6 of 2009 and Weeks 5-6 of 2011, certain players could have appeared in as many as 33 games or as few as 31, instead of just 32. You can tell which teams had more or less than 32 scheduled games by looking at the Defense/special teams chart for the past 34 weeks.)
Quarterbacks: Past 34 weeks
Something to think about: Eli Manning's minus-2 Stack is awfully disconcerting, especially if you consider how challenging the New York Giants' remaining schedule is. Yes, the Giants face a number of teams with bad pass defenses. (Hello, New England Patriots!) Yes, if Manning's Giants continually fall behind early in games, he's going to need to throw 40 times a game. But the Stack ratings identify players who exploit matchups rather than rise above the difficult ones, and that means Manning will need careful management on a week-to-week basis. I say if you're selling at top-eight-quarterback value, take the deal.
Running backs: 2011
Running backs: Past 34 weeks
Wide receivers: 2011
Wide receivers: Past 34 weeks
Something to think about: In case you needed any further evidence that Calvin Johnson is the best wide receiver in the NFL, his white-hot start to 2011 has moved him up to fourth in Consistency Rating (65.6 percent), third in Start-worthy games (21), tied for first in Stud performances (12) and first in Stack score (174) in the past 34 weeks. Matthew Stafford, incidentally, has been his quarterback in only 14 of his 30 games played during that span, which shows you how tremendous Johnson's skills are regardless of who throws him the football.
Tight ends: 2011
Something to think about: With Chris Cooley sidelined for the foreseeable future, Fred Davis emerges as the most attractive buy-low tight end of the week. That Stack score (6) is a remarkably good one for his position -- it's fifth-best -- and he's sure to see increased targets while Cooley is sidelined.
Tight ends: Past 34 weeks
Kickers: Past 34 weeks
Defense/special teams: 2011
Something to think about: Don't underestimate the San Francisco 49ers' defense; its scores above demonstrate how strong its performance has been through six weeks of the season. Remember, the 49ers faced three treacherous matchups -- Week 2 versus the Dallas Cowboys, Week 4 at Philadelphia and Week 6 at Detroit -- yet didn't turn in performances in the red in any, and in their other, softer matchups they managed double digits each time. The 49ers' schedule following their Week 7 bye looks great: CLE, @WAS, NYG, ARI, @BAL, STL, @ARI, PIT, @SEA, @STL.