When it comes to certain struggling studs, now is a perfect time to panic.
This might seem difficult to believe, but we're nearly at the midway point of the 2011 NFL regular season. The precise midpoint arrives upon the conclusion of the 4 p.m. ET games this coming Sunday.
As such, there's really no longer any such thing as a blip ... everything is a trend. Well, at least as far as full 2011 season statistics are concerned.
Own a slow-starting, early-round pick? Don't be too hasty proclaiming his troubles the product of an early-season fluke, one certain to reverse itself. There might be more to the story than mere random statistical fluctuation.
Chris Johnson, the No. 2 overall pick on average in ESPN live drafts this preseason, is a prime example. You've heard his fantasy owners' rally cry before and even I echoed it -- albeit with a bit of hesitation as well as an "it'll make him or break him" label -- entering his Week 8 game against the Indianapolis Colts: "But this is his best matchup all season, he has to turn it around here!"
Break, Johnson did, and turn his season around he did not. Against the third-worst run defense (in terms of average fantasy points per game allowed to running backs in ESPN standard leagues) in the NFL, he managed 51 total yards and four fantasy points, the latter tied for his seventh-worst individual game performance out of 54 in his career.
HOW CONSISTENCY RATINGS WORK
Using both the past 34 weeks -- Week 9 of 2009 through Week 8 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.
That hardly inspires confidence in Johnson facing comparably favorable matchups, including against the league's worst run defense, the Carolina Panthers, in Week 10, or in other top-10 matchups in Weeks 12 (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) or Week 15 (Colts rematch). To date, Johnson has been a fantasy Stiff (3) more times than a Start (2), whereas from 2008-10, he was a Start 34 times (72.3 percent Consistency Rating) and a Stiff seven times in his 47 total games played.
For another angle, look at Johnson's Stack rating, which weighs the value of his fantasy point totals against the averages allowed by his individual opponents. His minus-6 is 32nd among running backs, and through seven games of his season, his sample size is large enough that there's legitimate cause for concern. Johnson might be permanently locked into No. 2-running back status in fantasy, and even that designation might be a stretch.
Philip Rivers is another player for whom the Stack ratings reveal trouble. His is minus-19, 29th among quarterbacks, and is worse than that of Alex Smith (1), Joe Flacco (minus-3), Colt McCoy (minus-13) and Josh Freeman (minus-14), who, like Rivers, has each played and started the same number of games (7).
Rivers has already faced four of the seven worst pass defenses -- rated by average fantasy points per game allowed to quarterbacks in ESPN standard leagues -- and managed 17, 18, 17 and 17 points respectively in them, scarcely above the Start classification in this column. But here are his numbers in his three games against the rest of the league: 6, 7, 10, or two Stiff performances and one that barely escaped that designation.
It has been well documented how favorable Rivers' schedule -- I even termed him a buy-low candidate a few weeks back -- as each of his next four games is against one of the nine worst pass defenses in the league. But if Rivers isn't dominating such teams, what hope do we have of him meeting his draft-day price?
The other worry: Rivers' fantasy-postseason schedule is actually poor. Consider that from Weeks 13-16, he'll face the Jacksonville Jaguars (road game), Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions (also road), and those defenses are ranked 22nd, 12th, 31st and 27th in terms of containing opposing quarterbacks. If the whispers that Rivers is playing hurt are true, chances are he might be as much of a Stiff against those opponents as he was, say, against the New York Jets, the league's elite against the position, in Week 7 (7 fantasy points).
Suddenly, Rivers hardly looks like a slam-dunk to finish among the top 10 in fantasy points at his position come year's end, and it might be worth considering the matchups with him during those critical weeks.
Consistency Ratings charts
Each position has two charts below: One for 2011 statistics alone, and one for the past 34 NFL weeks (Week 9 of 2009 through Week 8 of 2011). All categories are sortable both ascending and descending; just click on the headers to sort.
(Note: Due to the byes in Weeks 4-8 of 2009, and Weeks 5-8 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.)