Week 11 is an important time in the fantasy football season.
That's not simply because it's a week before the trade deadline in ESPN standard leagues -- that's Wednesday, Nov. 23, at noon ET -- or three weeks from the beginning of the playoffs in that format. Those matter, yes, but Week 11 is also another significant point on the NFL calendar: It's the final week of byes.
Yes, after the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers take the coming Sunday (and Thursday and Monday) off, all 32 NFL teams will have played in exactly the same number of games: 10 apiece.
On an aside, from a trade perspective, remember the impact of trading a player who has already had his bye week for one who is about to face his. Mathematically speaking, you're getting 16.7 percent -- six versus seven -- more available games with which to accrue stats. That matters.
But the other thing to remember about the conclusion of the bye weeks is that there's one fewer factor to consider when evaluating valuable bench spots. No longer might those need be burned on one-week plug-ins; depth/matchups and injuries now become the two primary evaluating factors. As such, the notion of the "handcuff" becomes more relevant.
What defines a valuable handcuff, of course, is largely a matter of opinion. Since most of them are clear backups, many of whom have yet to make their first NFL starts, statistical data won't always provide you the answer.
Ask Frank Gore's owners: He has been the 12th-most consistent running back both this season (66.7 percent Consistency Rating) and in the past 34 weeks (62.5 percent), and in the past 34 weeks has been a Stud 10 times, fourth most often among running backs. Yet Gore's backup, rookie Kendall Hunter, is widely regarded as one of the game's most useful handcuffs -- rightfully so -- despite the fact that he has never managed double-digit carries in a single game and has a mere 33.3 percent Consistency Rating, zero Stud and five Stiff performances.
Hunter's perceived value is centered upon his having averaged 4.8 yards per carry in limited action, and that he plays for one of the NFL's most run-heavy offenses, the San Francisco 49ers, who have 266 rushing attempts this season (sixth most).
HOW CONSISTENCY RATINGS WORK
Using both the past 34 weeks of data -- Week 11 of 2009 through Week 10 of 2011 -- 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.
But while the Gore-Hunter example can't ideally be made with statistics, the Consistency Ratings do offer some helpful hints about other handcuff situations around the NFL. Today, let's take a closer look at the most notable examples:
Oakland Raiders: Anyone astute enough to have scooped up Michael Bush in Week 7, when Darren McFadden sprained his foot, can outline for you his value in intimate detail. But what happens when (or if) McFadden returns? Based upon their returns since the beginning of 2010, counting only "starts" -- and by that we mean the running back declared the week's No. 1 option, not merely the one given the first play LaDainian Tomlinson-style -- there's no question they're a must-handcuff:
McFadden: 20 GS, 75.0% Start, 30.0% Stud, 10.0% Stiff
Bush: 5 GS, 80.0% Start, 80.0% Stud, 0.0% Stiff
Combined: 25 G, 76.0% Start, 40.0% Stud, 8.0% Stiff
Just to emphasize the importance of that 76.0 percent combined Consistency Rating, consider that only four individual running backs in the NFL, in the past 34 weeks combined, have managed greater, and only three running backs have been a Stud more than their 10 times total.
Incidentally, counting merely his games as a backup, Bush's Consistency Rating is 41.7 percent (10-for-24).
Houston Texans: In no way is this meant to create a panic, as Arian Foster is easily the most dominant fantasy force among running backs, but remember that a hamstring injury caused him to miss much of the preseason and Weeks 1 and 3, and limited him in Week 2. Foster could always suffer a setback at any given moment, and the man behind him on the depth chart, Ben Tate, has shown a capability of filling in admirably, not to mention making an impact as a backup.
Foster: 70.0% Consistency Rating this season
Tate: 60.0% Consistency Rating, was a Start in both Weeks 1 and 3.
Between the two, the Texans have had a Start-worthy fantasy running back in all 10 games this season and a fantasy Stud in seven of 10 games (including both qualifying in Week 9), and both have been Start-worthy in three of the past four weeks.
Dallas Cowboys: Like with the Bush-McFadden debate, it's legitimate to question who should be starting once the Cowboys get both of their running backs healthy. However, unlike with Bush, the Cowboys' fill-in, DeMarco Murray, has actually shown enough in recent weeks that there's little doubt he warrants keeping the job. Check the numbers since the beginning of 2010, counting "starts":
Felix Jones: 21 GS, 52.4% Start, 4.8% Stud, 28.6% Stiff
Murray: 4 GS, three times a Start, three times a Stud.
It's that weekly leaderboard-topping potential that puts Murray on a higher level than Jones, who has long been overrated in that regard -- the numbers confirm it. However, Jones' longer track record alone makes him a must-have handcuff, though to be clear, he -- not Murray -- is the handcuff.
Other, non-statistically based, must-have handcuffs: Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers, Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott, Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, Chris Johnson and Javon Ringer.
Consistency Ratings charts
Each position has two charts below: one for 2011 statistics alone and one for the past 34 NFL weeks (Week 11 of 2009 through Week 10 of 2011). All categories are sortable both ascending and descending; just click on the headers to sort.
(Note: Due to the byes in Weeks 4-10 of 2009 and Weeks 5-9 of 2011, certain players could have appeared in as many as 33 games, instead of just 32. You can tell which teams had 33 scheduled games by looking at the Defense/special teams chart for the past 34 weeks.)