A thought for Brian Schottenheimer: How about calling a running play once in a while when near the goal line?
Schottenheimer's St. Louis Rams have, within their opponents' 3-yard line, run the ball only once on 10 snaps, making them by far the most pass-reliant team in scoring position in the league. You saw it on Monday night: Five times in the fourth quarter the Rams were within three yards of the end zone, and three of those times Kellen Clemens threw an incomplete pass, once he was sacked. Daryl Richardson was halted at the line of scrimmage the other time.
Zac Stacy's owners, having witnessed this as well as Clemens' miserable performance, might have their doubts about his extending his current string of back-to-back double-digit fantasy performances. Simply put, they shouldn't.
Now, let's first point out that Stacy suffered an ankle injury late in Monday's game, perhaps the reason he didn't receive a carry on any of those final three plays up close and something that could adversely impact him in coming weeks. That has a bearing on his status for Week 9 and beyond.
But if Stacy gets through the injury fine, his string of four consecutive "Start" performances makes him a legitimate contender for RB2 status. Bear in mind that in the past two weeks his matchups were poor: @CAR in Week 7, SEA in Week 8; those teams have afforded opposing running backs the 10th- and seventh-fewest fantasy points per game to date.
In addition, even the slightest shift in play calling could earn Stacy the occasional look at the goal line, which would boost his prospects of double-digit fantasy points on a weekly basis. With Sam Bradford now out for the season and Clemens starting -- though there's an outstanding chance a quarterback other than Clemens will log more starts for the Rams from this point forward -- Stacy might be asked to carry the football close to 20 times per week.
Available in nearly 80 percent of ESPN leagues, Stacy is one of the most underrated players in fantasy football.
He's not alone. Here are four other underrated folks, using consistency numbers:
Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions: He absorbs too much criticism for A) his "injury history," which has amounted to exactly zero missed games since the beginning of 2011, B) his mere 20 passing touchdowns in 2012, which were at least somewhat impacted by inexplicably bad luck, and C) that 14-point Week 5, which was largely the product of Calvin Johnson's absence.
Here's the truth about Stafford: He has warranted a "Start" in fantasy -- that's a top-10 fantasy point total in the given week -- in 23 of his 40 games since the beginning of 2011, his resulting 57.5 percent Consistency Rating fourth behind only Drew Brees (79.5), Aaron Rodgers (71.8) and Tom Brady (60.0) during that time. Stafford is also fifth in total fantasy points during that time span with 758, and to illustrate his weekly reliability, Brees (1) and Peyton Manning (1) are the only players who have been Stiffs -- that's a point total outside the top 20 -- less often than him (3) in that period.
The fact that Stafford throws so often and has a multitude of weapons limited not solely to Calvin Johnson but also including Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Kris Durham actually makes him one of the most consistent weekly performers, a valuable thing in a season with as many injuries and disappointments as this.
Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins: The Redskins might be right up there with the Rams in terms of play calling at the goal line -- they have attempted just four rushing plays out of 10 within the opponent's 3, the second-lowest rate in the league -- so perhaps this is as much about Morris' own team as it is his fantasy owners underrating him.
The truth is that Morris has been one of the most effective goal-line backs during his year and a half in the league:
• Within the opponent's 5-yard line (39.5 percent league TD conversion rate on runs): Morris' 60.0 percent success rate (9-for-15 in TDs) ranks third out of 31 running backs with at least 10 attempts.
• Within the opponent's 3-yard line (46.6 percent league TD conversion rate on runs): Morris' 66.7 percent success rate (8-for-12 in TDs) ranks fourth out of 28 running backs with at least eight attempts.
• Within the opponent's 1-yard line (56.5 percent league TD conversion rate on runs): Morris' 85.7 percent success rate (6-for-7 in TDs) ranks third out of 22 running backs with at least five attempts.
In fairness, Roy Helu is 2-for-3 scoring touchdowns within the opponent's 5-yard line, matching Morris' performance in those situations exactly, but Morris' more extensive track record makes him the smarter bet up close going forward. It also helps explain how he has warranted the start in fantasy 82.6 percent of the time during his NFL career, the highest Consistency Rating of any running back since 2010, despite the fact that only three times in 23 games has he registered a weekly score among his position's top five.
Role is what props Morris up as a borderline top-10 running back -- if not one within that group -- so don't get too caught up by Helu's recent stats.
Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys: Perhaps lost in all the postgame hubbub surrounding Dez Bryant's sideline outbursts is the fact that Williams, a recent fill-in, has scored a receiving touchdown in four consecutive games, earning him fantasy Start status in each of those weeks. It might not be long before Miles Austin's practice reports aren't relevant in fantasy.
I'd argue that they aren't now.
Granted, Williams has enjoyed recent success partly because of his ascension to the starting lineup, as well as an extremely favorable set of matchups that included five consecutive games against teams ranked among the eight worst at preventing wide receiver fantasy production. But as I said during my Tuesday Spreecast with colleague Eric Karabell, Williams' remaining schedule is no less attractive than what's in his past:
Week 9, MIN: 8th-most fantasy points allowed per game to WRs
Week 10, @NO: Toughest matchup left on Williams' schedule.
Week 12, @NYG: Tony Romo has averaged 323 passing yards with 12 total TDs against the Giants in their past five meetings
Week 13, OAK: 14th-most fantasy points allowed per game to WRs
Week 14, @CHI: 13th-most fantasy points allowed per game to WRs
Week 15, GB: Allowed 132 FPTS to WRs in their first five games
Week 16, @WSH: 3rd-most fantasy points allowed per game to WRs Week 17, PHI: 2nd-most fantasy points allowed per game to WRs
In addition, while Williams has in the past been described somewhat of a "raw" prospect, keep in mind that he has now gone four consecutive games without a drop, and his 67.7 percent catch rate (percentage of his targets that were caught) the past five weeks combined ranks 19th. He's quickly developing into a reliable weekly WR3 with WR2 upside, yet somehow he remains available in more than 40 percent of ESPN leagues.
CONSISTENCY RATINGS BENCHMARKS
Using 2012 statistics, 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, numbers identifying the player's rank at his position:
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.
Indianapolis Colts D/ST: This one is more about performance relative to difficulty of schedule rather than consistency, though the Colts D/ST's 42.9 percent Consistency Rating nevertheless ranks a healthy eighth (they're ninth in fantasy points with 64 in seven games).
Loyal followers of the weekly Consistency Ratings might recall the old "Stack" score; this is the number of fantasy points a player -- or in this case, team D/ST -- scored comparative to the average weekly amount his opponent typically allows to his position. So, for example, total the fantasy points allowed per game to opposing quarterbacks for all eight of Peyton Manning's foes to date and you'd get 139.8; Manning has 215 points for an NFL-leading Stack score of 75.2 (Jamaal Charles' 72.8 ranks second).
The Colts D/ST, meanwhile, has a Stack score of 11.8, eighth best among D/STs, having outperformed the expected fantasy output in four of their seven games: Week 3 at San Francisco (scored 12, 49ers allow 4.5 to opposing D/ST), Week 4 at Jacksonville (scored 22, Jaguars allow 13.4), Week 5 versus Seattle (10 and 7.5) and Week 7 versus Denver (8 and -0.5). Though they have the NFL's worst Consistency Rating since the beginning of 2010 (25.5 percent), the Colts aren't getting enough credit for those kinds of performances, at least in the matchups department, a point colleague Christopher Harris also made in his Free Agent Finds column. Robert Mathis currently leads all defensive linemen in IDP fantasy points per game, while linebacker Jerrell Freeman ranks 14th.
And here's why that's particularly relevant: The Colts D/ST remains available in nearly 80 percent of ESPN leagues, and it has quite a few attractive matchups in the final nine weeks, during which the team will play every week. They include:
• Two matchups against the Houston Texans (Weeks 9 and 15), who have afforded opposing D/STs the third-most fantasy points per game, have Case Keenum starting at quarterback and a Week 9 running back picture entirely in question with Arian Foster and Ben Tate nursing injuries.
• One against the Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 17), who have afforded opposing D/STs the second-most fantasy points per game.
• One against the Arizona Cardinals (Week 12), who have committed the second-most turnovers (18).
• One against the St. Louis Rams (Week 10), who just got a miserable 16.5 QBR out of Sam Bradford's fill-in, Kellen Clemens, this past week.
Consistency Ratings chart
Players are initially ranked in order of their Consistency Rating, calculated as the percentage of the player's scheduled games -- not games played, scheduled games -- in which his fantasy point total registered a "Start" score. All categories are sortable both ascending and descending; just click on the headers to sort.
Players must have at least a 25.0 percent Consistency Rating in either standard scoring or PPR leagues for inclusion in the chart. All defense/special teams are included, regardless of whether they met those minimums.
These statistics are for 2013 only. Statistics for games since 2010 can be found here.