The C.J. Spiller era should officially begin on Thursday.
That could be said more definitively if not for the presence of Fred Jackson on the roster, but as things stand, Jackson (concussion) is out for the Buffalo Bills' Week 11 Thursday Night Football contest, meaning Spiller's next -- and potentially role-capturing-on-a-permanent-basis -- opportunity arrives in a little more than 48 hours. It will be the ninth time in Spiller's three-year NFL career that he gets the "Start," in this case being defined as the proclaimed lead runner in a Bills game in which Jackson was absent, rather than the irrelevant 14 times thus far that he has played the opening snap.
Spiller's headliner status here is for a critical reason; despite occupying a limited role thus far in his career, he has quietly become one of the most consistent running backs in fantasy football. Take a look at the numbers below: he has been the seventh most consistent running back in the game (77.8 percent Consistency Rating, 7-for-9 "Start"-worthy performances), backing up his No. 7 ranking in total fantasy points at the position.
Let's break down Spiller's performance by individual game role. In those eight Jackson-free games, Spiller has been worth a fantasy "Start" six times (75.0 percent Consistency Rating) and was a "Stud" three times (37.5 percent of the time). Going by NFL and fantasy-point-total statistics, this has been his output:
128 fantasy points, 157 in PPR formats, 16.0 FPTS/G, 16.7 touches per game, 5.6 yards per carry, 6.4 yards per touch.
But here's what's most telling about Spiller's fantasy potential: He has been worth the "Start" five times (71.4 percent Consistency Rating) and was a "Stud" twice (28.6 percent of the time) in his seven games this season in which Jackson was healthy enough to play. These, meanwhile, were his NFL/fantasy-point-total stats in those contests:
73 fantasy points, 96 in PPR formats, 10.4 FPTS/G, 13.0 touches per game, 7.3 yards per carry, 7.7 yards per touch.
There's little question that Spiller is one of the most explosive running backs on a per-touch basis, and as the Consistency Ratings in this space measure historical player performance, it's also possible to glean future-minded nuggets from the numbers. What Spiller's Consistency Rating demonstrates is twofold: (A) He's lacking in downside, partly because of the partnership the Bills have kept him in with Jackson, but mostly because of his own ability, and (B) he's actually not far off the fantasy production of a top-five running back, should he be granted the long-term opportunity to do so.
The per-touch statistics tell it all. Spiller has averaged 0.97 fantasy points per touch this season, easily tops among the 26 running backs with 100 touches or more (Doug Martin's 0.80 ranks second). Plus, since 2010, Spiller's rookie season, his 0.73 fantasy points per touch average is sixth best among running backs with 200 or more touches; only Darren Sproles (0.90), Danny Woodhead (0.76), Adrian Peterson (0.75), Arian Foster (0.74) and Mike Tolbert (0.74) have more. Spiller's numbers in this regard closely rival those of Peterson, Foster, LeSean McCoy (0.73), Jamaal Charles (0.72) and Ray Rice (0.67), and most anyone crafting a set of running back rankings right now is going to place each of those five either in or close to the RB1 tier.
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.
It's a bit of a gamble, but fantasy owners looking for a high-upside trade target in these final days before the deadline might consider Spiller, so long as the asking price is anything beneath that of an RB1.
Talk up his "difficult schedule" if need be: MIA, @IND, JAC, STL, SEA, @MIA, NYJ, which means that three of Spiller's final seven games come against teams that rank among the five best at limiting fantasy points to opposing running backs. In his defense, he totaled 39 points in his past three games against bottom-five running back matchups (2011 Week 15, MIA; 2012 Week 5, @SF; 2012 Week 8, @HOU), twice warranting a "Start."
Digging deeper in those running back rankings for other sneaky values in light of the raw Consistency Ratings numbers, take a look at the following:
Chris Ivory, New Orleans Saints: He has a 22.2 percent number this season -- two "Starts" in nine team games -- and 17.1 percent since the beginning of 2010, but his owners are well aware he has absorbed a hefty penalty due to injuries. Ivory has actually missed more New Orleans Saints games (21) than he has played (20) since the start of 2010, and if we don't dock him for that missed time, he's a 7-for-20 (35.0 percent) fantasy Start who has been a Stud and a Stiff twice apiece. That's not bad for a member of a backfield rotation, and that Ivory has five of the Saints' eight best individual running back fantasy games during that span demonstrates his home run ability. Those who scoop him up need to recognize the downside of a two-carry game, especially with Darren Sproles on the mend, but from a flex-candidate bench stash, you could do worse.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals: He's practically the exact opposite of Ivory; "Lawfirm" is your safer, more conservative fantasy play rather than the risk/reward type. His owners might be frustrated with his lackluster production, but in his defense, he's eighth in Consistency Rating and has been a Stiff but once. There's an obvious explanation for Green-Ellis' drop in fantasy points -- meaning the absence of his 2011 upside -- and it's that the Cincinnati Bengals haven't gotten to or used him at the goal line at the frequency that his former New England Patriots did. He's on pace for nine carries within the opponent's 5; he had 21 in 2011, fourth most in the league. Could that regress to the mean, perhaps resulting in 12-15 by season's end? Perhaps, in which case he'd be undervalued today. And by the way, Green-Ellis' next two opponents are the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders, who have allowed the ninth and fourth most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs.
Daniel Thomas: It's telling that Thomas and teammate Reggie Bush have an identical Consistency Rating (44.4 percent), isn't it? A concussion bumped Thomas' 2012 off track a few weeks back, but don't overlook that Bush got an early Week 10 hook for a fumble, plus Thomas has snuck in as the Miami Dolphins' preferred goal-line back. To that end, Thomas is 3-for-6 converting his carries within the opponent's 5-yard line; Bush is 0-for-2. Give Thomas an even split of the rushing chores and between that and his touchdown potential he'd be a candidate to sneak into the low-end RB2 class.
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 met at least one of the following minimums for inclusion in the chart: 20.0 percent Consistency Rating in standard scoring leagues, 20.0 percent Consistency Rating in PPR formats. All defense/special teams are included, regardless of whether they met those minimums.
These statistics are for 2012 only. Statistics for games since 2010 can be found here.