The 2012 AP Defensive Player of the Year, Watt tallied a league-leading 20.5 sacks, the sixth-largest total since sacks began being officially counted in 1982; 69 tackles, tops among defensive linemen; and 16 passes defensed, again most at his position, but also the largest total by any defensive lineman since 1991, the first season in which the stat was tracked. It's that latter fact that earned him the nickname "J.J. Swatt."
HOW CONSISTENCY RATINGS WORK
Using 2012 statistics, and fantasy points determined by traditional scoring modifiers for an IDP league -- these are directly below this paragraph -- 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. This means they ranked among the 20 best defensive linemen, linebackers or defensive backs in that particular week.
Stud: The number of times the player's point total ranked among the top five at his position in the given week.
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. For these purposes, it means they ranked outside the top 40 at their 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.
CR: The player's overall Consistency Rating, calculated as number of "Start" performances divided by scheduled team games.
FPTS: The player's fantasy point total.
%TD: The percentage of the player's fantasy points that derived from touchdowns.
Watt scored 68 more fantasy points -- using traditional IDP scoring as seen in the sidebar to the right -- than any other defensive lineman last season. Let's put that into perspective: Peterson, the player who enjoyed the second-largest "winning margin" by position, scored 49 more points than the No. 2 running back, Arian Foster. In addition, the No. 21 defensive lineman -- keeping in mind that a typical, 10-team IDP league starts two each week, for 20 total active defensive linemen -- scored just 77.5 fantasy points total; that means that Watt was worth almost double that of a replacement-level talent.
But when it comes to individual defensive players ("IDPs," in fantasy terms), Watt's value wasn't wrapped up entirely in his fantasy point total. It was his week-to-week consistency that made him such a dominating force.
To illustrate, we've brought the same Consistency Ratings philosophy we use for offensive/skill players to the IDP universe. Using weekly statistics, we've graded every individual defensive player based upon the point totals he accrued, then assigned him a "Consistency Rating" based upon the percentage of times his point total should've earned him a place in your lineup.
As expected, these Consistency Ratings confirm the old IDP adage, that individual defensive players should never rate among your earliest draft-day targets, with the possible exception of Watt. Weekly IDP production is markedly fluky, no fact more representative than this: Last season, only 12 IDPs managed to score a fantasy point total that warranted having in your active lineup in more than half of their games (meaning they had a Consistency Rating of 50 percent or greater). Sixty-three offensive/skill players, by comparison, managed a Consistency Rating of 50 percent or greater, including eight quarterbacks, 21 running backs and 17 wide receivers.
One of the reasons for this is the volatile nature of individual defensive accomplishments such as touchdowns, fumble recoveries and interceptions. Touchdowns are difficult enough to project for offensive players, but imagine trying to guess the lucky defensive back who will bring back three pick-sixes, usually the number required for the NFL lead in the category! Fumble recoveries, meanwhile, are the product of which player is fortunate enough to be standing next to the ball at the time it's jettisoned free, a point made time and time again by Football Outsiders. And interceptions are often a matter of a quarterback's interest in throwing the ball in the direction of a particular defensive back; Darrelle Revis is an excellent example of a cornerback so threatening that quarterbacks shied from challenging him, his interception total dwindling from 11 in 2008-09 combined to zero in 2010.
For this reason, take the charts below in their entirety to heart when formulating your IDP strategy. We've conveniently listed the player's 2012 full-season fantasy point total, as well as the percentage of those points which came from touchdowns to help isolate potentially fluky performances. Consider whether the player has garnered a hefty number of "Stud" efforts, but his overall Consistency Rating is low; he might be either too unpredictable for your tastes or have been helped by a few unsustainable performances. Be mindful of the player's team, as poor teams often provide their individual defenders more opportunities for tackles, which largely fuel IDP fantasy scoring.
2012 IDP Consistency Ratings chart
Players are initially ranked in order of their fantasy point totals, but all categories are sortable. Click on the headers to sort ascending or descending. Consistency Ratings are 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. Players must have met at least one of the following minimums for inclusion in the chart: A top-20 ranking at his position in terms of total fantasy points, a 25 percent Consistency Rating, or two "Stud" performances. Retired players are listed with "--" and free agents with "FA" in the Team column.
These statistics are for 2012 only. Statistics for 2010-12 can be found here.
What is Watt worth? Plenty. That he paced his position in tackles is paramount: In an IDP system in which tackles were the only things rewarded, Watt would still have warranted being in your lineup in 10 of his 16 games, still easily tops among defensive linemen. And it wasn't entirely a single-year outburst; Watt's two best fantasy days of his rookie year of 2011 came in the final six weeks, and he averaged four tackles during that six-week span, not far removed from his 5.7 per-week average in 2012. Some regression to the mean is inevitable with Watt -- sacks and passes defensed being the most obvious categories -- but his basement-level expectation might still be 20 or more points ahead of the No. 2 at his position. It's the primary reason he warrants No. 1 overall IDP consideration, perhaps as early as Round 5 of a 12-team or Round 6 of a 10-team league, despite the fact that he plays traditionally the lowest-scoring of the three positions.
It's all about value relative to replacement.
And that's the point at this position: The No. 2 defensive lineman scored just 25 more points than No. 21 did in 2012, and after the top three scorers the past three seasons combined (2010-12), the difference between the Nos. 4 (Julius Peppers) and 21 (Chris Long) players was a paltry 58.5 fantasy points, which amounts to 19.5 per season or 1.2 per game. There's little question that you want a skilled starter, but there's not much reason -- Watt again the exception -- to spend on a defensive lineman until the late rounds.
Linebackers drive IDP scoring, and they're traditionally the most consistent.
Twenty-four of the top 28 IDPs in total fantasy points in 2012 were linebackers, and 10 linebackers managed a Consistency Rating of 50 percent or greater (remember, only 12 IDPs overall managed a number at least that high). That said, a replacement-level linebacker is also much more valuable than a comparable defensive lineman or defensive back; the No. 21 linebacker last season managed 25 more points than the No. 21 defensive back, and 52 more than the No. 21 defensive lineman.
Incidentally, one of those four linebackers who tied with 129.5 points (the 21st-best total) was Patrick Willis, the No. 1 IDP off the board in many a draft last season. Willis, though, is an outstanding bounce-back candidate, being that his statistics suffered from his being shut out in the touchdown department, as well as his per-game decline in total tackles. In an IDP league that didn't reward for touchdowns, he'd have been worth having active in half his games, as would he have been in a league that rewarded for tackles only. Willis' example shows how readily available quality linebackers are in the middle-to-late rounds, meaning that while you should draft two, and within your first three IDP picks or by Round 12 at latest, there's validity to a strategy of waiting and picking two on the cheap later.
Welcome to the least consistent of the three IDP positions, understandable considering how reliant defensive backs are on interceptions and passes defensed to pad their fantasy point totals. Simply put, if a quarterback isn't throwing in a defensive back's direction, he has little chance of generating points.
Quality defensive backs do warrant your draft consideration, but if there's any position at which you can mix and match, it's this one. Those Stud and Stiff totals in the chart below show how tenuous weekly scoring is at this position.
Charles Tillman tops the board, both the 2012 and the past-three-years (2010-12) charts, thanks to five touchdowns on interceptions the past two seasons combined (3 in 2012, 2 in 2011). Five of his seven "Starts" last season, though, would've still been "Start"-worthy even if we stripped him of his TDs. He's the rare example of the meaningful early-round defensive back, though the unpredictable nature of the position still might make him worthy of only a top-15 IDP overall.
If not Tillman, Morgan Burnett makes a compelling case for top honors at his position. A fourth-year safety, he's a tackle machine; in a league that rewarded only tackles he'd have warranted a Start in 11 of his 16 games. Should any of his interceptions or fumbles recovered develop into touchdowns, he could easily ascend to tops in scoring at the position in 2013.
Conversely, second-year cornerback Janoris Jenkins is one of the more overrated defensive backs, his 18.8 percent Consistency Rating representative of that. Of his 121.5 fantasy points last season, 51.5 (or 42 percent) came in the three games in which he scored a touchdown (he had four total). Granted, Jenkins is a rising NFL talent, but he'll be hard-pressed to repeat his touchdown total and is at danger of being overdrafted, having scored the sixth-most points of any defensive back.