Consistency comes in many forms.
There's such a thing as "consistently reliable," which in fantasy terms would mean a player who earns his place in your weekly lineup more often than not. Then there's simply "consistent," which means a player puts forth a weekly fantasy point total that shows little variance from week to week.
Each has its merits, and each represents an important part of your fantasy football research process. Taking merely seasonal point totals is a mistake -- those ignore outlier efforts like the ones put forth by Doug Martin in 2012, when he managed a 51-point game in Week 9 and a 2-point game in Week 15.
It's for that reason that we've created metrics that help you understand how players got to their final numbers: They're what we call Consistency Ratings.
This season, we've made some improvements to the formula. The "Start," "Stud" and "Stiff" measures remain, but what was once the "Consistency Rating" is now the player's "Start%," while the "Rating" (consistency rating) is the player's correlation coefficient; this is the calculation of the player's standard deviation in his weekly fantasy point total, divided by his average weekly fantasy point total. What this does is identify how wide or narrow the range of the player's weekly fantasy point total; a lower number is better, as it represents fewer Martin-esque outliers.
Listed below are players' statistics from the past three seasons combined (2011-13), and we'll break them down by position.
The Peyton Manning-versus-Drew Brees debate -- which one is fantasy's No. 1 quarterback -- is considerably closer than you think. Manning has been a model of consistency for years, yet Brees' statistics the past three seasons combined were practically identical to Manning's. During that span, they averaged the same fantasy points per game (22.2) and had a consistency rating three-thousandths of a point apart (theirs round to the same, two-digit 0.36), though it's Brees who had the higher Start% (75.0 percent to Manning's 71.9). Manning's 2013 was unquestionably better in fantasy, but remember: We are not playing last year, we're playing this year. Brees deserves your serious consideration at No. 1.
Tom Brady is the other quarterback whose consistent track record should earn your confidence when it comes to enjoying a bounce-back season. Though Brady warranted your start only six times in 16 games in a dismal 2013, he was worth it in 23 of his 32 starts in 2011-12 combined, and at least there was a potential explanation for his struggles: injuries that cost Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen considerable time, resulting in a weekly scramble for the New England Patriots to find Brady reliable receivers. Gronkowski might enter 2014 no less a health risk, and Amendola's track record in that department is as poor as anyone's, but a healthy preseason from both -- and Gronkowski in particular -- could be all it takes for Brady to recapture his elite fantasy football form. Pay heed to Brady's 2011-12 efforts.
Qualifying quarterbacks played at least 10 games, scored at least 100 total fantasy points and averaged at least 10.0 fantasy points per game from 2011-13.
Le'Veon Bell's 2013 rookie campaign was nothing short of extraordinary. Remember, he began the season nursing a Lisfranc injury that threatened to ruin a sizable chunk of his campaign; he returned in Week 4 and put forth the 14th-most fantasy points by any running back (160). What's more, Bell managed a weekly fantasy point total between 10 and 19 in eight of his 13 healthy games, a remarkably consistent performance for a running back who averaged a paltry 3.5 yards per carry. With a full season of health and a year's experience under his belt, Bell might be ready to elevate his game to the RB1 class in fantasy football, the most significant threat to that being the possibility that LeGarrette Blount might steal some goal-line carries from him.
Qualifying running backs played at least 10 games, scored at least 100 total fantasy points and averaged at least 5.0 fantasy points per game from 2011-13.
Considering running backs and wide receivers -- the two positions that most typically fill a fantasy "flex" roster spot -- are judged by the same consistency measures, the Start% numbers in the chart below illustrate the weekly volatility of this position. Wide receivers are notoriously inconsistent; they're reliant upon their target totals, which can be influenced heavily by their matchups. Calvin Johnson was the only wide receiver to warrant a place in a fantasy lineup more than 70 percent of the time the past three seasons combined (71.7 percent); twelve running backs managed a higher Start% than Johnson did. This is the reason that, of the two positions, wide receiver is where you should rely more upon matchups and a "piecing-it-together" strategy, as it's the running backs who will provide the more reliable weekly output.
It's the target hounds who grade best in consistency terms -- and therefore warrant a more regular place in your fantasy lineup, even in non-PPR formats -- as four of the five wide receivers to catch at least 250 passes the past three seasons combined managed top-10 consistency ratings: A.J. Green (260 catches; 0.55 rating, first), Brandon Marshall (299 catches; 0.55, second), Calvin Johnson (302 catches; 0.58, third) and Wes Welker (313 catches; 0.63, ninth). Andre Johnson was the only one to fall short; he had 254 catches but ranked 34th with a 0.81 rating. Johnson's touchdown production -- he had only 11 total from 2011-13 -- at least partly explains it, as does the fact that all five of his scores in 2013 came in two games.
Kendall Wright is the sneaky pick among consistent wideouts. The game's No. 14 wide receiver in terms of receptions the past two seasons combined with 158, Wright's 0.61 consistency rating ranked fourth-best at the position. He's the kind of player you could land as your No. 4 wide receiver, but is well worth slotting in as your WR3 every week regardless of his matchups.
Qualifying wide receivers played at least 10 games, scored at least 75 total fantasy points and averaged at least 5.0 fantasy points per game from 2011-13.
At tight end, it's more a matter of who is inconsistent than consistent, as final seasonal fantasy point totals can often hide a player's inefficiencies. Two stand out: Jordan Cameron and Kyle Rudolph, who ranked 13th and 15th, respectively, in terms of total fantasy points the past two seasons combined. Both managed consistency ratings greater than one -- that's the "bad" bar -- and don't overlook that Cameron was a "Stiff" on six occasions during his breakthrough 2013, Rudolph seven times during his breakout 2012. Rudolph's fans will be quick to point out that Norv Turner's arrival as the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator will only help improve his numbers. And yes, Turner's presence did inspire Cameron to greater things last season; that said, the consistency metrics below show that Cameron's year was hardly without flaws.
Qualifying tight ends played at least 10 games, scored at least 75 total fantasy points and averaged at least 4.0 fantasy points per game from 2011-13.
Consistency is hardly the name of the game at the kicker position, but look at Stephen Gostkowski's rating: His 0.29 is the best of any player in the league to appear in 10 or more games from 2011-13. That means his weekly fantasy output was the closest to his overall per-game average of anyone in the game; it shows how important it is for a kicker to hail from one of the game's highest-scoring teams, as the New England Patriots scored 92 more points than any other team in the past three seasons combined.
But ... can you accurately predict which team will lead the NFL in points? This is why we annually advise you wait until the final round to select your kicker, as you can see by the chart below that only three kickers managed a Start% of at least 50 percent the past three seasons combined. This is not a consistent position, week over week.
Qualifying kickers played at least 10 games, scored at least 100 total fantasy points and averaged at least 7.5 fantasy points per game from 2011-13.
Team defenses are even more unpredictable than kickers, though in their defense (pun unintended), personnel changes between seasons have a substantially greater impact upon their fantasy totals than would be the case for individuals at the other skill positions. Still, the fact that only three defenses managed a better-than-50-percent Start% from 2011-13 combined -- with not one managing 60 percent or greater -- shows how difficult it is to trust past years' fantasy point totals at the position. As with kickers, it's best to save your defense/special teams selection for the late rounds, if not the next-to-last round.