2017 NFL Draft Guide: Consistency is Everything
Dom Murtha sheds light on "consistency" in fantasy football and explains a way to quantify it and apply it to a player's body of work.
Most of us like to fancy ourselves sharp fantasy football owners, and while we typically like to delve deep into the gritty numbers and graphs, we sometimes forget how misleading the things we take for granted in fantasy sports can be.
Take two running backs from last year for example – Melvin Gordon and LeGarrette Blount. Because of media narratives, age, and current standing in the league, most of us would obviously prefer Gordon headed into 2017, but if you were just to see their season totals from last season laid out, that story would be told very differently. The fact of the matter is that Blount had more rushing yards than Gordon, nearly double the amount of touchdowns, and was healthy for every game, compared to the four games that Gordon missed in 2016. Having said all of that, Gordon still managed to out produce Blount by 20 points on the season. You are probably asking now, how is that possible? And the answer is simple... Gordon offers a moderate amount of receiving value where Blount doesn't whatsoever.
So what am I getting at?
We just looked at a small sample of different arbitrary statistics that historically have been able to tell us who the better running back is – or so we thought – and yet we still got two different answers. For years we were told that a high season long total of yards and touchdowns was the key to winning, which should in this scenario make Blount the far better option. Also in Blount's favor is the old adage of "the best ability is availability" as he played in 16 games to Gordon's 12. Later the trend became a well-rounded running back who can make a killing as a receiver out of the backfield is better than a goal line vulture, which in this scenario makes Gordon the clear cut better player than Blount. After all of that though they were still only separated by a mere 20 standard league points.
Now the question becomes, if these tier two and three running backs are so diverse in skillset, yet so close in projected scoring and last year's total scoring, then what can we use to rank and differentiate them?
The final frontier is "Consistency."
It's your job to come up with a number that feels comfortable for your players at each position group each week and see how many times they reached that number last season. We’ve been using running backs so far, so for the sake of simplicity, we can stay there… In standard leagues, 15 points seems like a fair number to use for now, so lets try it on Gordon. Gordon reached 15 points in nine out of his 12 games last season, where Blount only reached the number six times in his 16 games. Seeing this number not only puts their weekly output into perspective, but it also makes clear just how Gordon ended up outscoring Blount despite his inferior rushing and total touchdown statistics. Gordon's ability to reach a reasonable benchmark more often, almost by definition makes him the more consistent running back, which explains why he ended up outscoring Blount in 2016. To take it to a more extreme case, look at Gordon vs. Jay Ajayi. Ajayi finished as one of the fantasy darlings of 2016, while Gordon's season ending injury and mere 3.9 yards per carry left a rather sour taste in our mouths. What we know though is that Gordon is a more reliable fantasy player and that is because he reached the "reasonable benchmark" of 15 points nine times to Ajayi's four. Simply put, regardless of Ajayi nearing Gordon in touchdowns and far out producing him in rushing yards, Ajayi is a guy to avoid in 2017 due to his inability to remain consistent, while Gordon's 75% conversion rate at the "reasonable benchmark" gives me cause for optimism.
Take that "reasonable benchmark" and apply it to the upcoming season. Consider circumstances such as a player's competition at the position, offensive line, injury history, and how well their skillset is rounded. Even in non-PPR formats, having a guy who can catch the ball out of the backfield will keep them relevant when their team is getting blown out, lowering their chance of a dud.
Now we have just looked at running backs here, but the same goes true for all other positions. Pick a weekly point total you feel comfortable with getting from any position and examine the player’s box scores from last year’s or even in years past. It sounds so easy, but it truly tells you how consistent a player is, rather than just taking a season long point total and averaging it over a 16 game schedule.
For quarterbacks, I use 20 points, and no surprise that Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan remained consistently above the number – at least 10 times each – but something to examine is that below them, is a significant drop off. These guys are the elite, while Andrew Luck, Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins, and Matthew Stafford reached the number about five to six times each making them fall short of that class. Using 20 points tells you how consistently a quarterback can be elite, but manipulating the number lower can tell you how consistently a player can be above average. You can continue doing this to get different results and ultimately find different ways to group and differentiate tiers at a specific position.
Just keep in mind, that as I said with running backs, these consistency benchmarks are great for giving you an idea, but projecting forward still is a large part of the process. Understanding a player’s age, potential, positional circumstance, supporting cast, and strength of schedule is always paramount, however adding a contextual conception of their history of consistency only makes the picture clearer.
Ultimately, the point is not about finding the guys who are going to explode in games like Jay Ajayi did last season or DeSean Jackson has done throughout his entire career, but rather it's about finding guys who are least likely to let you down. When it comes to winning fantasy football, peaks and valleys are cancerous, while consistency is everything.