The clock is ticking.
The trade deadline in ESPN standard leagues arrives Wednesday at 11:59 a.m. ET, less than 24 hours from now. Two weeks from now, the playoffs begin in those formats. It's crunch time in fantasy football, and as you square away your roster for that championship push, there is one thing that's abundantly clear:
You want consistent, reliable players. You do not want risks (with a few, select exceptions, of course), busts or season-long disappointments.
Consistency metrics for every player can be found in the charts below, but numbers don't always tell the entire story. Today, it's time to be subjective; using those numbers, let's choose a "Mr. Reliable," a "Mr. Volatile" and a "Mr. Underrated" at each of the four skill positions, to help you with your last-minute dealings.
Mr. Reliable: Aaron Rodgers. Well, duh -- but he's the correct choice. In addition to being consistently startable, he's consistently studly, 10-for-10 in Stud performances so far this season. It's that torrid pace that puts him on track to set a new single-season mark for fantasy points with 421; that'd be 11 more than LaDainian Tomlinson had during his record-setting 2006. Heck, Rodgers needs to average just 24.7 fantasy points per game to pass Tomlinson's 410.
Mr. Volatile: Ryan Fitzpatrick. After charging out of the gate, totaling 64 fantasy points in his first three games (21.3 per game), Fitzpatrick's performance has regressed considerably, as he has averaged 8.9 points in seven games since. What's most distressing about his future prospects, however, is that as a Buffalo Bills quarterback, he's at as much risk as anyone to suffer through bad weather. Sure enough, in eight starts combined after Dec. 1 in 2009 and '10, Fitzpatrick has totaled 64 fantasy points (8.0 per game), and only one of his five games at home was Start-worthy, zero classified as Stud performances.
Mr. Underrated: Matt Ryan. While he had let his owners down in the season's early weeks, Ryan's performance has picked up of late: Four of his past five games were Start-worthy and two of those were Stud efforts. Fantasy owners might be hesitant to trust him with tricky matchups ahead at Houston Texans (Week 13) and versus the Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 15), but his other four remaining matchups are favorable and perhaps you can use his slow start as a way of acquiring him cheap. Remember, Michael Turner did cool in December and the playoffs last season and the Atlanta Falcons might want to ease his load at least slightly accordingly.
Mr. Reliable: LeSean McCoy. He gets the nod because, frankly, had we told you during the preseason that Michael Vick would struggle to the extent that he has, you'd probably have assumed McCoy's numbers would suffer and you'd have dropped him from the first round. Suffer he hasn't: McCoy is a 10-for-10 fantasy Start who leads the way with six Stud games in standard and seven in PPR. His Stack score -- which weights the strength of his matchups -- is also a position-best 111. No Vick down the stretch? No problem.
Mr. Volatile: Chris Johnson. There are plenty of viable candidates -- BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Beanie Wells and Willis McGahee also strong choices -- but no running back has inspired as much debate this season as the consistently underperforming Johnson. It's all about that Stack score: His 1 ranks behind that of Cedric Benson (13) and Ben Tate (8), which shows that he's not even exploiting his best matchups, the Week 10 Carolina Panthers game notwithstanding. Yes, Johnson has fabulous matchups ahead against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 12), Buffalo Bills (Week 13) and Indianapolis Colts (Week 15), but are you so sure he's going to put forth a week-winning kind of performance even in those games? Johnson has but one Stud performance all year. Tread carefully.
HOW CONSISTENCY RATINGS WORK
Using both the past 34 weeks -- Week 12 of 2009 through Week 11 of 2011 -- of data, as well as 2011 alone, 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:
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.
Stack: A formula designed to weigh how much of the player's 2011/past-34-weeks fantasy point total was driven by matchups, this compares his weekly point totals to the average weekly amount his opponent typically allows to a player at his position (RBs and WRs are weighted differently). Higher scores mean the player succeeded beyond the strength of his matchups; lower (or negative) scores mean the player might have been a matchups product.
VBD (or Value Based Draft score): This compares the player's season fantasy point total to that of a replacement-level player at his position, to demonstrate relative value across different positions. My methodology for "replacement level": No. 15 QB, No. 35 RB, No. 35 WR, No. 15 TE, No. 15 K, No. 15 D/ST.
Mr. Underrated: LeGarrette Blount. The knock on him is that he's not the best blocker, and since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tend to frequently play from behind, logically speaking, Blount would be sitting an increased number of snaps late in games. But there are two things supporting him as a valuable buy-low candidate, if his owner buys into that argument: One is that Blount actually has the fifth-most carries in the NFL when his team is trailing (70) and seventh most when his team is trailing by double digits (32). The other is that he has two more games scheduled against the Panthers' awful run defense. There's matchups appeal here yet.
Mr. Reliable: Mike Wallace. Calvin Johnson is the obvious -- and perhaps correct -- choice, but Wallace's performance deserves so many more headlines than it has generated in 2011. They're two of the three wide receivers -- from the "guys you'd actually roster" class -- who have yet to be deemed a Stiff, Larry Fitzgerald being the third, and Wallace's 80.0 percent Consistency Ratings ranks third, his three Stud performances rank fifth and his 58 Stack score ranks fourth. Wallace also has two of his most attractive matchups all season in two of the most critical weeks in fantasy: at San Francisco 49ers (Week 15), versus St. Louis Rams (Week 16).
Mr. Volatile: DeSean Jackson. While he and Jeremy Maclin have the same Consistency Rating (40.0 percent), Jackson has been a Stiff three more times than Maclin (5-2), meaning that when he has been bad, he has been baaaaaad. And if there's any player for whom Vick's struggles are a concern during the fantasy playoffs, it's Jackson.
Mr. Underrated: A.J. Green. I'm of the belief that players fresh off injuries tend to be easier to acquire, if you're so willing to take the chance, and in Green's case, his knee issue might have his trade value at a season low. He has been remarkably reliable for a rookie, his 80.0 percent Consistency Rating tied for third-best, and if you look at his remaining schedule, there are fantastic matchups ahead in Weeks 15 (at St. Louis) and 16 (versus Arizona Cardinals).
Mr. Reliable: Jimmy Graham. He's no longer my No. 1 tight end -- that honor belongs to Rob Gronkowski -- but he's the most consistently reliable, and all the numbers below prove it. Graham has had only one truly "bad" game all season, his three-point Week 8, and it's important to note that he has position bests in both targets (94) and receptions (62).
Mr. Volatile: Jared Cook. He was a popular preseason breakout pick -- including by this columnist -- but to date, Cook has been a significant disappointment, barely even rosterable in most leagues. You might look at his schedule and see good times ahead, as four of his final six matchups come against the top 15 teams in terms of fantasy points allowed to tight ends (three of those in the top nine), but I see this: minus-15 Stack score, five times a Stiff.
Mr. Underrated: Aaron Hernandez. No one really thinks of Hernandez as a weekly fantasy start, probably because he's the second-best tight end on his own roster, but his numbers support him being as strong a choice as anyone outside the top five. Two things stand out: Hernandez ranks 11th in targets (62) and ninth in receptions (41) among tight ends, so clearly he's involved enough to make a weekly impact despite his status as the clear No. 2.
Consistency Ratings charts
Each position has two charts below: One for 2011 statistics alone, and one for the past 34 NFL weeks (Week 12 of 2009 through Week 11 of 2011). All categories are sortable both ascending and descending; just click on the headers to sort.