Commentary

Consistency Ratings: Week 17

Which of this year's top players will be best bets for 2012 season?

Updated: December 28, 2011, 1:50 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

While there remains one more week in championship matchups in ESPN standard leagues, we're not about to ignore that many leagues have already wrapped up their title games, electing to use Week 16 as a one-week championship game.

If you're a lucky winner -- or become one on Sunday -- congratulations. But if you're a runner-up or a solid regular-season team that made your league's playoffs, congratulations as well. Remember, anything can happen in the fantasy football playoffs, so there's no shame in finishing second, because the margin between victory and defeat can often be razor thin.

Of course, with the conclusion of the 2011 fantasy football season comes the inevitable early discussion of next season, most notably: Who stands out as the early No. 1 choice in 2012 drafts?

With Adrian Peterson now facing reconstructive knee surgery, and a potential eight- to nine-month rehabilitation, it's a fascinating debate. And examining it a good seven or eight months in advance, my take is that it's not the highest-upside megastud player who is always the obvious pick. Sometimes, the smartest choice is the one who was most consistently reliable the previous season.

Look back at the 2010 returns, for example. Here are where seven of the most prominent fantasy stars of 2011 finished in terms of 2010 Consistency Ratings:

Aaron Rodgers: 68.8 percent Consistency Rating (tied for first among quarterbacks), Stud in 8 of 15 games.
Drew Brees: 68.8 percent Consistency Rating (tied for first among quarterbacks), Stud in 4 of 16 games.
LeSean McCoy: 81.3 percent Consistency Rating (tied for second among running backs), Stud in 4 of 15 games.
Ray Rice: 75.0 percent Consistency Rating (tied for fifth among running backs), Stud in 4 of 16 games.
Arian Foster: 87.5 percent Consistency Rating (No. 1 overall in the NFL), Stud in 10 of 16 games (also tops in the league).
Calvin Johnson: 62.5 percent Consistency Rating (tied for fifth among wide receivers), Stud in 6 of 15 games.
Rob Gronkowski: 50.0 percent Consistency Rating (tied for fifth among tight ends), Stud in 3 of 16 games.

That's right, every one of this season's leaders at his respective position in terms of fantasy points was a top-five finisher in Consistency Ratings in 2010, names like McCoy, Johnson and Gronkowski not exactly obvious picks as position leaders. (For instance, McCoy was the No. 6 running back off the board on average this preseason, Johnson the No. 4 wide receiver and Gronkowski the No. 13 tight end.)

Now let's take a look at 2012's top candidates:

Aaron Rodgers: His perfect 100.0 percent Consistency Rating (15-for-15 in Starts) is one of two in the game -- Maurice Jones-Drew is the other -- and he has been a fantasy Stud on 14 of 15 occasions. That the Green Bay Packers have wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs makes it likely that Rodgers will sit for a significant portion of the Week 17 game, meaning he'll probably finish with those same 15 Start and 14 Stud performances. But that's still head and shoulders above anyone else in the league. Yes, quarterback is a deep position these days, but Rodgers' 385 fantasy points -- 25 shy of LaDainian Tomlinson's single-season record -- still presents a considerable advantage over the rest of the field. Heck, it's 135 points greater than that of the No. 6 quarterback (Tony Romo) and 168 more than No. 10 Mark Sanchez.

LeSean McCoy: He's second to Jones-Drew in Consistency Rating among running backs with 93.3 percent, but considering the Philadelphia Eagles' issues this season, that's a remarkable performance. Another plus: He has been a fantasy Stud nine times, third-most in the league and tied for the lead among running backs.

Arian Foster: He has missed two games, probably won't play much in Week 17 and yet should finish a top-10 running back, even accounting for the Consistency Ratings formula's penalizing for missed games. Foster has a 73.3 percent score, but he's 11-for-13 in Start-worthy performances in his healthy games, and has nine Stud performances to tie McCoy for the lead. Hamstring issues or not early this season, Foster has been every bit worth that No. 5 overall pick, and he's 25 years old, smack dab in his prime. He makes as strong a case as anyone.

Adrian Peterson: If not for a knee surgery, he'd have been as obvious a choice as anyone, with a 73.3 percent Consistency Rating that ranks fourth among running backs. The problem with picking Peterson first today is that we'll have no idea how many games he'll miss at the beginning of 2012; because his timetable for recovery is as lengthy as it is, it's difficult to assume he'll play all 16.

Drew Brees: One cannot formulate an argument for Rodgers while excluding Brees. Brees is right behind Rodgers with a 93.3 percent Consistency Rating, and his 11 Stud performances are once again second in the league. Brees has also been a fantasy dynamo down the stretch, and he has a track record of saving his best performances for last: In his career, he has averaged 10.1 yards more per game in his final eight games of the season than in the first eight, and his TD:INT ratio is 1.68:1 in the first eight, 2.19:1 in the final eight. The one slight question regarding Brees: What happens to him when he enters free agency this offseason?

Maurice Jones-Drew: He needs to be included in the discussion, if only because, like Rodgers, he's a perfect 15-for-15 in Start-worthy fantasy performances. But Jones-Drew's offense has held him back from being generally regarded as part of this class; he has only five Stud performances, after all. He'll be 27 years old at the start of next season, however, and with the right improvements to the Jacksonville Jaguars' offense, he could make a case for a high pick.

Ray Rice: His 86.7 percent Consistency Rating, third-best among running backs, and seven Stud performances, ninth-best in the NFL, have been somewhat overlooked this season. I ask: Isn't this the same story as last year, when Rice finished on a high note and didn't generally garner enough respect for a strong campaign? Rice might not feel like a No. 1 overall talent, but this is the kind of value pick you'd be thrilled to make if you land, say, a No. 3-4-5 draft slot.

My pick: Foster, and it's all about his two-year track record of success, not merely his 2011. Look at his past-34-week stats: 81.3 percent Consistency Rating, tied for third among running backs and fourth overall, and 20 Stud performances, trailing only Rodgers' 22. Foster is in his prime, the Houston Texans remain a team on the rise and he should be healthy from the start.

Rest of my top five: McCoy, Rodgers, Rice, Peterson.

Consistency Ratings charts

Each position has two charts below: One for 2011 statistics alone and one for the past 34 NFL weeks (Week 17 of 2009 through Week 16 of 2011). All categories are sortable both ascending and descending; just click on the headers to sort.

Quarterbacks: 2011

Quarterbacks: Past 34 weeks

Running backs: 2011

Running backs: Past 34 weeks

Wide receivers: 2011

Wide receivers: Past 34 weeks

Tight ends: 2011

Tight ends: Past 34 weeks

Kickers: 2011

Kickers: Past 34 weeks

Defense/special teams: 2011

Defense/special teams: Past 34 weeks

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.

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