This game, it's a-changing.
We're in an era of big passing numbers in the NFL, of quarterbacks shattering records and driving fantasy scoring. As fantasy football is a game of numbers, and this column an examination of said numbers, it only makes sense that we illustrate this shift with some stunning facts:
CONSISTENCY RATINGS BENCHMARKS
Using statistics since the beginning of the 2010 season, 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, numbers identifying the player's rank at his 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.
%: The player's overall Consistency Rating, calculated as number of "Start" performances divided by scheduled team games.
• Aaron Rodgers set the all-time record in 2011 for fantasy points by a quarterback with 385. But that's not all. Drew Brees' 380 points are second-best all-time, and four of the eight best single-season fantasy point totals by quarterbacks were recorded in 2011 (add in Tom Brady and Cam Newton, each with 352).
• From a sheer stats standpoint, Brees (5,476), Brady (5,235) and Matthew Stafford (5,038) each surpassed 5,000 passing yards in 2011, a plateau that had been reached but twice in 91 previous NFL seasons. Brees (46), Rodgers (45) and Stafford (41) each topped 40 passing touchdowns, a plateau that had been reached only five times in those previous 91 seasons.
• Newton, in fact, set an all-time rookie record for fantasy points in 2011 (352), and he rushed for a single-season record 14 touchdowns.
• In each of the past six seasons, the league's completion percentage has been better than 60 percent. Through one week of 2012, it's 62.7, higher than the single-season record of 61.2 percent, which was set in 2007. Meanwhile, the league-wide passing rating set records in both 2010 (84.1) and 2011 (84.3), and it's already 86.2 through one week of this season. As for net yards per game, the NFL set a record with 459.4 in 2011, which shattered the record of 443.1, set in 2010. Through one week of the 2012 season, that number is an astonishing 486.9.
• There were 116 instances of a quarterback managing at least 20 fantasy points in a game in 2011, and through one week of 2012, seven quarterbacks have at least that many. That's a full-season pace of 112.
• The average fantasy point total scored by a top-10 weekly quarterback was 22.1 in 2011. The Week 1 average this season was 21.7.
It is therefore clear that while it's all the more important to address the quarterback position in fantasy, as they drive scoring -- a point that we made all preseason -- it's also imperative that we raise the bar for what constitutes a productive quarterback.
Which brings us to the first edition of 2012 of our Consistency Ratings, and a necessary change to the scoring.
The definition of a "start"-worthy fantasy quarterback has changed, with the bar being noticeably higher today than it was even as recently as one season ago. Consider that, at the onset of the 2011 campaign, we had set the following benchmarks for what constitutes different levels of fantasy production at the position: 15 warranted a "Start"; 20 constituted a "Stud" performance; and 8 made the passer a "Stiff." These benchmarks were selected after analyzing several seasons of fantasy production, selected based upon a percentage of players who resided within each group.
But with the bar rising at quarterback and, addressing the other skill positions, the definition of a "replacement level" player also changing, this season's measures for "Start," "Stud" or "Stiff" status also must change. Beginning with this week's column, benchmarks no longer will be specific numbers, but rather based upon where the player's fantasy point total ranked him at his position for the week.
You can see the new benchmarks in the chart to the right.
This dramatically changes the definition of a consistent fantasy quarterback, being that if we apply these new benchmarks to 2011 fantasy scoring, we find that the worst "Start"-worthy quarterback in a given week would have averaged 17.5 points, while the worst "Stud"-worthy quarterback would have averaged 27.3. Those are significant increases in production, especially the studs.
To refresh your memory, this link directs you to the final Consistency Ratings for 2011, using the old benchmarks.
Now, in order to give you a sense of how much would have changed under the new formula, the chart to the right lists the 10 quarterbacks whose Consistency Ratings suffer the most under the new formula. Let's take a closer look at some of the more prominent fantasy names
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys (68.8 percent under old formula, 50.0 percent under new): Though he ranks only two spots lower under the new formula (eighth) than the old (sixth), he takes a severe hit in the "Stud" category, managing to qualify just once (6, under the old formula). Yes, Romo remains a member of the top 10 in fantasy at his position, and yes, he's coming off a solid Week 1, which helps cement his status within that group. But let's not forget that Romo managed that 50.0 percent number in what was only his second season of a full 16 games played in his past four, and the only category in which he demonstrated vast improvement was his touchdown-to-interception ratio (career-best 3.1-to-1). With the "replacement-level" bar rising, Romo's performance, his 265 fantasy points ultimately trailing his totals of either 2007 (283) or 2009 (267), was no longer as elite as it might have seemed. There is a reason he was only the ninth quarterback off the board in ESPN live drafts, and it was not just his missed time in 2008 and 2010.
QUARTERBACKS WHO SUFFERED
Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers (56.3 percent old, 31.3 percent new): Granted, Rivers endured a poor 2011 by his standards, but let's not forget that he lost his No. 1 wide receiver, Vincent Jackson, to free agency during the offseason, not to mention he kicked off his 2012 with a paltry 13 fantasy points. His new Consistency Rating is telling; by the new formula, he'd actually have performed worse than Mark Sanchez (37.5 percent) did in 2011. Rivers has an uphill climb to re-establish himself as a clear fantasy start, and perhaps these measures illustrate the fact that in a 10-team standard league, he's more a matchups than every-week starter.
Tim Tebow, New York Jets (50.0 percent old, 25.0 percent new): It's easy to dismiss him, what with him serving in a backup role behind a 20 fantasy-point-scoring quarterback today, but flash back to September 2011 and he was a backup then, too. He wouldn't start a game until Oct. 23 (Week 7), and it's not unthinkable he could start in that week this season, too. Remember that one week shouldn't answer what was a preseason's worth of Sanchez questions. What these numbers should remind fantasy owners, however, is that Tebow's performance once he claimed the job in 2011 actually wasn't as dominating as was the popular belief. By the new formula, he wasn't a "Stud," a win-the-week-on-his-own quarterback even once, and in fact only four of his 11 starts resulted in a score that would have warranted having him in your lineup. Thanks to potential rushing scores, Tebow generally wouldn't suffer a "Stiff" performance if he's granted a start and you slot him in. At the same time, his Consistency Rating shows how limited his statistical ceiling is due to his limitations as a passer.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (43.8 percent old, 18.8 percent new): Wow, Big Ben had Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace as his top two receivers last season, and he still couldn't muster more than three weekly performances that ranked among the top 10 at his position? Believe it. Roethlisberger is your quintessential matchups quarterback, the 22 "Stack" score -- which measures the number of fantasy points he tallied, compared to what his opponents allowed to the position -- underscoring that he's more of a No. 2 option you need to manage closely.
Not all quarterbacks suffer under the new formula, however. Granted, only one who appeared in at least 10 games improved -- Christian Ponder, whose 18.8 percent number rose to 25.5 percent -- but remember that all quarterbacks should have understandably suffered as a result of the rising replacement level.
Here's one who merely spun his wheels:
Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles (50.0 percent old, 50.0 percent new): This should settle those queasy stomachs of Vick owners who fret about his injury history, as well as the mere 15 fantasy points he tallied in Week 1. Adjusting replacement levels has no impact upon Vick being a valid fantasy starter; what it actually does is diminish his upside, which is important to keep in mind, considering people routinely refer to him as a high-risk, high-reward player. To that end, Vick loses six "Stud" points in the new formula, third-most among quarterbacks, leaving him with only one in all of 2011. In other words, he was a much clearer weekly fantasy start -- assuming he had injury clearance to play in the given week -- but the truth was he wasn't quite as likely to win you the week as you might have thought.
A caveat with Vick, however: Remember that his zero rushing touchdowns in 2011 had a noticeably adverse impact upon his fantasy point total. There's an excellent chance that with some regression to the mean, restoring him to, say, the 5-7 score range, he'll recapture some of those "Stud" points in 2012, new formula or not.
Consistency Ratings chart
Players are initially ranked in order of their Consistency Rating, calculated as the percentage of the player's scheduled games -- not games played, scheduled games -- in which their fantasy point total registered a "Start" score. All categories are sortable both ascending and descending; just click on the headers to sort. Players must have met at least one the following minimums for inclusion in the chart: 20.0 percent Consistency Rating in standard scoring leagues, 20.0 percent Consistency Rating in PPR formats, or 3 "Stud" performances.
These statistics include all 35 scheduled NFL regular-season weeks since Week 1 of the 2010 season, or 33 games played per NFL team. Rookies are not charged for games missed before they entered the league.