Kevin Faulk: He was a valuable, oft-underrated role player in the real game. Few fit the third-down back mold better in the game's history.
In fantasy, however, Faulk was mostly an afterthought. He never amassed more than 120 points in a single one of his 13 NFL seasons, and even in PPR formats, his personal best of 178 points in 2008 ranked just 22nd at his position. If anything, in fantasy, Faulk was a maddening presence maddening to owners of other New England Patriots running backs. As in, "&@#$ Faulk stole my running back's carries!"
So on this day that Faulk announced his retirement, what better time to focus our microscope on his former team's backfield?
After all, this Patriots team doesn't operate any differently than during Faulk's heyday: wildly unpredictable from week to week. Bill Belichick's Patriots are a team of roles, rhythm and, well, randomness. They'll use one player on passing downs, another between the 20s, a third at the goal line. They'll rely on the hot hand one week, stray from him the next. They're difficult to get a read on, which is why it's a dangerous time to be a Stevan Ridley owner, despite his back-to-back 19-point fantasy weeks.
We talk often about how ambiguous Mike Shanahan's backfields are, formerly with the Denver Broncos and now the Washington Redskins. But Belichick's are every bit as much so, and it's for that reason Ridley, despite his lofty Consistency Rating through five weeks -- not to mention his three "Stud" performances to date -- might be a smart sell-high candidate.
Consider the following:
CONSISTENCY RATINGS BENCHMARKS
Using 2012 statistics, 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.
• Ridley has a fumble in back-to-back games -- those very 19-plus-point weeks -- the latter a turnover in a 10-point game with 6:43 to play. Such miscues aggravate a coach; they could prove costly to Ridley in coming weeks.
• Shane Vereen, out the first four weeks of the season with a foot injury, was the Patriots running back to convert his goal-line opportunity in Week 5. (Ridley was 0-for-1.)
• Danny Woodhead has played 132 snaps to Ridley's 190, played more in Week 3 (52-26) and had both a 17-yard receiving touchdown in Week 4 and a critical 25-yard catch on third-and-14 in Week 5. Those plays might endear him to his coach.
• Brandon Bolden has 30 carries for 191 yards and a score the past two weeks combined, for 6.4 yards per carry, showing he's capable of handling a healthy chunk of the rushing workload.
Does this not look like a team that could return to a state of unpredictability in time? Ridley might, and probably should, retain the leading role, but the danger is misinterpreting what that really means. He's tied for third among running backs in fantasy points (73), he's tied for the fifth-most "Start"-worthy games among running backs (4) and he's tied for the NFL lead -- counting all positions -- in "Stud" performances (3). If your conclusion is that he's now a top-tier fantasy running back, you're overestimating things and are exactly the kind of person to whom Ridley's owners should trade him.
History also backs it up. The Patriots have had just one 1,000-yard rusher in the five seasons (plus 2012) since Corey Dillon's retirement, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who narrowly made it in 2010. During that time, the Patriots have amassed the third-most "Start"-worthy fantasy games among running backs (96), but only the 22nd-most "Stud"-worthy games (12). And while the former might make them sound like an appealing team from which to draw, keep in mind that five different players have been responsible for 12 or more, meaning that it's never entirely easy to predict who will give you one.
Another important fact to consider: Woodhead, despite popular opinion, has actually not been a terribly reliable PPR asset. His Consistency Rating below illustrates that, but here's another truth: He has warranted a "Start" on only 12 occasions thus far during his career in ESPN's standard scoring.
Guess how many Woodhead has had in PPR? That's right, 12.
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 his 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 of 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.
These statistics are for 2012 only. Statistics for games since 2010 can be found here.