If we were to pick a poster boy for our weekly "Consistency Ratings" column, Peyton Manning would be an easy choice. Among players all-time, no one has proved more consistently reliable than good ol' No. 18.
It's only fitting, therefore, that among quarterbacks, no one has a higher Consistency Rating through nine weeks of the 2012 season.
Manning might no longer be flashy; it has been more than two calendar years since he has put forth a weekly fantasy point total that placed among the two best at his position. Ironically enough, the last time he did it, Sept. 26, 2010, he did so in a road game against his current Denver Broncos. But what Manning, now 36 years old, might lack in terms of week-winning upside, he still possesses in terms of start-worthy weekly statistical potential.
Avid readers of this column might be familiar with the injury penalty; Manning, in the long-range chart, gets penalized for his 2011 season-long absence by the rationale that fantasy owners who drafted him didn't accrue the expected value for those games. For his career -- counting the penalty for 2011 -- Manning has warranted a "Start" 57.8 percent of the time. He has been a "Stud," or a top two-scoring quarterback, 12.5 percent of the time, and a "Stiff" 12.9 percent of the time. Even with his yearlong absence, he possesses remarkably good career Consistency Rating numbers. After all, be aware that only six quarterbacks have a Consistency Rating equal to or better than Manning's career number simply from 2010 to '12, which is a far, far smaller sample.
But when it comes to spinning the Manning story -- and how it pertains to the rejuvenation of his Broncos team -- forward, which is what fantasy analysis is all about, what might we glean from the stats if we didn't penalize him for his lost 2011?
To find the answer, I examined each of Manning's 13 individual seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, breaking down his impact at each of fantasy's skill positions:
Quarterback -- or Manning himself: In 13 Colts years, Manning was a fantasy "Start" 61.1 percent of the time, a "Stud" 13.9 percent and a "Stiff" 13.9 percent. That Start number illustrates his consistent nature; remember that he has widely garnered healthy draft-day rankings throughout his career, yet his critics have routinely pointed out his inability to capture the No. 1 spot in terms of total fantasy points most of those years. The purpose of drafting Manning generally wasn't assuming he'd be the highest-scoring quarterback, it was that he was the most consistently reliable one, and an annual contender for the top spot.
Here's where things get interesting, however: Manning managed an annual Consistency Rating of 62.5 percent or higher in each of his final seven years in Indianapolis, and his rating overall during those seven seasons was 67.9 percent. The Manning we saw in the latter stages in Indianapolis, which isn't far off the one currently playing in Denver, was worth having in your lineup more than twice out of every three weeks.
No. 1 running back: Earlier in Manning's Colts career, during the days of Marshall Faulk (one season, 1998) and Edgerrin James (six seasons, 1999-2000 and 2002-05), his lead running backs ranked among the most productive and consistent in fantasy football. On three occasions, the Colts' lead back was a "Start" 15 out of 16 games (Faulk in 1998, James in 2000 and 2004), and James was a "Stud" on 8 occasions in 1999 and 9 in 2000.
Once Joseph Addai took over in 2006, however, things shifted more in Manning's favor, though Addai (and Dominic Rhodes in 2008) maintained healthy enough Consistency Ratings to warrant fantasy owners' attention. In five seasons from 2006 to '10, the Colts' No. 1 running back had a Consistency Rating of 56.3 percent -- 65.2 if you don't dock for missed time -- and remember that includes Addai's 2010, in which he sat out eight games. Indeed, having Manning as your quarterback meant big things for the running back as well, as in his 13 years with the Colts, his No. 1 running backs had a 71.6 percent Consistency Rating.
Don't underestimate the importance to Willis McGahee, who, despite the change at quarterback from Tim Tebow in 2011 to Manning this year, has averaged more touches per game this year (20.9) than last (17.4). As expected, Manning's arrival has opened things up for McGahee, particularly as a receiver; he already has nine more catches this season than last (21-12), and is averaging 8.1 yards per catch to 2011's 4.3. McGahee's 62.5 percent Consistency Rating thus far ranks 10th-best among running backs, and he's one of only six running backs who has been a fantasy Stud (top-five scorer at his position) three times or more. Manning's Colts history -- especially as it pertains to the less talented and certainly more injury-prone Donald Brown -- supports McGahee's candidacy as a high-end fantasy RB2.
No. 1 wide receiver: Fantasy owners might remember Marvin Harrison's lengthy stay in fantasy's elite tier, and it's true that only two different men served as Manning's No. 1 wide receiver in Indianapolis: Harrison (1998-2006) and Reggie Wayne (2007-10). Only once in 13 seasons did the Colts' No. 1 wideout finish with a Consistency Rating beneath 50.0 percent, in Manning's rookie year of 1998 (Harrison, 43.8 percent), and Colts No. 1s had a 63.9 percent Consistency Rating overall, and were Studs 57 times (a whopping 27.4 percent of their games). Wow.
No. 2 wide receiver: They were much more inconsistent over the course of those 13 seasons, their Consistency Rating just 35.1 percent, but be aware that during the Harrison-Wayne years, which spanned from 2002 to '06, Wayne had a 47.5 percent Consistency Rating and was a Stud 15.0 percent of the time as the team's No. 2 wide receiver. Certainly that shows there were enough balls to go around that two wideouts could thrive in fantasy, even from a consistency perspective, especially considering that the only four teams this season with two wideouts with better than a 47.5 percent number are the Atlanta Falcons (Julio Jones and Roddy White), Green Bay Packers (Randall Cobb and James Jones), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams) and Manning's own Broncos (Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas).
So here's the question: Which is the smarter Broncos wideout to own, between Decker and Thomas, which is the reason for listing both wide receiver analyses together?
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.
Being that this is the place to appreciate consistency, Decker fits that bill. He's the leader of the two in targets (70-65), receptions (46-45) and, as the more targeted and on shorter routes of the two, has spread his statistics across a greater number of useful fantasy games. Decker's 75.0 percent Consistency Rating paces his position.
Thomas, however, is the higher-upside choice of the two, and in spite of his mere 2 "Stud" points, might increase that number during the season's second half. His 16.8 yards-per-catch average is seventh-best among wide receivers, and his average of 7.6 yards after the catch per reception is fifth-best at his position. Owning Thomas means accepting the possibility that in a given week, he'll hand you a dreaded "Stiff" score. On upside, however, there aren't many better bets to lead in "Stud" games in the second half.
Tight end: One fact the Consistency Ratings during Manning's Colts career unearthed was that it's an untruth that he makes his tight end a consistent fantasy stud. In only five of those 13 seasons did a Colts tight end manage a Consistency Rating greater than 50 percent, no one topped Dallas Clark's 68.8 percent of 2009, and the team's top tight ends combined for a 41.8 percent number during the Manning era. Manning did make his tight ends fantasy Studs, however, a fair amount; they totaled 48 of those, or 23.1 percent of the time.
Unfortunately, in Denver, the Broncos have two tight ends fighting for targets, Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme. As a result, neither has exhibited the kind of upside that Clark, and to a lesser degree Tamme, exhibited back in Indianapolis, and neither has produced a weekly fantasy point total that ranked among the two best at tight end. A stunning truth: The last time a Manning tight end failed to finish among the top two fantasy scorers for a single week for an entire season was 1998, his rookie year.
In other words, expect Dreessen's and Tamme's production to improve in time, but not to the levels that people might have believed in the preseason.
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. All defense/special teams are included, regardless of whether they met those minimums.
These statistics are for 2012 only. Statistics for games since 2010 can be found here.