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Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Consistency Ratings: Week 10

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

I've never met Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, have never had a discussion with him, have never had a window into his mind.

Helu
Roy Helu put up solid numbers last week, but remember that he's being coached by Mike Shanahan, so tread carefully.

But judging by more than 10 seasons' worth of statistical returns, I think the following statement is fair to assume: Mike Shanahan doesn't care about fantasy football. And, frankly, fantasy owners don't care for him as a result.

Shanahan's historically unpredictable management of his backfields -- from season to season, game to game and, heck, even play to play -- has a track record so lengthy, it's common nowadays to refer to the concept of a "Mike Shanahan backfield." Its definition: Heck if we've got a clue who's the starter here at any given time.

That's why, for all the buzz surrounding rookie Roy Helu -- who set a Washington Redskins franchise record on Sunday for receptions in a game (14) -- there's reason to approach him with caution. Helu got the surprise Week 9 start and thrived, but as he's managed by Shanahan, who knows if Helu will even get the start in Week 10, let alone repeat that 12-point fantasy effort?

(For the record, I firmly believe that the answers to those questions are that he will and certainly can, but, again, Mike Shanahan backfield.)

It's odd, yes, that we're discussing Shanahan's running backs in a column about consistency, because the two go together like oil and water. But inconsistency is an important discussion point in this space, and the history of that in Shanahan's backfields warrants closer examination.

Consider that in Shanahan's past 10 years as a head coach -- 2000-08 with the Denver Broncos, 2010 with these Redskins -- only five times has one of his running backs managed a single-season Consistency Rating greater than 44 percent, a number exceeded by 27 different running backs in 2011 alone and 20 in the past 34 weeks combined. Not one Shanahan running back has done it since 2005:

Clinton Portis 2002: 87.5% (Stud 43.8%, Stiff 12.5%)
Portis 2003: 68.6% (Stud 50.0%, Stiff 12.5%)
Mike Anderson 2000: 62.5% (Stud 43.8%, Stiff 18.8%)
Anderson 2005: 62.5% (Stud 31.3%, Stiff 25.0%)
Reuben Droughns 2004: 56.3% (Stud 25.0%, Stiff 37.5%)

Now, here are Shanahan's running back leaders in Consistency Rating by year:

2000: Anderson 62.5%
2001: Terrell Davis 43.8% (Stud 0.0%, Stiff 0.0%)
2002: Portis 87.5%
2003: Portis 68.6%
2004: Droughns 56.3%
2005: Anderson 62.5%
2006: Mike Bell 37.5% (Stud 18.8%, Stiff 37.5%), Tatum Bell 37.5% (Stud 6.3%, Stiff 31.3%)
2007: Travis Henry 37.5% (Stud 6.3%, Stiff 18.8%)
2008: Peyton Hillis 31.3% (Stud 18.8%, Stiff 43.8%)
2010: Ryan Torain 43.8% (Stud 12.5%, Stiff 6.3%)

It's those most recent five seasons that are most troublesome, as Shanahan's tendencies were more predictable when he had such stellar names as Terrell Davis and Clinton Portis leading the way. But, since 2005, only one Shanahan running back -- Anderson in 2005 -- has managed more than seven Start-worthy fantasy performances in a single year. In four of those five seasons, two different running backs managed at least four Start-worthy performances, and not once in Shanahan's past four coaching seasons (2006-08, 2010) did one of his running backs manage more than three Stud-worthy efforts.

That's not to say that Helu can't be the next Davis or Portis. But don't forget the name Tatum Bell. A second-round pick of the Broncos in 2004, Bell disappointed comparative to expectations and suffered as a result of Shanahan's unpredictable plans. Injuries contributed -- Helu has yet to demonstrate an injury history -- and Bell wasn't nearly the pass-catcher that Helu is, so a direct comparison is somewhat unfair, but the example at least should set the basement expectation.

In other words, grab Helu speculating upon upside, especially in PPR formats, but tread carefully and don't expect any guarantees. Heck, if Tashard Choice got the Week 10 start, would anyone really be that shocked?

Consistency Ratings charts

Each position has two charts below: One for 2011 statistics alone, and one for the past 34 NFL weeks (Week 10 of 2009 through Week 9 of 2011). All categories are sortable both ascending and descending; just click on the headers to sort.

(Note: Due to the byes in Weeks 4-9 of 2009, and Weeks 5-9 of 2011, certain players could have appeared in as many as 33 games or as few as 31, instead of just 32. You can tell which teams had more or less than 32 scheduled games by looking at the Defense/special teams chart for the past 34 weeks.)

Quarterbacks: 2011

Something to think about: I don't think anyone still underrates Cam Newton at this point, but the numbers speak volumes. This one in particular stands out: Newton has six Stud-worthy performances in eight games, the same number that Tony Romo has in his past 22 games played, two shy of Matt Schaub (32 games) and one more than either Joe Flacco (32) or Matt Ryan (30).

Quarterbacks: Past 34 weeks

Running backs: 2011

Something to think about: Michael Bush, who managed a healthy 18 fantasy points as a Week 9 fill-in starter, has now been Start-worthy as many times (5) this season as the man he subbed for, Darren McFadden. Bush's minus-3 Stack score probably has some wondering whether he's a matchups product, but his "backup" status in his seven previous games has a lot to say about that number. You might not find a more mandatory handcuff in the game, and it's safe to say that Bush should have a place in any fantasy lineup in potential future starts.

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.