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The "Year of the Quarterback" is quickly developing into the year of the quarter-bleagh.
Oh, sure, from a season-to-date angle, the quarterback position is, and always has been, dominating fantasy scoring this season. No. 1 scorer Aaron Rodgers, thanks to his "ordinary" 20-point performance in Week 12, has now been a Stud in all 11 games, and is on pace to set the single-season record for fantasy points with 412. And five quarterbacks have a realistic shot at 300 fantasy points -- Matthew Stafford is the fifth, with a pace of 298 -- a plateau that only one quarterback, Michael Vick, reached in 2010 (he had exactly 300).
Beyond the obvious studs, however, the fantasy-playoff landscape becomes murkier at the quarterback position. The No. 5 quarterback in terms of average draft position, Philip Rivers, finds him outside of the top 10 quarterbacks in scoring in what has been a terribly disappointing season by his standards. No. 6 Matt Schaub is now out for the season. No. 10 Josh Freeman has scored in single digits -- awful for a quarterback -- in three of his past seven games. Among the later-round picks, Jay Cutler and Matt Cassel, like Schaub, are now out for the year.
While there has been an influx of young, breakout stars -- Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford and Tim Tebow, to name three -- the fact remains that quarterbacks, at least in recent weeks, are dropping more quickly than they are emerging.
Look at some of the newly crowned starters of the past three weeks:
Tyler Palko (became starter in Week 11): 3 and minus-2 fantasy points in two games, and certain to be replaced by Kyle Orton soon.
Matt Leinart (Week 12): 6 fantasy points, injured during his first start and is now out for the season.
Caleb Hanie (Week 12): 17 fantasy points in his first game, but three interceptions are cause for concern.
It seems that the waiver wire is becoming even trickier to manage, while the elite, consistent quarterbacks are providing you more of an advantage. The position, in a sense, is polarizing; either you keep riding the guy who got you this far with confidence, or if you lack such an option, you get as creative as possible with matchups and keep your fingers tightly crossed.
One thing that should inspire some confidence if you're in the latter group: The overall reliability of quarterbacks isn't especially strong in the season's final month. Long-time fantasy owners might recall the names Jeff Garcia and Billy Volek as waiver-wire wonders during the month of December, but what you might not recall is the stud performer who actually underperformed.
Going back five seasons, and only counting current, healthy starters, these have been the most "consistent" quarterbacks from Dec. 1 forward:
Tim Tebow (100.0% Consistency Rating, 100.0% Stud): Three games, yes, but all were Stud performances.
Aaron Rodgers (69.2% and 38.5%)
Drew Brees (56.5% and 34.8%)
Tom Brady (55.0% and 25.0%)
Michael Vick (50.0% and 41.7%): Keep in mind that all four of his Start-worthy fantasy efforts came during his standout 2010.
Josh Freeman (50.0% and 10.0%): He was 3-for-4 in terms of Start-worthy fantasy performances last season.
Ben Roethlisberger (47.8% and 13.0%)
Philip Rivers (45.5% and 18.2%)
Now here's what's interesting about those Dec. 1-forward stats: The list of players who were fantasy Studs on multiple occasions in the final month -- same season, that is -- includes some odd names. Take a look:
2010: Vick 4, Tebow 3, Brady 2, Rodgers 2.
2009: Brees 2, Cutler 2, Eli Manning 2, Rivers 2, Rodgers 2.
2008: Brees 2, Cassel 2, David Garrard 2, Tarvaris Jackson 2, Peyton Manning 2, Rivers 2, Schaub 2.
2007: Peyton Manning 3, Brady 2, Brees 2, Jackson 2, Kurt Warner 2.
2006: Peyton Manning 3, Marc Bulger 2, Jon Kitna 2, Vince Young 2.
That's not to say names like Cassel, Jackson, Kitna, Tebow and Young should have you randomly tossing darts to fill your quarterback position. They do, however, show that even the fill-ins strategy is a valid one during these critical weeks.
Each position has two charts below: One for 2011 statistics alone, and one for the past 34 NFL weeks (Week 13 of 2009 through Week 12 of 2011). All categories are sortable both ascending and descending; just click on the headers to sort.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.