Keyshawn Johnson was right: Throw him the damn ball.
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.
Success in fantasy football is not only about seeking the week-winning performance. It's also about avoiding the week-wrecking stinker.
Among the statistical innovations of the new millennium, targets have become the rage in fantasy football. Whereas a decade ago, they were more difficult to find, they're now readily available from a variety of sources, most notably our Scoring Leaders page. And their emergence has greatly enhanced analysis of receivers; we're now better able to isolate trends from fluky performances.
We publish a weekly analysis column that specifically addresses the category, "Trendspotting," on Wednesdays, authored by colleague Ken Daube. It's a must-read in your weekly routine as you look to make sense of the receiver positions.
Simply put: Targets have a hefty influence on receiver performance.
That's a "no-duh" statement, yes, but it runs deeper. Naturally, if raw target totals were all that mattered, Roddy White would have a stronghold on the No. 1 position in fantasy at his position, having led the NFL in total targets (386) and red-zone targets (59) since the beginning of 2010. Last I checked, Calvin Johnson had a one-round, 13-spot advantage over him in this preseason's ADP.
As this is the place to discuss the most consistent players in football, let's take the targets debate a step further: Consistency in the targets category largely fuels overall fantasy value at the wide receiver position, and to a lesser degree at tight end. Specifically, applying the consistency formula reveals a correlation between weekly fantasy point and target totals, and it's the key to identifying receivers with the least amount of weekly downside.
Using targets data since the beginning of the 2010 season, we find that:
• Only 18 wide receivers managed to rank among the top 25 at their position in targets in at least half of their games. (The 2012 rookie class excluded, as they possess a mere three-game sample size.)
• Only 13 wide receivers either sat out or had a target total outside the top 50 at their position in a given week at least five times. (Torrey Smith, a 2011 rookie, is included in this group, though 2012 rookies are not.)
• Seven of the 10 wide receivers with the highest Consistency Ratings -- these can be found in the chart at column's end -- also ranked among the 10 most consistent weekly performers at their position in the target category.
Considering how volatile the position -- only eight wide receivers rank among the top 40 most consistent players since the start of 2010, compared to 19 running backs -- doesn't it therefore make sense to lean more heavily upon opportunity (read: targets) rather than sheer fantasy point totals? Ultimately, each time you see a receiver step up with an unexpectedly good game, take a closer look: Was it fueled by one particularly unexpected play? Has the player earned your trust with a consistently healthy number of targets each week?
Taking a closer look, here are a few wide receivers whose performances in the target category might portend greater success ahead:
Kendall Wright: He has just 13 fantasy points to date, but through his first three games of his NFL career with the Titans, he has been targeted 6, 8 and 11 times, and five overall times in the red zone (at least once per week). Wright, in fact, leads the team in the category after flashing impressive skills in the preseason, perhaps painting him as a lower-level fantasy starter in the coming weeks once he gets fully acclimated to the league.
Reggie Wayne: He's the ultimate "unsexy" pick, more of a short-route runner these days than the playmaker he was during the Peyton Manning regime in Indianapolis, but if the Colts continue to air things out to the degree they have, Wayne is going to make his mark as a potential low-end WR2/high-end WR3 this season. The Andrew Luck-led Colts have averaged 40.7 pass attempts through three weeks, up 7.3 from last season's number and right in line with the Manning squads of old. Let's not forget that Wayne averaged 98 catches per year in Manning's final three healthy campaigns throwing to him.
Pierre Garcon: One game's action this season with the Redskins makes this a difficult case to mount, but Garcon should not be forgotten simply because he missed the past two weeks with a foot injury. His fantasy numbers suffered horribly in Indianapolis, be it due to his backup status during the Manning era, then the miserable quarterbacking the team had in 2011. But Garcon still has managed to crack the top 10 in targets among wide receivers 18 times in 31 games since the beginning of 2010. His per-play upside is considerably greater with Robert Griffin III throwing him the football than it was Dan Orlovsky, and it's not that far a stretch to say he could wind up a consistent top-15 performer at that position once healthy.
Now, there's not necessarily quite as compelling a case at tight end than at wide receiver, but again, downside -- or lack thereof -- comes into play there as well. Again using data since the beginning of 2010:
• Only five tight ends managed to rank among the top 10 at their position in targets in at least half of their games.
What do those three tight ends have in common? They're not necessarily candidates to top the fantasy leaderboard come season's end, but they're all target hogs who rank among the eight most consistently reliable at their position. You can call them "unsexy" players; I call them rock-solid weekly starters because you never have to fret the possibility of a doughnut on your box score.
Looking at merely the 2012 returns, one name in particular stands out:
Dennis Pitta: Utilized in more of a backup/blocking role his first two seasons in Baltimore, Pitta has been rolled out wide considerably more often in the season's three weeks, resulting in target totals of 9, 15 and 7, which ranked fifth, first and 10th among his position. He also has five red-zone targets during that span, and at least once each week, which helps build the case that, unlike a Witten or Pettigrew, he's not a mere PPR asset. Target-hogging tight ends tend to be consistent, top-10 weekly fantasy options from a sheer volume basis, and Pitta's role expansion indeed vaults him into that group.
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 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, or 3 "Stud" performances.
These statistics include all 37 scheduled NFL regular-season weeks since Week 1 of the 2010 season, or 35 games played per NFL team. Rookies are not charged for games missed before they entered the league.