It's prime time to tinker.
You might not yet realize it, but with seven weeks in the books, we're halfway to the playoffs in ESPN standard leagues. We're also 29 days away from the trade deadline in such formats; to compare, we're 48 days removed from the 2012 season kickoff. Time's a-wasting, so consider it prime time to retool your roster.
Mining the year-to-date Consistency Ratings is one way to extract hidden player value, identifying bargain trade candidates. Though some readers have questioned the utility of such numbers in-season, this is its prime use: It's another way to examine a player's year-to-date performance, isolating the players you can consistently trust from those who are most aggravating.
For example, thanks to back-to-back games of at least 18 fantasy points, Jordy Nelson has ascended to fifth in scoring among wide receivers. However, on a week-over-week consistency basis, 25 wideouts have been more consistent than Nelson, who only three times in seven games had a fantasy point total that ranked among the 25 best at his position in the given week.
Now, that's not to say that Nelson is a poor trade target simply because his consistency numbers belie his year-to-date fantasy total. His example is more of an outlier; Aaron Rodgers' and the Green Bay Packers' offensive struggles contributed to a sluggish start to his season, and Nelson has 15 fantasy points or more in three of his past four games. There's every reason to believe that Nelson and the Packers are now clicking, and he'll remain a top-10 candidate going forward.
But Nelson's Consistency Rating is relevant to his analysis, because it tells the story of his up-and-down year to date, whereas his yearly fantasy point total misleads. It's the combination of the two measures that is important.
So, that in mind, let's turn the tables, identifying the players who have been consistent yet lowly ranked from a yearly perspective. The following four players are ones I'd recommend as bargain targets:
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It might seem difficult to believe, but this rookie is tied for the ninth-highest Consistency Rating thus far, despite the fact that he's 18th in fantasy scoring among running backs and 80th overall. Most telling: He hasn't been a Stud and hasn't been a Stiff yet, in six games, and he has averaged 16.7 carries and 18.8 touches per contest.
But the reason Martin qualifies as a bargain candidate is the potential for more, despite what has been a completely reliable track record of success to date. He has but two touchdowns, the same as LeGarrette Blount, and 100 carries to Blount's 25. The Buccaneers inexplicably have been treating Blount as a goal-line back, but those who watched their Week 7 contest would've seen coach Greg Schiano's inexplicable decision to run Blount three times at the goal line at a critical point late in the third quarter, Blount all three times falling short. Sure, size-wise Blount ranks among the top 25 percent of running backs in the game, but results haven't followed: He's now 5-for-15 (33.3 percent) on his rushing attempts within the opponent's 5-yard line during his three-year career. That's actually beneath the NFL's 37.4 percent average for conversions in those situations since 2010 (and 38.5 percent since 2008).
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.
Give Martin more goal-line work -- not necessarily even all, simply some -- and he might indeed begin filling the "Stud" column and move up in the fantasy point rankings. And once he starts getting it, it'll be too late.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: A top-20 pick overall in the preseason, Newton ranks among the game's biggest disappointments thus far, providing his fantasy owners a 13th-ranked-among-quarterbacks 98 points. He has been a Stiff twice in his first 22 NFL games; those came in Weeks 3 and 5 of this season.
Still, what benefits Newton in fantasy is the same trait that Robert Griffin III has, which was described in this space five weeks ago: His legs stabilize his week-to-week fantasy value, minimizing his downside. Even in another down week in Week 7, Newton managed six fantasy points with his legs, a number that, to put into perspective, exceeds the amount amassed by Eli Manning in Manning's past 22 games. Newton has actually totaled 43 of his 98 fantasy points with his legs, or 43.9 percent, which actually exceeds his 41.5 percent in 2011 (146 of 352). He's not developing as quickly as a passer as anticipated, and he and his Panthers aren't putting him into scoring position as effectively as they did last year. Give them credit, though, as replacing their general manager is merely one sign that the team recognizes its shortcomings and plans to address them.
If Newton's owner is getting fed up with his sluggish performance and is considering selling at anything less than a borderline 10-team-league starter, swoop in and steal him. After all, hasn't he already shown that his basement statistical expectation is a top-10 candidate? And that's his worst-case
Steve Johnson, Buffalo Bills: He's not an elite wideout, a "WR1," nor is he going to develop into one (at least not this season). But Johnson's consistency is underrated; his 2012 Consistency Rating is seventh at his position and he's sixth in the category since the beginning of 2010. He has been a bust but six times in 39 games since the beginning of 2010, hasn't missed a contest and is surely going to be relied upon considering his team's miserable defensive performance, putting the Bills into frequent passing situations.
Something to think about: The Bills face the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts in consecutive games from Weeks 10-12, and those defenses have allowed the seventh-, 10th- and fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers thus far. Johnson is an ideal trade target for those late-November contests, right at the time you'll be making your playoff push.
Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers: "Dink-and-dunk" offense or not, it's certainly suiting Miller, much the same way that he fit in as a red zone weapon for the Steelers in the first five seasons of his career. He's first among tight ends in both red zone targets (14) and targets within the opponent's 5-yard line (7), and is on pace for 117 targets overall, which would easily shatter his previous career high of 95, set in 2009.
Miller is also one of only two prominent fantasy tight ends to not have been a Stiff a single time thus far -- Tony Gonzalez is the other -- and his 66.7 percent Consistency Rating equals Gonzalez's for second-best at the position. Thanks to an eight-year track record that seemed to earn him a label of a clear TE2, Miller's trade stock might seemingly be low. He's a top-10 candidate today for sure.
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.