When it comes to fantasy-playoffs strategy at wide receiver, go big or go home.
Taking chances -- calculated chances -- is the way to go at the position, and if you read last Tuesday's pre-trade-deadline-stretch-run analysis, you'd know that it's actually matchups that drive fantasy success in the season's waning weeks. No longer should names be your primary target; it's fair to roll the dice on lesser talents with extraordinary matchups. The infamous "getting cute" strategy is now fair game.
But so is relying on boom/bust performers.
Ask Julio Jones' owners a bit about this.
Aggravated by the second-year wideout's three-catch, 33-yard, three-point fantasy Week 11, in a game he entered with the threat of limited snaps, Jones' owners might have played his Week 12, when he was listed on the injury report as questionable with the same ankle injury, more conservatively. Jones rewarded those who didn't with a 20-point fantasy performance, his second best of 2012 and fourth best of his career, and he again frustrated those who kept him on the bench.
Jones is your prototypical boom/bust fantasy player, the only one in the league this season with a Consistency Rating (percentage of team games in which his fantasy point total warranted a "Start") greater than 50 percent and three apiece of "Stud" (top-five point total at the position) and "Stiff" (outside the top 50) performances. He has played 24 of 27 regular-season Atlanta Falcons games in his career, has a 48.1 percent Consistency Rating (54.2 percent if you don't dock for injury absences) and been a Stud six times, a Stiff seven times.
He also belongs in any fantasy lineup in every remaining week in which he is healthy enough to play.
Well, that draws back to the "go big or go home" mantra: Jones' schedule is as favorable for a wide receiver as anyone's, including assignments against the Nos. 3 (New Orleans Saints, Week 13, home game), 6 (New York Giants, Week 15, home) and 1 (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Week 17, home) defenses in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers. He also has remaining contests against the Carolina Panthers (Week 14, road) and Detroit Lions (Week 16, road), defenses that have been exposed in recent games by comparably elite wideouts (think Vincent Jackson and Andre Johnson).
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.
Jones' fantasy potential might run counter to the very purpose of this column -- to measure the most consistent players -- but as success at the wide receiver position as a whole runs somewhat counter to this column, the underlying numbers might tell as compelling a tale. Three times this season he has faced a bottom-eight defense against opposing wideouts; twice he warranted a Start, once, in Week 12, he was a Stud. The Falcons' schedule therefore underscores him as well worth the risk.
The Jones' naysayers do have a valid point, however: It has been rare for both Jones and Roddy White to dominate the fantasy scoreboard in the same game. They have appeared in 24 common games in Jones' two-year career, and in only five of those did both score a Start. Jones has easily been the boom/bust of the two, with 6 Stud and 7 Stiff scores to White's 3 and 1. Still, while picking the more successful of the pair in a given week might prove difficult, there's no question that the victor each game will be a lock for your fantasy lineup: In 17 consecutive common games, one of the two finished among the top 25 wide receivers in fantasy points, in four of those both of them did and on eight occasions one of them was a Stud.
Jones isn't the only such unpredictable wideout from whom you could extract sneaky fantasy value in these final weeks so long as you do your homework and appreciate the upside each brings to the table. Here are a few more:
Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers: This one's all about having a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, because Wallace's Consistency Rating has suffered directly because of the games in which Roethlisberger has been absent. Consider Wallace's splits since the beginning of 2010:
Roethlisberger started: 36 G, 22 Starts, 6 Stud, 4 Stiff, 61.1% Consistency Rating
Roethlisberger sat: 7 G, 1 Start, 1 Stud, 4 Stiff, 14.3% Consistency Rating
Word that Roethlisberger might return this week, or perhaps at worst Week 14, would be pleasant to Wallace's owners, who might quickly be losing faith in him as a viable playoff-week starter. He has been remarkably reliable when he has the better quarterback throwing him the football, however, so don't take his lackluster overall consistency stats to heart.
Victor Cruz, New York Giants: No wide receiver this season has a larger total of Stud and Stiff performances -- the benchmarks for boom/bust -- among the 25.0-percent-or-greater Consistency Rating group than Cruz (7), but it's actually unfair to classify him within that group. Cruz's statistics suffered as a direct result of Eli Manning's pre-bye-week woes; he was scoreless in the Start column in three straight from Weeks 8 to 10, two of those Stiff scores. Manning's own admission of a tired arm before the bye, coupled with improved zip on his throws in Week 12, helps Cruz's prospects in the coming weeks.
Certainly Cruz's schedule does as well: Each of his next two games comes against one of the three worst defenses in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers, and his Week 17 is against the Philadelphia Eagles, who have been slaughtered to the tune of 121 points to the position the past five weeks combined.
T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts: A popular pickup these past several weeks, Hilton has totaled 56 fantasy points in his past four games, though sprinkled in that group was a stinker of a Week 10 (three points). In his defense, however, he has a deceptively favorable schedule, "deceptively" because not one of his five remaining opponents ranks among the top eight defenses in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers.
Combine what Hilton's remaining five opponents -- Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans (twice), Kansas City Chiefs -- have afforded to the position the past two weeks combined and you might be encouraged: an average of 30.0 fantasy points a game.
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.