A successful IDP -- individual defensive players, for those unfamiliar -- strategy does not constitute chasing the prominent names. Did you know that, last season, 20 of the 36 defensive NFL Pro Bowlers failed to finish among the top 20 -- traditionally considered the cut-off for starting lineup spots in a fantasy league -- in terms of fantasy points at their respective positions?
No, consistency is the key to constructing a winning squad of IDPs.
HOW CONSISTENCY RATINGS WORK
Using 2013 statistics, and fantasy points determined by traditional scoring modifiers for an IDP league -- these are directly below this paragraph -- 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. This means they ranked among the 20 best defensive linemen, linebackers or defensive backs in that particular week.
Stud: The number of times the player's point total ranked among the top five at his position in the given week.
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. For these purposes, it means they ranked outside the top 40 at their 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 Start%.
Start%: The player's overall Starter Rating, calculated as number of "Start" performances divided by scheduled team games.
Rating: The player's Consistency Rating, which is the player's standard deviation divided by his average weekly fantasy point total. Lower numbers are better.
FPTS: The player's fantasy point total.
Just as we did last season, we've brought the same Consistency Ratings philosophy we use for offensive and skill players to the IDP universe. Using weekly statistics, we've graded every individual defensive player based upon the point totals he accrued, tallied the number of times he earned his place in your starting lineup and calculated his Consistency Rating based upon how much variance there was in his weekly fantasy point totals. These are now two different calculations: Players are measured based upon their value as fantasy starters (Start%) as well as how consistent they were (Consistency Rating).
Now, even taking these metrics into account, bear in mind that weekly IDP production is markedly fluky, with this a most representative supporting fact: last season, only 14 IDPs managed to score a fantasy point total that warranted having them in your active lineup in more than half their games (meaning a Starter Rating of 50 percent or greater). By comparison, 57 offensive/skill players managed a Starter Rating of 50 percent or greater, those including five quarterbacks, 20 running backs and 13 wide receivers.
Still, let's take this angle of consistency and contrast it against chasing last year's point totals: Of the 119 IDPs to score at least 90 fantasy points in 2012, only 41 managed to finish within 20 points of their 2012 totals in 2013. Comparatively, 48 IDPs managed to warrant your fantasy "Start" in at least a quarter of their games in both 2012 and 2013. Had you merely crafted your IDP strategy around last year's chart, you'd probably have been more successful in your league, and most likely at a lesser cost than if you had chased last year's points, and certainly at lesser cost than picking only the most prominent names.
A good reason why the consistency strategy is smarter is the unpredictable nature of individual defensive accomplishments such as touchdowns and fumble recoveries. Touchdowns are difficult enough to project for offensive players, but imagine trying to predict which defensive back will return three pick-sixes, the amount typically required to guarantee the NFL lead in the category? As for fumble recoveries, those tend to be the product of which players possess the good fortune to be standing next to the ball at the time it's knocked free, a point made time and time again by Football Outsiders.
For this reason, take the charts below, in their entirety, to heart when formulating your IDP strategy. Consider whether the player has garnered a hefty number of "Stud" efforts, but his overall Consistency Rating is low; he might be either too unpredictable or have been helped by a few unsustainable performances. Be mindful of the player's team, as poor teams often provide their individual defenders more opportunities for tackles, which largely fuel IDP fantasy scoring.
2013 IDP Consistency Ratings chart
Players are initially ranked in order of their Starter Ratings (Start%), but all categories are sortable. Click on the headers to sort ascending or descending. Starter Ratings are 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. Players must have met at least one of the following minimums for inclusion in the chart: A top 20 ranking at his position in terms of total fantasy points, a Start% of at least 25 percent or a top 20 Consistency Rating at his position among players with at least 14 games played. Retired players are listed with "--" and free agents with "FA" in the Team column.
He did not repeat his insane, all-time-great 2012 fantasy season, nor did he even lead his position in fantasy points in 2013. But J.J. Watt still had a year that exemplified his most precious asset, his consistency: He tied for his position's lead in both Starter Rating (56.3 percent) and Stud performances (5).
Though Watt lost 30.5 fantasy points off his total (he scored 129), and finished behind Robert Quinn (138.5 points) among defensive linemen, Watt nevertheless enjoyed a 27.5 point lead over the No. 3 player at the position. Remember, the comment in this space last season was, "Some regression to the mean is inevitable ... but [Watt's] basement-level expectation might still be 20 or more points ahead of the No. 2 at his position."
Predicting another 125-plus-point season for Watt wasn't a bold call. What couldn't be foreseen at the time was that Quinn would have an even better year, elevating himself to the clear class of defensive line who warrant early selections among IDPs. Quinn, after all, didn't even make the 2012 Consistency Ratings chart, showing how far he advanced in his third year in the league. Now both players have outstanding chances at reaching the 125-point plateau, which could once again mean at least a 20-point advantage over their brethren.
Remember, it's all about value relative to replacement, and last season, there was no differential between ranking spots in terms of fantasy points than the aforementioned 27.5-point difference between Watt and Rob Ninkovich. As many as 20 linebackers might score 120 fantasy points in 2014; Watt remains the only virtual lock to reach that plateau among defensive linemen.
Here's where you'll fill your IDP stat sheet. Linebackers generate tackles, tackles and more tackles, which typically drive fantasy scoring: 68 percent of all IDP fantasy points in 2013 were a result of tackles.
It's for that reason that all seven IDPs to manage 150-plus fantasy points last season were linebackers, while 21 of the top 24 IDP scorers overall were linebackers. Starter Ratings and Consistency Ratings were also higher at linebacker than either defensive back or defensive lineman, which underscores how critical it is to get all your linebacker picks correct.
That's not to say that linebackers should be your first picks among IDPs, because unlike with the aforementioned Watt, the top linebacker's values over replacement aren't as great. This is a position at which you could wait; the No. 20 linebacker scored 132 fantasy points in 2013 after scoring 129.5 in 2012.
It's the least consistent of the three IDP positions, understandable considering how reliant defensive backs are on passes defensed, interceptions and interceptions returned for touchdowns to pad their fantasy-point totals. Consider that the five defensive backs to score 120 or more fantasy points in 2013 generated 20 percent of said points on passes defensed, interceptions and interceptions returned for touchdowns. Simply put, if an opposing quarterback isn't throwing in a specific defensive back's direction, he has little chance of generating points. This is the "Darrelle Revis factor," where Revis is so good in coverage that quarterbacks are less apt to throwing his way, and that's why Revis, despite his five Pro Bowl appearances in seven seasons, didn't even meet the minimum requirements for listing in the chart below.
Not a single defensive back earned your start in half his games last season; this should not be a complete shock considering the same thing was true in 2012. It's for this reason that, when filling your IDP spots, defensive backs should be the last ones you consider. They're the most easily replaced.
Antrel Rolle was one of the rare "consistent" defensive backs last season, thanks to 10 games of six or more tackles. His 0.46 Consistency Rating was remarkably good for a player at his level of production, and he had the seventh-best Starter Rating in the past three seasons combined. Among other consistent targets: Morgan Burnett, whose 37.5 percent Starting Rating from 2011-13 was second-best; Charles Tillman, the 2011-13 leader with a 39.6 percent Starter Rating; and Johnathan Cyprien, who had a 31.3 percent Starter Rating and 0.49 Consistency Rating in his rookie year.