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In search of consistency

Posted by Doug on July 9, 2007

It seems to me like fantasy football players are becoming more and more concerned about week-to-week consistency. Lots of people are down on Chad Johnson, for instance, because, while his overall numbers were fairly solid last year, he achieved those numbers via a couple of enormous games and a lot of stinkers. Give me someone who puts up the same numbers, or even lesser overall numbers, but gives me consistent production I can count on from week to week, says the pro-consistency crowd.

There are two issues here.

First, does consistency really make your team better? In the very first football article I ever wrote (nine years ago!) I examined that question mathematically, and observed that consistency isn't inherently good or bad. It's good if your team is good and bad if your team is bad. If your team is stronger than your opponent's on a given week, then you just need your players to do their usual thing. You want consistency. If, on the other hand, you have the weaker team, then consistency hurts you. If your guys turn in typical efforts, you're going to lose. You need some unexpectedly big performances. In addition, unexpectedly poor performances don't turn a win into a loss; they just turn a loss into a bigger loss.

In some sense, these are the same reasons why teams that are ahead more often opt for the kneeldown --- the most consistent play in the playbook --- while teams that are behind are more likely to run hook-and-laterals and Hail Marys.

So consistency isn't necessarily a good thing but, since no one plans to have a bad team, it is certainly justifiable for a fantasy owner to, in August, seek to fill his roster with consistent players.

Which leads us to the second issue: how do you find consistent players?

I've studied that issue. A lot. A whole lot. And I always end up concluding that predicting future consistency from past consistency is very difficult if not impossible. That's not to say that consistency can't be predicted. Maybe it can. But if so, there's got to be more to it than just observing which guys were consistent last year or the year before. For example, it could be the case that, because of the Patriot/Brady propensity for spreading the passes around, Randy Moss is likely to be less consistent in 2007 than other non-Patriots who end up with similar 2007 totals. But that's not clear. And other examples like that are hard to come by without introducing a lot of subjectivity and guesswork. For now I'll just say that I'm very skeptical that anyone has any real idea whether Torry Holt, Chad Johnson, or Steve Smith will be more consistent from week to week in 2007.

But there is yet hope. Even if a fantasy GM can't identify consistent players, he can still make his team more consistent --- or at least improve the chances of his team being more consistent --- by acquiring the right combinations of players.

Over the years I've written a few articles on the advisability of having same-team WR/WR pairs, or same-team QB/RB or RB/WR pairs, on your fantasy team (here is one, another appeared in ESPN magazine last year; it used a different methodology but confirmed the conclusions of the linked article.). Those conclusions are that, more often than not, same-team WR/WR, WR/RB, and RB/QB pairs are more consistent than different-team pairs with similar end-of-season totals.

This year, there are a few such pairs that appear to be obtainable in typical serpentine drafts:

  • If you're drafting near the end of the first round, then using your first two picks on Chad Johnson and Rudi Johnson might be an option. Early returns indicate that, unless you're in a 14- or 16-team league, you'll probably be overpaying for one of those two if you do that. Of course it goes without saying that you have to like the individual players themselves in those slots for this to be worthwhile.
  • If you're drafting near the top of the first round, then Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison might be available for your second- and third-round picks.
  • One combination I love this year is Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh for the price of a second and fourth round pick.
  • Keeping with the Bengals theme, pairing Rudi Johnson and Carson Palmer would be feasible in many leagues.
  • Marc Bulger would, in my opinion, be a solid quarterback option for the proud owner of Steven Jackson
  • I'm not sure I'm sold on Joseph Addai, but if you are, he and Peyton Manning could be a good combination with your late-first, early-second picks.
  • Finally, I'm sure I'm going to hurt my chances of acquiring this combo in my keeper league, but that's how much I care about my readers: my favorite pair this year is Laurence Maroney and Tom Brady. The Pats scored more offensive TDs than all but four teams last season and, despite the fact that Randy Moss is a bit of question mark and Donte Stallworth's and Wes Welker's talents have been greatly exaggerated by many since they signed with the Patriots, there is no doubt that the trio constitutes a major upgrade to the Pats' only offensive weakness. There is very little question that they'll have one of the top offenses in the NFL in 2007. The problem is that nobody knows how Belichick The Inscrutable Genius will choose to score his many, many touchdowns. We don't know if he'll let Brady toss 40 TDs, if he wants Maroney to score 25, or if he's going to mix it up from week to week. If you've got both Brady and Maroney, it's hard to imagine that you won't get solid consistent production every week.

I've been peddling this schtick for awhile now. One objection that I commonly hear --- and it is a valid one --- is that by taking a pair of players from the same NFL team, you are more susceptible to the effects of a single injury. If you have Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, for instance, then you're one Peyton Manning injury away from getting consistently low production instead of consistently high production from your receiver duo.

At least in some cases, that's a price you may have to be willing to pay. If you want to decrease your week-to-week risk, you might have to increase your "macro" level risk. I'll discuss that a bit more in my next post.