How to Bake Consistency into Player Rankings (Fantasy Football)
Consistency matters in fantasy football: it’s how you ensure that you have a score good enough to win each week. Although you can’t control if your opponent starts someone like Will Fuller the one week that they score 48 points, you can control your average weekly performance.
Players like Fuller are easily flagged as boom-or-bust legends due to their two or three big weeks, but it’s a bit harder to identify guys with consistent floors. Fortunately, there are some strategies for incorporating player consistency into your rankings.
1. Disregard average points per game.
This is a common mistake, so let’s go back to high school math class real quick. You learned about means, or averages, and these take a player’s total points and divide that number by total games played. That might sound like it’ll return a useful number for fantasy football, but remember — the NFL plays a 16-game season (well, currently). That’s a small sample size! One huge performance can easily skew the data.
For example, let’s say Player X plays in five games, and they score 1.1, 3.2, 20.2, 1.5, and 29.5 points through that span. While they’re averaging a consistent 11.1 points per game, they wouldn’t have been a good fantasy starter in three of those weeks. Averages are much more useful over larger sample sizes, as a higher number of games would make outlier performances more clear.
2. Use medians instead.
Again, let’s go back to high school math class. Alongside means, you’ve also got medians, which are the quantities at the midpoints of a player’s performances. Although Player X averaged 11.1 points per game, his median performance was a much more dismal (and appropriate!) 3.2. They don’t look so consistent now, do they?
Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to find a player’s average points per game than it is to get their medians. As you prepare for your draft, I would recommend picking out some players — maybe your top 100, or maybe your top 30 at each position — and downloading their weekly numbers from two to three seasons prior. Throw them in Excel, type in “=median(A1:A32),” or whatever cells you’ve posted their stats into, and there you have it. Just remember to prioritize the players who posted the best median performances on draft day.
3. Standard deviation is an acceptable alternative to medians.
Some players use standard deviations instead of medians to calculate consistency. That will tell you how far a player’s weekly points are from their mean production. You’ll want to avoid players with high standard deviations, although you should be lenient toward star players. Why? Well, if a player who averages 20 points per game scored 40 points in one game, that’d factor into the standard deviation the same way that a 22-point game would factor in for a player averaging two points per game. Although standard deviation weighs those outliers the same way, the first player should still help your fantasy team every week, while the second may not.
These numbers are a bit easier to access than medians, too. ESPN’s annual consistency ratings (CR) use standard deviation to calculate how steady a player’s performance was over the season, and I’d make sure to consider this on draft day as well.
4. Don’t forget about qualitative changes when looking at hard numbers!
While it’s a good sign that a player has high medians or a high ranking in ESPN’s CR, that quantitative data doesn’t tell the whole story. A player can lose teammates during the offseason — or he can change teams entirely. For example, both JuJu Smith-Schuster and Odell Beckham Jr. posted top-15 finishes in CR for 2018, yet neither returned to the top 30 in 2019. What changed? Well, Beckham left for a new team, while Smith-Schuster lost teammate Antonio Brown — and then quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
When you’re preparing for next season, you should put an asterisk next to a player’s consistency numbers if their situation changes significantly. Sure, they’ve proven that they can produce solid numbers, but that doesn’t mean they will do so in a different scheme. Don’t give them the same boost in your draft-day rankings that you give to the other guys you’ve identified as consistent.
5. Draft consistency early…
Your first two-to-three picks will make or break your fantasy season. If you took guys like Smith-Schuster or Beckham Jr. early in 2019, well, you learned that the hard way. The best way to avoid locking yourself into a losing season is to play it safe at the start of your draft. Make sure that the players you’re targeting in those rounds have strong medians or a high CR — and that they are in a relatively stable situation.
6. …but don’t forget to draft for upside, too!
That said, you’ll need to take some risks to win your fantasy league, too. There’s a balance between drafting only high-floor and high-ceiling guys, and I’d say it’s around 2:1 for the early rounds. You should feel free to go for an unproven or high-upside guy for every two consistent players you take to open your draft, and you should get more aggressive as value depletes in the later rounds.