Defensive Line Consistency in IDP Fantasy Football

J.J. Watt had an historic 2014, and was the most startable defensive lineman in IDP formats.

We always want the best of both worlds. We demand security and surprise simultaneously. We want the chance to get a lot but spend only a little. The earliest record of the saying is from 1538, but “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” is still applicable today.

I personally like Marie Antoinette’s ideology – “Let them eat cake” – more.

That’s the dilemma we run into with the defensive line position in Individual Defensive Player (IDP) formats of fantasy football. Everyone loves to see trench monsters like Robert Quinn wreck the quarterback numerous times in one game, but what we don’t realize is that this position often comes with some natural inconsistency. For the average defensive lineman, there is a great deal of week-to-week uncertainty, due to their reliance on the high value sack for the majority of their points.

We want the immense upside of a sack specialist without the terrible floor, which means it’s vital for us to know: which defensive linemen were the most consistent in 2014?

Trompe L’Oeil

There are a few ways to wrap our heads around the idea of consistency when looking at week-to-week production for fantasy players. The first way is to look at it from a statistical standpoint: comparing averages and Standard Deviation.

The average weekly points for a player is important to fantasy owners, and is one of the first things we tend to look at. However, this average of total points divided by games played can be misleading. What if I told you that, despite only playing one game last season, Greg Hardy was a better balanced scoring fantasy defensive lineman than Quinn in 2014? You’d call me an idiot, right? But Hardy had an 8.5 weekly average, whereas Quinn had “just” an 8.3.

Now, that’s an extreme scenario, but we can also misvalue players like Chandler Jones, who was the second-best defensive lineman by average weekly points in 2014 (9.6). He finished with fewer than 90 total fantasy points, however, due to being out from Weeks 8 to 14. We could merely assume that by extrapolating his average weekly points, he would have performed at a Jason Pierre-Paul-esque level (9.4 average). That is somewhat of a logical fallacy, however.

We can supplement our averages with a little check called the standard deviation. Essentially what standard deviation does is measure how far from the average a set of values has the potential to go. Lower standard deviation scores mean less variability; higher scores mean more variation in results. This is one way to check against a weekly average and see whether or not a player had a bunch of terrible weeks and two great ones, or if they were consistently excellent throughout the year. Let’s look at some of the top defensive line options through this lens and compare them.

The table below shows the top ten defensive linemen from 2014 in balanced scoring who had played in at least five games, had an average weekly points of 6.5 or more, and a standard deviation of six points or less. Who was consistently exceptional last season by this measure?

Player Avg. Weekly SDev
Mario Williams 9.1 5.2
Carlos Dunlap 8.6 3.8
Rob Ninkovich 8.0 5.6
Ndamukong Suh 7.8 5.5
Muhammad Wilkerson 7.8 5.0
Gerald McCoy 7.3 4.7
Ezekiel Ansah 7.0 5.3
Jared Allen 6.9 4.1
Aaron Donald 6.9 3.7
Corey Liuget 6.9 4.4

This is an interesting collection of players, and most of them are very good fantasy players for the defensive line position in IDP. But you’ll notice a few huge names missing from the top of this list: J.J. Watt, Pierre-Paul, and even Everson Griffen. By sorting out some of the higher variation players by standard deviation, we lose some of the top-end upside we would like from our defensive end position.

This is where it comes down to a choice: if you’d prefer your simple 100 fantasy points with little variability, Aaron Donald is your guy. But I think all of us would trade a little uncertainty for the upside of Watt’s 256.4 balanced scoring fantasy points last season.

How do we bake that into our consistency ratings?

Beau Geste

The solution, friends, is to add in to our consistency confection a player’s weekly finishes in scoring. If we total up the times they produced as a starter at their position – and as I play in mostly 16-team leagues, I’m generous with that term – then we can see how often they are useful to fantasy owners.

With such a high variance position, too, it helps to see whether or not a player had many startable weeks across a season or a few explosive weeks and a few that he was useless for. This, more than some abstract variability number or weekly points average, is a player’s practical usefulness in a fantasy setting. These numbers are also compelling as part of a fantasy player’s consistency profile, but the meat of consistency is knowing how often you can expect to use a player.

To find the best options, I listed the top-30 defensive linemen below, filtering out any players with less than a 50% Startable Rate, then organized them by total points. For comparison, I also included their average weekly score, their standard deviation, and their Elite Rate – the percent of times they submitted weekly scores in the top percent of starters at their position.

Who were our highest-performing defensive linemen by startability?

Player Start% Elite% Avg. Weekly SDev
J.J. Watt 93.3% 73.3% 17.1 7.3
Jason Pierre-Paul 66.7% 20.0% 9.4 6.7
Mario Williams 86.7% 13.3% 9.1 5.2
Everson Griffen 60.0% 20.0% 8.8 7.1
Carlos Dunlap 86.7% 6.7% 8.6 3.8
Robert Quinn 53.3% 20.0% 8.3 6.7
Jerry Hughes 53.3% 20.0% 8.0 6.5
Rob Ninkovich 73.3% 6.7% 8.0 5.6
Ndamukong Suh 60.0% 26.7% 7.8 5.5
Sheldon Richardson 53.3% 6.7% 7.8 7.9
Demarcus Ware 60.0% 13.3% 7.6 6.6
Calais Campbell 53.3% 20.0% 8.5 7.6
Ezekiel Ansah 66.7% 13.3% 7.0 5.3
Aaron Donald 80.0% 6.7% 6.9 3.7
Corey Liuget 60.0% 0.0% 6.9 4.4
Sen’Derrick Marks 86.7% 13.3% 6.8 3.1
Jurrell Casey 66.7% 6.7% 6.8 5.3
Cameron Wake 60.0% 6.7% 6.7 5.1
Willie Young 66.7% 0.0% 6.7 4.9
Jared Allen 66.7% 0.0% 6.9 4.1
Fletcher Cox 60.0% 0.0% 6.3 3.9
Gerald McCoy 66.7% 20.0% 7.3 4.7
Olivier Vernon 60.0% 0.0% 6.1 4.7
Michael Bennett 53.3% 0.0% 5.8 4.2
Charles Johnson 60.0% 0.0% 5.8 4.7
Cameron Heyward 53.3% 0.0% 5.8 3.8
Johnathan Hankins 53.3% 6.7% 5.7 5.5
Kyle Williams 66.7% 6.7% 5.7 2.9
Clinton McDonald 53.3% 20.0% 6.5 3.9
Vinny Curry 53.3% 0.0% 4.9 4.1

These are your top defensive line options in balanced IDP scoring for 2014. It helps to note that standard deviation is useful for tiebreaking within a tier of players (i.e. I would prefer Kyle Williams to Johnathan Hankins, due to a slight Startable Rate bump and lower variance), but it should not be the primary determinant for consistency.

We can also see overvalued options by using this. For instance, Sheldon Richardson had a top-ten defensive lineman total points score in 2014, and accrued a solid 7.8 average weekly points. However, he was actually only startable in 53.3% of his games last year, and had a paltry one week in the elite at the position. His upcoming legal troubles aside, I would still prefer the aging Calais Campbell to him, as Campbell had an identical Startable Rate, but missed two games and still had a much better Elite Percentage than Richardson.

Coup de Foudre

Depending on your scoring format, these numbers do change slightly, but balanced scoring does provide a solid basis to work off of. If you have a tackle-heavy or big-play scoring system, here are a few notes of difference.

In tackle-heavy scoring, Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints makes an appearance in the top-30. In this format, he actually has one of the lower standard deviations, but was startable just 53.3% of the time and had no elite weeks.

Big-play scoring sees the addition of Muhammad Wilkerson, Justin Tuck, William Hayes, and William Gholston to this group. Wilkerson is the highlight addition here, as he has a 13.3% Elite Rate to go along with his 53.3% Startable Rate, and his average weekly score would have put him in the top-ten of defensive linemen if he hadn’t missed three weeks.

Defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Clinton McDonald are not featured in the top-30 of big-play defensive linemen. Their lack of sack upside diminishes their scoring potential in this format, even when considering startability.