Linebacker Consistency in IDP Fantasy Football

Luke Kuechly wasn't the highest scoring linebacker in 2014, but he was the most consistent.

There are some people who always stay constant in your life. Some friendships come and go, having their importance for a while but then fading. Others are sort of always in the periphery, just coming in and out of social situations, but not keystone people in your life. It’s those people that are constant that are the best: the ones that you know you could call collect from a Oaxaca jail cell at three in the morning, and they’d drive through the night from Chicago. They’d laugh at you for about ten minutes, and then you’d have another adventure before heading home.

That’s the kind of steady friend you want in life.

In the fantasy football world, we look for consistency and steadiness in our players. When it comes to Individual Defensive Players (IDP), linebackers happen to be just that. When you’re down and out on Sundays, you can always rely on a linebacker to pick your mood – and team – up. But just how consistent are these tackle-racking thumpers of the front seven, and which of them are the most reliable?

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

We’ve already explored a few more flawed ways to look at consistency from a statistical standpoint in my article earlier this week on defensive line consistency in IDP. By looking at just one facet of consistency, we miss a lot of things. If we only use total points or average weekly points, we might miss that a player had a few really poor weeks and a few really big weeks in scoring; that’s not consistent. If we look only at standard deviation (the variability from the average), we tend to neglect players who have high upside and by nature have a greater variation in point potential.

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. If we look just at average weekly points, Stephen Tulloch of the Detroit Lions was a top-five balanced scoring fantasy linebacker in 2014. If you’ll remember correctly, though, Tulloch shredded his knee celebrating a sack in Week 3 and didn’t play again last season. Suggesting that he was anywhere near the top-50 of fantasy linebackers is ludicrous. We have to contextualize each of these facets with the others, as all of them can be misleading on their own.

One of these metrics is fairly foolproof, however. Is there a way to tell for sure who the most consistent linebackers in 2014 were?

All You’ve Gotta Do is Call

My little secret for certain friendship is what I call the Startable Rate. What we really want to know from players isn’t necessarily how many points they can put up in a week, nor their average, or variability in that score; it’s how often they did those things relative to the other players at their position.

This is where the idea of startability comes into play: if a player produced better than a replacement-level player (in most of my leagues, 16 teams and four linebackers per team means a top-64 ranking) in a given week, then they are considered to have been startable that week. Total up their startable weeks and find the percentage of the fifteen active weeks of the fantasy season, and you have a Startable Rate.

The beautiful thing is that this also works with Elite Rate – the percent of times they submitted weekly scores in the top ten percent of starters at their position. We can see exactly how regularly they were able to submit superlative performances in a week with this metric.

To find the best options, I filtered out any players with less than a 66.7% Startable Rate, then organized them by total points. Interestingly enough, this leaves us with exactly 32 linebackers from last season – a perfect LB1 and LB2 set in a 16-team league. I decided to change the ordering of our players in this slightly from how my earlier article portrayed it: instead of organizing by total points, I organized it by Startable Rate, then Elite Rate, then average weekly score, and finally standard deviation. Who were our highest-performing linebackers by startability?

Player Start% Elite% Avg. Weekly SDev
Luke Kuechly 100.0% 20.0% 10.9 4.0
DeAndre Levy 100.0% 13.3% 12.4 4.5
C.J. Mosley 93.3% 20.0% 10.2 4.4
Paul Worrilow 93.3% 0.0% 8.9 2.5
Justin Houston 86.7% 26.7% 11.6 5.7
Lavonte David 80.0% 33.3% 13.0 4.6
D’Qwell Jackson 80.0% 26.7% 10.2 4.9
Curtis Lofton 80.0% 13.3% 8.9 4.2
Terrell Suggs 80.0% 13.3% 8.6 5.1
Brandon Marshall 80.0% 6.7% 10.6 4.5
Rolando McClain 80.0% 6.7% 7.8 4.4
Daryl Smith 80.0% 0.0% 8.2 3.0
David Harris 80.0% 0.0% 7.7 3.0
Jamie Collins 73.3% 13.3% 10.3 5.3
Dont’a Hightower 73.3% 13.3% 9.7 5.7
Clay Matthews 73.3% 13.3% 9.0 5.5
Ryan Kerrigan 73.3% 6.7% 10.2 6.4
Von Miller 73.3% 6.7% 9.0 5.3
Demario Davis 73.3% 6.7% 8.0 4.3
Khalil Mack 73.3% 6.7% 8.0 4.1
Keenan Robinson 73.3% 6.7% 8.8 3.2
James Laurinaitis 73.3% 6.7% 7.8 3.5
Wesley Woodyard 73.3% 6.7% 6.8 3.5
Jerrell Freeman 73.3% 0.0% 8.1 2.3
Sio Moore 66.7% 13.3% 10.0 4.5
Nigel Bradham 66.7% 13.3% 9.2 4.8
Alec Ogletree 66.7% 13.3% 8.7 4.4
Jelani Jenkins 66.7% 6.7% 9.0 6.3
Julius Peppers 66.7% 0.0% 7.8 4.5
K.J. Wright 66.7% 0.0% 7.6 3.4
Emmanuel Lamur 66.7% 0.0% 7.3 3.2
Vincent Rey 66.7% 0.0% 6.2 3.6

Our top option of startability from 2014 in balanced scoring is Luke Kuechly. He and DeAndre Levy were the only two players to have 100.0% Startable Rates, and they also had very stable scores, as evidenced by their 4.0 and 4.5 standard deviations, respectively.

There were players that were higher fantasy scorers than some of the options on this table. For instance, Connor Barwin, Danny Lansanah, and Elvis Dumervil just missed this cut-off, but still scored more than 120 fantasy points last season. They, however, were highly erratic options, with standard deviations of 6.3 or higher. We want stability and reliability from our players in this study. Players like those three may have accumulated more points, but were much less reliable and you would have had to guess right on their big weeks for them to be as useful as even Vincent Rey (just 92.5 total fantasy points).

I Get By With a Little Help

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, Paul Worrilow was also a 100.0% startable linebacker option in 2014, but still had no elite weeks. The most notable additions to the top-32 in this format are Bobby Wagner (66.7% SR, 13.3% ER) and Karlos Dansby (66.7% SR, 13.3% ER). Despite missing five and four weeks of action, respectively, they earned exceptional tackle counts and outshone many of their peers.

In big-play scoring, Levy stands alone as the king of consistency, with a 93.33% Startable Rate. In this format, four of the top-ten options are 3-4 scheme outside linebackers, including Justin Houston (80.0% SR, 20.0% ER) and Clay Matthews (80.0% SR, 20.0% ER) in the top-five. Dumervil (66.7% SR, 20.0% ER), Barwin (66.7% SR, 13.3% ER), and Lansanah (60.0% SR, 20.0% ER) all leap into the top-32 here, as their sack upside offers startable consistency in this format.