2021 Consistency Review: Usage


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2021 Consistency Review: Usage

In yesterday’s article, we took a look at the 20 most and least consistent players for fantasy. We determined this by first looking at each player’s scoring output on a week-to-week-basis and then by calculating each player’s coefficient of variation (CV).

Today, I wanted to take the same approach, but focusing instead on the consistency of a player’s role (rather than his production). I suspect this might be even more valuable for fantasy purposes, because it’s more predictive, removing efficiency and touchdown luck from the equation.

To determine this, we’ll use the same methodology we used in our last article, but this time replacing fantasy points with expected fantasy points (XFP). This number is calculated by weighting the value of each carry (by down and distance and distance from the end zone) and each target (by depth of target and distance from the end zone) over a decade-plus sample based on how many fantasy points a perfectly average player would have scored with an identical workload.

Among all non-quarterbacks to average at least 10.5 expected fantasy points per game, here were the 20 most and then least consistent players (by value of volume/role) last season.

Most Consistent

Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers

Austin Ekeler was the most consistently utilized player in fantasy last year, and by a pretty significant margin. Ekeler recorded between 15.0 and 27.0 expected fantasy points (XFP) in 14 of his 16 games, and at least 12.0 in his other two. That workload easily translated to on-field consistency, as Ekeler scored at least 11.2 fantasy points in 15 games last year and finished the season as the 8th-most consistent player by production.

Somewhat remarkably, Ekeler was able to achieve league-leading consistency despite ranking 8th among RBs in snap share (61%), largely due to his elite receiving and newfound goal line role. Ekeler ranked 2nd among RBs in total targets (88), 1st in red zone targets (18), 2nd in red zone carries (48), and tied for 4th in inside the 5 carries (16).

And, Ekeler was able to return his efficiency to the otherworldly levels we’d grown accustomed to, after a down year (efficiency wise) in 2020. Since entering the league, Ekeler has ranked 3rd, 4th, 2nd, 19th, and 4th (last year) in fantasy points per snap. And he’s ranked 6th, 10th, 3rd, 49th, and 4th (last year) in XFP differential. So, not only does Ekeler see the most consistent usage in football, he’s also one of the most consistently efficient players in the NFL – massively exceeding his usage-based expectation basically every year (excluding his injury-riddled 2020) since entering the league. That’s a deadly combination in fantasy.

Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams

Cooper Kupp ranked 2nd-best in usage consistency last season, and I don’t think anyone is surprised by that. Kupp saw double-digit targets in 14 of his 17 games last year, and had 14 games of 20.0 or more fantasy points (6 more than the next-closest player, Deebo Samuel). By both total fantasy points (439.5) and FPG (25.9), Kupp had the single greatest fantasy WR season of all-time. And, alongside his legendary usage, he was the 2nd-most efficient player in fantasy football. Kupp was, by basically every metric, the most valuable player in fantasy football last season. I further discussed his 2022 outlook in yesterday’s article.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

Seeing Clyde Edwards-Helaire on this list is borderline shocking, as most wouldn’t have considered him a player who sees consistent usage. But, at least by XFP, he did. CEH scored between 8.8 (~RB49) and 13.8 XFP (~RB16) in 8 of his 10 games, and never fell below 6.3 XFP in any individual contest. So, rather, his volume was consistent, but consistently subpar. However, outside of 2 absolutely brutal games against BAL and BUF (top-10 run defenses by FPG allowed), Edwards-Helaire did manage fairly strong production, averaging 14.0 FPG in his other 8 outings – a mark that would’ve been good for RB20 over the full season. Keep in mind, that was post-gall blader surgery. CEH dropped down to 160 pounds in the 2021 off-season, and certainly wasn’t able to conduct his normal training regiment.

Logically, we would have to expect better efficiency, and likely a bigger workload in 2022, right? I think the answers to those questions are likely “yes” if we assume CEH is again the lead RB for Kansas City in 2022. CEH saw a serious efficiency decline last season, with his PFF rushing grade falling from 77.8 (21st-best) to 66.5 (49th-best), and his yards after contact per attempt falling from 3.02 (24th) to 2.47 (59th). That’s roughly the difference between 2021 Joe Mixon and 2021 Ronald Jones, efficiency-wise – presumably caused by the gall bladder issue. And it’s not unrealistic to assume some of Tyreek Hill’s vacated workload may be headed towards the backfield, given no KC WR has the talent to merit any workload resembling Hill’s. In my opinion, Edwards-Helaire has underrated upside and a high margin of safety, likely being drafted at his absolute floor on Underdog (ADP: RB28).

DJ Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers

DJ Moore saw consistent volume, but was hampered by consistently bad QB play. Per SIS, Panthers QBs collectively posted the league’s worst completion percentage (58.1%), alongside the league’s 2nd-worst yards per pass attempt (6.0), and the 8th-worst percentage of on-target throws (73.6%). As a result, Panthers’ WRs scored the 8th-fewest points in fantasy last year. Still, only Moore and Cooper Kupp recorded at least 7 targets in all 17 games this season – suggesting Moore has volume on par with the best WRs in fantasy, he just needs better QB play to take the next step. And with Baker Mayfield arriving in Carolina, the next step for Moore should happen in 2022.

Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns

Nick Chubb saw consistent volume, but certainly didn’t offer consistent production due to his massive ceiling and inconsistent workload. Chubb earned between 8.8 and 18.4 XFP in every game he played, but his actual results showed he averaged 22.8 FPG in his 7 best games, but just 8.0 FPG in his 7 worst games. That’s probably what we should expect from a gamescript-dependent (+3.0 more FPG in wins than losses since 2019), hyper-efficient RB who exceeded a 60% snap share in just 3 games last year. Chubb is reliant on highly unlikely events like a multi-TD game or a 60 yard rushing TD for his high-end fantasy performances. Similar to the WRs who rely on deep targets for their ceiling games, Chubb is going to be inconsistent. It’s tough not to be frustrated by Chubb’s usage (19th among RBs with 13.2 XFP/G in 2021) as it clearly caps his overall fantasy upside despite Chubb being one of the most talented backs in the NFL. He averages an insane 5.3 YPC and 4.08 yards after contact per attempt across his entire 4 year career, and Chubb has never posted a PFF rushing grade below 80.0 in any individual season. But it’s also nearly impossible for Chubb to finish as a top-3 RB without an expanded workload, which makes him a tough pick to get behind at RB13 right now. Upside wins championships, not RB7 finishes.

Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints

Alvin Kamara earned a bigger workload (19.4 XFP) than the overall RB1 in Jonathan Taylor did. But, poor QB play alongside the worst offense of Kamara’s career (21.4 PPG) was the likely culprit behind his inefficiency (-1.0 FPG vs. expectation). Remember that since entering the league, Kamara has ranked 21st (2021), 1st, 19th (2019), 1st, and 1st in fantasy points per snap. He’s basically either the most efficient RB in football, or he’s gotten injured (2019 and 2021). And 2021 held him back further with poor QB play. The Saints ranked last in completion percentage (58.1%), and 5th-worst in on-target throws (71.5%). But pass volume was an issue as well. Kamara has scored more fantasy points as a receiver (53%) than as a runner throughout his career. And last season, New Orleans ranked 2nd-worst in adjusted pass% (-7) and 7th-worst in plays per game (63.9). As a result, New Orleans attempted 95 fewer passes than last season, ranking dead last with 530 attempts. This led to a career-low 67 targets across the season for Kamara. Luckily, Jameis Winston should lead New Orleans to greener offensive pastures than the 2021 combination of Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian, and that should lead to far more efficient production for Kamara in 2022. But we still don’t know how long Kamara’s suspension will be – a significant factor that’s cratered his current ADP down to RB15. Given how much more valuable the playoffs weeks are relative to the early weeks of the season, I’ll gladly take a chance on a player who may miss a handful of early games, but has overall RB1 upside and legendary career efficiency numbers like Kamara. He’s a great pick in all formats.

Michael Gallup, WR, Dallas Cowboys

Michael Gallup seeing consistent volume is a bit surprising, but it obviously bodes well for his 2022 prospects. Gallup earned at least 9.2 XFP in 8 of his 9 games in 2022, ranking 31st among all WRs with 13.7 XFP/G. However, Gallup did play poorly when healthy, falling -3.6 FPG short of his volume-expectation (3rd-worst among WRs). And Gallup’s 1.35 YPRR (66th of 78 qualifiers) over the last 2 seasons don’t exactly give us hope that he’s a player who will surpass his volume-based expectation, but at his current ADP of WR57, it likely doesn’t matter. Gallup could see volume on par with what he earned in 2019 now that Amari Cooper is gone, and that would translate to 8.0 targets per game. Using Gallup’s 2021 XFP per target average of 1.99, 8.0 targets per game would translate to 15.9 XFP/G – a mark that would’ve ranked 12th among all WRs last year. So, if we presume just an extra 1.2 targets per game for Gallup, he could fall 30% short of his expectation (~11.1 FPG) and still beat his current ADP of WR57.

The only caveat here is that Gallup may not be ready until mid November. With that in mind, it seems likely he’s being overdrafted. The best ability is availability afterall. But, we also can’t ignore the volume he’ll likely see when he comes back. As a Round 11 pick, is it worth it to take potentially 8 weeks of 0 fantasy points to have a high-end WR3 for the latter half of the season? I lean no in most formats, but I think an interesting upside case could still be made in best ball tournaments, given the top-heavy nature of the payout structure and the outsized importance of the final weeks of the season.

DK Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks

DK Metcalf had the 10th-most games of double-digit XFP (13) across the fantasy season (Weeks 1-17). His volume was consistent, but his production was far less so. Metcalf averaged just 7.6 FPG from Week 10 through Week 15 on a 17.0 XFP/G workload. That’s borderline impossible inefficiency from any player (let alone one of Metcalf’s talents), but at least it wasn’t entirely his fault. Russell Wilson recorded an abysmal 53.2 PFF passing grade over that stretch (worse than Zach Wilson) and provided just 27.0 FPG to his WRs (7th-worst over the full season). But outside of that stretch Metcalf was his otherwise dominant self, averaging 18.1 FPG across his other 11 games. For 2022, I have a hard time being down on Metcalf, even with the change at QB. Metcalf averaged 19.6 FPG in his 4 games with Geno Smith at QB. And at least to me, I have a much easier time seeing Geno winning this QB job than Drew Lock – who would likely increase Metcalf’s game-to-game variability (and decrease his overall expectation) given Lock’s legendary inconsistency. But regardless of who we see at QB, Metcalf’s workload should remain among the NFL’s elite.

Most Inconsistent

Kadarius Toney, WR, New York Giants

Kadarius Toney had the most inconsistent usage in football last season, recording at least 16.0 XFP in Weeks 4, 5, 11, and 16, but falling short of 8.0 XFP in his other 5 games. It seems undeniable that Toney is a ridiculously talented player. Among WRs with at least 40 targets, Toney ranked 11th (tied with Tyreek Hill) with 2.14 YPRR (8th-best mark by a rookie over the last decade), he posted the 6th-most receiving yards in any game last season (189 yards in Week 5), and he led all WRs in missed tackles forced per reception (0.31). From Week 4 onward, he led all WRs in targets per route run (0.37). He also appeared on the injury report in 14 of 17 weeks dealing with ankle, hamstring, quad, oblique, thumb, shoulder, AND knee injuries, so it wouldn’t be unrealistic to assume he was hampered while he put up those ridiculous efficiency numbers. For 2022, I expect the Giants offense to take a significant step forward with former Bills’ OC Brian Daboll at the helm, and I see no reason why Toney couldn’t be New York’s leading WR. And Toney’s 2021 efficiency on a workload of 120 or more targets would guarantee a WR1 season for fantasy. Toney is one of my favorite upside picks in drafts, although his current ADP of 84.1 is roughly in line with my current ranking.

Michael Carter, RB, New York Jets

Michael Carter averaged 20.9 XFP/G during Weeks 7 through 10, but just 9.8 XFP/G in his remaining 10 games. The culprit here is fairly obvious, as the combination of Mike White and Josh Johnson targeted RBs on an absurd 32% of their throws during that stretch. Zach Wilson, on the other hand, targeted RBs on just 18% of his pass attempts across the 2021 season. But, Carter also benefited from the absence of Tevin Coleman (4.7 FPG in 2021), with 4 of Carter’s 6 best games by snap share happening over that stretch. For 2022, it’s hard to have much optimism for Carter, despite his outstanding efficiency numbers last season. Zach Wilson (and his roughly league-average RB target rate) are back under center, and Carter will be playing second fiddle to Round 2 rookie Breece Hall. I’d expect more consistent usage for Carter next season, but it’ll be consistently bad usage – barring an injury to Hall.

Chase Edmonds, Miami Dolphins and James Conner, Arizona Cardinals

Chase Edmonds and James Conner find their way onto this list, but only because they both had drastic role shifts throughout the year due to injury. In the 9 games both players were healthy, Edmonds averaged 11.5 XFP/G and Conner averaged 8.7 XFP/G. A pretty straight-forward committee. But in the 7 games one of the backs was absent, the remaining healthy rusher averaged 21.6 XFP/G, which is roughly equivalent to 2021 Derrick Henry (21.7 XFP/G), who was on pace to break the NFL’s touch record before getting injured.

And this extreme RB usage in the event of an injury is clearly more of the rule, rather than the exception for HC Kliff Kingsbury. We saw Edmonds earn a 96% snap share in the 1 game that Kenyan Drake missed in 2020. And when David Johnson went down in Week 7 of 2019, Edmonds totaled 35.0 fantasy points on the back of 27 carries, 4 targets, and a 94% snap share.

The fantasy market is obviously expecting big things out of James Conner this season (ADP: RB15), but maybe the real target in the Arizona backfield should be backup RB Darrel Williams or Eno Benjamin? In the event of a Conner injury, we have a 10-game, three-year sample size of Kingsbury giving his remaining healthy RB a 2021 Derrick Henry-esque workload. That gives either Williams or Benjamin league-winning potential (should Conner go down, which is probably more likely than the market implies given his injury history) at an incredibly cheap price in drafts right now. We just need to keep an eye on camp reports and preseason usage to determine who the front-runner for that valuable backup job is.

Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers

Aaron Jones' production faded after his Week 11 knee injury, making his usage appear inconsistent on paper. Jones averaged a 65% snap share and 16.3 XFP/G prior to injury, but just a 51% snap share and 10.8 XFP/G afterwards, while AJ Dillon averaged +4.1 more XFP/G in his final 7 games as a result. But, Jones’ upside appears truly massive in 2022 with Davante Adams out of the picture. Since 2019, Jones has started 7 games without Adams and has averaged 6.7 targets per game and 25.9 FPG. If extrapolated out to a full season, both of those numbers would’ve easily led all 2021 RBs. I view Jones as one of the best upside picks of Round 2, even with the continued involvement of AJ Dillon.

DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals

2021 was Hopkins’ worst fantasy season (by FPG) since 2016. From 2017 to 2020, Hopkins earned at least 80 receiving yards in 53% of his regular season games while posting a 89.6 PFF receiving grade and 2.25 YPRR. Last season, he eclipsed 80 yards just twice (20% of games), while his PFF receiving grade fell to 81.1 and his YPRR dropped to 1.76. That’s a nearly 30% drop-off in his per-route efficiency, and a nearly identical drop in his percentage of 80 yard receiving outings relative to the previous 4 seasons. All while seeing his targets per game fall to 6.6 – the lowest level since Hopkins’ 2013 rookie season. That’s obviously concerning for a WR entering his age 30 season. His December MCL surgery, alongside six-game suspension for PEDs and the offseason addition of Marquise Brown, present a compelling downside case for Hopkins this year. But he does have one thing going for him: touchdowns. Hopkins, even in one of the worst seasons of his career, still ranked 1st with 1.2 end zone targets per game, 3rd in targets inside the 10 per game (0.8), and 3rd in XTD per game (0.6). Although his per-game touchdown upside is arguably as strong as any WR in the league, it's hard to get too excited about him given the suspension and likely chance he's already hit an age cliff.

Jake Tribbey is the 2022 FSWA Football Writer of the Year and the leading Spring Football expert in the fantasy industry. He is a lifelong football fan obsessed with extracting every edge possible from DFS, Best Ball, and player props/futures.