Fantasy football owners love it when their quarterback throws for 350 yards and four touchdowns in a single game. But the true test of a player's value exists not in one performance, but in his level of consistent production.
With that in mind, we've examined which players were the most consistent last season, and whose final numbers were more deceptive. The parameters of our examination revolves around the final numbers of the position's top players based on a 12-team league that utilized NFL.com's standard scoring system. All the quarterbacks listed played in at least 10 contests, but time missed due to injuries or being benched counts against his final percentage.
The foundation for consistent production was based on the average fantasy points of the sixth-rated (or middle signal-caller of the top 12) on NFL.com. That quarterback is Drew Brees, who averaged 16.8 points per game. Those quarterbacks that recorded 16 or more points in a single game were rewarded, but a week with fewer than 16 points was rated as less than consistent. Also remember that a consistent level of production is relative to the position's overall output, so 40-50 percent (half of the time or less) can be labeled as being consistent in some cases.
Michael Vick, Eagles: Vick was the poster child for consistent production, scoring 16 or more fantasy points in every game where he saw the majority of his team's snaps. However, he did miss a total of four games and most of a fifth due to injuries. Vick's highest point total was 49.32 in Week 10, when he recorded one of the greatest fantasy stat lines ever. Overall, he scored 20 or more fantasy points an amazing 10 times in what was his best NFL season.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers: While Vick received more fantasy football accolades, Rodgers was nearly as good for owners. In fact, he scored just 5.84 fewer fantasy points than Vick on the season. He posted 16 or more fantasy points 11 times, including eight contests where he scored at least 21.92 points. Rodgers might have been even more consistent than Vick based on our parameters, but he missed one-plus games due to a concussion suffered in Week 14.
Peyton Manning, Colts: Believe or not, Manning established a new career best in passing yards with 4,700 in 2010. He also threw for 30-plus touchdowns for the fourth time in the last five years. Manning, who started every game, scored 16 or more fantasy points 11 times. Despite throwing his highest number of interceptions since 2002, he also hit the 20-point mark five times. At 34, Manning shows no signs of slowing down and will remain an elite fantasy option.
Philip Rivers, Chargers: Rivers opened the season on absolute fire, scoring 17-plus fantasy points in each of his first five games. That included four games with 20 or more points on NFL.com. At one time, Rivers was even on pace to break Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a single season. Brees, the basis for this column, equaled Rivers for consistency with nine starts of 16-plus points. He would have been even better if not for his 22 interceptions.
Tom Brady, Patriots: Brady finished with the third-most fantasy points among quarterbacks on NFL.com, behind only Vick and Rodgers. However, he reached the 16-point mark in just 50 percent of his starts. Brady failed to hit that total in five of his first seven games, but he made up for that early lack of production with five games of more than 18 points down the stretch. Brady scored 20-plus points six times with a season-best 32.30 points in Week 10.
Josh Freeman, Buccaneers: A preseason super sleeper on NFL.com, Freeman reached and surpassed expectations in his first full season as the Buccaneers' No. 1 quarterback. The talented Kansas State product finished with just 10.76 fewer fantasy points than Brees and scored 16 or more points eight times. He also averaged a very impressive 22.1 points on NFL.com in his final three starts. Freeman will be a major breakout candidate in all fantasy leagues in 2011.
David Garrard, Jaguars: Quietly, Garrard recorded 28 total touchdowns and posted his best fantasy season ever in 2010. Despite missing two games due to injuries, he hit the 16-point mark eight times, including each of his final three starts. Despite his level of statistical success, Garrard wasn't even owned in 35 percent of NFL.com leagues at the end of the year. That shows just how abundant the quarterback position has become from a fantasy perspective.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: Roethlisberger is one of six quarterbacks to score 16 or more fantasy points in seven games, a list that includes Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Jay Cutler and Kyle Orton. But if you remove the four games he was suspended to start the season, Big Ben actually hit the 16-point mark in almost 60 percent of his starts. His best performance came in Week 11, when he put up 34.50 fantasy points against the Oakland Raiders.
Matt Schaub, Texans: A breakout fantasy quarterback in 2009, Schaub posted inconsistent totals last season. In fact, he scored 16 or more fantasy points in just three of his first 11 games. He did average a solid 21 points during a late-season, three-game stretch and finished with better than 4,300 passing yards overall. Schaub also threw 24 touchdown passes for the Texans. Still, the Virginia product was hard to trust for a large portion of the season.
Matt Cassel, Chiefs: How does a quarterback who threw for 27 touchdowns not finish in the top 10 in fantasy points at his position? Well, Cassel was an all-or-nothing starter based on NFL.com's standard scoring system. In six games where he reached our mark for consistency, Cassel averaged a ridiculously good 24.2 points. But in his nine other starts (he missed one game due to injury), he averaged an awful 9.3 points. That's anything but consistent.
Mark Sanchez, Jets: Considering how closely Sanchez's season resembled a roller-coaster ride, it's no wonder that he was one of the most inconsistent quarterbacks in fantasy football. He actually scored 20-plus points five times -- that's the same number as Peyton Manning -- but Sanchez was almost invisible in his 11 other starts. In fact, he had single-digit performances in seven total games. He'll remain no more than a No. 2 fantasy quarterback next season.
Carson Palmer, Bengals: Palmer finished with more fantasy points than Garrard, Cutler and Orton, but he was dreadfully unreliable overall. He scored 16 or more points just four times while also scoring single digits in five games. What's more, Palmer scored 10.50 or fewer fantasy points in four of his final six starts down the stretch. Once considered an elite option in fantasy land, Palmer's mediocre numbers in recent seasons have his stock falling fast.