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Fantasy Football Volatility Index: The riskiest and safest plays for Week 6

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Here are the most- and least-volatile players so far this season to help you with your Week 6 start and sit gambles.

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

So we’re onto Week 6. Time flies, man.

With five weeks in the rear view mirror and most teams having played in all of them, I can confidently say that I have seen enough and have enough data available as to know who is who this season. Don’t come to me with the boring small sample size concerns, I won’t take them no more.

Now, you’re likely either are a risk-averse fantasy owner, or a risk-tolerant one. And to know which side of the line you align with is as simple as answering some silly questions:

  1. Did you trust Antonio Brown even after his off-field issues with the Raiders?
  2. Did you draft Ezekiel Elliott or Melvin Gordon early even while they were still holding out?
  3. Did you spend a high draft pick in a rookie like Kyler Murray?
  4. Did you bet on injury-prone players such as Dalvin Cook or Leonard Fournette?

If you answered yes—or seriously considered doing some of them in your draft—to any of those, congratulations: you’re a risk-tolerant owner! If you didn’t, congratulations too: you’re a risk-averse owner!

There is not a unique, written-on-stone way of winning at fantasy football. Each magician has its tricks, and they vary wildly. But knowing you and your tendencies, I’m here to get you some players that truly fill the risk-averse and risk-tolerant bills so you can put them in your lineups without a single doubt in mind (as those pesky risk-tolerant GMs ever had doubts...)!

How does the season look so far?

Okay, so to measure how risky a player is I did something very simple. I calculated the fantasy points per game each player has scored through all of the games he has played, and then calculated the standard deviation of his different scores through his games. This way not only do I get his average points per game, but also I get to know how his scores vary between games (how “volatile” they are).

If you got lost, fear nothing! Let’s go through an example. Keenan Allen has had performances of 26, 18, 44, 10, and 6 fantasy points so far. That means he scores around 21 points per game. Do you see how that varies from his lowest performance of 5.8 points in Week 5? That is where the standard deviation comes in handy. Allen’s standard deviation is at 15 points. That means that knowing his average of 21 points, we can expect him to put on around 21 +/-15 points in most of his games, which is between 36 and 6 if he keeps playing as he has done through five weeks. I hope it is clear enough now!

Having those two numbers it is easy to see who is putting on good performances constantly, who is having boom-or-bust games, etc. Through Week 5 there are 430 players with at least a game played in fantasy football. Here is how they are spread in a graph that includes their fantasy points per game and their standard deviation from their mean values:

Now, that is a goddamn mess. At the top of the chart, you have the best players by points per game. At the left, you can find those who—almost—always score the same points, and at the right those who have wide variations between different games. Remember Will Fuller winning you the weekend just a few days ago? Yes, a fluke. Remember reading about Dalvin Cook burning defenses every other week? Of course, because he’s a weekly can’t-miss machine.

That chart is fine and all, but it’s much better to break it down and separate players into different categories so you can make decisions easily come lineup-locking time—which, keep in mind, is earlier this Sunday with the early game in London. Let’s get it poppin’!

Week 6 ultra-volatile players

These players have standard deviations from their averages of 14-plus fantasy points. They are as capable of putting on a monster, record-books performance as easily as they can lay a goose age any given day. You’re playing with fire here, boy.

WR Will Fuller (Houston Texans)

In such an offense like Houston’s with a clear-cut WR1 in place, he really should be the second option and take advantage of DeAndre Hopkins getting all and then some of the attention from the opposing defense. Sadly, that has not been the case. Fuller had 32.3 fantasy points combined in the first four games of the season, then exploded for 53.7 in Week 5. Even with Kenny Stills banged up and out, and facing Kansas City, do you think Fuller can keep up with this new standard? Hard to buy.

WR Keenan Allen (Los Angeles Chargers)

Now you see me, now you don’t. Fits like a tee. Allen started the season impressively with three 17-plus points performances—among them, a 43.6-point explosion in Week 3—and then went to bed getting 15.6 combined points in Weeks 4 and 5. I can understand the five targets against Miami, but logging six and catching four passes for 18 yards last week was atrocious. Melvin Gordon is back and Austin Ekeler has been mashing. Do you trust Allen bouncing back against Pittsburgh with those two ready to roll?

RB Aaron Jones (Green Bay Packers)

I must acknowledge Aaron Jones has been solid overall. The problem with him are his two outlier performances from the first and last weeks of the season so far. In Week 1 he did nothing, getting just 4.9 points. In Week 5 though he burned Dallas’s defense alive to the tune of 182 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns for an impressive 49.2 points. Detroit isn’t any better than the Cowboys at stopping running backs, but you know how low Jones can go if he doesn’t have the day.

Week 6 moderately-risky plays

These players have standard deviations from their averages between 10 and 14 fantasy points. We’re starting to get into the meat of the player’s pool, and decisions start to get tougher here.

WR Chris Godwin (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Just mentioning Jameis Winston as the man throwing balls to Godwin makes for a serious, paused reflection on whether or not one should start Godwin. Winston or not, Godwin has been a beast. He’s the current WR1 and almost matchup- and QB-proof. But his deviation from his average is a little wild still. Although he has had three 26-plus performances in the season (121, 172, and 125 yards with one, two, and two touchdowns respectively), Godwin also posted two games of less than 15 points back in Weeks 1 and 3. I trust him going forward but his average should regress to a lower mean soon.

WR Adam Thielen (Minnesota Vikings)

Well, it fits we find Thielen as a moderately risky player given his numbers and knowing his situation in Minny. Last week he was able to eat (130 yards and two touchdowns on 7-for-8 receptions for 32.0 points) after calling for food (Cousins can you toss the freaking ball!?). Will that be the case this weekend? Philadelphia is bad against the pass, but maybe it’s Stefon Diggs turn. Or maybe Kirk Cousins comes back to attempt ten passes. That is why Thielen has been able to reach 32 points but has also a couple of 12- and 13-point games to go with the ultimate dud in Week 4—2.6 points against Chicago.

RB Jordan Howard (Philadelphia Eagles)

Howard had the game against Green Bay in Week 4 (32.5 points) and everybody ditched Miles Sanders. Not so fast, fellas. Howard average points per game sit at 13.1 but that’s all due to that game—in which he rushed for 82 yards, added 28 more receiving, and was able to score three touchdowns. Other than that, Howard only has one more 10-plus points game and his start of the season was mediocre at best. A touchdown-dependent guy as they get.

Week 6 relatively-safe plays

These players have standard deviations from their averages between 6 and 10 fantasy points. This is where most of the rostered players and those that are part of your weekly lineup fall. They can have up and downs in their outcomes, but they mostly produce to their true talent.

RB Austin Ekeler (Los Angeles Chargers)

On pure production, Ekeler is a must-start. He’s the RB2 of the season only behind Christian McCaffrey. He’s led the Chargers for four weeks alone and an extra one with Melvin Gordon already in town. But that is the problem. Gordon is back and will take opportunities from Ekeler whether his owners like it or not. The good news, though, is that Ekeler’s production so far makes him a good bet at least for another week. His outcomes haven’t varied wildly and he’s the safest bet at the position other than CMC and Dalvin Cook.

WR Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals)

WR Courtland Sutton (Denver Broncos)

Both Fitzgerald and Sutton made this group by a hair and should realistically fall in the last one. Fitzgerald is experiencing a renaissance under the new Cardinals system, he is having his best start of a season in ages (358 yards on 29 receptions with two touchdowns) and offers a solid floor of around 12 points per game easily. Sutton has become the go-to receiver in Denver (yes, over Emmanuel Sanders) and his performances have also remained on a very steady line to help him reach 401 yards on 26 receptions for three touchdowns already. Both Arizona and Denver have good matchups this week, so expect a couple more good outings from the two players.

QB Marcus Mariota (Tennessee Titans)

Mariota isn’t probably the first name you think of when you read about safe fantasy picks, and you might even think his floor is ground-level, but his game is actually far from it. Sure, Mariota is currently the QB16, which is to say, a high-end QB2 at most, but he’s constantly putting up at least 15 fantasy points per game (barring his Week 5 bad game against a great Buffalo defense, though). You can’t expect booming games from him but he’s got seven touchdowns and no interceptions through five games. He limits errors and is a great option if all you want is a good amount of fantasy points in your lineup without worrying a lot about whether he’ll get them or not.

Week 6 ultra-risk-averse plays

These players have standard deviations from their averages between 0 and 6 fantasy points. Most players fall inside this group as most players either are good, or bad. You know what you’re getting from these players, as they operate as robots on the field putting on heavily consistent performances weekly.

QB Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons)

It is incredible how under-the-radar Matt Ryan is still flying this year. It is understandable to forget about him in real life given the 1-4 Falcons start to the season, but not many players have been safer bets than Ryan in fantasy football. He’s producing at an elite level and he’s been totally matchup-proof, having three games between 25 and 28 points and two a little more deviated (but still close to his average) of 22 and 35 points. Arizona hosts Atlanta this weekend and with both teams carrying middling defenses, you can surely expect another great performance from Ryan.

RB Dalvin Cook (Minnesota Vikings)

No need to say much here. If healthy, Cook is a beast. Not only does he have the ninth-most points in the season so far, but he’s also averaging 25 per game while logging 19 points in his worst performance and 28 in his best one. It is safe to say his floor is not lower than around 24 points and that he has the upside to reach 30 points any day. This weekend could make for a good test, though, as Philadelphia is the toughest defense he will have faced through six weeks of play. We will see if he can keep it up.

RB Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas Cowboys)

Having a small deviation from one’s average fantasy points doesn’t mean the player is playing great. It only means he always moves within pretty tight margins. Elliott has filled this role so far, as he’s played a little under what could be expected from him but he’s been really solid in doing so. The only performance where he deviated a little more than normal from his average was his first one (understandable, as he was rushed to the field after ending his holdout) but other than that he’s put on 16-to-20-point performances each and every game. If you need some good points at RB no matter what, you know who to go with. And which better week to play him than this one against the Jets?

WR D.J. Moore (Carolina Panthers)

Cam Newton’s injury definitely downgraded the Panthers receiving corps upside. All but McCaffrey have suffered it but Moore has been able to keep up a good weekly average, currently sitting at 13.7 points per game. Better than that, his numbers are not fluctuating much even playing under Kyle Allen and along CMC. Moore has 352 yards on 26 catches already, and with the exception of a 7.4 in Week 4, his performances have all ranged between 13 and 18 fantasy points. He’s one of the most reliable producers at the position this year and Tampa Bay’s bad passing defense should make it easy for him to keep up his production for at least another week.