Either you are a risk-averse fantasy owner, or a risk-tolerant one. There is not a unique, written-on-stone way of winning at fantasy football, nor a dominant personality of owner that always get the W. So no matter which side of the coin you fall on, here are some players that fit the risk-range-of-outcomes to different extents so you can put them in your lineups fully knowing what you’re getting into!
How does the season look so far (a little primer on volatility)?
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).
Example: Keenan Allen had performances of 26, 18, 44, 10, and 6 fantasy points through Week 5. That means he scores around 21 points per game. That looks nice, but 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 8 there are 469 players with at least two games played in fantasy football. Here is how they are spread in a graph that includes their fantasy points per game and their standard deviation (we’ll call it Volatility from this point on) 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.
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. Let’s get it poppin’!
Week 9 ultra-volatile plays
These players have standard deviations from their averages of 12-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.
QB Aaron Rodgers, GB (at LAC)
Our old friend A-Rod is averaging 24 points per game. That is no slouch, with him ranking as the 8th-best player in all of fantasy football through Week 8. The problem with Rodgers, though, is how he has gotten there. And it has been a wild ride. He started the season with three games, scoring fewer than 20 points. Followed that low stretch with a booming 31.7-point performance (422 yards, two touchdowns, 46 extra yards on the ground), then buried himself with an 11.8-point outing in Week 5, and in his last three games he has fluctuated from 21.2 to 48.1 (!) to 30.2 this past weekend. It’s been two games in a row passing for more than 300 yards and three or more touchdowns, but given Rodgers track history this year (Weeks 1 through 5 were average at best) and in the past (the last time he strung three 20+ points games was all the way back in 2010), you better be careful playing the vet.
WR Taylor Gabriel, CHI (at PHI)
I must admit I’m a sucker for Taylor Gabriel, but you know the risks you’re taking when you play him. First of all, his environment revolves around some quarterback named Mitchell Trubisky who, well, let’s say is nothing out-worldly. That is already a problem, but more than that, the very own Gabriel can as easily put on a dud as he can turn into a weekend winner. We saw it in Week 3 when he turned into a supernova-receiver catching six of seven targets, racking up 75 yards, and scoring three touchdowns in the process. Peak Gabriel. On the other hand, though, his follow-up coming back from injury in Week 7 when he was targeted two times and finished the day with six yards. He rebounded this past weekend with a 9.3-point game in which he was targeted six times and caught four passes for 53 yards. Gabriel is the perfect play if you feel the need of getting a booming performance to win your matchup, but know what you’re getting into.
RB Tevin Coleman, SF (vs ARI)
After playing in the season opener and putting up 7.6 points with 56 yards from the scrimmage, Coleman went down and didn’t come back until Week 5. He returned at full capacity, though, rushing for 97 yards in 16 attempts and scoring a TD. He basically mimicked that game (15.7 points) one week later by logging 61 yards from scrimmage, catching two passes and scoring another touchdown (14.1 points). What has me worried, though, is what has happened in the last couple of weeks. He could top eight fantasy points in Week 7, while he played to the tune of 37.8 points in his last week’s game. That last outing yielded a great line of 2-of-2 receptions for 13 yards and a TD, and 105 rushing yards on 11 attempts for three (!) touchdowns. With Breida and Mostert banged up he should get a lot of work, but it’s been an up-and-down season for Coleman so far.
Week 9 relatively-risky plays
These players have standard deviations from their averages between 9 and 12 fantasy points. We’re starting to get into the meat of the player’s pool, and decisions start to get tougher here.
WR Danny Amendola, DET (at OAK)
Is Amendola back for real? Could be the case, and perhaps this week’s matchup against Oakland is not the best test to prove it. The Raiders are bad, and in the last two weeks Amendola has faced defenses against WRs ranked outside of the top-20 teams at it in the league and hanged 18.5 and 17.5 fantasy points on them. The problem is that those two data points are more outliers than another thing in Amendola’s season. Yes, he opened the season with a 23.4 game (104 yards and a score on seven receptions), but in his other three games, he was rendered nill. In those three matches combined he caught five passes, couldn’t even reach 45 receiving yards and of course missed to score any touchdown. The Lions offense—while missing lead-RB Kerryon Johnson—is loaded with weapons at the receiver position so don’t expect Dola to put up big numbers every week.
RB Nick Chubb, CLE (at DEN)
What do we make of the would-be 2020 Super Bowl LIV Champs Cleveland Browns? Ugh, it’s been ugly, but thank God I was one of the few expecting a resounding flop to happen. Good for the Browns, though, they have one of the season’s greater players in their roster. Chubb ranks 21st in points per game so far with 20.6 and is the RB5. If you read the blurb about Aaron Rodgers above, his and Chubb’s situation are pretty much the same. Three games under 20 points to start the year, then a massive 39.3-point performance followed by a 10.9 dud, and back to the rollercoaster in the past couple of weeks with 30.9- and 14.8-point games again. Yes, Chubb has topped 120 yards in three of the last four games he’s played, but his two booming performances came via TD (three and two respectively) and he has only one more score out of those five. His average says RB1, his high volatility makes me see an RB2 with upside at best.
WR Zach Pascal, IND (at PIT)
The sophomore started just four of his 16 games last season, but this year he’s been on the starting lineup in five out of seven. He’s stepped up his game big time and is almost doubling his fantasy performance (4.2 points per game last season to this year’s 8.2 through Week 8) while having played the second-most Colts snaps only behind T.Y. Hilton. But don’t get fooled by Pascal’s game averages. He wasn’t targeted at all in the first two games he played, then had a couple of moderately good matches (13.3 and 11.2 fantasy points) aided by scoring a touchdown, though, and hit a wall again in Week 5 (eight yards on a single reception). Coming back from the bye, Pascal put on a legit show by catching six-of-seven targeted passes, racking up 106 yards and scoring two times to reach 28.6 fantasy points. Last weekend, you ask? You don’t want to read it: six yards on one reception, 1.6 fantasy points. Does Pascal have some upside? Sure. Is he a weekly reliable source of points? Not so much.
Week 9 moderately-safe plays
These players have standard deviations from their averages between 5 and 9 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.
TE Mark Andrews, BAL (vs NE)
It’s been weeks of chit chat about Mark Andrews’ status, his health, this and that. Sure, what Andrews accomplished in the first two games of the season was probably not going to hold—and it hasn’t—but neither were the Baltimore Ravens what appeared to be in that short span of time. The problem with having back-to-back 25-point games as Andrews did early is that those marks swing the hell out of the rest of the season outings. From Weeks 3 to 7 Andrews is averaging 9.8 fantasy points per game. His season average comes at 14.1 but his volatility of 8.4 is not overly high. For someone slotted in the tight end position and considering how these guys operate, Andrews is as solid a play as any other at TE. New England sucks as a matchup, yes, but Andrews is going to hand you 10-plus points every night very easily.
WR Courtland Sutton, DEN (vs CLE)
Emmanuel Sanders is out of the Rockies and Sutton picked the master’s baton. All hail the new Bronc-King. Already sharing time with Sanders—and playing under Joe Flacco!—Sutton was able to out-target him 55 to 43 and racked up 564 yards to Sanders’ 367 through Week 7. In fact, Sutton only has one game under 10 points including Week 8 while Sanders has three of them. So yes, Denver did the right move at the right time. While his fantasy outcomes have varied a little, all of them have fallen between 10 and 24 fantasy points making for a great floor and showing the upside to reach WR1 levels any week. I can’t complain about a guy averaging a nice 15.1 points with a really low 5.4 volatility. You shouldn’t either.
QB Gardner Minshew, JAX (vs HOU, London)
Nick Foles is this close to getting back, and when he does word is he’ll take the reins back and send Minshew packing to the warm confines of the Jaguars bench. If there is a moment to squeeze Minshew-Mania to the utmost of limits it is now. Not only do the Texans suck, but Minshew has made enough merits in his eight professional games to be considered one of the best plays at QB on his talent alone. He is the 17th-best fantasy player in all of football and is averaging 21.1 points per game. Other than his Week 6 game against New Orleans (6.3), Minshew has scored between 18.9 and 28.8 points every single week. He’s in this group only because of that bump in the road, but trust me, you won’t find a more reliable quarterback out there than Minshew—Kyler Murray, Jacoby Brissett, and Josh Allen are close but are averaging a little fewer points per game.
Week 9 ultra-safe plays
These players have standard deviations from their averages between 0 and 5 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.
WR Tyrell Williams, OAK (vs DET)
Get ready for some Raiders because they’re are coming after you. Introducing first: Mr. Tyrell. Williams has missed a couple of games this season, yes, and that probably has something to do with his numbers as his sample size is smaller than that of others (five games, as Oakland has already gone on a bye too). Even with that, though, Williams fantasy scores through Week 8 read like this: 22.5, 15.6, 11.9, 12.6, and 18.1. We’re talking about a 12-point floor here with upside to break into the 20-point mark and what-could-be. On average, Williams is a 16-point player with a volatility or variance of just over four points per game. There is no player in football producing as much as Williams as constantly as him—Christian Kirk would be the closest with an average of 14 points, two fewer than Tyrell.
QB Derek Carr, OAK (vs DET)
And now, Derek Carr. Because both he and Tyrell Williams are playing great and the Lions look like the perfect matchup for both. Carr is probably a little boring, yes, and the Raiders are not the most explosive team around. But Carr is putting up 17.6 points per game, has virtually reached 200 passing yards in every outing (he fell short twice but logged 198 and 189 yards so...) and has thrown a touchdown in all games but one. While he couldn’t do much against Kansas City and Chicago, he’s coming from hanging 20.6 and 26.2 points on his weeks 7 and 8 rivals. A quick glance tells me he’s a 17-to-20 range QB weekly, and yes, he can put on a dud and drop to around 12 points but he also brings the upside to rise to 24-plus. No question in my mind he’s one of the greater streamers if not season-long plays at the position at this point.
WR Cole Beasley, BUF (vs WAS)
Is there any player less sexy than Cole Beasley? I mean, Beasley has caught 10 passes of 10-plus yards this season and 23 of nine yards or less. He only has three receptions with gains of more than 20 yards, and he’s the closest to a safety valve you can find in a football field. He mans the slot and has become one of the go-to guys of QB Josh Allen—who himself is one of the safest plays all around the league, so go play him. Don’t get it wrong though, Beasley is just the WR46 in PPR leagues, but his 11.3 points per game are set in stone. Removing his five-point game in Week 5, all of Beasley’s scores have ended between nine and 15 points. If you are facing a close game and need as many sure points as you can get, Beasley should be one of your plays no matter what.