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).
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 10 there are 494 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 11 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.
WR Mohamed Sanu, NE (at PHI)
So far, so random for Sanu in New England. It’s only been two games but they couldn’t have been more different in terms of their outcome: Sanu was targeted five times for 23 yards in his Patriots debut and then exploded for 14 targets and 81 yards with a touchdown in his second game. That is not new in Sanu’s season, though. Back in Atlanta he was also highly volatile with performances ranging from 1.3 fantasy points to 18.1 only separated by a couple of weeks. Philadelphia should make things easy for Patriots receivers this week but what we have seen from Sanu scares the hell out of me. Sure, the first game should have been a fluke due to his short training time and preparation for his new environment, but his 24.1-point outing in his second one is his season-best and that is precisely what makes Mo Sanu a risky proposition. You know what he can get you on a good day, but you will also be putting on a massive leap of faith trusting a replay.
RB Kenyan Drake, ARI (at SF)
Drake was freed a few weeks ago, and he became a little bit of a headache for fantasy GMs after debuting with Arizona. Pretty much like Sanu (read above), Drake put on a massive performance in his first game for the Cards (162 yards from scrimmage, one touchdown, 28.2 FP) and then came back to earth in his second (41 yards, no scores, 10.1 FP). That last mark was more in line with his season in Miami (he averaged 9.5 FP in six games with the Dolphins), but the fact that he showed a sky-high ceiling made some folks loose their minds over Drake’s upside. Facing a stout San Francisco we can expect Drake to hit the performance-wall again this weekend. Sure, he is able to rack up yards and points no matter if they come on the ground or through the air, but do we really trust him on another 28-plus outing? He’s wild, so don’t discard it, but count on a potential 8-point-at-most dud possibly coming his way.
WR Cooper Kupp, LAR (vs CHI)
Kupp is having an incredible comeback season overall. Very few thought he would be able to play to this level after missing half of the 2018 season. He is the WR6 in both total fantasy points and FP per game (18.6), but his volatility is really high at 12.4 points. That is nuts, but it checks. Just this past week the Steelers limited Kupp to... zero (!) points (four targets). Truth be told, QB Jared Goff has been bad this year and that isn’t helping matters, but Kupp has been able to overcome the hurdle and has had four 26-plus points outings so far this year (two of them of 33.2 and 35 points). The problem with Kupp, though, is that he’s also dropped below 12 points four times already, including the goose egg against Pittsburgh this past weekend. With Brandin Cooks out Kupp will definitely see balls thrown his way, but you never know if you’re going to get first-five-games Kupp (23.2 points on average) or last-four-games Kupp (12.9).
Week 11 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 Christian Kirk, ARI (at SF)
Every week there is someone who goes and puts on a show, and it often involves and unusual suspect. Congratulations to Kirk for becoming our Week 10 poster boy! He finished the day with 37.8 FP, which is to say the 25th-best performance of the season and the best of the weekend even beating Lamar Jackson’s. No wonder, considering Kirk caught six passes for 138 yards and scored three touchdowns while at it. Beast of a man, right? Wildly risky player, too. Kirk missed weeks 5 to 7 after having an average-ish start to the season in which he was putting up 13 fantasy points on a weekly basis. Then he came back in Week 8 and in three games he’s averaging a very sweet 19.7 FP. But if I tell you the details you might balk: he’s done it with performances of 17.8, 3.6 (!), and 37.8 points. His three touchdowns last weekend were his only three on the season. He’s got a ceiling as high as low is his floor. And I’m sorry, but against the 49ers I’m not betting on Kirk to put on another massive outing but rather on him dropping an egg and coming back to his single-digit habits.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, MIA (vs BUF)
Fitzpatrick is here to save the Dolphins, baby!!! Like it or not, Miami is tanking yet winning. I appreciate the effort, not going to lie here. Players need to show and cash in, so they better go out there and play as good as they could if they want to keep being part of the league. It is what it is, no matter what their franchise wants them to do on the larger picture. Fitzpatrick is taking this to heart (as he’s always done) and he’s on a two-game winning streak. He’s been a literal shotgun this season, though. We all know Fitz as a boom-or-bust player in about everything. And in fantasy, that’s his exact definition. Here are Fitzpatrick’s last five fantasy scores: 11.1, 23.4, 15.2, 26.6, 14.8. Roller-coaster time! And if the series keeps the model, then Fitz should be in for a positive rebound. Do you believe in him doing so against Buffalo, though? The QB as been widely inconsistent all season, and Buffalo’s defense is kinda stout. Do your stress a solid and look for safer streaming options at the position this weekend.
WR Taylor Gabriel, CHI (at LAR)
There is a chance, out there somewhere, of Taylor Gabriel winning you the weekend. Seriously, he already did in Week 3 when he put up 32.2 points (ninth-highest score of the week) to the tune of 75 yards and three touchdowns, so you gotta believe. Not so fast, though. I like me some Gabriel, but who can trust him? He’s looked entrenched in the 9-to-14 points clip during the last three weeks—and he even scored a touchdown in his last game after Mitchell Trubisky looked like a quarterback once for all—but you need to factor in his other performances to know who you’re truly talking about. The Bears are short of talent on offense and Gabriel features weekly, but as good as his 32-point game was he has also had three performances under five fantasy points (topping at 24 receiving yards on two receptions). The potential for an explosion is there, but you need to 1) trust Gabriel not putting on a dud and 2) believe in Trubisky somehow having back-to-back “good” games. Get me off this track, please.
Week 11 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.
RB Leonard Fournette, JAX (at IND)
Welcome to the utter weird Lenny’s World. Do you know how many running backs have racked up more than 1125 scrimmage yards in a season and scored one or fewer touchdowns (both on the ground or through the air)? Three. Three freaking guys in the whole history of football, and Fournette is one of them. Even with his ridiculously bad scoring-luck, Fournette still is the RB9 of the season. Had he scored something like three or four more touchdowns we would be talking about a league winner. But football Gods are not siding with him. All in all, though, and after a kinda bad start to the season, Lenny is back on the fast lane. He is averaging 17.6 points per game and other than his last outing (12.2 points) he had completed five games in a row scoring more than 16.5 FP and reaching a season-high mark of 26.5 in Week 4. If we consider Fournette’s points variation by looking at his average, then he is not an ultra-safe play (his last week explains why: 72 yards from scrimmage for 12.2 points compared to his 17.6 average) but he’s still one of the most reliable guys out there to give you a nice high floor weekly.
RB Josh Jacobs, OAK (vs CIN)
Jacobs started the year with a massive 113-yard, two-touchdown, 24.3-point performance. Then he smashed the reality wall and couldn’t score again until Week 5. But from that point on he has scored five times and he’s looking like the offensive rookie of the year by a country mile. Jacobs’ (little) volatility comes mostly from his early weeks in the league, but that doesn’t mean he can’t come back to those ways next. The good thing about playing him against Cincinnati this weekend is that the Bengals are being run all over and that Jacobs only have one 10-point performance in his last five games (all of the others yielded 16-plus points). Josh Jacobs is a little riskier than Fournette (more volatile in FP) and has a little lower FP/G average, but the better matchup this weekend should make for that gap if you’re debating who to start.
WR John Brown, BUF (at MIA)
They call a man simple for picking against the Dolphins. But hey, have you look at Miami’s last two games? They’ve won two in a row and have their eyes locked into the playoff-race! Well, not so much, I got a little over-excited there. But this is not an anti-Dolphins pick. It is a pick based on both John Brown and Fake Teams-favorite Josh Allen. In case this is your first time here, Josh Allen is the only player averaging 18-plus points (21.1 actually) with a volatility under five points. That means his performances are as solid as hell, as he has given his owners between 19 and 24 points in seven of his eight games. Then there is John Brown. Brown has only one game under 10 fantasy points and all of the rest except two (19.3 and 25.3) have finished with him scoring between 10 and 14 points. You can bank on him giving you a solid 12-point average weekly while hoping for a ceiling of 20-plus points popping out of nowhere. He’s showed it a couple of times, so it’s in him. And Miami might help him reach it.
Week 11 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.
QB Mason Rudolph, PIT (at CLE)
You won’t believe this, but Rudolph is the safest play (lowest volatility, 3.4 points) among the top-82 fantasy players this season to have played at least seven games. First of, 82 is no slouch. Sure, his average of 15 FP/G ranks just 72nd overall, and his 104.8 points in the season are only 91st, but you definitely know what you’re getting if you play him. And that is what we’re here for. If you’re looking for an ultra-safe play, someone you can bet one without worrying about potential egg-drops—although knowing you won’t cash big time by playing him—then Rudolph is your man at the quarterback position. Four of his seven games have finished with him scoring between 16 and 19 points, and his last three have gone for 18.6, 12.1, and 16.0. So yes, consider Rudolph a 12-point floor player with little upside but good chances of reaching 16 points without much trouble.
WR Mike Williams, LAC (vs KC)
If you’ve read Fournette’s blurb above you know I’m all in for history weirdness. And if Lenny is the weirdo of running backs, then Mike is the weirdo of receivers. Do you know how many players in history have been able to rack up 585-plus yards through 10 weeks while not scoring a single touchdown? Five, that is, and Williams is one of them. There is no way this keeps going for much longer, but even if it does Williams is still a rock-solid weekly play. So far this season, Williams is averaging 10 fantasy points. He’s had six games of 50-plus receiving yards (and two of 45 and 47), he’s always caught two or more passes (he has caught three or more in seven games), and he’s been targeted by Philip Rivers five or more times in six of his nine games. Sure, he’s had low weeks of around five fantasy points and others higher reaching up to 14.3 points, but overall his slim volatility of 3.1 points makes him a sure bet if you need some low-but-sure points any given weekend.
TE Jason Witten, DAL (at DET)
Has there ever been a smoother transition from the field to the booth and back to the field than Witten’s? I’m serious, I don’t have any idea. Witten has featured prominently for the Cowboys since he came back and is undoubtedly the team’s TE1. And knowing the state of the tight end position this season, his 9.1 points per game might look bad but at least they have been there almost all year long. Sure, Witten is barely a TE1 in the league, but all of his games except one have seen him finish in between 5.9 and 13.8 fantasy points. The upside is not there, sure, but you can consider Witten a weekly streaming option if you want to forget about the position as he will probably get you his nine points no matter what. He’s had seven 25-yard games and has reached 50 or more in four. His targets have yet to drop from four and he’s averaging four receptions per game. Nothing otherworldly, but definitely consistent on a weekly basis.