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 11 there are 513 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.
RB Aaron Jones, GB (at SF)
Eleven weeks down, six to go. And here we are still holding our #FreeAaronJones signs. Because yes, Green Bay was on a bye week last weekend, but they’re back on the schedule this Sunday and the last time the Packers took the field this happened: Aaron Jones, 13 touches; Jamaal Williams, 13 touches. Talk about a timeshare, uh? That is concerning enough, as it should limit Jones’ upside, but Jones is such a beast of nature that he doesn’t know any limits. He touched the ball the exact same number of times as Williams but rushed for 93 yards (30 more than Jamaal) and three touchdowns. All in all, 27.3 fantasy points. Oh, do you know what Jones did in Week 9, though? Put on a historical dud of 3.9 fantasy points (one reception, eight carries, 34 yards from scrimmage...). That has been Jones all season long. One week he explodes, the next one he digs a hole in the ground and buries himself inside of it. Given the up-and-down fluctuations—and most of all facing a stout run-D in that of the 49ers—you won’t want to have Jones in your lineup this week.
WR Mike Evans, TB (at ATL)
There are not many things to like more in fantasy football than a stud receiver playing for a booming quarterback. Well, welcome to Tampa Bay, where stuff works in the paper but not in the actual field of play. Jameis Winston can throw four interceptions any day, I know, but he’s also a lock to reach 300 passing yards and toss a couple of touchdowns. That bodes well—or should do at least—for someone like Mike Evans. But Mike has only had a bunch of great performances this year paired with a good set of duds. His Week 5 performance against the Saints was one for the ages (three targets, that’s all of it). Sure, he also scored 45, 42.8, and 36 points in weeks 3, 8, and 9, but he’s constantly dropping upsetting bombs each couple of weeks. On top of that goose egg, he’s also had three games of 12 or fewer fantasy points. Two of those three have come in the past two weeks, in which he’s topped at four receptions and 82 yards against Arizona, with worse numbers against New Orleans last weekend. Stuck in a clear downward trend since Tampa’s bye, Evans is getting too volatile to keep considering him a safe play.
QB Daniel Jones, NYG (at CHI)
Danny Dimes might have not gotten the rights to his nickname in the courts, but is he tossing them all around the gridiron these days. Just in his last game, he was able to reach 300 yards for the third time in his career. He did so while throwing four touchdowns and no interceptions for his second-highest fantasy tally ever at 33.4 points. That is great, and he has had another couple of 33-plus-points performances, but he’s also put on low-end outings at least two other times this season. Jones isn’t a bad quarterback, but he’s a rookie and one in the middle-of-pack, average-tier level. That means you never know if he’s going to win you the day magically, or if he’ll go and throw picks all over the field and not throw for even 200 yards. The Bears are nasty defending the pass (sixth-fewest fantasy points per game allowed to QBs, nine passing TDs in 10 games), and the Giants receiving corps are a little more than banged up. Picture Jones getting back to his average—at best—self this weekend.
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 D.J. Chark, JAX (at TEN)
Raise your hand if you predicted Chark was going to be a league winner in 2019? Okay, you’re a liar. I love Chark as much as you can imagine. He’s great. He’s become the No. 1 guy of the Jags and he’s had some massive games. Now with Foles back, it looks like things will keep on the bright side. But do we really trust Chark that much? I mean, Chark just posted an 8-104-2 line playing under Foles to reach 30.4 fantasy points, but he finished his previous game at 7.2 points. That’s not an outlier. He has three more games of 10 or fewer fantasy points, and has reached 20 on three occasions. At the end of the day, that is the definition of a volatile player: high ceiling, low floor, varying outings. Just focusing on his last five games, they’ve gone for 7.3, 10.3, 19.9, 7.2, and 30.4 points. Do you see what I mean? His volume was massive in Week 11 too (season-high 15 targets) and that helped bulk his numbers, so although I believe in Chark going forward I’d fade him if I wanted to avoid a potential letdown.
QB Deshaun Watson, HOU (vs IND)
Before you go and criticize me for putting Watson here, at least let me give you my reasoning. So, entering Week 11 Deshaun Watson so sorta-kinda into the MVP conversation periphery of candidates at the very least. It made sense. He was averaging 270 yards, two touchdowns, 0.6 interceptions, and 8.1 yards per attempt in nine games. Then, Baltimore appeared on his schedule in Week 11 and crucified him: 169 yards on 18 completions, no scores, one interception, one fumble lost. His worst game of the season, only good for 9.7 fantasy points. That hasn’t happened to him at any other point to that extent, but Watson already has had two other games at-or-under 15 fantasy points to go with a couple of 22-point performances and four games in the thirties—plus an explosion of 46 points. That, to me, is a risky play. Perhaps not in the sense of “he’s going to end the weekend with five points” but definitely in playing someone expected to score big-time points that can easily end upsetting you if you’re locked into that sky-high ceiling. Play Watson if you want points, sure, but don’t be disappointed if he scores half of what you had in mind. Oh, and Indianapolis isn’t the greatest of matchups (11th against QBs), mind you.
WR Amari Cooper, DAL (at NE)
What is the deal with Cooper? I guess we’ll need to wait until February or at least January to truly know what has been bugging him all season long. I don’t even remember the first time I heard about “banged-up Cooper” this season, but it’s been a while now. Whatever it is, it is impacting his performances weekly in bigger or smaller ways, but it’s definitely there. Cooper is still one of the best receivers in the league, don’t get it wrong, as he’s the WR4 overall this season. But his performances have been quite a carousel for his owners. It looked like he had stabilized from Week 7 to Week 10 (15.6, 18.0, 31.7 points) but hen last weekend he finished with just 38 yards on three receptions for a measly 6.8 fantasy points. He also had a 9.8-point game back in Week 4 and a ridiculous 1.3-point outing in Week 6 (he left injured, but that is another risk baked into playing Cooper weekly). Even if he’s ready to go this weekend, putting him in your lineup against New England doesn’t sound like the most intelligent move. Not that I need to introduce you the Pats defense at this point, but... No. 1 in the nation, that’s all I’m saying.
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 Mark Ingram, BAL (at LAR)
Playing in an offense that features the no. 1 rusher in the nation—Lamar Jackson, that is—Ingram is being able to still excel at the game of football. Jokes aside, Ingram has been great on a weekly basis. He’s averaging 16.2 fantasy points this season and he’s clearly the go-to tailback in the Ravens offense, and he’s even shown some receiving prowess by getting 20-plus yards through the air in five of his 10 games this season. The thing to like the most about Ingram is that he’s been pretty consistent with his fantasy scores. Sure, he’s had four under-10 outings this season, but he’s topped 23 points only once (35.5 points in Week 3), so you know you’re not playing an ultra-high ceiling player and building false hopes in him. To be fair, Ingram can be considered a 16-point player with the chance to hit the twenties on a good day and not many chances of dropping under 10 points if only because of his constant scoring (he’s scored a touchdown in four of his past six games).
QB Matt Ryan, ATL (vs TB)
This game looks like the shootout of the week by a mile. Both Winston and Ryan love to throw bombs from the pocket, so expect fireworks and of the resounding type. Pretty much like Winston—not that exaggerated, though—Ryan goes the distance often without caring that much about the consequences. He’s hit the 300-mark passing in seven of the nine games he’s played in 2019 and has failed to throw a touchdown just twice. He had to leave the field injured back in Week 8 against Seattle and that limited him to just 8.2 fantasy points. Other than that, Ryan has always reached at least 18 fantasy points and topped at 35.2 with another game at 34.5. He usually moves around the 20-to-25 clip of points, though, and it is almost impossible to see him drop from there. That is what makes him a sure-thing at the position. More than risk, he brings upside and booming potential, and this matchup surely is one in which he should offer a great floor to go with the very real chance of hitting the thirties if all clicks for him and the Falcons attack.
RB Phillip Lindsay, DEN (at BUF)
Even in a timeshare as Lindsay is having this season with Royce Freeman, the sophomore is having quite a nice year. And things are starting to look even better for him with Denver claiming that he’ll start getting a heavier load during the final stretch of the season. It already happened last weekend, as Lindsay out-snapped Freeman 52 to 24 against Minnesota. As is the case with other players, Lindsay starting the season in a very random way by posting performances of down to seven fantasy points and all the way up to 29, making him a weekly risky bet. He’s settled lately, though, as in his past five games he’s logged between 9.5 and 15.5 points in four of them. That is in line with his season average (13.9) and makes him quite a safe play with a solid 10-point floor and the chance to hit the 15-to-20 range on good nights. Buffalo is giving up the 13th-most points to RBs, and Brandon Allen is the Broncos starter, so no matter what Lindsay will see his fair amount of touches and rack up points this weekend.
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.
WR D.J. Moore, CAR (at NO)
This is the second year of Moore in the NFL and I can confirm, D.J. Moore doesn’t know how to score a touchdown. It is soooo frustrating, because he played 16 games last season and scored two, and this year in 10 games he has one but he’s already just nine yards short of his total in 2018. Moore is clearly besting what he did last season, but the scores seem to never arrive. Dammit. But don’t worry too much about it, though. Even without the touchdowns, Moore has been a beast all year. He’s only fallen from 10 fantasy points twice in 10 games (7.4 and 8.8) and you can bet your house Moore is going to finish every week with between 14 and 17 points. He’s only topped that mark once (21 points this past weekend), but other than that you know what you’re getting and those 14.8 average points he’s currently holding are no joke. In fact, Moore has reached 95-plus yards in his last three games while logging 10-plus targets and 7-plus receptions and every one of them. The touchdowns must be coming, there is no way they don’t.
QB Derek Carr, OAK (at NYJ)
Who is laughing now? Hahaha. The Raiders are, folks. This team is not an all-timer, not by any means, but hey, did you expect them to do what they’re doing? And if you’ve not paid a lot of attention, Derek Carr has been more than a big part of it so far. Carr is playing resounding football in 2019. He’s reached 200 passing yards in all of his games but two (198 and 189, though), has thrown 15 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Sure, those are not MVP numbers, but he’s keeping Oakland alive and he’s been a weekly point-getter for fantasy players. Same as D.J. Moore (read above), Carr has only two outings out of the norm (11.7 and 12.3 points) and even those weren’t really horrid. His ceiling is at 26.3 points this season (Week 8), but his average of 18.4 points is even on the low-end of what he’s been doing lately: in his last five games, Carr has finished with 20.7, 26.3, 22.5, 15.3, and 22.7 fantasy points. That makes for an average of 21.5 points, a mark only 11 quarterbacks are maintaining this season.
RB James White, NE (vs DAL)
White is back in the column. It’s been a long time, pal. If you have read this before, you already know how ridiculous White’s season has been. He’s been so constant that it was actually hard to believe. It looked like he was playing to a certain performance on purpose. Every one of his first seven games yielded a fantasy score between 11.9 and 13.8 points, and only his last two have been out of that range. In the last two games he’s played White has reached both his ceiling (16.4) and his floor (9.6) of the year, but even those two performances didn’t deviate a lot for what he’s known for. The Cowboys are giving up the 12th-most points to opposing rushers, and in their last two games, they have allowed backfield to score one touchdown each and rack up 237 and 114 yards from scrimmage respectively for 37.7 and 21.4 fantasy points. Don’t hesitate and play White if you think 12 points are good enough for you to help you win the weekend.