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 12 there are 520 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 11-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, HOU (vs NE)
I have been waiting for this moment since Fuller went down injured in Week 7, I’m not going to lie. Fuller has been—by far—the most volatile player of the season ever since he posted that ridiculous 53.7-fantasy points game back in Week 5. No one has caught passes for more than 200 yards and three touchdowns this season, and only two players (Amari Cooper and Cooper Kupp) have bested that 217-yard mark while only one (Marvin Jones) has scored four touchdowns in a single game. That was obviously not going to hold, and Fuller hit a wall a week later with five receptions for 44 yards and 9.4 fantasy points. His previews four games were all at or under 10 fantasy points, but as you could expect he came back in Week 12 and had another great game to the tune of 140 yards on seven receptions for 21 FP. No wonder Fuller is the only player averaging more than 10 FP with a volatility higher than his average by almost two full points. The booming upside will always be there, but the goose egg is part of Fuller’s build. Oh, and I haven’t mention New England will be at the other end this weekend.
WR Stefon Diggs, MIN (at SEA)
Welcome to the wonderful world of Stefon Diggs, whose season has been the definition of the Bell Curve. That is a horrid start, a torrid mid-season set of performances, and (mostly) a late flop to his season-start ways. Diggs averaged 9.5 FP during the first five games, topping at 17.8 in Week 4 (108 yards on seven catches). He then went on a massive run of games in which he scored 43.5 FP, 21.2, and 21.3. Those games translated to 452 yards and three touchdowns combined on seven receptions in each match. Awesome, but definitely bound for regression. Diggs last three games: four, 49, and 121 yards on one, three, and five receptions respectively. A run of 2.6 FP, 7.9, and 23.1. The trend is going upward, sure, but Minnesota comes from its bye and who knows what can be next on Diggs performance column. It’s been a down-and-up-and-down-and-up season for him so far, so... is another valley coming against Seattle? The defense is average but Adam Thielen could be back and eat some of Diggs’ opportunities on Monday.
WR Cooper Kupp, LAR (at ARI)
Even with how good the matchup should be for the Rams, their offense has been so putrid as of late that playing any of Los Angeles’ offensive players feels like a total gamble. Jared Goff didn’t have a bad start to the season and the Rams receiving corps took advantage of it. Just look at the impressive run by Kupp: in four of his first five games he broke the 100-yard barrier and he had scored four touchdowns through Week 5. He averaged 26.1 FP from weeks 2 to 5 and finished three times inside the top-22 performers of the week in that span. The problem for Kupp—and the Rams as a whole—has been the massive dip in performance from Week 6 onward. In his last six games, Kupp has only scored more than 11 fantasy points once in an explosive Week 8 game (220 yards, seven catches, a touchdown). He even had a ZERO-game in Week 10 when he couldn’t catch any of his four targets, and the other four outings weren’t much better for him topping at 53 yards or six receptions. Arizona makes things easier than most other teams, but you can’t trust a player like Kupp in an attack like Los Angeles’.
Week 11 relatively-risky plays
These players have standard deviations from their averages between 8 and 11 fantasy points. We’re starting to get into the meat of the player’s pool, and decisions start to get tougher here.
RB Nick Chubb, CLE (at PIT)
As I’ve already said in earlier entries of this column, being volatile doesn’t mean being a bad player. Any of the three players in the chart of the prior section could qualify as a star or at least a very good player. The same goes for Chubb here. He is the RB6 in the season with an average of 18.7 FP per game. The problem with Chubb comes with what do you expect from him weekly due to his volatility. At 9.4 FP it is quite high although his floor has not been lower than 9.2 points this season. But Chubb has been quite unpredictable in terms of his ceiling and the “false promises” you could have fallen into. He had three games under 20 points to start the year (scored a single touchdown), then he went all the way for a 39.3-FP game in which he logged 183 yards from scrimmage and scored three (!) touchdowns on the ground. Week 5? Back to the earth with a bad 10.9 game. Week 6? Rocketed to the moon with another multi-touchdown (two) performance and 139 yards from scrimmage. He then entered a four-game streak of no scoring and logged wild variations of yardage (131 to 65 to 116 to 92), and finally this past weekend he again had a monster 164-yard, touchdown performance. No way you know what will happen next, but at least he’s got a nice floor. Just don’t get caught too much in his upside.
WR Marquise Brown, BAL (vs SF)
Just mentioning Brown’s number on the season let you know how risky a bet he is: among receivers averaging 13.5-plus fantasy points per game on at least nine games played, Brown has the lowest number of receptions with 35. That is, eight fewer than second-lowest Kenny Golladay’s and 11 fewer than third-lowest Michael Gallup. Either Brown is the smartest and most-efficient receiver ever to step into a gridiron, or he’s had a fair amount of opportunity-luck—while playing for the mighty Ravens, which also helps. Actually, Brown’s weekly scores show how inaccurate our projections of him would be if tried to perform. He started the season with a 30.7- and 16.6-point games, then followed those with four matches under 12 FP, bounced back to 18 FP, crashed all the way down to 4.3, and put up 21.2 again last Monday against the Rams. Such is life with Marquise Brown. Was it not for his touchdowns, Brown would have bested 12 FP only twice this season in nine games, as he has yet to reach 100 receiving yards in a single match. The flashes are nice and all, but Brown is not someone to rely on.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo, SF (at BAL)
Jimmy G has saved face lately and raised his season-average in fantasy points, but that has mostly been thanks to facing the Cardinals two times in a span of three weeks. In those two games, he threw 8 combined touchdowns and reached 741 yards, finishing with 32.1 and 33.9 points. Other than that, though, Garoppolo has been rather mediocre and just navigated the season to this point. He has reached 20 points in just other two games, and his average his closer to 16 FP than to the bulked-up one he currently has (19.2) after those couple of mirage-games. Garoppolo is certainly on the rise, but this past weekend against Green Bay (ninth-best defense against QB) he dropped back to under 20 FP again and the Ravens rank as a top-five defense against the position currently. I’d always go on the low with expectations about Garoppolo, and this tough matchup makes it even easier to go and fade him.
Week 11 moderately-safe plays
These players have standard deviations from their averages between 4 and 8 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.
QB Jameis Winston, TB (at JAX)
I love Jameis. It’s been a wild ride—not just this season, but his whole career—but he keeps his numbers up no matter what. Do you know how many times has Winston thrown for fewer than 200 yards this season? Once, in Week 1. Do you know how many times has Winston thrown at least an interception this season? A massive eight. But, do you also know in how many games has Winston failed to throw a touchdown? Zero. Zip. Nil. Call him what you want, but you know Winston will give you those sweet points weekly. You tell me Winston is averaging 22 FP per game, and I believe you to the bottom of my heart. Has he had the eventual lapse? Sure, he finished Week 1 and Week 2 with nine and 15.3 fantasy points. Does he offer a high ceiling? Absolutely, as he showed in the weeks 3 and 4 span going for 29.3 and 33.2 fantasy points. But that is extreme-Winston. Other than that, he’s a pretty reliable fantasy quarterback able to give you between 20 and 25 points without sweating it. That’s why you play Winston almost without giving it a second thought, interceptions or not.
QB Derek Carr, OAK (at KC)
Astonishing scenes in New York last weekend, weren’t they? The Jets broke Oakland’s spine in two and ripped its flesh straight from the bone. But let’s be honest, do you expect another ultra-bad outing from Carr like the one he had against New York? Really? Count me out of that bunch of hopeless folks. Carr has been great this season and a steady performer. Barring last weekend’s and other two games, Carr has always had himself a 15-plus fantasy points day this season. He hasn’t reached more than 26.3 points in the year, but if you’re going for the safe play you know high-upsides are not a thing for you. If we exclude this week’s horrid 5.5-point game, Carr was on a five-game streak in which he was averaging 21.5 FP per game while throwing at least a touchdown in each game and only one interception in all five combined. He even added an extra score on the ground in Week 20.
RB Le’Veon Bell, NYJ (at CIN)
We are not going to fool anyone into believing Bell has played for the Jets as the good old Bell of yesteryear. The man has had a rather average-ish season in his new surroundings, but has found his pace lately and he’s one of the most solid performers in the field every weekend. After starting the season with a couple of good games logging 92 and 129 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, Bell went on a five-week slump in which he could only reach up to 98 yards and a touchdown just once. His best game amounted to only 15.8 points after having two 23.2- and 22.9-point matches to kickstart the year. But from Week 9 on Bell has come back to his best ways—for his 2019 season standards at least—and is currently on a four-game streak of reaching at least 68 yards from scrimmage and scoring 15-plus fantasy points. Bell’s average on the season is 15.4 FP and I wouldn’t say he’s got a floor lower than 12 points. He isn’t going to give you more than 25 points any time, but you can count on 15-to-20 from him easily.
TE Travis Kelce, KC (vs OAK)
I hate discussing tight ends. Actually, I don’t mind discussing tight ends at all, but finding who to talk about or who to play or sit weekly is a madman’s job. Kelce doesn’t pose such a headache, though, as he’s the TE2 on the season and current TE1 with Hooper out injured. His total 170.3 FP lead the position by far through 11 games (Zach Ertz has 158.2 on 11 games too), but the best trait of Kelce’s game in fantasy leagues is his low volatility. He was a little banged up and suffered from Mahomes absence mid-season but he has logged fewer than 10 FP only once, and six of his 11 games he finished with 15-plus FP. In fact, he has three 20-plus FP performances on the year and his last two games have gone for 20.5 and 22.2 points. Kelce has caught a touchdown in three of his last four games. The Raiders are allowing the fifth-most points per game to TEs, so this should be another big week for Kelce playing at home.
Week 11 ultra-safe plays
These players have standard deviations from their averages between 0 and 4 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 Cole Beasley, BUF (at DAL)
Beasley plays on Turkey-Day and the matchup is not great, but Beasley has been the closest thing to a matchup-proof play you can imagine. Keep in mind we’re going for the safest plays here. That means that players in this part of the column usually doesn’t offer high ceilings. Beasley had his best game against Denver this past Sunday (19.6 points) but other than that he’s never even reached 15 FP in the season. His floor has been as low as a 5.1-game in Week 5 but that is not what I’d expect from him going forward. Beasley is more of a true-average player. He’s scoring 11.6 FP per game and in fact, seven of his 11 games have ended within a range of three points up or down that mark. Good play if you need some 10-ish points and are in a position when those would be enough to win you the weekend and edge your opponent.
RB Kareem Hunt, CLE (at PIT)
I usually tend to avoid small samples, but Hunt is such a stud that we can make an exception with him. In his three games with the Browns, Hunt has rushed for 79 yards on 18 attempts while adding 99 through the air on 15 receptions. He scored his first touchdown for Cleveland this past weekend against Miami, and he has finished his three games with between 11.8 and 14.4 fantasy points. That has made Hunt a really solid and safe play if you’re just looking to get some sure points at the flex spot. The presence of Nick Chubb in the backfield is always going to hurt his upside, but on a limited number of opportunities, Hunt is always going to work and provide points no matter what. He’s logged more rushing attempts each passing week and although his targets dropped this past weekend that could be related to the game script more than anything. Cleveland needs to do all they can to sneak into the playoffs so expect Hunt to keep his production up.