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 9 there are 487 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 10 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 Latavius Murray, NO (vs ATL)
I get it. Most of Murray’s volatility this season comes down to his first six games usage rate compared to his last two (Alvin Kamara was out) but that doesn’t mean that information should be totally discarded. New Orleans comes from a bye this weekend, and Kamara should be back. Murray’s numbers in the first six weeks of the season ranged from 0.2 fantasy points to 12.7, which is wild already. He’s been pretty solid in his two weeks as a starter (32 and 36.7 points) racking up more than 100 rushing yards in each game and scoring four combined touchdowns either on the ground or through the air. No matter what, with Kamara probably back in the lineup Murray pencils in as the riskiest of risky propositions for Week 10 and Atlanta, though not the hardest of matchups, should make things a little tough for the Saints rushers.
WR Marvin Jones Jr., DET (at CHI)
The Lions receiving corps have been quite an experience this season, to say the least. Only three players at the position have been fantasy-relevant (Kenny Golladay, Jones, Danny Amendola) but the swings in opportunities and production they have gone through are ridiculous. In fact, all three players have volatility values over nine points, though Jones lead them by a mile with his 13.4 mark. Normal with what he’s been up to all season long but even more during the past four weeks. Starting in Week 6 and through Week 9 Marvin Jones has scored a combined 79.8 fantasy points, five touchdowns, 258 receiving yards and 24 targets overall. Those are great numbers, again, combined. The problem with Jones is that breaking them down he looks as boom-or-bust as anyone: he had a 17-yard game in Week 6, a four-touchdown performance in Week 7, a 22-yard match in Week 8, and a massive 126-yard plus TD game in Week 9. All in all, fantasy scores of 3.7, 43.3, 6.2, and 26.6 points. Numbers say he’s about to have a dud, and a good Chicago’s D might help it happen.
RB Aaron Jones, GB (vs CAR)
Just when you think the #FreeAaronJones movement is about to succeed, it goes and explodes in your face. Jones’ season can be divided (to this point) in four slices that repeat the same pattern: bad to good to great and back again to horrid. Weeks 1 to 2: 4.9 points to 25.0 points. Weeks 3 to 5: 15.3 to 17.8 to 49.2. Weeks 6 to 8: 10 to 18.3 to 41.6. Week 9: all the way back to 3.9. The hell is wrong with Green Bay and Aaron Jones? Carolina is a cupcake when it comes to stopping running backs, and if Jones season keeps going as it has up to now, then he should be in for at least a good one this weekend. But can you trust such a volatile player? I mean, this guy has maintained a fairly constant amount of touches per game, and with similar opportunities, he’s been able to put on such great performances as that of 49-plus points and bad ones as the 10-point game in Week 10.
Week 10 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.
RB Tevin Coleman, SF (vs SEA)
Coleman is a great football player, that is for sure, and it is a shame he missed three of the Niners games due to injury early in the season. Since he came back in Week 5, though, he’s shown flashes of elite talent but also how he can crap all over the place on any given night. Week 8 Coleman turned into Über-Coleman, the superhero capable of putting up 37.8 fantasy points to the tune of 105 yards on the ground for three TDs and another score through the air on just two receptions. That is peak, ultimately great Coleman. Chump-Coleman appeared two times since Week 5, concretely in Weeks 7 (8.1 points) and 9 (5.6), which is concerning. Why? Well, he was targeted the same times as his average tells, and rushed the ball 20 and 12 times respectively, while only reaching 62 and 23 yards on the ground—far from his 105 yards in Week 8. San Francisco’s backfield is all his now and he should be good to give you more than 15 points on a good day, but he’s also always in play for putting on a big dud.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, MIA (at IND)
Speaking of risky plays... I’ll never grow tired of watching Fitzpatrick play football. Love him or hate him, but he makes things fun. Perhaps not so much for his fantasy owners, though. I could have not written anything here other than “you know Fitzmagic”, but well, I guess I should put on a little greater effort. So Fitzpatrick is the go-to QB in Miami now, but his performances have been a string of up-and-downs. Even if we don’t count his two incomplete games in Weeks 2 and 3 (minus-1 and 1.5 points), his volatility would still be high as he’s had performances ranging from 11.1 points to 26.6. He can as easily throw for 130 yards, for 280, for no interceptions, for three or them, for three touchdowns, or for none. Fitzpatrick is just a Russian roulette, and Indianapolis isn’t the toughest of opponents (10th-best defense against QBs) but they should lead the game and force Fitz to throw the rock, which who knows how could end up looking.
WR Marquise Brown, BAL (at CIN)
After missing three weeks due to an ankle injury Brown was back on the field for Baltimore. Do you remember when Brown started the season with a massive 147-yard, two-touchdown game? Man, those were good summer times. And although not to that extent, he was able to follow that up with 86 yards and a 16.6 performance in Week 2. That’s nice, rook! But sadly, reality hit and it did in a hard way. Those are the only two performances from Brown in which he has surpassed 12 fantasy points and 50 receiving yards. The rest have ranged between 6.9 and 11.2 points, and 22 and 49 receiving yards. That is wild. Brown’s been targeted around six times per game (forget about that 13-target outlier in Week 2), and catching three passes on average, but his production is swinging like a crazy pendulum. Cincinnati is middle-the-pack against WRs and by playing Brown you can receive a booming outing in which two receptions are enough for him to rack up 125 yards and two scores, or you can get a putrid performance in which he can’t reach 20 yards on three catches, let alone score a touchdown.
Week 10 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.
QB Jameis Winston, TB (vs ARI)
Wait a minute, Jameis Winston in a section under the “safe plays” label? Hahahahaha! I must be kidding, right? Wrong. I wouldn’t like to be in Winston’s position, because he’s against the ropes fighting for a extension that most people think won’t come his way. But I don’t entirely agree. Winston is what Winston is, an all-or-nothing QB. Everybody knows he’s going to throw a pick or two every week, but he’s a lock to score you a touchdown no matter what, and that’s what he’s done this season in every game he’s played. Other than his bad season opener (194 yards, one TD, three INT, nine fantasy points), Winston has always scored more than 15 fantasy points and up to 33.2 in Week 4. Excluding those two extremes too, his games have all ranged between 18 and 29 points, for a volatility of just under nine points. That makes Winston a really solid play primed to pass for 300-plus yards every week, add a touchdown to that, and finish the day with around 22-25 fantasy points easily. Play Winston, you won’t regret it, even less against a plain bad Cardinals defense.
TE Austin Hooper, ATL (at NO)
Not that the Saints are giving free passes to tight ends (they rank 11th-best in points per game given to the position) but Austin Hooper himself is having a breakout season so far this year. I don’t think I’d say any—any—tight end is good enough to consider a weekly must-play but Hooper is the closest to it. Even with that, again, he doesn’t make it to the safest group of players. That is because even with his position-leading 17.9 points per game he still has had a few flops along the way. Hooper has fallen under 15 fantasy points three times with a season-low score of 7.4 points in Week 2. Hooper has also scored 22 or more points three times, up to 25.7 in Week 6. That makes for a volatility of 6.1 points, which is considerably manageable though as he’s been able to keep his play constant and out of too wild good/bad performance swings. Remember: no tight end is a sure play to hand you 15-plus points any time, but at least Hooper has kept it up steadily so he’s somehow reliable at a really weird fantasy position.
WR Jarvis Landry, CLE (vs BUF)
This blurb could have talked about Odell Beckham Jr. instead of Landry, and the content would have been pretty similar. I still think everybody out there having shares of OBJ will play him no matter what, so I’d rather sell you Landry as a safe start in Week 10. Perhaps Baker Mayfield’s shaky ways are the only thing keeping Landry out of the safest group of players, but he’s still a relatively safe guy to put in your lineup. He’s had his maladies (6.2, 9.2 and 6.6 games are on his log) but Landry avoided outliers (24.7 points in Week 4, no other game over 17.1) all season long. His volatility of 6.1 points—same as Austin Hooper’s—comes with a lower average of points per week (12.3) than Hooper’s but Landry is almost a lock to catch four passes for 50 yards weekly, making him a solid 10-point play with upside for more if Mayfield decides he wants to actually step up and play some football. Landry is also the go-to receiver in terms of targets, so that counts in his favor too.
Week 10 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 Josh Allen, BUF (at CLE)
I have already told you about Allen in past columns, but it is honestly ridiculous how consistent this kid has been. In nine games, Allen has only one performance out of the norm—a 10.3 fantasy points outing in Week 4 against New England, which you know, they good—and every other one of his games has finished with him racking up between 19.2 and 24.8 points. Allen has thrown at least a touchdown in all of those eight games and reached 200 yards in five of them while never surpassing 254. The upside for a booming performance might not be there, but you know what you’re getting in Allen and if you need some solid 20 points this weekend you know who you need to play. On top of that, he’s on a three-game streak in which he hasn’t thrown any interceptions and faces a Browns defense that is allowing the 12th-most fantasy points per game (22.4) to QBs. All things align.
WR D.J. Moore, CAR (at GB)
Other than in back-to-back games in Weeks 3 and 4 in which he was targeted two and five times, Moore has seen eight or more passes thrown his way in the other six games he’s played. In those six matches, he’s always caught five or more of balls. His fantasy scores have stayed between tight margins too: excluding Week 4 (7.4) and Week 8 (8.8), every other game he’s finished with a score ranging from 14.6 to 17.9. Those two outliers present cases in which, yes, Moore can let you down. But that is not the norm of his season so far. Moore is amassing 70 yards per game and hasn’t been touchdown-dependent at all with just one score in eight contests. His targets move around the eight-to-ten mark and he’s catching close to six passes per game. Trust Moore as you trust your confidant because he’s always going to give you points.
WR Auden Tate, CIN (vs BAL)
While Tate has benefited from A.J. Green’s absence—and John Ross, too—this season, it can’t be argued that he has turned into one of the most solid players out there. He’s probably not going to put on performance-of-the-week any time soon, even less playing for the Bengals, but he’s primed to score you 10 fantasy points weekly no matter who he faces. Even including his fantasy-nightmare Week 2 game (two targets, one reception, six yards, 1.6 points) his volatility is just of 4.4 points. Excluding that game, he’s finished every other one in between 9 and 14.8 points. He’s always caught at least three passes and racked up between 50 and 91 receiving yards in every game but one (26 yards in Week 5, though he made up for it scoring a touchdown). Tate has also been targeted at least once inside the 20-yard line from Week 4 on, and although he has just one TD to his name positive regression could be coming his way. Cincinnati will need to play catch-up against Baltimore, and Tate is the most reliable weapon they have in the roster, so bank on him this weekend.