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 14 there are 551 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 15 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 Emmanuel Sanders, SF (vs ATL)
If you have read previous entries of this column, you know I normally highlight one of the best players of the prior week as a risky play. It is logical, as those booming performances usually don’t align with such players’ averages on the season. Our Week 14 hero: Emmanuel Sanders and his 34.5 FP game, the best among non-quarterbacks. Oh, by the way, those were 22.1 FP over his season average of 12.4, just so you know... Sanders has had three games inside the top-20 performers this year (one in Denver, two in San Fran), and has posted scores of 15-plus points five times. The problem is that he has also had duds of under 10 fantasy points in six of his nine other games... While playing for the 49ers Sanders has been a complete headache: he went from 12.5 to 24.2 points and it all looked great, until he hit a massive four-game slump of not scoring more than 8 FP until he exploded last weekend. Sanders has the potential to win you the semis and put your team in the championship game, but you need to have the cojones to play such a volatile player at this point. Fingers crossed for all of you brave enough.
WR Darius Slayton, NYG (vs MIA)
Speaking of ultra-massive one-off performers... Slayton finished Week 14 with 154 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions for a monster 32.4 FP game. Playing under Eli Manning! What’s not to love!? Well, for one it is not certain that Manning will be there in Week 15. For two you can read that last sentence again: Eli Manning was the one helping Slayton reach those points. This is as much as “do you trust Eli?” as is “do you trust Slayton?”. I don’t either. Slayton was averaging 12.1 FP prior to New York’s bye week, and is on a way higher 17.8 FP average from Week 11 on. He’s scored at least 10 points in every one of his last three games, and you can probably take that as his floor, but you can also forget about him reaching 30 FP weekly too. Slayton reached 34 in Week 10 but prior to that he had just scored more than 11 FP in just two other games, with lows of 3, 6, 5, and 2 FP during the first part of the season. There is no longer a quarterback dilemma in New York, but there are doubts due to Daniel Jones’ health and who knows who will be at the helm, and what the outcome could be. Slayton has the talent, but he’s also stuck in a horrid scenario even going against the hapless Dolphins.
Week 15 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.
WR Cooper Kupp, LAR (at DAL)
How is Kupp a risky play if he’s on a back-to-back scoring streak, averaging 16.5 FP in that span, and scoring seven touchdowns and counting on the season!? Well, things are not as rosy as the overall picture makes them look. The Rams last two games have been good, they’ve come back to their winning ways, and Kupp himself has re-established himself as a reliable offensive weapon. But I just don’t see it. Kupp’s last two games (18.5 and 14.5 FP) are the white to his prior three’s (0.0, 8.3, 9.5) black. Forget about early-season Kupp, because that player and levels of performance seem to be completely out of the equation now. Was it not for his two touchdowns in those last two games, Kupp would have finished with fewer than 12 and 7 FP, which is ridiculously low, and his targets are nothing to like either (he’s topped six only once in his last five games). Jared Goff and Cooper Kupp showed a terrific rapport during the first eight games of the season but all of that went south after the bye. Another high ceiling, low floor player these days that could win you the semis but is at a very high risk of putting on a dud against a stout Cowboys D.
TE Mark Andrews, BAL (vs NYJ)
It sounds like Andrews is on the right path to playing against the Jets this week after leaving the field banged up last Sunday. Assuming he plays, you might consider him a lock to be your starting TE, and you wouldn’t be too wrong about it. At the end of the day, Andrews is the TE8 on the season averaging 12.8 FP per game, which is more than good for the position. The problem with Andrews is that his outcomes have fluctuated quite a lot in the last six games. He came back from the bye and put on a horrid 4.1-FP performance, then caught three touchdowns in the next two games, went back to Earth in Week 12 (6.5 FP), scored another touchdown in Week 13, and last weekend he could only catch one pass on limited time due to injury. Baltimore is expected to put Lamar Jackson on the field, although if the game turns into a blowout he might get off and rest a bit. That wouldn’t bode well for a banged-up Andrews that even when healthy has given as many good as bad as average performances to his owners. Not saying he’s a bad play, but don’t go into your semifinals matchup with great expectations if you put him in your lineup just in case you go home thanks to a more-than-possible disappointing performance from the sophomore.
Week 15 moderately-safe plays
These players have standard deviations from their averages between 5 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.
WR Julian Edelman, NE (at CIN)
The Patriots are crawling their way to the postseason and they will get there, that’s a lock, but their overall game has dropped a few levels lately. Everybody is on the yearly “Brady is done” wave once again, and it’s only a matter of time Tommy flex on them, as this is not his fault but rather a receiving corps completely barred of talent. The only name providing weekly treats to Brady and his fantasy owners has been Julian Edelman and all of his 33 years of age. The veteran hasn’t fallen under 15 FP since Week 7 (13.7), and only has two games under 10 FP this season all the way back in weeks 2 and 4. Since returning from the bye week he’s caught five or more passes in every one of his four games, reached 93 or more yards in three of them, and scored a touchdown in his last two. Edelman’s last four fantasy tallies: 15.1, 17.3, 21.9, and 24.3, two of them against two top-10 defenses in the league. If only because the Pats have no more sure-fire options on offense (Edelman’s been targeted 10-plus times in his last eight games), Edelman is one of the safest plays out there and he also carries a very high floor with him.
RB Leonard Fournette, JAX (at OAK)
The Jaguars are a little bit of a mess and Fournette was disappointing in his last game against the Chargers in Week 14 but the volume was still there and another under-10-FP performance shouldn’t happen this weekend. Fournette has been a lock to score more than 12 FP all season long, his average sits at 18.1, and he has shown a 36-FP ceiling (Week 12, 159 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns). I wouldn’t expect either his floor or his ceiling to be the outcome this weekend against Oakland, but a 20-FP performance should be easy for him to reach once more. He’s had five games over his fantasy average already, keeps rushing the ball a ton of times per game (more than 17 times on average in his last three), his usage on the passing game has ticked up (29 targets in his last three), and he’s racked up 313 total yards from Week 12 on. Fournette has lacked scoring numbers all year long, but I’m on the believers in him getting inside the end zone at least a couple more times in the remaining games. It could happen this week (Oakland ranks 23rd against RBs) raising his ceiling even more.
Week 15 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 Cole Beasley, BUF (at PIT)
When it comes to the fantasy football playoffs, you definitely need your heaviest weapons working at his best. They most probably will put on great performances, but your win may rest on what the “others” do. One second-plane actor performing like a leading one has been Cole Beasley. Not only has he been a reliable player all year long (12.4 FP on average), but also he’s leveled up his game quite a bit in his last three games: 19.6, 23.0, and 12.9 fantasy tallies in games in which he has scored a touchdown each time. Josh Allen always trusted Beasley prior to this late streak of scoring matches (Beasley had another three-game streak of scoring one-one-one), but the connection has been incredible since Week 12. Beasley has seen seven or more targets in his last three games, caught passes for 75-plus yards in two of them, and did it all against three top-15 defenses (including no. 6 Denver and no. 8 Dallas). Beasley might not be your WR1 this weekend, but he shouldn’t be worse than your WR2 or flex without any question if you want to make it to the final game of the season.
RB Kareem Hunt, CLE (at ARI)
I have to admit I wasn’t too high on Kareem Hunt this season. Now, I have to eat the L. Hunt is playing incredibly for the Browns on a secondary role. It’s been five games, but Hunt has virtually reached 12 FP in every one of them and topped at 17.5 in Week 13. Again, his role has limited him to no more than 12 touches at most, yet he’s been able to produce more than a fantasy point per touch easily. That is insane. Seriously, he’s averaging 1.3 FP per touch, which is a better average than Aaron Jones, Christian McCaffrey, and Dalvin Cook. The sample size is smaller, sure, but the talent is undeniable. If you need your healthy dose of 14 FP, there is probably not a better player to get them than Hunt these days (perhaps only TE Travis Kelce is a safer/high-upside bet, but they’re very close). Hunt will keep featuring in the Browns offense, faces a below-average defense against the rush in Arizona, and is on a three-game scoring streak. You can’t go wrong with Kareem the Dream.