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 15 there are 561 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 16 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 John Ross, CIN (at MIA)
That thing pushing you to play Ross this weekend? It’s called primacy bias. Remember all the way back in September when Ross torched Seattle for 158 yards and three touchdowns? Of course, you do because the first game of the season stays with us longer as we’re anticipating the kickoff as much as anything. You know Ross’ upside is there, and it’s true because he did something similar in his second game to San Francisco (112 yards and another TD). The problem, though, is that Ross’ next two games finished with him getting 4.2 and 6.6 FP respectively, then he missed the next nine weeks due to injury, and when he came back for weeks 14 and 15 he was again limited to 4.8 and 4.4 FP against Cleveland and New England. Making the decision tougher, though, is the fact that Cincinnati plays Miami this weekend, which theoretically should boost Ross’ chances of having a booming performance. This is the final week of the season and you’re playing for the chip. Are you willing to bet on a potential 5-OR-30 FP player come Saturday?
WR Tyler Lockett, SEA (vs ARI)
Finally, Lockett got things right. After four straight weeks (one before the bye) on the under-10 fantasy points group of players (he topped at 8.3 in Week 14 and laid a literal egg in Week 13), Lockett played his way to a delicious 26 FP against Carolina this past weekend (120 yards on 8/9 receptions and a touchdown). That should be Lockett every weekend as far as we knew him, but sadly that’s far from this year’s reality. Sure, Lockett had a rocketing start to the year with six games over 14 FP during the first nine weeks of the season, only dropping under 10 FP once. In that span, Lockett was a top-60 player in fantasy football and was averaging 19 FP per game. Since Week 10 (included), his average has dropped all the way down to 9 FP (!) and he’s only bested 43 yards once while scoring a single touchdown this past week over that five-game stretch. The targets have been there all the time, so the issues have been related to him exclusively. If everything goes well against Arizona, Lockett can win you the championship. If it goes south, though, you might go to work next Monday carrying the ultimate L.
Week 16 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 SF)
The narrative around Kupp has been so negative lately that it is hard to only consider him “relatively” risky for the fantasy finals. But that’s actually the truth, as he’s not been that bad nor good for that long, and he hasn’t had prolonged horrid/great performance peaks. In fact, Kupp’s volatility comes from mostly from his Weeks 6 to 12 span, in which he averaged 11.6 FP but had a low of 0 FP (Week 10, four targets) and a peak of 35 FP (Week 8, 220 yards and one TD on seven receptions). During the rest of the season, though, Kupp has been moderately reliable and provided value within some boundaries. Of his other eight games out of that said span, Kupp caught passes for 50-plus yards or scored one or more touchdowns in six of them. He also had five games getting between 16 and 26 fantasy points and deviated from that range in only three cases (11.6, 14.5, and 33.2 FP). All in all, Kupp can be considered a player with a true-fantasy talent of around 20 FP with upside to reach the 25-30 points and the chance of being limited to 10 on a bad day. That’s the risk you’ll be taking with him, on in a 10-to-25 FP clip. On his side, though, a three-game scoring streak.
WR Breshad Perriman, TB (vs HOU)
I can’t think of any other player with a late explosion bigger than Perriman. All stars have aligned to make Breshad the ultimate league-winner in fantasy this year once we reached the last week of the regular season and the playoffs stretch. Perriman’s last three games: 5/87/0 for 13.7 FP, 3/70/1 for 16 FP, and 5/113/3 for 34.6 FP. Insane production and only getting better weekly. Mike Evans getting injured helped his chances and now with Chris Godwin out at least for this upcoming weekend, he’ll keep getting all the opportunities he can handle. But the risk of playing Perriman is still sky-high. This guy’s first nine games of the season amounted to 32.2 combined fantasy points (three goose eggs, one 14.2-point performance included), while his last three have gone for 64.3 (virtually the freaking double in one-third of games!). The targets have not varied that much. He averaged 3.6 in his last nine, and 5.7 in his last three. His last weekend’s monster game is a total outlier, too: Perriman had not reached more than 87 yards before, only had two touchdowns (on separate games), and his five receptions were also a season-high. I believe in Perriman because Jameis Winston is a volume/fantasy darling and because of the Bucs’ injured receiving corps, but don’t get too mad if he looks like a dumpster fire next Saturday and helps you lose your league.
Week 16 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.
QB Kyler Murray, ARI (at SEA)
Saucy safe play, isn’t it? I know, I know. Never trust a rookie on high-stakes. But hey, Murray has been pretty good all year long, has stepped up his game weekly, and is definitely on the right evolutionary path. Only Cam Newton (12) and Robert Griffin (10) had more games of 150-plus yards passing and 30-plus yards rushing in their rookie seasons; Murray is at seven and can still reach nine. He’s got four touchdowns on the ground and rushed for 35-plus yards in five games (you know about this whole Konami Code cheat in fantasy football called rushing quarterbacks by now, right?). Murray’s averaging 20.9 FP on the season and he’s dropped under 15 FP just three times in 14 games. His low volatility of 7.5 points speaks wonders of him and his week-to-week scores prove it. Murray has had five games over 25 FP, another five between 18 and 25, and four at or under 15. That makes him a player more prone to score on the high-side than the low one, so you can expect a score between the 20 and 30 FP this weekend even more considering the Seahawks rank 23rd against QBs.
RB Chris Carson, SEA (vs ARI)
With Rashaad Penny out for the year, it is all about Chris Carson in Seattle’s backfield. His 25 touches last weekend weren’t a season-high, but don’t expect that number to drop any time soon. Carson has carried the ball 20-plus times in eight of his 14 games this season and he’s finished each of those with 65-plus rushing yards. In five of them, he also broke the 100-yard mark (he also did in Week 9 while carrying the ball just 16 times). He has 7 TDs on the year and three of them he has scored in the last three weeks. Carson is hot, and the backfield is open as ever for him to exploit it full-time. Barring two under-10 FP blips in weeks 3 (6 FP in 16 touches) and 12 (9.7 FP on 12 touches), Carson has had a magnificent season: he’s finished with at least 15 FP in nine of his 14 games, and although he’s shown a relatively “low” 25-point ceiling, pretty much all of his games finished with him in the 15-to-20 range without fail, making him one of the most reliable plays week after week. He just had his best game of the year last weekend against Carolina (137 yards from scrimmage, two scores, 26.7 FP), and Arizona should make it easy for him again come Sunday.
Week 16 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 Mike Williams, LAC (vs OAK)
Will fantasy owners—and football fans altogether—appreciate Mike Williams once for all? Yes, he’s a shaky player and his production varies inside single games, let alone full weeks. It was a peekaboo game with Williams for the earliest part of the year, but he’s locked himself into a pretty steady production lately and he’s got to 70-plus yards in three of his last four games while scoring two touchdowns in that span. Williams’ targets were really high early in the season—more than seven from weeks 1 to 7), and they’re down five in his last six games but he’s making the most of them. He’s had a couple of 111-plus games in his second half of the year, and those two paired with the two games in which he scored a TD have helped Williams get to 14-plus FP in four of his last six outings. Williams is starting to look like a true 10-point floor player with upside to reach 15-plus FP weekly, so if you need a dose of points in that range there is almost a hundred percent chance Williams will give them to you easily.
RB Kareem Hunt, CLE (vs BAL)
Nothing more to say about Kareem Hunt now that he’s made himself a weekly fixture at the bottom of my column. He’s been really that impressive in his short time playing for the Browns. One, two games might be a bit of a small sample. Five, on the other hand, not so much. Those are the ones Hunt has played already this season and all of his performances have finished with him getting to between 46 and 76 yards from scrimmage. That might not seem like a lot of yardage, but even in that low 46-yard performance he still entered the paint for a TD making up for it. He’s scored three touchdowns on the year (one receiving, two rushing), he’s being targeted six times per game and catching an average of five passes per, and even on low usage on the ground (average of six rushing attempts a day) Hunt is still putting up 4.6 YPC. There is no player scoring more fantasy points (Hunt is averaging 14.5 FP through his five games) at such low volatility (2.1 FP of variance). Seriously, just look at the chart above: every player remotely close to Hunt (Eli Manning, Bo Scarbrough, Ryan Finley, James O’Shaughnessy,...) is either injured or has played fewer games, and even with that the distance is staggering. Congratulations on drafting Hunt, stashing him, waiting for his comeback, and fielding him in your league-winning lineup. You the real MVP.