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 13 there are 528 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 14 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 CLE)
Great news I woke up to this morning: John Ross is back and won’t be limited. Or so is coach Zac Taylor saying. Assuming that is true, and that Ross plays as many snaps as he can handle, we’ll be back riding the great Johnny Rollercoaster! The sample isn’t really large, but four games were enough to showcase how volatile a player like Ross is. He started the season with a massive 34.8-point performance of 158 receiving yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions. He followed that up with 112 more yards on just four catches, and another touchdown. Then, in weeks 3 and 4 Ross combined for 58 yards on five catches (12 targets). He went from 34.8 points to 21.2 and finally dropped to a season-low 4.2 points previewing his last outing of 6.6. Andy Dalton was starting back then, and he’s again now. A.J. Green remains out, and although Tate and Boyd and gotten heavier roles, Ross slots basically in the same position he left empty in Week 5. So what are you betting on? A massive comeback or a historical dud?
WR Sammy Watkins, KC (at NE)
If Ross had a good start to the year, then Watkins’ was great. In case you have forgotten: 198 yards, three scores, nine receptions on 11 targets and a league-leading 46.8 fantasy points to kick the season off. That fantasy tally has only been bested by other four performances through Week 13, so go figure. Obviously, we couldn’t expect Watkins to become a 45-point weekly performer, but he’s been pretty meh ever since. His average is all the way down to 11.5 points and he’s posted a couple of goose eggs in weeks 5 and 13. Yes, that was this last one, in which he was targeted three times but couldn’t catch a ball to finish wiz a zero in all valuable categories. Other than that, he’s had games ranging from 4.6 points to 13.3, but never again scored a touchdown in the season. Playing under Patrick Mahomes always brings massive upside along with it, and Watkins could be the next in line to eat the pie—I mean, look at that Week 1 result again. But do you trust the Russian Roulette working out for him this weekend against New England?
WR Mike Evans / Chris Godwin, TB (vs IND)
I’m not here to throw Evans nor Godwin under the bus. I’d be crazy to do so. Sure, they both have had massive ups and downs during the year, but this has more to do with the whole Bucs offense than their cases in particular. Evans had two bad games (7.5 FP on average), then two incredible ones (32.0), a zero-point game, three more good and greats (33.1) and is currently on a four-game streak of not even reaching 13 FP, not racking up more than 82 yards, and not catching more than four passes (10.4 on average in that span). Godwin started with two good games (20.2), then a seven-point one, then three great games (32.6), then a four-game streak of middling ones (12.8), an explosion (37.4) and last week a depressive outing (9 FP on 4 receptions for 50 yards). You see how both of them have bounced. There has only been one game in which both of them have scored 20-plus fantasy points each. More concerning, since Week 10 (included), only Godwin has had one single game of more than 14 fantasy points. Tampa is sinking and Winston is not being able to feed both of his eaters at the same time. Cool if you have/can play both, risky as hell if you have to opt for one alone.
Week 14 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 Marvin Jones, DET (at MIN)
The Lions attack is very clear to decipher, even more with Kerryon Johnson out of commission: there are Jones and Kenny Golladay and then there are the rest of the pieces. Golladay was always the most coveted receiver—and he’s performing better—but the difference between his game and Jones’ through 13 weeks isn’t that big. The problem with both of them, though, is that they’re playing under third-string QB David Blough. Blough broke all predictions in his pro debut in Thanksgiving but how real was that? I expect a regression sooner rather than later and that is only half of the risk involved in playing Jones. The receiver himself has been quite shaky all year. He only topped 10 fantasy points once in the first five weeks of the season but then, after a horrid game in Week 6 (3.7 FP), he went and had a career-day of 93 yards and four TDs (!) on 10 catches for 43.3 points. Of course, after doing that he’s had a couple of 20-plus points outings but also two more games under 10 points. Jones’ upside has been heavily attached to his scoring (nine touchdowns on the season), but his ceiling drops to around 10-to-12 points without it. And no, I’m not trusting Blough keeping it up.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, MIA (at NYJ)
Miami’s savior or condemner, depending on how you look at it, keeps making football fun. In case you missed his last game, well, let’s say he did something. Fitz finished with a season-high 365 passing yards, threw three touchdowns, and was picked once. The full Fitzmagic experience was definitely delivered. He’s now won three in a row and I don’t even know what the Dolphins are aiming for anymore. Keep in mind though that for Fitzpatrick and Miami to reach these heights everything has had to work to perfection. Fitzpatrick had not thrown for that many yards in the season, only in another game had he thrown three touchdowns, DeVante Parker helped with a career-game himself (159 yards, seven receptions, two TDs), and at the end of the day, it was the Eagles secondary. Sure, Fitzpatrick is averaging 20.4 FP per game since Week 6, but he’s touched 11 FP as many times as he’s reached 30 (once). In the middle, all sorts of productions. Not a bad player with a moderately good average, but don’t get your expectations too high if you don’t want to be in for a potential letdown.
WR Allen Robinson, CHI (vs DAL)
I like A-Rob as much as anyone and I’m 100% rooting for him to become a bonafide superstar in the NFL. He’s already showed what he’s capable of, this season and in the past. Just this year he’s reached 22-plus fantasy points in four games and in every one of them he caught at least six passes for 86 or more yards and at least a touchdown. Robinson has that kind of ceiling. He can be a top receiver in any team of the league. I know that because he’s been one at times playing under freaking Mitchell Trubisky. This play, like others I already wrote above, is risky more because of Trubisky’s doubts more than Robinson’s own abilities. Robinson has had his very own problems this season (he’s finished three games at or under eight fantasy points...) and he’s a very boom-or-bust player. But the main problem his owners have is how much they trust Trubisky keeping his late run of good performances up. The quarterback has the same volatility as Robinson (8.4 FP) and averages virtually the same FP per game (14.9 to Robinson’s 15.5), and although he has improved lately (three 20-point outings in his last four games) he has also had six games in which he hasn’t even reached 12 FP... Great talent A-Rob, but stuck in a pretty scary situation.
Week 14 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 Kirk Cousins (vs DET)
After eight weeks of shaky results—either for the better or the worse—it looks like Cousins is finally stabilizing around the 20-ish fantasy points average. Cousins’ start of the year was mediocre at best at least for fantasy owners. He topped at 15 FP in Week 1 and never bested that mark until Week 5. In that span, he threw for limited yards and just two touchdowns in four games. Then we were introduced Cousins 2.0, who was able to string together three games of 23.6, 30.7, and 32.6 FP in which he passed for 976 and 10 touchdowns combined while only throwing one pick. He had a very bland game again in Week 8 (285 yards but no scores), and he’s played to the tune of between 19.8 and 28.1 FP in his last four. Excluding that little outlier (the 28.1-point performance), his other three games in that span went for between 20 and 23 rounded FP, and that seems to be Cousins’ true average. Detroit shouldn’t pose many problems to Minny this weekend so it won’t be a surprise to see Cousins reach those numbers once more.
QB Gardner Minshew, JAX (vs LAC)
The ‘stache is back! Yesssssir! I know the Chargers are not the best opponent or matchup for a quarterback in Week 14, and I know Minshew has been out three full weeks until making his comeback, but this had to happen. In fact, this shouldn’t have happened because Minshew should have never left the field to start with. In Minshew’s first nine games as a pro (I also consider Week 1 as he played most of the game) he only thrown under 200 yards once and no touchdowns twice. A 309-yard, two-interception game back in Week 9 finished his run as a starter, but even in that game he posted 15 FP. Only in Week 6 did he had a lower fantasy outcome (6.3) in a game to forget. But Minshew’s first season, looked at from a wide perspective, has been one of the most solid around the league. Minshew averaged 19.6 FP in his first nine games and in backup duties last weekend he still reached 12.2 FP. Minshew was almost a lock to reach 20 points weekly before being sent to the bench in favor of Nick Foles, and I trust him getting back to that kind of performance going forward with the upside to reach high-20s or low-30s if all goes well for Jacksonville (he already has two 28.8- and 30.9-point games this season).
WR D.J. Moore, CAR (at ATL)
Carolina is in a complete state of disarray and doesn’t even have a coach with Ron Rivera being kicked out of the ship earlier this week. That doesn’t mean the Panthers top-producers (Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore) will disappear all of a sudden. CMC is a no-brainer as a weekly starter, but his presence in Carolina and his massive season have taken all of the attention from Moore, who himself is having a terrific year. Moore is the WR8 and averages 16.6 FP per game. The only thing keeping him from ranking higher is his low scoring numbers (he and Julio Jones are the only receivers with 100-plus targets and more than 835 receiving yards with fewer than five TDs). Moore’s worst performances went for 7.4 and 8.8 games (the last one in Week 8), and he’s averaging 21.2 FP in his last five matches. He has finished four of those five games with scores between 17 and 21 fantasy points—which shows how reliable and constant he is—and in the other one he exploded for 31.4 FP (126 yards and two TDs on six catches) showing his great ceiling. The only thing not making him a safer play is the questions of this “new” Panthers offense and the presence of CMC eating opportunities from him.
Week 14 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.
TE Travis Kelce, KC (at NE)
Second week in a row that Kelce makes it to this section, but I have all the reasons to put him in again. I don’t care if New England is the rival this weekend, Kelce has proven to be matchup-proof, the talent at the position sucks, and Kansas City’s best option on offense is probably the tight end. Kelce is averaging 15.4 FP on the season and has scored three touchdowns in his last five games. That, friends, is virtually unheard of coming from a tight end these days. Even on his worst games (weeks 6 and 7) Kelce was able to finish with 9.8 and 10.4 FP, which again makes him a go-to player no matter what. His ceiling is not overly high (he’s topped at 23.7 FP in Week 2) unless he somehow is able to score two touchdowns instead of one, but even with that you can count on your average 15 points coming from him and forget about any other tight end giving you a headache to start the fantasy playoffs.
WR Mike Williams, LAC (at JAX)
Although expectations weren’t otherworldly, I guess we can all agree Williams has been a little bit disappointing in his third year in the league. Even with that, though, Williams has turned into a safe play for those looking for a steady source of weekly points. Williams’ volatility through Week 13 has come down more to his varying upside than his floor, which has remained pretty constant all year long. Williams had a 4.9-point game to start the season but other than than the has never dropped under 7.5 FP (two times) and scored between 7.5 and 14.5 points in nine of the 11 games he’s played. In the other game—last weekend against a stout Broncos defense—he had his best performance of the year catching five balls for 117 yards and a final tally of 16.7 points. That’s the good thing about Williams. He’s become a virtual lock to score at least 8-to-10 FP per game while providing upside to reach around 15 without even scoring. Was he thrown passes inside the 20-yard line and looked at more in the end zone we might see an automatic explosion from Williams.
RB Bo Scarbrough, DET (at MIN)
There is no way we can consider Detroit anything close to a “safe” situation to play with. That is plainly not the case, with a backfield in which multiple options have rotated since Kerryon Johnson fell injured, and a third-string quarterback starting at the helm. Even with that, though, Bo was brought to the team in time for their Week 11 game and he hasn’t looked back ever since. He debuted with 55 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, followed that up with a 98-yard game, and this past Thanksgiving he posted 83 yards on a massive 21 attempts. Those numbers are not league-winning, sure, but Bo has entrenched himself as the leading back of the Lions and have fantasy scores of 11.5, 9.8, and 8.3. He averages virtually 10 FP per game and he’s been reliable if just for only those points. He might be able to thrive in a better scenario with better players around him, but he’s making the most of Detroit’s environment and it looks like he will end the season in this very same role and production levels.