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 the third week of the 2021 season, there are 384 players with 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 4 ultra-volatile players
These players have standard deviations from their averages of 10-plus fantasy points. They are as capable of putting on a monster, record-books performance as easily as they can lay a goose egg on any given day. You’re playing with fire here, boy.
WR Tyler Lockett (Seattle Seahawks)
The Seahawks as a team and Lockett by extension are so good and efficient that even after putting up a dud in W3 (7.1 PPR points against Minny), Tyler Lockett is still the WR3 of the season in fantasy leagues with 64.9 total FP only behind Mike Williams (!?) and Cooper Kupp. That’s insane, folks. What is insane, too, was to watch Lockett racking up 26 and 31.8 PPR tallies in the first two games of the year to then finish with that stupid single-digit score last weekend. The line wasn’t far from what he did in W1 when it comes to opportunities and receptions (4-for-4 in W3 compared to 4-of-5 in W1) but the yards went down to ground levels with only 31 and no touchdowns last Sunday. We’re not going to see Lockett finishing with an outcome similar to his Week 2 one (11-8-178-1) weekly, but he should be better than his W3 self if he wants to finish the year as a strong WR overall. There is plenty of risks involving this play because DK Metcalf seems to be finally waking up (9-6-107-1 line for 22.7 PPR points in W3) and that means trouble for Lockett’s upside in fantasy contests.
WR Tyreek Hill (Kansas City Chiefs)
Shouts out to the Chiefs, who are entering the toughest matchup of the week for any and every receiving corps around the league as they face the Eagles. That’s correct. Philly has allowed the fewer points to rival wideouts through three weeks (66.1 total PPR points) and no one is even close with the Chargers ranking second already at 75.1 points allowed. As if that wasn’t enough, the Chiefs are bringing Josh Gordon to town—rest easy, he shouldn’t be close to gracing the field this early as he has yet to get in true playing shape—and Tyreek has been rather disappointing in two of his three games this season. It’s been hard to watch unfold, folks. Sure, the WR2 overall finish to the tune of 37.1 PPR points in W1 was marvelous (15-11-197-1 line, my lord) but after that Hill has put up back-to-back duds of 5.9 and 9.7 FP... not catching more than 5 passes nor topping 56 yards in any of those two games, let alone scoring his second touchdown of the year. Hill is a stud, and so is Pat Mahomes. But the connection hasn’t been there for half a month and although this week could very well end in another classic explosion coming from Hill, it could easily mark his third dud in a row too.
Week 4 moderately-risky plays
These players have standard deviations from their averages between 7 and 10 fantasy points. We’re starting to get into the meat of the player pool, and decisions start to get tougher here.
TE Darren Waller (Las Vegas Raiders)
If you got fooled by Waller’s astonishing debut back in W1, I feel you. I also fell for it, mate. Darren Waller got a ridiculous 19 targets to kick the year off, which is a historical number matched by a handful of tight ends over the course of the whole NFL history. That mark would obviously go down, as would the completely unsustainable 19-10-105-1 line Waller put up back then, but we didn’t envision such a drop from that outing to the last two: from 26.5 PPR points to 11.5 and 10.4, which has sucked to watch. And that is with QB Derek Carr playing his best football ever. I’m not fully trusting this play, much less with the inevitable regression Carr is going to experience sooner or later. The targets and the receptions are still nice and steady at 7 and 5 respectively in each of the past two games, but the yards have dropped to 63 and lastly 54, and Waller has yet to score his second touchdown on the year currently boasting a two-game no-score streak.
WR Deebo Samuel (San Francisco 49ers)
Although Deebo’s case is a little bit more encouraging than that of Waller (read his blurb above), the truth is that these two players were pretty much on similar paths from W1 to W3. Samuel debuted to the tune of a silly 12-9-189-1 line. He was so locked into putting up numbers that he even got to log a fumble on that day. Just imagine! Deebo closed W1 as the fifth-best player in PPR leagues (31.9) and the WR3 of the slate (yes, even though that sounds impossible it is true). After that, though, Deebo dropped to “only” 16.1 PPR points in W2 missing on that touchdown and did the same in W3 only to even lower exploits as he could only catch five passes for 52 yards and a WR4 (as in top-48 WR, I mean) finish with 10.2 PPR points against the Packers. Everything is down for Deebo: from 9 to 6 to 5 receptions, from 189 to 93 to 52 receiving yards, from 1 to 0 (x2) touchdowns... and fellow WR Brandon Aiyuk seems to be finally heating up after a 6-4-37-1 performance in W3 that topped Deebo’s score with 14.5 PPR points. Not liking this situation and Deebo’s shaky upside.
Week 4 relatively safe plays
These players have standard deviations from their averages between 4 and 7 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 Matthew Stafford (Los Angeles Rams)
Last week I got to pick Cooper Kupp in this very same spot. This week I’m going with the flip side of the Rams Offense Coin: QB Matty Staff. Look—we’re only three weeks into the 2021 season and Stafford, playing in sunny L.A. after getting traded to Hollywood, is building a seriously strong case to close the year as the MVP. No cap. Stafford has two top-12 QB finishes and another one in which he was the QB18 overall. Even that “low” finish saw Matt throw for 279 yards on 19 completions for 2 TDs against one interception, which I don’t think we can hate that much. Stafford has elevated the Rams to the top of all Power Rankings I know of and care about, and it makes all of the sense. The quarterback has finished his three games with bonkers numbers (321 yards and 3 TDs in W1; 343 yards and 4 TDs in W3) and at least 18.2 FP in all three matches—including a 29.5 outing this past weekend facing the mighty Bucs.
RB Nick Chubb (Cleveland Browns)
I know you probably don’t consider Chubb a lock to rack up fantasy goodies given how his season has progressed from W1 to W3: Chubb has gone from 22.1 PPR points to 16.8 and lastly 8.4 this past weekend. That’s no bueno. But. The Browns are missing offensive pieces and although OBJ is now back and ready to play full games, the truth is that Chubb is the only true bellcow in the squad as Kareem Hunt functions more as a pass-catching back. This partnership is always going to eat from each other, but Chubb should keep seeing his carry-count reach the high-teens and even get into the 20s in matchups such as this week’s. Cleveland is facing Minny, and the Vikings have allowed teams to rush the rock the 14th-most times against them while limiting running backs to just 109 yards on pass-plays. That bodes well for Chubb and raises his upside over that of Hunt at least for this week. Give me Chubb for an RB1 finish, his first one since he finished RB5 overall in W1.
Week 4 ultra risk-averse 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 Ja’Marr Chase (Cincinnati Bengals)
Who would have
dropped thought? Turns out rookie wideout Ja’Marr Chase, he of the thirty-something preseason drops or whatever is now averaging more than one touchdown per game without having missed on it once. Uh, oh, flex on the haters young man. Chase has put up 20.9, 13.4, and 22.5 PPR points so far this season. He’s adept at scoring with one TD in each of his first couple of games and two this past weekend facing Pittsburgh. Not happy enough with that, he’s averaging a ridiculous 21.3 YPR on 11 catches (16 targets) and only trails Tyler Boyd (19) in targets though Chase has 220 total yards compared to Boyd’s 141 yards on the year. QB Joe Burrow has a past with Chase and the two couldn’t have connected better to kick 2021 off.
QB Jalen Hurts (Philadelphia Eagles)
Speaking of haters hating hated players... what about “running back” Jalen Hurts? Oh, boy. Do you know how many quarterbacks have been better than Hurts three games into the season? Four. That’s it. Kyler, Tommy, Pat, and Staff—Hurts and Josh Allen are tied in total FP after three games. Not bad for a running back, is it? The truth is, Hurts has had no competition when it comes to rushing stats at the QB position: he’s already racked up 179 yards on 26 carries while scoring a touchdown, and only Lamar Jackson has put up more yards and TDs although on nine more rushing attempts. Hurts has yet to reach 100 passing attempts on the year (he’s at 97) and he “only” has passed for 780 yards through W3 (16th-most) but he’s completing passes at a 64%-clip while boasting a 5:2 TD:INT ratio. Again, not bad for a rusher masquerading as a quarterback, as fools would label him. Three weeks in a row finishing as a QB1 isn’t a joke, and Hurts has yet to drop below the 20-FP mark in any game this season.