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)?
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 fifth week of the 2021 season, there are 436 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 6 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.
QB Justin Herbert (Los Angeles Chargers)
Herbert has been fantastic this season, you can’t argue about that. He’s also been the wildest player out there in terms of Volatility at the quarterback position. Herbert is, in fact, the only QB through Week 5 inside the Ultra-Volatile group of 14 players at this point. That speaks volumes of Herbert’s outcomes, and while that high volatility seems to have more to do with his early-season woes than his latest outings, it is something to have in mind when starting him this weekend.
The Chargers' main man has put up a couple of top-25 finishes (W1-W2) and then finished inside the top-12 three games in a row including a QB2 and an absolute-best QB1 this past Sunday. That game against the Browns was Herbert’s best of the year, going for 398 (!) yards on 26 completions and throwing 4 TDs against no interceptions. Herbert has avoided picks for three games straight while throwing 11 touchdowns on those and rushing for another one. But he threw 3 picks in the first two games of the season and fumbled the rock once. We’re all high on Justin, but there is an inherent risk in playing him given his first couple of outings and the fact that he will inevitably drop his FP score from the stupid 42.8 fantasy points he reached last weekend.
Week 6 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.
WR Terry McLaurin (Washington Football Team)
I feel like cheating with this pick, but I’m not doing so. T-Mac’s Volatility is sitting at 9.5 FP through Week 5 and that means he is not at the top-tier levels of randomness yet. Close, but no cigar. That’s why I’m writing about here as if he’s not an ultra-volatile player he’s the closest thing to it. Just check McLaurin’s PPR scores from the first five games of the season, in order: 10.2 to 27.7 to 10.2 to 30.3 to 8.6 last weekend. I mean, what the hell is that!?
Terry is the clear go-to pass-catcher in Washington’s offense and he’ll retain his role with Curtis Samuel banged up and Logan Thomas hitting the IR recently. In fact, McLaurin has seen 7+ targets in all last four games, though he’s caught them with rates ranging from nearly 35% to almost 80%. That’s wild. The yards have been up and down (107, then 62, then 123, then 46), as has been the case with the touchdowns too (McLaurin is alternating scoring with no-scoring games this season without failure). The Chiefs rank middle of the pack in limiting fantasy WRs, so there are chances McLaurin gets back to his booming ways... or not. With Terry, you just never know.
Week 6 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.
TE Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs)
In a position in which there are virtually no bonafide weekly stars, Kelce is almost always a safe play for fantasy GMs out there. His season has been as good as anyone, and only a little stinker back in Week 4 paints a little blemish in Kelce’s 2021 game log. The fantasy points have not dropped from 17.4 PPR in four of the five games he’s played (he put up just 6.3 against Philly) and in those matches, Kelce always got 7+ targets and finished with 6+ receptions for an already “high” floor of 6.0 PPR points that most weeks would be nearly enough to enter the TE2 realm. Kelce, though, is not doing just that and he’s grabbed passes for 57+ yards in all four of those games while topping 75 in three of those four.
The bad game Kelce against Philly was surely an outlier more than anything else. He could only average 5.8 YPR on his four catches (23 total yards). Among the 126 player-game lines in which a WR/TE/RB has caught exactly four passes, Kelce’s 23 yards while doing it rank as the 15th-lowest yardage, which tells you all you need to know about Kelce’s performance: flukity fluke. Kelce is a virtual lock to get his customary 17+ PPR points any day, and this weekend against a 16th-ranked against fantasy TEs D in that of the Footies, Kelce should be good to finish as a top-5 TE once more.
Week 6 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.
RB Zack Moss (Buffalo Bills)
If you remember, Moss didn’t even get to play a single snap in Week 1 this season, and then only logged 18 snaps in Week 2 for a measly 28% snap rate on the day. The battle with fellow tailback Devin Singletary was a lost cause for Moss at first, but the script has completely flipped as the season has advanced and Moss is now the clear go-to tailback of the team on both rush and pass plays. Moss’ snap share has risen all the way to 74% this past weekend compared to Singletary’s cratering to 26% and 28% in the last two games, and we love that about this play.
Moss, don’t get it wrong, very well deserves the larger role he’s getting of late. Zack has scored at least 12+ PPR points in all four games he’s played, and he’s topped 18.1 against Washington in Week 2. Moss has scored 4 touchdowns already (three rushing, one receiving), and only missed on scoring once (last weekend against KC). Moss has carried the rock 11+ times in each and all of his past three games while putting up 158 yards on the ground in that span to go with 6 receptions on 8 targets for 86 receiving yards and a score in the past three weekends of play. Moss’ volatility is barely inexistent and although the 14.5 FPPG are RB2-level, it’s not that you can’t hate on knowing you’ll be getting that bounty no matter what gets thrown Moss’ way.