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 fourth week of the 2021 season, there are 415 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 5 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 Amari Cooper (Dallas Cowboys)
The last time we saw Cooper a few days ago facing the Panthers, he scared the hell out of us with shares of him. Cooper was forced out of the game seemingly injured, everything looked bad, and then it turned out it was all good as Cooper returned to the field to score a touchdown while playing 29 snaps for a 48% snap share. All things considered, that was a neat development. Cooper dropped his second-highest score of the season on Carolina to the tune of 15.9 PPR points being part of just half of the Cowboys offensive players, so it’s not that we gotta be too worried...
Or should we? Amari has been banged up from Day 1 of the season. His Week 1 performance was absolutely astonishing (WR1, OVR1) as he completed a 16-13-139-2 performance for 38.9 FP. Then, he went all the way to nightmarish levels of play that saw him put up back-to-back duds of 5.4 and 5.6 PPR points, and lastly, he was able to drop 15.9 FP. If that’s not a wild set of outcomes, you tell me what it is. The targets are low, the yardage is not high, and the touchdowns are too scarce to trust. Cooper could explode for a 40+ PPR game, but his couple of putrid performances earlier last month give me pause.
Week 5 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.
RB Cordarrelle Patterson (Atlanta Falcons)
Too much digital ink has been poured all across the internet regarding Cordarrelle Patterson's out-of-left-field start to the year. Patterson, in case you don’t know, is this guy who has become the GOAT Returner, but that’s it. That’s it, until this season, it feels like. Patterson is now a bonafide fantasy star with league-winning upside, believe it or not. Patt has 82.4 PPR points through four games and is averaging 20.6 FPPG this season. Say what?!
What you hear, brothers and sisters. But looking a little bit under the surface, things are not that rosy. Patterson is moderately-risky because he’s been unstoppable so far and there is nothing you can argue about that. But he is moderately-risky because he’s playing fewer than 40% of the Falcons offensive snaps, he only has 45 touches over the four games played, and that means he’s averaging a stupid 1.83 FP/Touch. Just for context, Derrick Henry is averaging 0.81, Austin Ekeler 1.27, and Najee Harris 0.89. If you think Cordarrelle is good for 3-TD games weekly, cool. But please reconsider your decision to start him as freely as you were thinking about before reading this.
Week 5 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 Dawson Knox (Buffalo Bills)
You know the tight end drill. Every year, somehow, somewhere, inexplicably, a player pops up at the position and takes the league by storm. Last season it was Robert Tonyan, and this season it looks like we’re in for a wild Dawson Knox ride. Other surprising players (ayo Dalton Schultz!) are putting up numbers too, but they’ve been way shakier than Knox. The Bills TE ranks sixth in total PPR so far among players at his position, his volatility sits at just 4.9-FPPG, and he leads the league in TDs with 4 scores already.
Knox had a kinda-rough outing in Week 1 in which he got to 8.1 PPR points (already TE2 levels of play) playing just 48 (56%) snaps. After that, though, Knox has been a steady TE1 with scores of 9.7, 14.9, and 20.7 PPR points in the past three weeks. He’s catching targets with gusto, has hauled in 4+ in three of the four games he’s played, has topped 35 yards in all those three matches, and has scored either one or two touchdowns three weeks in a row. The TE position calls for moderation and some tamed expectations (unless you can start Kelce/Waller), but Knox has looked the part so far this season and that shouldn’t change.
Week 5 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.
QB Jalen Hurts (Philadelphia Eagles)
I have definitely rooted for Hurts since the day he got drafted. I have been a Day 1 stan. I projected him to do wonders this season. But this?! This thing he’s doing right now?! Daaaaaamn. Hurts is quarterbacking a team barren of talent, as simple as that, yet he’s somehow finished all four games played to date inside the QB1 realm. He’s yet to drop below the 20-FP mark (min. score 20.8 in W2) while he’s finished with 27+ FP in W1 and W4. Hurts is absolutely nuts.
And it’s not that Hurts is a boom/bust player because of a wild style of play; far from it. Hurts is completing 65% of his pass attempts, averaging 292 passing yards per game, throwing 2 TDs per outing, and has only been intercepted twice. Seriously. Oh, and I forgot to mention the best part of Hurts’ game: rushing the rock. Hurts has accounted for 34 carries so far, and he’s converted that volume into 226 rush yards and a touchdown. He is second in carries and rushing yards only behind Lamar Jackson, ranks QB3 four games into the year, and he’s sitting on a sky-high floor with upside for a 30+ FP explosion any day.