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 ninth week of the 2021 season, there are 519 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 10 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.
RB Aaron Jones (Green Bay Packers)
One more week of play, one more headache for Aaron Jones owners in redraft leagues, and one more data point to make playing A-Jones a very tough decision for DFS lovers out there. These are Jones' past four outcomes in PPR formats: 21, then 8.9, then 24, then 5.3 fantasy points. Ugh. Jones is a bonafide superstar, and there is just no question about that. But he’s wild as hell and is having a terribly bouncy season all things considered. He’s got as many games above 20 PPR points (three) as he has duds of <10 FP. Two of each came from him in the past two weeks... after he started the year scoring 4.2, then a season-high 41.5 FP. So that’s Aaron Jones to you, folks. The ceiling is basically as high as being almost out of sight, but the floor is so low that you never know. A-Rod might be back throwing the ball this weekend, but even then it’s not that Jones has stringed back-to-back duds this season. Man, it’s impossible to make a sound decision about Jones...
Week 10 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 Adam Thielen (Minnesota Vikings)
Compared to Aaron Jones (read above), Adam Thielen is more of a streaks player. Thielen got to score 14.9+ PPR points three games in a row to start the season, then put up fewer than 8 FP in two straight, rebounded with two games of 19.8+ PPR points, and last week he went on to drop his game to an 8.6-FP level of play. Does that mean he’s in for another low outcome? Could very well be the case... or not. Minnesota is facing the second-best D against the position in that of the Chargers this weekend, which obviously should give us pause when it comes to Thielen. But on the other end, Thielen has seen 7+ targets in all but one game, and only three times out of eight has he caught fewer than six passes. The usage alone should be enough to have him around the 15+ PPR points any given day. There is high risk baked into Thielen, but I have to assume he’s not in line for another 7-2-6-1 day that seems straight out of Outlier World.
Week 10 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 Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys)
Dak missed time and the games from W7 (Bye) and W8 (banged up) and finally returned last weekend. So far, so good, I’d say. Yes, that missed game a couple of weekends ago is going to hurt Prescott’s chances at a QB1-overall finish in redraft/season-long leagues out there, obviously, but the only other blemish in Prescott’s resume that should concern DFS players is the Week 2 horrible outing against the Chargers. Dak put up a measly 7.5 PPR points in that match, but other than that he’s reached at least 19.1 FP in all other six games he’s played while throwing at least 2 TD in each of them and never more than one interception. The fumbling has been a little bit out of control (0.85 per game, only two outings without at least one fumble), but other than that Dak is sitting at a phenomenal 18:5 TD:INT ratio. Even more encouraging for this weekend, Prescott did throw the rock for 302 and 445 yards in the prior two games to the Bye along with 3 TDs in each of those and came back last Sunday with a good-not-great 19-232-2-1 line that still made him the QB9 of the week. Safe value facing a Falcons D that ranks eighth-worst at preventing fantasy points from fantasy QBs.
Week 10 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.
TE Dan Arnold (Jacksonville Jaguars)
I know Dan Arnold is averaging “only” 9.0 PPR points per game since he got moved to Jacksonville via trade. I know that’s not a double-digit mark. I know he had a dud of a game against Miami in Week 6 when all he did was score 4.7 PPR points. Do you know what I know, too? The top-24 tight ends are averaging 8.4 PPR points per week this season. The top-12 tight ends are averaging 10.4. Other than that below-5-FP outing, Arnold has been a bonafide TE1 with the Jags putting up 11.7 PPR points per game. In the past two weeks he’s broken the 10-PPR barrier, and in the last four games played for JAX he’s getting 8, 5, 10, and 7 targets. The volume, simply put, is insane. He’s not relying on touchdowns and precisely that is the only thing Darnold has yet to accomplish this season, as he has not scored a TD yet for Carolina nor Jacksonville. Solid as they come, steady, and averaging nearly an 8-5-55 in the last month, Arnold should be positively regressing in the touchdown department sooner rather than later to get his first score... and if he does not you don’t have anything to worry about given he’s already a TE1 without needing any of those still-to-come bonus points.