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 11th week of the 2021 season, there are 542 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 12 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 Mike Williams (Los Angeles Chargers)
Mike Will knows the bag will be up for grabs next summer. That’s why he started the year with a freaking set of bangs including four of five performances of 22+ PPR points sandwiching a Week 4 dud of just 2.1 (say what!?) fantasy points. Now, let me put the whole season of Mikey in perspective by splitting it in two halves. MW's first five games: 116.1 total PPR points with an average 10-6-94-1 receiving line; MW's last five games: 44.4 PPR, 5-3-47-0 average line. Yikes. Williams was never a true stud, career-wise, but this was the year to make the leap prior to filling his free-agency bag. And he was absolutely killing it... until he was not. Good for us fantasy GMs, Williams got things right last weekend by putting up a nice 20.7 PPR points and getting into the WR1 realm after missing on it for four consecutive games. That’s cool, but the risk this man has attached to his forehead is absolutely insane. Definitely know what you’re getting into by starting our boy Mike Will in DFS, folks, because it’s not for the faint of heart.
Week 12 moderately-risky plays
These players have standard deviations from their averages between 8 and 10 fantasy points. We’re starting to get into the meat of the player pool, and decisions start to get tougher here.
QB Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills)
Josh Allen was a monster through the first third of the season, and even after the Week 7 bye when he came back to a tasty 28.5 FP in Week 8... but he’s not anymore by how things have looked of late. Allen was somehow able to finish as the absolute QB1 in three of his first seven games while packing those finishes into a tight five-game span from Week 3 to Week 8. The problem is that in the past three weeks of play, though, Allen has looked like a shell of himself. He had his worst outing of the year (11.6 FP) against Jacksonville in Week 9, then rose to a top-3 QB finish with 21.9 FP in Week 10, and put up 17.2 FP against Indy last weekend. That’s pretty much Allen for you these days: a bouncy, risky player with a huge ceiling and a kind-of-solid floor into the top-20 but not much better. Three games in a row for Allen throwing either one or two interceptions ain’t making decisions easier, but he’s thrown for 209+ yards in each of the last three games and is currently on a back-to-back 2-TD throwing streak.
Week 12 relatively-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.
RB Najee Harris (Pittsburgh Steelers)
While Harris hit the ground walking instead of running as a rook and could only get 5.9 PPR points in his pro debut, he quickly forgot about that stinker and put on a show from Week 2 onwards. Harris has never fallen below a 16.8 PPR tally in any of his next nine games (bye on Week 7) averaging a sky-high 20.8 fantasy points per game since Week 2 (included). The volatility is virtually non-existent at a low 5.6 FP, which is practically unheard of when it comes to studs putting up 20 points on a weekly basis. In fact, Darrell Henderson and Robert Woods are the only other skill-position players with a volatility mark as low as that of Harris while averaging 15+ PPR per game, though they are four FPPG below Harris’ 19.3 fantasy points per game over the full season—yes, including the Week 1 dud. You can’t compare Harris to, say, J-Taylor, but the rookie is keeping up with a bulky 19-carry, 68-yard, 0.5-TD per-game line this season not to mention his pass-catching prowess at a 6-5-34 receiving average on the year.
Week 12 ultra-risk-averse 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 Tyler Higbee (Los Angeles Rams)
I know Higbee is neither 1) the best tight end out there nor 2) a true lock to put up numbers, thus removing all risks potentially baked into his fantasy equation. But Higbee has been a top-24 tight end at the very least in all but one game this year and that stinker took place all the way back in Week 2. Higbee is getting the proper amount of targets (5.1 per game on the year, 8+ in two of the last four games), has strung five games with 3+ receptions (5 in three of them), has three touchdowns on the season (10 games played), and the receiving yards are pretty much always at 20+ no matter the opposition. Higbee is entering this weekend off a two-game streak of finishing in the TE1 realm with 10.1 and 11.0 PPR points and a combined 15-8-71-1 receiving line, with the touchdown happening in the last game the Rams played back in Week 10 (they went on a bye last weekend).