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 15th week of the 2021 season, there are 581 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 16 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)
A lot of stuff going on around the Chargers and its individuals entering Week 16, folks. Keenan Allen is definitely facing a massively tasty matchup with his projected main corner this weekend. Tight end Jared Cook should lead the position for LA with Donald Parham Jr. seemingly out. And Mike Williams... I guess Mike Williams will do something, not sure what, but definitely something. Mike-Will has shown two completely different faces this season: the bag-filling one in advance of hitting free agency this summer, and the doubts-rising one giving pause to prospective bettors. Williams’ 14.6 FPPG aren’t bad, far from it, but he’s up there only because he got to score an outlier-given-his-full-season 22+ PPR points in four of his first five games topping 33 FP in two of those. After that Week 5 36.5 PPR-point explosion, though, Williams has had only one more game of 20+ PPR points while falling into single-digit tallies six times. Can Williams get back to his early-season exploits? Sure, the targets are there. Will he do so? That, my friends, is a question for another day.
Week 16 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.
RB James Conner (Arizona Cardinals)
Conner has played to absolute top-tier running back levels this season thanks mostly to his touchdown-scoring prowess. Honestly. Conner has been incredible this season and is sitting at RB6 overall through 15 weeks of play in total PPR points. He had scored at least one rushing or receiving touchdown in a freaking seven consecutive games after that run was stopped by Detroit last Sunday. It’s been incredible to watch unfold. And while it’d be a little bit unfair to look at Conner from a no-TD perspective (yes, touchdowns are scarce but you either score them or you don’t, and Conner has done so in bunches), the truth is that JC wouldn’t have been great had it not been for his improbable scoring numbers. Remove TD-FP from all RBs, and Conner falls down to the 15th-best spot, already out of the RB1 realm. With Chase Edmonds back, Conner touches and opportunities will be limited going forward and in the games he’s missed on scoring a TD he finished with 5.3, 2.6, 8.1, and 9.0 (this past weekend) PPR points.
Week 16 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.
QB Jalen Hurts (Philadelphia Eagles)
Hurts keeps getting doubted, but he ain’t stopped balling, folks. Just this past week, back from a two-game hiatus, Hurts put on one more show for the Eagles—this time facing the Footies for the first time this season. The final FP tally was all the way up to 27.6, his third-highest of the year through 15 weeks of play. He completed 20 passes, threw for 296 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, and of course added his customary score(s) on the ground with 2 rushing TDs on 8 carries. Hurts is fantastic, comes with a rather-high floor thanks to his ground-game ability, and has put up at least 16.7 FP in all but two of his 13 games this season. Can’t get much safer than that, and the only reason bumping Hurts down a bit is his recent season-low 9.9 FP game against the Giants in 12. That’s the little risk baked into this man’s equation, but even then some 10-FP outing would already have Hurts as a borderline QB2 play.
Week 16 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 Jared Cook (Los Angeles Chargers)
Though Donald Parham Jr. has definitely not been great this season, nor a main offensive weapon in the Chargers offense, the truth is that he’s eaten a little from Jared Cook’s opportunity-cake. Parham Jr. suffered a very scary concussion last week, and we’ve yet to see if he will be able to make it to the court this weekend. Whatever the case, let alone if he misses this game, Jared Cook is looking like a very solid player at the tight end position. As is always the case with no-risk players, though, his outcome might fall on the “wrong” side of things, or at least the low one. It’s only been one 10+ PPR game for Cook in the past four weeks, yes, but he’s been good to finish as a top-12 TE three times, a top-24 five more, and a top-36 in four of the other six games he’s completed. The average 8 PPR per game isn’t remotely great, sure, but Cook got targeted 5+ times in the past two games while scoring a touchdown in one of them, so the upside is there for him to keep things up in Week 16.