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Fantasy Football Volatility Index: The riskiest and safest plays for NFL Week 17

Antonio gives you the most (and least) volatile players so far this season to help you with your Week 17 start and sit gambles.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

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 16th week of the 2021 season, there are 590 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 17 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 Tee Higgins (Cincinnati Bengals)

Oh, sweet baby Jesus... that Week 16 outcome. Tee Higgins is coming off a 43.4 PPR-point explosion. Seriously. Forty-three-point-four. Sheesh. Now, for one, the Cincy Bengals were trouncing Baltimore and for some reason, Joe Burrow keep his pedal to the metal. Then, also, was the fact that Higgins caught 12 of his 13 targets for 194 yards and 2 touchdowns. In other words, Higgins posted season-high marks in all but the targets (he got 14 back on W13). Not a single time has Tee played to those ridiculous levels earlier: his prior-best tally sits at 28.8 PPR points, and only topped 16.4 in another game (W12). The problem: Higgins played 87% of the offensive snaps in W15... and finished with a stupid 4.3 PPR then. The volatility can’t get much higher than Higgins’ 10+ in his 13 games to date, and regression is going to hit him—and his fantasy GMs—hard this week.

Week 17 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 Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccanneers)

The GOAT Got Goated a couple of weeks ago by the lowly Saints, and although he bounced back a bit this past Week 16 against Carolina (I mean...) he still fell short of reaching 235 passing yards for the second game in a row, threw just one touchdown, and could only get 14.4 FP on the day. Tommy is barely past 20 FP... in the past two weeks combined. That, simply put, sucks. Brady had been magnificent in the two games before those late stinkers reaching 29.6 and 30.1 FP in back-to-back W13 and W14 outings. He finished as the QB1 and QB2 in those slates. That’s Brady for you, folks. Up and down, up and down, up and down. He’s as capable of reaching 25+ FP (seven such scores this season) as he is of finishing at-or-below 20 FP (six such games). Not the worst nor the riskiest of plays out there, but definitely one to give you some pause with very high-stakes fantasy games coming.

Week 17 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.

TE Dalton Schultz (Dallas Cowboys)

The numbers probably fool our brains a little here and not tell the whole story of Dalton Schultz. What I mean, is that Schultz is coming off back-to-back 20+ PPR-point outings with the Cowboys, but also that he had a 1.4-PPR dud as recently as in W14... That definitely sucked to watch, but the truth is that Dalton has been good more often than not, thus the relative-safe profiling. In the past seven weeks of play, Schultz fell from double-digit fantasy points twice (that 1.4 stinker and another 9.3 not-so-horrible game) while hitting 15+ fantasy points in three of those six matches. Schultz has gotten at least 5 targets in five of those six games, has grabbed 3+ passes in the same amount of matches, and he’s boasting a rock-solid 78% catch rate in that span. He’s scored a touchdown in the past two weeks, finished as a top-12 TE in five of the last six slates of games, and topped 43 yards in all of those outings. Surefire TE1 ROS, including this week.

Week 17 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.

RB Josh Jacobs (Las Vegas Raiders)

If you want or need 10+ PPR points weekly, Jacobs is the surest player to hand you those without failing at it on a week-by-week basis. He’s fallen below double-digit FP just once in 13 games played this season (8.6 PPR in W6). Other than that, he’s been a freaking steady player all year long, and while he’s missed on finding paydirt in the three last weeks of play, he’s made up for that in the past two with back-to-back 15+ carries and 52+ yards. In fact, he’s coming off a silly 27-carry and 129-yard outing. Jacobs has dropped 10, 12.4, and 11.4 PPR points in the last three weeks, and that yields an average of 11.3 FPPG. Before that: 19.2 and 24-PPR games for Jacobs, who is most definitely a bona fide 10-floor, 20-ceiling player this season.