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)?
Okay, so 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 second week of the 2021 season, there are 329 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 3 ultra-volatile players
These players have standard deviations from their averages of 11-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)
If this is not the most ridiculous start to a season in the history of the sport, it must be close to it. Cooper hit the ground running in W1 against the Bucs, went for a magnificent 13-of-16 receptions, reached 139 yards, and scored a couple of touchdowns while at it. Then in a W2 affair with the Chargers, all Cooper could do was finish with a 5-3-24 line and no TDs to his name. He went from 38.9 PPRo points and an overall No. 1 finish as the top fantasy player of the week to a putrid 5.4 PPR points and a 177th-overall and WR72 rank last weekend. Even though he got to play 97% of the Cowboys snaps. Yikes. Dallas is facing a tough secondary in Philly’s, which is allowing just the second-lowest amount of PPR points per game to wideouts through two games... only behind the Chargers and their seemingly Cooper-Proof D.
WR Tyreek Hill (Kansas City Chiefs)
Speaking of Chargers. Do you know which team faces Los Angeles this upcoming Sunday? That’s right, no less than the losing Chiefs. Not hating on them, but the Chargers have been stout at preventing WRs to rack up fantasy points, allowing just 212 yards on 21 receptions in the past two games combined. No team is limiting fantasy wideouts more than LA. Hill himself, well, it’s not that he’s bad at all, but... to say he’s been Amari Cooper’s clone is even falling short of describing these two. Pretty much the same as the Cowboy, Hill dropped a tasty 37.1 (2nd-best) PPR tally on Cleveland to start the year, but couldn’t even hit 6 PPR points last weekend against the Ravens, finishing 4-3-14. Ugh. Hill (and Cooper, for that matter) can be that W1 type of player any day, obviously, but keep in mind their floors when playing them and the strong defenses they’re about to go against.
Week 3 moderately-risky plays
These players have standard deviations from their averages between 8 and 11 fantasy points. We’re starting to get into the meat of the player pool, and decisions start to get tougher here.
RB Joe Mixon (Cincinnati Bengals)
The Bengals are loaded at the receiving corps after adding Ja’Marr Chase with a top draft pick this offseason. It’s a three-headed monster comprised of Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd and led by second-year QB Joe Burrow. But no matter the pass-heavy environment, Joe Mixon has the second-most fantasy points of all Bengals only behind Chase (only 1.2 total PPR points below, though). Mixon is the definition of a good-not-great player that always finds a way to disappoint his GMs, thus the relative risk of going with him for DFS contests. He’s already shown it this season with a game of 25 PPR points (29 carries, 127 yards, 1 TD, 4-for-4 for 23 receiving yards) but another one of just 8.1 against the Bears where he still rushed the rock 20 times but couldn’t gain many yards nor find paydirt. Cincy faces the fourth-best defense against fantasy RBs this weekend, so temper your expectations when it comes to Mixon’s upside.
WR Mike Evans (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
The matchup is tough as nails against a Rams defense that is currently the sixth-best at preventing opposite wideouts from racking up fantasy points. Can’t lie about that. Mike Evans, on top of everything, hasn’t been that great to start the 2021 season after putting up just 5.4 PPR points in W1 (6-3-24) while logging 61 snaps and a 94% snap share. Simply put, Tom Brady didn’t look his way enough times, and when he did Evans simply didn’t deliver the goods. That changed last week, though, as Evans was the best skill-position player to suit up for the Bucs to the tune of 24.5 PPR points and a much better 9-5-75 line with 2 TDs on the day. Evans is capable of that, and more. Antonio Brown has hit the COVID list and won’t be available, which means there will be a handful of targets available for Evans/Godwin/Gronk to benefit from. Evans should keep up with his W2 exploits, but the risk of playing him is there as part of a super-loaded squad that will probably lead for long spans and might cut him upside—not to mention the presence of a top-tier D at the other end of the field.
Week 3 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.
WR Cooper Kupp (Los Angeles Rams)
There is some buzz starting to grow about the Matthew Stafford-Cooper Kupp connection and how it could very well end with any of the two snatching some award by the end of the 2021 season. It’s way too early for those predictions to be any sort of believable, but it’s not that they’re nonsensical, not at all. Kupp has led the Rams’ skill-position players in both games this season to the tune of 23.8 (WR10) and 36.8 (WR1) PPR points, and the very own Stafford is the lone Ram to beat Kupp in fantasy points (once) among Rams (in W1 the QB edged the WR by just 0.5 PPR points). Kupp is manning the slot with gusto and the Bucs will have to cover him with a second-unit defender backing up stud Sean Murphy-Bunting. Tampa as a whole is giving up the sixth-most fantasy points to WRs so far through W2, and odds are in favor of Kupp having another blast of a night against the reigning champs this weekend, making it 3-for-3 in the WR1 realm and virtually a lock (safe play) to finish way up the PPR leaderboard.
TE Darren Waller (Las Vegas Raiders)
Brute force is Waller’s call, but hey, it’s not his fault. The Raiders—Derek Carr, namely—is feeding Waller like there is no other viable option in the whole receiving corps. Waller has been targeted 26 times over the past two games and he reached an otherworldly 19 targets in W1 against the Ravens. No wonder he finished the day with 26.5 PPR points leading the team and putting up a 19-10-105-1 line. Things got a little bit back to normal last weekend with a much more reasonable and sustainable 7-5-57-0 that should be closer to Waller’s floor than his ceiling, though. Carr couldn’t have started the season better with back-to-back games of 382+ passing yards and 22.2+ FP, and Waller is a fantastic player by himself without anyone’s help. The only thing keeping Waller off the no-risk group below is probably Carr’s potential of putting up a dud at some point (it happens; see: Winston, Jameis). Other than that, the matchup is sublime for Waller this weekend against the below-average-against-fantasy-TE (12th-worst) Dolphins’ defense.
Week 3 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.
WR Stefon Diggs (Buffalo Bills)
We all know how volatility works. The lower the risks, the lower the upside. But with players like Diggs that doesn’t ring that true. See, the Bills have been bashed of late as Josh Allen has gone on to have meh games in the past couple of weeks to kick 2021 off playing way below the level he’s shown in the past. Not that those outings have affected Diggs that much, as he’s put up 16 and 15.9 PPR points in the past two games, pretty much the same score even though he’s been playing under a shaky QB completing just 55% of his passes. Diggs is much better than a 16-FPPG player, we all know that, and the two games he’s finished outside of the WR2 cohort and into the high-end WR3 one are probably more of a fluke than a true reflection of Diggs’ talent—just peep at his career-best 2020 numbers. Diggs is one of the safest plays to put up numbers, a lock to finish with 15+ PPR points any day, the leading target-man in Buffalo, and always brings the booming upside to the table. Nothing to hate here.
RB James White (New England Patriots)
The Pats kinda suck, but kinda not. They will go through some growing pains along with rookie QB Mac Jones, but the freshman hasn’t been that bad manning the pocket. He’s not going overboard with his passing attempts, though, which is why no Patriot has logged 10+ targets in a single game so far, and also why Damien Harris has back-to-back games of 16+ carries. And as ridiculous as that rushing volume is compared to White’s nine carries and 21 touches, it is the latter who is putting up better numbers on the early season in PPR leagues. Sweet baby passing game. White is a yearly no-volatility player who thrives no matter what. The ceiling might not be sky-high, but the floor is rock-solid and not falling below 10 PPR. When it did last season—one of more up-and-downs for White than expected—it was mostly because he played fewer than 50% of the offensive snaps in those games. White has the third-most targets (13) and the fourth-most receiving yards (94) among RBs through two games while averaging 15.3 FPPG at just 3.2 VOL. Count on White for another RB1/RB2 finish this weekend.