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 18th week of the 2021 season, there are 606 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’!
Wild Card Round 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 Tyreek Hill (Kansas City Chiefs)
I’m writing this as reports are being dropped claiming that Tyreek Hill will be good to go come Kansas City’s WC game this weekend. Hill, in case you missed it, got banged up last weekend after appearing on just 14 offensive snaps for the Chiefs. Of course, we are a bunch of smartasses so we all guessed the worst would happen and ultimately it seems we have been proved wrong. Hill’s heel (no pun intended) is strong as an ox and the wideout will be available without an issue. Now, that said, are we sure we want to bank on Hill for the WC Round in our DFS lineups? Hmmm... KC is a bona fide contender no matter what. The Chiefs will win this game. Mahomes will deliver. Kelce will perform nicely. Hill should do so, BUT. Tyreek has had serious up-and-down weeks throughout the year: just in the past seven games he’s played he’s gone from 20 to 4.2, 11.6, 32.8, 3.9, 10.2, and lastly 1.2 PPR points. It’s been a goddam rollercoaster of a player/play. If Tyreek comes to me with some “if you don’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best” bulls**t, honestly, I’d leave him alone and look into other places to fill that WR1 spot.
Wild Card Round 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 Joe Mixon (Cincinnati Bengals)
Mixon missed last week’s game after entering the COVID-19 protocols, though it is also true that Cincy was most probably not going to risk that winning biscuit in an inconsequential W18 game. Mixon is now back with the team and eligible to play come WC time, and he will undoubtedly be a huge part of whatever Cincinnati ends doing against Las Vegas. This could very well be a tight outing, or maybe the Bengals got an early lead and (it’ll happen) just have to rush the rock to let the clock expire for most of the game. No matter what happens, again, Mixon will need to do his thing for the Bengals to advance. And hey, while it’s true that Joe has had his issues (three consecutive single-digit PPR scores in W13-W15), he’s also performed to 15+ PPR levels in the other six games he’s played from W8 on. Mixon was scoring TDs weekly during the first half of the season, and in a huge-stakes scenario like the one coming this weekend, I’m banking on a bounce-back (as if he hadn’t dropped 31.5 and 15.6 PPR points in his last two games played) from Mixon and a ‘W’ for the Bengs.
Wild Card Round 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)
Whatever Schultz is eating for breakfast lately is clearly working for him. Jeez. Four weeks in a row finishing as a top-8 tight end play for Dalton, never falling below the 11.4-PPR mark, and hitting 17.1+ fantasy points in three of those four matches. Schultz has been absolutely stunning in the past month of play. He’s averaged one touchdown a pop to go with a receiving line reading 7-6-55. Now, that said, watch out for the potential (though rare) dud. Schultz played nearly a season-high 72 offensive snaps in Week 14 (85% share)... for a measly 1.4 (yes, one-point-four) PPR points against the Footies. That sucked to watch (three targets, one reception, four yards), but that’s something that could happen to Schultz—let alone your average tight end—any given day. It is what it is. But Schultz’s seven-of-eight games hitting 9.3+ PPR points are more than enough to have him as a very safe play for the WC Round slate of games.
Wild Card Round 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.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo (San Francisco 49ers)
Before you laugh at this “ultra-risk-averse” play, keep in mind the most simple of facts: the safer the player, the lower the upside. If I’m honest, I’m not even mad at Jimmy G. I had him in my list of potentially good plays for W18, and San Fran delivered by 1) making him the (banged-up) starter over Trey Lance and 2) giving him the chances on offense to end the game with some nice 13.7 FP. I mean, yes, that’s nothing to get crazy about. That only amounted to a top-20 finish among players at the position. What I’m trying to say is that if you are going to “punt” on the quarterback position for some reason while loading at other spots, Garoppolo might not be your worst low-budget/nice-upside option this weekend. Jimmy has scored at least 12.8 FP in his last five starts while throwing for a minimum of 235 yards and 1+ TD. The interceptions and fumbles surely suck, but with postseason implications and win-or-go-home matches ROS, it makes sense to think Jimmy might play things a bit safer and avoid those mistakes. Don’t dream about G getting 20+ FP (he’s just done that two times this year and not once since Week 9), but count on him hitting his customary 13-to-15 FP without much trouble.