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 20th week of the 2021 season, there are 608 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’!
Conference-Championship 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 Tee Higgins (Cincinnati Bengals)
Ja’Marr is probably going to eat most of the pie. We all know about that at this point through the season. Chase came and instead of getting baptized by the pros, it was him who baptized the NFL. But Cincy has taken advantage of the full receiving corps through 2021, including WR2 Tee Higgins. Of course, we’re discussing Tee here because of his volatility, which is high as hell but also comes with a very tasty bounty of FPPG in PPR-format leagues. Higgins, when properly used (+7 targets) has never dropped below a double-digit outcome (10.2 PPR in W5) and he’s averaged an impressive 20.2 PPR per game in the nine games in which he got such amount of targets from Joey B. Burrow has attempted at least 34 passes in the past four games, and he’s topped 345 yards in three of them. Odds are Higgins gets 1) a ton of targets and 2) a ton of PPR points. The problem: Higgins had a 9.2 PPR outing against KC in W17 putting up a 5-3-62 line. Quite a massive volatility, yes, but if your heart is strong enough to sustain it, Tee might be well worth deploying this weekend in DFS contests as an under-the-radar-and-cheap play.
Conference-Championship 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.
QB Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs)
Not going to lie about this thing. It’ll be high-stakes football and high-stakes DFS once we reach this weekend. Only two games, only four QBs, and one of them is surely not like the others. Enter Mighty Mahomes. Good old pal Pat is not only coming off a spectacular performance in the Divisional Round in a game for the ages against Buffalo; he’s strung three consecutive games in which he’s topped 30 FP including a ridiculous 38-FP game against Pittsburgh (30-of-39 for 404 yards and 5 TDs!) just a couple of weeks ago. Mahomes sits in the mid-to-high VOL cohort just because of his early woes (two games below double-digit FP, two more below 14 FP) but those are clearly in the rearview mirror these days—Mahomes’ last “stinker” came in W13 with a 13.6 tally; since then he’s scored at least 19.3 PF in all of the seven games he’s played through last Sunday. The average from W14 on is at a monster 29.5 FPPG, Mahomes has kept up an average 40-28-329-3 passing line, has thrown two combined interceptions against 17 touchdowns, and even added a rushing score his last time out. Jesus Christ.
Conference-Championship 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.
WR Deebo Samuel (San Francisco 49ers)
There is a chance Samuel plays next Sunday being a little bit banged up. But there is not a single chance in hell Samuel misses the Conference Championship game. Deebo will be on the field no matter what because 1) San Francisco needs its best WR/RB/whatever-he-is player to stand the slightest of chances against Los Angeles and 2) he will simply want to be part of this thing. That sounds like a ridiculous piece of analysis, but it is as true as it comes. Deebo, even hobbled after getting rocked by a helmet to the knee, played a grand total of 37 snaps for a 69% snap share against Green Bay. I mean, there have been games earlier this season in which he barely topped 65%, so just imagine how possible it is for him to miss one. Deebo has scored 15 TDs on the season... and nine (!) of them came on rushing plays. He’s getting the rock around eight times per game from the backfield and rushing it for 45 yards on average in the past 10 games. He’s getting targeted around seven times per game on the full season, posting up average marks of almost 5 receptions and 82 yards. It doesn’t get much safer than Deebo because what he does not do on the ground, he does through the air and vice-versa. Pay the man, reap the (safe) rewards.
Conference-Championship 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.
TE Tyler Higbee (Los Angeles Rams)
It’s a mess when it comes to tight ends. At the other end of the VOL spectrum is George Kittle, on this side of things is Tyler Higbee. Of course, the upside they come attached to is not even remotely close: Hibee has scored an average of 9.6 PPR points per game on the year while Kittle’s average is a higher 13 FPPG mark. Is that difference worth the boom/bust/volatility gamble, though? I don’t think so if you’re thinking big when it comes to the rest of the positions and fielding a Stud & Scrubs, DFS-winning lineup. Higbee has been solid as a rock all year long. He’s dropped a couple of sound duds (1.8 and 1.3 PPR points in W2 and W12) but other than that he’s always finished above 5.5 PPR points and into the TE24-realm—TE2 levels of play, if you prefer. The rapport between QB Matthew Stafford and TE Tyler Higbee has improved weekly, and it’s now been three of the past four games in which Higbee has seen 7+ targets for 4+ catches. Higbee has scored an average of 13.3 PPR points per game in those four matches, his average line in them was up to 7-5-55 and he added a couple of touchdowns in that span. Not your lineup cornerstone, of course, but a high-floor player to have on your side this weekend.