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 17th week of the 2021 season, there are 598 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 18 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 Ja’Marr Chase (Cincinnati Bengals)
You’re not going to convince me Chase isn’t the greatest rookie receiver of all time. I’d even go the distance to say he’s the GOAT receiver, full stop. Well, maybe that’s pushing things a bit, but you get where I come from. Chase has had a silly season to date—let alone for a freshman. But man, that volatility sucks and makes decisions hard. Chase has scored 20+ PPR points in six of his 16 games played. He’s never put two of those together on back-to-back weeks, though. Chase has also dropped below double-digit scores three times with a floor of 1.3 PPR points against Denver just three weeks ago. He’s got nine games of fewer than 14 FP... And he’s also coming off his best game of the year (and an all-time top-10 receiving performance, by the way) in which he put up a ridiculous 12-11-266-3 line for 55.6 (FIFTY-FIVE-POINT-SIX) PPR points. Lord, have mercy. Chase shouldn’t disappoint any fantasy GM going forward, nor should he be faded any time for the remainder of his career, but forget about getting 30+ fantasy points from him this weekend in pretty much any and every scenario you can come up with.
Week 18 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.
TE Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs)
There have been rumblings out there about Kansas City potentially letting the Broncos win this weekend’s game just so the postseason gets a bit “easier” for the Chiefs. Of course, losing this week’s game would mean missing on getting a wild-card bye week straight. Winning, though, might mean the same as long as the Titans score themselves a win against the lowly Texans—should happen. Anyway, Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Kelce should all be out there on the field at least for a bunch of snaps and that means they’ll inevitably eat. That said, though, you know what Kelce has been up to of late: 5.7, 5.7, 41.1 (!), and 13.4 PPR points is what he’s gone to score in the past four weeks of play. Kelce was steadier in the first 11 weeks of the season (16.7 FPPG, volatility of 6.1 FP) than in the past four games (16.5 FPPG, 14.6 VOL) while ultimately getting pretty much the same outcomes. In other words: Kelce can do it, but he’s turned into a wild boom/bust player of late so keep that in mind when building your DFS squad this weekend.
Week 18 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.
RB David Montgomery (Chicago Bears)
With just one game to go in the regular season, Bears’ rusher Montgomery is this close to finishing the year as an RB1. I know, I know, that’s false when it comes to total PPR points, yes, but on a per-game basis, he’s currently the RB14 and just 0.4 FPPG below the no. 12 player on the RB leaderboard. Montgomery has played only 12 games, thus the lower total tally, but he’s fantastic at everything through his actual playing time with 10 of those 12 games finishing in double-digit PPR points, and an even better five matches in which he dumped at least 18 PPR points on the opposition. The most encouraging thing? Montgomery hasn’t missed a game since Week 5 and in the past five weeks of play, he’s put up anything between 28 and 11 PPR points for an average of 19.6 FPPG while finishing as a top-20 RB at the very least in all of those slates (with three top-8 finishes baked into those results, too).
Week 18 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 Ryan Tannehill (Tennessee Titans)
The Titans are sitting neatly atop the AFC. Sure, they can still drop from the No. 1 spot, but they’d need to lose against the Texans and for Kansas City to win against Denver on Saturday. I’m not saying that can’t happen, but I’m also not not saying it. Anyway, what I mean is that Tennessee won’t be out there without the lead of Ryan Tannehill come Sunday’s game against Houston. And Ryan, simply put, is one of the steadiest guys manning an NFL pocket this season. He’s featured in all games this season, only has two below-10-FP performances, and his average of 15.6 FPPG is good for QB19 on the year. Is that latter bit of information too encouraging? No, it’s not. But what about the ridiculously low 4.2-FP volatility? You know you’re getting your good 15 FP from Tannehill no matter what, so if you want to spend big bucks in other positions with higher upside feel free to do so while keeping a safe play in your bag by starting the Tann.