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 21st 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’!
Super Bowl LVI 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)
I’m conflicted about this thing. Is this the most boring pick ever, or the most exciting one? Of course, you know where I come from. Chase is the only player to pop up in the hyper-volatile chart above, which makes it just impossible to pick any other guy for this slot. But Chase is also the most exciting possible pick after what he’s done as a rookie in the NFL this season: flexing on haters, and then some. So good was Chase that his high volatility mark, unique in the league at this point, probably has more to do with Chase “resting” his way through the last few games of the season and postseason instead of just underperforming or performing too randomly to stay low in the VOL leaderboard. To wit: 1.3 PPR points at Denver (W15) and 4.6 at Cleveland (WC Round) getting just four targets in each of those two matches playing 51 and five snaps respectively.
Other than that, the resume is impeccable. Remove that stupid Browns game from the sheet and look at Chase’s last five games while trying not to faint: 19, 55, 23, 16, and 17 PPR points on his way toward the Super Bowl. Risky? Maybe. But just because Chase chose to walk that path. Pay for this man. You won’t regret that.
Super Bowl LVI 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)
There is a curious thing going on here. I might be alone on this thought, but it feels to me there is more risk involved in going with Mixon than going with Chase this weekend. It is not about the ceiling, the total fantasy scoring, or anything like that. In fact, Chase is putting up 18 FPPG while Mixon is virtually doing the same at an average of 17.7 FPPG on just one fewer game played to this day through the 2021 campaign (RS+PS). But do we trust Mixon on such a large stage as a freaking Super Bowl? Folks, I don’t know, I don’t know.
Mixon’s high VOL is the result of a bunch of middling games in the late stretch of the regular season, starting in Week 13 and finishing in Week 15. He didn’t even reach 10 PPR points in any of those three, even though he logged 65%, 60%, and 58% snap shares and racked up a combined 54 carries averaging 18 and never dropping below 17 totes. What was the deal, and... is he in for such a dud come Sunday? Judging by his most recent production, I’d say no, no sir. Mixon’s PS has been phenomenal. Four games, never fewer than 11.6 PPR, an average of 16.1 FPPG, and a translation to a 16-carry, 59-yard rushing line (one touchdown over four games) to go with an average of 6-5-36 receiving numbers. The only thing missing are the scoring plays, honestly, but those should be back this weekend as Mixon has scored 14 times rushing and 3 receiving in his 20 games this season.
Super Bowl LVI 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.
QB Matthew Stafford (Los Angeles Rams)
Flashy pick: Joe Burrow. Better pick: Matthew Stafford. (I’ll play Burrow because I’m dumb and I always go with the swag-man, but bear with me here). Just peep at the chart above. Both Burrow and Stafford have a virtually similar 20 FPPG figure this season. The problem, though, is Burrow’s higher volatility at steadily posting high-scoring tallies. Maybe the difference just comes from the back-to-back single-FP games Burrow had in W9-W11 sandwiching his bye. Maybe it’s because of the W15 stinker at Denver. Or maybe, though, it is because Matty Stafford has been an absolute rock-solid QB for the Rams this season.
Stafford has one single-digit outing too, as recently as in Week 16 at Minny. Yes. But Stafford, even in the worst of scenarios back on the WC Round facing ‘Zona (17 attempts, 13 completions) go to score a freakish 24.3 FP to the tune of 202 yards passing and 22 rushing throwing for 2 TDs and carrying the rock for another one. Stafford has dropped 16+ FP in all five of his last games topping at 29.2 against Tampa almost a month ago. The interceptions have appeared on his stat lines more often than not, but he’s made up for that easily scoring 2+ TDs in all but four of his 20 games played this season, and he’s now even doing it on the ground with two rushing touchdowns in the postseason. Burrow has shown a higher ceiling to close the RS (back-to-back 34+ FP games), but Stafford has been steadier and posted 25 FPPG compared to Burrow’s 17 FPPG through their postseason runs.
Super Bowl LVI 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)
Not the greatest group of players right there, is it? I gotta go with Higbee because 1) he’s the cheapest of bona fide viable tight ends this weekend and 2) he’s the best of the ultra-safe players eligible and in play. Higbee is nearly two fantasy points better than second-best Cam Akers, let alone fellow TE Drew Sample. He has racked up TE1 and TE2 finishes through the season, but of course, things have gone a little bit south through the playoffs.
It’s been three games in a row with Higbee not reaching double-digit PPR points while catching 3, 4, and lately, 2 passes for 46, 51, and 18 yards and no touchdowns in the Rams run toward the final game of the year. No bueno. But we gotta trust the process and the numbers. Higbee is still uncertain and questionable for SB Sunday after leaving the last game early. That sucks. But it’s Super Bowl time, and I mean, I’d play even on one leg. I assume Higbee will do the same. Keep an eye on the newswire, of course, but the minute he’s confirmed in, go with him. The tight end position is ridiculously bad at scoring fantasy points, and the 9.3 FPPG might look horrid next to Higbee’s name, but it’s not that there are many guys able to finish inside the top-12 realm as often as Higbee did through the year. Non-risky risky play, I guess, if only for a day.