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 end of the 2020 season, there were 589 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’!
Note: For this week’s entry, I’m using the volatility values generated by pitting against each other the FPPG from the full 2020 season and the PPR points they scored in W1 this season. That’s why the chart above (which only contains data from the 2020 season) is different from those below (data from both the 2020 campaign and 2021 Week 1 games—both in terms of FPPG and VOL).
Week 2 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.
QB Jameis Winston (New Orleans Saints)
Let me start at the beginning: I am Jameis’ No. 1 stan, and that won’t ever change. But one thing is to be a fan of a man and another entirely different one to disregard some facts. See, Jameis had started 70 games for the Bucs, and last Sunday he went on to lead the Saints for the first time since signing with the franchise now that Drew Brees is off to retirement. It’d be unfair to judge Winston by his 2020 averages, as he just played the barely-used backup role in the offense. But looking at his last full season (2019) I get quite antsy when putting Jameis in my lineups. Winston’s 29.6 FP on W1 only happened four times in 2019, but he also put up eight other performances below 20 FP—including a 9.0-PPR performance in the season-debut game. Makes me sad to type it, but Winston won’t be the 5-touchdown, 0-interception player we witnessed last weekend, and he’s a weekly QB1/QB18 player with a wild range of outcomes and risky business attached to his name.
WR Deebo Samuel (San Francisco 49ers)
2021 Deebo: 31.9 PPR points in W1. 2020 Deebo: 11.5 FPPG. 2019 Deebo: 12.6 FPPG. I mean. Deebo Samuel is part of a fantastic offense that schemes plays with gusto, and his performance to kick the year off was absolutely incredible: 9-of-12 for 189 yards (second-most among WRs) and a score to put the cherry on top. That’s great, only Deebo’s last season look was more than below that level of play. Samuel was good—even great—at the times he was on the field last year putting up four games above 12 PPR points and two above 18. The problem is that he went up and down the leaderboard on a weekly basis: from 18-PPR points to 12.2, then 24.3, and finally (not counting W14 as he played one snap) 13.6. And now he’s scoring in the thirties? Jeeeeeez. Can we call Deebo Volatileman?
Week 2 moderately-risky plays
These players have standard deviations from their averages between 7 and 10 fantasy points. We’re starting to get into the meat of the player pool, and decisions start to get tougher here.
WR Tyreek Hill (Kansas City Chiefs)
If you have any of the players highlighted in the couple of charts above (the ultra- and moderately-risky ones) and are reading this while trying to come up with your re-draft league starters, just go ahead and play whoever it is. Studs gonna stud, is what I mean. But in DFS this type of thing can murder your chances. Tyreek is always a hit. As simple as that. That being said, though, we all know how the Chiefs offense operates in terms of fantasy-point distribution: someone will always eat, but who that will be no one really knows. Hill had five games above 25 PPR points in 2020, but also five of not even reaching 16. He logged more than 10 targets in four but also got targeted six or fewer times in seven other games. Tyreek is definitely going to put up numbers more often than not, but there is always the risk that the likes of Kelce/Hardman/CEH are the ones who go for the explosion.
TE Rob Gronkowski (Tampa Bay Buccanneers)
It took Gronk five weeks after coming back from retirement to find his true mojo last season while playing to long-time buddy Tom Brady in Tampa. Starting in W6 Gronk averaged 11.1 FPPG in the 11 games he played from that week to the end of the season, and an even better 12.1 in matches in which he appeared on at least 30+ snaps. That’s TE1 level of play (the cut-off for the TE1 sat at 11.0 FPPG last year). Now, with a season of reps under his belt and the rapport with Tommy reignited, Gronk has turned into a 29-PPR points scorer. Ah, good ol’ days. No wonder Rob finished W1 as the best tight end in the slate after going 8-8-90-2, something he had not done since Dec. 2018 when he had another 8-8-107-1 game (his prior 2-TD similar line happened all the way back in 2014). Brady and Gronk will always connect, and we’re way past O.J. Howard or any other tight end being a threat to Rob’s production. But there are tons of other weapons in this offense to render Gronk null here and there: just ask the loser of W1 Mike Evans how one can be great yet end with a putrid outing in this squad.
Week 2 relatively safe plays
These players have standard deviations from their averages between 5 and 7 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 Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals)
Are we about to witness a QB1 season from Kyler Murray? I’d say so, if you asked me. It’s hard to see Murray putting up a season-end line nearing Josh Allen’s 2020 one—which some folks are referencing as a potential outcome for 2021 Kyler—basically because Allen had a legendary season last year. The comparison makes sense on the basis that Murray has the same or even better legs than Allen and is entering his third year as a pro with the Cards. Murray rushed the rock 133 times in 2020 and already put up a 5-20-1 rushing line in W1. That’s good and all, but Murray also threw for 4 touchdowns on 21 completions (to go with 289 passing yards). The 34.6 FP points led all quarterbacks to kick 2021 off, and last season Murray already reached that mark twice while having three more games of 30+ FP. Only twice (factoring in his W17, 25-snap not-so-important game) did Murray fall below 16.4 FP, so you know what he’s into. Murray is a lock to put up 20+ FP weekly, and that won’t change any time soon.
RB D’Andre Swift (Detroit Lions)
We’re getting closer to watching Swift’s final form, folks. The second-year man, though playing for a putrid team in Detroit, can put up numbers as he just proved in W1 and also through different games last season as a rook. I don’t think Swift is still the RB4 he ranked as last weekend, but he’s definitely approaching that territory. Swift won’t get to an 11-8-65-1 receiving line every week, obviously, and the rushing (39 yards on 11 carries) wasn’t sublime, but the combination of his receiving and rushing abilities will make up for a tasty combined outcome weekly. On top of everything, Swift is not a below-50 Snap% player anymore, and I don’t even know what those out there saying Jamaal Williams will outperform him are thinking. I love Jamaal as much as anyone out there, but Swift is a former 35th-overall pick and homegrown talent still 22 years old compared to Williams’ 130+ draft capital and 26 years of age. Can’t get much safer than playing Swift these days, as he’ll rack up carries and targets even with the Lions big-time trailing every weekend.
Week 2 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 Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys)
Dak is Back! Yesssss. I have reserved this last section to discuss two men making their comebacks this year after missing most of the 2020 campaign. These two are so obvious weekly starters, I know, but that doesn’t take for the fact that they’re absolutely great performers on a weekly basis while keeping up otherworldly fantasy averages. Cole Beasley? James White? DeVante Parker? Baker Mayfield? Sure, those are all nearly no-volatile players with pretty steady averages on a weekly basis—only none of them put up more than 15 FPPG last season. Prescott scored at least 17.6 FP in his four healthy games last year and even reached 14.4 in 25 snaps before getting done for the season in W5. That’s bonkers. Three of those five games saw Dak hitting 29.5 FP and he topped 38 FP in two of them. Those three starts ended with Dak ranked either QB1 or QB4. Now back and with his body fixed, Prescott had another fantastic game against a tough D in Tampa’s, scoring 27.4 FP and finishing QB7 overall. That’s Dak for you, folks. Perennial QB1 and pretty much a lock to finish every goddam game he plays in the 25-to-35 FP range.
RB Christian McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers)
Dak had a good return to the field. McCaffrey had the good return to the field. Oh, lord. CMC offered us a glimpse of what was to come back in W9 of the 2020 season when he, after missing the W3-to-W8 span, came buck for a single game and lit Kansas City up for 37.1 PPR points translated from a couple of touchdowns and 151 yards from scrimmage. Then, Carolina proceeded to shut CMC down for good… until we reached Week 1 of the 2021 season. And boy, did McCaffrey look like his best self. Without Mike Davis vulturing chances, CMC got to eat all he could stomach and that’s why he finished the day with 30 touches including 21 carries and 9 targets—he caught all nine of them. The yards went all the way up to 187 from scrimmage, a mark CMC had not reached since Nov. 2019. And he was unlucky not to score a touchdown that would have put his 27.7 PPR tally in the stratosphere. Nothing surprising about this performance and those that will keep happening as the season progresses.