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PF Daily: Fantasy Football Tutorial Series: Advanced

Risk vs Reward

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One of the more challenging aspects of putting together a championship fantasy football squad is being able to successful weigh a player's risk against his potential reward. There are multiple areas of concerns that can give a player 'risk' heading into the NFL season. Some of those include age, battles for playing time, durability issues, schemes and many more. You can avoid many of these concerns by ignoring players that are saddled with some of these issues. However, a vanilla team does not necessarily mean a championship team. You have to take some risks and at times think outside of the box in order to stockpile the talent needed to dominate your leagues. This study will take a look at risks and when to take a chance on the reward.


When you start analysing the players for the upcoming season, try and identify possible risks to their potential projections. Let's take at C.J. Anderson of the Broncos. He is a young player who had a very strong 2nd half of the season last year when he carried the ball 162 times for 767 yards and scored 8 times. He truly was a beast throughout the second half of the season and many fantasy experts and owners alike are going to take the 767 yards, multiply it by two, take a little cream off the top and project him for 1400+ rushing yards and 12+ touchdowns. While that is certainly a possibility, there are a few caveats to make a note of here that should temper your expectations.


Suspect offensive line: The Broncos have question marks at three of the five offensive line positions this season. There will be a learning curve here to begin the season as the unit learns to play together.

New coaching staff: Anderson had a good second half last year but the scheme will be changing with the new coaching staff coming in.

Competition for playing time: Anderson is definitely the front runner here but he will have to hold off talented teammates, Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman for touches. With a new staff in place, there are no guarantees that Anderson will get the starting job.

Peyton Manning's age: This offence goes as Manning goes. If he were to wear down, defenses may load eight in the box to stop the Broncos rushing attack. This would limit Anderson's effectiveness.


Breaking down Anderson does raise an issue in several areas as illustrated above. Yes he is a top-ten capable running back but those areas of concern are legitimate reasons to keep your expectations tempered. Watching this situation through camp would be key to see how many of those areas of concern fade as the season approaches. I like to give a risk factor to my fantasy rankings. I will project players based on playing all sixteen games as it is impossible to know how many plays will be missed throughout a year based on injuries, competition, etc. Then I will calculate the risk from 0.1 to 1 whereas 1 is very little risk and 0.10 is nothing but risk. Then i sort the final numbers and that is my cheat sheet. So in this case, I would project Anderson with stats similar to this:

300 carries for 1400 yards and 14 touchdowns along with 45 receptions, 315 yards and 3 touchdowns with a risk factor of 0.7. His projected fantasy points are 322 points for the season and then I multiply that by his risk factor to compile his final score of 225.4 fantasy points. So he is capable of putting up top five fantasy numbers for this season but his risk puts his value down a little in the draft.

Once doing this for every player you get a good idea when to take a chance on a player. For example, let's compare a few players below using made up projections (not official projections).


10. Arian Foster, Texans: 230 fantasy points, risk 1.0: SCORE is 230
11. Jeremy Hill, Bengals: 252 fantasy points, risk 0.9: SCORE is 226.8
12. C.J. Anderson, Broncos: 322 fantasy points, risk 0.7: SCORE is 225.4

So you are picking tenth and have three running backs available in your cheat sheets. Arian Foster is the first option up and last no real risk factor. His score is 230 but his projections are only 230 fantasy points which is not all that high for a tenth overall pick. Next is Jeremy Hill who is projected for 252 points and with his minor risk of 0.9 has a SCORE of 226.8. Finally we have C.J. Anderson who has a projected fantasy points of 322 but his high risk factor dropped his score down to 225.4.

Looking at the above information, Anderson has a slightly lower score than both Foster and Hill but his potential fantasy points are 70 points higher than Hill and 92 points higher than Foster. Yes Anderson carries a higher risk factor here but when weighing all the information, Anderson's risk is worth the reward of signficantly higher fantasy points scored.

One of the best players in the past to bring this point into focus was Fred Taylor of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He exploded onto the NFL scene in 1998 when he finished as the 5th best fantasy running back. He was explosive, fast and dominated throughout the year. The next season he was a top-three fantasy pick on almost all cheat sheets but he struggled to stay healthy, missed seven starts and was a disappointing 28th best running back in 1999.

Fast forward to the 2000 season and he dropped down many cheat sheets due to his durability concerns. However his projection upside made him intriguing and he won fantasy leagues for owners that season by finishing as the 6th best fantasy back despite only playing thirteen games. Yes he had risk but his potential fantasy numbers gave him significant reward levels for that risk factor. It continued on again for the next few seasons but you get the point.

All players have risk (no matter how small that risk may be) and all players have reward. Weighing those two areas together will help you determine which player is the best one to take.

If a player has durability issues, and you are in a head to head league, he still has value in the weeks that he is healthy and contributing. Sure he may miss a handful of games but he will still likely put up good fantasy numbers when healthy and in your lineup. So you must look at both his potential stats as well as the risk factor and determine if he is the right pick or not.

Let's once again explore the same scenario above but change the numbers to a different situation:


10. Arian Foster, Texans: 300 fantasy points, risk 0.9: SCORE is 270
11. Jeremy Hill, Bengals: 270 fantasy points, risk 1.0: SCORE is 270
12. C.J. Anderson, Broncos: 300 fantasy points, risk 0.8: SCORE is 240

In this example, Anderson has similar fantasy points to the other two players with more risk so he is immediately cast aside by this fantasy owner. That leaves the decision between a little higher potential fantasy points and a little risk to slightly lower fantasy points with no risk. This is where you look at the risks and situations. In this case, the Bengals entire offence looks more capable to score points and with no real risk to speak of Jeremy Hill is the better pick here.

With every pick, you want to weight risk vs reward. If a player has much higher potential reward than his peers when your pick arrives, it may very well be he is the player you will target. You want a balance in your draft between safe picks and high reward picks. Safe picks will give you dependable weekly production while the 'swing for the fences' players will help you to put up big fantasy numbers.


For every single pick you make in your fantasy draft, take a minute to weigh the risk vs the reward for each of the few players you will target here. Durability, schemes and battles all come into play. If reward jumps out at you that it is worth the risk, than that is the pick to make. Do not simply take a vanilla team of all safe, conservative players or it will be tough for you to reach the top of your league. The risk vs the reward will be one of the most important decisions you make throughout your entire season.