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NFL Opening Drive Week 8: Using Standard Deviation To Your Advantage

Michael Waldo

After this week, we'll be exactly halfway through the DFS football season (no, I don't count Week 17 as part of the year). By now, we all should have a pretty good feel for who is seeing the usage and who is producing. Sometimes, however, our perceptions are a long way from reality and it's always a good idea to take a step back to ground yourself after each week of action. The foundation of this volume analysis for wide receivers begins and ends with target usage. Wide receivers and tight ends are so heavily reliant on their quarterbacks and offensive schemes to generate fantasy points, so it's important we look at the right data sets when targeting these players.

Two of my favorite ways to look at this data is by analyzing a player's weekly averages as well as the standard deviation of each of their weekly performances. The former gives you a good idea of players who have been heavily involved in their game scripts, while the latter allows you to see the consistency of which the player reaches those averages. Having a low standard deviation means the player is more consistent, while a higher standard deviation means a player's targets are a little more sporadic. As you can probably guess, the players with low standard deviations generally make very strong cash game options and players with high standard deviations are typically strong tournament plays given their high ceiling on a weekly basis.

Here's a look at the current target per game leaders after the first seven weeks of the season along with each of their standard deviations. For your viewing convenience, we also conditionally formatted the standard deviation column with the greens identifying the consistent targeted receivers and the reds identifying the inconsistently targeted players.


The results show us a few really interesting things. Notice how the players at the top of the list are the leaders in terms of targets per game? Well, they are also generally the most consistent players on the list.

The big exception here is actually one of my most surprising findings - Antonio Brown. While he currently trails only TY Hilton is terms of targets per game, Brown actually ranks as the 4th worst in terms of target consistency through the first half of the year among the receivers included in this view. As an industry, we generally view Brown as the safest cash game option among all players, and while he's definitely an elite play, he may actually be a better tournament option than a cash game option given the inconsistent targets he sees. Now, it's worth mentioning that the standard deviation measures outliers both above and below the mean, so his 18 target performance in Week 3 is skewing his measures just as much as his 5 target performance in Week 4.

For cash games, we strive to achieve that consistent performance week in and week out and the best way to meet that goal is by rostering players with consistent targets, even if it comes at the sacrifice of some ceiling. With this in mind, sometimes it makes more sense to sacrifice some target upside, if it means you're more confident in your overall target projection. This is especially true for Demaryius Thomas and Brandin Cooks, who both have very little variance, but aren't necessarily at the top of the leaderboards.

Like everything else, this is only a piece of the total puzzle, but it's definitely at the core of my lineup decisions, particularly when deciding between rostering a player in cash games versus tournaments.

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