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Daily Fantasy Football: How Positional Volatility Should Shape Decision-Making

Certain positions have more predictable output than others. How should this affect our roster construction in daily fantasy football?

There are a lot of "four-letter words" in the realm of daily fantasy. High ankle sprain. Running back by committee. Alex Smith. If you want to stir negative emotion in an enemy, simply utter any of these phrases. Then duck, as a swing at your head is almost inevitable.

Not among those phrases, though, is perhaps the word that has cost me the most sleep in my fantasy-playing days: volatility.

As a person who is generally risk-averse in every aspect of life, the word "volatility" will make me want to hurl without fail. Volatility is the the predator of safety, and I'm not about that risk-taking life, fam. I can't do it.

Volatility can fall under two separate categories when it comes to fantasy. The first would be individual player volatility (yes, this is a passive-aggressive reference to your high-variance tush, DeSean Jackson). Today, we're going to be focusing more on positional volatility and how it should affect your decision-making in daily fantasy football.

Let's take a look at which positions experience the most volatility before applying those takeaways to strategy in both cash games and tournaments in order to give your teams the proper amount of volatility in each situation.

Which Positions Experience the Most Volatility?

The intent here is to find which positions experience the most game-to-game variance. If we can figure that out, it will allow us to know in which positions we should invest most heavily in both cash games and tournaments. Thankfully, the results were pretty definitive.

What I did was look at the game logs of the top 20 fantasy options at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end from 2012 to 2014. By using a sample that is longer than one year, we can get a better idea of which players and positions truly experienced the most volatility. A 16-game sample can give us a good hint, but I'd rather have between 30 and 48 games, depending on health and usage.

For each player, I looked at their fantasy output over that span based on FanDuel's scoring rules, which assign four points per passing touchdown and a half point per reception. Although this is specific to one site, that doesn't mean the takeaways aren't applicable to other scoring systems.

The only times I omitted games were if the player was in an obvious timeshare or role in which you wouldn't be using them in fantasy. So, when Julius Thomas was largely riding the pine for the Denver Broncos in 2012, his game logs were omitted because it wouldn't be indicative of output at the tight end position. If a running back played fewer than 33 percent of the snaps for reasons other than game flow or an injury, then this was assumed to be the case.

After taking down these game logs, I took the mean, standard deviation, and coefficient of variation for each position. Obviously, there will be some players for whom these totals will be different from the others at their position group, but the intent was to look at variance by position.

The table below does show the standard deviation, but that is the least important aspect of this all. We are more interested in the coefficient of variation, as it helps qualify for the differences in mean performance at each position (quarterbacks will naturally have a higher standard deviation than tight ends because of their higher point totals, but that doesn't mean they are necessarily more volatile).

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