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Fantasy Football Volatility Index: Risky & Safe Starts for Week 16

James Conner isn’t flashy, but he’s a reliable RB2 this week. Using NECC consistency rating to identify risky & safe starts for Week 16 fantasy football.

The fantasy playoffs roll on! There’s always risk in fantasy football, especially come playoff season. You’re never certain in the performance you’re going to get from a certain player when you start them. In order to help you make the best start/sit decisions for your fantasy team this week, I’ve used our NECC consistency rating to chart the safest and riskiest starts for Week 16.

What Is NECC Rating?

NECC stands for NerdBall Efficiency and Consistency Coefficient. It is a glorious stat, developed by our stats man Paddi Cooper, to help gage both a player’s consistency and efficiency with each touch in fantasy football. Here’s a full breakdown of what goes into the calculation.

This rating is a great way to help make determinations when it comes to weekly starts and sits as you have a clearer image of how volatile a player’s fantasy production has been this season. A player with a high NECC rating who’s in a bad matchup isn’t likely to be a great start. The reverse is likely to be a great start.

I’ve charted every position’s NECC rating over their .5PPR points per game to help visualize who are safe and risky starts this week. The chart is hard to read but never fear, I’ve highlighted a few high-risk, mid-risk, and low-risk starts for Week 16. Feel free to do your own digging with the stat and use it when making your own start sit decisions.

Let’s get it!

High-Risk Start

D’Onta Foreman (RB60)

It’s been over four weeks since Foreman finished above a RB2 in fantasy. Even his 113 yards against the Broncos in Week 12 managed just a high-end RB3 finish that week. You have to go back to Week 10 for the last time Foreman put together a top-24 finish. He’s still the primary ball carrier for the Panthers—his 40.7% opportunity share vastly out-weighs Chuba Hubbard—but he’s been wildly inefficient with all those touches.

Foreman isn’t going to right the ship this week vs the Lions. The Lions’ run defense has become legendary over the last four or so weeks. They rank No. 1 in fewest fantasy points allowed during that time, giving up just 9.53 PPG to opposing backs. That’s stunningly low. Don’t even risk it with Foreman this week. He belongs on your bench.

Evan Engram (TE30)

Engram has had some truly insane highs this season, and some major lows. Still, in recent weeks he’s finished a TE1 more often than not. In fact, he’s finished a top-12 option in each of his last three weeks. He’s also one of the few tight ends this year with a target share over 15%, meaning you can rely on a regular workload.

While the Jets have been an elite pass defense this season—they rank No. 2 in pass NEFF rating—they’ve struggled containing tight ends. On the year, they’re allowing the 6th-most receptions, 8th-most yards, and 11th-most PPG to the position. Their elite boundary corners are forcing passing offenses to look towards the middle of the field. Engram should be productive as a top option for Trevor Lawrence Thursday night.

Mid-Risk Start

Tom Brady (QB14)

It’s been a less than stellar year for Brady both fantasy and real football-wise. Once twice this season has he finished better than QB7 in a week, only finishing in the top 5 once. He has had some true lows, but for the most part he has hovered around high-end QB2 this season. What should be encouraging for Brady managers is seeing him throw for 300-plus yards and 3 touchdowns last week on a Bengals’ secondary ranked top 10 per NEFF rating.

Brady and the Bucs get a much easier matchup this week against the Cardinals. Arizona has given up the eighth-most PPG to opposing QBs on the year (18.5). The last time the Cardinals faced a truly potent offense, they surrendered a top-3 performance to Justin Herbert in Week 12.

DeVonta Smith (WR36)

While Smith’s fantasy finishes have been at times sporadic, his usage has been anything but. Since Week 10 he has seen either eight or nine targets in every game. That’s about as consistent a workload as you can ask for. While Jalen Hurts won’t be suiting up for this game, I don’t expect that to impact Smith’s production drastically. In Gardner Minshew’s four starts last year, the Eagles ranked above-average in explosive passing play rate, indicating a still potentially potent offense even with their backup under center.

Smith also finds himself in a plus-matchup as the Cowboys rank bottom 4 in WR PPG allowed (37.3). Only the Chiefs are allowing more receiving touchdowns to the position this season. With attention having to be paid to AJ Brown, Smith should have a strong performance in this NFC East showdown.

Low-Risk Start

James Conner (RB10)

Conner isn’t the flashiest of running backs, but his consistency has been on full display his last five games. In each of those games he’s seen at least 19 opportunities (attempts + targets) and has finished a high-end RB2 or better. His role in the Cardinals’ offense is unquestioned, especially without Kyler Murray under center. Conner led all backs in Week 15 with an absurd 95.5% opportunity share.

The Buccaneers’ run defense has not been the unstoppable force it has in the past. They rank middle of the pack in run defense NEFF rating and are allowing 22-plus RB PPG over the last four weeks. Start Conner confidently as a high-end RB2 this week.

Tee Higgins (WR1)

Assuming health, Higgins has only finished outside WR2 three times this season. He’s finished a WR2 or better eight times. His 1.7 PER rating places him among the top-7 WRs this season. And obviously based on his NECC rating, he’s been the most consistent and efficient receiver in fantasy this year. You’re starting a player like that no matter what.

The Patriots do pose a tough matchup, ranking fourth in pass defense NEFF rating. Still, over the last four weeks, they’ve given up the most touchdowns (T-6) and eighth-most PPG (41.6) to wideouts. Higgins is about as sure-a-bet as there is to return at least WR2 production this week.

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