Fantasy Football: Regression Candidates Through Week 1
We're a week into the 2016 NFL season, and savvy owners are looking for potential opportunities to buy low and sell high on performances that may or may not be sustainable. We spend the entire offseason predicting what will unfold during the regular season, and we can finally react to actual data and information.
By detailing both negative and positive regression candidates, the hope is that we will uncover some of the truths behind some surprising Week 1 performances.
Negative Regression Candidates
Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Always more mobile than given credit for, Alex Smith, Week 1's overall QB3, supplemented his surprising passing volume (48 attempts) with a rushing touchdown as the Kansas City Chiefs climbed back from a deficit in a shootout against the San Diego Chargers. Smith threw for 363 yards -- the fourth-most in the league -- but wasn't particularly efficient with his distribution, putting up a Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back of 0.19, which was just 14th in the NFL in the opening week. The Chiefs' defense appears to be less talented than it was last season, so we can expect more negative game scripts than a year ago, but expecting Smith to throw 48 times a game is a recipe for a giant letdown. Smith will most likely be a middle-of-the-pack option going forward.
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
T.J. Yeldon got the surprise start last week during Chris Ivory's hospitalization and salvaged his fantasy day by punching in a touchdown, but he averaged a putrid 1.9 yards per carry. His advanced metrics were equally ugly, as he posted a -0.21 Rushing NEP per play, which ranked 32nd out of 41 running backs who had five or more carries. Ivory will eventually return and probably have a stranglehold on the majority of goal-line carries, most likely turning this backfield into a committee again.
Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers' offense is not as good as the scoreboard indicated after Monday night's shutout of the Los Angeles Rams. Hyde performed well and had a 0.08 Rushing NEP per play rate (15th out of 41 running backs), so he was effective in a positive game script, although his Rushing Success Rate (the percentage of carries that resulted in a positive gain in NEP) was just 34.78%, which was well below league average. Going forward, negative game scripts should phase Hyde out of the game plan more often and will lead to additional snaps for Shaun Draughn. The concern is mainly rooted in the questions surrounding his potential volume in the upcoming weeks -- particularly on a short week against the Carolina Panthers.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Larry Fitzgerald is a timeless legend. He had a monster game on Sunday, riding 2 touchdowns and 10 targets to a WR5 finish, but his Reception NEP per target of 0.77 was just 28th of 70 wide receivers with 5 or more targets. Fitzgerald is one of three talented options in the Arizona Cardinals' passing attack, and there will be too many mouths to feed on a weekly basis for him to sustain this sort of performance -- as we witnessed after his scorching start last season.
Quincy Enunwa, WR, New York Jets
Because of a complete lack of depth at the receiver position, Quincy Enunwa was running as the starting slot receiver almost by default and converted his 8 targets into 18 PPR points, ranking him as the WR14. Brandon Marshall will be definitively more productive going forward, and while Enunwa has a very real role on this team and should play the majority of snaps, weekly fantasy relevance isn't a likely outcome. He was less efficient than league average, posting a Reception NEP per target of 0.53.
Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys
Jason Witten served as Dak Prescott's security blanket in the season opener and will likely continue to do so, but it's unlikely that he will see 14 targets a game on a weekly basis. He had a Reception NEP per target of 0.26 -- which ranked just 24th out of 33 tight ends with 3 or more targets -- against a New York Giants defense that perennially struggles immensely to cover opposing tight ends.
Positive Regression Candidates
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, New England Patriots
Jimmy Garoppolo was surprisingly competent on Sunday night, getting rid of the ball very quickly and connecting on horizontal possession routes to move the chains. He posted a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.36, which was seventh-best in the league against a stingy Arizona Cardinals defense. In a game in which the Patriots are favored in Week 2, Garoppolo should fare even better against a barren Miami Dolphins secondary.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
Eddie Lacy was solid -- yet unspectacular -- in his season debut. He looked lighter and quicker than last year, averaging 4.4 yards per carry while recording an above-league average Rushing NEP per play of 0.05. He possesses massive touchdown upside as the primary running back on one of the league's best offenses and should provide low-end RB1 numbers moving forward.
Michael Floyd, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Michael Floyd caught fewer than half of his targets in a game that Larry Fitzgerald took over, but he was actually more efficient than his heralded teammate on a per-target basis (0.86 to 0.77). For the same reasons that Fitzgerald will likely regress, it's also probable that Floyd will be the primary beneficiary. Floyd put up WR1 numbers last season when Fitzgerald faded.
Tyrell Williams, WR, San Diego Chargers
Tyrell Williams is set for a bump in targets following Keenan Allen's season-ending knee injury. Of players with at least five targets in Week 1, Williams finished seventh in Reception NEP per target at a rate of 1.27. Although Philip Rivers is less productive without his favorite target, Williams should continue to be efficient with his increased opportunities.
Jesse James, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers
Jesse James played on every offensive snap in Week 1 for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Had he converted on his red zone targets, he likely wouldn't be listed in this section. He had the lowest yardage total of any tight end with as many targets, but his Reception NEP was more towards the middle of the pack. James is less athletic than teammate Ladarius Green, but he's playing the same role that people expected Green to have when he was being drafted in the single-digit rounds in fantasy leagues. James has very legitimate touchdown upside, and although touchdowns are difficult to predict, his floor is higher than many realize.