Fantasy Football: Regression Candidates Through Week 5
We're finally to the point in the season where things start to make sense. Situations where expectations were unclear to begin the season have become less murky with a larger sample size, roles have stabilized, and most early-season surprises have regressed.
This week's Regression Candidates will help fantasy owners decide what to do about certain overachievers and underachievers.
Negative Regression Candidates
Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers
Many fantasy owners panicked when Keenan Allen was lost for the season in Week 1, but our own Jim Sannes explained why Philip Rivers' struggles without Allen last season were more a byproduct of the opposing schedule. Although the San Diego Chargers have lost consecutive games in heartbreaking fashion, Rivers has capitalized on soft matchups to post two straight strong fantasy performances. Rivers is just 12th in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, and things are about to get a lot tougher for the 6th-best fantasy quarterback very soon, as he faces the Denver Broncos in San Diego this week before traveling to Denver two weeks from now. You may want to look elsewhere.
Melvin Gordon, RB, San Diego Chargers
Unlike his teammate above, Melvin Gordon doesn't face an imposing defense this week. The Denver Broncos are most vulnerable against the run, and the Chargers may again lean on Gordon to move the ball. Unfortunately for Gordon, the sixth-best running back in point-per-reception (PPR) leagues, he hasn't been particularly efficient -- he ranks 55th of 74 running backs in the NFL with at least 10 carries in Rushing NEP per play and 56th in Rushing Success Rate. If the Chargers have difficulty moving the ball and Gordon isn't able to fall into the end zone, he and his 3.36 yards per carry average might struggle to meet expectations.
Cameron Meredith, WR, Chicago Bears
Cameron Meredith was a nice surprise last week for deep leaguers and DFS players who took the plunge in the wake of Kevin White's injury, leading the Chicago Bears in targets and yards. Meredith should be a important part of the Chicago offense going forward, but is he for real? Meredith was even less efficient than White on a per-target basis, with a 0.23 Reception NEP per target, well behind last year's league average rate of 0.67. In fact, Meredith's rate this year is 79th out of 81 wide receivers in the NFL with at least 20 targets, and he's also just 74th in Reception Success Rate. As Eddie Royal returns to full health -- he played just 56% of snaps last week -- he should see a larger market share of targets, reducing the number of opportunities for Meredith.
Martellus Bennett, TE, New England Patriots
Martellus Bennett alleviated concerns about his chemistry with Tom Brady in last week's blowout win over the Cleveland Browns, catching 6 passes for 67 yards and 3 touchdowns on 8 targets. Bennett is now the second-highest fantasy scorer at the tight end position in PPR leagues, trailing just Greg Olsen. Bennett is second in Total NEP and Reception NEP per target among tight ends -- so he's been consistent and should be a weekly contributor -- but played just 68.8% of snaps last week, and he isn't going to score three times every week once Rob Gronkowski is an every-down player again.
Positive Regression Candidates
Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Coming off the bye, Carson Wentz lost his first career start but scored 17 fantasy points in the process. Now 13th among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game, Wentz travels this week to square off against an average Washington Redskins defense. This is far from an imposing matchup for the rookie signal caller, who ranks sixth in Passing NEP per drop back and eighth in Total NEP. He has shown plenty on film to be trusted in good matchups and has performed above expectation from an efficiency standpoint.
Lamar Miller, RB, Houston Texans
Lamar Miller is the only running back in the NFL with 54 or more touches who has yet to reach the end zone, and with 115 total touches so far this season, he's due for positive regression. Coming off a brutal matchup with the swarming Minnesota Vikings defense, Miller squares off with the Indianapolis Colts in Houston in a get-right spot. Miller hasn't been efficient or able to break off chunk gains consistently, but he is getting fed the rock relentlessly, leads the NFL in red zone carry market share, and got his starting left tackle back last week.
James White, RB, New England Patriots
Similar to the reasons we profiled LeGarrette Blount as a negative regression candidate last week, James White's arrow is pointing up after Tom Brady's return. JJ Zachariason wrote about this situation in this week's 15 Transactions column -- and one important takeaway from last week's usage is that White out-snapped Blount, even in a blowout win where the New England Patriots basically ran out the clock in the fourth quarter. Currently the 37th best running back in PPR leagues, White has actually been a more efficient runner than he has in the past, ranking second among running backs in the NFL with 15 or more carries in Rushing NEP per play and Rushing Success Rate. When the game script isn't as favorable for the Patriots, the running back in this backfield who will benefit is James White.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears
This is definitely not what Alshon Jeffery owners signed up for. So far, he's just the 39th-best wide receiver in PPR leagues and has only led his team in targets in one week this season. As shown by Ryan Ward earlier this week, Jeffery is actually having the most efficient season in his prolific career to date -- he just isn't seeing the requisite volume. Jeffery is 9th in the NFL in Reception NEP per target but just 21st in Reception NEP because of a lack of targets, and although he saw fewer looks than both Cameron Meredith and Eddie Royal last week, the injury to Kevin White should help swing things back in Jeffery's direction.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
Opposite to his teammate Bennett above, Gronk will likely see positive regression as he returns from full health. The return of Tom Brady apparently worked miracles on Gronkowski's ailing hamstring, as he was suddenly able to run routes downfield and shed tacklers in the open field. Gronk is first in the NFL in Reception NEP per target among tight ends and third among all pass catchers with at least 10 targets. His snap count percentage has risen each week he's been active, from 23% in Week 3, to 70% in Week 4, to 81% last week. Gronk has yet to get into the end zone, but touchdowns are coming in bunches.