Fantasy Football: Regression Candidates Through Week 12

Having a good fantasy football team is critical to winning a championship -- this goes without saying. However, football is a game played by people, so natural variability plays a factor.

Basically, luck can be just as important to winning as talent when the fantasy playoffs roll around. Fortunately, some of the luck around scoring touchdowns can be estimated and predicted using regression.

We'll dive into some players whose stock is trending downwards and upwards as we near the end of the season in this week's Regression Candidates.

Negative Regression Candidates

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins

Ryan Tannehill rewarded streamers last week with a three-touchdown performance in a favorable matchup. The sledding will likely get tougher this week as the Miami Dolphins travel to take on the Baltimore Ravens, a team allowing the eighth-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Jay Ajayi has cooled off of late -- due in large part to the injuries on the offensive line -- and the Ravens also have the league's top run defense, which should force Tannehill to throw more. Additionally, this game has this week’s lowest Vegas total, so it would be better to look for other options at quarterback.

Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers

After punching two carries into the end zone last week, Jonathan Stewart now has seven touchdowns on the year, with all seven coming inside the five-yard line. Since the Carolina Panthers' bye week, Stewart has been utilized near the goal line in favor of franchise quarterback Cam Newton. Considering Stewart's lack of involvement in the passing game, this week's matchup against the Seattle Seahawks and their tough run defense will be a tougher draw. The Seahawks have allowed just six rushing touchdowns all season, and the Panthers are now without starting center Ryan Kalil.

DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington Redskins

DeSean Jackson has seen solid volume in the games in which he's been healthy, but the Washington Redskins have too many mouths to feed in their offense to sustain any player (other than Jordan Reed) consistently. Jackson has been a bust in the games that he hasn't scored a touchdown in -- and his touchdowns this season have come from 44, 17, and 67 yards out. For a player that relies so heavily on his speed to create separation downfield, the average depth of target for Jackson on his touchdowns isn't surprising. Jackson has scored in two straight, though, and based on how fickle long touchdowns can be, this is unlikely to continue.

Taylor Gabriel, WR, Atlanta Falcons

Cast off by the Cleveland Browns in the offseason, Taylor Gabriel has been a sparkplug for the high-powered Atlanta Falcons' offense. Gabriel has scored at least one touchdown in each of his last four games, being utilized on jet sweeps, quick screens, and short routes near the line of scrimmage. Gabriel has become a legitimate weapon in the Falcons offense, but he has still yet to exceed five targets in a single game this season, and his receiving touchdowns have come from 47, 76, 35, and 25 yards out. As exciting as his speed can be, his volume remains unreliable, so his fantasy production will be, too.

Coby Fleener, TE, New Orleans Saints

Coby Fleener has been getting phased out of the New Orleans Saints offense since their Week 5 bye, proving true the offseason reports that the chemistry between him and Drew Brees was shaky. He has been far from a reliable option at tight end this season -- but every so often he provides a glimmer of hope with a decent performance (and somehow, he's still the 11th best tight end in PPR leagues). Last week, Fleener was out-snapped at his position by Josh Hill for the fifth time in the last seven weeks, and he was also out-snapped by John Phillips. Fleener was on the field for just 18 of 73 snaps, and projecting fantasy-football relevance on such limited playing time is nearly impossible.

The chart below shows each running back with at least five red zone rushing touchdowns and the percentage of their carries inside the 20 that have gone for touchdowns.

Red Zone Carries Red Zone Touchdowns Red Zone TD%
Latavius Murray 23 8 34.8%
Ezekiel Elliott 32 9 28.1%
LeSean McCoy 26 7 26.9%
LeGarrette Blount 44 11 25.0%
Ryan Mathews 28 7 25.0%
Jonathan Stewart 28 7 25.0%
Christine Michael 20 5 25.0%
Jay Ajayi 22 5 22.7%
Matt Asiata 24 5 20.8%
Jeremy Hill 24 5 20.8%
Carlos Hyde 29 6 20.7%
David Johnson 39 8 20.5%
DeMarco Murray 35 7 20.0%
Matt Forte 30 6 20.0%
Melvin Gordon 49 9 18.4%

The following table includes players who have at least ten targets and an above average red zone touchdown rate. The league average touchdown rate in the red zone is around 23%.

Targets Receptions Touchdowns TD%
Mike Evans 13 7 6 46.2%
Anquan Boldin 11 10 5 45.5%
Jordy Nelson 21 13 8 38.1%
Allen Robinson 16 8 6 37.5%
Odell Beckham 11 5 4 36.4%
Antonio Gates 14 6 5 35.7%
Davante Adams 15 10 5 33.3%
Seth Roberts 13 7 4 30.8%
Antonio Brown 10 6 3 30.0%
Michael Floyd 10 5 3 30.0%
Tyreek Hill 10 9 3 30.0%
Mohamed Sanu 10 8 3 30.0%
Randall Cobb 12 8 3 25.0%
DeMarco Murray 13 10 3 23.1%

Positive Regression Candidates

Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Since a sluggish start to the season, Jameis Winston has been a very good real-life quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it has largely failed to translate to fantasy football relevance. Over the past three games, Winston has thrown for just five touchdowns, but he could have a very strong finish to the season. The Buccaneers play the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys, and Saints again over their next four games. This week's game against the Chargers has a high Vegas total, and alpha receiver Mike Evans is capable of winning any matchup. Winston's remaining schedule is favorable, and he should see positive touchdown regression soon.

Devontae Booker, RB, Denver Broncos

Devontae Booker has struggled with efficiency since taking over for C.J. Anderson as the starter for the Denver Broncos, but he's out-playing and out-snapping Kapri Bibbs. Booker has the vast majority of the market share of carries in the red zone for the Broncos since Anderson's injury, but he has turned those 19 carries into just two red zone touchdowns. This should correct itself with time, and Booker is also active in the passing game, bolstering his floor.

Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints

Fantasy football owners of Brandin Cooks were left frustrated after last week’s performance -- a game in which the Saints passed for five touchdowns and amassed over 550 total yards. Despite the offensive explosion, Cooks played 49 of 74 offensive snaps and didn’t see a single target. Cooks is often regarded as a boom or bust play, but a goose egg is detrimental from one of your top receiving options. Cooks then went and openly complained about his role in the offense. Even with all the mouths to feed in New Orleans, it's probably safe to expect a bounce-back week from Cooks at home against the Detroit Lions in a game with huge shootout potential. The matchup has this week’s highest Vegas total at 53.

Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

Julio Jones ranks second among wide receivers in Reception NEP and fourth among receivers with 50 or more targets in Reception NEP per target, so he's been extremely efficient, but he's mixed in some huge performances with some massive duds -- being held below 35 scoreless yards in 25% of his games this season. Don’t expect another dud from the league’s leading receiver this week. The Kansas City Chiefs come to Atlanta, and their defense has given up the second-highest average point total to opposing wide receivers. Julio should feast on a beatable secondary, in a dome, as part of the league’s highest-scoring offense.

Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers

Since the Carolina Panthers' bye during Week 7, Greg Olsen's hot start to the year has fallen off. Olsen has found the end zone only once since Week 5, and he has averaged less than 40 yards in each of his past three games. Despite his slump, Olsen is still the leader among tight ends in Reception NEP, and he leads the Panthers with 11 red zone targets. He only has three touchdowns on the year, but he should remain the Panthers' premier weapon in a tough matchup in Seattle.

This chart shows the running backs who have 19 or more red zone carries and 4 or fewer rushing touchdowns inside the 20 -- again sorted by touchdown rate.

Red Zone Carries Red Zone TDsRed Zone TD%
Tim Hightower2015.0%
Mark Ingram2129.5%
Jordan Howard20210.0%
Spencer Ware20210.0%
Devontae Booker19210.5%
Todd Gurley23313.0%
Lamar Miller21314.3%
C.J. Anderson23417.4%
Frank Gore22418.2%
Terrance West22418.2%

This table shows players with at least ten red zone targets who are well below that league average red zone touchdown rate of 23%.

Targets Receptions Touchdowns TD%
Nelson Agholor 12 4 0 0.0%
Amari Cooper 11 5 0 0.0%
Jason Witten 15 9 1 6.7%
Tyrell Williams 13 8 1 7.7%
Emmanuel Sanders 16 7 2 12.5%
Julian Edelman 11 6 2 18.2%
Larry Fitzgerald 16 10 3 18.8%
Jamison Crowder 15 8 3 20.0%
Travis Kelce 15 7 3 20.0%
Coby Fleener 10 8 2 20.0%
Marvin Jones 10 4 2 20.0%
Brandon Marshall 19 7 4 21.1%