Fantasy Football: Regression Candidates Through Week 2
Now two weeks into the 2017 NFL regular season, savvy fantasy football owners are looking for opportunities to buy low and sell high on potentially unsustainable performances. We spend the entire offseason predicting what will unfold once the action starts, but we can now 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 what we've seen so far this year.
Negative Regression Candidates
Trevor Siemian, QB, Denver Broncos
This offseason, we all predicted that Trevor Siemian would be the number two-ranked fantasy quarterback after the first two weeks, right?
That seemed highly unlikely, but after back-to-back impressive performances, he is. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it is here to stay. Among the 33 quarterbacks with 20-plus drop backs this season, Siemian's 0.22 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back ranks seventh. And if we look at his Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs that result in a positive NEP -- his 56.06% mark is fourth.
Those numbers are pretty good, but not quite as good as his fantasy numbers indicate.
The bad news for the Denver Broncos passer is that his competition is going to get a bit tougher. He capitalized on his early-season schedule, as the Los Angeles Chargers (0.19) and Dallas Cowboys (0.08) both rank in the bottom half of the league per our schedule-adjusted per-play passing metrics. He'll be on the road to face the Buffalo Bills this week, who are a top-10 team in this metric (-0.11).
Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
Two weeks into the season, and Todd Gurley has made this list both times. He ripped off some impressive totals against the Washington Redskins last weekend, which included 136 all-purpose yards on 19 touches and 2 touchdowns.
While Gurley's numbers were fantastic, they should be taken with a grain of salt. Among runners with 10 carries or more, he ranks only 35th out of 54 with a Rushing NEP per attempt of -0.13. If we narrow that sample down to running backs with 20 carries or more, he slips into the bottom third, ranking 21st out of 29 rushers.
He's the workhorse back -- no other running back even saw a carry for the Rams -- but his volume of work looks to be outpacing his efficiency.
Chris Thompson, RB, Washington Redskins
The numbers from last week are absurd for Chris Thompson of the Washington Redskins -- he turned 6 touches into 106 yards and 2 touchdowns. He hit a home run on a 61-yard scamper and added a 10-yard score earlier in the second quarter and is now a top-five fantasy running back. What is going on?
If you're scrambling to pick up a Redskins rusher with Rob Kelley potentially sidelined with an injury for Week 3, Thompson may not be the one to grab. Out of 71 offensive snaps, Ryan Grant led the backfield with 30 (42%), Thompson checked in with 29 (41%), and Samaje Perine had 26 (37%). Perine also led this group with 21 rushing attempts.
Thompson may continue to lead the running back crew in targets -- he led the entire team with seven -- but if the majority of the carries shifts over to Perine, Thompson is bound to regress a bit.
Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Stefon Diggs has been a boss so far this season -- he ranks as fantasy football WR6, and among wideouts with 10-plus targets, he checks in a very respectable 9th out of 60 (0.97) in Reception NEP per target.
However, the problem for Diggs is finding out who will be throwing him the pigskin. Head coach Mike Zimmer has been extremely vague in his timetable for a return for starter Sam Bradford, and Case Keenum was dreadful in Week 2, averaging a putrid 4.51 yards per attempt (YPA). Among the 34 quarterbacks with 20 drop backs or more, Bradford's Week 1 performance ranks him tops in Passing NEP per drop back (0.72), whereas Keenum ranked 30th (-0.24) following last weekend's performance.
If Keenum is the Week 3 starter, or if Bradford is compromised, expect Diggs to slide down those ranks.
Positive Regression Candidates
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
Yes, last Thursday's game against the Houston Texans probably made your eyes bleed, but don't jump off the Red Rocket's bandwagon just yet.
Andy Dalton has been horrific through two games -- in terms of Passing NEP per drop back, he ranks dead last out of 33 quarterbacks with 20 drop backs or more (-0.46), and he barely checks in one spot higher in Passing Success Rate (31.08%).
To his defense, though, he has faced two hellacious defenses. In reviewing our schedule-adjusted per-play passing metrics, he faced the best team in the Baltimore Ravens (-0.49) and the 12th-best in the Houston Texans (-0.07). Combine that with the weapons at his disposal in A.J. Green, Joe Mixon, and Tyler Eifert, and we should expect Dalton to pick things up soon, as he faces the Green Bay Packers, who rank 15th, and the Cleveland Browns, who rank 25th, in that same metric in the coming weeks.
Darren Sproles, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
After signing a deal this offseason with the Philadelphia Eagles, the running back role in Philadelphia seemed destined for LeGarrette Blount. Fast-forward to Week 3 and the job may have already flipped hands to the diminutive Darren Sproles.
A lock for top-30 running back status every year, Sproles has been relatively quiet this year with 123 all-purpose yards and no touchdowns. However, it's worth noting that he dominated the snap count in Week 2, garnering a very nice 69% of offensive snaps, with Wendell Smallwood taking 19% and Blount only 8%.
Sproles ranks only 28th in Rushing NEP per attempt (-0.07), but that is far better than Blount's mark of -0.15 (39th). When factoring in that Sproles ranks ninth in targets among running backs, his new workload could have him rocketing up fantasy boards quickly.
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
It only makes logical sense that if Dalton makes this list, A.J. Green should too, right? Yes, but let's explore why.
Over two games, Green has 10 catches for 141 receiving yards, and the Bengals are still searching for their first touchdown. Surely, you know a Green owner or two that is in a panic. The pass-catcher's efficiency numbers aren't looking great, either -- among 60 wideouts with at least 10 targets, Green checks in at 38th with regard to Reception NEP per target (0.55) and tied for 54th in Reception Success Rate (70.00%).
However, this offense seems certain to rebound as the schedule lightens up, and Green's deep targets are still there. In checking out his Air Yards, Green ranks 13th in Average Targeted Air Yards (TAY) with 13.8 air yards per target among that same subset of receivers.
He's still been a huge part of the passing game, as his 18 targets through two games rank 10th among wide receivers this year. While it's been a rough ride so far, things should pick back up for Green.
Benjamin Watson, TE, Baltimore Ravens
After being a complete non-factor in Week 1 with no catches and only one target, it can be easy to forget about veteran tight end Benjamin Watson. He announced his presence loudly in Week 2, though, and it is something we need to watch.
Among the 28 tight ends with five targets or more, Watson ranks ninth in Reception NEP per target (0.79) and is tied for fifth with Rob Gronkowski in Reception Success Rate (87.50%). Watson's eight targets in Week 2 led Baltimore, and he caught all of them for 91 yards.
While fellow tight end Nick Boyle saw the field for 62% of offensive snaps, Watson led the way with a mark of 74%. And it's not like Baltimore tight ends with Joe Flacco under center don't have a history of a heavy workload -- just last season, Dennis Pitta ranked third among all NFL tight ends with 121 targets.