Fantasy Football: Regression Candidates Through Week 3

Now three 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 use actual data and information to make decisions.

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

Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams

Who didn't have Los Angeles Rams signal caller Jared Goff in the QB1 tier three weeks into the seasson? And in looking at numberFire's Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back metric, Goff ranks as the best quarterback in the league with 40 drop backs or more (0.48).

While he's been fantastic, it is very important to note who he has faced and who he will be facing. According to our Adjusted Passing Defense NEP metric, the Rams have faced the Indianapolis Colts minus Vontae Davis (21st), the Washington Redskins (11th), and the San Francisco 49ers (28th) through the first three weeks. The Redskins aren't too shabby, but the others aren't so stellar. Over the next three weeks, LA will face two top-10 defenses in the Seattle Seahawks (10th) and the league-leading Jacksonville Jaguars.

This isn't meant to suggest that Goff hasn't been great. It is meant to say he should be sliding back to the pack a bit.

Chris Thompson, RB, Washington Redskins

Yes, I told you that Chris Thompson was bound to regress, and in Week 3, he hit another home run with 14 touches for 188 all-purpose yards and a score.

But this effort is simply unsustainable. Among running backs with 10-plus carries, Thompson leads the league with a 0.51 Rushing NEP per carry. However, he's scored four touchdowns off just 27 opportunities thus far. This is just a wild outlier to what we have seen previously.

Thompson still only carried the ball eight times to Samaje Perine's 19 in Week 3, and even Mack Brown toted the rock six times on the ground. Thompson should regress, or he is in line for one of the craziest seasons we have ever seen from a running back.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Los Angeles Rams

Since wide receivers and quarterbacks are obviously linked, Sammy Watkins seems bound to regress with the upcoming difficult schedule for the Rams.

But there is also something concerning if you dive into how Watkins is being used. While he checked in as one of the top-12 wide receivers, it was largely due to his monster effort against the 49ers, where he caught 6 passes for 107 yards and 2 scores. In the two weeks prior, he combined for just 7 catches and 88 yards.

In looking at NFL Next Gen Stats, Watkins is no longer the deep-ball threat he used to be. In reviewing his Average Targeted Air Yards (TAY), which indicates how far down the field a player is being targeted on average, his mark of 9.1 yards ranks 81st among pass catchers. The league leader, Martavis Bryant, is averaging 22.1 yards, or nearly 2.5 times Watkins.

Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

Travis Kelce ranks firmly in the TE1 conversation, but a quick peep at some of his advanced stats are a bit concerning.

Currently the TE6 on the board, Kelce only received one target in a Week 3 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Part of that could be attributed to a positive game script which influenced the Kansas City Chiefs to become a bit more-run happy. However, among tight ends with 10-plus targets this season, Kelce ranks just 17th out of 23 with a 0.40 Reception NEP per target.

Coming off a 103-target season in 2016, he certainly has proven to be an elite option at a very thin position, but he could be due for a slide down the ranks.

Positive Regression Candidates

Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

As we discussed schedule challenges with Jared Goff, Andy Dalton's schedule only continues to get easier, and he started a bit of a comeback last week against the Packers.

Dalton easily recorded his best game of the season with a 7.85 Passing NEP on 27 drop backs (0.29 drop back). Among the 32 quarterbacks with 40 drop backs or more, Dalton still ranks last (-0.27), but that number could continue to rise quickly thanks to his upcoming opponents.

Over the next six games, he will face some stout passing in defenses in the Jaguars and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who rank first and third, respectively, against the pass per our metrics, but he will also get to face the likes of the Cleveland Browns (25th), the Colts (21st), and the Tennessee Titans (26th).

Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

Like Dalton, Dak Prescott is going to also see some easier competition after facing the Rams this week, who rank sixth in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. After that, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback will see the Packers (17th) and the 49ers (28th).

And while the second-year man only ranks 23rd out of 32 quarterbacks with 40-plus drop backs in Passing NEP per drop back, his effort on Monday (0.49) shows what he's capable of.

Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

With Ken Zampese fired and the offense turned over to Bill Lazor, change seemed like it had to be a good thing for the Cincinnati Bengals. And while they still dropped to 0-3, the changes we saw were good, especially at the running back position.

In analyzing the snap count in the backfield, Joe Mixon charged up the depth chart, grabbing 34 offensive snaps to Jeremy Hill's 14 and Giovani Bernard's 13.

But, it's not even that he just saw the majority of the work -- he was also productive with that work. Mixon finished with 101 yards on 21 total touches and appears to be the far more efficient back of this group. In reviewing each runner's Rushing Success Rate -- which is the percentage of rushes that result in a positive NEP -- Mixon's mark of 37.14% outpaces both Hill (36.84%) and Bernard (26.67%).

Wendell Smallwood, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

After the devastating injury to Darren Sproles, who was placed on injured reserve, it was interesting to note that Wendell Smallwood grabbed the lion's share of the work following Sproles' departure.

Smallwood led the way with 43 snaps, which easily out-paced LeGarrette Blount (22) and Corey Clement (7). He was also a bit more efficient than Blount, rushing 12 times for 71 yards versus Blount's 12 carries for 67 yards.

Trying to predict the pass-catching work would also seem to favor Smallwood. He received 12 targets last season, while Blount has just 48 catches on 68 targets for his career. He's only seen double-digit targets in a single season just once (15 catches on 25 targets in 2011).

Keep an eye on this situation, but Smallwood looks to become a much bigger part of this offense with Sproles out.