Fantasy Football: Regression Candidates Through Week 4
With four games down in 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
Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
Houston Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson has endured quite the roller coaster season, hasn't he? After a slow start, he's gone beast mode in Weeks 3 and 4 to fly up the rankings, where he's currently the QB7. He did that thanks to facing two porous pass defenses in the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans, who rank 30th and 29th, respectively, according to our schedule-adjusted passing metrics.
And while that's been great for Watson owners the last two weeks, things are about to get a lot tougher -- he will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 5, who check in seventh against the pass. Couple that with the 11 sacks the Chiefs have already racked up this year, and this could be a long week for Watson.
Tarik Cohen, RB, Chicago Bears
The fantasy darling of the first few weeks, Tarik Cohen has been awesome so far this season, ranking inside the top-20 running backs. Looking at numberFire's Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per carry metric, he ranks second with a 0.17 mark among the 30 rushers with 40-plus carries.
That's the good news. The bad news is the falling snap rate, which really dropped off last week. Even though the Chicago Bears were playing from behind, which would seemingly warrant a game script that favors Cohen because of his ability to be a factor in the passing game, he was basically doubled up in snaps by Jordan Howard, who outranked him by a mark of 35 snaps to Cohen's 18.
Lamar Miller, RB, Houston Texans
If it felt like everyone saw the end zone in Houston's thrashing of the Tennessee Titans, it's because they kind of did. That's to be expected when you throw up 57 points on someone, though. Running back Lamar Miller was a huge part of that beating, taking 23 touches for 131 yards and 2 scores.
But that fantasy output hides the fact that Miller has been pretty inefficient -- among that same group of runners we mentioned with Cohen, Miller ranks only 18th in Rushing NEP per carry (-0.05). It could get worse this week when he faces a Chiefs run defense that ranks eighth in the NFL when using our schedule-adjusted metrics.
So far, Melvin Gordon has fared the best on the ground against Kansas City, rushing for 79 yards in Week 3. It's a pretty elite run defense, so look for Miller to take a step back this week.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers
R.I.P. my mentions after this week, as this one is likely not to be a popular opinion, but Jordy Nelson could be in line to take a big jump back.
Nelson has been great this season, and the WR3 also checks in second in Reception NEP per target among wide receivers with 20-plus targets with a mark of 1.12.
His next two matchups, though, could be tough. The Dallas Cowboys rank in the middle of the pack in our adjusted passing metrics at 16th and are teeing off on opposing quarterbacks with 11 sacks. The Los Angeles Rams currently lead the NFL in scoring with 142 points through four games (35.5 points per game), but Jared Goff and crew were held to their second-lowest passing output against dem 'Boys with only 255 passing yards.
The following week is even worse -- he will likely be shadowed by Xavier Rhodes of the Minnesota Vikings in Week 6, who ranked as the best corner in the NFL last season. He's already shut down elite targets like Michael Thomas (8 catches for 45 yards), Antonio Brown (5 catches for 62 yards), and Mike Evans (7 catches for 67 yards) in 2017.
With the uncertainty at running back for the Green Bay Packers, it's interesting to note last year may have foreshadowed the Packers' plan of offensive attack -- when both Eddie Lacy and James Starks went down with injuries, Rodgers dropped back to pass 143 times between Weeks 5 and 7. The volume could be there, but those matchups coming up are a bit scary.
O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Blessed with a fantastic matchup last week against the New York Giants, Howard caught 2 passes for 63 yards and a score. The Giants have now allowed opposing tight ends to catch five touchdown passes in four games against them. Yeesh.
The problem is if you are buying in on Howard producing at that level moving forward, it's not likely to occur. Among the 52 tight ends with at least five targets, he falls firmly in the middle of the pack with regard to Reception NEP per target, ranking 22nd.
Further complicating matters for Howard, Cameron Brate is extremely efficient. Using that same metric and grouping, Brate ranks fourth, and he's been targeted five more times than Howard (13 to 8).
While the matchup on tap with the Pats is a tasty one Thursday night, Brate is the better Buccaneers tight end to own, not Howard.
Positive Regression Candidates
Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The moral of the story here is that whatever quarterback is facing the Pats needs to get some love, and Jameis Winston could be in line for a huge Week 5.
He could be off the radar for many fantasy players, as he currently ranks as QB22 this year. But Winston has been really efficient -- among signal-callers with 70 drop backs or more, he ranks fifth in Passing NEP per drop back (0.19).
Combine that with a woeful Pats pass defense, which has allowed a league-worst 1,296 passing yards through four contests, and Winston could be flying up those ranks soon.
Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Really going out on a limb for the RB5, huh? Not exactly, but as evidenced by last week's monster performance, Le'Veon Bell could quickly ascend into that top-two running back status fantasy owners drafted him for. Bell's -0.04 Rushing NEP per carry ranks just 16th among the 30 running backs with 40-plus carries, but the Pittsburgh Steelers have a date this weekend with the Jacksonville Jaguars, which could cure everything.
While Jacksonville ranks fifth in our adjusted rushing per play metrics, they have been gashed on the ground -- they allowed 256 rushing yards to the New York Jets last week and 179 rushing yards to the Titans in Week 2.
Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers
The Devin Funchess breakout we have all been waiting for may finally be happening. Funchess ranks only as WR18 after a huge Week 4, but he could be on the move soon.
Among 56 wide receivers with 20 targets or more, Funchess is 11th in Reception NEP per target (0.79). That's already good, but he can take another step forward because of his usage with tight end Greg Olsen injured. Since Olsen has been sidelined, the Panthers wide receiver has recorded a monster 30.65% target market share. His 7-catch, 70-yard, and two-touchdown game last week certainly opened some eyes, too.
Not to throw too much cold water on this, but last week's output did come at the expense of that bad New England defense. However, at that target market share mark, Funchess is definitely a wide receiver to monitor.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Thanks to some efficient play by his quarterback and a monster matchup on tap this week, DeSean Jackson could be on the rise from his current rank of WR62.
In looking at NFL.com's Next Gen Stats focusing on Average Targeted Air Yards, Jackson ranks second among all pass-catchers with a mark of 20.9 average yards per target in 2017. That's noteworthy because the Pats have been shredded by long gains this year, with Tyreek Hill (75-yard score), Kareem Hunt (78-yard score), Brandon Coleman (42-yard play), Ryan Griffin (35-yard play), and Kelvin Benjamin (43-yard play) all contributing through the first four weeks.
Given Jackson's deep-play ability, he could certainly pop a big one and makes for a very strong play.