Fantasy Football: Regression Candidates Through Week 12

Some leagues begin the quest for fantasy football glory this week, and others start their fantasy playoffs next week -- either way, now is not the time to lose our laser focus as we formulate those final lineups. While it seems like we waited forever for the season to get here, in a blink, it's nearly over.

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. Digging deeper into things like our in-house metrics, touchdown rates and historical data can help us find outliers from a statistical standpoint.

Negative Regression Candidates

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

Russell Wilson has placed himself as fantasy's QB1 at this point in the season, buoyed by his passing yards and touchdowns both being third best in the league.

A deeper dive into some more advanced metrics, like Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, shows Wilson hasn't been quite so efficient. Among the 39 signal-callers with 100 or more drop backs, Wilson ranks only 11th with a mark of 0.16. Still good, but not elite like his fantasy ranking.

It is important to note that Wilson has rushed for a touchdown in consecutive games -- boosting his rank -- but when he doesn't rush for a touchdown, his performances have been middling.

Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

When your team loses five of their last six games, pandemonium can ensue, and that's exactly the situation with the Kansas City Chiefs at quarterback.

Alex Smith performed brilliantly to start 2017 and was a large reason the team started 5-0, including a marquee win over the New England Patriots. He currently resides as fantasy's QB4 so far this season.

But in looking at Passing Success Rate, or the rate of plays that generate positive NEP, Smith is far from a top-four quarterback -- his rate of 46.97% places 16th among the 39 quarterbacks with 100 or more drop backs in 2017.

Smith's struggles are certainly part of this recent slide, and his fantasy rank may soon follow, too.

DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee Titans

In half-point PPR formats, DeMarco Murray has been a solid fantasy asset, ranking 17th this season, but there are a few reasons why Murray won't be there for much longer.

In reviewing the top 10 running backs in terms of carries in 2017, backs are averaging a touchdown every 33.31 attempts (55 touchdowns on 1,492 rushing attempts). Murray, however, has been outpacing that number, hitting paydirt once every 25.8 rushing attempts (5 touchdowns on 129 rushing attempts). His rushing effectiveness also doesn't match his fantasy output -- among the 43 running backs with 70 carries or more, Murray's -0.12 Rushing NEP per carry ranks 37th.

Factor in Murray garnering fewer carries than teammate Derrick Henry in Week 12, and it's fair to assume his fantasy rank could be on the decline.

Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals

Time does not seem to apply to Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals, who has put up a monster fantasy season so far as fantasy's WR10. Not bad for a dude that already has 15,000-plus receiving yards in his career.

But among the 40 wide receivers with 60 or more targets, Fitzgerald ranks a lowly 33rd in Reception NEP per target (0.53). Couple that with Blaine Gabbert starting under center, who ranks 22nd in yards per attempt (6.92 yards), and Fitz could soon be on the outside looking in of the WR1 corps.

Positive Regression Candidates

Philip Rivers, QB, Los Angeles Chargers

Philip Rivers currently sits on the fringe of the QB1 group, ranking as fantasy's 11th-best quarterback this season. That low mark is thanks to facing three ferocious pass defenses in the first seven weeks -- the Denver Broncos (twice) and Philadelphia Eagles, who rank fourth and third, respectively.

In spite of facing those solid defenses, Rivers is fourth in Passing NEP per drop back (0.24) and has a dream schedule to finish the year, facing the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, and Oakland Raiders, who all rank among the bottom-seven pass defenses in the league.

Dion Lewis, RB, New England Patriots

New England has endured quite the running back carousel this season, with Mike Gillislee, James White, and Rex Burkhead all figuring in prominently. Combine that with Dion Lewis' 12 total carries in the first four games, and his RB23 mark this year is no shock.

Since that point, Lewis has gone into beast mode. Among rushers with 70 carries or more, Lewis ranks second in Rushing NEP per carry (0.14) while averaging a whopping 5.32 yards per carry over his last 85 totes.

With Gillislee a healthy scratch the last three contests and White receiving only four touches in Week 12, Lewis' fantasy stock could continue climbing.

Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

Michael Thomas has scored a ridiculously low number of touchdowns this season -- two to be exact -- while his 102 targets ranks eighth best in football. In looking at football's top eight receivers in terms of targets in 2016, they averaged one receiving touchdown per 18.87 targets (67 touchdowns over 1,264 targets). Thomas, meanwhile, lags far behind with one score per 51 targets.

With Drew Brees recording 73 drop backs in his last two contests, consistent volume should be available for Thomas, helping position regression come for him in the touchdown department.

Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams

The Los Angeles Rams' 2017 story is one of the coolest turnarounds of the year, and with a win last week to run their record to 8-3, they've ensured their first non-losing season since 2006.

That's been spurred by a passing offense that ranks fourth in the league. Rookie wide receiver Cooper Kupp checks in as WR36 in half-point PPR formats, but clocks in 16th in Reception NEP per target (0.73).

With Robert Woods sidelined due to a shoulder injury, he could begin to see an even bigger increase in targets. Just last week with Woods out, Kupp caught 8 passes on 11 targets for 116 receiving yards.