Fantasy Football: Regression Candidates Through Week 1

One week into the 2018 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

Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After playing Week 1 as double-digit underdogs, which fantasy analyst didn't have Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is filling in for the suspended Jameis Winston, as this week's fantasy QB1?

Naw, me neither. But he dropped 417 passing yards, four touchdowns, and added a rushing score to boot in leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a road victory over their NFC South rivals in a 48-point outburst.

In taking a peek at the quarterback's numbers, his absurd 1.10 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back clearly was a league-best mark. And if we look at his Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs that result in a positive NEP -- his 64.29% mark is second.

Those numbers are pretty good, but his 2017 numbers, over a much larger sample, would indicate he may drop back quickly.

Over a very nice 169 drop backs in 2017, Fitzpatrick recorded a 0.10 Passing NEP per drop back mark, which put him at a respectable 17th among the 40 passers with 150 or more drop backs. He also faces a really tough matchup in Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles, who ranked fourth in per our schedule-adjusted per-play passing defense metrics in 2017. With gaudy numbers like that, the Fitz-magic may not continue.

Pat Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

With a grand total of 35 drop backs to his name heading into 2018 as the starter for the Kansas City Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes simply went into a divisional foe's house and dropped a QB3 performance in Week 1. Not bad, right?

Not bad at all, especially when you consider the ferociousness of the Los Angeles Chargers defense in 2017. Last year, they clocked in ninth (-0.01) in our schedule-adjusted per-play metrics and fifth (-0.04) against the pass.

Mahomes was a beast in this year's first week, tossing four touchdown passes on his way to a 0.50 Passing NEP per drop back. However, his Passing Success Rate shows he wasn't as strong, recording a rate of 46.43%, good for 15th-best in Week 1.

He will need to be solid against a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that ranked 14th in 2017 in our metrics, so it will be interesting to see if he can continue that success.

Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints

Despite the absolute torching the Bucs did to the New Orleans Saints defense, Alvin Kamara did his best to help the Saints keep pace, and he was a fantasy monster again. On 17 total touches, Kamara scored three touchdowns, including two on the ground on only eight carries.

Alvin, quit playin'.

If we peep the top-10 running backs in terms of touchdowns scored from last year, it's clear that this ridiculous pace Kamara is setting cannot be kept up, and even his own figures were an outlier.

PLAYER Rushes TD Rushes per TD
Todd Gurley 279 13 21.46
Mark Ingram 230 12 19.17
Jordan Howard 276 9 30.67
Le'Veon Bell 321 9 35.67
Leonard Fournette 268 9 29.78
Kareem Hunt 272 8 34.00
Alvin Kamara 120 8 15.00
Melvin Gordon 284 8 35.50
Carlos Hyde 240 8 30.00
Latavius Murray 216 8 27.00
TOTAL 2,506 92 27.24

Last year, this group scored a touchdown once every 27.24 carries, and Kamara's mark of once ever 15 carries was quite tasty. But two rushing scores on eight carries? It feels like some serious touchdown regression is coming and may hit the Saints running back hard.

Jared Cook, TE, Oakland Raiders

Playing catchup against the Los Angeles Rams, everyone thought the underdog Oakland Raiders and Jared Cook could have a solid week, but finishing as the week's TE1? That's a bit of a stretch.

One thing that worked to Cook's favor was a ferocious Rams defense that added stud corners Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. Those two outside studs shutdown Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson, who totaled a combined seven targets, while Cook had 12 passes thrown his way. Per Pro Football Focus, Peters ranks as the third-best cornerback in the league from 2015-2017.

Cook's Week 2 matchup against the Denver Broncos may not afford him a pile of opportunities either, as Denver ranked fifth overall as a defensive unit in 2017. While rookie Will Dissly did post an impressive 105 receiving yards and a score against Denver, the bulk of the damage was done on a 66-yard pass play, so look for Denver to be ready for Cook after a breakout Week 1 effort.

Positive Regression Candidates

Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

That opener against the Philadelphia Eagles in a playoff rematch certainly was hard to watch, and quarterback Matt Ryan was a big part of that stinker.

After Week 1, Ryan checks in 22nd among passers with a Passing NEP per drop back of -0.14, throwing for 251 yards and an interception with no touchdowns against an Eagles' D that was pretty tough against the pass. In 2017, we saw how good Ryan could be, and while he endured some significant regression in terms of passing touchdowns, dropping from a career-best 38 in 2016 down to 20 scores in 2017, Ryan still led passers with 250 or more drop backs in Passing Success Rate.

Against the Carolina Panthers, it will be important to note if Ryan continues his improvement in Average Intended Air Yards (IAY). Ryan averaged only 8.6 IAY in 2017, but bumped that up last week to 9.4 IAY per drop back. Ryan could be in line to bounce back after a tough opening game.

Dion Lewis, RB, Tennessee Titans

Despite Derrick Henry "starting" the game for the Tennessee Titans, Dion Lewis ramped things up in the second half, and he's one to keep an eye on.

Among running backs that received five carries or more (55) last week, Lewis checked in 17th in Rushing NEP per carry (0.08) and 22nd in Rushing Success Rate (43.75%). That's a far cry from Lewis's marks in 2017, where he ranked second in both metrics.

Perhaps an even bigger reason to be bullish on Lewis is the second half work load, where he out-touched Henry 12 to 3, leading to 21 overall touches for Lewis. While the Titans were trailing in the second half, which is a game script that favors Lewis, it's hard to ignore his 16 overall rushing attempts to Henry's 10, and his dominant offensive snap rate (71% to 29%).

John Brown, WR, Baltimore Ravens

Facing a tasty matchup against the Buffalo Bills, fantasy owners, and especially ones that had multiple John Brown shares, were excited heading into this contest. So should we be alarmed after his three-catch, 44-receiving yard performance where he was tied for fifth on the Baltimore Ravens in targets (4)?

Nah. A blowout game script was unfortunately not conducive to Brown showcasing what he has to offer, and even with a small workload, Brown ranked seventh among wideouts with 1.66 Reception NEP per target.

The Ravens also get to face a Cincinnati Bengals defense that allowed 319 passing yards in Week 1, and checked in 21st against the pass last season, by our metrics, so expect a much higher fantasy output from Brown in Week 2.

Jonnu Smith, TE, Tennessee Titans

After posting one catch for a mere 12 yards in the opening week, Jonnu Smith could turn into a very valuable fantasy asset after Delanie Walker suffered a season-ending knee and ankle injury:

Enter Smith as the next man up, and the Tennessee Titans tight end position has been a valuable one in past seasons. In half-point per reception formats, Walker ranked sixth in 2017 and fourth in 2016 among tight ends, breaking 800 receiving yards in both seasons.

It will be important to keep an eye on who the signal-caller is for the Titans, as Marcus Mariota is banged up after suffering a Week 1 injury and backup Blaine Gabbert may have to step in. However, Smith should be thrust into a very important work load in this offense and could rocket up fantasy rankings soon.