Fantasy Football: Regression Candidates Through Week 3
Through three weeks in the 2018 NFL regular season, we have seen some truly great and not-so-great performances. Clever 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
So Ryan Fitzpatrick is kind of doing some historic things so far in 2018:
Ryan Fitzpatrick just became the first QB in NFL history to throw for 400+ yards in three straight games.
What does Jameis have to do to get his starting gig back?
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) September 25, 2018
Fantasy's QB1 three weeks into the year thanks to this historic string of performances, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signal caller has been unbelievable, ranking second in numberFire's Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back metric (0.46).
And while most don't expect #FitzMagic to continue at this historic pace, it's notable that he has played well against two weaker defenses. So far this year, the Bucs have faced the New Orleans Saints, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, with the Saints ranking dead-last in our Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play metric, while the Steelers are in the middle of the pack (16th).
Coming up, Fitzpatrick faces two stiff tests over the next three weeks, including the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns, who rank 11th and 3rd, respectively, in our passing per-play metrics, so expect the Harvard product to come back to earth soon, assuming he does remain the starter.
Carlos Hyde, RB, Cleveland Browns
In case you live under a rock, the Cleveland Browns finally won a football game in Week 3, ending a nearly two year winless drought. With a little kicking luck, the Browns could be undefeated this season. Despite only a 1-2 start, Carlos Hyde has been a boss in 2018, checking in as the RB8 so far. With that lofty rank, what puts him on the negative regression candidate list?
Among the 43 running backs with 20 or more carries this year, Hyde is tied for the league-lead with 4 rushing scores, but he's only got 4 catches this season, and he ranks 36th in Rushing Success Rate (31.15%), which is the percentage of carries that result in a positive NEP. Those touchdowns have certainly inflated his fantasy rank, but he hasn't been the league's most efficient back, and he's virtually been a non-factor in the passing game.
Better times are certainly ahead for the Browns organization, but in terms of Hyde's fantasy stock, that may not be the case.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Washington Redskins
Peterson is third in the league in rushing attempts, and thanks to two big leads in Week 1 and Week 3, fantastic game scripts predicated running the football. It's also important to note that Peterson slammed his way to success against three rushing defenses that all ranked in the bottom half of our metrics, including the Arizona Cardinals (19th), the Indianapolis Colts (20th), and the Green Bay Packers (24th).
Peterson has a sneaky-tough matchup coming up this week against the New Orleans Saints. They have been torched through the air in 2018, but they also rank fifth-best against the run, and held Hyde and Tevin Coleman to under 50 rushing yards in back-to-back weeks.
Kenny Stills, WR, Miami Dolphins
Kenny Stills has impressively started the season as fantasy's WR22 in half-point per reception (PPR) leagues, and he's part of a Miami Dolphins team that not only sits 3-0, but they rank seventh in terms of numberFire's team passing metrics.
While that's certainly an impressive start, there are some serious warning signs for Stills' owners. The wide receiver is tied for 67th in targets (14), and tied for 56th in catches (9). Peep the Dolphins receiving corps and the associated market share, which is a mess so far this season:
In addition, this 'Fins attack is one of the slowest in the league. Through three weeks, they have run the second-fewest offensive plays (171), and they rank seventh-worst in offensive pace (30.06 seconds per play).
With only five catches for 78 receiving yards in the last two games combined, it seems hard to believe that Stills can remain in the top-25 wide receivers for much longer.
Positive Regression Candidates
Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams
Things have gotten off to a pretty good start for the 3-0 Los Angeles Rams, who sport the league's best odds to make the Super Bowl:
Are the @Patriots still legit title contenders after a 1-2 start?
Check out @numberFire's latest Super Bowl projections pic.twitter.com/JqAEOjYrJ8
— FanDuel (@FanDuel) September 25, 2018
From a fantasy perspective, Todd Gurley has proven to be a beast yet again, checking in as fantasy's RB2, but quarterback Jared Goff barely cracks the elite group of signal callers as the QB10. A closer look at Goff's play shows he could be placing himself in the top group of quarterbacks in the near future.
The Rams passing offense clocks in at third per our passing metrics, and that's in large measure due to Goff's play, who ranks third in both Passing NEP per drop back (0.44) and Passing Success Rate (59.05%). In peeking at Average Intended Air Yards (IAY), or the average vertical air yards per pass attempt, Goff ranks a respectable 12th so far this year (8.2).
Goff's passing prowess will be put to the test over the next two weeks facing the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, who rank 10th and 6th against the pass, respectively. Following those games, he's #blessed with four dynamite matchups to follow against the Denver Broncos (26th), San Francisco 49ers (27th), Green Bay Packers (21st) and New Orleans Saints (last). Goff could be in the top-five of fantasy quarterbacks very quickly.
Alex Smith, QB, Washington Redskins
After smacking the Packers in Week 3, the 2-1 Washington Redskins have been led by solid efficiency from signal caller Alex Smith. Only fantasy's QB16 this season, Mr. Smith going to Washington could be rising up the fantasy charts.
Among passers this year, Smith checks in strong in our advanced metrics, clocking in 8th in Success Rate (51.96%) and 12th in Passing NEP per drop back (0.16). As noted with Adrian Peterson, two large leads have led to heavy running game scripts, leading to lower volume for Smith. His four touchdown passes stick out as an outlier, as the Washington pass offense ranks 11th per our metrics.
While he hasn't showcased his running ability yet in 2018, don't forget that Smith adds a sneaky rushing component to his fantasy upside. Last season, Smith ranked sixth among quarterbacks in rushing yards (355).
On bye this week, Smith gets a juicy passing defense in the Saints in Week 5. Don't expect Smith to stay at the bottom of the list for too long.
Matt Breida, RB, San Francisco 49ers
For fantasy purposes, this could be a positive for Matt Breida, at least from a passing game perspective. Using the rotoViz Game Splits App, Carlos Hyde was pretty heavily targeted in a C.J. Beathard-led offense in 2017:
Hyde averaged nearly five more targets a game with Beathard at quarterback over six games, and that adds to a really strong running effort from Breida this season. Among the running backs with 20 or more carries this year (43), Breida leads the league in Rushing NEP per carry (0.32), and ranks 10th-best in Rushing Success Rate (45.16%).
It may be tough for the 49ers to overcome this injury in the NFC West standings, but Breida could be a top-notch fantasy running back option moving forward.
Odell Beckham, WR, New York Giants
Likely a first-round draft pick for fantasy owners, Odell Beckham has struggled as the New York Giants have gotten off to a rough 1-2 start. The Giants offense shoulders a large part of the blame, ranking 21st in our adjusted per-play metrics, with the passing attack checking in at 20th.
With all of those warts, what's the reason to believe that Beckham, currently fantasy's WR28 in half-PPR formats, is going to climb any time soon?
For starters, the wide receiver is getting plenty of work in this offense, ranking eighth in the NFL with 34 passing targets. He's also seeing a hefty percentage of the team's passing attempts, recording a 30.9% target market share of quarterback Eli Manning's passes.
Of those passing attempts, Beckham ranks second in the league in Target Air Yard Percentage (TAY%), or the percent of targeted air yards by a team's passing attack (49.71%). He is one of only seven wide receivers in the NFL with a TAY% mark greater than 40%.
Finally, with tight end Evan Engram due to miss some time, this could provide additional work for pass-catchers Beckham, Saquon Barkley, and Sterling Shepard, so expect the Giants' number-one wideout to assume his perch at the top of fantasy rankings quickly.