Fantasy Football: Regression Candidates Through Week 5

Does Kenny Golladay have even more room to grow in his breakout sophomore campaign?

We are five weeks into the 2018 NFL Regular Season. It's been a wild ride so far, and 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

Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

So Blake Bortles had an interesting afternoon last Sunday:

There may be not be a quarterback that generates more derisive buzz than Bortles, and rightfully so. While he sits in the top tier of fantasy quarterbacks through five weeks (ranking as QB12), his actual efficiency has been far lower.

Among the 28 passers with 125 drop backs or more, Bortles checks in an abysmal 22nd this season in numberFire's Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back metric (0.05).

In terms of Passing Success Rate (46.85%), which is the percentage of drop backs that result in a positive NEP, Bortles takes this up a notch (slightly) to 20th.

Bortles did throw for 460 yards last week in trying to lead his team to victory against the Kansas City Chiefs, but he also fired four interceptions and is averaging only 7.3 Average Intended Air Yards (IAY) per attempt.

David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals

Any way you slice the start of David Johnson's 2018 season, it's been pretty darn disappointing.

Not only is he seeing far less usage in the passing game, he has also been far less effective as a runner. Among the 46 ball carriers with 30 rushes or more, Johnson clocks in only 40th in Rushing NEP per carry (-0.14). Part of that struggle could be the defensive fronts he is facing, as Johnson has seen the ninth-highest rate of eight-plus defenders in the box (33.78%), per NFL Next Gen Stats.

Despite ranking as fantasy's RB11 thanks to finding the end zone five times, Johnson's 3.3 yards per carry (YPC) is nothing to write home about.

Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

Clearly the top wideout in New Orleans and the WR4 in half-point-per-reception (PPR) leagues while playing on an offensive that's averaging 37.6 points per game, why on Earth would we want to fade Michael Thomas?

It's the weaponry Drew Brees has at his disposal, y'all.

After recording 40 targets in his first three contests, Thomas has received a combined nine targets in his last two games. Things are likely only going to get murkier, as Mark Ingram has returned from suspension, and Tre'Quan Smith exploded for 111 receiving yards and two touchdowns on Monday night. In the win over the Washington Redskins, six pass catchers saw three or more targets.

Couple all of this with Thomas's 0.70 Reception NEP per Target, and he may not be a top-5 fantasy wideout when things are all said and done.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Green Bay Packers

Playing with one of the greatest generational quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and part of an offensive that checks in third in pass-to-run ratio (2.11), shouldn't there be enough juice to make Jimmy Graham a fantasy beast?

The answer is yes, but he certainly isn't playing that way. Per numberFire's schedule-adjusted per-play metrics, the Packers' pass offense ranks only 18th this season, and Graham has been equally inefficient.

Among tight ends with 20 or more targets (15), Graham is an embarrassing 13th in Reception NEP per Target (0.48), and he ranks only 12th in Reception Success Rate (77.27%).

Comparing him to George Kittle, who only has one more reception than Graham and leads in Reception NEP per Target (0.99), he lags behind significantly in categories such as receiving yards (245 versus 399) and yards per reception (11.1 versus 17.4). While he's TE8 so far this year, he may be backsliding soon.

Positive Regression Candidates

Isaiah Crowell, RB, New York Jets

Only 2-3 this year and part of a New York Jets offense that checks in 24th overall per our metrics, it could be a bit surprising to see Isaiah Crowell as fantasy's RB10 this season, but he certainly had himself a day Sunday:

Crowell is certainly no one-hit wonder, with a 0.27 Rushing NEP per carry mark this season while also ranking third in the NFL in rushing yards (390) behind only Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott.

Next up, Crowell gets a porous Indianapolis Colts defense that ranks only 21st against the run per our metrics, so look for him to keep rising with a big afternoon.

Wendell Smallwood, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

After suffering a devastating injury, it looks like Jay Ajayi could be missing for the rest of the year. But prior to that injury, some interesting work for Wendell Smallwood has started to emerge.

Smallwood certainly isn't among the fantasy elite so far this year, ranking as RB35 this year with only 150 rushing yards. If he gets the role as bell-cow back, despite trade rumors swirling around Philadelphia, Smallwood could be in position to shine. Among running backs with 20 carries or more, he leads the group with a 0.30 Rushing NEP per rush mark.

Keep an eye out for this backfield, but the efficient Philadelphia runner could be a major fantasy player quickly.

Brandin Cooks, WR, Los Angeles Rams

With 430 receiving yards and five scores to his name, Cooper Kupp has blasted his way out of the gates and stolen the spotlight from Brandin Cooks, who signed a major extension to become a member of the Los Angeles Rams this offseason.

Cooks hasn't exactly been a slouch himself. On the season, he's caught 26 passes for 452 yards but has only hit pay-dirt once. That hasn't limited him from leading all wide receivers with a gaudy 1.12 Reception NEP per Target mark in 2018.

It is important to highlight that Cooks left the win over the Seattle Seahawks early and is in the concussion protocol, so monitor this one closely. If he's back on the field this week, he could climb his way into the WR1 tier as part of the Ram's league-leading offense.

Kenny Golladay, WR, Detroit Lions

This second-year wide receiver breakout thing may be real:

Kenny Golladay is certainly an integral part of a tasty Detroit Lions that ranks seventh in pass-to-run ratio (1.81) and ninth in yards-per-drive (36.05). Only fantasy's WR16, Golladay soars with respect to Reception NEP per Target, clocking in third (0.96), while he also ranks sixth in Reception Success Rate (92.51%).

All the boxes seemed to be checked for Golladay's continued growth, and he will look to torch a Miami Dolphins pass defense off the bye week that ranks only 16th, so look for continued growth from the Northern Illinois product.