Fantasy Football: Regression Candidates Through Week 6
We are six 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
Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings
After signing a monster deal in the offseason, Kirk Cousins has started off the 2018 season at a blistering pace -- at least from a fantasy perspective. Fantasy's QB7 so far this year, Cousins' on-field production has been a little bit less efficient, and he could be sliding down the ranks soon.
Among the 27 passers with at least 150 drop backs, the Minnesota Vikings' signal-caller checks in a mediocre 13th this season in numberFire's Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back (0.15). The Vikes aren't working with the greatest sense of urgency either, as Minnesota ranks only 21st (31.55 seconds per play) in terms of situation-neutral pace.
Cousins is also getting obliterated behind a makeshift offensive line. This season, he has been sacked 18 times (tied for 10th-worst), and his offensive line ranks just 26th in terms of Adjusted Sack Rate through Week 6.
All of this adds up to a quarterback that may not be in the top tier for long.
TJ Yeldon, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
With Leonard Fournette injured for part of 2018, T.J. Yeldon has assumed lead running back duties in Jacksonville, and that's led to a healthy fantasy RB9 in half-point-per-reception (0.5 PPR) rankings early on.
There's a lot of warning signs going off when we look at Yeldon's numbers, though. Among the 37 running backs with 50 or more rushes, Yeldon ranks 26th in Rushing NEP per carry (-0.09). He is also facing a monster rushing defense in Week 7, as the Houston Texans rank second in our schedule-adjusted rushing metrics.
With Fournette listed as doubtful but with a chance to play this week, it may not be a bad time to sell high on Yeldon.
Albert Wilson, WR, Miami Dolphins
Albert Wilson..... GONE
75 yard touchdown pic.twitter.com/7deKNnTyAv
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) October 14, 2018
While that Week 6 win over the Chicago Bears was certainly a bit of a stunner, Wilson's rise to the fantasy elite probably won't last. Last Sunday marked only the second 100-plus yard receiving game of Wilson's career, and while he sits as WR20 today in 0.5-PPR leagues, it's largely built on some short-term inflation.
Among the 56 wide receivers with 30 or more targets, Wilson ranks dead last in Reception Success Rate (56.52%). And in peeking at NFL's Next Gen Stats, Wilson ranks at the bottom of the barrel with a 6.4 Average Intended Air Yards (IAY) -- which measures the average air yards per pass attempt -- mark this year.
Perhaps a fantastic best-ball player, Wilson is a tough one to roster in season-long formats and weekly DFS leagues.
Eric Ebron, TE, Indianapolis Colts
As fantasy's number-two tight end, Eric Ebron has shown signs of finally becoming the massive fantasy asset we all have wanted him to become. So why the cause for concern?
In the past three games, Ebron has faced two defenses that have been particularly generous to tight ends. In full-PPR settings, Ebron has rinsed the New England Patriots -- 9th in points allowed to the position -- and Houston Texans (10th).
But a quick peek shows that Ebron's fantasy production is built on six receiving scores, which is double the next-highest tight end (Travis Kelce) this season. He ranks only seventh in receiving yards among tight ends, and this week he faces a Buffalo Bills defense that has been the fifth-stingiest in the league in PPR points given up to tight ends. Over the last three weeks, they've allowed a total of just 5 catches and 33 yards to the position.
Positive Regression Candidates
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
The anti-Julio Jones crowd continues to gain strength week over week as the wide receiver hasn't found the end zone this year, but the fact of the matter is that the Atlanta Falcons' wide receiver has been performing like a boss. Despite not scoring a touchdown this year, Jones is producing at an elite level. With 44 catches for 707 receiving yards through 6 games, Jones may only be WR7 in half-PPR formats, but that's bound to change for the better.
Jones ranks fifth in both targets and receptions, and he ranks second in receiving yards. Over a 16-game season, Jones is on pace for 117.3 catches and 1,885 receiving yards. In half-PPR formats, Jones would have finished as WR3 last season and WR4 in 2016. Not too shabby.
Jones also is getting plenty of deep targets from Matt Ryan, ranking near the top of the league with an IAY of 15.0 yards. In looking at his route chart from last week (via NFL Next Gen Stats), we see plenty of fantasy goodness.
While it feels like he may never actually score again, that pace would put Julio on track for the second-highest receiving yard season in NFL history, and with a little bit of luck (or less bad fortune), he could be the league's top wideout by season's end.
David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
After spending last week on the negative list, how did David Johnson land his way on the positive regression list?
Johnson sits just outside fantasy's top-10 as RB11, and he still has been a bit inefficient with a Rushing NEP per play mark of -0.20. He's also part of an offensive scheme that isn't the most creative.
@Gambo987 @BurnsAndGambo Want to see something hilarious Re: David Johnson (as you’re discussing) - 28th in rushing attempts, and somehow FIRST in attempts up the middle. The defense doesn’t even have to try. pic.twitter.com/Oi6rLVZnyF
— Jeff (@JeffNFL) October 15, 2018
Despite those negatives, Johnson is blessed with a monster fantasy matchup this week, as the Denver Broncos have allowed 8.99 yards per carry over 72 carries in the last 3 weeks.
After Denver, Johnson faces the San Francisco 49ers (17th against the run by our metrics), Kansas City Chiefs (32nd), and Oakland Raiders (24th), so he could be rising fast thanks to a handful of juicy matchups.
Matt Breida, RB, San Francisco 49ers
He's gone! @MattBreida goes 67 yards to the HOUSE!
FOX #GoNiners pic.twitter.com/cZV6l0wvlA
— NFL (@NFL) September 16, 2018
Fantasy's RB13, Breida has been in beast mode this season. Among the same group of runners mentioned above, Breida leads all ball carriers with a 0.21 Rushing NEP per carry mark. If that's not enough to wet your whistle, in terms of Rushing Success Rate, or the percentage of carries that return a positive NEP, Breida ranks eighth among runners (45.16%).
Fire in a saucy matchup against the Los Angeles Rams, who rank 29th in rushing defense per our metrics, and you have a running back you need to monitor.
David Njoku, TE, Cleveland Browns
At first glance, the inclusion of David Njoku to this list would seem to be a bit of a head-scratcher. He comes in as the TE12, and looking at some more advanced metrics, among tight ends with 20 or more targets (24), Njoku ranks second to last in Reception NEP per target (0.28), sitting behind fantasy studs -- or not -- like Nick Boyle, Ricky Seals-Jones, and Geoff Swaim. So what gives?
It's all about that volume, man. Over the last two weeks with Baker Mayfield running the show, Njoku has turned into an animal. He's recorded 23 targets in those contests, good for a 25.8% target market share, and he's caught 13 of those for over 50 receiving yards in each game.
Need more of a reason to believe? He faces a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that has allowed the most points to opposing tight ends in 2018 and was just recently hit by Austin Hooper for 9 grabs, 71 receiving yards and a score.
Now is the time to buy on the burly Cleveland Browns' pass catcher.