Fantasy Football: Regression Candidates Through Week 9
We are nearing the midpoint of 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
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
With one of the best quarterbacks to play the game at the helm, both from a fantasy and real-life football perspective, 2018 has been a bit of a bumpy ride for the Green Bay Packers, and that surprisingly is due in part to Rodgers' play.
While he currently sits as QB10 in standard scoring leagues, he checks in only 16th in numberFire's Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back (0.14). In terms of Passing Success Rate, or the rate of pass plays that generate positive NEP, Rodgers ranks far worse at 22nd (46.00%).
Peeking in at NFL.com's Next Gen Stats, Rodgers isn't taking as many shots deep, either. Zeroing in on Average Intended Air Yards (IAY), which measures the average Air Yards a passer throws on all attempts, Rodgers mark in 2016 was up to 9.2 IAY, but is down to 8.6 IAY this year.
He may be still in the QB1 group, but without some improvement soon, it may not last.
Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears
Kind of. While Howard found the end zone twice, unfortunately, he only received 14 carries last week, which was a decided edge to Tarik Cohen's 6, and did not receive a target again in the passing game. Those touchdown runs have been the hallmark of his 2018 season, but he wasn't all that efficient. Howard has remained a top-24 running back thanks to those five rushing scores, but he will likely continue to bleed work.
Among the 34 running backs with 75 or more carries this year, Howard ranks a dismal 26th in Rushing NEP per carry (-0.10). That poor play means Howard is likely to fall out of the top running back rankings soon.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Washington Redskins
Fantasy's RB12 this year in standard-scoring leagues, Adrian Peterson has been solid with a 12.7 fantasy points-per-game (PPG) average. Can he stay in the RB1 class?
It isn't looking great. As our own J.J. Zachariason noted here, targets are largely more valuable than a standard carry. Using a basic formula that every target is worth 2X what a carry is, let's see how Peterson stacks up, given that he is a complete non-factor in the passing game:
While Peterson is in the top of the fantasy running back pile, it's worth noting that he also receives far less work than the other top runners, too. He only leads Marlon Mack in targets, who has missed significant time this season.
That makes Peterson a very touchdown-dependent runner, and as we saw in Week 8, where the Washington Redskins were obliterated, Peterson was a non-factor with 12 total touches for 29 yards from scrimmage.
Keep an eye on his workload, but if this trend continues, coupled with a banged up offensive line, it seems hard for AP to stay in this top group.
Trey Burton, TE, Chicago Bears
39-yard @ChicagoBears TD! #DaBears #TBvsCHI
— NFL (@NFL) September 30, 2018
Burton is now tied for third among tight ends in touchdown catches (5), leading to a TE7 ranking this season. But unfortunately, that's holding up a work load that doesn't support such a lofty ranking.
Burton ranks 12th among tight ends in targets (40), and among the 24 tight ends with 25 or more targets, Burton functions more as a fringe TE1 with a Reception Success Rate of 82.76% (11th).
Part of the reason Burton's targets are so low is a run-heavy offense -- on the season, the Bears rank fifth-lowest in pass-to-run ratio (1.20). If this trend continues, look for Burton to move down in the tight end pack.
Positive Regression Candidates
Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
Deshaun Watson has seen two very different workloads during the 2018 season. Over the first five weeks, Watson averaged 38.4 drop backs per game. In the next four contests, he averaged only 23.3 drop backs per game, possibly due to a chest injury. So why do we think he could be rising this week after a decrease in passing volume?
For starters, Watson has no problem flingin' it deep, averaging 9.4 IAY per pass, good for fifth-best in the NFL. He's also been a pretty efficient passer, too. Watson ranks 13th in Passing NEP per drop back (0.17), but that's a bit misleading, as he's posted some of his best games recently.
Over the last two weeks, Watson is averaging a cool 0.64 NEP per drop back, and if we remove sacks, that number flies up to 0.76 NEP per drop back.
Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers
The running back situation in Green Bay was a bit bumpy following this in Week 8:
Packers players rip Ty Montgomery for fumble vs. Rams: “I mean, what the f--k are you doing? We've got Aaron Rodgers,” per @MikeSilverhttps://t.co/swLoZfeHDl pic.twitter.com/mabJ6ksG2z
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 29, 2018
We got it, y'all.
Jones out-snapped Jamaal Williams by a hefty margin (58% to 42%), and also out-touched him 16 to 9. He also continued to be incredibly efficient, ranking second among ball carriers with 50 or more rushes with a Rushing NEP per carry mark of 0.17.
Assuming his start continues to point north, fantasy's RB36 in PPG should be rising fast.
Mike Davis, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Fantasy's RB37 currently, Davis grabbed 72.8% of snaps in Week 8 after Carson left, racking up 22 touches, including 7 catches, for 107 total yards.
And the matchup this week is perfect -- the Seattle Seahawks face the Los Angeles Rams, who were torched by Seattle runners in Week 5 for 184 rushing yards. So far this year, we have the Rams ranked as the sixth-worst rush defense in the league.
Keep an eye out on Carson's situation, but if he can't go this week, Davis is in line for a monster afternoon.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, Green Bay Packers
In PPG ranks, finding Marquez Valdes-Scantling among the leaders is tough -- and for good reason, as he currently ranks as WR61. That's likely to be changing very soon.
With a banged up wide receiver corps, and Geronimo Allison possibly missing lengthy time, the Packers de -facto number two wideout has been rising, and fast. Over his last four games, MVS has posted 27 targets. He has topped 100 receiving yards in two of those four games, while the two that he didn't both saw him find the end zone.
With a matchup with the Miami Dolphins on tap, who ranks 25th against the pass per our metrics, look for the rookie wide receiver to continue doing some damage.