Regression Candidates Through Week 2: The Ryan Fitzpatrick Experiment Is Working

Though his fantasy numbers don't show it, Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a solid signal-caller this year.

We’re already two weeks in, and the mania of the beginning of football season hasn’t quite settled down yet. We’re finding out that players we thought were suspended aren’t, we’re seeing newly-suspended players left and right, and Ryan Fitzpatrick is now a…top-three quarterback in the league?

Like a college freshman on a two-week bender to start their year “just because I can," the NFL season seems highly unlikely to show up to that 7:00 AM Monday German linguistics class after all.

With two weeks in the books, we now have a few data points to connect for each player when looking at expectations for the rest of the year. In honor of – relatively – the beginning of the school year, I’m going to offer you advice on what trends you may be missing so far in your schooling and for your fantasy football teams. With both offseason projections and class scheduling, you never know exactly what you’re getting into until you get there. The important thing is to recognize trends early and adapt your strategy so that you can thrive (like signing the attendance sheet and then leaving your 300-person lecture; seriously, guys, it works).

With that in mind, who are some prime regression candidates in fantasy through Week 2?

Dunces: The Fantasy Underachievers

This, friends, is where we discuss the aforementioned Houston Texans quarterback, Ryan “Fitzmagic” Fitzpatrick. Some relevant numbers for understanding Fitzpatrick as a player: 48 and 1,580. Those are his scores on the Wonderlic (out of 50) and the SAT (out of 1600). Did anyone mention that he went to Harvard? Seriously, this is a guy you want to cheat off of in class.

In all seriousness, the number you care about for Fitzpatrick is the number “3”, as in third among all quarterbacks in Total Net Expected Points (NEP) through two weeks of the NFL season. Net Expected Points is a measure of how much a player contributes to his team’s chances of scoring, measured in the points we expect them to score – expected points. In terms of just Passing NEP (NEP gained on drop backs by a quarterback), Fitzpatrick is still fifth, behind only Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, and Andy Dalton. In fantasy, though, he ranks just 19th among quarterbacks in the league.

Keep your eye on Fitzpatrick as we go into the bye weeks soon; he could be very undervalued given the right matchup. Right now, his volume isn't allowing him to post nice fantasy numbers.

Two rookie running backs from the AFC North also make this list, and the similarities don’t end there. I’m talking, of course, about Cincinnati’s Jeremy Hill and Cleveland’s Isaiah Crowell. In Total NEP, these two rank 10th and 11th among all running backs with at least five carries this season, and this is primarily on their natural prowess as runners. Both have fairly subpar receiving production, but have been successful in power running situations, and – most importantly for us fantasy owners – they have gotten crucial goal-line work.

Hill’s 78.95% Rushing Success Rate (the percentage of plays that contribute positive NEP), in fact, leads all running backs with five or more carries, and Crowell ranks a respectable 13th within the metric. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Crowell’s 18th rank for fantasy running backs sustain, and I will be shocked if Hill’s 26th fantasy rank doesn’t shoot up soon. The school lesson here? The younger you are, the harder you can party.

Another running back that should be on the rise is the Saints’ Pierre Thomas. We all know that Thomas’ value is predicated on his receiving abilities in the elite passing attack of New Orleans, and he's checking in as our eighth-ranked running back in Total NEP. Yet, he still ranks a paltry 44th in fantasy football? Just you wait. Your PT tip: sometimes the most obvious answer is obviously right. Don’t overthink it.

I’ve been touting Markus Wheaton to dynasty owners all offseason as a major buy-low candidate. Fortunately for you all in redraft leagues, too, he’s still buyable. Wheaton currently ranks 30th among all fantasy wide receivers, but he’s our 13th best receiver by Total NEP. Part of where he gets his value is in a bevy of short-range targets, but don’t let that make you think he’s just a volume receiver. He has a higher per target Reception NEP than Jordy Nelson and Dez Bryant. Also in this category is Cleveland wideout Andrew Hawkins, who ranks 17th among our wide receivers in Total NEP, but 29th in fantasy. The moral? If you meet someone reliable, keep them close.

Teacher’s Pets: The Fantasy Overachievers

Here’s a call you might not be surprised by: Jay Cutler has been super overrated, despite my own backing of him in the offseason (I’m a believer in Trestman’s unearthly quarterback whispering). Here’s one you might not expect: so has Aaron Rodgers.

Now, don’t go yelling at your computers or smashing your friends, I know this seems bizarre beyond belief, but the numbers bear it out. For the season thus far, Cutler ranks third among all fantasy quarterbacks, and Rodgers ranks seventh. In terms of NEP, however, they come in at 20th and 19th, respectively.

Blasphemy, you say? What about the fact that both have had games with under 200 yards passing already? Sure, those were against Seattle and San Francisco, two of the stingiest defenses in the league, but the point remains that a sure-fire elite fantasy option in Rodgers has not been matchup proof like we thought. I’m not saying sell either for peanuts, but if you can extract ridiculous value for one, I might do it. Students: even the best-looking options have flaws, so just be realistic.

The running backs I’m highlighting this week are at two very different points in their career, with very different skill sets. Both, though, were considered major studs in the preseason and look rough now behind the box score. I’m speaking of Alfred Morris of Washington and the Texans’ Arian Foster, who rank 10th and 7th, respectively, in fantasy scoring this year. Kids, remember that it is quality and not quantity that matters.

Morris has received absolutely no catches this season and has been fairly average in rushing effectiveness, with a mere 0.16 Rushing NEP on 36 attempts. With a limited set of skills, we have to hope for goal-line touches (such as his two touchdowns in Week 2) and massive volume; his 41st ranked position among running backs with at least five carries confirms that.

Foster, on the other hand, has always been a great receiver out of the backfield. He has a 1.09 Reception NEP right now, good for top 25 among running backs with greater than five carries and three targets. His Rushing NEP is what’s dragging him down, though. Outrunning the Raiders defense doesn’t prove you have juice left in your step; even I could do that and I have knee cartilage issues. His current rank well outside the top 70 at running back gives me pause on his prospects for the rest of the year. In essence, he's been a volume play.

I don’t mean to heap on the Raiders, but my last downward regressing player is James Jones. Jones is currently scoring as the eighth-best wide receiver in fantasy, but has a rookie quarterback, a lackluster offensive line, no one else to draw coverage off of him, and a 28th ranked Total NEP among wide receivers. I’m not saying it’s impossible that he’s valuable this year as a de facto number-one wide receiver and has fantasy WR2 potential based on volume. I just wouldn’t count on it.