Regression Candidates Through Week 3: Ryan Fitzpatrick Is a Fantasy Football Monster

St. Ryan Fitzpatrick, our standard-bearer for undervalued options on the waiver wire.

In fantasy sports, we go in each year expecting certain levels of value from certain players, and to an extent, we are right. Over large sample sizes, a player’s production will almost always regress from absurdly good or bad to something that makes sense. This is why baseball is one of the most easily describable sports from a metrics standpoint: there are 162 games in a season and each regular batter gets to the plate somewhere around 600 times, therefore seeing at least 1,800 pitches.

We care about fantasy football, though, and that can be somewhat trickier. You have to dig a little more to get between the only 16 games, and 60 minutes per game. Yet we still are able to prove some expectations about player production and show a swing from outlier to expectation. For instance, did you know that Ryan Fitzpatrick is the 13th-highest scoring fantasy quarterback in 2014 right now, yet has only attempted the 28th-most passes?

After an injury to Arian Foster gave him real opportunity to throw in Week 3, Fitzy scored 18 standard points (24 if he hadn’t thrown any interceptions). He has become this column’s poster boy for sneaky production behind the box score, as we’ve been touting him for two weeks now as a buy-low candidate. I’m so proud of him that I’m dedicating this week’s column to the Houston man whose sneaky value is rivaled only by the majesty of his beard. Who else do we think might be undervalued or overvalued based on production?

Fitzmagical: Fantasy Underachievers

Aside from our patron saint, there are two other quarterback options to look at: I dogged Washington’s Kirk Cousins on Friday, begging fantasy owners to bench him, as in limited action as a starter in 2013 he posted an ugly -40.71 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) in just 160 drop backs. Sure enough, Cousins went out and did big boy things in only his fifth career start, and now he sits pretty as our fifth-ranked quarterback by Total NEP, with half as many minutes as a starter as the other top options. He’s legit. If you can still pick him up or get a discount on him, do it right away.

Brian Hoyer, on the other hand, has seemingly been forgotten about since he was drafted in 2009. In 2014, his first year as a true starter, Hoyer has now led his Cleveland Browns to a more-impressive-than-it-sounds 1-2 record. More importantly for you fantasy owners out there, Hoyer is our 12-ranked quarterback by Total NEP, despite being only 18th in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks. Cleveland has a bye in Week 4, but look to Hoyer as the season goes on if you have later byes.

We mentioned Pierre Thomas in this column last week, and he still sits at the eighth-ranked slot in Total NEP among running backs. He has risen, however, from 44th to 29th in standard fantasy scoring among running backs in the last seven days. This is likely your last buy-low chance on him, so take advantage!

A deeper option that may surprise is Atlanta Falcons’ running back Antone Smith. Smith currently ranks as the 13th among running backs in Total NEP with more than five carries, yet he’s a mere 29th in running back fantasy scoring. He’s been scarily efficient as a change-of-pace back, with the second-highest Reception NEP on a per target basis among these running backs. His 0.59 NEP per opportunity (attempts plus targets) is insanely high, so if this explosive player sees more time due to Devonta Freeman's fumbilitis or Steven Jackson's poor health, he could be an excellent deeper league nab.

Roy Helu (18th in running back Total NEP; 37th in fantasy scoring) is another scatback who is making the most of his opportunities on the field, but won’t be a startable option without volume. In a Jay Gruden offense that loves its receiving backs, however, he may sneakily get more touches than we expect.

Among our wide receivers, Stevie Johnson of the San Francisco 49ers looks like a nice play. Johnson (23rd in Total NEP among wide receivers; 53rd in fantasy scoring) generates a lot of his value by volume, but I’m not complaining if he’s getting points on the board. This is all he seems to be doing, as his 86.67% Reception Success Rate (the percentage of plays on which a positive gain in NEP is made) ranks above even the “elite” at the position.

A player that could be a huge boon at the wide receiver position, though, is Michael Floyd. Floyd ranks 15th in Total NEP among wide receivers, but is tied with Andrew Hawkins for 29th in fantasy scoring. You may have to pay a little bit to grab a guy like him, as he’s almost surely owned, but this move could work out very well for you if teams are sleeping on him due to a lack of touchdowns thus far.

Fitzmundane: Fantasy Overachievers

For the second straight week, the man tied for second in the league in touchdown passes, Smokin’ Jay Cutler, makes it onto our overachiever list. Cutler is also tied for third in the league in quarterback drop backs, yet his 0.04 per drop back Passing NEP ranks just 26th, showing that his fantasy value (fourth among quarterbacks) may be inflated by volume. If anyone else watched the early parts of the Bears’ Week 2 and Week 3 games, we know that the passing offense did not click. For Cutler to be worthy of his rank, they’ll either have to keep throwing, or he’ll have to reduce his bad decisions in the passing game.

Unlike Cutler, not even volume is masking New York Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning's mess. The “Lesser of Two Mannings” is our 32nd-ranked quarterback by Total NEP, yet has somehow attained a 20th place fantasy rank. Don’t be fooled: New York is still a passing dumpster fire, and not that much has improved when Drew Stanton and Mike Glennon are ranked above you.

Knile Davis has scored as a top-10 back in fantasy, but ranks outside our top-60 in Total NEP. His Rushing NEP has been highly ineffective, and his Reception NEP is actually just above average, despite some high usage in the passing game. Davis is more a flash in the pan than anything else; sell him while his stock’s high.

Finally, I’ll offer up just one more negative regression: ever the tease, Mike Wallace of the Miami Dolphins is currently ranked 14th in fantasy scoring among wide receivers, but ranks just 32nd in Total NEP. Wallace’s bugaboo has always been reliability and efficiency, and sure enough his 0.44 Reception NEP on a per target basis shows that he has been neither reliable, nor efficient, as a receiver. Part of this is due to a tough time connecting with struggling quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but Wallace still hasn’t shown improvement on his “go route” mentality since leaving Pittsburgh. If anyone wants to buy him from you right now, I would be cutting bait immediately.