Regression Candidates Through Week 5: Will CJ Anderson Surprise?

Could CJ Anderson break out like a piñata at a party in the coming weeks?

I’m not a person who really likes surprises. I’m so notoriously freaked out by the unexpected that an ex-girlfriend once threw me a surprise birthday party, but told me beforehand that it was happening and that I needed to act surprised. I’m much more a person who likes when expectations are met, when all the RSVPs arrive.

Fortunately for the excitement of us sports fans, that’s not how this football party works.

The human element interferes, talent wanes or grows, and even weather plays a part. We can make guesses, but more or less, almost nothing comes out the way we expect it to. Yet, that shouldn’t mean our cake’s candles are blown out when things go against our plans. In the wake of Week 5, we are about one-third of the way through both the NFL and fantasy seasons, and it’s high time to make some changes in our perception. With five data points plugged into our graphs, we are starting to have a good idea of what’s true and what’s false about the course of the 2014 NFL season.

Yet, there are still some serious surprises hiding just under the radar in player performances. Who do we expect to crash the fantasy party soon, and who is likely to make an early exit?

Candy in the Piñata: Fantasy Football Underachievers

I am absolutely a Johnny Manziel believer/lover/fanboy for the future, but Brian Hoyer is the man for the job right now. Hoyer also appeared in this column in Week 3, but he’s still criminally underowned as we’re in the thick of bye weeks (3.3% on ESPN). Hoyer currently ranks a mere 13th in average fantasy scoring among quarterbacks, and yet is 7th among quarterbacks in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) on a per drop back basis. Hoyer has been efficient, has protected the ball (just one turnover), and last week posted 21 standard fantasy points. He’s rising fast; buy in now.

C.J. Anderson entered the season as a darkhorse candidate to be a valuable contributor to this high-powered Denver Broncos offense. Through four games so far, Anderson has posted just five fantasy points on only 12 opportunities (ranked 76th in average fantasy points among running backs), and was a healthy scratch in Week 5. Yet, with starter Montee Ball injured for significant period of time, the door is wide open again and Anderson currently ranks tied for 14th in Rushing NEP per attempt among backs with more than 10 carries. Presumptive starter Ronnie Hillman currently ranks outside the top 50 in the metric, so there could be sneaky value in nabbing Anderson now.

Since Dennis Pitta went down with anther hip injury, Owen Daniels has slipped into Ravens’ offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s offense with ease. It’s almost like neither of them left Houston. Daniels has a stunning 79.17% catch rate this season, and ranks 12th in average fantasy scoring. However, he is fifth among tight ends in Reception NEP per target. I just streamed him this week in my home league. You should too.

Trick Candles: Fantasy Football Overachievers

Eli Manning is currently the eighth-ranked quarterback in average fantasy scoring. Soak that in for a second. The guy who, last year, threw the fourth-most interceptions in a single season in the past quarter-century, is currently a top-10 fantasy quarterback. Don’t worry, we’ll all wake up from this nightmare soon. Manning is also ranked a mediocre-at-best 18th among quarterbacks in Passing NEP per drop back.

For all the talk of how amazing Andre Ellington has been, it’s really not hard to deserve a starting job when the next man up is Stepfan Taylor. Ellington currently ranks seventh in fantasy scoring among running backs, mainly off the explosion he had this past Sunday, when he had 20 touches for 144 yards and 2 scores. Lost in that stunning 26-point showing, however, is the fact that 81 yards came off of a busted screen pass reception, and 16 of those touches were rushes that went for a total of 32 yards. I still don’t buy Ellington, especially not with his foot injury and rookie Logan Thomas expected to start on Sunday. He ranks 25th in Total NEP among running backs and 36th in Rushing NEP per attempt for a reason.

Weirdly, Dez Bryant is currently the ninth-ranked wide receiver in average fantasy scoring, but sits outside our Reception NEP per target top 20. He’s been highly utilized – he’s among the top-10 wide receivers in targets – but his Success Rate (the percentage of receptions that add positive NEP) sits at a paltry 71.88%, well outside the top 50 at the position. It seems that either the passing offense in Dallas isn’t using him in valuable situations, or that he is struggling to convert his receptions into positive gains. Whatever the case, Dez has the highest differential among our top-end fantasy receivers between the two ranks, and hopefully he turns it around.

Martellus Bennett of the currently high-flying Chicago Bears offense is our regression candidate of the week for the tight end position. Bennett currently has the second-most tight end targets in the league, and a great catch rate to boot (76.19%), yet he ranks just 15th in Reception NEP on a per target basis, while ranking 4th in fantasy scoring at the position. Bennett has a solid Success Rate, but hasn’t been as reliable a receiving weapon as expected, ranking only 10th in Target NEP. His volume is currently buoying his fifth-ranked Reception NEP, so as Brandon Marshall gets healthier, expect more of Bennett’s targets to swing his way and Bennett to regress to a more middling tight end option.