Regression Candidates Through Week 8: Is Jeremy Maclin More Trick Than Treat?
I always think I’m going to like a pumpkin beer when I order one. Without fail, every fall brings with it a wealth of pumpkin-themed and pumpkin-flavored food and drinks, but possibly the most disappointing is the pumpkin beer. It’s not that it’s bad; it’s just never what I’m expecting. Yet once you’ve ordered it, you’re stuck with finishing it and waiting until the next round to order something better.
That’s somewhat the situation with fantasy football players who are underperforming: you’ve drafted them, maybe you picked them up off the waiver wire, and invested a roster spot in them, and all you got back was disappointment. But fear not, friends: at the Regression Candidates Bar & Grill, we always make sure that your choices at least have a good aftertaste for you! While major statistical regression is less and less likely with a greater-sized pool of data, there are still plenty of undervalued players likely to bounce back and overvalued players who will leave you feeling like you drank a case of Milwaukee’s Best.
Which players are happy hour revelations and which will prove to be top-shelf busts in the wake of Week 8?
Two-For-Ones: Fantasy Underachievers
Always underrated, always available (except in two-quarterback leagues), Alex Smith is my biggest underachieving option for the week. Why do I care about a low-volume quarterback who has basically been a game manager his whole career? Maybe because he’s ridiculously consistent, passing for more than 200 yards in 5 of 7 games this year. Since a 3-interception Week 1 debacle, he’s posted an 8:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and this has led to an 11th-ranked Passing NEP among quarterbacks with 100 or more drop backs. Consistency, security, and surprising rushing ability add extra value that way. He ranks 13th in the league in Rushing NEP among quarterbacks. Smith is the cheap version of his overachieving counterpart, but he’s producing just as much on the field.
When opportunity knocks, you must answer. Denard Robinson, better known as “Shoelace,” hasn’t lost his shoes while Toby Gerhart lost the Jacksonville lead running back position. That gig has fallen into Robinson’s lap, and this 46th-placed average weekly fantasy back looks to seize it and produce for the much-maligned Jaguars’ offense. Despite also ranking 31st in Total NEP among backs with at least 30 rushing attempts, Robinson’s increased opportunity volume figures to work wonders for him, as his per-attempt Rushing NEP ranks 14th among this same pool of runners. Behind Jacksonville’s atrocious line, this is actually a huge achievement. Grab Shoelace where you can and ride his burgeoning value to fantasy glory (knock on wood).
Another offense with serious issues sees a young runner seize the reins. The Baltimore Ravens made Bernard Pierce a healthy scratch last Sunday, and Lorenzo Taliaferro made the Bengals pay. The 36th-ranked average weekly fantasy runner known as “Zo” rushed the ball only seven times but averaged about 4.0 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns, not to mention gaining 42 yards through receptions. Taliaferro ranks 22nd in Total NEP among backs with at least 30 carries, but even more so, he ranks 7th among these same running backs on a per-attempt Rushing NEP basis. He has been shockingly efficient, dangerously effective in close, and now he has a lead rushing job on the way with his only other competition in Justin Forsett suffering a midweek practice injury.
Tom Brady’s top receiving option may shift on a week-to-week basis when the Patriots’ offense is humming, but Julian Edelman is highly underrated when it comes to the fantasy game. Opportunity doesn’t translate directly to fantasy points, but it goes a long way: Edelman ranks 10th in the NFL in wide receiver targets, and this has allowed him to accumulate a 17th-ranked position in Total NEP among wide receivers with 30 or more targets. In this same span of time, Edelman ranks 38th in the league in fantasy points on an average weekly basis. With the New England offense on a tear right now, Edelman could be a big value for the rest of the season.
Top-Shelf Markup: Fantasy Overachievers
I love him. I love him so dearly. I own him in my home league, and he’s brought me to my first division lead in years and a projected playoff berth, but Russell Wilson is not what he appears to be. Wilson is stunningly in the top three at the quarterback position for average weekly fantasy scoring, despite ranking a middling 12th in Total NEP among quarterbacks in our databases. In 5 of his 7 games in 2014, he has passed for fewer than 250 yards. In fact, these poor air numbers rank him 20th in Passing NEP among quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs. What has saved him so far is a league-leading quarterback Rushing NEP score that is nearly triple the second-place score. That’s right; the entirety of Wilson’s fantasy success this season reeks of a mirage. If you can sell him for a profit, do it.
I’ve written Andre Ellington up so many times as a barely-average NFL back that it’s almost overkill to do it to him in fantasy as well. Yes, Ellington is highly overrated in almost every possible way. Is he fast? Sure. Is he versatile? Somewhat. Is he good? No. Ellington punches in as the number-eight running back in average weekly fantasy scoring, but this is a hollow place when one takes into account that he scores very little and makes much of his value up in volume. Ellington ranks 41st in Total NEP among running backs with at least 30 carries, last in Rushing NEP, and ranks outside the top 50 in per attempt Rushing NEP. Sell him. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: sell him. It’s for your own good.
Jeremy Maclin was a featured member of this column in a previous week this season already, and while he ranks 4th in average weekly fantasy scoring among wide receivers, he falls into the 13th-place slot when we look at Total NEP. Now, this isn’t to say that Maclin is totally useless. Rather, I don’t believe he’s a high-end WR1 for fantasy for the rest of the season; the numbers behind his performance indicate that he is more likely a high-end WR2. Even his peripheral NEP metrics back this up, as his Target NEP shows him at the 16th position, behind even the 49ers’ Stevie Johnson, who has less than half of the targets Maclin does. His bubble will burst, and while the decline won’t be horrendous, I’d rather cash out now.
Probably the only fantasy beneficiary of the quarterback mess in Tennessee (outside of Zach Mettenberger, of course), Delanie Walker has actually been a pretty poor NFL player in terms of efficiency and produced value. Walker currently ranks as the 7th best fantasy tight end in average weekly scoring, but sits outside the top 10 at the position in terms of Reception NEP. Much of his current value exists solely due to volume of opportunity – again, an unsure quarterback loves a massive target – as his Reception NEP on a per target basis falls into the 15th rank among tight ends with at least 25 targets. Walker’s reliability has actually limited him significantly, depicted by a 21st-place rank in Target NEP. With Mettenberger under center now, expect head coach Ken Whisenhunt to make an effort to open up the offense and take plenty more shots downfield as he tries out his new toy’s cannon.