Regression Candidates Through Week 9: Don't Forget Decker

Eric Decker's been a steady part of the Jets offense, and we shouldn't overlook him in fantasy football.

The other night, one of my coworkers at my day job explained to me the tradition of the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos, which translates to “The Day of the Dead” in English. Celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, this day is essentially a day of remembrance and celebration for loved ones who have died.

Being that my coworker is from Mexico, this was an important couple of days for him. He described to me the custom of laying out food for your deceased loved ones so that their spirits will come eat with you once a year and you will have them close to you again. This sounds like a beautiful tradition, one that embraces a sense of loss and turns it into a sense of appreciation. The flip side of this is that, if we forget our loved ones, they simply fade away instead of returning to the family every year.

Perhaps we can look within ourselves and, by reflecting on our fantasy football misfortunes thus far, we can see the innate beauty in them as well. With this mindset, not all losses must appear tragic, but not all tragedies will seem like losses either. Just as the calendar will turn back to Día de Muertos once again next year, which fantasy players are due to regress to the mean in the coming weeks?

El Pan (The Bread): Fantasy Underachievers

Let it never be said that I like Joe Flacco as a football player. Let it never cross your mind that the guy who got a massive payday for winning a few games in January of 2012 is actually a good quarterback. Yet, here we are, and “Wacko Flacco Flame” is underperforming his Net Expected Points (NEP) scores slightly in the fantasy world. Flacco currently ranks 10th in Total NEP among quarterbacks, and his total fantasy points put him solidly at 10th as well, indicating that this is a solid baseline for his expected production from here on out. However, he also ranks just 15th in average weekly fantasy scoring, but 12th in Passing NEP on a per drop back basis and 11th in Rushing NEP on a per attempt basis. Flacco could be a sneaky stretch run play and make a push for fantasy QB1 status.

Tony Romo also makes a quick cameo here. I will be recommending that you bench him in this week’s 8 Players… article, but beyond this week, he could prove useful if healthy. Romo currently ranks tied for 15th in total fantasy points among quarterbacks, but sits at 8th in Total NEP among quarterbacks, despite having missed a week of action. He also ranks 5th in Passing NEP on a per drop back basis among NFL starting quarterbacks, despite an 18th-place rank in average weekly fantasy scoring.

I’ve never been a major believer in the game-breaking talent of Shane Vereen, nor do I tend to trust the unsettled nature of a Bill Belichick backfield, but this running back’s value comes more from his versatility than his natural gifts. Vereen currently ranks as the 6th-highest running back in Total NEP among all backs with at least 50 carries, even though he is only 17th in total fantasy points among all running backs. What gives? Part of this is that Vereen ranks just 20th in Rushing NEP (19th on a per attempt basis), as he is primarily being used as a receiving back, with only 69 carries on the year. However, he currently ranks 4th in Reception NEP, accumulating a lot of value as a check-down option for quarterback Tom Brady. With the pace New England is on, I expect both the volume and value to sustain, and we could see Vereen push quite a bit higher in the fantasy landscape.

Eric Decker has been a steady, though not spectacular, player in this horrid Jets’ offense all season, currently ranking 27th in total fantasy points. He comes in at 20th, though, in Total NEP among all receivers with at least 40 targets. With the change to Michael Vick at quarterback, the needle is pointing solidly upwards for Decker, who has caught season highs in passes in consecutive weeks (7 in Week 8, 9 in Week 9). He’s running shorter routes (as evidenced by a 25th-place rank in Reception NEP per target), but receiving more looks and on higher-percentage throws. The best scoring threat in this offense will only be helped by the addition of new teammate Percy Harvin, and Decker may be a viable WR2 for fantasy for the rest of the season.

Los Muertos (The Dead): Fantasy Overachievers

Colin Kaepernick has been just one part of the major disappointment happening in the Bay Area this year, but he has been a respectably-sized part of it. For a player who I expected to be a solid fantasy starter – if not more – Kaep has played pretty poorly to this point, ranking just 18th in Total NEP among quarterbacks, but he still ranks 14th in average weekly fantasy scoring. This rank cannot last for long, due to a complete lack of rushing production of late; among the 30 quarterbacks with over 190 drop backs, Kaepernick (lauded for his rushing prowess) ranks 25th in Rushing NEP on a per attempt basis. When Tony Romo is racking up more ground value than you, there might be a serious problem. I expect Kaep to fall well out of fantasy starter consideration.

Undrafted rookies aren’t typically game-changing talents, but one offensive position where that rule is often broken is at running back. We’ve seen it already this year with the impressive running style of San Diego’s Branden Oliver. However, this Chargers’ back may be due for a major regression. Oliver currently ranks 22nd in total fantasy points among running backs, but just 32nd in Total NEP among backs with at least 50 carries. His Rushing NEP on a per attempt basis has slipped to 40th, and only a 15th-ranked Reception NEP on a per target basis has saved his current value. With Ryan Mathews due back soon, Oliver could also see his inefficiently-used volume of touches diminish, and his value should plummet this year.

It’s just been a debacle of a year in Tampa Bay, and of course we have rain on the parade of even their smallest successes. Rookie wideout Mike Evans is currently ranked 24th among all fantasy receivers in total fantasy points, but comes in at just 34th in Total NEP among receivers with at least 40 targets. Much of this lack of value and production is directly tied to his 0.69 Reception NEP on a per target basis (tied for 32nd) and a shockingly low 78.13% Reception Success Rate (meaning nearly a quarter of the time, his receptions have not contributed positive NEP). This shows the conservative nature of the Buccaneers’ offense, and illustrates very clearly how ineffective the passing game has been, except at limiting its players’ potential. Add in the fact that he’s only had 53 targets on the year, and this is a recipe for Evans to come back to earth very soon.

A surprise entrant to the top-ten fantasy tight end ranks last season, Charles Clay has struggled mightily this year, before putting up two double-digit fantasy point weeks in the past three. I’ve got to pour some cold water on this. Clay currently already ranks 17th in total fantasy points among tight ends, but he’s still just 21st in Total NEP among tight ends with at least 20 targets. Despite having almost double the targets, he’s still being outpaced by Vikings’ tight end Chase Ford. Clay’s Reception NEP per target has been ridiculously low, coming in at 28th out of 39 tight ends. Don’t get too caught up in Clay again; this offense is not predicated on the tight end, and he’s been ineffective enough as is.