Regression Candidates Through Week 10: Boldin Strokes of Genius
In creative work, there are very few ironclad rules. I love having the freedom to tell a story, write a poem, or create a song and basically be able to do whatever I want with it. Artistic freedom is a pretty wonderful sandbox to get to play in and experiment with. In all honesty, I thank my lucky stars every day that I have been allowed to create and play in my multiple jobs and get paid to do so; I’m pretty fortunate.
Yet, there are a lot of fields where there are rules and certainties, and even if things don’t have a “right answer,” the outcomes tend to fall into expected patterns. That can also be a great relief, allowing one to not worry about everything being open-ended and confusing. I’ve found that the art of fantasy football allows both of these ways of thinking to exist simultaneously. It gives each of us this wonderful space where the possibility to shape your world is unbounded but with a feeling that it can be dissected and understood as well. Where the former comes in is when you shape and build your rosters; where the latter comes in is statistics and, specifically, regression.
Who will help us create a work of art on the canvas of our teams through this week, and who is smudging the ink?
Mona Lisa Smiles: Fantasy Underachievers
Talk about being in the doghouse. In his case, it’s fortunately more so the “Dawgs’ House,” but Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer is still only 22.2% owned in ESPN leagues. This is unfathomable to me. Hoyer has actually been the 16th-best quarterback in the league per our Total Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, combining his rushing and passing production into one total. He currently sits at 20th in average weekly fantasy production, but don’t let that scare you off: game flow hasn’t been in Hoyer’s favor the past few weeks, as he’s attempted fewer than 30 passes in two of his last three tilts. What we like to see, however, is that he sits at 16th in Passing NEP per drop back right now; despite limited workload, he’s being very efficient. Hoyer should be a sneaky waiver or depth option for you from here on.
It was only a matter of time, right? All we had to do was wait until his fourth season and we all knew Saints running back Mark Ingram would blossom (hear that, Trent Richardson haters?). In all seriousness, Ingram is still being widely seen as a mirage – and rightly so – due to his atrocious first three years in the NFL, not to mention the traditional committee approach to his team’s backfield usage. Well, the joke is on the non-believers: if we counted only the weeks that he was active, Ingram would rank 5th in the NFL in average weekly fantasy scoring among running backs. Currently, he sits at 12th, but he is 9th in Total NEP among running backs with 50 or more carries. Ingram has come into his own as a workhorse back. If you can get him for a discount, do it.
One of the quietest fantasy impacts this season, Anquan Boldin, is the 20th-highest average fantasy scoring wide receiver on a weekly basis. Pretty darn good for a 34-year-old receiver, eh, Steve Smith? You know what would be even crazier? If he was the 15th-highest wide receiver in Total NEP as well… Right? That’s too much – oh, he is? You mean to tell me that the guy who just dropped 15 standard fantasy points in three of his last four games might actually be able to sustain that level or production if not better it? Believe it. If you need more proof, despite four drops last week, Boldin still ranks 12th among wide receivers in Target NEP, proving his reliability as a receiving option. He will continue to thrive.
Travis Kelce isn’t a shockingly good fantasy player by any means, but just how good he’s been may surprise you. Kelce is currently just inside the top-ten at the tight end position in average weekly fantasy scoring, but he is a solid 7th place in Reception NEP among all tight ends. If you needed further confirmation, he’s making the most of his opportunities, ranking 2nd in Reception NEP on a per-target basis, and he’s been extraordinarily trustworthy with the ball coming his way (3rd in Target NEP). These peripherals suggest that he could be near a top-five option at the position by the end of the season.
Marcel Duchamp’s Fountains: Fantasy Overachievers
How many times do we have to remind you? Eli Manning is not, and will not be the New York Giants’ savior, nor will he be your fantasy team’s savior either. Eli currently comes in at the 12-spot for fantasy quarterbacks in average weekly scoring, but he is well below QB1 range as the 18th-ranked signal-caller in Total NEP. The only reason he’s anywhere near this ranking in either category is massive garbage time in the last three weeks against Dallas, Indianapolis, and Seattle. This is no fluke, either: he currently ranks 21st among all passers with more than 100 drop backs in Passing NEP on a per drop back basis. Eli is fools’ gold - not a masterpiece.
Here’s another myth and mirage we keep trying to dispel but is so difficult. Alfred Morris is not a great running back. I repeat: Morris is one-dimensional on his good days and plays in an offense that is less competent at moving the ball than Jackson Pollack was at staying in the lines. Seriously, on a scale of one-to-awful, Morris has been three notches below Toby Gerhart this season. Morris is somehow a top-ten fantasy back but ranks 48th among running backs with at least 50 carries in Total NEP. Even on a per attempt basis, his Rushing NEP is 33rd in the league. Trade him while you still can.
I’m not one to hype rookies, but this could legitimately be the best class of rookie wide receivers ever. Among the highly drafted studs, there are some draft gems and undrafted players also proving their worth, specifically a certain John Brown of the Arizona Cardinals, who currently ranks 50th in average weekly fantasy scoring among wide receivers. Yet, I have to caution the love of Brown, as he ranks 40th in Total NEP among wide receivers with at least 40 targets. Why so low? Despite his slot receiver position, Brown is a speed slot specialist, and less of a possession player than some receivers who specialize in the Y position. Add in the fact that Drew Stanton now takes the helm in Arizona after starter Carson Palmer’s injury, and things could get messy in the desert.
Brandon LaFell is enjoying a career-best year with Tom Brady tossing him the pigskin, but I still have doubts about this former Panther’s ability to stay fantasy relevant. LaFell is currently 21st in average weekly fantasy scoring among wide receivers but stands 29th in Total NEP among wide receivers with 40 or more targets this year. This is less drastic of a difference than Brown, but LaFell still isn’t producing at an extraordinary clip on a per-target basis (33rd), and his Target NEP (54th) confirms that he’s been an unreliable receiving option and has made most of his hay on long bombs rather than consistency.