Regression Candidates Through Week 11: Marques Colston and the Search for Truth
For nearly all of our species’ existence, we have sought answers to immense questions that no one can possibly fathom. Questions like: “What is the meaning of life?”, “What will happen after I die?”, and “If the moon was made of spare ribs, would you take a bite out of it?” Really, these are the important questions we all have to face.
Behind all of this is a search for truth and greater certainty. We want to know not just how things are, but why they are that way, how they got to be that way, and where they’ll be tomorrow as well. One of my favorite philosophers and playwrights, Samuel Beckett, once wrote this on the meaning of life: “We spend our life trying to bring together in the same instant a ray of sunshine and a free bench.”
That’s a tough job, especially in the fantasy world! But that’s why you have us, the numberFire crew, to help you parse out the realities behind player performance. Having an existential crisis with pickups, and need to know which fantasy players are figments of your imagination and which will lead you to truth? We’re here to help. Let’s dig in!
I Think, Therefore I Am: Fantasy Underachievers
Perhaps, like Nietzsche said, I’ve gazed too long into the abyss and it’s started gazing back at me, but I just can’t get off the Alex Smith love train. Is it startling that he has three games with fewer than 10 fantasy points? Sure. Is it startling that he only put up four points last week? Of course, but that was against Seattle. For most leagues, Alex Smith is still in the high-end QB2 consideration, ranked 12th in Total Net Expected Points (NEP) among quarterbacks, despite only being ranked 20th in fantasy points among the same. I haven’t given up faith in the passer ranked 9th among NFL starters in Passing NEP on a per drop back basis, nor in one ranked 8th in Rushing NEP among quarterbacks. Smith will have some touchdown regression to buoy his fantasy points; trust that.
Just in case you forgot about him – and Descartes says that thought confirms existence – Rashad Jennings came back this past week, and posted five fantasy points against a tough San Francisco 49ers run defense. You still have a great buy-low opportunity for a back who is ranked 21st in Total NEP among runners with at least 60 carries on the year, even though he is only 31st in fantasy points among running backs. Jennings, as a reminder, has the skill set to be a complete back: rushing, receiving, and pass protection. He doesn’t distinguish himself in any one phase of the game, but he is solid all around and has head coach Tom Coughlin’s confidence. With rookie Andre Williams doing nothing to distance himself in Jennings’ injury absence, this job is back to being Jennings’ to lose.
Another great philosophical question is which came first: the chicken or the egg? It doesn’t really matter, because the “Baby Hawk”, as Andrew Hawkins is known, was sitting underneath waiting to rack up PPR points for you. Hawkins is still just 36th among wide receivers in fantasy points, but sits at 30th in Total NEP among wide receivers. Why is there so little love for a guy averaging eight targets per game? You never drafted him to be a high-touchdown guy, so trust his weekly 60-yard floor and hope for a little bonus here and there. Six spots of difference doesn’t seem large in the rankings, but I think his true value can swing even higher, since the Browns get Josh Gordon back this week, and that should open up the short routes to give Hawkins even more room to work.
I have here another player who is already fairly undervalued, but whose worth will be greatly affected by the personnel around him. Marques Colston is just 55th in fantasy scoring among wide receivers right now, but comes in at 38th in Total NEP among them. Colston has a shockingly productive 0.77 Reception NEP on a per target basis, but has just had 59 targets on the year so far; lack of volume is what’s killing his fantasy value. With rookie slot receiver Brandin Cooks going on the injured reserve this week, expect plenty more targets to come Colston’s way as he saps up the leftover underneath work.
All We Can Know is that We Know Nothing: Fantasy Overachievers
I want to believe this revelation so badly. I do, but this is one circumstance where we must challenge our sensory perceptions and trust our logic: Ryan Tannehill is putting up a bit of an illusion for fantasy owners. It's quite impressive that he’s had no games without double-digit points this year, and his recent added rushing production will only add to his value, but he still ranks just 15th in Total NEP among all quarterbacks while appearing a legitimate QB1 – ranked 10th – in fantasy points. Much of this value is appearing due to his near-top-10 ranked pass attempts, but his passing efficiency in per drop back Passing NEP ranks just 16th in the league. Tannehill is a good upside play, and this could simply be further development, but the numbers say fairly convincingly that he is underperforming his ranking.
Do you believe in the name, or the production? LeSean McCoy, currently ranked 17th among running backs in fantasy scoring, sits at just 47th in Total NEP among runners with at least 60 carries. For a sure-fire first-round fantasy pick in a potent offense, this lack of production is shocking. He’s on track for more than 340 touches this year, so what gives? With all of the ineptitude on the Philadelphia offensive line, McCoy’s Rushing NEP on a per attempt basis falls just inside the top-30 at the position, but is significantly below his career levels. In addition, McCoy is getting only a shade over three targets per game, significantly down from his career too. With rushing in general just not as effective at racking up NEP (or fantasy points), and not taking full advantage of Shady’s ability in space, these team tendencies are severely damaging his fantasy stock.
I’ll admit it: I love Kendall Wright and own him in three leagues. I’ve started him as many weeks as I can in those leagues. Still, his current fantasy production is horrendously unsustainable: while he comes in at 35th among receivers in fantasy scoring, Wright ranks a paltry 61st in Total NEP among wideouts. He has a great catch rate (63.24%) and is getting the most targets of any pass-catcher on the Titans, so what gives? Wright is running many high-percentage routes, but not making much of his receptions, as his 0.48 Reception NEP on a per target basis ranks 59th out of 71 receivers with at least 45 targets on the year. You have to be able to make more with yards after the catch than Wright currently is, and that could stifle his fantasy value.
James Jones is in a similar situation as Wright: a rookie quarterback with a huge arm is throwing him the ball, but he’s not doing much with his targets. Jones ranks 45th in fantasy scoring among wideouts, but just 54th in Total NEP. He sits at 58th out of 71 receivers in Reception NEP on a per target basis, despite a 64.47% catch rate and a pace of over 120 targets on the year. Jones hasn’t scored a touchdown or double-digit fantasy points since Week 6. He’s safe to let go of in almost every format.