Regression Candidates Through Week 12: Still Loving on Dwayne Bowe

Dwayne Bowe is still an NEP heartthrob; can he come back into our hearts in fantasy too?

Online dating is a fascinating experience. Some people go online because they’ve gotten frustrated with trying to meet people in person, and for some it’s a supplement to meeting people in person. A third scenario is that some use it because they’re far too busy in their daily lives to have a myriad of group activities and hobbies to meet new people at; I fall into this group.

From a sociological standpoint, it’s been an interesting seven months in the online dating pool for me. I might see someone whose profile catches my eye, and I start a conversation, but more often than not I will simply respond to someone who messages me first if they interest me. I’ve had good dates, I’ve had boring dates, but nothing has yet stuck. As someone once told me about any kind of dating, if you keep putting yourself out there and being true to what you want, you will find someone.

Why this is the lead-in to this week’s article should be pretty clear: in almost any situation involving probability, things will regress to an expected mean. People tend to describe asking someone out as “a numbers game” for this exact reason. The same goes for fantasy football; given a larger span of time, patterns will emerge and show how we should expect things to go for players. So, this week we should ask ourselves who on the fantasy field is Mr. Right, and who is Mr. Right Now?

The Ones You Take Home to Mom: Fantasy Underachievers

It’s always nice to have a scapegoat for football failure, and Tony Romo provides that in spades. His very over-blown “fourth-quarter failure” narrative belies a highly impressive production rate, though, both in 2014 and over his career. Going into Week 13, Romo ranked 13th among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring, but ranked 7th in the numberFire database in Total Net Expected Points (NEP) for a quarterback. Amazingly, on a per drop back basis among current starters, Romo actually ranks third in the league in Passing NEP as well. He’s being efficient, and the Cowboy offense is clicking. Thanksgiving Day’s debacle aside, I like Romo’s fantasy chances down the stretch.

I’ve been firmly in the camp of waiting and seeing on all of the new running backs the Denver Broncos offense has rolled out this season, but C.J. Anderson has made me look pretty silly for distrusting him. In only three weeks of starting, he already ranks 35th among running backs in fantasy scoring, but he has already leapt to the top of the NEP charts, ranking 7th in Total NEP among backs with 40 or more carries. He’s been excellent in all phases of the game, ranking fourth in Rushing NEP on a per attempt basis, and even ranking second in per target Reception NEP. You thought Le’Veon Bell was a complete package? Anderson blows him out of the water in both metrics. As long as he’s the Denver starter, he’s a surefire top fantasy option every week.

Speaking of players who haven’t received a lot of touches, but are dangerously efficient, Darren Sproles has been a godsend for the Philadelphia Eagles this year. Whether rushing, receiving, or returning, Sproles still has it. He actually ranks 18th in fantasy scoring among running backs this season, but sits at the 6th position among running backs with at least 40 carries in Total NEP. Is it really possible that if Sproles received more touches, he’d be one of the best backs in fantasy? The numbers say so: he has the top per attempt Rushing NEP rate, and he has even outproduced Matt Forte in per target Reception NEP. If they decide to spell LeSean McCoy more, Sproles will be a major fantasy benefactor.

I’m digging deep here, but Dwayne Bowe may be a decent reborn option for you in the last few weeks of the season. His fantasy success is a little dependent on Chiefs head coach Andy Reid opening up the offense and getting the wide receivers the ball more, but if this happens, he could explode. Bowe currently ranks 65th in fantasy scoring among wide receivers, but is 37th among all wide receivers in Total NEP. He’s been very sure-handed, with a catch rate north of 65%, and his Reception NEP on a per target basis puts him in the top-25 of wideouts with at least 60 targets. Sneaky, but valuable.

Same goes for Miles Austin, who figures to receive even fewer looks in the passing game with Josh Gordon returning. Still, Austin posted six fantasy points last week in Gordon’s first game back. He currently ranks 61st in fantasy scoring among wide receivers, but he should improve that, as he ranks 38th among all wideouts in Total NEP. His Reception NEP on a per target basis puts him as a top-20 option. With a little love in the target department, Austin has some deep value for your fantasy rosters.

The Ones From the Wrong Side of the Tracks: Fantasy Overachievers

“Oh, Jay Cutler, how I loathe thee? Let me count the ways…” If I was allowed to write my articles in iambic pentameter, I could have a Shakespearean tragedy written up for Cutler and the Bears offense before you could say “Set your feet before you throw”. Despite ranking as the 9th-best quarterback in fantasy scoring this year, he ranks 24th in the league in Total NEP among passers with over 100 drop backs. This lack of value is due to Cutler’s inefficient, turnover-prone ways of old reemerging, as his Passing NEP on a per drop back basis is tied with Cam Newton, Zach Mettenberger, Josh McCown, and Teddy Bridgewater; not really the pinnacles of production or efficiency. Cutler is rapidly becoming a toxic asset as the whole Chicago offensive ship sinks with him.

Rams running back Tre Mason has slowly but surely usurped the original order of the St. Louis backfield through this 2014 season. Mason has seen at least 17 touches in five of the last six weeks, as he has now taken a dominant chunk of the early-down work for the Rams. Still, even though 44th is a modest ranking for a lead back, he only ranks 59th in Total NEP among all backs with at least 40 carries. Part of this is due to a lack of solo work – he still splits touches with Benny Cunningham – but the majority is due to fairly inefficient production on the ground (47th in Rushing NEP on a per attempt basis) and nearly no receiving work (14 targets all season). He is limited as a fantasy option right now; don’t expect much for the rest of the season.

I heralded the possibility that Vikings running back Ben Tate could be a fantasy hold for the rest of the season, and certainly a sneaky option for 2015. The latter I still stand by, but the former looks bad right now. Tate ranks 39th among running backs in fantasy scoring, but is a paltry 64th out of 66 in Total NEP among backs with at least 40 carries. After receiving no touches last Sunday, Tate is absolutely droppable in 2014 redraft leagues. He doesn’t figure to get much playing time at the end of this season, and if he did it might still be terrible.

You may be depending on some serious long shots to get you into the playoffs these next few weeks, but I can promise you that Eddie Royal is not going to get you there. Despite being tied for 38th in fantasy scoring on the season, Royal has been trending downward since Week 7, and ranks 47th in Total NEP among wide receivers. In the Chargers’ last five games, Royal has eclipsed five fantasy points once. His usage dictates that he’s phasing out of the offense late in the season yet again. It’s an easy sell; Royal will not be your fantasy savior, even though he’s done a lot with just 52 targets.

Martavis Bryant is another deep-ball specialist right now that doesn’t figure to mature beyond a “go route” just yet. In spite of racking up enough points in the past five weeks to rank 45th among fantasy wide receivers, there just isn’t enough security in Bryant right now to suggest he’ll maintain this torrid pace. He ranks 69th in Total NEP among wide receivers, mainly due to low usage thus far, but his catch percentage is just over 55% as well. When he is able to haul in more than 16 of 29 targets, though, look out.