Regression Candidates Through Week 14: Romo Forever
Any good football fan should see the Emmy-winning television show (now canceled) Friday Night Lights. Centered around the semi-fictionalized high school football team of a small town in West Texas, this show is so much more than sports. A friend of mine once described it as “Degrassi with football. In Texas. And also good.”
The story of the show follows the lives of several of the high school players and other students at Dillon High School, and the drama tugs at the heartstrings of the casual watcher as much as it keys into the adrenaline of sports lovers. Every episode, for me at least, is riddled with nostalgia for the simpler time of lunch periods and “oh man, do you think she likes me?”
This show is not only a great viewing for entertainment’s sakes, it also shows a perfect example of regression. None of these characters have perfect lives or perfect seasons, but for every bit of struggle the show’s characters go through, they either rise above it and succeed or find a way to adapt to their new reality. This is how we must continue to traverse the wild landscape that is the NFL. So, we ask that weekly question: which players have clear eyes and full hearts, and which are blinded by the lights?
Texas Forever: Fantasy Underachievers
It feels like every other week that Tony Romo is on this list of undervalued players, but here we are again. Though originally from Wisconsin, the star player in the Lone Star State is the perfect way to start a Friday Night Lights-themed article. Romo clocks in at just 15th in fantasy scoring among all quarterbacks, but he finds himself at 10th in Net Expected Points (NEP) production among all starting quarterbacks. What’s the key to Romo’s subtle success? Pure efficiency, my friends. Romo stills ranks third in Passing NEP on a per drop back basis among quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs. The Dallas Cowboys’ offensive prowess has been a legitimate, balanced machine this year. Believe in him from here on out.
I want to believe in Bill Belichick as a talent evaluator based on the success of his franchise on the whole, but I worry. Jonas Gray had an oversleeping run-in with the Sandman that ran him afoul of Hoodyman, but based solely on his one massive game, Gray ranks 50th among running backs in fantasy, and a shocking 13th in NEP production among all backs with at least 60 carries. Even more impressive, the production necessary to reach this level only came from his rushing attempts; Gray had absolutely no receptions or targets in the passing game that day. If Belichick would let the most talented player in his backfield have the ball, instead of enacting a Coach Taylor-esque personal vendetta, Gray could tear up the AFC right now.
In the exact opposite phase of his career to Gray, Fred Jackson of the Bills is still thriving on his late-career renaissance. At age 33 this year, Jackson still ranks as the 29th running back in fantasy, but is producing as the 15th-best running back with at least 60 carries. The key to Jackson’s game right now is thriving as a third-down receiving option, ranking 12th in Reception NEP among these runners. His -5.43 Target NEP indicates that he may have poor hands and be inflating this value with after-the-catch ability, but Jackson is still worth weekly flex consideration.
One of my favorite potential break out options for 2014, Markus Wheaton has greatly underwhelmed, coming in as just the 61st wide receiver in fantasy, due to lost looks to rookie wideout Martavis Bryant and a game plan that doesn’t need two Antonio Brown-like players. However, there is hope: Wheaton ranks 52nd among all wide receivers in NEP production this year, indicating that it is solely volume that is holding his numbers back. A few more looks depending on opponent and gameflow, and Wheaton could be a nice upside option these last few weeks.
Suck It Up: Fantasy Overachievers
I’ve kept on this for 13 weeks; I won’t be stopping now. Russell Wilson's fantasy production is extraordinarily overrated this season. Wilson ranks a stellar fourth among fantasy quarterbacks this year, but is just 11th in NEP production. We all know that he scores his volume of fantasy points on the ground, as essentially a running back with a great arm, and his Rushing NEP (first among quarterbacks) reflects that.
We also know the Seahawks’ offense limits Wilson’s value through the air, as they prefer to play the very definition of a ground-and-pound offense. The problem is that he ranks just 19th in per drop back Passing NEP (minimum 100 drop backs) and 31st in Passing Success Rate (the percentage of pass plays resulting in a positive NEP gain). Wilson only maintains any air yardage because of short patterns, and an unreliable receiving corps has complicated this value. I don’t know if it will be in 2014 or later, but the bubble will burst without a significant personnel and scheme change.
Speaking of one-trick ponies, Giants’ rookie tailback Andre Williams has had chances to prove he belongs as a lead back and has squandered them. Whereas Jonas Gray received one start, Williams has 171 touches this year –- a decent sample size with which to critique his 27th running back fantasy rank, and more so his 41st ranking in NEP. Coming out in the draft, analysts critiqued Williams’ receiving skills more than anything else, but that is actually the only thing saving his value right now. His Rushing NEP ranks 44th out of 59 rushers this year with more than 60 carries, and his per attempt Rushing NEP isn’t much better (39th). With Rashad Jennings back, Williams has been relegated to goal line duty only; he’s droppable at this point.
I’ve loathed him from the start: Percy Harvin has become the bane of my fantasy existence, as I know he’ll always be drafted higher than he should on the promise of “what might be” (i.e. 40th Overall in 2014), but never live up to the hype. In 2014, he ranks 59th in fantasy production among wide receivers, but falls even shorter than that in NEP, ranking 66th. Whether it was as a Seahawks’ gimmick or as the one player with gamebreaking upside (sorry Eric Decker) in the Jets’ lineup, Harvin has disappointed, been misused, and gotten injured all over the place. You won’t remember this next year, which means I’ll still have a job. Thank you.
Talk about disappointing wide receiver choices in the early 40s in average draft position -- Pierre Garçon has been one of the silent victims of the quarterback mess happening in Washington. Despite ranking 52nd in fantasy production among wide receivers, Garçon comes in at 74th in NEP production among the same this year. The only reason I can find for his struggles is his quarterback situation, however. Garçon’s Reception NEP is very lackluster, but his 65.91% catch rate is fairly solid. Where his numbers dip are in Target NEP (78th out of 87 receivers with 40 or more targets) and targets (just 88 this year; on pace for just 108). Without stability under center, volume receivers like Garçon will suffer. This won’t change the rest of this season.