Regression Candidates Through Week 15: We Warned You on Darren McFadden

Darren McFadden has been terrible, and don't say we didn't tell you so.

I considered apologizing; that was my first instinct. I had this instant feeling of guilt, of shame, of genuine sadness and empathy for this person, who sounded so confused and hurt. “That was wrong,” they said to me, and I didn’t know how to respond except with, “I know.” I had a responsibility to them -- and, really, to so many other people, too -- and I failed in it, miserably. They haven’t spoken to me since then.

Fortunately, then was last night around 6:00pm Central, so it’s likely my friend had dinner and then went to sleep.

The above scenario occurred when I learned that Jay Cutler wasn’t going to be starting Week 16, after I’d suggested a friend pick him up for this week, his championship week. What’s the worst that could happen? I thought. The answer was, apparently, this. Now, in a league with Cutler on the waiver wire, perhaps my friend shouldn’t have reacted so harshly since there are likely other acceptable options, but this does speak to a larger point: analysts are only human.

We make bold calls, we make big calls, and we try to mitigate risk as much as possible. Sometimes, though, it comes back to bite us. That’s why “fantasy karma” is a phrase thrown around so much: we can’t win -- or predict -- them all, and our good luck in doing so will always regress to the mean. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the players who are likely to regress to their means in fantasy production: are they cause for chagrin or should you have known better?

All Apologies: Fantasy Underachievers

I swore I’d never do it again. I swore off of him… But I just can’t quit you, Joe Flacco. The “Flacc Attack” has performed at a stunning level this season, ranking as the seventh-best quarterback in Total Net Expected Points (NEP), yet he only comes in as the 12th-best signal-caller in fantasy points this year. A large part of this fantasy devaluation is his lack of drop backs: despite top-ten Passing NEP, Flacco has taken just the 13th-most drop backs of any quarterback in the league. Being asked to do less actually may be working for him, though, as his per-drop-back efficiency is prime, too (tied for sixth in Passing NEP per drop back). Baltimore offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has done some serious work to revamp Flacco’s style, and Flacco is delivering.

Anthony Dixon was a huge waiver claim name early in the season, when it looked like he would be given second billing (pun intended) in the Buffalo backfield due to C.J. Spiller’s injury. He had one big game and then promptly played a short-yardage role from that point onward. Now, he’s likely pushed back to third or fourth on the depth chart with Spiller’s returning, but he reached the 56th spot in fantasy scoring among running backs this season, though he did even better in Total NEP, reaching 34th among all backs with at least 60 carries this season. “Boobie” Dixon isn’t the best back in the world, but he was quietly quite successful this year.

Once a top-ten option at wide receiver, the aging Vincent Jackson has seen his value fall proportional to his age and teammate Mike Evans’ success. Still, he’s only the 31st wide receiver in fantasy scoring this year, and he has performed like the 21st wide receiver in Total NEP. This hasn’t been a glitzy year for the former speed merchant, especially as he posted a negative Target NEP, but he still has more talent than his fantasy rank shows.

Dion Sims has finally begun to emerge and show the talent that he was projected with, after being drafted in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. This year he has posted the 42nd-best tight end score in fantasy but has the 31st-highest Total NEP among tight ends. A 65% catch rate and healthy Reception NEP per Target (17th among tight ends with 15 or more receptions this year) makes him an interesting sleeper to keep an eye on in 2015.

Your Own Bleeping Fault: Fantasy Overachievers

What do you do when the best quarterback in the league -- well -- isn’t the best quarterback in the league? This is the conundrum we are at right now with (gasp) Andrew Luck. While he remains first in quarterback points in fantasy, he has actually slipped down to eighth -- yeah, behind Joe Flacco -- in Total NEP among quarterbacks. Luck is taking a ton of drop backs; the horrendously imbalanced Colts offense is relying solely on his arm to succeed, so he leads the league in drop backs. This has led to his per-drop-back Passing NEP efficiency to the back half of the top-ten, and he hasn’t provided much value through Rushing NEP this season. Lackluster performances against the Jaguars, Browns, and Texans, three reeling defenses of late, has sunk him in NEP. He’s not as sure of a lock as you think on a weekly basis.

We haven’t talked much about him this year because he’s just been so terrible, but I think it’s important to note in our second-last issue of Regression Candidates for the season just how bad Darren McFadden has been. In fantasy scoring, “Run-DMC” has come out a dull 42nd so far this year among running backs, but in Total NEP, he is dead last at 62nd among 62 backs with at least 60 carries on the year. Amazing. He is tied for 58th in Rushing NEP on a per attempt basis, and his Target NEP is far and away the worst among these backs. Hats off to you, Darren.

Here’s a guy who flashed really well in a few fantasy weeks this year but then suffered when put up against better defenses. Chargers’ rookie Branden Oliver looks like he’ll have a good NFL career, but his first year will end ignominiously, as he’ll finish around 34th in fantasy scoring for running backs, but just 48th in Total NEP. He’s actually been one of the better receiving backs in the league this year (17th in Reception NEP per target; 7th in Target NEP), but his atrocious Rushing NEP (60th) derailed his campaign. If he learns to run between the tackles better next year, we could see a massive explosion again from this young back.

Keenan Allen was 2013’s poster boy for the superstar rookie wideout, but his production fell off the table in 2014. After an extraordinarily high finish saw Allen considered in the second round of dynasty drafts, he has posted the 34th-best wide receiver fantasy total in 2014 and will be out for the remainder of the year. Allen will finish his season currently as the 42nd-best wide receiver in Total NEP, though, as he was highly inefficient on a per-target basis and posted a very subpar Target NEP.