Fantasy Football: Regression Candidates After Week 3
Regression is often accompanied by a negative connotation in fantasy football. We often say things like a certain player will "regress back to the mean" after they have an outstanding outlier performance. But with just one game's worth of data to fall back on, fantasy football managers must understand those outlier performances will lead to both positive and negative regression in the weeks to come. Usage, situations, and opportunity can change in an instant in the NFL, and the best managers will understand and practice either patience or proactiveness.
This weekly column will look at some key players from the past week in fantasy football and consider the factors that will lead them to either positive or negative regression in future games.
Positive Regression Candidates
Currently sitting as the RB14 in half-point per reception formats through three weeks, Alvin Kamara's managers must be feeling at least a modicum of disappointment as the calendar flips to October. For a player who was a guaranteed top-four pick in all drafts, the usage for Kamara is decent, but the New Orleans Saints offense as a whole has left a lot to be desired.
But all hope is not lost. Kamara is still averaging five targets per game, as well as 62 receiving yards, and is second in receiving touchdowns among backs with his two scores. We may look at later-round assets like D'Andre Swift and Najee Harris and envy the 25+ targets they command, but this was always the risk with a Jameis Winston-led offense. So while Kamara's passing game usage has been adequate, it's the rushing that should see improvement as the season progresses.
Kamara, never thought of as a bell-cow rusher, currently ranks third in the NFL in rush attempts with 52. The problem is those 52 attempts have only led to 177 yards (3.4 yards per carry). Kamara has never been below 4.6 yards per carry in his career and was at a full 5.0 in 2020. Add in zero touchdowns on the ground and the rushing production has fantasy managers frustrated.
But according to NFL's Next Gen Stats, Kamara currently has the third-largest discrepancy between his rushing total (177 yards) and his expected rushing total (218). Add in those extra 41 yards and we are looking at 4.2 yards per carry and likely a score or two, and things suddenly seem much better. That doesn't help much if you are off to an 0-3 or 1-2 start with your stud back underperforming, but rest assured, better days are ahead for Kamara.
Two of the Saints' next three games are against the New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks, both allowing top-ten fantasy points to running backs through three weeks. New Orleans also leads the league in rushing play percentage, running the ball 57% of the time this season. Kamara will benefit greatly from that kind of volume; don't lose hope.
Earlier this week, I got curious which wide receivers were demanding long targets (high average depth of target, aDOT) and were also excelling with yards after the catch. That led me to find 10 players in the top-25 highest yards after the catch who also have an aDOT north of 10 yards.
List of top 25 WR in YAC who ALSO have an aDOT of 10+ yards has VERY interesting names:
Lamb (120 YAC/11.9 aDOT)
M Brown (95/14.6)
Q Watkins (93/15.9)
DJ Moore (81/10.7)
— Ryan Kirksey (@KirkseySports) September 28, 2021
Much of that list reads like a who's who of elite pass-catchers. But a couple of names on that list are surprising, including Henry Ruggs. Ruggs lands around WR20 right now in half-point per reception formats, mostly due to one 61-yard touchdown in the wild Week 2 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But, he followed that game with a solid 7 targets for 78 yards and 11.10 fantasy points in Week 3.
Ruggs's best asset is his other-worldly speed. He was 100th percentile in the 40-yard dash at the combine in 2020. That's exactly what allows him to burn down the field in the range of Derek Carr's deep targets -- and gain yards after the catch as well. Through three weeks, Ruggs ranks #1 in the NFL in target separation, according to Player Profiler.
With the Las Vegas Raiders bombing the ball downfield at a top-ten rate (64% of their plays), Ruggs is going to continue to have WR2 upside each and every time he steps on the field. That is not too bad for a player drafted in the 13th round as WR51. Ruggs is definitely a player worth kicking the tires on before he has his next explosion game.
Negative Regression Candidates
Despite only playing on 36% of the Arizona Cardinals' offensive snaps through three weeks, Rondale Moore ranks in the top-25 wide receivers in half-point per reception formats. His play rate is concerning considering he ranks fifth among Cardinals' pass catchers, even falling behind Maxx Williams.
His average depth of target is even more concerning. His aDOT is a miniscule 2.87 yards, which is the lowest in the league among wide receivers with at least 15 targets. It's also a full 1.2 yards less than JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has the second-lowest. Moore ranks second in the league in yards after the catch, which is simply unsustainable for a player seeing the field barely a third of the time his team is on offense.
According to Next Gen Stats, Moore averages 13 yards after the catch per reception this season, when his expected yards after catch should only be approximately 8.2. That difference of 4.8 more yards per expectation is the largest gap in the NGS era since 2015. The big plays are sure to become less frequent and Moore will become more of a boom-or-bust play week to week.
Throwing 2.3 touchdowns per game will gain you a lot of fantasy stock, but beyond that big number, there seems to be quite a bit of concern on Joe Burrow as he attempts a comeback from ACL surgery.
The first warning sign is that Burrow's touchdown rate sits at 9.3%. His 7 touchdowns have come on just 75 pass attempts and only 640 passing yards. For context, in Tom Brady's elite season last year, he was only at 6.6%, and in his 50-touchdown monster season in 2007, he threw a touchdown just 8.7% of the time.
Burrow's passing attempts have decreased each game this season from 30 down to 18 last week, as the Cincinnati Bengals have called a rushing play at the fourth-highest rate so far this season (48%) as they look to feature Joe Mixon more.
Joe Mixon currently has 7 targets on the season. He is accounting for a 9.6% target share. The hope that he would be targeted more when Gio left has not come to fruition just yet. Thankfully, he has an 85% opp. share and is averaging 22 rush attempts and 95 yards a game. pic.twitter.com/rMlqXygybi
— TK (@TKingMode) September 29, 2021
And with all of the Mixon usage, Burrow has basically stopped running. He has nine rushing yards on six attempts this season. I don't expect that to change as the Bengals look to protect the knee of their prized quarterback investment.
The Bengals certainly have the wide receiver talent to overcome a lack of relative volume, but when the efficiency numbers start to fall off, we could see Burrow quickly fall out of the top-ten quarterbacks.