Fantasy Football: Regression Candidates After Week 4

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

Antonio Gibson

There was some understandable nervousness when new Washington Football Team quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was lost to an injury earlier this year. He was supposed to be the tide that lifted all Washington offensive boats after the backwater experiment of Alex Smith and Dwayne Haskins last season. How would Terry McLaurin and Logan Thomas reach their ADP value? Would teams just stack the box against Antonio Gibson and the running game?

It turns out that was misplaced fear and the Washington offense is going to be just fine, thank you. Now we wait for the Gibson breakout to happen -- because it's coming.

Gibson has been decent through four weeks, ranking as RB16 in half-point per reception formats, but his managers were expecting top-10 performances. His past two weeks have produced 13.5 and 16.4 fantasy points, but the prospect of even bigger weeks looms large.

According to NFL's Next Gen Stats, Gibson is one of a handful of players who has rushed for 20-plus yards under expectation this season (-0.35 yards under expectation per attempt) and has just one touchdown despite being top-12 in rushing yards this season. Gibson is playing 60% of the snaps, which is slightly lower than expectation, but his four rush attempts in the red zone total minus two yards so far, and he only has one target in that area. Gibson has seen eight-man boxes at the lowest rate in the league so far, so it's only a matter of time before those numbers regress.

With the Washington defense not being quite the juggernaut we all thought (they rank 15th in numberFire's rushing defense metric and 30th in pass defense), there are going to be plenty of offensive snaps and shootouts in the weeks ahead. Gibson is a strong hold if you were able to grab him in your drafts.

Calvin Ridley

Across the field from Gibson and the Washington Football Field this past Sunday was another player who is bound to regress back to his elite level of play soon. Under the hood, Calvin Ridley looks like the same nothing-can-stop-me wide receiver taken in the first two rounds this draft season, but it's just in the categories that matter for fantasy where he has disappointed.

Stats2021WR Rank
Target Share26.80%15th
Air Yards4537th
Air Yards Share44.60%5th
Receiving Yards25528th

With elite metrics in air yards, share of air yards, target share, etc., the receiving yards and touchdowns are going to come, and they will likely come soon.

This week's matchup against the New York Jets presents another excellent opportunity. The Jets are ranked 7th in numberFire's rushing defense but only 17th in pass defense. They were burned for 298 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions by Ryan Tannehill without A.J. Brown and Julio Jones in Week 4.

Week 1 was a lost cause for the Atlanta Falcons, but since then, they have put up 24 points per game with Ridley and Kyle Pitts combining for one touchdown. The offense simply can't continue to be just the Cordarrelle Patterson show, and if the high-scoring games continue to happen, Ridley will start to emerge.

Negative Regression Candidates

Mike Davis

Another Falcons player has seen the rug pulled out from underneath him, as Mike Davis has been outplayed by Patterson every time he turns around despite seeing double the number of snaps per game (47 for Davis; 24 for Patterson). Right now, the on-the-field time and volume might be in Davis' favor, but his efficiency numbers are so bad, it's hard to see that Patterson and Wayne Gallman won't be a larger part of this offense moving forward.

The surface numbers start badly and then they just get worse the deeper you start to drill. Davis averages 3.1 yards per rush on 49 carries this season with no rushing touchdowns. He lucked into a receiving touchdown last week but has three fewer targets than Patterson despite playing 90 more snaps.

According to numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) per rush attempt, Davis ranks as the 12th-worst running back with at least 20 carries this year. His -0.14 NEP per carry lives in the neighborhood of Mark Ingram and Peyton Barber, and a negative number means he is hurting his team's chances to score each time he runs the ball. And if that wasn't enough, Davis ranks as the fourth-worst running back with at least 10 targets in Receiving NEP per target.

At some point, Davis is going to begin losing snaps and conceding more touches to the other Falcons in the backfield. If you can find anyone who is willing to buy based on the current workload and the touchdown last week, I would jump at the chance.

Brandin Cooks

It's the age-old debate with Brandin Cooks this year in fantasy: is volume or efficiency more important? Volume is not the concern with Cooks, but as we saw against the Buffalo Bills, the inefficient quarterback play and overall ineptitude of the Houston Texans' offense might hinder Cooks even with overwhelming usage.

Cooks looks great in the usage categories, as we noted. He ranks first overall in target share (37.8%), second in air yards (519), first in air yards share (57.5%), and fifth in receiving yards (369). But those targets are not turning into fantasy production at the rate we would like. It's simply just a little nuts to see a receiver with those underlying metrics and then find he is ranked as the WR13 in half-point per reception formats, and he has just one touchdown.

His yards per reception (13.2) are the lowest they have been since his rookie season in 2014, and Cooks only has 70 yards after the catch on the season (39th among wide receivers). What this tells me is he is catching shorter passes with little room to gobble up yards in the open field. As long as Houston has to rely on Davis Mills as their quarterback, this is unlikely to change. We saw Mills throw for just 87 yards and 4 interceptions on Sunday, and while it won't be that bad each week, this is an inefficient passing offense that has propped up Cooks' value based on pure volume.

Don't be surprised if get to Week 18 and Cooks is top-10 in target share and air yards share but ranks outside the top-20 wide receivers.