Fantasy Football: Regression Candidates After Week 5
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
You actually have to scroll all the way down to 18th to find Aaron Rodgers' name among the fantasy quarterback leaders through five weeks. How can that be when he has thrown for 10 touchdowns, only one pick in the last four weeks, and has hit at least 248 yards passing in all but one game this season?
Two key reasons.
First, Rodgers' horrific Week 1 game put him squarely behind the eight ball and dropped him in a hole that has been hard to climb out of. He threw for just 133 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns. That means negative points in a majority of fantasy formats.
Second, in a league that now emphasizes what quarterbacks can do with their legs, Rodgers is simply not running at all. Rodgers has eight rushing yards all season, which ranks 38th among quarterbacks this year. Marcus Mariota and Geno Smith have more rushing yards. Retirement-home candidate Ben Roethlisberger has more rushing yards.
We may never see Rodgers rush for 300 yards with four or five touchdowns in a season again, but the efficient Green Bay Packers offense should move Rodgers back up into the top ten in short order.
If we look at just the past three games, here are the Packers' ranks in various offensive efficiency metrics.
|Offensive Metric||Green Bay Team Rank|
|Points Per Play||7th|
|Yards Per Completion||9th|
|Red-Zone Trips Per Game||5th|
|Passing Yards Per Game||9th|
|Points Per Game||8th|
Over the balance of the season, Rodgers's arm should be able to make up for what we lack with his legs. He'll finish the season well inside the top ten spots assuming no injuries.
The emergence of Mike Williams into a set-it-and-forget-it WR1 this season has overshadowed Keenan Allen and the elite usage he still sees in this juggernaut of an offense the Los Angeles Chargers possess. Allen currently ranks 17th in point-per-reception formats for wide receivers, but if just a couple of things had broken his way, he would be comfortably in the top-12. The reason? His usage in the red zone.
First, the Chargers make so many trips to the red zone, they can sustain Williams, Allen, Austin Ekeler, and other players on offense. The Chargers are tied with Buffalo with 4.8 red zone trips per game, and in the last three games, they have scored a touchdown on 86% of those trips.
The first read in those red zone trips is usually Allen. He leads the team with 10 red-zone targets. Williams has nine. But Allen has only caught six of those targets for 35 yards and a score. That 60% figure is well below his past three seasons; he has hauled in between 68% and 71% of his red-zone targets across them. Last season, Allen caught 13 of 16 red-zone targets (81%) for 118 yards and seven touchdowns. We figured the touchdown rate would regress a little in 2021, but it has completely swung back in the other direction. Things should bounce back in Allen's favor the rest of the season.
Seven other receivers this year have at least eight red-zone targets, and those seven players average 2.4 touchdowns on the season. As long as Allen keeps getting the high-value looks in this elite offense, the touchdowns and league-winning weeks will come.
Negative Regression Candidate
There is no other way to say it -- James Conner has been a touchdown machine and strong fantasy asset through five weeks. Fantasy managers were desperate to know in the preseason how the running back usage would shake out between Conner and Chase Edmonds in Arizona. Now, that answer is clear.
The Cardinals prefer Edmonds in the main rushing role between the 20-yard lines and in the passing game. But inside the red zone, especially inside the 10-yard line, the Cardinals are constantly feeding Conner. The former Steelers tailback ranks seventh among all backs with 15 rush attempts in the red zone. This is despite playing just 43% of snaps this season! According to Player Profiler, he has the ninth-most red zone touches of all skill position players. His five rushing touchdowns in 2021 are second to only Derrick Henry.
The scores are hiding some ugly truths about the rest of Conner's game that became evident in his final days in Pittsburgh. Even with them, Conner ranks 29th with 11.5 fantasy points per contest and ranks 30th with 0.86 fantasy points per opportunity. He is also never involved in the passing game; Conner has zero red-zone targets and his four total targets on the year. That target mark ranks 66th among running backs.
He is not particularly efficient either. His yards per touch this year (3.5) rank only 56th at the position. Some of that is, of course, due to the fact that he is plunging in several one- and two-yard scores. But if the touchdown equity ever dries up, or some of the short-yardage work shifts to the passing game, Conner's value will be virtually non-existent. He is a clear sell high right now.