Regression Candidates Through Week 2: Your Last Chance to Buy Amari Cooper
Over the summer, I really tried to be responsible in my life, building a clearly denoted schedule for myself, cooking healthy meals, and getting my laundry done in a timely manner. I made budgets, did my homework before the day it was due, and at the end of it all, I felt unstressed and accomplished.
Then September hit.
Thanks to the beginning of graduate classes, teaching with the Children’s Theatre, and -- of course -- the advent of football and my writing ramping up again, I now have a full hamper and a stacked sink.
Being an adult is hard.
It feels like all of the information and conjecture we have this early in the season can pile up and overwhelm us. We're trying to sift through the small sample sizes of the season and see which performances are legit, which are flukes, and decide what to do because of that. On top of this, so many of our elite fantasy options are getting injured left and right, meaning we have to take the plunge on less certain players. This makes a good understanding of regression -- both positive and negative -- necessary for survival in the early goings.
So, with that in mind, which fantasy football players through Week 2 are as sturdy as steel wool and which are mildew mavens?
Quilted Quicker Picker-Uppers: Fantasy Underachievers
If you banked your fantasy hopes on Matt Ryan this season, your roster might seem a little bit dirty right now, as Ryan is performing as just the 12th-best quarterback in terms of fantasy scoring. In most leagues, he probably cost a mid-round draft pick, so perhaps this was to be expected of him, especially when Roddy White brought in just one target in a week. In the immortal words of Dry Idea deodorant: “Never let ‘em see you sweat.” Ryan actually ranks fourth among our quarterbacks in terms of Total Net Expected Points (NEP), which takes into account both passing and rushing production for quarterbacks. He should bounce back given a larger sample size.
Two NFC East passing-duties running backs are not getting nearly the amount of respect that they deserve in fantasy circles. Shane Vereen and Lance Dunbar may be relegated solely to the “change-of-pace” roles for their respective New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, but this versatility shouldn’t be seen as a detriment to their value because they are two of the better pass-catchers on their teams. Vereen ranks 30th in standard fantasy scoring among running backs, and Dunbar ranks 37th. They rank eighth and ninth in Total NEP among back with 10 or more touches through Week 2, however. Keep an eye on their rising value.
If you don’t know who Dion Lewis is yet, I would like to know if you live under a rock and have Rex Ryan as a roommate. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has always treated his running backs like Swiffer dusters: plug them in, wipe the floor with them, and then toss them when you’re done. It appears now, however, that the Patriots have invested in a real vacuum cleaner. Lewis has the kind of burst needed to run inside, but also has speed in the open field to be an outside runner. On top of all of that, he’s a great pass-catcher. This is a notification that he is the real deal: he ranks fifth in running back fantasy scoring and second in Total NEP.
If I told you that Amari Cooper was a top-10 receiving option this season, how would you respond to me? I know plenty of people overhype rookies, especially rookie wide receivers, but Cooper is one that may be living up to that hype. With Cooper as one of maybe two trusted options for Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in what would like to be a downfield passing game, there is a lot of opportunity for him to create fantasy value for us as well. He’s currently tied for 18th in fantasy scoring, and this may be your last chance to get him for cheap. By Reception NEP among wide receivers with 10 or more targets, Cooper ranks 10th; by Target NEP, he ranks ninth. Trust that this spry, young newbie can be a strong fantasy contributor for you and “put the freshness back” into your fantasy lineups.
Calling Mr. Clean: Fantasy Overachievers
O, how the mighty have fallen. Russell Wilson has spent the last three years leading his Seattle Seahawks to consecutive Super Bowls, winning the most games of any quarterback in his first three seasons, and earning the second-best all-time passer rating. Not too shabby. Yet, the Seahawks’ offensive line has become a shambles around Wilson and his receiving corps is still a mess. That’s why, despite his current ninth-place ranking among fantasy quarterbacks, Wilson ranks as the 22nd-best quarterback in terms of Total NEP. If something doesn’t change for the defending NFC Champions, the bottom is going to fall out on their quarterback’s fantasy value quickly.
I’m a bigger Chris Ivory defender than most people, but it’s clear that he hasn’t been as effective as we had hoped. Part of his ineffectiveness was likely due to the groin injury he suffered in Week 1, but he also isn’t getting a variety of usage. In Total NEP among running backs with at least 10 touches through Week 2, Ivory ranks 27th despite his eighth-best ranking among backs in fantasy scoring. His per-play Rushing NEP isn’t terrible (ranked 21st), but he’s actually lost value on his three receiving targets. Ivory will likely continue to lose passing-down work to Bilal Powell, and definitely doesn’t come clean like his namesake soap.
I know people are excited to finally see what Latavius Murray can do in the NFL, but we have to throw a little cold water on him. Long a favorite of the metrics crowd, Murray embodies the “appliance of science,” as his huge 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame seems better suited to a linebacker in the NFL. He puts that force to work on the field, translating speed to power. I just wish he’d be able to translate his fantasy production -- he ranks 11th in fantasy scoring -- to a more sustainable value in Total NEP production. He ranks 30th in Total NEP among running backs, is tied for 32nd in per-play Rushing NEP, and even his per-play Reception NEP ranks just 28th. He has so much potential, but we have to be more cautious about him.
As much fun as it is to see James Jones return to Green Bay and watch him romp around for three touchdowns in his first two games, three scores in five catches of seven targets is just not sustainable production. Jones is a modern-day Cris Carter but without any sort of role in the offense outside of his red-zone prowess. Despite Jones’ 11th-place rank in fantasy scoring among wide receivers, he ranks 25th in Reception NEP. If Davante Adams misses any time with his ankle injury he could see more value, but otherwise this pace won’t keep up; sell him for a profit if you can.