Regression Candidates Through Week 3: Leonard Hankerson Is Haute Cuisine

Leonard Hankerson was a risky-looking dish in the 2015 preseason, but is turning out to be quite tasty for fantasy owners.

I try to be an open-minded person, one who’s willing to try different things and push myself in a lot of different ways. One of these ways I try to keep myself on my toes is by giving new foods and cuisines a try. In the last year alone, I’ve tried Korean, Vietnamese, Russian, Somali, and Laotian food, and I’ve loved almost everything I tried. There are times where I would have preferred to have something familiar and safe, but instead I went out and discovered how great that food truck’s handmade tamales were.

We all have our safe spaces; it’s just that some of them are made of grilled cheese and tomato soup.

In fantasy football, we are often start or roster players who have done well previously in the season, falling victim to recency bias, without considering whether or not we might be missing out on something better in the long run. This is where our Regression Candidates article series comes into play: we help you find the most savory players to sate your team’s appetite, even when they may not look like entrée material. Today we look at which fantasy options through Week 3 are hidden delicacies, and which will give your roster food poisoning. Bon appetit!

Haute Cuisine: Fantasy Underachievers

The cream of the Net Expected Points (NEP) crop so far among 2015 quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger and his 0.56 per-play Passing NEP goes down smoother than a marinated steak. Yes, “Big Ben” is injured for another four to six weeks with an MCL strain and bone bruise, but his Total NEP ranks second among quarterbacks through Week 3, despite his position as the ninth-best fantasy quarterback. This is just a reminder that he is not expendable in the incredible offense the Pittsburgh Steelers have shown so far. Hold him if you can until he’s ready to return.

Rookie Ameer Abdullah is getting all of the hype in the Detroit Lions’ backfield, but it’s another change-of-pace player who may be just as deserving of our attention. With veteran Joique Bell struggling to carry the load as the Lions’ lead back, they’ve turned more to Abdullah on the ground, shifting him away from the passing-down role he seemed like he’d initially inherit. This has left an opening for former sixth-round pick Theo Riddick to sweep in and make his claim for playing time, racking up a seventh-place ranking in Total NEP among running backs with 15 opportunities or more. In fantasy, he’s the 40th-best running back in standard scoring, primarily because he’s received just one rushing attempt, but has 18 targets. Maybe the Lions will wise up and use Abdullah as an every-down player soon, but they seem set in specific roles in their offense, so Riddick is worth a long look, especially in PPR formats.

It’s hard to find underperforming wide receivers by Total NEP because there is a very high correlation of real yardage and catch production to NEP. Still, we have a couple of hidden treats to uncover lower in the wide receiver rankings. One of those is 2015 revelation Leonard Hankerson, who is usurping veteran Roddy White for the Atlanta Falcons’ second wide receiver spot. With the added attention for this former Washington castoff, his physical ability is finally showing through. He’ll need to improve on a 52.4% catch rate to be a real threat, but this deep threat ranks 25th in per-target Reception NEP among receivers with 12 or more targets. He’s the 27th-best receiver by Total NEP, and ranks 40th in fantasy points. All signs point upward for him.

You might be wondering what in the world has happened to the Arizona Cardinals offense, which seems to have time-warped back to 2005, when Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer were in the primes of their careers -- albeit with different teams. This rebirth that Fitzgerald has experienced lately has come at the cost of John Brown's fantasy value, but the sophomore receiver hasn’t become a total Arizona afterthought. He’s averaging 6.7 fantasy points per week, which is solid enough for a tie at the 37th-best fantasy wide receiver rank. We think slightly better of him, as his Total NEP ranks him 29th among receivers with 12 or more targets. His per-target Reception NEP ranks 18th, so he’s been very efficient; he just has to get more looks.

Gutter Palate: Fantasy Overachievers

2015 was supposed to be Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill's coming out party -- his quinceañera of sorts -- but he’s playing less like a hearty bowl of pollo guisado and more like an NFL piñata. Through three weeks so far, Tannehill is averaging a solid 16.3 fantasy points per game, but this week got particularly ugly. Tanny tossed three interceptions when the Dolphins hosted the Buffalo Bills’ impeccable defense for their home opener. Despite his five touchdown passes, he has forked over the ball four times in three games, and that makes him unsurprisingly over-inflated in fantasy right now. Tannehill ranks 11th among quarterbacks on the season so far, but he’s just 24th in Total NEP among quarterbacks with at least 50 drop backs on the season. Be careful.

He was widely-heralded coming into the year, as his New Orleans Saints seemed to clear the backfield out so they could feature him. Regardless, Mark Ingram hasn’t capitalized on that hype as well as he could have so far this season. He’s only generated 127 yards on the ground thus far, despite having 152 yards through the air. He’s been a fairly efficient runner, but he just isn’t getting used in a bell cow fashion. Make no mistake, Ingram is a tapa at best, as he’s still in a running back committee with C.J. Spiller and Khiry Robinson. He ranks 12th among running backs in standard fantasy scoring but is 25th in Total NEP (among backs with 20 or more opportunities).

Alfred Blue has done yeoman’s work, carrying the load for the Houston Texans since Arian Foster went out with a groin injury in preseason. His volume of touches as the lead back for a run-first team belies the ineffectiveness he’s displayed on the field. On 45 attempts, Blue has accrued just -2.15 Rushing NEP, for a 29th-ranked per-play Rushing NEP of -0.05. In addition, he’s received just three targets, so he hasn’t contributed much there either. Blue ranks 25th among fantasy running backs, and 41st among running backs in Total NEP. Aside from Foster’s impending return, Blue’s bottom may drop out soon.

Jarvis Landry and Ryan Tannehill seemed to have an incredible chemistry in Landry’s rookie 2014. It appeared that every time Tanny dropped back, he was firing a short-cross rocket to the sure-handed Landry, who was targeted a team-high 111 times last year. The less-athletic wide receiver always seemed destined for regression, especially when considering that the Dolphins traded for Kenny Stills, signed Jordan Cameron, and drafted DeVante Parker. Still, I don’t know that anyone expected this much of a fall from grace for the sophomore Landry. He ranks as the 19th-best receiver in fantasy right now but is the 46th-best wide receiver in Total NEP (12 targets or more). His 0.36 per-target Reception NEP is largely to blame, as he has no receiving touchdowns and few big plays this season. If you decided to sample him, this may be one dish you send back to the chef.