Regression Candidates Through Week 8: Shane Vereen Deserves a Full Ride
I started looking at colleges at age 9. Late in third grade, I had already decided that I knew I was going to pursue higher education, that I wanted to be a psychologist -- because I liked figuring out how people think -- and that I wasn’t going to a college in the state of Wisconsin. I built spreadsheets and developed a grading system on a matrix of different factors: academics, athletics, scholarship potential, location, job market, and so on.
I’ve always been told you had to start looking at college early.
Needless to say, I did go to college, I didn’t major in psychology, and I did finally get out of Wisconsin. I was so sure that I was going to do what I’d planned, but I hadn’t yet discovered that I had a passion for theatre (I’d try out for my first musical that next fall) and I didn’t know that I could use my interest in the mind to help people learn. I had no way of knowing those plans might not stick.
We all have to make plans for the future without knowing whether or not they will succeed or fail. We have to do this in fantasy football as well: sometimes you’ll build a perfect lineup that gets beat by an even better one, or a rag-tag group of waiver pickups will deliver you to a championship. The joy of fantasy is testing our theories in practice.
So, through Week 8, which fantasy football options are well-laid plans and which are player pipe dreams?
Of Mice and Men: Fantasy Underachievers
No offense to any alumni, but Matt Ryan seems to be to fantasy quarterbacks what Ohio University is to university psychology programs: strong, can even be impressive at points, but you kind of wish you’d shelled out and just applied to Ivy Leaguers. It’s not as if Ryan is a pushover in the fantasy world -- in half of his 2015 performances he’s accrued 18 fantasy points or more -- but he just doesn’t have the sky-high upside that others at his position feature. Even so, in a great offense and with the talent he has around him, he’s not as lackluster as his 15th-place per game fantasy scoring rank appears. We like him for the rest of the season, as he ranks ninth in Total Net Expected Points (NEP) per play among the 34 quarterbacks with at least 100 opportunities in 2015.
I know I’m a sucker for a receiving back, especially in PPR leagues, but Shane Vereen has legitimate upside no matter how you slice the fantasy pie. Yes, he has three weeks of two or fewer fantasy points this season, and just two double-digit fantasy days, but he is a poor man’s Danny Woodhead for the New York Giants’ offense: a garbage time and passing-down aficionado. The Giants’ defense is terrible this year, so I’d expect the shootouts to continue, and Vereen’s value to sustain. Vereen is the 36th-best running back in per game fantasy scoring but ranks sixth in Total NEP per play among running backs with at least 40 opportunities on the year.
In the hullabaloo of everyone clamoring for the hot new lead backs off of the waiver wire, don’t forget that Charcandrick West was that exact same player just a few weeks ago, when Jamaal Charles injured his knee. West had a rough first game as the Kansas City Chiefs’ starting running back, but has since put together two consecutive 17-plus fantasy point weeks, with 42 carries for 207 yards and 2 touchdowns in that span. He’s a legitimate top-tier running back with the way his offense is designed and should be treated as such. He ranks just 45th in per game fantasy scoring among running backs but is 26th in Total NEP per play among running backs.
If the New England Patriots would just use him, Danny Amendola could be a fantasy star like he seemed he could be when he was a St. Louis Ram so many years ago. The shifty slot receiver looked to be on the verge of a breakout in Weeks 6 and 7, when he totaled 15 catches for 191 yards and a touchdown. Then, however, Brandon LaFell came back and is receiving around eight targets a game. There just isn’t enough volume for Amendola to thrive behind Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis, and LaFell. If one goes down, though, Amendola could thrive, as he is our 13th-highest receiver by Reception NEP per target despite currently ranking 49th in per game fantasy scoring at the position.
A Game for the Fool: Fantasy Overachievers
I was very much on the continued development bandwagon for Ryan Tannehill as an NFL quarterback this preseason, but he’s just not getting it together -- new offensive philosophy and coaching staff or not. We’ve seen a decided shift away from the pass-happy ways of former head coach Joe Philbin, as Tannehill attempted just 48 passes in the first two weeks after the Miami Dolphins’ bye. He passed 44 times last week in the blowout loss to the New England Patriots, but that will be the exception, not the rule. Tannehill ranks 12th in per-game fantasy scoring among quarterbacks but is 29th in Passing NEP per play among the 34 quarterbacks with at least 100 opportunities in 2015.
Another player that I’ve been very high on, Isaiah Crowell just isn’t what we expected him to be as a lead back for the Cleveland Browns. With the additions of Duke Johnson in the draft this year and Robert Turbin off of waivers, the Browns seem content to use a three-headed monster committee of backs perpetually, no matter what. This is probably for the best, as Crowell is 37th in total fantasy scoring among running backs but 43rd in Total NEP among running backs with at least 40 opportunities in 2015.
Chalk up another loss for Joe’s favorites list: Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kendall Wright suffered an MCL sprain in Week 8 and is now likely to ride the pine for at least a few weeks. In addition, Wright has been horrendously misused again by (now former) head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s staff, and has just 46 targets through seven games. For a high-volume type of possession receiver, a pace of 105 targets is not nearly enough to be a real fantasy weapon. For now -- despite a 33rd-place position in fantasy scoring among wide receivers -- he ranks 54th in Reception NEP per target among receivers with at least 30 targets.
Golden Tate was supposed to be moving from a Seattle Seahawks’ offense that ran on first down, ran on second down, and threw screen passes to the running back on third down to a Detroit Lions team that loved to hurl the ball downfield. That’s still true, as he has the 14th-most targets of any wide receiver through eight weeks, but the Lions’ passing attack this year has completely fizzled out in effectiveness. He ranks a paltry 65th in Reception NEP per target among wide receivers with at least 30 targets this year, even though his per game fantasy scoring among wide receivers ranks him a still-unimpressive 58th.