Regression Candidates Through Week 11: Duke Johnson Is Coming to Town

Cleveland Browns' rookie running back Duke Johnson is feeling jolly already about his 2015 production.

I nearly did it.

I nearly made it all the way to Thanksgiving without hearing a single holiday song played. I had avoided bookstores, the malls, and really anywhere where the easiest thing for the opening manager to do would be to shrug and plug in the nearest CD of carols before opening the doors. Of all places, I was at a Korean restaurant and as I dug into my bulgogi, I heard the dulcet tones of “Silent Night” -- sung by a K-pop band, of course – ring through the place.

So. Close.

Yet, all great runs must end. Todd Gurley is finally off the pace for the best rookie running back season of all time, the Denver Broncos have finally (probably) moved on from Peyton Manning, and the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback carousel has settled down with the return of Tony Romo. At least we enjoyed these things while they lasted.

There is a mathematical concept that explains this “what goes up must come down” idea, and that is the idea of regression. Essentially, outlier performances – if given enough time – come back to an average. This happens in fantasy football, just as it does with caroling avoidance.

So, which fantasy players are most likely to deck the halls after Week 11, and which will be run over by a reindeer?

Sleigh Ride: Fantasy Underachievers

We know that, due to the added value of receptions in numberFire’s Total Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, that running backs who receive are given a greater value over pure runners. This closely mimics the NFL’s value of players, and can show us fantasy inefficiencies we might capitalize on. Giovani Bernard is one of those inefficiencies. We all know that he’s seized control of the Cincinnati Bengals’ backfield, gaining 150 opportunities to Jeremy Hill's 133 this year, but did you realize how effective he’s been? He’s the 15th-best running back in terms of standard fantasy scoring, but he actually ranks third in Total NEP among the 65 backs with at least 50 opportunities through Week 11.

Duke Johnson is a similar sort of player as Bernard, the Cleveland Browns’ version of the Bengals’ dynamic, multi-purpose back. In time, many believe that this electric runner could be the lead back in Cleveland, and he’s making his auditions in his rookie year count. The only one of the Browns’ running backs who looks like he’s running with his hair on fire, Johnson ranks 18th in Total NEP per opportunity among running backs with at least 50 opportunities through Week 11. This has led him to a 19th-place standing in Total NEP, despite his lackluster 38th-best fantasy scoring mark among runners.

The Indianapolis Colts couldn’t be in a worse team situation than they are right now: quarterback Andrew Luck is injured, and Matt Hasselbeck is gearing up for a long stint as a spot starter under center. That said, you shouldn’t fear T.Y. Hilton as a fantasy option, even in the midst of this morass. Hilton will get his in terms of targets, and he is sustaining value just fine in a bad offense. He still ranks 10th in Reception NEP among wide receivers with at least 40 targets, which should help to buoy his 22nd-place fantasy score among wide receivers.

The Dallas Cowboys look to finally be on the upswing after a brutal stretch of games without Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant saw them drop out of playoff contention. Long the NFC East favorite for 2015, it will be a miracle if they hang onto a .500 record. Terrance Williams replaced Bryant as the team’s top wideout option and actually has performed much better than many thought he would. He currently ranks as just the 43rd-best wideout by fantasy scoring, but is 32nd in Reception NEP among wide receivers with at least 40 targets.

Blue Christmas: Fantasy Overachievers

Adrian Peterson has been a monster so far in the 2015 NFL season, reminding fantasy players that he still has what it takes in the twilight of his career. I’m still not a personal fan of his on many levels, but the Minnesota Vikings’ tailback appears to be toting his team into the playoffs for the fifth time in the past fifteen years. That said, despite his yardage on the field -- which is boosting his fantasy numbers -- Peterson’s being relied on as the sole force in this offense, which is leading to defenses keying in on him and not allowing him to be effective as he can be. He ranks second in fantasy scoring among running backs, but is 32nd in Total NEP among running backs with at least 50 opportunities through Week 11.

I’ve been a fan of Chris Ivory for a while, and he rewarded my and plenty of others’ faith in him handsomely at the start of the season. In fact, four of his 10 weeks this season have seen him hit 15 or more fantasy points, and six were in double-digits. The other four, however, were 5, 0, 3, and 3. Ivory needs a good matchup to really excel as a top-tier fantasy running back, and tough matchups and bad game flow have worked against him lately. Still, efficiency data is what it is, and Ivory -- despite ranking seventh in fantasy scoring among running backs -- is just 39th in Total NEP among runners with at least 50 opportunities through Week 11.

We know how much of a shambles the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense is in; so much so that rumors are now floating that the team may part ways with head coach Chip Kelly after the 2015 season. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews has also been adversely affected by this offensive drought, and despite a few huge plays recently, he’s still running on fantasy fumes in 2015. He may rank 38th among wide receivers in fantasy scoring, but the analytics don’t lie; he ranks just 50th in Reception NEP among wideouts with at least 40 targets through Week 11.

I don’t think anyone is banking their fantasy seasons on Lance Moore's talents, but the little guy has flashed some big-play capacity over his career, and recently. Still, the Detroit Lions’ offense is sucking the life out of everyone except Calvin Johnson, and Moore is a much less valuable fantasy piece than "Megatron". Moore is on the fantasy fringes at 55th in scoring among wide receivers. He’s basically waiver fodder in Reception NEP at 64th among receivers with at least 40 targets.