Regression Candidates Through Week 13: C.J. Spiller Has Mad Skills

Can C.J. Spiller tap into his natural upside, now that the Saints' lead back job is available?

Everyone has his or her own specialties in life. Whether you’re fantastic at leading others, communicating, creating, envisioning, and so on, your skillset is uniquely personal and is something that you should embrace.

Many self-improvement programs over the years have tried to help people address their flaws, to help them improve their areas of weakness. What we’re finding out now about human psychology and development is that some of those skills that are lacking are predisposed to be lacks -- they just won’t improve.

What developmental psychologists recommend those of us who seek to improve ourselves do instead is to hone our qualities that are already good. We have to acknowledge our strengths and seek to turn those into masteries.

This can very much be applied to fantasy football as well. I know that I struggle with lineup selection and the day-to-day management of a team, which means that I have less success in DFS or season-long formats of fantasy football, and I seek out help to learn how to play those. That said, I have a knack for roster building and risk assessment, so drafting season-long and playing dynasty formats are my fortes.

This column seeks to help you to supplement your skills with my forward-looking stability assessment of players. I hope to share my skillset with you and provide with a complement to each of your own fantasy strengths.

With your prowess leading and my assistance guiding, then, can we suss out which fantasy players through Week 13 are longview locks and which are short-term tourniquets?

Dealing From Strength: Fantasy Underachievers

We know that C.J. Spiller is not a natural lead back. He’s been an incredibly versatile and explosive player over his NFL career, and that’s where his strength lies. That said, he’s in a prime position for increased touches right now, with frontrunner Mark Ingram on injured reserve. Of course, if a player hasn’t been efficient in limited touches, he likely won’t provide much value when the touches increase. Fortunately for us, he’s been fantastic as a receiver; despite just 36 targets, he has the 29th-best Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) mark among the 65 running backs with at least 60 touches through Week 13. He is also 28th in Total NEP among those players. One word of warning: Spiller’s Rushing NEP per play ranks 58th out of these 65, so there should be some restraint on expectations, but he’ll definitely be better than his current 60th-place fantasy running back status.

Charles Sims is another player who fills a more complementary role in his team’s offense. A fellow NFC South receiving back to Spiller, Sims has played second-fiddle to Doug Martin this year, as the latter has had a major resurgence since faltering in 2014. That said, Sims has provided a valuable component to this offense and is a sneakily-undervalued fantasy football option, especially in PPR leagues. Sims has an average Rushing NEP on 87 attempts, but where he really shines is through the air. His receiving ability has buoyed his Total NEP value to 15th among the 65 qualifying running backs. He’s a must-own handcuff, despite his 31st-place fantasy ranking among running backs.

It might seem shocking that Denver Broncos’ star wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is undervalued, but I am here to let you know that even people who seem exceptional can have some flaws. Yes, Thomas has struggled this year with the precipitous decline of quarterback Peyton Manning and with first-time starter Brock Osweiler, but his metrics do show signs of life. He may rank only 18th in standard fantasy scoring among wide receivers, but he ranks 10th in Reception NEP out of the 66 wide receivers with at least 50 targets through Week 13.

Pierre Garcon has had a rough time this year in Washington. He is a solid possession receiver, but at a very old age-29 -- considering his litany of injuries in his career -- he just doesn’t have the capability to shake worlds as the top option in a team’s passing attack. Now, with the healthy DeSean Jackson back in the fold, Garçon should be able to return to his productive second banana ways. He ranks just 44th in fantasy scoring among wideouts but is 33rd among qualifying wide receivers in Reception NEP.

Needs Improvement: Fantasy Overachievers

Staying healthy has never been Darren McFadden's strong suit, but here we are: it’s the dawn of Week 14, and we still have a healthy and roaring DMC taking attempts in an NFL backfield. It’s true, too, that the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line has done wonders for him in the productivity department, but there’s just a little something missing. McFadden’s -0.06 Rushing NEP per play ranks just 40th among the qualifying running backs through Week 13. Rushing 183 times certainly won’t help his efficiency, but this should be much better than it appears. It definitely dampens his upside outlook, as he also ranks 40th in Total NEP, even with a 20th-best running back fantasy ranking.

After he seized the backfield from an ineffective C.J. Anderson early in the year, Ronnie Hillman, it seemed, had finally redeemed himself as an NFL running back. It turns out that he’s becoming a pumpkin yet again, as he’s a better receiving back and change-of-pace option than between-the-tackles pounder. Even though Osweiler is playing solid football in the Mile High City, Hillman can’t get it going in the analytics. He ranks 58th in Total NEP among qualifying backs through Week 13, which is well below his 22nd-place notch in running back fantasy scoring.

I know, we panned Doug Baldwin in last week's article too, but one thing that Baldwin loves to keep doing is going off for massive games of multiple touchdowns. I know a fair amount about football, but Baldwin’s performances recently make me wonder whether catching touchdowns is a learnable skill (I know it’s not, don’t worry). Still, his forte recently has been to step up as the top target in the Seattle Seahawks’ passing attack, and quarterback Russell Wilson is finally hitting his stride as well. That said, the fantasy points he’s receiving from touchdowns just are unsustainable. Baldwin ranks just 22nd in Reception NEP among qualifying receivers, despite his 11th-best fantasy rank among wideouts.

The Cincinnati Bengals have finally found a potent offense in 2015, for probably the first time since quarterback Andy Dalton was drafted. This is a team that can attack on the ground or through the air, but the passing game goes through wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert. That makes Marvin Jones an intriguing player, but a second- or third-tier one in this offense. Jones just doesn’t tend to get enough targets to matter, and that’s showing in his analytics. He has a stellar 36th-place rank in wide receiver fantasy scoring but comes in at just 43rd in Reception NEP among qualifying wideouts.