Regression Candidates Through Week 14: Grimes Just Wants to Have Fun
I find the little things in life amusing. Whether it’s a person bragging about their natural ability at something and slipping and falling, or a squirrel fishing half of a sandwich out of the garbage can and sitting on a park bench to eat it like a human, I am very easily amused.
There is one kind of humor that tickles my ribs even more than most, though, and that’s called schadenfreude. This is a German word that means “the feeling of joy due to the misfortune of others.”
Now, I don’t like to be cruel or anything, but when I bench my whole fantasy football lineup until just before kickoff and get a text from opponent asking me why I did it, I get a small kick out of messing with them. It’s the little things that I enjoy.
Maybe I’ll get my comeuppance for trickery someday, but we all must regress eventually. As we dig into football players’ production that should regress as well, we want to ask ourselves: which fantasy options through Week 14 will be as fun as a barrel of monkeys, and which are fantasy wet blankets?
Joie de Vivre: Fantasy Underachievers
One fantasy fun-maker we’d like to highlight is the Chicago Bears’ rookie running back Jeremy Langford. He stepped in for veteran Matt Forte for about a month, when the latter suffered a knee injury and performed very admirably in his stead. Langford racked up 216 yards and 3 touchdowns on 63 carries in that span (as well as 196 and a score through 13 receptions). Now that the veteran has returned, the Bears’ backfield is a clear timeshare and Langford is often on the short end. He shouldn’t be, though; despite his strong-but-not-star-like 25th place in running back fantasy ranking, he’s an impressive 11th in Total Net Expected Points (NEP) among the 65 running backs with at least 70 opportunities going into Week 15.
Very few players have a less desirable team situation than Houston Texans’ running back Jonathan Grimes, who has become the team’s primary Wildcat formation signal-caller. Talk about something un-fun for everyone. Still, he’s taken the new job in stride, getting seven to nine touches per game over the last month and just doing what he’s asked to: generating production for his Texans. He’s not doing a ton for our fantasy teams, ranking just 69th among running backs in standard scoring, though. Just wait: he does rank 40th among the 65 qualifying runners in Total NEP, so there could be a late-season surge from him.
Kamar Aiken hasn’t been exciting all season long, but he’s been a pleasant surprise as the possession receiver replacement for Steve Smith. He can’t replace the fire that his veteran predecessor always shows up with on game day, but he’s provided a steady hand at the till for the Baltimore Ravens, a team bereft of talent right now. Indeed, his 40th-place wide receiver fantasy rank through Week 14 could be even better; he ranks 32nd in Reception NEP among the 73 wide receivers with at least 50 targets in that span.
I know he’s out for the remainder of the season, but Cleveland Browns wideout Brian Hartline is so underappreciated that it’s not even funny. He comes home to northeastern Ohio, and even there it takes his hometown Browns weeks to get him involved in the offensive gameplan. Then, of course, he injures himself and hits the injured reserve in shame. It’s just worth pointing out that he ranked 47th in Reception NEP among qualifying receivers, which was a large improvement over his 58th place fantasy rank at the position.
Schadenfreude: Fantasy Overachievers
I was one person trumpeting the herald horn for rookie superstar Todd Gurley of the St. Louis Rams this year, but he’s certainly fallen off his early-season pace. After about a month of action in his rookie year, he appeared to be on-pace to break the rookie rushing record. Now, however, he’ll have to be excellent all the way through his last three games in order to break 1,200 yards rushing on the season. He’s well on the way to that, after thumping the Detroit Lions in Week 14 for 104 yards and 2 touchdowns, but -- despite his fifth-place fantasy ranking among running backs -- he ranks just 22nd in Total NEP among the 65 qualifying running backs through Week 14.
I know we’re very fascinated by recent showings, but the Cleveland Browns’ Week 14 rushing game was less about Isaiah Crowell and more about the San Francisco 49ers being awful on defense. Crowell picked himself up 145 yards and 2 touchdowns in that game, but it still wasn’t enough to jump him up in the analytics. He might rank 28th in fantasy scoring among running backs, but he’s a paltry 41st in Total NEP among the 65 qualifying running backs going into Week 15.
I’ve harped on Jarvis Landry before, and we know beating a dead horse isn’t fun, but the strong slot man for the Miami Dolphins is being highly overvalued right now. Aside from a knee injury that may prove to be minor, Landry is soaking up a ton of targets (135, the seventh-most in the league) but still has only 920 yards receiving to show for it. Volume is always a good thing, but even that has been inconsistent over the last month (an average of 6 targets in Weeks 11 and 13, and an average of 17 in Weeks 12 and 14). Landry just isn’t making enough on his opportunities to be a fantasy golden boy. He may rank 11th in fantasy scoring among wideouts, but he’s just 29th in Reception NEP among qualifying receivers.
There’s a similar story to Landry’s to be told with Randall Cobb. Without teammate Jordy Nelson to take pressure off of him, Cobb -- the smaller slot receiver -- is having to do much of the heavy lifting in the Green Bay Packers’ wide receiver corps. That’s not leading to much ability to get off of pressure from opposing cornerbacks, to make receptions, or to gain yards after the catch. It’s a troublesome time still in the Green Bay receiving group, and Cobb’s analytics show that. He ranks 22nd among wide receivers in fantasy but a middling 33rd in Reception NEP among the 73 qualifying wide receivers.