2018 Negative Regression Candidates

Updated: May 2nd 2018

“But Player X did this last season”.  It is one of the most predictable and easily exploitable responses from amateur fantasy players.  We should certainly keep in mind past performance when predicting future production but also keep in mind last year is just one data point.  Fantasy football is a game of ebbs and flows, of peaks and valleys.  Year to year statistical production for any player displays some natural variation due to factors largely outside of a player’s control.  A wide receiver’s production is due in large part to quarterback play.  Running backs depend heavily on offensive line play.  All players are subject to the skill of their coaching staffs.  Touchdown production is one of the key fantasy factors that tend to vary dramatically from year to year.  Knowing the above, we can take historical data and get a good idea of players who have a significant chance of underperforming compared to last season.

Quarterbacks

DeShaun Watson

The former Clemson Tiger got off to a tremendous start his rookie season leading QBs in fantasy points per game last year on the strength of a tremendous five game stretch in which he averaged almost 300 passing yards, 3.6 touchdowns, and 37 rushing yards per game.  Unfortunately his season came to an abrupt end due to a season-ending ACL tear.  So what’s not to like for the coming year?  For one, Watson’s league high 9.3% touchdown-rate more than doubled the league average and is almost certain to take a huge step backward.  Pro Football Focus actually graded Watson below fellow rookie Mitch Trubisky last season which highlights the big number of bad plays which went along with his great ones.  He also is rehabbing from an ACL tear (he tore his other ACL in 2014) that possibly delays his return to the field in 2018.

Many people have Watson as an elite level QB1 already with some ranking him as the overall QB1.  His initial showing puts him in the lower QB1 range for me but I would not want to pay his current price based on last season’s play.  Watson is the classic case of a player with great statistical production over a very small sample size that overshadows his play-to-play inconsistency for many people.

Carson Wentz

Wentz is sort of the Watson-lite version of possible regression players.  He broke out in his second year campaign where he was on pace for 40 touchdowns thanks largely to a big 7.5% touchdown rate which ranked second in the league behind Watson.  Like Watson, he suffered an ACL tear (along with other damage) to end his season.  The problem is that his touchdown rate is likely unsustainable, particularly when looking at his underlying metrics.  Wentz ranked just 11th in yards per attempt and 25th in completion percentage while only being on pace for around 4,000 passing yards.

Similar to Watson, most see Wentz as an upper-level QB1 while some have him as their top overall QB.  His underlying metrics so far in his career just do not support that level of fantasy production and there is some risk he will not be fully ready to go to start the year.  Price him as low-level QB1 and you will be much happier next season.

Running Backs

Todd Gurley

What a difference a year makes.  Some were calling Gurley a bust possibility after a disastrous 2016.  A new head coach plus a couple of quality offensive lineman made him an MVP candidate and the most valuable fantasy player just a year later.  A big part of his fantasy success derived from his 19 touchdowns which topped the next running back (more on him later) by 6 touchdowns.  That number almost certainly takes a dive next year.  Gurley also averaged 12.3 yards per reception last season, an absurdly high number for a running back getting his volume which additionally probably falls.

Do not worry about the likely regression coming.  He still would have ranked 2nd in fantasy scoring at the position if his touchdown rate was just the league average.  Gurley remains a top tier player being one of the few running backs good for 20 touches a game, significant work in the passing game, and attached to one of the brightest play-callers in the NFL.

Alvin Kamara

Kamara is probably the most obvious player on this list.  He had a historic rookie season highlighted by an eye-popping 6.0 yards per carry (YPC).  That number is headed for a big dip. Only four other qualified runners have met the six YPC mark since 2002.  Each saw a big decline afterward.  It is just one of those super rare outlier seasons that is never repeated.  Another area where we can expect less from Kamara is the TD department.  He accumulated 12 touchdowns touching the ball just over 200 times far exceeding the touchdown rate of most other backs.  You will also likely be disappointed expecting a big workload increase from Kamara.  Sean Payton has always utilized significant committee schemes regardless of the running back pool available.  The Saints running backs also garnered an enormous 34% target share which is by far the highest mark for any team since 2013. New Orleans was bottom-10 in WR share and dead last in tight end target share.  Expect these numbers to revert back somewhat in 2018.

Almost every significant factor is working against Kamara repeating his spectacular rookie season.  He is a great talent with a superb role in a hyper-efficient Drew Brees offense but that role limits the touches he is likely to receive.  I like him as a lower-tier RB1 for 2018.

Players with 6+ Yards per Carry from 2002-2017 (100+ Carries)

*Charles only gathered 12 rushing attempts before injury in 2011.  Number is from 2012 season.

Wide Receivers

Marvin Jones

Marvin Jones somewhat surprisingly ended as a bottom-end WR1 in fantasy last season.  Do not let that fact influence you to overpay this upcoming season though.  Jones’ per game targets and receptions remained very similar to his 2016 season with a slight uptick in yardage.  The big difference clearly evident was his touchdown production.  He more than doubled his touchdown output from four in 2016 to nine in 2018 securing one of the higher touchdown rates among wide receivers.  This resulted in his fantasy output increasing from 11.5 PPG (WR47) to 14.1 PPG (WR15).

It was a down year for wide receiver scoring across the league, thanks largely to some key QB injuries, and Jones was one of the biggest beneficiaries in the fantasy realm.  He is a player averaging less than 110 targets per 16 games in his time with Detroit which is not enough to keep him as a consistent high-end producer.  His projected target load and role put him in my borderline WR2/WR3 range for the coming season.

Devin Funchess

Funchess had a breakout campaign in 2017 thanks in large part to being one of the only receiving threats left on the Carolina offense.  The Panther’s lost tight end Greg Olsen and last year’s 2nd round pick, Curtis Samuel to injury while trading away Kelvin Benjamin to the Bills.  Funchess accounted for a whopping 8 of Cam Newton’s 22 touchdown passes last season (36%).  The outlook for 2018 is not so rosy with the return of Olsen and Samuels plus adding the first overall wide receiver selected in the draft, 1st rounder D.J. Moore.

Funchess’ is another player with a lot of factors working against him.  Funchess is stuck with a below average, low-volume passer on a team using significant draft capital at the wide receiver position in recent year.  His role in the offense likely sees a significant reduction and his touchdown rate probably falls.  Funchess was a flex option in 2017 but is more of a bench stash for 2018.


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

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