2018 Positive Regression Candidates

Updated: May 20th 2018

My last article focused on some players due for decreased fantasy scoring next season because of factors outside their control.  For all the players on the lucky there are those on the opposite end of the spectrum.  This piece takes a look at a handful of players who saw their fantasy scoring dip below what their play warranted last year and due for better success this year.

Quarterbacks

Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan is one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the NFL thanks to top-notch accuracy which rates high year after year.  That play continued in 2017 as Ryan finished top-8 in completion percentage and yards per attempt.  He also is one the most durable quarterbacks missing only 2 games in his career.  The main problem for Ryan last season was a lack of work.  His pass attempt total was the lowest since his second year in the league which contributed to low yardage and touchdown totals.  His 4,095 passing yards were more than 400 less than any of his past five seasons. His 20 touchdowns also made the lowest total since his rookie season and he produced the lowest touchdown rate of anyone close to his efficiency last season.

Ryan’s 2017 fantasy season did not mirror his level of play as a top-10 quarterback.  Take advantage.  He consistently generated borderline QB1 fantasy seasons through much of his career which matches with his on-field performance.  I expect that trend to continue in 2018.

Marcus Mariota

It was an extremely rough 2017 for the Tennessee quarterback.  The former 2nd overall pick had his worst season as pro seeing a sizeable drop in efficiency.  His touchdown to interception ratio (13:15) also bottomed out.  That ratio should increase back to standards closer in line with his first two seasons as his play did not truly change that drastically.  One mark for Mariota (or against depending on how you look at it) is his very steady, albeit middling, production during his career.  Mariota’s per game completion percentage, rushing and passing volume, rushing and passing yardage have all remained remarkably consistent throughout his three years as a pro.  He has unfortunately been cursed with injury issues missing games in each season.

Mariota is due for better touchdown luck next season but he is more a mid-floor, low upside option at this stage in his career.  There may be theoretical upside, particularly in the rushing department, with a new coaching staff depending on his always questionable health.  Count on him as a solid fantasy QB2.

Running Backs

Jay Ajayi

Ajayi struggled thru a dismal offensive situation in Miami before being traded to the Eagles where he flourished.  He ended the season with only two touchdowns on 232 touches.  LeGarrette Blount is out of town leaving Ajayi as the lead back with no back of consequence added to the roster.  Philadelphia possessed one of most unbalanced scoring lines in the league last year passing for 38 touchdowns while rushing for only nine.  Expect that ratio to be more balanced in 2018 with Ajayi as the main beneficiary.  The offense should be solid with one of the best offensive lines in the league.

Ajayi is a risky play given Philadelphia’s proclivity for backfield committees but one with a lot of upside in a good situation.  He is a high-variance borderline RB2/RB3.

Joe Mixon

Joe Mixon’s rookie season most certainly did not go as planned.  Cincinnati’s offensive line self-destructed after letting its two best members walk in free agency contributing to Mixon’s sub-par 3.5 yards per carry and only four touchdowns.  Mixon also garnered only limited use in the passing game, one of his strongest traits coming out of college, catching 30 of 34 targets.  The situation improved drastically in the offseason.  Cincinnati significantly upgraded the o-line, trading for an upgrade at tackle and drafting a cornerstone center with their first round rookie pick.  Tyler Eifert also adds another dynamic piece to the Bengals’ offense if he can stay somewhat healthy for a season.

There is a cap on Mixon with a quality back like Gio Bernard receiving significant work so do not expect elite level production.  This offense has the pieces to take a step forward which puts Mixon firmly in the RB2 mix.  Mixon’s receiving talents give him incredible upside if he assumes a dominant role in the backfield.

Wide Receivers

Mike Evans

Evans is the poster-child for variability in touchdown scoring from year to year.  He has four consecutive 1,000 yard receiving seasons but his touchdowns have travelled all over the map scoring 12, 3, 12, and 5 touchdowns over his four years.  Evans has a huge 6’-5” frame which lends itself to massive touchdown upside every year.  The problem is the factors outside of Evans control including the inconsistency of quarterback Jameis Winston’s play.  Look for luck to swing the other direction in 2018 after only five scores in 2017.

Evans ranks high as one the young target hogs with no season in the NFL less than 124 targets.  His volume and touchdown upside put him squarely in the WR1 crowd.  You may be able to buy Evans at a discount after a perceived down year campaign similar to after 2015 where he also had a low touchdown total.

Julio Jones

Jones rates as one of the top wide receivers in the NFL by almost any measure.  He is the all-time leader in yards per game and has accumulated at least 1400 yards, 129 targets, and 83 receptions each of the last four seasons ranking no less than 3rd in receiving yards every year during that time.  Jones was another victim in 2017 of the coin-flip that is touchdowns.  The Falcons number one wide receiver has never been a huge touchdown scorer in the Atlanta offense but last year’s total of 3 is an extreme outlier for Jones that correlated with quarterback Matt Ryan’s down touchdown year.

There is not much doubt about the fantastic Atlanta wide receiver.  Jones possesses huge big play ability and a massive reception ceiling making him one of the very few receivers able to challenge for the top fantasy wide receiver without depending on a big touchdown year.  Lock him in as a top-five wide receiver.


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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