Buyer Beware: Regression Candidates

DRAFTERS BEWARE!! Year after year there are a number of up and coming players who have us all thinking they have arrived. Breakout years and long off seasons have a funny way of making owners over-draft and over-project; yet, the players we all grow to love don’t always provide the return we expect.

Yeah but past performance is an indicator of future success…right?

I’m here to say that this isn’t always true. Regression traditionally has a negative connotation; Let me be clear that it DOES NOT mean that a player will be bad or that they shouldn’t be drafted, but it simply signifies a return to a previous, usually less favorable state.  

Consider this: We all remember 2013 when Peyton Manning went absolutely crazy and threw for an NFL record 55 TD’s and 5,477 yards.  The next season, he regressed… BIG TIME.  The next season he threw 16 less TD’s (29% less) and 750 fewer yards (14% less), yet still finished as a top 5 fantasy player. Projecting regression is all about recognizing the past versus present situations, noting the changes in between and deciding how they translate to future performance. Here are a few players that I fear are unlikely to repeat their 2016 performances:

LeGarrette Blount:

2017 Projection: 210 Rushes – 925 yards – 8 TD 

This one is pretty obvious. In New England, being on one of the league’s most prolific offenses gave Blount the opportunity to rack up 18 TD’s on nearly 300 carries in route to being the 6th RB on the season. However, digging deeper into his stats, you’ll find that 11 of his 18 TD’s were from the 1-yard line, and aside from his 2 40+ yard TD’s, the remaining 16 were on average from the 2.7-yard line. The Eagles will have a vastly improved offense with arguably one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, but LeGarrette Blount will need to break out into some longer runs if he expects to get in the end zone close to as many times as he did in 2016. His fantasy value heavily relied on his short TD output, and his new Eagles offense will simply be unable to provide him with the same opportunities. In Philly, Blount will now share a backfield with Darren Sproles, Ryan Mathews, Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey. Out of the group, I expect him to play a similar role as he did in New England by getting the majority of goal line touches, however, this Eagles offense won’t get there nearly as often as his old pal Tom Brady did.

Latavius Murray:

2017 Projection: 125 rushes – 520 yards – 5 Touchdowns

Latavius Murray didn’t have the kind of season that had fantasy owners salivating, but he was steady enough to allow you to keep him in your lineup every week. His output mostly came in the form of touchdowns, as he was able to cross the goal line 12 times, good for 5th most in the league. His overall volume was pretty good – he carried the ball almost 200 times and caught 33 passes, which is more than enough to produce RB2 numbers. With 788 rushing yards and 264 receiving yards, he finished as a top 15 RB in most formats. However, in my opinion, his perceived impact was overestimated by his touchdown rate and did not match the less than impressive play I saw on the field.

Stat Finish
Yards Per Carry (4.0) RB21
Yards Per Game (56.3) RB19
Attempts Per Game (13.9) RB20

Besides the 12 touchdowns, everything about Latavius Murray screams average to me. Even with the touchdowns, 75% of them came from inside the 5-yard line. Murray will now suit up for the Vikings, who give him a downgrade at offensive line, and considerably more talent and depth at the running back position. Murray is in line to begin the season as the starter, but grumbles around the league make it seem that it will only be a matter of time until Dalvin Cook assumes the lead role. With the ultra talented Cook waiting to take over, and athletic yet undersized Jerick McKinnon, I expect Murray to assume goal line duties and see some early down work, but I see him as an RB3 at best this year.

Mike Evans:

2017 Projection: 145 targets- 103 rec – 1150 yards – 8 TD

Evans was a machine in 2016,  as he finished last season as the 3rd highest scoring fantasy WR per ESPN, only being a catch or 2 short of finishing the season as the top WR. As for this year, I am not seeing a repeat performance in his future.  Don’t get me wrong, I like Mike Evans a lot this season, but even though I’m expecting him to break the 100 receptions mark this season for the first time in his career, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his touchdown number from last season temper back down to the 7-8 range.

Take a look at Evans production from his 3 NFL seasons:

Year Targets Receptions Yards TD Catch Rate%
2014 122 68 1051 12 55.7
2015 148 74 1206 3 50.0
2016 173 96 1321 12 55.5

His numbers definitely improve across the board, but the one that stands out to me is his catch rate. He has been consistently poor at converting targets to catches and is not efficient with his volume. For a guy who led the league in targets, he finished 72nd among WR in catch rate %. While that number is somewhat justified by his above average yards per target, Jameis Winston simply peppered him with targets because not only did the Bucs not have a 600 Yard rusher, but they got close to nothing from Vincent Jackson, and aside from Cameron Brate, the next best receiver on the team was a 2nd year player in Adam Humphries. (Yeah, I would’ve thrown Evans the ball every time too.) This season, with the addition of playmaker Desean Jackson, and rookie TE OJ Howard, combined with the return of Cameron Brate, expect Jameis Winston’s targets to be spread around a bit more, and Evans targets and touchdowns to come down, however, I still imagine Evans will finish 2017 as a low-end WR1.  

Antonio Gates:

2017 Projection: 40 rec – 450 yards – 4 TD

Every year Antonio Gates is one of those players that everybody predicts to start declining, yet somehow, someway, he comes out and has a productive season. Here I am AGAIN… signaling father time to force him to pass the torch. His 2016 campaign wasn’t spectacular, as he caught 53 passes for 548 yards, but he did catch 7 TD’s, tied for 3rd among tight ends. Interestingly enough, the player who tied for 1st among tight ends with 8 TD’s, was on the same team! None other than the heir apparent to the Charger TE throne… Hunter Henry. Gates is entering his age 37 season, and remains tied with future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzales for most touchdowns by a TE in NFL history with 111. Last season, the Chargers admitted to targeting Gates more than usual in an attempt to get him the record, which could partially explain getting into the endzone as often as he did, but it is clear that Hunter Henry is the TE to own in LA. Last season, the Chargers were without their #1 receiving option Keenan Allen and their pass catching RB Danny Woodhead after just 1 full game, leaving Philip Rivers’ annual 300 some completions and 30 touchdowns needing to go SOMEWHERE. Despite the departure of Woodhead, and with all their weapons being healthy (for now), I don’t see this offense sustaining production for everyone, and Antonio Gates is my odd man out.

Again, just because I call for regression doesn’t necessarily mean that these players will end up on at least one of my fantasy teams. Be cognizant of what value you are drafting these players at, and understand that while these players may have productive seasons, they are among the most unlikely to replicate last year’s output.

Which players do you think are going to regress this season? Share your thoughts with me on twitter @M_Garza20 and let me know who you are targeting and avoiding this draft season.