Fantasy Football Regression Candidates 2020
Recency bias is a fantasy football player’s worst enemy when it comes to draft season. It causes us to overvalue players that played above their skill level and fade players that underperformed the previous season. When researching for your fantasy football drafts it is most important to put context around a player’s season. Why was “Player A” great last season? What happened to his team during that season? How will his team’s additions affect his situation? In this article, I’m going to address seven players that had huge 2019 fantasy seasons and why I believe they will regress in 2020.
Reason: Unsustainable touchdown efficiency + RBBC
Aaron Jones was number two in fantasy points scored by running backs in 2019. The rest of the top-5 included, in order: Christian McCaffrey (#1), Ezekiel Elliott (#3), Austin Ekeler (#4) and Derrick Henry (#5). Do you know what separates Jones from the rest of the top-5 pack?
- McCaffrey: 4 years, $64 million extension signed in 2020
- Elliott: 6 years, $90 million extension signed in 2019
- Ekeler: 4 years, $24.5 million extension signed in 2020
- Henry: 4 years, $50 million extension signed in 2020
- Jones: no extension
Not only did the Packers fail to extend Aaron Jones after a season in which he led the league in total TDs (19), but the Packers invested a 2nd round pick on 6’0”, 247 lb running back A.J. Dillon. Jones is a great football talent, but HC Matt LaFleur told us before the scouting combine that the Packers “would like to add (or find) a third option” to add to their running back group and then the team stayed true to their word. Fantasy football players are conditioned to not pay too much attention to offseason quotes from teams. Actions speak louder than words, but when the actions and the words match that is when fantasy football players have to pay attention.
Earlier I mentioned Aaron Jones’ 19 total TDs. That 6.70-percent touchdown rate was No. 1 among all running backs with at least 70 carries last season. Touchdown regression will already make it impossible for Jones to repeat his 2019 performance of 314.8 fantasy points, but Matt LaFleur’s commitment to an RBBC is another red flag for Aaron Jones in 2020. Remember, LaFleur had Derrick Henry, eventual NFL leading rusher, in Tennessee in 2018 and STILL gave Dion Lewis 214 total touches. At the beginning of the season, Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams were splitting the workload pretty evenly. Jamaal Williams got hurt early in week 4 (concussion/neck strain) and missed the following game with the injury, but in weeks 1-3 and week 6 (four games), here were the splits in touches between the two running backs:
|Packers RB Comparison||Aaron Jones||Jamaal Williams|
|Week 1||13 carries, 1 catch||5 carries, 2 catches|
|Week 2||23 carries, 4 catches||9 carries, 3 catches|
|Week 3||10 carries, 1 catch||12 carries, 2 catches|
|Week 6||11 carries, 4 catches||14 carries, 4 catches|
|Total touches:||67 touches||49 touches|
Matt LaFleur could never trust Aaron Jones to be a workhorse running back for more than a couple of weeks at a time though. Despite a 4 touchdown performance against the Dallas Cowboys in week 5 and coming off of a season-high 226 yards from scrimmage in week 8, Jones would go through a four-game split with Jamaal Williams from weeks 9 through 13 (bye week was week 11) that looked like:
|Packers RB Comparison||Aaron Jones||Jamaal Williams|
|Week 9||8 carries, 1 catch||2 carries, 6 catches|
|Week 10||13 carries, 0 catches||13 carries, 0 catches|
|Week 12||13 carries, 0 catches||11 carries, 7 catches|
|Week 13||11 carries, 4 catches||10 carries, 4 catches|
|Total touches:||50 touches||53 touches|
The addition of second-rounder A.J. Dillon is only going to make this RBBC even more unpredictable. Dillon is not known to be a receiving weapon as he managed to carry the ball 300 times for Boston College in 2017 without receiving a single target and finished his three-year college career with 21 catches on 31 targets. With his high BMI, the speculation would be that Dillon’s initial role for the Green Bay Packers will be as a short-yardage/goal-line back. If so, that effects Aaron Jones (12 goal-line carries) more than it does Jamaal Williams (2).
Reason: Unsustainable touchdown efficiency + change in personnel frequency
I’ll admit that Kupp was probably the player I was most wrong about in 2019. I was avoiding him in 2019 completely because he tore his ACL midseason in 2018 and it’s a smart process to avoid players the first season after tearing their ACL. However, 2019 was a Jekyll and Hyde season for Kupp. From weeks 1 through 8, Kupp was third behind only Michael Thomas and Chris Godwin in fantasy points scored per game with 21.0 fantasy points averaged. After the Rams bye week in week 9, Kupp topped 65 receiving yards ONCE and that was in week 17 after most fantasy leagues had concluded. What happened to cause such a drastic difference in Kupp’s performance? Using Warren Sharp’s Personnel Grouping Frequency, the Rams went from using 12 personnel (1 running back, 2 tight ends) 11% in weeks 1-8 to 30% in weeks 9-17. When the Rams are in 12 personnel the Rams replace the slot receiver in the lineup with a second tight end. As good as Kupp is as a wide receiver he isn’t nearly as good playing outside as he is in the slot:
adam thielen & cooper kupp – 2 widely viewed slot WRs whose offenses might see heavy doses of 12 personnel (2 TEs) – forcing them to play outside far more often
over L2 years
YPRR from slot: 1.92
YPRR outside: 2.16
YPRR from slot: 2.32
YPRR outside: 1.76
— Nick Ercolano (@Nick_BDGE) June 11, 2020
Cooper Kupp was also No. 2 among wide receivers in total touchdowns with 10 last season. Kupp’s 16 red zone receptions (No. 3 among wide receivers) showed that he was Goff’s safety net when the Rams got into scoring range. Or was he? Tyler Higbee didn’t emerge until late into the 2019 season, but despite that he LEAD tight ends in red-zone receptions with 14 and saw a 28.80% red zone target share (No. 2 among tight ends). Higbee’s emergence correlated with the Rams’ switch in their 12 personnel frequency. Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks were the primary outside receivers last season and they COMBINED to see 20.90% of the red zone targets. The trend here is that it doesn’t matter who the player is, but that Goff is going to target the non-outside wide receivers in the red zone significantly more than the outside receivers. For the first half of the season, that target was Kupp in the slot. For the second half of the season, Higbee became Goff’s new safety net in the red zone.
Reason: Presence of Kareem Hunt
Like Cooper Kupp, Nick Chubb had a season of two different halves. From weeks 1 through 9, Nick Chubb:
- Averaged 18.93 fantasy points
- Finished outside the top-25 at the running back position in weekly points once
- Averaged a snap share of 77.9%
- Averaged 3.13 receptions on 4.00 targets per game
Then Kareem Hunt returned from suspension in week 10. From week 10 until the rest of the season, Chubb:
- Averaged 12.98 fantasy points
- Finished outside the top-30 in weekly points four out of eight games
- Averaged a snap share of 64.8%
- Averaged 1.38 receptions on 2.25 targets per game
For comparison, from week 10 until the rest of the season, Kareem Hunt:
- Averaged 12.58 fantasy points
- Finished outside the top-30 in weekly points two out of eight games
- Averaged a snap share of 54.6%
- Averaged 4.63 receptions on 5.63 targets per game
Nick Chubb finished No. 10 in fantasy points per game at the running back position with 15.9 fantasy points per game, but as seen with the splits with Kareem Hunt, he won’t return RB1 numbers in 2020 with Hunt sharing the backfield with him. Hunt is not your typical backup running back; in 2018 he was No. 8 in fantasy points averaged per game with 20.9 before being place on the commissioner’s exempt list.
The most concerning aspect of Nick Chubb is something that has absolutely nothing to do with his talent and role on the team. Fantasy football players are currently taking Nick Chubb at an ADP of 10.8. I believe that Chubb is an extremely talented NFL running back, but the opportunity with the Browns is not going to be there in 2020 unless Kareem Hunt is no longer with the team to justify a first-round ADP. Running backs currently going behind Chubb include Kenyan Drake, Miles Sanders, Josh Jacobs, Austin Ekeler, and Leonard Fournette. Each of these five running backs will be featured heavily on their respective teams. Their backups are handcuff options at best, not players that finished as the No. 25 running back in fantasy points averaged per game while backing up a top-tier running back.
Reason: Upgraded receiving competition + low vacated targets/yards
Matthew Berry touted Darren Waller all offseason last year. Waller would reward fantasy football players that listened to Berry because he would become a plug-and-play option all year as he averaged 13.8 fantasy points per game (No. 5 at his position). His analytical profile is quite impressive, although it is important to remember that he was collegiate WR at Georgia Tech and was 15 lbs lighter when testing at the combine. He finished top-5 in multiple categories last season, such as:
- 90 receptions (No. 2)
- 117 targets (No. 3)
- 23.8% target rate (No. 4)
- 1146 receiving yards (No. 2)
- 90.4% snap share (No. 3)
- 76.3% route participation (No. 4)
- 11 deep targets (No. 5)
- 581 air yards (No. 4)
- 565 yards after catch (No. 2)
- 2.87 yards/route (No. 3)
The long list of accomplishments shows how good Darren Waller was last year in fantasy football! Context is always important to consider; Waller was able to produce these numbers primarily by receiving volume due to a lack of other receiving options. In 2019, Waller was competing with the likes of Tyrell Williams and a fifth-round rookie Hunter Renfrow. This past offseason the Raiders drafted Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards, and Lynn Bowden in the first three rounds of the NFL draft. They also signed a future hall of fame tight end Jason Witten and Nelson Agholor (I’m kidding!). What’s most important is that they did NOT lose any significant offensive weapon this past offseason. RB DeAndre Washington is the most notable skill position player that left. Taking a look at the Raiders vacated targets and air yards, the Raiders are in the bottom-10 in vacated targets and bottom-5 in vacated air yards. What this means is that Ruggs and Witten’s production is going to come at the cost of the existing Raiders receiving weapons, with Waller offering the most amount of targets and receiving yards to leech from.
Reason: Unsustainable running efficiency + accuracy issues
A divisive figure in the fantasy football community, Josh Allen was able to finish as the No. 11 QB in average fantasy points per game with 18.6 points. It’s no secret that Allen uses his rushing ability to create a large percentage of his fantasy production. 37% of Allen’s total fantasy production came from his rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Only Lamar Jackson (39%) had a higher percentage of production come from his rushing. Both QBs were the only ones to top 30% in this category. In fantasy football, rushing yards are worth more passing yards, so I find it concerning that last year’s No. 2 QB in rushing production was barely finished as a QB1. Looking at his passing analytics, Allen finished:
- No. 24 in Play-Action Completion %
- No. 46 in Red Zone Completion %
- No. 33 in Deep Ball Completion %
- No. 34 in Pressured Completion %
- No. 34 in Clean Completion %
This is Blake Bortles’ territory of inaccuracy. I used PlayerProfiler’s Completed Air Yards Per Attempt and Pass Attempt Distance Per Attempt stats to help show Josh Allen’s accuracy problem as an NFL quarterback. Completed air yards came from Josh Hermsmeyer’s “completed air yards” and is defined by PlayerProfiler to be “the amount of completed passing yards not including yards after the catch”. Pass attempt distance is the measurement of the total distance traveled of all forward passes. By calculating the ratio of Completed Air Yards Per Attempt to Pass Attempt Distance Per Attempt I calculated a “Throw Accuracy” stat of quarterback’s pass attempts. Allen finished with the second-lowest “Throw Accuracy” percentage with 41%, just ahead of Myles Garrett’s BFF, Mason Rudolph. Might not hurt as much as a helmet caving in your head, but Allen’s accuracy percentage still stings.
A common and logical counter to the “Throw Accuracy” stat is that Josh Allen is a gunslinger that’s why his accuracy is going to be much lower than quarterbacks that throw shorter passes more often such as Dree Brees. As expected, that was seen in this calculation; the leaders in “Throw Accuracy” had the lowest pass attempt distance per attempt. In order to take pass attempt distance more into account I took a sample from this table that compared quarterbacks within +/- 0.5 yards of pass attempt distance of Josh Allen:
Mobile quarterbacks are the Konami Code of fantasy football, but they still need to be able to pass accurately. That’s what separates Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, and Dak Prescott from a fringe QB1 option, Josh Allen. In terms of ADP, he is going as QB11. That is drafting a player at his peak, not his draft value.
Reason: New team + better target competition + lack of practice time
DeAndre Hopkins has been my favorite NFL player to watch over the past five seasons. Hopkins is a stud and a strong case can be made that he is the best wide receiver talent in the league. In 2019, Hopkins averaged 18 fantasy points per game (No. 4 among wide receivers) while seeing nearly twice as many of his 150 targets go for touchdowns (7) rather than drop out of his hands (4). At 28 years old, he is still in the prime of his career; however, for the first time in his career, he won’t suit for the Houston Texans. This is the reason why Hopkins will fail to replicate his dominant 2019 performance.
DeAndre Hopkins has an impressive active five-season streak of 150+ targets. He absolutely deserves the volume that he has had over the years because, outside of the pre-Deshaun Watson season of 2016, he has scored 11+ touchdowns and/or gone over 1100 yards receiving in each of those seasons. When digging deeper into the 2015-2019 seasons of DeAndre Hopkins using Pro Football Reference, it is shocking to discover that he has NEVER played with a receiver that was targeted 100 times in a season. These dominant seasons of Hopkins were heavily volume-driven because the man whose body is made out of glass, Will Fuller, was the best wide receiver talent he played with. Other notable receiving options the Texans had over the past half-decade include: Nate Washington (2015), Cecil Shorts (2015), tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (2016), tight Ryan Griffin (2016), Bruce Ellington had the second-most targets in 2017 (57), 2018 was somehow worse, and criminally underused running back Duke Johnson was third in targets (2019).
The Houston Texans are the past for DeAndre Hopkins though; now he is a member of the Arizona Cardinals where he will be joining a receiving core that had two receivers top 100 targets last season in Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald. Don’t misconstrue what I’m pointing out here with the Cardinals receivers. Hopkins absolutely is the #1 option in the Cardinals passing game, but Kirk and a 36-year-old Fitzgerald are arguably better than all of the NFL receivers that Hopkins has played with for the past five years. Hopkins is going to see the most targets on the Cardinals in 2020, but his streak of 150 targets is going to come to an end in 2020. It’s also worth mentioning that along with changing teams, which historically negatively affects wide receivers in fantasy football in their first season with a new team, that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected how much time Hopkins has been allowed to practice with his new quarterback Kyler Murray and new coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Reason: Change in quarterback + questionable role/fit)
On paper, going from a quarterback that threw 30 interceptions to a future hall of fame quarterback with six Super Bowl victories on his resume is considered an upgrade. That isn’t going to be the case with Mike Evans. Referencing the previously mentioned “Throw Accuracy” stat, it’s clear that 43-year-old Tom Brady is not the quarterback that he used to be. His pass attempt distance per attempt (7.6) was 27th among qualified QBs. For comparison, Evans’ quarterback last season, Jameis Winston, was 2nd with 10.5 yards. Mike Evans’ average target distance was 15.9 yards (No. 4) and he was also top-10 in average target distance in 2018. As seen in the chart below, Brady is struggling to get the ball accurately to his receivers on short and intermediate throws. He’s going to be even less accurate on the harder, longer throws on the deep routes that Evans has been running his entire NFL career.
Tom Brady has relied on the short and intermediate routes to do most of his damage in fantasy football. This is why Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski have been strong producers in PPR leagues over the years with the Patriots. Speaking of Edelman, Chris Godwin more closely resembles him with an average target distance of 10.7 yards (Edelman’s was 9.5) and Godwin played over half of his snaps in the slot last season. Gronkowski came out of a one-year retirement to rejoin the only professional quarterback he’s played with. Godwin’s and Gronkowski’s 2020 roles are pretty well-known and easier to predict in a Brady offense, but Brady hasn’t had a player that plays the tall, vertical field stretcher route since Randy Moss back in 2009.
49% of Mike Evans’ receiving yards last season came in 3 of his 13 games. In those same games, he recorded at least 180 yards receiving in each game and he scored 6 of his 8 TDs. Evans is the epitome of a boom-or-bust wide receiver in fantasy football. He is going to either give you a matchup winning performance or vastly underperform his expectations of being a top pick in fantasy football. Going from a strong arm quarterback with questionable decision-making skills to a declining quarterback whose arm is getting weaker each passing season, but knows where to throw the ball will elevate Evans’ bottomless floor potential, but it will also cost him the high ceiling performances that buoy his fantasy football points per game average.
A common theme among the players discussed was that they either had volume or efficiency that is unsustainable going into the next season and the players are due for regression. Please remember that this article is not telling you to ignore these players in your drafts. It is a reminder to do your research on players and adjust your rankings with tempered expectations. Use the techniques that I have used to identify risky players and to find players that performed better than they have for their careers. Do not use 2019’s production as a way to project player’s 2020 seasons. Each season is a chance to start over from scratch and it is better to have short-term memory loss with the 2019 season than it is to have “take lock” on players due to recency bias.
Thanks for reading