Fantasy Football: Regression Candidates After Week 1

Regression is often accompanied by a negative connotation in fantasy football. We often say things like a certain player will "regress back to the mean" after they have an outstanding outlier performance. But with just one game's worth of data to fall back on, fantasy football managers must understand that outlier performances will lead to both positive and negative regression in the weeks to come. Usage, situations, and opportunity can change in an instant in the NFL, and the best managers will understand and practice either patience or proactiveness.

This weekly column will look at some key players from the past week in fantasy football and consider the factors that will lead them to either positive or negative regression in future games.

Positive Regression Candidates

Clyde Edwards-Helaire - CEH, as the kids call him, has been a polarizing fantasy player since the moment he was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the spring of 2020. Many loved the pass-catching ability and nose for the end zone coming out of LSU, but others thought he was more of a situational player and not a true workhorse back.

Regardless of what you think of him, Edwards-Helaire is being given every opportunity to lead this ground game for the high-powered Chiefs offense -- but on Sunday he fell flat. He ran for just 43 yards on 14 carries, added 29 receiving yards on 3 receptions, and he did not score.

But there were two encouraging signs from Sunday that should give CEH truthers some hope.

First is the usage on his team among running backs. According to Player Profiler, Edwards-Helaire received 94.4% of the opportunity share, second-best among all running backs. Opportunity share is the total amount of rush attempts and targets for a certain position, and CEH dominated them.

Backup Darrel Williams saw 11 opportunities to 17 for Edwards-Helaire, and Jerick McKinnon only saw four snaps and had zero opportunities. The Chiefs were surprisingly in catch-up mode most of the game, so many of the hurry-up snaps that Williams saw against the Cleveland Browns will likely go to Edwards-Helaire when the Chiefs are more in control of a ballgame in the weeks to come.

Second, Edwards-Helaire should have simply done more with his chances but got unlucky with stops in the running game. Here are CEH's runs, according to NFL's Next Gen Stats:

Only two of his runs went for more than 5 yards and just one went for 10 yards. This was despite Edwards-Helaire seeing a stacked box by the defense on only 7% of his attempts. But he ranked top-10 in Next Gen Stats' efficiency metric, meaning he hit the holes at the right place at the right time. Next Gen also has Edwards-Helaire at -28 rushing yards over expectation. This means that CEH should have had 28 more rushing yards based on his usage and situational rush attempts.

If that outcome happens and Edwards-Helaire comes out of that game with 3 catches and more than 100 total yards, managers probably aren't wondering if they made a mistake drafting him in the third round.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling - You could make a pretty strong case that the whole Green Bay Packers team is due for extreme positive regression because NFL squads simply can't be that abysmal, right? But I will focus on one player who was a dart throw late in drafts and always seems to be just out of reach of his full potential.

Valdes-Scantling, despite the horrific offensive showing by the Packers, was heavily involved in the offense. But "involved" doesn't always mean "productive." Here's what I mean by that: this is a list of every player who had at least 100 air yards in Week 1 and the difference between that and their actual receiving yards.

PlayerAir YardsReceiving yardsDifference
Marquez Valdes-Scantling15617-139
D.J. Chark19986-113
Darren Waller203105-98
Emmanuel Sanders14952-97
Quintez Cephus10212-90
Stefon Diggs15069-81
Anthony Schwartz12669-57
CeeDee Lamb159104-55
Justin Jefferson11371-42
Mike Williams11882-36
Tyreek Hill231197-34
Marvin Jones10477-27
David Njoku10276-26
Antonio Brown144121-23
Corey Davis11897-21
Ja'Marr Chase114101-13
Keenan Allen112100-12
Tyler Lockett108100-8
Chris Godwin111105-6
Brandin Cooks1321320
Amari Cooper12713912
Deebo Samuel10018989

This could easily be described as full list of potential positive regression players (like Stefon Diggs and Justin Jefferson), but many of these receivers came away with strong games. Valdes-Scantling had one of the more amazing discrepancies you will ever see between his targeted air yards and his actual receiving yards. A strong Week 1 in this category should cause us to pay attention, and if Valdes-Scantling is targeted at this rate moving forward, we may have a league-winner on our hands.

Granted, the Packers were trailing the entire game and may have just been bombing the ball to try and get some quick offense. But Valdes-Scantling's involvement in the games to come -- especially competitive games -- should be monitored very closely.

Negative Regression Candidates

Melvin Gordon - If we turn the digital page back over to the efficiency and production stats for running backs, Melvin Gordon was simply the anti-Clyde Edwards-Helaire on Sunday. Gordon's final line looks amazing: 11 rush attempts, 101 rushing yards, 3 catches, 17 receiving yards, and a touchdown. But the superficial success hides an uglier truth.

The problem is more than 70% of Gordon's rushing yards and his touchdown came from one massive play late in the Broncos-Giants game. Without that outlier touchdown, Gordon's looking a lot more pedestrian with just 30 rushing yards on 10 attempts plus 17 receiving yards. In fact, Next Gen Stats ranks Gordon as having the most rushing yards over expectation at 58.

Yes, Gordon hit his big hole and burst through to the end zone on Sunday, but in reality, he was one of the most indecisive runners among all games on Sunday. Here are the bottom 10 in time behind line of scrimmage from Next Gen Stats; essentially the players who take the longest to gain positive yardage.

Player Seconds Behind Line of Scrimmage
Melvin Gordon 3.13
Ezekiel Elliott 3.10
Javonte Williams 3.09
Joe Mixon 3.02
Chase Edmonds 3.01
Chris Carson 2.99
James Conner 2.99
Saquon Barkley 2.97
Josh Jacobs 2.88
Miles Sanders 2.87

Rushers in the top 10 like Alvin Kamara, Antonio Gibson, and Derrick Henry all make their moves quickly and get past the line of scrimmage in under 2.5 seconds. Gordon's relative slowness leads to a lot of rushes trying to beat the edge and frequently gaining fewer than five yards.

To make matters worse, both red zone rush attempts for the Broncos went to rookie Javonte Williams on Sunday. Red zone and goal line work used to be Gordon's forte, but he did not have a single opportunity in that area in Week 1. Williams ended up with more rushing attempts than Gordon (14 to 11), and it just looks like a matter of time before he supplants Gordon as the lead back.

Gordon's touchdown may have extended his leash slightly on the starting gig, but smart fantasy managers should know his time to find the bench is coming. Sell high if you can.

Deonte Harris - In what fantasy managers and DFS players all thought would be the Marquez Callaway show, it was actually Harris and teammate Juwan Johnson who came out and stole it, accounting for three of Jameis Winston's ultra-efficient five touchdowns. Harris accounted for 72 yards and a touchdown on the day, single-handedly pulling down 49% of Winston's passing yards on the day.

But such an out-of-this-world performance from Winston (five touchdowns on only 148 yards and 20 pass attempts; a 25% touchdown rate) is bound to create some outlier performances, and Harris is certainly top of the list.

To start, those 72 yards and touchdown came on only two targets. Harris caught both of them and secured the number one Week 1 average depth of target (aDOT) along the way.

Harris' aDOT after one game is an unheard-of 33.0 yards. In context, Henry Ruggs led all receivers with at least 40 targets last year with an aDOT of 17.53 yards. Harris certainly isn't going to get every target 33 yards downfield, he isn't going to catch every target, and -- most importantly -- Winston isn't going to look like Tom Brady circa 2007 most weeks.

This is not to say that Harris won't be heavily involved in the New Orleans Saints' offense. Harris has been on the top punt return men for a couple of years now with his elite speed and vision. He certainly could parlay that into more involvement in the passing game with the Saints, but this looks to be a volatile passing game that will have many road bumps along the way.