Fantasy Football: Regression Candidates After Week 6

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 those 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

Amari Cooper

Now that we got CeeDee Lamb back on track after a huge Week 6, it's time to turn our attention to Amari Cooper and try to figure out what's going on with him lately. And with Michael Gallup due back soon, time is of the essence.

On the season, Cooper ranks 19th among wide receivers in half-PPR scoring, but much of that is due to his massive Week 1 game. More than 42% of his fantasy points came in that one game, and he hasn't exceeded 12.9 points in a game since then.

While Cooper ranks just 28th among receivers with 42 targets this season, he ranks seventh in both deep target rate and red zone targets. That matters when you have a passing attack as dangerous as the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas has perhaps the most formidable pass offense in the league, ranking fifth in passing yards per game, second in completion percentage, sixth in yards per pass attempt, and third in passing touchdowns per game.

With upcoming games against Minnesota, Atlanta, Kansas City, and Las Vegas before November ends, there could be some shootouts on the horizon that should help get Cooper back on track. If there is a frustrated manager in your league, Cooper's Week 7 bye might create a great buying opportunity for a player who could be a borderline WR1 the rest of the way.

Najee Harris

Can Najee Harris really be a positive regression candidates? Here's a guy who is a top-five running back in both PPR and half-PPR formats. But the strength of his performances thus far is almost solely on the back of his voluminous receiving work because he is near the bottom of many lists in efficiency rushing statistics.

That could change, and if it does, Harris could explode in the second half.

All of the volume stats are there for Harris as you might expect. According to Player Profiler, Harris ranks as a top-three running back in snap share, opportunity share, carries, targets, receptions, routes run, and target share. Volume has not been the problem this year, nor should it ever be.

The problem is how the Pittsburgh Steelers are failing to open up running lanes. Here are Harris' rushing efficiency metrics this year:

Metric2021 Rank
True Yards Per Carry52nd
Yards Per Touch38th
Breakaway Rate29th
Juke Rate43rd
Yards Created Per Touch23rd
Evaded Tackles15th

Based on Pro Football Focus' offensive line ratings, the Steelers don't have one player at their position rated higher than 26th in the league. This obviously hurts the chances that Harris can improve his efficiency, but one of two things are likely to happen. The Steelers will either take steps to improve the offensive line or they will limit the passing game so that they don't kill Ben Roethlisberger.

In fantasy, we like to bet on volume and efficiency. Harris clearly has one of those locked up and could potentially see the other improve if Pittsburgh commits to the run game.

Negative Regression Candidate

Adam Thielen

Adam Thielen might be one of the more obvious names on the negative regression list after Week 6.

Forget for a minute that it's unsustainable to come away with 13 targets, 11 receptions, 126 yards, and a touchdown every week. Thielen's role in the passing offense has been slowly diminishing as the Minnesota Vikings are featuring Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook more, and one spike week doesn't mean that the 2018 version of Thielen is back.

Thielen's targets were on a decline since Week 1. He had 10 in that first game but was at only 3 targets against a hapless Detroit Lions team in Week 5. Sunday's contest turned into an overtime shootout against the Carolina Panthers, so that surely contributed to the spike in usage.

The ultra-efficient Thielen has always been known as a strong red zone weapon, but before Week 6, he only had four red zone targets on the year. He now has six total, which ranks just 18th among all wide receivers. But he has caught them all for 37 yards and 4 scores. A 100% catch rate with a touchdown rate of 67% on those catches is one of the more unsustainable stats of the early season.

Expect Thielen to continue to have around a 20% target share for the Vikings, but high-target weeks won't come as frequently, and the red zone efficiency is bound to regress.