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Fantasy Regression: New Orleans Saints

(Photo: Derick E. Hingle, USA TODAY Sport

Regression toward the mean: “In statistics, regression toward the mean is the phenomenon that if a variable is extreme on its first measurement, it will tend to be closer to the average on its second measurement – and if it is extreme on its second measurement it will tend to have been closer to the average on its first measurement…” This kind of leaves it open to interpretation, but for me, it means that there is both positive and negative regression. It’s simply the process of moving closer to the average via an increase or decrease in production.

In saying that, here are five New Orleans Saints players I see due for some regression in 2018 and whether they’ll live up to their Average Draft Position. (ADP)

Regression Candidates

Ted Ginn Jr

2017 WR34, ADP WR62

Ted Ginn Jr is by no means a fantasy stalwart, but he has been a decent WR 3/4 option over the past three seasons with two as a top-35 WR.

Again he will take the field for the saints in 2018 but signs point to him being their WR3 this year with the addition of Cameron Meredith and drafting Tre’quan Smith 91st overall. When Meredith has been healthy he’s been a solid WR 2/3 option and all reports on Smith have been glowing. Both these new additions should prove very problematic for Ginn’s fantasy production. He will get his deep balls but his opportunity will surely decrease.

For a player that makes his hay running go routes, less opportunity is not a good thing. I see him as wide receiver depth this year and his best format being best ball because as we know, even in his productive years he’s rather boom or bust.

Drew Brees

2017 QB9, ADP QB5

Throughout his 17-year career Drew Brees has been a top QB option for your fantasy teams. Finishing inside the top-6 QB’s every year since joining the Saints until 2017. To say that a QB that set the all-time completion percentage record and is a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer had a down year seems wrong. But in terms of fantasy production, it was. He had significant decreases in completions, attempts, yards, and touchdowns.

Here are the 2017 percentage decreases from his averages as a starter (16 yr) a New Orleans Saint (11 yr)and his 2016 season.

  • Comp. – Fewest since 2009 (.5%/9.9%/18.1%)
  • Att. – Fewest since 2009 (7.5%/15.2%/20.4%)
  • Yards – Fewest since 2005 (1.3%/11.3%/16.8%)
  • Tds – Fewest since 2003 (24.5%/34.3%/37.9%)

But how can a player have such significant dips in these four major categories but at the same time have the fewest interceptions he’s had since 2004 and set the single-season record for comp%? Shouldn’t negative regression like that signify the end of Drew Brees’s career is on its way? Didn’t Peyton Manning show us that the cliff is steep and can come out of nowhere? This doesn’t, in fact, have to be the case though as Tom Brady has shown us a player can go through a down year late in his career and still come back as strong as ever.

Okay, so what was the reason? Well, actually there are two reasons. Boom and zoom. The dynamic RB due has everything to do with the Brees regression.

With a Sean Payton RB1 seeing the highest % of targets since Brees became a Saint and the highest since 2013 for an, RB2 there was a massive spike in the RB target share last year. RBs by nature are going to run shorter routes generally as they will start in the backfield majority of the snaps. As this heat map shows, (green being the most attempts, red the least) the majority of the targets last year were of the short variety.

Again Kamara and Ingram play big into this as their heat maps show.

These guys were well above average.

Although they caught the ball at a high rate and were both rather efficient with it, this was a huge determining factor in Brees’s numbers. Fewer attempts + shorter passes = fewer completions and explosive plays. A drop in comp. and explosive plays makes fewer TDs and yards.

So now, why Drew Brees can live up to his 2018 ADP of QB5. This league tends to adjust and humble people. Now they’ve had an entire offseason to watch film, and be it through changing their blitz packages, coverage schemes or just plain adding another man in the box, the league will naturally adjust. Which in turn will bring on some natural regression for the Saints two-headed monster. These factors combined with the wide receiver additions the Saints have made this offseason should provide plenty more opportunities for downfield passing.

Brees’s last 10 seasons TD totals: 34, 34, 33, 46, 43, 39, 33, 32, 37, 23

  • 2017 QB5 Kirk Cousins 277.6 pts.              
  • 2017 QB9 Drew Brees 262.6 pts.       

That’s a 15 point difference. A TD here, a TD there, a few extra yards and this isn’t a conversation anyone is having this off-season. I have Brees returning on his current ADP and possibly exceeding it.

Mark Ingram

2017 RB6, ADP RB21

To simply state that Mark Ingram is going to regress in the 2018 season because he’s suspended for four games and the Saints have a week 6 bye is too easy. It definitely isn’t the only factor.

The 2017 saints had the RB3 and the RB6 in PPR(4/6 in standard). Two top-10 RBs from the same team has never happened before so the law of averages tells us this shouldn’t happen again for a while. Ingram’s season saw career highs in att, yards, receptions, rec yards and TDs as he well outperformed is RB25 ADP. In fact,t he’s been on a steady incline over the past few years.

Last season wasn’t the first that Sean Payton had tried to use a two-headed RB attack in the backfield but it was the first time that it really worked. Kamara’s amazing PPO tells the tale of his season but Ingram’s season was about spiked weeks. With seven top-10 finishes (eight top-18s) you’d say I’ll take it, I would! He out scored every quarterback in the league in the second half of the season except Russell Wilson. (Ingram 164.6/ Wilson 188.1)

That’s crazy but there’s a whole half of a season when he finished 20th or lower including five weeks outside the top-25. This type of inconsistency can drive the fantasy owner crazy as he’s not a guy you can ever sit.

As a member of a running back tandem that both received well above the league average Target share forana RB1, scored at an average to above-average rate for an RB1, and both with a higher PPO then Le’Veon Bell…

…something has to give.

The return of David Johnson & Ezekiel Elliott and the addition of Saquon Barkley to the league make the likelihood of an Ingram being a top-10 RB very remote. I have him performing as a mid RB2 in the weeks after his return.

Alvin Kamara

2017 RB3, ADP RB6

  • 120 rush attempts
  • 728 yards
  • 6.1 YPA
  • 81 receptions
  • 826 rec. yards
  • 10.2 YPR
  • 11 kick returns
  • 347 ret. yards
  • 31.5 Y/RT
  • 14 total TD

These are the “put him in the Hall of Fame already” type of numbers that made up Alvin kamaras 2017 rookie campaign. However, is this who he is? Maybe, but history tells us probably not. Can he put up the same fantasy numbers? Absolutely. But can he do it with the same amount of efficiency? That’s the key issue we’re going to focus on.

The list of RBs to average 6+ yards-pr-carry in a season is a short one. The list of RBs to average 5+ yards-per-carry in their career is even shorter. Let’s compare Kamara to a player that is a part of both those lists.

We’ll use Jamaal Charles 2013 season to compare with Alvin kamaras 2017 season.

Charles scored 378.1 PPR points that year on 329 touches. 1975 total yards and 19 TDs. 1.15 PPO.

In comparison, Kamara had 313.4 PPR points on 201 total touches. 1555 total yards, 13 TDS 1.56 PPO.

They both started out slow and finished very strong. But Kamara’s PPO dwarfs Charles’.

Let’s throw Todd Gurley’s 2017 season in there for a little more context. (PPR)

Todd Gurley had one of the greatest seasons of all time and was still no comparison to Alvin Kamara’s PPO. But as you can also see in the graph above, both Charles and Gurley went through a significant dip early in their careers. Some of this can be attributed to the league adjusting. Kamara’s athleticism will keep him a top RB option but I don’t see him being able to run through, around and over defenses with as much regularity. He had the highest broken tackle rate among RBs with 200+ touches (32.8%/ #2 28.3%). I see him having a similar downtick in his young career as the other two players we looked at. From week nine on only Gurley outscored Kamara. (Kamara 213.4/ Gurley 229.3)

He should see a boost in weeks 1 through 4 with Ingram out but expect a guy like Boston Scott or the newly acquired Mike Gillisee to get some goal line work. He should have more opportunities this year and he was already used more frequently in the downfield passing game then Gurley or Bell. But as history tells us, when the opportunity rises, efficiency is sure to go down. I have him finishing as a top-7 RB in all formats putting up similar numbers as to his 2017 season but in a much less efficient way.

So I saved the player for last that I feel is going to most benefit from all this regression. A wide receiver with the size, athleticism and route running to go anywhere on the field, and the hands to match.

Michael Thomas

2017 WR6, ADP WR5

Dec 17, 2017 – 9 rec. 93 yards 1 TD.  Good right? But it could have been much better. Twice that day Thomas had TDs overturned on instant replay in once taken off the board by a flag. Frustrating yes, but lets us know that he has this type of game in him, and that his 9 TDs in his rookie year more than likely are closer to who he is than the 5 he scored last year. Over the last half of the season, only Keenan Allen and DeAndre Hopkins scored more points at wide receiver than Michael Thomas. (Thomas 156.5/ Hopkins 162.2/ Allen 177.4)

Also, his 1.35 standard/ 2.11 PPR PPO in his rookie year is greater than any that Antonio Brown or Hopkins have put up.

Career highs in targets, receptions and yards, but an almost 50% decrease in his TDs and 1.04 PPO just doesn’t add up. But yet again “Zoom and Boom” played a big part in this. Kamara and Ingram put up 25 touchdowns. A massive increase from 2016 when the RB1 and RB2 for the Saints scored 15 total touchdowns. The frequency with which Ingram and Kamara scored coupled with the amount of short passes in 2017 paint a pretty clear picture of Thomas’s 2017 season totals. Again, shorter passes mean less explosive plays, less explosive plays mean less yards and touchdowns in the end.

When looking at Thomas as far as the definition of “regression toward the mean” when referring to statistics, I view his rookie season as the extreme measurement as only three rookies in recent memory finished the season as a top-10 WRs ( Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, and Michael Thomas).  Also, for the sake of argument let’s say that he scored those two touchdowns that were taken off the board via instant replay. This would have put him inside the top-5 wide receivers or higher last season depending on format. He was not only a beast on the outside, but was also the best slot receiver in the game as far as YPR ran, over a yard higher the number two (Robert Woods).

One more quick thing. The 2017 Saints defense was a great fantasy option but not the greatest real-life option. You can see below that they that they were pretty much average last season in certain areas.

They lived and died largely on turnovers which are not exactly predictable. Any significant regression in this category could mean a few more high-scoring games, late game deficits or shootouts. Combine all this together and to me, it says that this is his career trajectory, not that he had an outlier sophomore season. If I’m correct, then he is a viable candidate to lead the league this year in targets and receptions. A higher percentage of his games then Brown or Hopkins, finished as a WR1 or WR2 makes him as consistent an option as there is out there…

…and for a much lower price.

I’m very high on him this year. Here’s my hot take. Michael Thomas will finish the 2018 season as the WR1.

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