Buy Sell Hold - Week 4
by The Football Fix
Three weeks into the season is still a very small sample size in what’s already a small sample sport. Looking at such a small sample can lead to absorbently high levels of early efficiency or inefficiency in a player’s scoring output.
Just look at Cooper Kupp for example. His 30.4 PPR fantasy points per game are the highest of all-time amongst all players at any position. At Kupp’s current pace extrapolated out to 16 games, he’ll have had the 3rd most receptions, 2nd most receiving yards, and the highest touchdown total of any player in a single season ever. His current fantasy point output would also rely on him maintaining his current 20% TD Rate, which is more than double his career average.
Now I’m not saying you should sell Cooper Kupp. He’ll be an elite fantasy receiver for the rest of the season in this explosive Rams offense. But expecting him to keep up this all-time great pace from a three-game sample is simply unrealistic. Three-game samples can trick you.
That’s why we need to rely more on the opportunity that players are seeing. We’re starting to see more concrete usage trends that we can begin to rely more on when projecting forward to the rest of the season. Again, it’s still a small sample, but usage is much more predictable than efficiency. Use that to your advantage when making different roster moves.
BUY - WR Robert Woods, Rams
Cooper Kupp’s glorious start to the season hasn’t been without consequence, as Robert Woods’ production has been pretty tame through three games. He currently ranks as the WR47 on the season after most people, including myself, had Woods ranked higher than Kupp heading into 2021.
Since 2017 when these two first started playing together, Woods has averaged 15.25 PPR points/game each season compared to Kupp’s 14.875 points (not counting this season). Those are two very similar outputs overall. But in 2021, Kupp is averaging 30.4 points/game, with Woods averaging just 10.4 points/game.
This huge discrepancy in fantasy points not only goes against a strong historic trend, but it also goes against basic logic. Kupp didn’t magically become this much better than Woods in one offseason. Both players are still seeing a similar number of snaps and routes run, but things have happened to break Kupp’s way thus far. That can pretty much be chalked up to variance.
Soon enough, teams will begin to focus on how they can neutralize Kupp and that will naturally swing the pendulum back in Woods’ favor. Everything we know about simple regression toward the mean suggests that Woods will be more productive from here on out. The gap is due to close, so buy Woods.
Honorable Mentions: RB Joe Mixon, Bengals / WR Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers
HOLD - WR Stefon Diggs, Bills
After leading the league in receptions and receiving yards last season, Stefon Diggs entered 2021 with some of the highest expectations of his career. But through three weeks, Diggs has yet to produce a single top-24 scoring week in PPR leagues.
In cases like this, it’s important to understand the why behind each player’s production. Is it fueled by opportunity, efficiency, or both? With Diggs, his lack of production has nothing to do with a lack of opportunity. The Bills currently rank 4th in total pass plays/game and Diggs leads the team with 10.3 targets/game. Buffalo remains one of the most pass-heavy teams and Diggs remains the top receiver in that offense.
His lack of production thus far is because of low efficiency and a bit of unfavorable variance. Diggs currently has a 61.3% Catch Rate this season, which is down from his 76.5% Catch Rate in 2020. If you zoom in even further on those rates, you’ll also see that Diggs just hasn’t connected well with Josh Allen on the deep ball. Diggs has seen 7 deep targets through 3 weeks, catching just one of them. That’s good for a 12.5% Deep Ball Catch Rate, after having a 50% Deep Ball Catch Rate last year.
The usage is definitely there for Diggs. That’s good, because opportunity is stickier than efficiency. Eventually, a simple positive reversion towards the mean will see him converting those deep passes into big plays, and producing more fantasy points. Diggs would be a full on BUY recommendation if he didn’t have so much brand equity associated with his name. Try to buy him if you can for the right price, but he’s a super safe hold right now in all formats.
Honorable Mentions: WR Tyreek Hill, Chiefs / WR Michael Pittman, Colts
SELL - QB Kirk Cousins, Vikings
This one is pretty easy. Cousins is currently the QB4 overall on the season fueled by a lot of passing and high levels of touchdown efficiency.
Let’s first look at this from the team-level. The Vikings have been playing in a lot of fast-paced, shootout-type games recently which is good for passing production. However, we know that this offense prefers to use a more balanced approach on offense. Minnesota currently ranks 4th in offensive plays/game after ranking 19th in plays/game last season. Their 52.4% Pass Rate in 2020 ranked 27th, whereas their current 60.1% is the 13th highest in the league so far. You can already see a pretty big discrepancy there between their actual play tendency this season and what you’d expect from them based on the past.
Cousins has thrown for 8 touchdown passes in three games, which is good for a 6.7% TD Rate. Not crazy high, but still higher than his 5.9% TD Rate during his Vikings career. His 40 pass attempts/game this year is also higher than his 33.7 attempts/game career average. Normally with higher amounts of volume, you’d expect lower levels of efficiency. However, Cousins has managed to increase both simultaneously. While impressive, it’s also rather unsustainable.
Cousins also gives you close to nothing on the ground. He’s averaged just 7.6 rushing yards and 0.06 rushing TDs per game during his Vikings career. Aside from a few single-season outliers, the modern fantasy quarterback needs consistent rushing work to be a top producer. Cousins simply doesn’t have that in his arsenal.
I expect the Vikings to eventually start running a more balanced and slower-paced offense. That means less raw opportunity for Cousins overall. If his efficiency negatively regresses on top of that, then Cousins might not even be in the top-12 quarterback conversation. He just doesn’t have any rushing production to fall back on. Sell Kirk Cousins while you still can.