May I have your attention please? “Value” has become the buzzword for fantasy football, much like “length” in the NBA. Good news is I won’t make you drink every time you read it. Assessing value, and selecting at the right time, is key to fantasy success. Picking sleepers is educated guesswork, but understanding when a splashy veteran with a big name won’t have a good year is art. Value is the defining characteristic of the old fantasy football mantra “you can’t win your league in the first round, but you can lose it” and LeSean McCoy fits that mold.
While McCoy doesn’t have a first round ADP, he is being drafted as a top-10 running back when he absolutely should not be. Since he became a starter in 2010, Shady McCoy has been one of the great fantasy football running backs, finishing as the RB2 twice and the RB3 once, in PPR leagues. He struggled a bit last year and in 2012, finishing as the RB12 and RB17 respectively. But while 2012 was simply an injury-shortened year, McCoy seemed to actually decline on the field last season, so those expecting him to bounce back this year will be sorely disappointed.
The “Elusive Rating” created by ProFootballFocus is an advanced statistic that “boils down a runner’s success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers.” As one of the most exciting running backs in the NFL, fans know McCoy as a guy who’s excellent at making his defenders miss and gaining yards in that fashion. The Elusive Rating has supported that label throughout his career, as in 2011 McCoy was 16th out of 56 qualifying running backs, in 2012 he was 13th out of 48 and in 2013 9th of 49. But last year, McCoy fell off a cliff, down to 31st out of 42 qualifiers. His startling inability to gain yards against defenders in space was exposed, as his 4.2 yards per carry was well below his career average of 4.6, and barely better than his career low.
While his efficiency seems to be dipping, proponents of McCoy’s outlook this year point to the potentially great volume of touches he could gain this year in Rex Ryan and Greg Roman’s “ground and pound” offense. This is a false notion.
According to ProFootballReference.com, in Ryan’s six years with the New York Jets, he only had one running back go over 300 carries. In Roman’s four years as offensive coordinator of the 49ers, he did not have a single 300-carry running back. That puts McCoy’s streak of two straight seasons with 300+ carries in serious jeopardy. Even more so when you consider the speed at which his new offense will run compared to his old one. The 49ers were third to last in seconds between plays last season, while the Eagles were first. But what’s even scarier to McCoy’s value is that running backs simply don’t catch passes in a Greg Roman offense. In the first five years Frank Gore started for the 49ers, he averaged 3.64 receptions per game, a 58 per season pace, but in the four years under Greg Roman, Gore averaged 1.13 per game, a meager 18 per season pace.
This is detrimental to LeSean McCoy’s value, because in the years he was a top-3 scorer, he had 78 receptions, 48 receptions, and 52 receptions. To kick his pass-catching chances this year while they’re down, remember the Bills still have Fred Jackson and E.J. Manuel. As long as Jackson is joining Anquan Boldin in the “Ponce de Leon Offseason Workout” at the Fountain of Youth, he will be the third down back. Jackson has been one of the best pass-blocking backs in the NFL throughout his career, while McCoy has been among the worst, meaning McCoy could become almost exclusively a two-down player for the first time in his career.
So McCoy is a running back with declining skills in an offense not conducive to his unique abilities. Not the best recipe for success. To top it all off, the Buffalo Bills don’t exactly have a high-octane offense. Over the past two years, the Philadelphia Eagles offensive line averaged 3.28 yards before contact to running backs, best in the NFL. Even last year, they averaged better yards before contact than the vaunted Cowboys offensive line. The Bills? ProFootballFocus graded them as the worst run-blocking offensive line in the league, and they were 28th in the league in rushing yards before contact, with a lowly 1.97. Some will point to the additions the Bills have made in bringing in Richie Incognito and rookie John Miller from Louisville, but those two guys aren’t nearly enough to swing the needle.
But wait, touchdowns are the lifeblood of fantasy scoring right? So McCoy still has a chance to be a workhorse stud right? Wrong. Touchdowns and opportunity are the two biggest factors in fantasy scoring, but while McCoy will absolutely have the opportunity for carries and goal-line chances, the Bills don’t score enough for those chances to be viable. Last season, the Buffalo Bills only had four rushing touchdowns by running backs. Shady is obviously an improvement on last year’s crew, and he’s good for a few long TD runs every year, but with E.J. Manuel leading the charge, the Bills won’t exactly be living in the red zone. In fact, because of Manuel’s drastic limitations, McCoy will be facing eight men in the box more often than not, adding to his fantasy limitations.
LeSean McCoy is still a good running back. He will still be making people miss, stopping on the dime, and probably averaging over four yards per carry. But with declining skills, a new coaching regime that will do more harm than good, and a team with a bad offensive line and bad quarterback play, he has a limited ceiling this season. Fantasy football is about value, and McCoy simply isn’t one where he is being drafted. Dr. Dre may be locked in The Real Slim Shady’s basement, but Shady McCoy is locked into being a RB2 at best.