The first big fantasy football wave hit the beaches of the offseason when it was suddenly announced the Philadelphia Eagles had traded LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for young linebacker Kiko Alonso.
There had been rumblings McCoy might be on the outs in Philadelphia—rumors of a demanded pay cut lend themselves to gossip—and it seems the portents came true. Shady was shipped to NFL’s Siberia for his trouble. McCoy and his $11.4 million cap hit are out, replaced by a stud linebacker coming off a torn ACL.
Whatever the circumstances surrounding the trade were, we are left with a dramatic change at running back in Philadelphia. Gone is the promise of yesteryear, when McCoy romped through the league and made many a fantasy owner happy. Well, at least if his fantasy owners from last season have anything to say about it—McCoy's raw statistics weren't terrible.
One could argue that promise was already gone after his disappointing 2014 campaign—McCoy was simply not the same, seemingly a different man after getting his bell rung at the beginning of the season. He averaged just 4.2 yards per carry—not terrible in a vacuum, but a sharp drop from the previous season—and getting yanked at the goal line every time it seemed he would reward his fantasy owners. Worse, the former Human Joystick averaged a paltry 2.06 yards per carry after contact last season, one of the worst marks in the league.
Was it his first step off a cliff, or was last season simply a stumbling block for the dynamic running back? That much is unanswerable right now, but it should certainly give pause to fantasy owners before hitting the “select player” button in drafts this offseason.
Meanwhile, C.J. Spiller sits in his free-agent castle, spurned by the Bills after expressing his desire to return. Perhaps he will exact a measure revenge on his former team by signing with the Eagles and romping to a 2,000-total-yard season with 15 touchdowns. He already hinted at a desire to play with Kelly.
So what does this all mean from a fantasy standpoint? Truthfully, it’s still too early to tell. Right now McCoy finds himself in a situation not too dissimilar to the one Spiller found himself in over the past two seasons—a pedestrian offense with a bad quarterback and terrible offensive line. That line was 26th in the league in adjusted RB yards according to Football Outsiders, a decline from 3.85 in 2013.
If McCoy couldn’t get rolling last year in Chip Kelly’s offense with a vastly superior offensive line, what chance does he have in Buffalo?
Of course, the Bills will have plenty of opportunity to upgrade the line. They have already signed Richie Incognito in an attempt to improve the interior of the line. How much Incognito will improve things at 32 years of age this coming season—especially after having been out of the game for a year—is questionable, but it’s a start. There are plenty of options available in free agency and the draft, to be sure.
On the flip side, the Eagles are left with—wait a minute, let me look this up—Chris Polk as their main running back, assuming they bring him back in restricted free agency. Dynasty owners, rejoice! But really, sell him as fast as you can—Polk’s value will never be higher. That is unless you truly believe Kelly would keep Polk as the main man in a year with a flooded running back market and deep draft class.
Spiller may well end up in Philadelphia. So could DeMarco Murray—a move that would replace McCoy with equal talent likely at a lower price and kick sand in Jerry Jones’ face all at once. Perhaps the Eagles will go with some lighter fare in free agency—Justin Forsett, Ahmad Bradshaw or Mark Ingram are just some options.
Should the Eagles keep their draft picks—you know, instead of trading them all away for the rights to draft Marcus Mariota—they will have an opportunity to draft McCoy’s replacement with guys like Ameer Abdullah, Melvin Gordon or Duke Johnson. Perhaps they will double-dip in free agency and the draft.
Right now, it seems obvious they will do something, which will annihilate whatever value Polk’s fantasy stock has gained today. Move quickly.
Back to the meat of today’s meal—McCoy’s fantasy value. We’ve talked about potential decline and a dire offensive situation, but there are potential advantages to playing in Buffalo, too—namely, Rex Ryan’s propensity to run the ball. The New York Jets were in the top six in rushing attempts in each of the past three seasons, and the Bills don’t exactly have Aaron Rodgers to lean on in the passing game. Even with Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown and Boobie Dixon still in the fold, McCoy should find plenty of touches. It's hard to believe Ryan traded for an $11 million running back only to have him lose touches to the likes of a 34-year-old, a mirage and a journeyman.
The quality of those touches is what’s really in question.
McCoy is also rather durable, especially considering his running style would immediately shred a mere mortal's knees. He has had some concussion issues, but the newly minted Bill has played in every game the past two years and 90 of a possible 96 career regular season games. There is something to be said for peace of mind that your first-round running back will stay healthy, as unpredictable as injuries can be.
If forced to choose between him and other first-round options today, going another direction might be prudent. He certainly carries risk in MFL10s and other early formats. After all, fantasy value is one percent talent and 99 percent opportunity. Or something like that.