With the 2013 NFL season right around the corner it’s time to once again to dip into the world of fantasy football. This year I decided to buy the usual magazines I read during this time of the year (thank you Sports Illustrated for telling me that Aaron Hernandez is going to be the third best tight end this year) and I even decided to jump into a mock draft lobby much earlier than usual.
I’m not totally sure why I’m so interested in fantasy football this season. I think the lack of excitement in baseball – check that, the whole month of July – has led me to try and figure out who will be a great tenth round steal (Jermichael Finley) and who will be a bust (C.J Spiller, based on his current ADP of seven).
One of the early trends that I’ve noticed is the return of the running back. The last time a top 20 players list looked anything like what we’re witnessing this year was way back in 2007. It felt strange to take any other position than a running back in the first two rounds that year, unless you grabbed Peyton Manning or wanted to be a rebel and select Steve Smith, Chad Johnson and Marvin Harrison (remember him???).
Finding a workhorse running back was a necessity and don’t get me wrong it still is, but now we’re at a point where a running back who gets let’s say 70% of the carries in an RBBC needs to be on your radar much earlier than usual.
According to fantasyfootballcalculator.com, 15 of the top 20 players heading into this year’s drafting season are running backs (ironically the same as the 2007 list). Only Megatron, A.J Green, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and Aaron Rodgers have breached the land of the running backs and Jimmy Graham may very well hop up into the group depending on how much stock people put into reports like this.
In the few mock drafts I’ve done so far there I’ve come across some interesting crossroads that could very well separate a team from winning a fake championship or finishing outside of the playoffs. Here is the first fork in the road that I’ve noticed:
LeSean McCoy or Jamaal Charles?
This either or is most likely going to apply to someone who has the fifth or sixth pick in their draft as the first four picks seem to all look somewhat like this: Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Doug Martin, Ray Rice.
If you have the next pick after those four come off of the board, you’re options are going to be: Marshawn Lynch, C.J Spiller, Calvin if you’re feeling frisky, Charles and McCoy.
As I mentioned above I’m not big on Spiller in the first round and I like #Beastmode, but I think Russell Wilson is going to become the focal point of the offense (we can debate if he is already) and I believe Pete Carroll is going to use Percy Harvin a bunch, especially early on in the season.
There’s no reason to take Calvin this high, so that leaves McCoy and Charles.
The infusion of a new head coach (Andy Reid) and quarterback (Alex Smith) will provide the Kansas City Chiefs with a totally different look on the offensive side of the ball, and based on the data from Reid’s use of McCoy in Philadelphia, Charles should see an increase in his overall touches per game.
In McCoy’s four seasons under Reid he averaged 18 touches per game (14 carries, four receptions, 58 games overall). The shifty running back from Pitt turned the seemingly small amount of touches into an average of 93 total yards per game. This was nothing short of a minor miracle considering Reid’s obsession with the Vortex like bombs Michael Vick’s left arm can produce.
Even though Reid will somehow find a way to fall in love with long throws from Alex Smith, fantasy enthusiasts should think twice before letting Charles pass by them during the draft season.
Charles has been able to churn out three incredibly productive seasons with a small amount of touches in each. Out of the top 12 ranked running backs this year, according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com, Charles has the second lowest amount of average touches per game (14). Only CJ Spiller has a smaller workload (11). (Don’t worry a column on Spiller’s ridiculous draft position is coming.)
In Charles’ five year career, one of which was lost due to the other major ACL injury of 2011, the dynamic running back from the University of Texas has only touched the ball on an average of 14 times per game and has churned out 89 yards per game.
For the most part Reid underutilized McCoy during his first four seasons in the league, but he still averaged four more touches per game than Charles. If you apply four more touches to Charles per game averages, an extra 25 yards can be added onto his total, which brings him to a whopping 114 yards per game, on a meager 18 touches. There are only three other running backs who have a higher average (in order: Peterson 117, Foster 119 and Doug Martin 120).
All three of those running backs average at least 22 touches per game.
The case for taking McCoy in this scenario requires buying into the idea of Chip Kelly successfully bringing over a version of his hyper-speed offensive system from Oregon. Now it’s going to be impossible for Kelly to bring over an exact replica of that offense, so I think it’ll look like the Patriots hurry-up schemes from last year, with a bunch of pistol formations sprinkled in.
So what does this mean for McCoy? Last year the Eagles ran 67.4 plays per game, which was the sixth highest amount in the NFL. The Patriots topped the list with 74.3. It seems more than likely that Kelly will either match or exceed this number, but the number to remember is 61.4.
That’s the percentage of rushing plays Kelly ran at Oregon over the last four seasons (Rotoworld). So if we apply the percentage of rushing attempts by the amount of plays the Patriots ran last season, we get 45 (MATH!). That’s more than enough carries for McCoy, Bryce Brown and the ghost of Duce Staley’s athletic past to handle.
I feel safe assuming McCoy will gain five more carries per game, putting him at 19 per game and two more catches per game, which would give him an average of six per game. The 25 total touches per game would put him on the top of the list. More importantly, the added carries and receptions would push his total to 129 yards per game, a full nine yards higher than Doug Martin.
Again these are nothing more than estimated guesses and we won’t know anything about the new formations Kelly is going to use until the dog days of summer and even then he probably will keep most of the offense under wraps until Week 1.
I feel safer drafting Charles if you are indeed faced with this scenario, but the unknown is one of the most dangerously rewarding x-factors in fantasy football.
Why not take a flyer on McCoy with the fifth overall pick?
Answer that question here: @scottdargis.