LeSean McCoy is in an interesting spot heading into the 2018 season. Coming off an impressive 2016, I suggested that he should be your first-round selection in 2017 fantasy drafts. A lot has changed since his hyper-efficient 2016, and the current situation drastically limits his ceiling while leaving many overestimating his floor as a player and fantasy asset.
Entering his age 30 season, McCoy has 2,626 touches (rushes + receptions) in his career. This is a major concern according to Adam Spinks’ (@TheRBscout) study on “The 2280 Wall.” Only 14 running backs have accrued 2,280 career touches or more according to Spinks, and of the ones that do, only two had multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons after. Unsurprisingly, players who have a lot of career touches hit a cliff and fall off quickly. McCoy was able to rush for over 1,000 yards in his first season over the “wall” in 2017, but it may be tough for him to repeat this in 2018.
McCoy’s rushing success rate dropped from 51 percent in 2016 to 43 percent in 2017 and he set career lows in yards per carry (4.0) and yards after contact (1.27) last season. ESPN’s Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) believes it could be a scheme issue and tweeted:
% of LeSean McCoy’s carries from the shotgun:
McCoy set career-low marks in YPC and YAC in 2017. #Bills
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) February 12, 2018
Now, looking more in-depth at McCoy’s rushing efficiency splits in the shotgun and under center over the past two seasons, it’s somewhat telling which he is more comfortable with: [Note: a play is considered successful when it gains at least 40% of yards-to-go on first down, 60% of yards-to-go on second down and 100% of yards-to-go on third or fourth down]
After averaging 17.9 points per game (sixth worst) in 2017, the Bills fired offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and replaced him with Brian Daboll. Daboll was most recently the offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama but had a stint in the NFL for four years as an offensive coordinator from 2009-2012. Two seasons were spent with the Browns, one with the Dolphins, and another with the Chiefs. The change in coordinators would be encouraging for McCoy except in Daboll’s four years as an OC in the NFL, he ran the ball out of the shotgun only 10% of the time. Clay notes shotgun “usage is up league-wide in recent years,” but looking at the Bills decision to acquire a less mobile quarterback in A.J. McCarron, the Bills may hover around league-bottom in shotgun percentage. Daboll loved to run the ball and ranked inside the top-6 in rushing attempts three of four years as an OC so we can expect McCoy to receive a lot of volume, but not much out of the shotgun.
While some analysts may expect a positive regression in efficiency for McCoy, it would be an awe-inspiring feat given the Bills projected starters. Looking at their current starters on offense is a cringe-worthy but necessary process towards understanding the full scope of the McCoy’s outcomes. The Bills replaced quarterback Tyrod Taylor with career backup/game-manager McCarron and drafted the inaccurate project Josh Allen seventh overall. Their starting wide receivers are one of the worst overall units in the league, consisting of Kelvin Benjamin (56% catch rate), Zay Jones (42% catch rate), and Andre Holmes (57% catch rate). To continue piling onto the depth chart horrors, Buffalo’s offensive line projects to be a bottom-tier unit. Their best lineman last season, Vladimir Ducasse, only ranked as Pro Football Focus’ 24th best right guard in the league and their new center, Russell Bodine, graded out as one of the worst starters at the position in the league last season for Cincinnati. The depth at running back is also weak with plodder Chris Ivory likely to vulture some goal line carries. McCoy is literally the only bright spot on this offense.
Looking at the Bills 2018 schedule, things won’t start easy for McCoy as he is projected to face the most difficult schedule of opposing run defenses from Weeks 1-7. They only play one team outside of the top-12 in the Chargers, and they were ravaged by injuries last year. Things get much easier for Buffalo after Week 7, but they are only projected to be favored in two games during that stretch (Week 9 vs. Chicago and Week 14 vs. NYJ), limiting the potential for a chance of significant positive game script.
Regarding pure rushing efficiency, things are looking grim for McCoy. In fantasy, however, receptions matter quite a lot. McCoy recorded 59 receptions on 77 targets last season, the second most in both categories of his career. Going back to 2015 when McCarron played the majority of (or started) a game, he targeted the running back position on 37 of his 157 attempts (23.6%). McCarron had two great pass-catching backs in Giovani Bernard and Rex Burkhead at his disposal, but regardless of his weapons, the 23.6 percent running back target rate would have ranked 10th-highest last season. Buffalo targeted the running back position at the fifth highest rate in the league (27%) in 2017 but Daboll’s history as an offensive coordinator is concerning:
Most notably, in the four seasons Jamaal Charles started 10 or more games, he recorded his lowest target total (49) in 2012 with Daboll as his offensive coordinator. Daboll’s career 17.8 percent running back target share would have ranked 8th-lowest in the league last season. I’m not one to live or die by coaching trends from six years ago, but Daboll’s fairly limited use of an elite pass-catching running back like Charles should concern the “McCoy is locked-in for another 70+ targets” crowd.
Even with most external variables working against McCoy, I don’t think he will completely flop. Barring injury, he is in line for 250+ carries and 40+ targets in 2018, making him a solid RB2 with low-end RB1 upside. He lacks high-end RB1 upside though due to the offense projecting to be horrendous, a variable which generally limits his touchdown upside. In dynasty leagues I would be looking to sell McCoy unless you have heavily skewed your roster towards for a win-now situation. In redraft and best ball leagues, I am avoiding him entirely in the second round with limited exposure in the third.