LeSean McCoy to Bills, what does it mean?

By now we all heard that a major fantasy football move was made and the Philadelphia Eagles traded star running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for their young up and coming star linebacker Kiko Alonso. Obviously a huge ripple effect will be felt through free agency and the draft now that the Birds are in need of help at the RB position in reality and fantasy worlds alike.

This affects a few elements in fantasy football:

  1. LeSean McCoy

Shady is just a year removed from being the NFL’s rushing champion in 2013 when he also finished as the 2nd highest scoring back (280) to only Jamaal Charles. This past season McCoy was a consensus #1 pick in all formats, and while he didn’t finish as well as those who selects him would have liked, he did manage to finish in the top 12 among RBs (11th) while being 3rd in the league in rushing yards (1319) and added in 5 scores. The Bills backfield combined for just 1400 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns.

According to Profootballfocus.com the Bills had the worst ranked run blocking offensive line while the Eagles were the exact opposite, the best run blocking line in 2014. That’s definitely a set back for McCoy, but there is plenty of time for the Bills to sign veteran presence on the line … perhaps McCoy’s old blocker Todd Herremans?

However another plus on the McCoy side is the Bills new head coach Rex Ryan. Ryan is an old school guy which means defense and a heavy dose of the running game. In his 6 seasons as the Jets head coach, Ryan’s main RB has gotten a healthy dose of touches:

2009 Thomas Jones: 341

2010 LaDanian Tomlinson: 271

2011 Shonn Greene: 283

2012 Shonn Greene: 295

2013 Bilal Powell: 212 & Chris Ivory: 184

2014 Chris Ivory: 216 & Chris Johnson: 179

While the number did dip significantly in 2013 and 2014 for the feature back, there are two reasons for that. First those years were both close to a 50/50 split (53.5%/46.5% in 2013; 54.6%/45.4% in 2014). And secondly, the reason for that split, is the fact that both seasons featured 2 backs who combined aren’t on McCoy’s level in the NFL presently.

Those big touches have lead to Ryan’s top dog at running back finishing as an RB2 or better in 5 of 6 years, including a top 5 finish by Jones in 2009. LeSean has been the main man in the Eagles backfield since 2010, and in the seasons he’s played 15 or 16 games (4 of 5 years) he’s finished with RB1 numbers. His 11th place finish last year was his worst in those 4 years, while he’s also placed 8th in 2010 and 2nd in both 2013 and 2011.

While his offensive line isn’t anywhere near an ideal situation, McCoy is still a top tier running back in this league with a coach who has a love of using his main back as a bell cow. As it stands now McCoy should still be a top 10 pick in all scoring formats heading into 2015, and that can only go up if the Bills upgrade that O-line.

  1. The Philadelphia Eagles

There are a few cogs to the Eagles fantasy situation now that McCoy is gone. Obviously running back is the most glaring situation. Philadelphia still has Darren Sproles and Chris Polk from last season. Sproles performed well in his first year with the Eagles finishing as the 31st best back in standards scoring (25th in PPR), but that was with McCoy as the top dog. Sproles only had 97 total touches, a number that’s been declining since his touches peaked in 2011 (173). Those 97 touches were also his fewest since 2009 and turning 32 this offseason isn’t helping things. Sproles can still be a fantasy factor as a flex but don’t expect his touches to increase too much if at all even with Shady gone.

What about Chris Polk? Polk has an extremely small sample size with just 63 total touches in the 14 games he’s appeared in his first two years in the NFL. Averaging 5.6 fantasy points per game over that span. In games Polk has had 7+ carries he is averaging 4.3 yards per carry, and he has a nose for the end zone scoring 7 touchdowns in his 14 games. He is a young pup on a team with a great offensive scheme so if he’s allowed to get more touches he could excel however, I’d expect the Birds to get a better option for their main back into town either via free agency or in the draft.

Speaking of the draft that brings up another interesting avenue the Eagles could take, the Marcus Mariota road. It’s no secret Chip Kelly wants his old college stand out and for good reason. Mariota is the quintessential QB for Kelly’s offensive system and if the Eagles do find a way to get him at the end of April we could have a fantasy stud on our hands. Does the Alonso move, not only clear a ton of cap space, but also give the Eagles the ability to grow on defense while still giving up a ransom to move up from 20 in the draft to get the franchise quarterback that Kelly can work magic with? We can only speculate and anticipate that day, but if Mariota is reunited with his college guru, even as a rookie, I’d expect big numbers from him. Mariota has similar size (6’4″ 222lbs vs 6’5″ 248lbs) and combine measurements to Cam Newton:

CATEGORY MARIOTA NEWTON
HEIGHT: 6’4” 6’5”
WEIGHT: 222LBS 248LBS
40 YARD DASH: 4.52 SECONDS 4.59 SECONDS
VERTICAL JUMP: 36 INCHES 35 INCHES
BROAD JUMP: 121 INCHES 126 INCHES

Newton posted obscene fantasy numbers his rookie year. 4051 passing yards and 21 TDs combined 706 rushing yards with 14 more scores all equates to 441 points, or 4th best QB in 2011. Not to say Mariota would be that spectacular year one (14 rushing TDs is a hell of a mountain to climb as a QB, let alone a rookie QB), but it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see him get to that 350 point plateau, which would have placed him 8th in 2014.

Again getting Mariota means the Eagles won’t be able to draft an impact running back via the draft this year, or at least odds would be pointing against it. If Philadelphia doesn’t give up the farm then a 2nd round back like Duke Johnson out of Miami, Jay Ajayi from Boise St., or Indiana’s Tevin Coleman. Any of the 3 would ultimately start the season as the Eagles top back and would easily be fantasy relevant in Kelly’s offense.

Lots of different ways these next few weeks and months could shape up for Philly, but one things is for sure, the Eagles will definitely have an opportunity to draft a fantasy stud in Chicago or sign one through free agency (although I think they focus on defense and Maclin with their cap space in the free agent game).

  1. The Bills Offense

While Fred Jackson played well last season with C.J. Spiller sidelined for nearly half the year (7 games missed to be exact), and Kyle Orton had one of the best seasons of his career (he took over week 5 for E.J. Manuel, had Orton played the entire season he would have set career marks in yards, TDs, and fantasy points), the Bills needed a major upgrade on the offensive side of the ball. Sure Sammy Watkins did play well for a rookie wide out, and Robert Woods on the opposite side of the field did boost his production by 25% from his 2013 rookie campaign, but still Buffalo’s firepower was lacking. Enter LeSean McCoy. McCoy moving doesn’t just affect his fantasy value, but the value those other fantasy relevant players around him. So what does Shady do for his new Bill counterparts?

For starters it’s going to make Fred Jackson’s usage drop but that isn’t a bad thing. Jackson is now 34 years old and has had over 200 touches in 5 of his last 6 seasons, and the season he failed to reach 200+ touches he only played 10 games (when he still got himself 149). Jackson should still be able to handle 85-100 touches, which is plenty to give McCoy a breather here and there as needed. Spiller won’t be back in Buffalo, and Boobie Dixon and Bryce Brown (should they both remain on the roster) are no threat to put any dent into the fantasy world. When it comes to the running back position Shady is obviously going to be top dog making the rest of this backfield, outside of Jackson as a handcuff or possible flex option in deep bye weeks depending how the season progresses, obsolete baring injury.

Let’s take a quick gander at the wide receivers. First of all the WR1 Mr. Sammy Watkins. Watkins was the first wide out off the board in the 2014 NFL draft, and first rookie WR taken in fantasy drafts last year with an ADP of pick 8 in round 7, or the 30th WR off the board. While he was the first rookie wide receiver taken in drafts, he finished 5th best among rookie WRs in 2014 and 25th overall among wide outs. It was the best crop of 1st year wide outs we’ve ever seen in the fantasy scene and in the NFL for that matter. (*Fun fact: 9 of the top 50 WRs were first year players in 2014). Watkins was able to make himself a borderline WR2 with Kyle Orton at QB and an aging Fred Jackson responsible for a majority of the work in the backfield. Trading for Shady adds another dimension that opposing defenses have to account for. McCoy is much scarier and dangerous than Fred Jackson. More focus on the newly acquired RB means more big play opportunity for an extremely talented guy like Watkins. Robert Woods will also reap similar benefits as Watkins with more defensive attention on the running back position (as well as Watkins in Woods’ case).

Lastly the quarterback. Orton seemed reluctant to play last season claiming he wanted to retire during the offseason. Buffalo talked him into playing and he had, as mentioned before, one of the best seasons of his career. Now Orton is officially retired. However the Bills traded for Matt Cassell from the Vikings the day after acquiring McCoy. Cassell is no Manning (pick any of them, even Archie), but he is a similar QB to Orton, which is still a better option than E.J. Manuel. Cassell hasn’t played more than 9 games in a year since 2010, but during his 3-year period starting 15+ games (from 08-10) he averaged 3244 yards and 21TDs good for 213 fantasy points per season. Those total points today make him a borderline QB2, but will Shady help Cassell? Cassell has had backs like Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson lining up behind him since 2009, both those RBs are definitely on the same level as McCoy the if not a touch better. We should see Cassell put up Orton-like numbers this year, maybe a few more points since he has a WR of Watkins caliber, but Cassell isn’t worth drafting in 2015.

Conclusion:

All in all this trade definitely shakes up the fantasy world. Odds are your draft will see McCoy drop a little being on a worse offense, but if he stays healthy you will still see a RB1 in northern New York. The Eagles will have at least one rookie that a lot of your league mates will want to take a gamble on in the mid-rounds. Whether that be at QB or RB only time will tell. Sammy Watkins should be able to take a step forward as a NFL wide receiver and become more potent from a fantasy perspective. When it comes to the fantasy football world, this real world trade may have actually made more players draftable, usable, and relevant when it’s all said and done even if the biggest name in it, LeSean McCoy, could take the biggest hit. Offseason? What offseason?

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