Editor's note: This is the first of many articles where we will recap how a certain player did in 2014. We will also try to explain what went wrong and how we can better prepare for the future.
Coming off a storied 2013 campaign where he claimed the rushing title for the first time in his young career, Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy surged into the Top 3 for Average Draft Position (ADP) in 2014.
Obviously there were high expectations, and while you can't say McCoy was a disappointment since he finished third overall in rushing (1,319 yards) behind only Le'Veon Bell (1,361 yards) and top guy DeMarco Murray (1,845 yards), Shady still scored only five touchdowns which ranked 23rd among running backs. For a guy who touched the ball 312 times (second most only to Murray who had an obscene 392 carries), those touchdown numbers left a lot to be desired.
Coming into this season
At just 26 years old, McCoy's 2014 fantasy value was as high as ever at the start of training camp. At a young age, his legs still had plenty of miles left on them and with just six games missed over six seasons and no major injuries, he passed the ever-so-important durability concern test that ever fantasy player analyzes almost to a fault at the beginning of the season. McCoy was also coming off his first season under Chip Kelly, a coach whose scheme lends itself to plenty of rushing attempts due to its fast pace and run heavy nature.
McCoy was also one of the better PPR (points per reception) backs in the league which includes back-to-back 50 catch seasons in 2012 and 2013. All these factors led to many fantasy players selecting McCoy as the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the majority of fantasy drafts this season in hopes that he would repeat those numbers.
But, in what's become a recurring theme with running backs after a big season, McCoy failed to top those numbers in 2014. Overall, he finished 13th in fantasy points among fantasy running backs, which while definitely good overall, didn't live up to expectations based on his ADP. So what obstacles prevented him from doing so and what lessons can we learn from this for the future?
Increased competition for stats
As we mentioned above, McCoy was a dominant receiver for his position. He averaged about 400 receiving yards per season (an extra 40 fantasy points in standard leagues) coming into 2014. But those receiving totals were pretty much halved in 2014 and you can credit a few reasons for that, but the major one was the addition of veteran Darren Sproles.
The Eagles fleeced Sproles for just a fifth-round pick from the New Orleans Saints and the move had a profound impact on the Eagles' passing game early on in the season. Sproles caught 14 passes in the first three games, including a dominant seven catch, 153-yard effort against Indianapolis on Monday Night in Week 2.
Sproles also briefly outshined McCoy overall early on in the season. Through Philadelphia's first three games, Sproles amassed 313 yards combined rushing and receiving compared to McCoy's 239. In that span, Sproles achieved those numbers in only 17 rushing attempts and 14 catches while it took McCoy 40 rushing attempts and 10 catches for his. Now, that wasn't a theme that continued throughout the season, but it's worth noting McCoy was very slow out of the gate in 2014.
While Kelly stressed McCoy was still the No. 1 running back and the addition of Sproles wouldn't affect McCoy's attempts, Sproles still finished with 40 receptions while McCoy ended up with just 28, showing that the addition of a versatile running back can curb your feature backs' numbers. Kelly lived up to his word of leaning on McCoy just as much as he did last season though, as Shady frequently carried the ball more than 20 times per game and never saw less than 10 carries in one contest.
While normally a drop in reception numbers wouldn't affect someone with a huge running workload like McCoy, Shady's lack of touchdowns in 2014 served as the real culprit in causing his fantasy numbers to dip slightly. With just five scores on the ground, Kelly leaned on the younger Chris Polk for goal line touches and with a red zone touchdown percentage of just under 50 percent, the Eagles found themselves below average in scoring the ball around the goal line.
McCoy was never a high volume scorer throughout his career. Aside from a fluky year in 2011 where he scored 17 rushing touchdowns, he has never crossed into double digits since. Through six seasons, McCoy rushed for 4,7,17,2,9, and 5 touchdowns, respectively. So without touchdowns (six in most most standard leagues per touchdown) and without the receiving numbers to offset the lack of fantasy points, McCoy didn't pop for big numbers too often. His best fantasy days were back-to-back 19 point efforts in Weeks 12 and 13 against poor rushing defenses in Tennessee and Dallas.
The addition of Sproles curbed McCoy's reception output to his lowest since his rookie year in 2009.
Were injuries along the offensive line an issue?
While Philadelphia's offensive line wasn't nearly as healthy as they were in 2013 with injuries to center Jason Kelce and guard Evan Mathis plus the suspension to a budding star in Lane Johnson making things even more complicated, it still doesn't explain why Sproles was so effective and McCoy wasn't. If you go back and watch McCoy compared to Sproles, he looked a little bit more indecisive at times. In the NFL, all it takes is one split second of uncertainty that can make the difference between a 20-yard gain and a five-yard loss.
We saw just how effective a running back can be with one of the best offensive lines in the league. McCoy arguably had the best one last season and won the rushing title. DeMarco Murray definitely had the best one this season and repeated the same feat.
If you're a top 10 talent at running back, a great offensive line can propel you into No. 1 territory. So keep an eye on which offensive line is the best heading into a season in the future. Also, indecisiveness can creep into a running backs mind at any time and end up zapping his confidence for the remainder of a season. Plus, the addition of a proven veteran in the backfield can mess up fantasy stats.
Ending note/slight brag: We wrote about LeSean McCoy's likely regression before the 2014 season began and our theories proved mostly correct.