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.
On Tuesday's edition of First Aid. The Helpers discuss the Bears/Cowboys and Eagles/Seahawks and give their fantasy implications for those players in Week 15. Plus weekly awards and a little venting on fluky week 14 was in some instances.
On a special Thanksgiving edition of Diagnosis, the Helpers break down each game on the Thanksgiving slate including the Eagles/Cowboys, 49ers/Seahawks and Bears/Lions. They talk about every relevant fantasy player in those matchups and finish the podcast by sending out love letters of thanks to the players who have helped them throughout the fantasy season on their own fantasy teams. Also, check out our weekly rankings here.
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Mark Sanchez — Sanchez has been playing adequately in replacement of Nick Foles, and is a solid QB1 option against a bad Dallas secondary. While Sanchez is prone to turnovers (he's averaging about two interceptions per game) the high octane offense of the Philadelphia Eagles combined with the good matchup should keep him in the 15-20 point range.
Tony Romo — Romo is in line for a big week. The Eagles have one of the worst defenses against the quarterback, surrendering 19.5 points per game. Only the New York Jets allow more. He's a must-start for Week 12.
DeMarco Murray — Obviously a must start, Eagles are better against the run than the pass, but the offensive line of Dallas is far and away the best in the league right now. Expect another 100 yard rushing day.
LeSean McCoy — McCoy is finally starting to recapture the elusiveness that helped him claim the rushing title last season. When he makes guys miss in the open field, he rattles off big gains. McCoy found the end zone last week and recorded his first game of 100-plus rushing and a score. He's a must start this week.
Jeremy Maclin — A must-start WR1 as always. With 980 receiving yards on the season, Maclin is ready to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the first time in his career. He remains one of the best ADP draft bargains of 2014.
Jordan Matthews — Continues to thrive as the No. 2 receiver with Sanchez under center. It's impossible for Matthews not to be productive based on Sanchez's strengths in the intermediate game.
Dez Bryant — Clear cut WR1 in a great matchup. Bryant should near 100 yards and find the end zone at least once this week.
Terrance Williams — Not startable due to a low volume of targets, but the Eagles do give up quite a few points to receivers. If you're very desperate, there's some upside to this matchup.
Zach Ertz (sleeper*) — The Cowboys are one of the worst teams in the league at defending the tight end, giving up 10.1 fantasy points per week to tight ends on average. They've also given up a league-worst 72 receptions to tight ends on the year. Vernon Davis, Larry Donnell and Jimmy Graham have all carved them up.
Jason Witten — Remains a very solid TE2 against a defense that hasn't fared well against tight ends with DeMeco Ryans out.
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford — We know he's played bad recently, but Stafford has a great matchup at home against a bad defense. He's a great option this week.
Jay Cutler — Rated our No.17 QB in our weekly rankings, Cutler continues to struggle with turnovers and overall poor production. The only upside is the Bears will likely be down in this game early which could mean plenty of garbage time yards. He's a QB2.
Reggie Bush — He's expected to start today, and is a desperate play even with a good matchup. Still, the Lions could use some help at running back as they're one of the worst rushing teams in the league. There's some element of home run potential here.
Joique Bell — Still a great flex play in PPR leagues.
Matt Forte — Don't be scared off by the tough matchup even for a second, Forte's one of the best receivers out of the backfield in the league right now. Any rushing yards negated by a tough Lions run defense should be made up for in the passing game.
Brandon Marshall — Played much better lately, he's got 8 touchdowns on the year but three of those came in one game against San Francisco. He's still a must start in 12-team leagues.
Alshon Jeffery — Wide receiver who is always a must start. He's scored three touchdowns in the last four games.
Calvin Johnson — Megatron could be in line for his best game of the season. The Bears will be without their top defensive back in Kyle Fuller and Johnson has seen target numbers of 15,12, and 10 in his last three games.
Golden Tate — Tate is a solid WR2 in a plus matchup. His 97 receiving yards were a lone bright spot against New England last week, and he's already eclipsed the 1,000 yard receiving mark for the first time in his career.
Martellus Bennett — A guy who doesn't get enough credit. Bennett struggled last week but also strung together a 134-yard effort against the Green Bay Packers. The Lions one weak spot comes in defending tight ends, so Bennett has upside in this matchup.
Eric Ebron (sleeper*) — Injuries have slowed what was expected to be a good rookie season for one of the top tight ends of the 2014 draft. Ebron has a great matchup against the Bears, who rank dead last against the tight end (10.9 fantasy points per game). Expect Stafford to look for him in the red zone.
Start of the week:
LeSean McCoy @ Green Bay Packers — #4 in weekly rankings
It's tough to plug McCoy as an RB1 these days, and that's mainly because it's tough to really pin him down this year in general. He was strong the last four weeks (two 100-yard games to go along with two 80-yard games) before tossing up a dud against Carolina despite a 45 point effort by the Eagles' offense.
But despite a lackluster performance on the stat sheet as of late and only two touchdowns on the season overall by the RB, the Eagles currently sit atop the NFC and Chip Kelly has found a way to consistently utilize McCoy without relying on him to score the football to win games. Even with his not-so-amazing stats, there's still plenty of reason to get excited about his fantasy value in Week 11.
McCoy finds himself in a great matchup against a weak run defense in Green Bay. The Packers have surrendered a 30th-worst 142 rushing yards per game. McCoy will also be playing in the frigid cold of Lambeau Field, where the temperature is expected to be around 30 degrees before kickoff at 4 p.m. The Eagles had the luxury of not playing in too many cold games last season, but McCoy rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns against a bad Chicago defense in Chicago during the winter weather in 2013. McCoy also torched Green Bay for 155 yards when the two teams played in Green Bay last season.Though past efforts aren't necessarily an indication of future efforts, it's just worth noting that McCoy has been successful in the cold in past games.
When it comes to how well the offense has been playing, the Eagles offensive line continues to get stronger as they get healthier. They protected quarterback Mark Sanchez extremely well last week against Carolina, and while Julius Peppers may be a bit tougher to contain, the presence of Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis should help keep the Green Bay front four in check. If you remember, the Eagles offensive line did a good job containing J.J. Watt when they played the Texans a few weeks ago, as they held one of the best defensive ends in football to just one tackle for a loss.
Weather conditions may also come into play here, as Sanchez will be having to deal with throwing a frozen ball which could mean the Eagles may opt to go more run heavy. Aside from his 12 attempts last week in a lopsided game, McCoy had rushed for 24, 21, 22 and 24 in his previous efforts. There's a good chance he does that again given the conditions in Green Bay.
Montee Ball @ St. Louis — #26 in weekly rankings
Currently listed as probable, expect Ball to be eased back into the lineup opposite C.J. Anderson. But with Ronnie Hillman out, there's a good chance Ball sees some carries and maybe snags a goal line touchdown or two. The Rams are allowing a little over 124 rushing yards per game (25th worst) but they held Andre Ellington to just 1.3 yards per carry last week and haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Russell Wilson in Week 7.
Don't expect Ball to light the world on fire since he hasn't been the most explosive option even when he's been healthy (only averaged 3.1 yards per carry in his four starts), but the situation calls for him getting a little bit of action and sometimes all a player needs is a little opportunity.
Ball is a good flex play if you're in a deep league. He could vulture a touchdown on the goal line which is all you need in that spot. Just to be clear — Ball is not likely to go off this week at all, but there's potential for him to see enough of a workload to warrant a productive day.
Shane Vereen @ Indianapolis— #25 in weekly rankings
Vereen (and the entire Patriots' backfield for that matter) remain difficult to predict in fantasy football thanks to the chess-like mind of Pats' coach Bill Belichick. It's almost as if Belichick hates fantasy football and trots out the running back who hasn't scored much lately and gives him the most carries. Jonas Gray, Stevan Ridley, insert-next-running-back-who-will-now-be-a-household-name-here.
Despite the wonky RB favoritism, there's a lot of potential for Vereen this week. The Colts and Patriots will likely be a shootout between two premier quarterbacks in Andrew Luck and Tom Brady. The game will also be played under the comfortable dome conditions of Lucas Oil Stadium, so there's no cold interfering with the stats.
As for Vereen, he caught 13 passes over the last five games, so he's been on a PPR roll. The Patriots are coming off their bye week, so they're rested. Overall, Vereen remains the best fantasy back among the Patriots due to his versatility.
Marshawn Lynch @ Kansas City— #2 in weekly rankings
It's tough to say, but consider benching Lynch this week against Kansas City. He's banged up, and is going against a strong Kansas City defense that kept the Bills run game largely in check last week. Lynch posted his best effort of the season last week against the New York Giants, where he ran for 140 yards and four touchdowns. It was the first time Lynch eclipsed the 100-yard mark since Week 1 against Green Bay. Expect him to revert back to the more subdued version of beast mode against Kansas City, and likely finish with 67 yards and maybe a touchdown.
One thing is for sure through four weeks of fantasy football — those who were lucky enough to snag one of the top 3 picks in this year's fantasy drafts haven't been so lucky after all.
Running backs Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles were widely drafted in the top 3 of most fantasy drafts in 2014, and their owners have run into plenty of snags so far this season. We all know about Peterson, who only played one game this season after being suspended for an off the field issue. Charles' owners finally struck gold in Week 4 against New England, but up until then the explosive Chiefs running back was regressing due to an early ankle injury.
Then there's Shady McCoy. Unlike Charles whose play was stifled due to an injury at least for the first few weeks, and unlike Peterson who had an off field issue derail his season, McCoy is 100 percent healthy and as far as we know, hasn't done anything controversial of the field.
But despite that, McCoy is coming off the two worst performances of his career. He has run for just 39 yards on 29 carries in his last two outings. His longest run of the season went for 21 yards in Week 2 against the Colts.
His 2014 start pales in comparison to his numbers around the same time last year. In his first three games in 2013, McCoy's longest runs in each game went for 34, 17 and 41 yards. He also topped the century mark in two out of three of those games. In 2014, McCoy hasn't rushed for more than 100 yards once. So why the regression? Well, there are several reasons.
Foles getting a bigger role
For one, Chip Kelly and the Eagles are now set on a franchise quarterback in Nick Foles, which is something they didn't have last year under an aging Michael Vick behind center. After Foles played successfully in absence of Vick last year to the tune of a near perfect 27:2 TD-to-INT ratio and a record 119.2 quarterback rating, Chip Kelly embedded his trust in the young Foles as the team's starter going forward. It's because of this trust that led to Kelly giving Foles a bigger role in the offense as evidenced by Foles' 166 passing attempts so far in 2014, which ranks second in the league to only Andrew Luck.
Dealing with a more prolific passing attack just wasn't something McCoy dealt with last year. In 2013, he led the league with 314 rushing attempts. The next rusher who even came close to that was Matt Forte with 289 attempts. With nearly a 30 carry difference between him and the second-most prolific ball carrier, McCoy's numbers had a lot to do with how much he was relied upon with a young quarterback still emerging and a run-first offense under Kelly. While McCoy is still seeing a healthy amount of carries per game, he hasn't scratched those 30-carry efforts he had at times in 2013.
Offensive line woes
This is probably the biggest reason for McCoy's struggles. Center Jason Kelce and guard Evan Mathis will likely be out until at least Week 10, which has proven to be a huge detractor from the team's blocking efficiency. Currently, the offensive line consists of pro bowler Jason Peters at left tackle, undrafted free agent Matt Tobin at guard, former seventh-round pick David Molk at center, and veteran Todd Herremans (who was almost cut last offseason) at right guard. Rounding out the offensive line at the right tackle spot in Week 5 will be second-year tackle Lane Johnson back this week, who's playing his first game of the season coming off suspension.
At times, McCoy has looked to get the edge on several plays in the last two games but hasn't had much space to work with. It got so bad that at one point in his against San Francisco, he could be visibly seen talking to his offensive line on the sidelines in hopes of figuring out what the problem was. He was equally frustrated during this week's press conferences.
At 26 years old, there's no noticeable regression to McCoy's game in terms of his talent and there's no reason for those fantasy owners with McCoy on their team to bench him. He still looks like the same old joystick out there, especially considering he dropped weight in the offseason which has arguably made him even faster. His 3.75 yards per carry average in the first two games suggests he hasn't lost a step.
The Sproles factor
While offseason addition Darren Sproles has outshined McCoy so far this season in the form of big plays, he only has 18 total carries to McCoy's total of 70. McCoy was involved in 75 percent of the team's total snaps in Week 4 while Sproles was involved in just 27 percent. There's nothing to indicate Sproles has put a dent in McCoy's stats or will start to do so down the road, though he has made more out of the few attempts he's been given as evidenced by his 6.7 yards per carry average.
Is Week 5 the week McCoy breaks out?
The Philadelphia Eagles play the St. Louis Rams today, a matchup that heavily favors Philadelphia in several facets. The Rams haven't fared well against the run so far this season, as they rank 30th in rushing yards allowed per game with 155. They surrendered 100-plus yard games in each of their 3 games this season. One from Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, Vikings wide receiver Cordarralle Paterson and Tampa Bay Bucs backup Bobby Rainey.
A lot of the Rams' struggles on defense is due to their offense. Current starter Austin Davis hasn't favored too badly as his 93.3 quarterback rating is respectable, but he still hasn't moved the offense well. St. Louis ranks dead last in the NFL with 61 first downs, but despite their inability to move the ball down field, the Rams surprisingly rank in the top 10 for time of possession, averaging more than 32 minutes a game.
The Eagles offensive line should be slightly improved as well, with Johnson replacing Andrew Gardner at right tackle. Johnson's conditioning may not be quite there yet as he's yet to feel the effects of playing at game speed, but the 24-year old first round pick is a far superior option to Gardner, who has struggled at times to maintain his blocks.
Fantasy owners of McCoy should be green like the Hulk this week. The Eagles have a soft matchup, one of their starting lineman is back, McCoy is frustrated and wants a breakout game in the worst way. Barring some fluke injury, this is as good a chance as he will have all year for a great performance.
George and Scott break down two games and give fantasy value out on both sides of the ball for each one. First, Eagles vs. Redskins. Second, Packers vs. Lions. They also hand out their weekly awards and preview tonight's game between the Chicago Bears and New York Jets.
Stop traffic, the Philadelphia Eagles offense managed to not score in the first half, everybody panic. That was the general consensus after the first half of Philadelphia's Week 1 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars at home last Sunday, and it wasn't without good reason.
Dubbed as one of the most potent fantasy football offenses heading into this season, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles didn't exactly instill faith for the team's fantasy value in the first half. He looked hesitant, tried to force the ball to the now-healthy Jeremy Maclin too much, and when he didn't do that, he held the ball for too long, which was a trait that plagued him last season from time to time. Foles' inability to pull the trigger led to several blindside sacks which resulted in two lost fumbles. He was lucky enough his performance wasn't worse at times, as a few interceptions slipped through the hands of Jacksonville defenders.
After he posted a record quarterback rating last season, it was odd to see Foles perform in such a way to start the season. Other than his lackluster performance against the Dallas Cowboys in 2013 where he was suffering the after effects of a concussion, this was easily one of the most puzzling outings for Foles. This is his first full year as a starter, however, so he's not exactly a veteran at this point in his career.
But all wasn't bad. Foles later showed the hallmark trait a lot of successful quarterbacks possess — a short memory. He bounced back in the second half, hitting Zach Ertz on a seam route for a 25-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Ertz fantasy owners should get used to seeing that as Ertz ran that route several times during the game and Foles finally delivered the ball on the money.
Foles capped his performance off on a too-good-to-be-true wide open Jeremy Maclin in the fourth quarter for a 68-yard score. While that play looked to be a gift after the Jaguars blew their coverage, Foles weathered the storm and finished with a solid 322 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He finished with 18 total fantasy points, which isn't bad considering he had -3 fantasy points when you combine the fumbles after the first half.
Other general thoughts from the game
— Though LeSean McCoy was limited by his standards, he's still a human joystick out there and posed the threat to take the ball to the house on several plays. His 19-yard cut back run where he rushed to left before shifting gears and coming all the way back to the right showed he's just as explosive as last season. He carried the ball a healthy 21 times for 74 yards and zero touchdowns, which isn't a bad line considering he didn't feel like much of a factor in the actual game. His six catches for 41 yards also helped him grab a respectable fantasy score. The touchdowns will come, so owners shouldn't panic too much.
— Darren Sproles looked rejuvenated in an Eagles uniform and his 49-yard untouched touchdown served as the spark Philadelphia needed to crawl back into the game. It's worth noting that the result of that play had as much to do with Chip Kelly rushing the Eagles up to the line before Jacksonville got set as it did Sproles' running ability. It was good to see from Sproles, but he really benefited from the call and was almost dragged down before he reached the end zone. Not trying to discredit Sproles, just doubting the likelihood of that kind of play happening again this season.
Sproles' 11 carries weren't much, but he nearly matched McCoy in rushing yards with 71. He's still one of the all time great PPR fantasy receivers, as he caught four balls for 14 yards. Sproles was also a dynamic on special teams, averaging 15 yards per return. It's only one game, but if Sproles continues to play like this, the Eagles will be forced to keep him on the field. He's a worthy flex guy at this point in deep leagues in addition to PPR.
— Jordan Matthews' first catch as a rookie came on a 30-yard grab. He saw four targets and was open on a lot of them but Foles missed him a few times. As long as he can catch the ball consistently, there's no reason to believe this guy won't turn in the occasional 100-yard game, especially when teams focus on Maclin. He should only be owned in 14-team leagues however, as his inconsistency due to the volume of talent on Philly's offense will drive owners crazy.
— Riley Cooper doesn't make a lot of plays, but has a knack for making the spectacular catch. He nearly came down with a one-handed grab in traffic which would've went for huge yardage. His eight targets were second only to Maclin's 11, so he's still a focal point in the receiving game despite his limited speed. He's a WR3 in deep leagues until proven otherwise.
— Zach Ertz played fantastic with three catches for 77 yards and a touchdown. He's a TE1 going forward even though he only saw 4 targets.
Next week's matchup
The Eagles get an extra day's rest before they play a Colts team that surrendered 31 points to the Denver Broncos, including a 3-touchdown performance from tight end Julius Thomas. This could be a very fruitful matchup for Ertz.