Without sounding too philosophical, football is a lot like life. Players have good years and bad years. Some years they seem more motivated and focused while in others they're more tranquil and distracted. Sometimes they try different approaches to the game with hopes of enhancing their abilities. Eddie Lacy doing P90X workouts in the offseason to drop weight is an example of that.
At the NFL level, even the slightest of changes to your attitude, approach to the game and overall situation can make a big difference. Identifying these changes can help you identify a value candidate in your fantasy draft.
Take the 2016 version of Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy for example. Hailed as one of the better fantasy running backs in the league during his time as a Philadelphia Eagle from 2009-2014, McCoy was a great example of how a running back can get off track due to new circumstances only to rebound in 2016.
Where he was in 2015
After getting traded to the Bills in 2015, McCoy was clearly upset about departing Philadelphia. He'd grown up in the Harrisburg, Pa. after all, a place not too far from the city of Brotherly Love.
Though the shift seemed to bother him mentally, Buffalo was another good opportunity for McCoy to produce. The Bills were expected to be one of the most run heavy teams in 2015 under new coach Rex Ryan, which they did in fact end up being. McCoy had been successful as a workhorse back before when he won the rushing title in 2013 after carrying the ball over 300 times in Chip Kelly's high-volume offense.
But despite a great situation in Buffalo, there were some reasons to steer clear of McCoy in 2015.
Cause for concern No. 1: Lack of focus
We've seen star players underperform in Buffalo before. In 2007, then-rookie Marshawn Lynch rushed for over 1,115 yards but regressed each season in Buffalo until he got traded in 2010. Losing franchises can have a detrimental effect on a running back's fantasy value.
McCoy didn't seem to. He partied in Las Vegas during the summer of 2015 and while it's easy to read into a player's behavior a bit too much, it does make you wonder if his focus was ideal at the time.
Cause for concern No. 2: Committee of backs sniping touchdowns
After acquiring McCoy, the Bills went ahead and drafted Karlos Williams in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. This move alone had a poor effect on McCoy's fantasy value. McCoy ended up seeing just 26 carries inside the red zone compared to Williams 14 and Williams made the most of his goal line work, scoring 7 touchdowns to McCoy's 3.
McCoy saw just 203 carries in 2015 and finished under 1,000 yards for the first time since his injury-plagued 2012 season. He eventually tore his MCL in Week 15 and play in just 12 games.
Cause for concern No. 3: Injury woes
McCoy tore his MCL in Week 15 of the 2015 season and only played in 12 games overall. He also battled hamstring injuries in preseason and has had a history of dealing with lower-body injuries throughout his career. Still, he remained productive with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage that year.
The result of all concerns was a good but not great season for McCoy. He finished as an RB17 overall in a down year for running backs. To illustrate, there were only two running backs with over 200 fantasy points in 2015. In 2016, there were 7. But McCoy still produced strong numbers given his health that season.
Where he was in 2016
McCoy got off to a better start in 2016. He was involved in a nightclub incident which turned out to be less of a distraction than it could've been considering the charges were dropped before the preseason. McCoy had also dropped his weight to 210 lbs in the offseason to help with his explosiveness.
Cause for success No. 1: Karlos Williams shows up out of shape
The running back responsible for taking away McCoy's touchdown value in 2015 turned into camp at 250 lbs, well over his listed weight of 230. The Bills cut him shortly after which shot up McCoy's value as the team's potential goal line back.
The only back who really posed a threat to McCoy's touchdown value in 2016 was Mike Gillislee, who did manage eight scores on the year. Still, it didn't end up hurting McCoy's value all that much because of the next paragraph.
Cause for success No. 2: A better offense
The Bills had begun to find an offensive identity under quarterback Tyrod Taylor. They averaged 24.9 points per game in 2016, good for 10th overall. More scoring means more red zone opportunities and McCoy's 26 red zone attempts were a tremendous improvement from his 26 attempts in 2015. If the Bills could ever get a healthy Sammy Watkins for a full season, there's reason to believe their offense could be even more effective in 2017.
Cause for success No. 3: Hybrid potential
McCoy's enhanced role in the offense combined with Taylor's tendency to check down to running backs led to 50 receptions for McCoy, which were his most since 2013. His 350+ receiving yards alone added 35 points to his fantasy value in standard leagues and his PPR value was also among the best for running backs.
Overall, When it comes to identifying running backs, a combination of high volume, targets and goal line touches are the recipe when it comes to opportunity. When it comes to talent, you should look at the players production from a season ago, age, health and overall mental state.