Fantasy Football nuts around the world are gearing up for their fantasy league drafts. I have taken it upon myself to help determine which fantasy players will help win you the championship and which players you should leave behind for others. I plan on doing some extensive pre-draft articles to help myself and others determine the correct player to pick in some difficult fantasy decisions. Some owners already know where they will be selecting and others will find out the night of the draft. In either instance you will need to know which players represent the best value in case they slide down the board. Let’s start at the top.
Who do I pick first? For those new to Fantasy Football, the first question is really which position? The standard thought process for several years is to select a bell cow running back. This thought process is slightly antiquated due the the dominance of the Standard Scoring System in the 90’s and 2000’s. However, at least 50% of all leagues in 2013 were played with Points Per Reception (PPR) Scoring. Nearly all of the High Stakes Fantasy Football Championships utilize PPR: World Championship of Fantasy Football, Footballguys Players Championship, RosterDoc RotoBowl and National Fantasy Football Championship. I feel PPR leagues are the best way to equalize all the positions and to increase the difficulty of fantasy leagues. Therefore, this article will focus on PPR value at the top of fantasy drafts. So, does PPR change which position to select first? Nope. Some people may clamor for Peyton Manning or even Jimmy Graham, but that is just crazy talk. PPR Scoring and Manning’s record breaking season seem to suggest TE or QB may be valid options; however, this is counter balanced by the lack of true three down (feature) backs. Three down backs are more scarce now than ever before.
If we compare First Round Average Draft Position (ADP) in a 12 team leagues from 2013 to 2014, we see that 91% of 2013 players were running backs and currently only 50% of 2014’s are running backs. If you look at actual proven three down backs from 2013 (Peterson, Charles, Martin, Foster, Rice, Lynch, McCoy, Richardson, Morris and Forte) 10 of 11 were going to get majority of carries in their offense with Spiller being the only exception. In 2014, I would argue that only 5 of the 6 first round RBs (McCoy, Charles, Peterson, Forte and Lacy) are proven and will get the bulk of carries (excluding the unproven Montee Ball). People may suggest the WR/QB/TE just push these players into the second round; however that isn’t the case. In 2013, 17 of 24 (70%) picks were RBs and currently in 2014 only 11 of 24 (46%) RBs are being selected in the first two rounds. There is an increase in Running Back by Committee back fields across the NFL which is why, if able, you must take a three down back in the first round of your draft. Things get fuzzy at picks 5-7; however no one should skip over McCoy, Charles, Peterson or Forte for any reason.
Of the top four, I feel it is easy to separate McCoy and Charles from Peterson and Forte. This is mostly due to dynamic play-making, age, focal point of the offense and currently at peak performance of their careers. The consensus ADP data from Fantasy Football Calculator shows Charles and McCoy at the top of the list whether in standard or PPR formats. I intend on breaking down these two players and showing why one is superior to the other.
Both players had an outstanding 2013 which is why they are being selected so early. They were first (Charles 378) and third (McCoy 343) in Fantasy Points with Matt Forte in second at 344. McCoy lead the NFL in rushing yards at 1,607 yards while Charles finished 3rd with 1,287 yards. McCoy had 9 Rushing TDs while Charles piled up and impressive 12 TDs on the ground. Both players had at least 5.0 YPC last year. If we compare these rushing stats versus these players averages (*season stats only qualify if player played >8 games and >180 carries*), we can see some anomalies. First and foremost is the high number of rushing TDs for Charles. He averages only 7.25 rushing TDs which is nearly 5 less than last year. While McCoy had 9 TDs last year versus his average is 8.75. I feel this is the first piece of the puzzle of determining who to select first. McCoy will be more likely to produce 9 Rushing TDs versus Charles repeating his 12 Rushing TDs. As far as Rushing Yards, McCoy averages 1,209 yards, while Charles averages 1,346 yards. Which means Charles actually had less rushing yards versus his average in 2013 while McCoy had his best career rushing performance. According to these numbers alone, Charles rushing yardage will be superior to McCoy in a typical season.
Rushing: Edge McCoy
Another key factor in both of these running backs is their ability to catch passes. Both players do this exceptionally well as compared to their peers. Charles led the Chiefs in both targets (104) and receptions (70) last year. McCoy was third on his team with targets (65) and second with receptions (52). Charles added 7 more TDs via the air; while McCoy only added 2. Again if we compare these numbers versus their averages and see what we find. McCoy averages 58 catches per year and 2.5 TDs, which was very similar to his production in 2013. Charles averages 48 catches and 3 TDs. Again, I feel McCoy’s track record is much more likely to reproduce these reception numbers versus Charles. I am sure some people are wondering if I will account for the fact that Andy Reid was running the offense in KC last year which may reflect how Charles will be used this year and into the future. I plan on looking at Coaching, Roster Changes and trends next.
Receiving: Edge Charles
Andy Reid has been an important figure in both of these running backs’ careers. Reid was with McCoy for 4 of his 5 seasons in Philadelphia. He moved his dynamic pass-first offense to KC and Charles had his best Fantasy season ever. Reid loves the screen pass which helped Charles reach 70 catches and explode for 669 Yards After Catch (YAC) in 2013. Reid will likely employ the same offensive scheme with Charles as the focal point of his attack. Charles will follow in the footsteps of fantasy studs like Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy as RBs you want to own under Andy Reid. Charles accounted for an incredible 54% of total yardage gained in Kansas City in 2013.
McCoy had his own offensive genius at the helm for the 2013 Eagles. Chip Kelly proved that his fast-paced college offense was very effective in the NFL. For all the talk of fast-paced offense, the Eagles ran only the 12th most plays in 2013. They did score the 6th most points and were 2nd in yards per game. Kelly’s offense is built on speed and scheming plays to create space for skill players to get wide open and with room to make big plays. This offense was run through McCoy who gained 44% of the team’s total yardage; however it did spread the ball around much more to DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, Brent Celek and Zach Ertz. Kelly is one of the brightest minds in football and he should be able to continue to score points and gain yards in obscene amounts.
Roster changes may account for the biggest changes to these player’s production while projecting into 2014. The Eagles had some major changes: DeSean Jackson out and Darren Sproles in. DeSean Jackson was first in targets, receptions and receiving yards in 2013, which was why Chip Kelly’s decision to jettison him was such a surprise. But with Jackson out, only Sproles and rookie Jordan Matthews were brought in to help with the receiving attack. Sproles had his worst season as a pro last year. The Saints felt he was dispensable and he was traded for only a 4th round pick. He is 31 years old and even though Chip Kelly will utilize him, I highly doubt he will have the fantasy relevance he had in 2011-2013. Jeremy Maclin is back after injuring his ACL in 2013 and missing the entire season. Maclin will fit in with Riley Cooper and Jordan Matthews as serviceable WRs in this offense, but I doubt we see any of them really take the lead in receptions or targets like DeSean Jackson did in 2013. I believe Kelly will use these players as chess pieces and they will all prove to be capable.
The Eagles still have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and Nick Foles was the most efficient passer in the NFL last season. How does all this change impact McCoy? McCoy will be the focal point of the offense this year, the same as he was last year. He will be relied upon even more with Jackson’s departure and with a nameless group of receivers and tight ends. Zach Ertz, Matthews and Sproles will help account for the missing Jackson; but I feel McCoy will get even more looks in the passing and running game.
Roster changes in Kansas City were not as favorable as in Philly. KC was pillaged in free agency losing 3 of their starting offensive lineman (Branden Albert, Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah). The Chiefs went defense (Dee Ford) early in the 2014 NFL Draft and only made subtle changes on the offensive side with drafting offensive weapon De’Anthony Thomas. He will replace Dexter McCluster as a quick receiver and help out on special teams with little immediate impact on fantasy. The Chiefs will have efficient but uninspiring Alex Smith running the show. And running may be difficult with this suddenly seemingly porous offensive line. He will have Dwayne Bowe as his number one receiver; but sadly Smith only throws to him when he is wide open and Bowe has also lost a step. Bowe will likely bounce back some in 2014 and may represent a value at his 9th round ADP. I feel these changes to the offensive line will not be helpful to Mr. Charles. Charles will have to be even more dynamic to find holes this year. I feel Charles is up to the task, but that still means he doesn’t repeat what he did last year.
Roster Changes: Edge McCoy
So who do I take? LeSean McCoy is my guy. He represents a superstar with a stable offense which will lean on him more in 2014. Charles will still be my selection at #2, but not at #1. I love Charles and if he was in Philly I feel he would put up better numbers than McCoy, but the situation in KC is not as favorable for 2014.
*Photo Credit – Mr. Schultz via wiki commons.