Should We Be Betting On a LeSean McCoy Rebound?

Last season LeSean McCoy finished as the 12th overall running back in PPR formats after being a consensus top three pick. This year McCoy is being drafted as the RB10. Drafters are betting on McCoy to rebound, but should they?

Opportunity rules over all else at the RB position. McCoy seems bound to get a lot of touches in Buffalo. But his opportunity almost certainly won’t be better than it was in the year he just finished as the RB12.

McCoy had 314 rushing attempts last season, second most in the NFL. A lot of people expect him to see 300 or more rushing attempts in 2015 as well. Here’s how RBs with 300 or more rushes have ranked in fantasy over the last four seasons:

RB Season Rushes Finish
DeMarco Murray 2014 392 2
LeSean McCoy 2014 312 12
LeSean McCoy 2013 314 3
Marshawn Lynch 2013 301 5
Adrian Peterson 2012 348 1
Alfred Morris 2012 335 7
Marshawn Lynch 2012 315 5
Doug Martin 2012 319 2
Arian Foster 2012 351 3
Maurice Jones-Drew 2011 343 4
Michael Turner 2011 301 8

Every single one was a fantasy RB1. But the worst performer by a significant margin was McCoy in 2014. Still, if you could guarantee me McCoy would get 300 or more rushes I would gladly draft him at his current price. The problem with that is that we only have him projected for 267 rushes. And as you can see, only 11 RBs have had 300 or more attempts in a season over the last four seasons, an average of less than three per season. The chances of any one RB rushing for over 300 carries in a given season aren’t great. McCoy might have better odds because he’s done it the last two seasons, but he never had more than 300 rushing attempts prior to Chip Kelly’s arrival and Frank Gore never had 300 attempts under new Buffalo offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

You might think that because McCoy only had five rushing touchdowns last season, he wasn’t getting opportunities at the goal line. But McCoy actually led the NFL in red zone rushing attempts last season. Maybe his low TD total was fluky in light of that fact. But maybe not, as he has never been particularly good in the red zone. Regardless, he almost certainly won’t get as much red zone opportunity as he did in 2014 in 2015.

Another way his opportunity may suffer is that the Bills will likely win fewer games than the 2014 Eagles, who went 10-6. RBs simply score more points on average when their team wins. The 2015 Bills are projected to win 8.5 games according to Sportsbook. That’s not a huge decrease but I worry that it might be overly optimistic. The Bills figure to start some mixture of Matt CasselTyrod Taylor, and EJ Manuel at quarterback this season. I’m not going to venture to project a specific win total, but I don’t think it’s hard to see their whole season going sideways with that QB group.

The one way I could really see McCoy’s opportunity improving is in the receiving game. McCoy only had 39 targets and 30 receptions last season. The problem with that is Greg Roman is now McCoy’s offensive coordinator. Before Roman arrived in San Francisco, Frank Gore averaged 65 targets and 45 receptions per season. After Roman’s arrival those averages dropped to 28.25 targets and 18 receptions. There’s been talk of Buffalo using McCoy more in the receiving game than Roman used Gore in the past, but I tend to err on the side of actions speaking louder than words when it comes to coaching.

To be clear, I don’t find it hard to tell myself a story where McCoy ends up being a huge value at his current ADP. Buffalo could win 10 or more games because it turns out Tyrod Taylor is the next Colin Kaepernick, McCoy gets more than 300 rushes, and they follow through and really do get him more involved in the receiving game. I just don’t necessarily think that’s a likely outcome.

It’s also possible that McCoy could be significantly more efficient in 2015 than in 2014. But I find projecting efficiency to be much more difficult than projecting opportunity for RBs. I also don’t think it’s wise to bet on a RB significantly improving his efficiency if you have to spend one of your first two picks to do so.

Our RB Similarity Score App has no idea about McCoy moving from Philadelphia to Buffalo, and gives a situation agnostic projection based off of last year’s performance. It gives McCoy a median PPR projection of 11.9 fantasy points per game. Over a full season, that would have been RB16 last season, worse than McCoy’s actual 2014 finish and his current ADP. That’s not projecting a rebound, it’s projecting McCoy to sink even further. And if his situation actually does turn out to be significantly worse this season… well, then I don’t have a hard time telling myself a story where McCoy sinks your draft if you take him in the second round.