From every corner of the fantasy football world, you can hear the anguished cries of LeSean McCoy owners. They likely spent no worse than the second overall pick on the star running back, but he has performed like anything but a guy coming off of a rushing title. Through four games this year, he has just 192 yards on 70 carries, the second-lowest total since 1975 for a running back with that many totes. Twenty-six running backs, including Mark Ingram, Antone Smith, Bobby Rainey, Isaiah Crowell and teammate Darren Sproles, have more fantasy points than McCoy to date. There are plenty of ways to say that it hasn’t been pretty for McCoy in 2014, but those are two of the best.
Needless to say, the hand wringing over McCoy has reached its white-knuckle apex. I host a chat every Monday over at the @SI_Fantasy twitter account, and this week’s edition was dominated by questions about the disappointing first-round pick. Some questions included the following:
“Do you think I should trade McCoy if I can get an average productive running back in return?”
“What has McCoy shown this year that warrants him being on my roster, much less starting?
The answers to those questions are, “No,” and, “Come on, really?” While McCoy is in the discussion for first-quarter LVP, he’s also too good and in too supportive an environment to not turn it around. McCoy is an otherworldly talent who is 26 years old, at the height of his powers, and at the center of one of the league’s very best offenses. Not only is he going to be fine this year, but his struggles have very little to do with him. Fantasy owners can lay the blame for McCoy’s underwhelming stats thus far this year at the feet of the five men, or, unfortunately, 10, who have made up the Philadelphia offensive line. But wherever the blame falls, the following remains true:
Fact: McCoy will start producing
After being a strength of the offense last year, the big guys up front for the Eagles simply have not been opening up any rushing lanes for McCoy. The first issue is continuity. The unit has been without Lane Johnson all season because of a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. His replacement, Allen Barbre, suffered a high-ankle sprain in the Eagles’ Week 1 win over the Jaguars, and hasn’t been on the field since. Pro Bowl left guard Evan Mathis sprained an MCL in that same game, and is expected to be out until November. Two weeks later, center Jason Kelce suffered a sports hernia that will cost him about two months. When McCoy ran for just 17 yards on 10 carries last week, he did so behind a line that featured regular starting right guard Todd Herremans at right tackle, backups Dennis Kelly and Matt Tobin at both guard spots, and backup center David Molk. The only starter in his natural position was left tackle Jason Peters.
McCoy’s lackluster performance makes a whole lot more sense when you take a deep breath and realize that he had such a patchwork in front of him. The effect of all the missing pieces has trickled all the way down to McCoy. We’ll get to the visuals a little later, but the stats paint a telling picture. McCoy is averaging just 1.1 yards before contact, the fourth-lowest total of any back with at least 40 carries. Only Eddie Lacy, Toby Gerhart and Donald Brown are getting fewer. All told, the Eagles have a negative run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus. The only linemen with positive individual grades are the injured Kelce and Barbre.
While McCoy is a speedster with some of the best moves in the league, he did his best running last year between the tackles, primarily behind Mathis, Kelce and Herremans. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry running over left guard (Mathis), 5.4 and 5.9 in the “A” gaps (to the left and right, respectively, of Kelce), and 5.5 yards running over right guard. This year, with Mathis and Kelce out and Herremans playing right tackle out of necessity, he hasn’t been able to get anything going as an inside runner, especially to the left. He’s averaging just 1.2 yards per carry over left guard and 3.9 in the “A” gap between left guard and center. Things are a bit better to the right, but, of course, Herremans was at his usual right guard spot until last week. He was forced to kick outside to tackle after Johnson’s backup Andrew Gardner earned a pass-blocking grade of -4.0 and run-blocking grade of -2.2 from Pro Football Focus in Week 3.
Let’s take a look at a few plays from last week’s loss to the 49ers. It first warrants mentioning that, after this game, San Francisco jumped to No. 4 in run defense by Pro Football Focus’ metrics. The play below is the Eagles’ first of the fourth quarter, and at the time, they trailed 23-21 with a 1st-and-10 at their own 20-yard-line. The Eagles were in a simple two-wide set with two tight ends and McCoy the lone back. Here’s the look at the snap.
This was a simple play for McCoy to run right behind the left guard. Remember, this is where he was his most effective last year, at least from a yards-per-carry standpoint. On this play, the 49ers got instant penetration and McCoy lost four yards. It went poorly from the word go, or whatever comes at the end of Nick Foles’ cadence.
I hit pause to take this screenshot as fast as I possibly could after Foles took the snap. In that incredibly short lapse, DeMarcus Dobbs has already pushed backup guard Matt Tobin three yards into the backfield, essentially right into McCoy’s face. He doesn’t even have the ball yet and he already has nowhere to go. Dobbs made short work of Tobin, shedding the sorry excuse for a block and wrapping up McCoy about a second or two later.
Yes, this is just one play, but it’s symptomatic of what has plagued McCoy all season long. Believe it or not, he didn’t forget how to run the football at age 26 after running for 1,607 yards last year. It is a little troubling that he hasn’t caught a pass in the last two games, but he did have 10 receptions the first two games of the year. Expect Foles to look in his direction more often as the Eagles look for ways to get McCoy involved while their line attempts to come together.
And there is reason for optimism with the line, as well. Lane Johnson is back in the team facility and will play this week after serving his four-game suspension. That allows Herremans to move back inside to guard. For the first time since Mathis went down with a knee injury in the first game of the year, the Eagles will have at least one side of their starting offensive line intact. Don’t be surprised to see the Eagles reap the benefits if and when they pound McCoy to the right on Sunday against the Rams.
It’s typical for fantasy owners to worry when their best player isn’t producing, but it would be foolish to sell on a guy who is rightly considered one of the most gifted running backs in the league. Everything is going to work out just fine for McCoy and his owners. Make sure you still count yourself among that legion come this Sunday.