As a fantasy football player, it's really easy to talk yourself out of nearly every player on your draft board. There's always a scheme change, a nagging injury, a new competitor or a news story that breaks that can cast doubt on an otherwise good fantasy prospect.
This couldn't be more true of players at the top of draft boards, who get all of the analysis and attention. A Google search for "LeSean McCoy fantasy football" returns 364,000 results, while a search for "DeAngelo Williams fantasy football" returns only 169,000, and "Bobby Rainey fantasy football" returns just 79,500.
People are talking about - and frankly overanalyzing - the top players in fantasy football, and it's leading to bad decisions in the first round of drafts. One concern that many players have is about LeSean McCoy's value with the addition of Darren Sproles. In fact, a quick Google of the two player's names along with "fantasy football" returns nearly as many results as there were for Bobby Rainey alone.
So what's the reality of the running back situation in Philadelphia, and is there reason to be concerned about McCoy moving forward? Let's take a look at some numbers and find out.
Coming and Going
Yes, the addition of Sproles brings competition to the backfield in Philadelphia, but there have also been three notable departures from the Philadelphia offense this summer. The following table shows the production and volume seen by those players last year.
|Name||Rushes||Rush NEP||Receptions||REC NEP||Targets|
|Jason Avant|| ||0.00||38||34.44||76|
There are 215 targets and 78 rushing attempts from last year that remain unclaimed in Philadelphia, and a majority of them are left behind from a player who posted some of the more impressive Net Expected Points numbers in the entire league. DeSean Jackson finished 13th in the NFL in Reception NEP, and those are some big shoes to fill for the 2014 Eagles' skill position players.
And that means it's unlikely that any one player does the whole job alone. A returning-to-health Jeremy Maclin figures to take his fair share of Jackson and Avant's targets, with the rest going to Jordan Matthews as far as receivers are concerned. But Darren Sproles, who has always been among the most highly-targeted running backs, will also chip in and take some of these leftover targets.
Role Players Will Be Role Players
That's because Sproles will be on the field in place of Bryce Brown, who leaves behind a manageable 75 carries, a total on par with what Sproles has seen over the course of his career. The diminutive and aging Sproles was never going to sign on with Philadelphia and take 150-200 carries, so we can already see that McCoy's rushing numbers are safe, as Sproles may not even take all of Bryce Brown's rushing attempts, and may split them with other backs.
But when Sproles lines up at running back in place of McCoy, something Bryce Brown did quite a few times last year, he'll naturally be involved in the passing game, just like he has been at every stop in his NFL career. And he'll do a better job in that role than anyone the Eagles used last year to fill in for McCoy.
Bryce Brown's 2013 season, his best in his short two-year career, is worse than all but one of Darren Sproles' six seasons as a regularly featured back for the Chargers and Saints from a rushing perspective, and his 21 career catches pale in comparison to the consistent receiving production of Sproles. When Darren Sproles takes the field instead of Bryce Brown in 2014, the Eagles will be a better team because of it.
But being better than Bryce Brown doesn't mean Sproles impacts LeSean McCoy's value at all.
Don't Overthink It
Darren Sproles has never carried the ball more than 93 times in his career, a figure he will certainly not eclipse in the twilight of his career behind a workhorse like McCoy. But I doubt anyone was concerned that Sproles was going to take away from McCoy as a runner.
The concerns largely come from McCoy's role as a receiver, and how Sproles impacts that aspect of the Philadelphia offense. There are two factors working against Sproles in this instance.
The first is that McCoy posted better numbers as a receiver last season. Among backs with 50 or more targets last year, Sproles finished fifth in Reception NEP, but was 12th in per-target NEP and 10th in Success Rate (a measure of how often his receptions resulted in positive NEP for his team). McCoy didn't see the same volume as Sproles (he played in a more run-heavy offense), but posted better per-target numbers and a better Success Rate as a receiver.
Also, McCoy is the most proven component of the Chip Kelly offense returning to Philadelphia this season. He had the most catches and the second-most targets of any player staying in Philly this offseason, and he'll be poised to continue his role as the star of the offense as a constant threat in both the running and passing games.
Darren Sproles will play for the Eagles - and he'll produce - but that doesn't mean LeSean McCoy's role will be impacted at all. McCoy is the better player in all aspects of the game, and is one of a handful of returning players who has experience under Chip Kelly.
That means his role is secure. He's the leading running back for the best rushing offense in the NFL in 2013, with everything still in place to repeat that performance in 2014. Darren Sproles is just an upgrade to the backup running back position, which makes the Eagles a better team, but doesn't make McCoy a worse fantasy option.