Fantasy Football: Is LeSean McCoy a Premier Buy-Low Candidate?

If you currently have Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy on your roster in fantasy football, chances are you spent a first-round pick on the five-time Pro Bowler. On the heels of a scintillating season that saw him accumulate 1,623 total yards and 14 touchdowns in only 15 games, drafters felt confident enough to invest heavily in the former Pitt Panther with the expectation he would produce similar results.

It was hard to argue with such logic. After all, the offseason departures of top Bills' wideouts Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods made it even more likely that McCoy would remain the focal point of the offense, and the team's new coaching staff did nothing to dispel this notion.

Indeed, it looked like another big year was in order for McCoy, but as the Bills head into their Week 6 bye, his early-season production hasn't met his usual standards.

What's going on? Let's take a look.

The Numbers

Through the first five weeks of 2017, the return on this first-round investment has been somewhat underwhelming. Currently, McCoy has accumulated 87 carries for 279 rushing yards (14th in the league), and the 3.2 yards per carry he has averaged (39th among qualifiers) is a considerable step down from his 2016 yards per carry of 5.4.

While he's been highly productive as a receiver, with 27 catches for 189 yards, he's yet to find the end zone, despite doing so 14 times a season ago.

Don't misunderstand: this isn't all MCoy's fault, but he simply hasn't been able to get much going on the ground in 2017. As such, he currently finds himself as the RB16 in standard leagues, although his pass-catching prowess has propelled him to RB9 in points per reception (PPR) formats.

At his current rate of production, McCoy finds himself on pace for 892.8 rushing yards, 604.8 receiving yards, and 0 touchdowns. While his 1,497.6 total yards wouldn't represent an enormous step back from 2016, his inability to find running room and score touchdowns has been incredibly frustrating.

An already disappointing season reached its nadir when he was credited with three drops and received Pro Football Focus' lowest running back grade of Week 5 during a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. In the aftermath of that less-than-impressive showing, McCoy has now been held under 100 yards rushing in four straight games for the first time during his tenure as a member of the the Bills.

This lack of efficiency has been reflected in his poor Net Expected Points (NEP) totals. NEP is our in-house metric that employs historical down-and-distance data to determine what is expected of a player on a per play basis. Positive NEP is earned when a player performs above expectation, and negative NEP is indicative of sub-standard performance. You can learn more about NEP in our glossary.

To this point, McCoy's Rushing NEP per play of -0.14 ranks 47th among runners who have received 20-plus carries, and his 35.63% Rushing Success Rate -- the percentage of his carries that result in a positive NEP gain -- ranks 39th in the same group. To put that in perspective, in 2016, McCoy's Rushing NEP per play was 0.16 (second-best among backs with at least 50 carries), while 45.73% of his rushes were classified as successful.

Make no mistake about it. McCoy's production has plummeted.

The Reasons

So what gives? Is McCoy suddenly an inefficient plodder? Of course not. Actually, he doesn't look a whole lot different than the elite producer he was in 2016, per Pro Football Focus' grading system. In fact, prior to that horrific showing in Week 5, he was Pro Football Focus' fourth-highest graded runner this season.

Things simply haven't gone his way statistically in 2017, and there are numerous reasons as to why. For starters, the offense as a whole, is struggling. Through five games, the Bills' offense ranks second-worst in the NFL and is averaging only 271.6 yards per contest. That's going to limit McCoy's touchdown upside.

There have been issues along the line. The passing game has struggled without Watkins and Woods. New addition Jordan Matthews and tight end Charles Clay have been banged up. Promising rookie wideout Zay Jones doesn't appear ready to make a meaningful impact. As a result, the Bills have become predictable and one-dimensional, with defenses being able to key in on the run.

Perhaps most relevant to McCoy's individual struggles is the fact that his early season schedule has been brutal. After a 110-rushing yard performance against the New York Jets' 30th-ranked run defense on opening weekend, McCoy has faced four top-15 units in the ensuing contests.

The fact that he's struggled mightily against the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons, and the Bengals isn't necessarily a shocker when you look at what these teams have accomplished to this point in 2017.

Defense Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game Rank
New York Jets 143.0 30th
Carolina 79.8 6th
Denver 50.8 1st
Atlanta 93.0 11th
Cincinnati 103.2 15th

Predictably, McCoy was contained by the Panthers and Broncos (30 combined rushing yards), but he was slightly more productive against the Falcons and Bengals (139 combined rushing yards).

Essentially, so far, he's performing to the level of his matchups, playing high-caliber football against weaker opponents while stumbling against the better ones. The fact that the majority of these matchups have been daunting is outside of his control.

Things Are About to Change

So what does the rest of the schedule look like for the ninth-year pro?

Short answer: much, much better.

While things won't get any easier when the Bills come off the bye week and play host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their eighth-ranked run defense in Week 7, McCoy's outlook improves considerably after that. In fact, over the Bills' final 10 games, McCoy faces a top-15 run defense just twice more (both times against the Miami Dolphins). Check it out:

Week Opponent Rushing Yards Allowed Per GameRank
7 Tampa Bay 87.3 8th
8 Oakland 124.6 25th
9 New York Jets 143.0 30th
10 New Orleans 109.5 17th
11 Los Angeles Chargers 161.2 32nd
12 Kansas City 118.0 t-20th
13 New England 124.2 24th
14 Indianapolis 103.4 16th
15 Miami 75.5 4th
16 New England 124.2 24th
17 Miami 75.5 4th

As you can see, there are some tasty matchups after Week 7. Also, note the fact that unless your league championship takes place in Week 17 (don't do that to yourself), you'll avoid the second showdown with the Dolphins. McCoy will enjoy (hey, that rhymes) a mouth-watering six games against bottom-12 run defenses over the final 10 weeks of the season, and that makes his second half all the more tantalizing.

And don't get too bogged down by his lack of end zone trips. McCoy's workload has been robust, even during his slump, and that doesn't figure to change going forward. According to Player Profiler, McCoy is receiving a 72.1% opportunity share (sixth in the league), and he has accumulated 14 red zone touches (11th in the league) over the first five contests. The lack of touchdowns mostly comes down to some plain old bad luck.

In Conclusion

If his current market share holds up, he should be able to exploit these softer matchups as the season wears on, and the touchdowns will likely come. Double-digit touchdowns seems like an unlikely proposition at this point, but McCoy should hit pay dirt plenty before the season is over.

If you invested heavily in McCoy stock this year, that gambit could be rewarded in short order. Conversely, if the McCoy owner in your league is getting frustrated, McCoy represents an excellent buy-low candidate at his current depressed value. Take advantage of the situation now, because the buy-low window could slam shut once he plays in Week 8.