Should You Draft DeMarco Murray or LeSean McCoy in Fantasy Football This Year?

Murray and McCoy were part of major offseason trade theatrics. Who will prove dominant fantasy-wise in their new environments?

The spring of 2015 carried with it one of the more dramatic NFL offseasons in recent memory. 

One of the first moves made in March was Chip Kelly’s decision to send 2013 rushing title champion, Lesean McCoy, and the remainder of his contract, to the Buffalo Bills. Kelly was subsequently shunned by Frank Gore, leading Eagles fans to question Kelly's sanity.

Soon after, Kelly took advantage of the cap situation in Dallas that forced the Cowboys to choose between Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray to pry Murray, the 2014 rushing title champion, from Jerry Jones’s clutches.

Considering the dramatics behind these mad scientist maneuverings, fantasy footballers are curious as to which back can produce more in 2015 given their new situations. Let's take a look at the respective cases for both Murray and McCoy.

The Case for DeMarco Murray

DeMarco Murray was a second-round godsend to many fantasy football champions last season. But Murray drafters are strangely being able to acquire him in the second round again this season. Why?

This fantasy trepidation rests on two primary concerns. The first is that Murray is moving on to the Philadelphia Eagles who also signed another capable back in  Ryan Mathews. The second is that some worry Murray carried the rock way too many times last year and he’s due for a sudden and steep decline because of this.

Use this fear to your advantage on draft day.

Murray enters an offense that was by-far the fastest-paced in the NFL. According to  Football Outsiders, The Eagles ran a play every 22.2 seconds in 2014. The next closest team? The Patriots at a grandmotherly pace of one play per 26.6 seconds. For reference, the Cowboys were the slowest team in the NFL by this metric last season (one play every 32.83 seconds).

The Eagles’ pace of play allowed McCoy to rack up the league’s second highest total in carries in 2014 with 314 despite 58% of the team's play calls consisting of passing. And there’s reason to believe Kelly would want to balance out the run/pass division of labor. Why? Because in Murray he got a consistently productive back in terms of real football.

numberFire’s primary measure for determining on-field effectiveness is Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP quantifies seasonal and per-play effectiveness by measuring a player’s contribution above-or-under expectation based on in-game situations and a host of football variables. To learn more about NEP you can visit our  glossary.

DeMarco Murray NEP Production:

Year Name Rushes Rushing NEP Rushing NEP per Rush
2011 DeMarco Murray 164 15.96 0.10
2012 DeMarco Murray 162 -7.7 -0.05
2013 DeMarco Murray 217 21.42 0.10
2014 DeMarco Murray 392 10.48 0.03

LeSean McCoy NEP Production:

Year Name Rushes Rushing NEP Rushing NEP Per Rush
2009 LeSean McCoy 153 -11.53 -0.08
2010 LeSean McCoy 208 21.54 0.10
2011 LeSean McCoy 273 25.71 0.09
2012 LeSean McCoy 200 -14.73 -0.07
2013 LeSean McCoy 314 37.12 0.12
2014 LeSean McCoy 314 -5.95 -0.02

As you can see, on a per rush basis, Murray has contributed positively to his team’s point production in three out of his four years in the league. This is a bigger deal than you might think. The league’s average for running backs usually stands right at around -0.02 NEP per rush. Why? Because pounding the ball through defensive lineman by nature is less efficient than throwing the ball through the air.

You’ll notice that Murray’s per touch effectiveness, however, was slightly lower in 2014 than his other two positively contributory seasons. That’s largely because he fumbled the ball five times, which I wouldn’t bank on being repeatable.

McCoy’s career production has been much more up-or-down; at times hyper-efficient, and at times, at or below league average. With a quarterback situation in Buffalo being, putting it nicely, a dumpster fire, there’s reason to believe that McCoy could be facing eight men stacking the box on the regular.

Finally, the worry about Murray’s overuse last season may be overstated. Our own Joe Juan did an excellent study on running back longevity and the likelihood of an  1,800-carry cliff, where running back production drops significantly. To date, Murray’s registered barely half that total at 935 carries, whereas McCoy has logged 1,462. So even though Murray was worked hard last season, he’s still got much more tread on the tires in terms of remaining career longevity.

For these reasons, taking advantage of Murray’s second round ADP over McCoy’s could be a league-winning decision once again in 2015.

The Case for LeSean McCoy

The case for LeSean McCoy clearly begins with the game philosophy of new head coach, Rex Ryan, and new offensive coordinator, Greg Roman.

Coach Period Measured Pass-to-Run Ratio
Chip Kelly 2013-14 Eagles 1.24
Rex Ryan 2009-14 Jets 1.03
Greg Roman 2011-14 49ers 1.00

First things first, if ever there were a match made in heaven in offensive philosophies, Rex Ryan found it in Greg Roman. And that bodes well for McCoy and his opportunities for carries in 2015. And even though one of the primary arguments in favor of Murray over McCoy is that Murray enters an extremely fast pace-of-play system, the differences between Kelly and Ryan/Roman’s approach historically are stark.

The signing of Ryan Mathews clouds that certainty for Murray in Philadelphia, as Kelly didn’t have access to nearly as capable a backup as Mathews when McCoy was under his wings. In other words, it's possible Kelly may be thinking of using Mathews enough as a way to keep Murray for the full five years he signed him for. With McCoy, that worry doesn't exist.

Selecting McCoy can come with a certain degree of balancing risk and reward. But if your goal is to secure upside in early rounds, McCoy has that for days and then some. Using NEP as our guide, I tallied up all of the seasons  in which a running back received 200 or more touches since 2009. In terms of per rush efficiency, McCoy has three of the top-12 seasons, only one of which (2010) DeMarco Murray wasn’t yet in the league.

Year Full Name Rushes Rushing NEP Rushing NEP per Rush
2010 Jamaal Charles 232 44.88 0.19
2010 BenJarvus Green-Ellis 229 33.08 0.14
2012 C.J. Spiller 207 25.45 0.12
2013 LeSean McCoy 314 37.12 0.12
2014 Jamaal Charles 205 22.1 0.11
2009 Jonathan Stewart 221 23.34 0.11
2012 Adrian Peterson 348 36.31 0.10
2010 LeSean McCoy 208 21.54 0.10
2013 DeMarco Murray 217 21.42 0.10
2014 Marshawn Lynch 280 27.34 0.10
2014 Justin Forsett 234 22.67 0.10
2011 LeSean McCoy 273 25.71 0.09

And finally, while I try not to put too much weight into injury history which can be fluky and random, there's something to be said for McCoy’s durability. In his six-year career, McCoy has only missed six games, two of which were Week 17 contests when the Eagles were already eliminated from playoff contention. Murray has missed 11 games in a shorter four-year career, none of which came due to a healthy scratch on Week 17. If you’re the type to put a premium on injury history, then McCoy will probably make you breathe easier come draft day.

numberFire Projections

Name Rushes Rush Yards Rush TDs Receptions Rec. Yards Rec. TD's Fantasy Points
DeMarco Murray 278.71 1247.98 8.87 45.40 312.29 1.17 213.80
LeSean McCoy 316.36 1361.40 6.94 43.69 281.41 0.81 208.32

We currently project Murray to win this fantasy battle, but not by much. A sensible case could be made for McCoy or Murray in the second round, as they both exhibit first-round potential. With a mere five-point projected difference in standard leagues, each of these two talented backs have strong cases to be made on their behalves.