Fantasy Football

2015 Fantasy Football: LeSean McCoy or DeMarco Murray?

A pair of projected top 10 running backs will have their results tied together this season whether they like it or not. LeSean McCoy and Demarco Murray will be measured against each other in 2015 for numerous reasons. The measurement will happen in Philadelphia for sure, but also in any place that the Eagles’ decisions, namely Chip Kelly’s decisions, are being called into question.

When the Eagles traded away the best running back in franchise history, they also traded away a dynamic playmaker and a fan favorite. They did pretty well with his replacement considering Murray was the league’s leading rusher last season.

The question here is this: who should fantasy owners look to draft first in 2015?

Last season going into our drafts everybody wanted McCoy. He was without a doubt one of the first players off the board after having a ridiculous 2013 season in Kelly’s system. His 2014 results were disappointing.

Meanwhile, Murray had an average draft position of 18, meaning that some owners got a tremendous bargain.
Both players would appear to be very solid RB1 options come draft time this year if you miss out on any of the top options. But let’s take a closer look at the variables that will affect both players.

The Coaches

While their personalities couldn’t be more different, both Chip Kelly and Rex Ryan do have at least one thing in common. It’s not the reported tattoo of Mark Sanchez that Rex has, it’s that they like to run the ball. A lot!
Taking a look at last year’s team stats. The Jets (Ryan’s old team) finished 4th in the NFL in rushing attempts, yards and yards per game. The Eagles finished 7th in attempts and 9th in yards and yards per game.

Now Ryan moves to Buffalo where the Bills ranked in the bottom half of the league in all three categories. The addition of Greg Roman in Buffalo as the offensive coordinator can’t be understated. In his four years as OC in San Francisco from 2011-2014, his teams finished 3rd, 7th, 3rd and 9th in rushing attempts and 8th, 4th, 3rd and 4th in rushing yards. McCoy could see a significant increase over last year’s workload.

Offensive Lines

This is where things change significantly in how to view of both of these players.

The Eagles in all of their offseason changes lost their two starting Guards. One, Pro Bowler Evan Mathis, was released due to a contract dispute. They also lost the very solid Todd Herremans when they cut him in February.
The Eagles offensive line didn’t have the greatest season in 2014, regardless of what the stats say. Injuries, a suspension and sometimes inconsistent play really hampered a group that was one of the league’s best in 2013. They did rebound towards the end of the season, but overall they were a disappointment. Now they have to go about replacing both starters at guard.

This is not as significant a problem as I originally thought. I spoke with two colleagues. One played defensive tackle in the NFL. The other played center collegiately. Both insisted that finding replacements for their guards shouldn’t be an issue considering what they already have in place.

One pointed out that guard is the least important position along the offensive line. Left Tackle, Center and Right Tackle were all ranked in his mind ahead of both Guard spots. The Eagles return a Pro Bowl Left Tackle, a Pro Bowl Center and a Right Tackle that was a first round pick.

The other pointed out that Murray’s running style itself will help cover some of the warts that may present themselves with the guards, because he’ll hit the hole faster than McCoy. Murray’s decisive running will allow less time for defensive players to get set, thus taking some of the pressure off the guards.

Buffalo’s offensive line last year was a dumpster fire. Right off the bat when Ryan came in it was clear the line needed to be addressed for his and Roman’s plans to work on offense. Things are much more unsettled as up to 60% of Buffalo’s line could be brand new on opening day.

The addition of Richie Incognito could help, and there is some talent along the line that could improve its overall play. This issue comes back to McCoy himself.

In the 2013 and 2014 seasons McCoy ran for no gain or negative yards on 19.9% of his carries. He isn’t a “hit the hole hard” kind of back. He’ll dance, he’ll try to make guys miss and occasionally he’ll hit the home run. It’s the reason he’s fun to watch. He’s one of the best open field players I’ve ever seen. Behind a bad offensive line, there could be trouble ahead for McCoy.

Competition

There is no competition for McCoy in Buffalo. He’s their guy. God bless Fred Jackson and his 34 year old body. He’s the oldest running back in the NFL and the party has to come to an end at some point. McCoy’s job and carries are about as safe as any situation in the league.

Murray will share the ball. This is by design in the Kelly system. Sproles will almost certainly catch the most passes out of the backfield and get the occasional chance to run. Matthews has looked great so far at camp for the Eagles and is drawing rave reviews. He’s big, he’s fast, and he will take some carries away from Murray as the season wears on. If there are any injuries to Murray in season, Matthews will pick up the bulk of the work.

Murray has absolutely no shot of repeating the insane amount of touches (449) he got in Dallas last season due to the presence of Darren Sproles and Ryan Matthews. However, he will be the primary option and get all the carries he can handle. My personal opinion is that his workload will very much resemble that of McCoy’s in 2014. McCoy had 340 touches last season, so if you do the math I expect Murray to get close to 100 less touches than last year. You can’t expect a repeat of his 2014 numbers.

Supporting Cast

At Eagles camp, Sam Bradford called this Eagles team the deepest in terms of talent that he’s ever been on. Now he was on some dogs in St. Louis, but the point he was trying to make is true. The Eagles have talent everywhere on offense. They have multiple running backs that can give you different looks in multiple sets. They have two young talented wide receivers and a few crafty veterans on the outside. They have a tight end with a ton of upside and another that always makes the tough catch. This team can and will spread it around. You just can’t sit on the run, which in turn means good things for everyone in the Eagles backfield.

In Buffalo there is no shortage of talent on offense. In fact if you were to compare both rosters, Sammy Watkins may be the most talented offensive player on either team. The additions of Charles Clay and Percy Harvin with Robert Woods already in the fold should help improve the Bill’s offensive output, but they have nowhere near the overall talent in Philly.

One main problem for both teams is it all comes back to quarterback.

Let’s play a game, I’m going to list a few quarterbacks and you tell me who you would want to be your starter. Here’s the list: Matt Cassel, E.J. Manuel, Tryod Taylor, Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow. That list will give anyone pause. What makes it uglier for Buffalo fans is that I could make the argument that Cassel or Manuel would be no better than Tim Tebow. I’m not saying I’d win the argumen, just that it could be made.

Buffalo has to figure out who it’s going to be under center. Can Manuel earn the starting nod? Will Cassel win the job by default? Will Ryan surprise everyone and go with Taylor? Will any of the three be enough to keep defenses honest and not stacking the line? My belief is no. Philadelphia has proven it can win games with Sanchez and Sam Bradford could end up being a significant improvement for the Eagles.

Mileage

Shockingly both these guys are the same age with Murray being just a few months older. However it’s McCoy that’s done most of the heavy lifting in his career playing two more seasons in the NFL than Murray.

Murray has played in 53 games, carried the ball 934 times and caught 171 passes. Combined that’s 1105 touches running/receiving at the pro level. The problem for Murray is that as discussed earlier 449 of those touches came last season. You will hear people talk about the “Curse of 370” with Murray, and it’s a legitimate concern.

McCoy has played in 90 games, carrying the ball 1461 times and catching 300 passes. That’s 1761 touches in the NFL, 656 more than Murray. The Eagles cut bait for a reason with McCoy. You could get another great year or two out of him for sure. The mileage will catch up to him sooner rather than later.

Conclusion

To me it’s a risk/reward situation when making the choice between the two backs. Both, if healthy, should perform in the top 10 of RB’s this season.

I believe the supporting cast of the Eagles will be enough to make Murray the safer pick of the two. The reason he’s such an attractive pick is because he has a very predictable set of touches on a better team. I feel even with Matthews, Sproles and the rest of the bunch that he will still be a lock for at least the types of touches and numbers McCoy put up last year or better. By my rankings McCoy finished 12th among RB’s last season. Murray should improve on that.

Murray should go as high as the 5th RB off the board.

McCoy will get the ball as much as he can physically stand. Ryan is going to give him the ball, throw him the ball, he’d probably prefer to just snap him the ball. I feel like he could see his touches increase to the 375 to 400 range. Here’s where the “ifs” come in. If they get good line play, if they get good QB play, if he stays healthy, that’s a lot of ifs.

Let’s say though for argument’s sake, all those things happen. There is one more factor you can’t deny. Shady is mad. He’s upset, and I have absolutely no doubt every time he touches the ball he’ll be carrying along a major chip on his shoulder.

To me, McCoy has the upside to surpass Murray across the board, especially in catches. However due to the risks I just can’t bring myself to take him higher than the 7th RB drafted. He has the opportunity to have a monster season, but Buffalo is just so unsettled on offense.

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