It's time to put LeSean McCoy at the top of your fantasy draft lists. All the questions about McCoy coming into the 2013 season are valid—new coach and offense, quarterback uncertainty, depth at running back and health issues from last season. But with each of those, the opportunity to see McCoy put up top-tier numbers drops in price while the reality is that McCoy should be able to answer all those questions and more.
If anything, the uncertainty around McCoy only serves to hold his value down to steal levels. McCoy is listed as the No. 9 running back in Eric Mack's latest fantasy rankings (10th overall), behind players with much more valid fantasy concerns. In some drafts, McCoy could slip to the second round, especially if yours is one of those leagues where a quarterback or hometown hero goes too high.
The concerns around McCoy's concussions are overblown. While it's good that the general public is taking concussions more seriously, they don't seem to have a good handle on how they actually affect players. One of the key points, often cited by Dr. Patrick Kersey of USA Football during his presentations for their Heads Up Football program, is that handled properly, players with concussions recover in a very high percentage of cases.
McCoy missed four games at the end of last season and has had a full offseason to recover. There have been no reports of lingering symptoms or any sort of deficits this season. McCoy has missed none of his work in preseason, which leads me to believe that this issue is in the rear view for him.
Certainly, he carries a risk of recurrence, but having one concussion does not create a susceptibility to concussion. Concussions tend to be distinct and discrete, repeated only because of repeating the same activity that resulted in a previous concussion. There is a difference in consequence upon repeated concussions, especially if they are in quick succession. But that is not the case for McCoy.
While the medical staff had changes this season, the treatment, return and symptomology of DeSean Jackson is a great case in McCoy's favor. The medical staff is in large part the same one that handled that case. Jackson had a devastating blow leading to concussion a few years ago but was treated properly and has had no issues since. This figures to be the same for McCoy.
It is also true that the emergence of Bryce Brown could be perceived as a negative for McCoy. He may lose a few touches to Brown or even Felix Jones, but both are better suited to a change-of-pace role. The lost carries won't be enough to hold McCoy's overall numbers down and could serve to keep McCoy fresher and healthier.
Add in the addition of Shaun Huls and his sports science staff, and we could see the fast-paced offense matched with a new monitoring of fatigue. Rather than eyeballing or hoping that a player has recharged on the sidelines, the Eagles should have a better handle on exactly when a player is most able to contribute. That's a plus for all of them, especially McCoy.
While it is unlikely that Chip Kelly will bring an unaltered version of his spread offense from Oregon, it is clear that elements of it are being installed. McCoy should be well suited to the elements of the offense that we know will be in place, like zone reads, inside power runs and short read passes.
If you imagine McCoy in the same role as Kenjon Barner, things suddenly look very positive. Barner had 279 carries and an additional 20 receptions. While that came in fewer games than in a 16-game NFL season, the pace likely makes that a very apt comparison. There was plenty of room for Barner to star while both the two other running backs and the quarterback added another 285 carries.
It's hard to imagine McCoy taking less than half of the rushing attempts for the Eagles. Assuming that Kelly's tempo translates to the NFL, expect McCoy to be around 300 carries. Anything much lower, especially on a per-game level, would be surprising.
My friends at Numberfire agree with me, ranking McCoy just behind Peterson and Arian Foster. Foster is too much of an injury risk for me to take in the first few picks. McCoy's projection of 292 carries, 1100 yards and seven touchdowns is actually a bit low to my eye, given the possibilities of the Kelly offense, but there is a wide range within that projection.
The final fantasy worry is that the battle for the starting quarterback role in Philadelphia between Michael Vick and Nick Foles will impact McCoy. While the different skill sets of the two quarterbacks will change game plans, both can hand the ball off to McCoy in the general Kelly scheme. While Vick is more likely to run (and run effectively), most of those runs are off pass plays rather than designed runs.
In the Kelly scheme, the quarterback and running back must work together on reads, though it is unlikely that the option plays that were used at Oregon will survive the transition as anything other than gimmicks. The Eagles seem focused on making the decision on starter early enough to allow that player to mesh well with both the receivers and the running backs, so this issue is also overblown in determining McCoy's value.
I'm not saying that McCoy is going to be as good a pick as Adrian Peterson was when I touted him in this exact same way last season. Few in the history of the NFL are. Yes, I'll still take Peterson over McCoy this season, but he's the only player I have higher than LeSean McCoy on my personal draft board in standard leagues, and behind only Peterson and Ray Rice in PPR leagues.
Will Carroll has been writing about sports injuries for 12 years. His work has appeared at SI.com, ESPN.com and Football Outsiders. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.