Barring some sort of catastrophe, Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy will be the top fantasy football player in the 2014 season. If he's falling out of the top three in your fantasy football league draft, the entire process is null and void.
As feature backs become an increasingly rare breed in today's NFL, attention often shifts to a player's supporting cast on offense. Shrewd fantasy football owners will often look for "handcuff" players, those who will step in and rack up fantasy points if a player is injured or vastly underperforms. Think Joique Bell of the Detroit Lions stepping in for Reggie Bush.
McCoy has talented players like Darren Sproles, Riley Cooper, Nick Foles and Jeremy Maclin joining him in the Eagles offense. In fantasy football, these players are sometimes perceived as threats to a player's production.
Rather than stealing fantasy points away from the undisputed star running back, the unique deployment of the supporting offensive players will allow McCoy to flourish in head coach Chip Kelly's high-octane and innovative schemes.
The Eagles made waves early in the offseason when they picked up Sproles, who racked up 220 yards rushing and 640 yards receiving last season as a member of the New Orleans Saints.
Pairing him with McCoy means the Eagles could see a lot less man coverage in 2014, something the coaching staff believes would be a difficult task for opposing defenses.
Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis gave his take on covering the speedy backfield duo, via Paul Domowitch of The Philadelphia Inquirer:
Those are two great space athletes that are difficult to cover. If you're trying to cover them with linebackers and safeties, they'd better be quick. Because both of those guys are so shifty. It's a hard matchup.
We usually put a whole player to that side, or an extra body in our man coverages to help on that back, especially when they're out of the backfield as much as they are. I'm glad we have them and don't have to defend them, I know that.
More zone defenses could mean less linebackers and safeties keying in on McCoy, allowing him to operate in space while opposing coordinators try to stymie the speedy Sproles.
If teams do play man coverage, McCoy has the speed to burn players in the flat and pick up easy yards after the catch. Last year, the former University of Pittsburgh star picked up a staggering 10.4 yards per reception.
One player whom McCoy might miss as the season moves along is wideout DeSean Jackson, now a member of the Washington Redskins. His presence as a downfield threat keeps safeties on notice and can prevent them from creeping up to the line of scrimmage or keying in on the run. He notched 25 receptions of 20 yards or greater last season.
It will be up to players like Jordan Matthews and Jeremy Maclin to mimic that role and production. Kelly noted in May that he sees Maclin as the replacement for Jackson on the outside, per The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane:
Kelly said the #Eagles had an outside replacement for DeSean in Maclin. Needed an inside one to replace Avant, hence Matthews.— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) May 10, 2014
If quarterback Nick Foles can find another deep threat in 2014, McCoy's path to legendary fantasy-football status becomes that much easier. It could be a tough task for Maclin, as he averaged just 12.4 yards per reception in 2012 and missed the entirety of the 2013 season due to injury.
Cooper remains a strong threat to break big plays; he averaged a career-high 17.8 yards per reception last season.
Stretching the field with passing allows McCoy to operate with fewer players in the box. If the Eagles quick-strike offense is firing on all cylinders, McCoy will undoubtedly create some huge individual plays himself.
Foles' ability to limit mistakes is also a benefit to McCoy's fantasy production. The third-year quarterback posted just two interceptions against 27 touchdowns in 2013. His interception percentage was a staggering 0.6 percent.
Fewer turnovers means more opportunities for McCoy to rack up yardage both on the ground and through the air. It should also be noted that top running backs like Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles don't have the luxury of playing with quarterbacks as talented as Foles.
And of course, if the Eagles are busy protecting leads, that means McCoy gets more opportunities to pad his stats on the ground. McCoy racked up an impressive 1,607 yards on the ground last season.
Who will be the top fantasy running back in 2014?
Beyond his supporting cast, McCoy is entering his prime years as an NFL back. The 26-year-old standout has already featured on two Pro Bowl teams and is looking to take the league by storm next year.
He is currently dealing with a toe injury that caused him to miss practice Sunday, per CSNPhilly.com's John Gonzalez. This will be an important situation for fantasy football owners to monitor in the coming season.
The risk appears to be minimal, as McCoy called the injury "a small version of turf toe," per Gonzalez. It's a potential setback, but if McCoy is healthy, the entire league is on notice this season.
Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.