Back in January, I hammered out my 2012 running back rankings at breakneck speed. I finished them before week seventeen and put them out on the net, ensuring that I would be the first to rank LeSean McCoy as the top pick for the upcoming season. Within a few weeks, and assuredly over the course of the spring, my fellow analysts would put out their own lists and, of course, Shady McCoy would be rightfully perched on top of each and every honest list. So I made every effort to say it first. You can imagine my surprise when April rolled around and the lists started multiplying and McCoy was often ranked second or even third.
Making fantasy football picks isn’t about sex appeal. It isn’t about trying to get the exact order like a March Madness bracket. It’s about making informed decisions based on probability. It’s about stone-cold logic. What happened last year? What factors are repeatable? What did we see that indicates an upward trend? What off-season happenings might lead to disappointing results? With this in mind, a well-thought-out appraisal of the 2011 season leads fantasy owners to one conclusion. McCoy is the player that everyone should be targeting with the first pick of their fantasy drafts.
McCoy was the top fantasy running back last year. He didn’t have the most yards, either on the ground or in the air. But he put the ball in the end zone more than anyone else. He scored 25% more touchdowns than Ray Rice, who played sixteen games. In most fantasy leagues, reaching paydirt is what matters. To rank Rice or Arian Foster ahead of McCoy, you have to make a case why either will increase their production greatly, or why McCoy will decline. To my knowledge, no one has done this and there is a good reason why. The factors all point to McCoy having a better 2012 .
The main worry with McCoy in 2011 was the he would not produce if Michael Vick, a perennial injury risk, was out of the lineup. Well Vick did go down last year and it didn’t stop Shady at all. We saw what happened with Vick out of the lineup and it was McCoy leading all running backs in points. Additionally, the Eagles disappointed on both sides of the ball in 2011. Odds are that the Eagles win more games in 2012. That means more second half leads for McCoy to grind out and more red-zone chances for the ball-carrier. MORE. Is it possible that McCoy’s first place finish in 2011 was a worst-case scenario?
We should also mention that the Eagles roster has no one that could reasonably be expected to take carries away and more importantly, no one to vulture touchdowns. While an all-purpose back, McCoy is the first goal line threat that Philly has possessed in a decade. Add the potential of a full-season from Vick, and I would predict McCoy to improve in 2012, regardless of where he finished in 2011. In this case it was first.
Before we go ahead and crown him as the top choice, let’s rule out the competition. Ray Rice led all backs in yards from scrimmage in 2012, but signs indicate a downward trajectory. The Ravens had the best defense in football last year. That’s hard to improve upon, and there is a lot of age on that unit. At best, the defense treads water. A declining defense means less second half leads and less possession. Similarly, the Baltimore oline was one of the best in football last year. If they regress, Rice’s fantasy numbers could take a hit.
Similarly, the Houston o-line has been phenomenal for several years now. There is not a lot of room for improvement there. (Especially with the free agency loss of tackle Eric Winston) And the defense is even more suspicious. They rose from one of the worst in 2011 to a top ten unit in 2012. Now I have faith that a lot of the improvement is due to new coordinator Wade Phillips and the quick fix that Jonathan Joseph and Danieal Manning provided in the secondary but regression to the mean is certainly a possibility. Then we still have to consider that Ben Tate is a threat to take a share of the carries in Houston. While Rice and Foster should have great seasons this fall, the signs point down more than up. The uphill battle they have against McCoy will be more slog then march of triumph.
Wise fantasy owners will happily claim the Philly back with the top pick. They will be even happier if they can select him third, thanks to analysts that haven’t thought this through. McCoy is not only the top choice for 2012, but he is the most obvious top selection that we have seen in years.