Does LeSean McCoy Still Have Fantasy Football Value?

Does LeSean McCoy Still Have Fantasy Football Value? article feature image
Credit:

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy (25), quarterback Josh Allen (17).

  • What level of fantasy football production can you expect from LeSean McCoy in his age 31 season?
  • Ryan Collinsworth analyzes past veteran running backs to determine whether you can count on Shady in 2019.

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LeSean McCoy has been one of the most prolific fantasy running backs of the past decade, boasting five top-10 fantasy performances over his illustrious 10-year career. However, he turns 31 years old in July, and it’s difficult to trust an aging running back with so much mileage on his tires.

Shady also finds himself in a suddenly-crowded backfield after the Buffalo Bills acquired T.J. Yeldon and Frank Gore via free agency, then drafted Devin Singletary in the third round.

So, with the deck stacked against him, can McCoy regain fantasy football relevance in 2019? Or will he be yet another veteran running back who fades into obscurity after age 30?

Is 30 Years Old Really a Death Sentence for Fantasy Running Backs?

Let’s first address McCoy’s age; then, we’ll leverage that analysis to evaluate his role in the Bills’ crowded backfield in 2019.

I chose to suspend my preconceived beliefs about aging running backs. Instead, I started from scratch, using hard data to analyze running back production after age 30.

First, I compiled fantasy data for all running backs since 2002 and recorded each player’s PPR position rank by age, then I broke down the top 36 PPR performers from each season based on age group.

Here’s a summary chart of those results:

Running backs age 22 to 29 comprise 88.7% of RB1s, 83.1% of RB2s, 83.0% of RB3s and 85.0% of all starting running backs in our sample. After age 29, there’s a staggering drop-off in total starting value. In fact, since 2002, only 49 running backs have maintained a career that’s lasted to 30 years old or longer. Of those 49, only 14 have posted a top-36 fantasy season at age 30 or later.

Here’s a breakdown of all 30+ year-old running backs who have finished in the top-36 each year since 2002:

It’s exceedingly rare for a running back to even make it to age 30. It’s rarer still for running backs to maintain fantasy relevance beyond that age. Over the past two fantasy seasons, we’ve witnessed just three running backs 30 years or older finish the season as top-36 fantasy players.


LeSean McCoy’s Best Player Comps Beyond Age 30

So far, the big-picture data looks pretty bad for Shady. But, lest we forget, McCoy is not some veteran journeyman holding onto a roster spot as a role player. McCoy has been exceptional throughout his career and ought to be evaluated compared to other exceptional running back talents.

After compiling statistics for all running backs age 30 or older, I was astounded by McCoy’s colossal workload since entering the league at age 21. By age 30, McCoy had logged 2698 total touches (including playoffs). The only players to rival that mark since 2002 are Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch and Steven Jackson.

Those three running backs aren’t exactly the best comps to Shady’s skill set — all three have reputations as sturdy, physical, bruising backs while McCoy is more of an agile, shifty back with elite receiving acumen and open-field breakaway potential.

So, in order to find more realistic player comps for Shady, I had to go all the way back to 1997. In doing so, I identified just 11 players with similar touches and rushing/receiving splits to McCoy entering their age 30 season: Ahman Green, Arian Foster, Brian Westbrook, Chris Johnson, Duce Staley, Frank Gore, Matt Forte, Reggie Bush, Steven Jackson, Tiki Barber and Warrick Dunn.

Below, I’ve charted each of those players’ career arcs based on seasonal PPR position rank. McCoy’s career arc is highlighted in red, his positive player comps are in green and his negative player comps are in yellow. As you digest this chart, remember that a low rank reflects improved performance.

McCoy’s negative player comps — that is, the players who performed the worst from age 30 onwards — exhibit more mid-career volatility than the positive comps. This could reflect inconsistent opportunity (as in Ahman Green’s case) or season injuries (most notably for Arian Foster) among other factors. Additionally, positive player comps generally start their career as relevant fantasy contributors, whereas McCoy’s negative comps are more variable in their early years.

As you flip through each tab in the above graph, McCoy’s career arc seems to more closely track with his positive comps than his negative ones. However, his age 30 season (2018) resulted in the highest PPR position rank of any of his positive comps and is among the lowest of the negative ones. For now, that places him squarely on the fence between the two camps.

Now, let’s take a look at each of his player comps individually so we can clear out some of the clutter in the previous chart:

Viewing the data this way, it’s fairly clear that McCoy’s career arc more closely resembles his negative player comps. A new trend has also emerged: Once a running back posts a season with a PPR position rank of 39 or higher after age 30 (McCoy’s mark last season), none of McCoy’s comps ever returned to starting fantasy value following that spike.

So, if Shady finishes as a top-36 running back this season, he would be the only player among his comps ever to do so. In fact, after this drop in production occurs, most running backs either become completely unusable for the remainder of their career (Green, Westbrook, Johnson, Staley and Bush) or retire the very next season (Foster, Forte and Jackson).

LeSean McCoy’s Declines in Volume and Efficiency

At this point, McCoy’s range of possible outcomes for 2019 looks bleak. His situation grows more dire when you examine his recent decline in on-field production:

Nearly every metric for McCoy’s volume and efficiency is pointed down. Last season, he recorded the second-fewest rushes per game (11.5) of his career and by far the lowest yards per rush (3.19). He also earned the second-fewest targets per game (3.29), the second-lowest PPR points per opportunity (0.614) and the lowest PPR points per game (9.09) of his career.


Final Prognosis

On top of all that, McCoy now shares a crowded backfield with Gore, Yeldon, Marcus Murphy and Singletary. McCoy’s volume and efficiency were already in decline last season, and now competition for touches could wholly undercut his traditional volume.

The presence of Yeldon in particular also poses major threat to McCoy’s receiving volume, which has largely stabilized his fantasy production for his entire career.

Pour one out for LeSean “Shady” McCoy, because his career as a meaningful fantasy contributor is likely over.

Final Prognosis: Dead on arrival.