“Stromme the Way”: Old Faces, New Places; Running Backs Changing Uniforms and Their Fantasy Relevance Pt. 1
Busy offseason, wasn’t it?
In one of the crazier free agent periods in recent history, the NFL proved to us that when it comes to pro football, there is no offseason.
We saw LeSean “Shady” McCoy traded from Philadelphia to Buffalo, the Cowboys choose to pay Dez Bryant (sort of) over DeMarco Murray, Jimmy Graham swap Mardi Gras for Starbucks, and Darrelle Revis go back to where it all began.
The likes of Schefter, Breer, Glazer, and LaCanfora really earned their paychecks this winter, that’s for sure.
In this two-part series of columns, I am going to break-down the fantasy impact of all the popular running backs that changed uniforms this offseason.
LeSean “Shady” McCoy, Buffalo Bills
From cheesesteaks to hot wings. The City of Brotherly Love to the city of brothers awkwardly holding each other for warmth after locking their keys in the house during a major snowfall.
This trade was the one move that surprised me the most. LeSean McCoy, dealt in the prime of his career, to Buffalo for Kiko Alonso. One of those star-for-star fantasy deals that you rarely see outside of fantasy leagues or Madden.
The deal may have even shocked Shady himself. Initially, he was, to put things kindly, upset that he had to move to a city that saw an apocalyptic level of snowfall last winter. But all reports indicate that he’s ready to rock come training camp. Plus, a five-year, $40 million deal with $26.5 million guaranteed helps.
To put things bluntly, Shady will run, run, and run some more in Orchard Park, NY. Bills running back coach Anthony Lynn told the Buffalo News that he wants his star running back to “lead the league in carries.” His new teammate Fred Jackson echoed similar sentiments to WGR 550 Buffalo. He believes that McCoy will get over 300 carries in upstate New York.
300+ carries wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for McCoy. In each of the past two seasons, he has had exactly 314 carries under Chip Kelly. Here’s what they amounted to:
Dang, that’s nearly 300 YDS less in 2014 on the exact same amount of carries… What gives?
Is he in an early decline? Should I be hesitant to anoint Shady as a RB1?
To put things simply, no. Don’t fret about the drop-off in his production from ’13 to ’14. Here’s why:
Five… count ‘em, FIVE offensive linemen missed significant time for the Eagles in 2014.
Evan Mathis: OUT Weeks 2-8
Todd Herremans: OUT eight games.
Lane Johnson: Suspended Weeks 1-4
Jason Kelce: OUT Weeks 4-6; was ruled Doubtful Week 7, showed up on the injury report in Weeks 8, 9, and 11.
Allen Barbre: Was Questionable Week 1, then missed the final 15 games.
Dang… Talk about a M.A.S.H. unit.
The O-Line in Buffalo, health permitting, will be much better than the front that the Eagles had to cobble together last season. Last season, the unit finished 16th in Run-WPA and 11th in TFL allowed by opposing front-sevens. They collectively have an average weight of 325 lbs and an average height of roughly 6’5”.
Not too shabby.
To sum things up, Shady will be just fine in his new home and should be a relative draft day steal at the end of the first round, early second.
Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts
Indy’s version of Frank “The Tank” probably doesn’t wonder if KFC is still open after a night of getting crazy with a beer funnel. Chances are, an NFL running back that hasn’t missed a game since 2010 doesn’t subject his body to greasy, fried chicken.
No, Gore is an iron man. An absolute workhorse. A professional that does his job day in, day out. (Insert another Cal Ripken J.r. cliché phrase here).
But seriously, the man has had four straight season of at least 1,100 rush YDS, all coming in years where running backs enter a decline in production. He has been nothing short of incredibly dependable for fantasy owners.
In 2014, Gore earned every yard he rushed for. Not only did he see an average of 15.94 carries/game, he saw more defensive fronts of eight defenders or more than any other running back in the NFL (76). Teams laughed at Kaepernick’s ability in the passing game and just keyed in on Jim Harbaugh/Greg Roman’s run-first approach. And, they weren’t light defensive fronts. Gore’s 49ers had Seattle, St. Louis, and Arizona, all twice, in addition to seeing the Broncos and Chiefs. Half a season against some of the nastiest front sevens in football, not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination.
Point being: Gore, who has very mediocre competition behind him for carries, will not see any fronts close to the ones he saw in 2014. Not bad for a back who will more than likely end up as someone’s low-end RB2 or flex.
Gore, and the team that signed him after a supposed deal with the Eagles fell through, don’t have any durability concerns about the 32-year-old running back. The Colts gave Gore a three-year deal with $8.5 million guaranteed in the first two years.
And, when Colt beat writers asked Gore at his introductory conference call how he perpetually gives father time the finger, he had this to say:
“As long as you take care of yourself and train hard, you’ll be fine… I train really hard.”
The general rule of thumb when it comes to NFL running backs is to stay away from running backs past the age of 30. Gore is an exception to that rule. Draft him as a flex and he will not disappoint.
Shane Vereen, New York Giants
We all know Shane Vereen. It doesn’t take an expert fantasy analyst to tell you that he is a running back that likes to catch the football. That’s his thing.
But, the public perception is that he is only a passing-down running back who probably won’t get too much action outside of third-down.
This is where Ben McAdoo comes in.
According to multiple sources, Vereen has been very busy in early spring work. He has constantly been finding work catching balls left-and-right in McAdoo’s high-tempo, no-huddle offense.
“He’s not just going to be a third-down back,” said NJ.com’s Jordan Raanan.
Raanan went onto say that Vereen has been “featured in a lot of passing downs in the no-huddle offense out of the backfield,” and “caught pass after pass out of the backfield, in particular in the red zone.”
RED ZONE! A term that makes every fantasy owner giddy!
His counterpart, Rashad Jennings, is that dreaded age of 30. So, the possibility that Vereen snatches a three-down role is very much a possibility.
Plus, he is playing behind an offensive line that might be the best in the NFC this season. That’s right, Cowboy fans. But, more on that next week.
In a small sample size, in a crowded New England backfield, Vereen put up very solid numbers.
44/208/1 Rush TD
47/427/3 Receiving TD
96/391/2 Rush TD
52/447/3 Receiving TD
Vereen put up these numbers while in a running back quagmire that included Stevan Ridley, Legarrette Blount, Branden Bolden, Jonas Gray, James White, and any other RB New England has deployed in the past two seasons.
With his only legitimate threat being Rashad Jennings, I believe that Vereen has massive upside playing in the Meadowlands. Like, Matt Forte levels of upside, that could be had at a RB2/flex value. Don’t let him slip.
DeAngelo Williams, Pittsburgh Steelers
In the words of my colleague Matt Barkman:
“Just say no.”
Yes, Williams had a pretty decent career despite constantly battling Johnathan Stewart for playing time, but he is very much so in the twilight of his NFL career.
Williams, 32, is a lame-duck signing. He was brought in on a 2-year, $4 million deal after the Panthers let him go, but only $1.13 million of the entire contract is guaranteed. A lackluster start to his preseason and he could be cut.
Sure, with Le’Veon Bell suspended for the first three games, there will be carries to be had in his absence. But, ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler reports that Williams won’t be seeing more than 10-12 carries even if he is healthy and has a decent camp. He has been taking reps alongside speedster Dri Archer during OTA’s and the Steelers might just ride the second-year running back.
Yes, the market value for DeAngelo Williams is nothing more than, maybe, a late-round flyer or a dollar or two in auction leagues. But, wouldn’t you rather gamble on someone with much more upside than an over-the-hill back who might see 10-12 carries per game if all the breaks fall his way? I’d much rather gamble on backs like David Cobb and Jay Ajayi. (For more on those guys, click here).
Well, that does it for this week’s installment of “Stromme the Way”. Tune in next week, folks! We’ll talk the revamped Eagles’ run game and other running backs in new places. In the mean-time, have a good one! And, always keep your sleepers in the queue.
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