This debate has been in the works for awhile. When it was first brought to my attention, it really was a close call. Lately, it seems the vast majority of fantasy players lean heavily towards Jamaal Charles. Charles is intriguing and if we’re being honest with ourselves, if someone asks us, “do you want LeSean McCoy or Charles?” the answer is simply, yes. However, I’m one of the few who still prefers McCoy and I’ll do my best to explain why. On the other side of the argument, DLF mailbag author Eric Hardter will tell you why I’m wrong.
Eric’s Argument for Jamaal Charles
After our rousing initial dynasty discourse, I’m excited to duke it out with Mr. Rockwell once again. Unfortunately, I just don’t share that level of enthusiasm about the prospects of his charge, the Eagles’ LeSean McCoy, relative to those of the Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles. McCoy is a great player, no doubt, and considered by many as a dynasty building block worthy of a first-round selection in startup drafts. And while I would be more than happy with “Shady” as my RB1, I believe I can, and will, make an even better case for Charles.
First, the mundane – neither gains a significant advantage due to either age or workload. Charles is 26 years old and has 936 touches to his name, while McCoy is a year younger, but has seen a tad more wear and tear with 1,055 touches over the course of his career. In the words of the comically dismembered Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “alright, we’ll call it a draw!” It’s what both players have done with those touches that interests me. Consider the following table:
Both Charles and McCoy have shown eerily similar levels of efficiency in terms of their career PPR fantasy points per touch (PPT). The stark differences, however, can be found in the rightmost two columns. Instead of just looking at the fantasy points each player has scored, I want to consider how they scored them.
Over the course of his Eagles’ career, McCoy has scored a whopping 45.1% of his points just from catching the ball and crossing the goal line. Charles, meanwhile, has seen the vast majority of his points come from gaining yards, with only a mere third (33.7%) stemming from touchdowns and receptions.* It’s not wholly surprising, as Charles’ mind boggling career statistic of 5.8 yards-per-carry easily trumps McCoy’s 4.6, and his receiving average is slightly better as well (8.4 yards-per-catch versus 7.2 for McCoy). Simply put, Charles is just more dynamic with the ball in his hands, but if they still score fantasy points at the same clip, why does it matter?
It’s all about context. Charles has played on absolutely pathetic offenses with even worse play under center, but he’s still managed to put up robust fantasy numbers. With the arrivals of new head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith, Charles will no longer be the sole focus of opposing defenses. More importantly, Reid’s offense comes with the promise of catches galore for the talented running back and it’s not difficult to envision Charles shattering his previous season high of 45 receptions. Even if the end zone continues to elude him, Charles’ 2013 efficiency is on the verge of explosion.
With McCoy, the statistics tell a different tale. In fact, consider the following string of numbers – 4, 9, 20 and 5. No, this isn’t some kind of bastardized Fibonacci sequence; it’s actually McCoy’s yearly touchdown totals. They’ve been, to put it mildly, unpredictable – so the fact that nearly a quarter of his career points have come from touchdowns is more than troubling given his erratic yearly performances.
Well, even if the touchdowns don’t come, Shady can still count on his transcendent pass-catching abilities, right? To quote Lee Corso, not so fast my friend. Gone is the aforementioned Reid, and renowned offensive guru Chip Kelly has taken the reigns. There’s just one tiny little problem – we have no idea what his offense is going to look like!
Rumors of a run-heavy design persist, but as Steve Spurrier has shown us previously, even the best laid plans of mice, men and former college coaches can go awry. It’s like Christmas morning when you have no idea what you’re about to unwrap – it very well might be that coveted Red Rider BB gun, but it could just as easily wind up being a gigantic hunk of coal. I’d rather that be someone else’s problem than mine.
Additionally, McCoy could lose touches to talented sophomore Bryce Brown, as well as mobile quarterback Michael Vick. Conversely, Charles doesn’t have any legitimate competition for carries, and Reid has always deferred to his lead back – gone are the days of gross misuse by Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel. So given the likelihood of a monster workload, coupled with an increase in receptions on an improving offense, why wouldn’t you want Charles “in charge” of your ball carrying corps?
Mark’s Argument for LeSean McCoy
Jamaal Charles is an electric talent with impressive career numbers nearing six yards per carry. He displayed the ability to return from injury last season racking up 1,500 yards just one year removed from an ACL tear. Combined with about 40 catches every season it’s hard to make an argument against him.
However, there are a few drawbacks when considering Charles ahead of McCoy. First and most obviously, he’s never functioned as the team’s go-to goal line back. After removing his injury shortened season, you’ll find he has averaged just 4.25 rushing touchdowns per year. The departure of Peyton Hillis may spell more opportunity, but we don’t know that for sure. Even if it does, he hasn’t been terribly effective inside the red zone. Last season, he had 23 attempts, 61 yards and one touchdown inside the 20 with five carries for seven yards and zero touchdowns inside the ten. Back up to 2010 and he averaged just 4.1 yards per carry in the red zone.
If you’ve been part of the DLF community for a significant period of time, you’re well aware of my love for one C.J. Spiller. The most common knock on Spiller is that he’s never carried the load and how he’ll hold up when asked to. It’s a reasonable question, but could the same thing be asked regarding Charles? Up until last season his career high in carries was 230 in 2010 and the following year he blew out his knee early in the season. Prior to 2010, in his first two seasons, he had 67 and 190 carries. In his impressive 2012 comeback season he racked up 285 carries and I question how well he’ll hold up as a featured back this season. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling Charles injury prone, but his slimmer build, 5’11” 199 lbs makes me question his long term durability…a little bit.
Moving on to McCoy, what’s not to love? He’s a year younger and has shown good feature back ability and excellent goal line efficiency. Contrary to popular belief, he also catches more passes than Charles. In his last four full seasons, Charles has averaged 36.75 catches while McCoy has averaged 44.67 in his three full seasons. Last season, in just 12 games McCoy had 58 catches.
Granted, McCoy was a massive disappointment last year following his electric 20 total touchdown season in 2011, but let’s look at his red zone numbers a little closer. In 2011, he had 31 carries inside the opponents ten and turned those chances into 11 touchdowns. Back up to the 20 yard line and the numbers change to 50 attempts for 14 touchdowns. Compare that to Charles 20 attempts and one touchdown last year and the discrepancy is remarkable. In the name of fairness, I should admit that McCoy’ efficiency dropped significantly last year, but all of McCoy’s first three seasons reveal good to great red zone numbers.
So far we know McCoy catches more passes and runs better inside the 20, but there’s more to be excited about. The arrival of new head coach Chip Kelly raises a lot of questions. Will he adhere to the fast paced model that treated him so well at Oregon? Who will be the focal point of his offense? Who will be the quarterback? Here’s what we do know – Chip Kelly loves to run the football and get his best players the rock with room to roam. Oregon ranked sixth in rushing attempts in 2012 and 2011. They ranked fourth in rushing yards last season and first the previous year. Lastly, they ranked first in rushing touchdowns last year and third in 2011.
With early reports from training camp having Bryce Brown regressing to the point that Chris Polk may pass him on the depth chart, McCoy’s role doesn’t appear to be in any danger. I’ll take the featured back who is younger, catches more passes, performs better in the red zone and has a coach who orchestrated one of the most prolific rushing offenses in college football the last few years over the lightening in a bottle back who struggles scoring touchdowns, catches fewer passes and has a new coach who underutilized his most talented players in Philadelphia.
Eric and I agree both players are great choices, but we do disagree on a few things. He sees Reid and Smith as major upgrades for Charles, while I’m not convinced that Reid understands the best ways to utilize his best players. I’m convinced Chip Kelly spells success for McCoy while he sees it as an uneasy question mark. He sees McCoy’s fantasy points scored by touchdowns as a warning sign or negative and I feel it displays his superiority to Charles in red zone.
As a side note, I had to laugh a bit when I first read Eric’s half off this debate. We both used the red zone/touchdown numbers to argue our points. They weren’t identical stats, but it goes to show that statistics can say whatever our bias wants them to say. That isn’t saying I think either of them used them incorrectly, but that there is much more to analyzing a player then simply looking at numbers.
I don’t think any of these debates change anyone’s mind, but it might help someone struggling picking between to two make up their minds. Most of all, we hope they’re enjoyable reads. If you’re on the clock with these two options, which running back would you choose?
* = For a complete 50 running back breakdown on a new metric illustrating points per touch, click here.
Follow Eric on Twitter @EDH_27 and Mark on Twitter @Mark_Rockwell85.
You can find his (typically strong and hopefully reasonable) opinions on Twitter at@EDH_27.