SEE 2013 UPDATE AT BOTTOM OF ARTICLE!
There’s a fair chance in your drafts this year that you will face this exact choice, or some parts thereof. It’s the first round and say Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Doug Martin are gone, maybe a QB or two depending on league rules, and potentially Calvin Johnson as well. You are smack dab in the middle of round one. You have to start your team, and then wait 12 picks or so for your next building block. Who is the cornerstone to your 2013 fantasy franchise: Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice or C.J. Spiller? Today we present four backs somewhat similar in stature, each of which also present strong potential for receptions in PPR scoring, while Charles, McCoy and Spiller each welcome in new head coaches.
Let’s at the top when evaluating Jamaal Charles – Andy Reid is in town, a coach with a 140-102-1 NFL record. There has to be air of excitement in Kansas City felt not since Dick Vermeil left after the 2005 season (and his 44-36 winning record). Since Vermeil, the Chiefs have bounced between Herm Edwards, Todd Haley and Romeo Crenel, totaling a tough 38-74 record for the Kansas City faithful. Reid brings in a winning record, a new quarterback in Alex Smith (who actually led the NFL with a 70.2 completion percentage last year in 10 starts) and a long track record of producing extremely successful fantasy RBs (Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy), and it’s not like Jamaal Charles wasn’t already a fantasy stud. Charles comes off a 1,745-yard season and had 1,935 yards in 2010. Qualifying with his 750th career carry late last season, Charles broke Jim Brown’s 47 year-old all-time average yards per carry average of 5.22, and by a wide margin as Charles comes into 2013 averaging a whopping 5.82 yards per carry.
Gone from Philadelphia is HC Andy Reid, but (most likely) fear not LeSean McCoy owners as new HC Chip Kelly brings his innovative, up-tempo offensive approach that heavily emphasizes the running game. The NFL is not the Pac-10, but if Kelly can even be half as successful in the pros as he was at Oregon directing his rushing attack, McCoy is in store for a huge year. Kelly’s Oregon team averaged 315 rushing yards per game last year (that’s not a type-o) and had 48 rushing TDs. Kelly gets very good marks on how to use his best offensive weapon and that is squarely Shady McCoy, and local training camp reports have affirmed McCoy will be the Eagles’ offensive focus. For some reason, however, McCoy doesn’t really compete in magazine rankings against the other three backs here. Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles and C.J. Spiller rank 4th-6th in RB rankings on average, with McCoy lagging as the RB9. McCoy is a do-it-all running back who is still just 25 years old despite this being his 5th year in the NFL. McCoy averages 55 receptions per season and is one year removed from a 20 TD season.
In ADP, Ray Rice comes in 3rd among these RBs, while in magazines Rice is the guy to have, ranked as the 4th-best RB. First the positives – over the last four seasons Rice has played in every single game, he’s still just 26 years old, he’s topped 2,000 total yards twice in his career and Rice is particularly lights out as a receiving running back. Rice had 78 receptions in 2009, 63 in 2010, 76 in 2011 and another 61 last year. With Anquan Boldin traded to San Francisco, Boldin’s 65 receptions need to go somewhere and Rice should remain as busy as ever, if not busier, as a check-down option for Joe Flacco. Rice is also hands-down the running back in this poll most likely to play 16 games this season. Now, the negative: Bernard Pierce. Excluding a meaningless Week 17 game last year for the Ravens (where Rice had a token start and 3 carries, while Pierce got 22 carries), from Week 16 through the four playoff games for the Ravens, Rice had 108 carries to Pierce’s 53 carries for a concerning 67/33 RBBC split. Since a career-best 307 carries in 2010, Rice’s rushing attempts have dropped to 291 in 2011 and 257 last season.
Particularly for dynasty-ballers, their patience in drafting and stashing C.J. Spiller was handsomely rewarded in a running back “3rd year breakout” last year as the 9th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft collecting his first-ever 1,000-yard rushing season. On 9 official starts, 207 rushing attempts and 43 receptions, Spiller finished last year as the 6th-best running back behind only Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, Arian Foster, Ray Rice and Marshawn Lynch. With the 1,244 rushing yards on 207 attempts, Spiller’s 2012 campaign ended with a 6.0 YPC average, making Spiller just the 4th player in the last 40 years to accomplish such a feat (among 1,000-yard rushers) joining a list that now reads O.J. Simpson, Barry Sanders, Jamaal Charles and C.J. Spiller. There has been the issue of Fred Jackson for Spiller, with FJAX leading the Jackson/Spiller carry ratio at 75/25 in 2010 (Spiller’s rookie season), 61/39 in 2011, before Spiller finally flipped that around to 64/36 last year in his favor (with Jackson missing six games due to a knee injury). Still, this is Spiller’s team now. Spiller is in his prime and electrifying at age 26 (in the 2013 season) while Fred Jackson is now 32 years old. Spiller had 21 rushes of 20+ yards last year, 2nd only to Adrian Peterson, while Fred Jackson had one 20+ yard rush last year.
UPDATE 12/29/2013: The reality is if you were facing these choices and selected either Jamaal Charles or LeSean McCoy you were well on your way to a successful 2013 fantasy season, but if you took C.J. Spiller or Ray Rice your 2013 campaign may have been sunk so this ended up being a 50/50 proposition with hindsight. However, the winner of this poll quite easily goes to Charles. In terms of Speed Bump voting, 30% of entries got a +1 on this one this Charles. Spiller got the most votes by a slim margin(31%), followed by Charles, McCoy (27%) and Rice (11%).
Heading into 2014, Jamaal Charles will almost certainly be the consensus #1 overall pick. Charles will likely sit out Week 17 as the Chiefs have nothing to play for and they rest their starters for the playoffs, leaving Charles with nearly 1900 total yards, a monster total of 19 TDs and a beastly 70 receptions. The expected Andy Reid impact was indeed alive and well as Reid has turned another RB into fantasy gold (not that Charles wasn’t a stud before Reid got there but Charles’ 2013 season was on a different level). LeSean McCoy comes in a close second and he certainly did not disappoint, nor did the impact that also new HC Chip Kelly had in Philadelphia as he took over for Andy Reid. McCoy will crack 2,000 total yards in tonight’s 2013 regular season finale as the Eagles and Cowboys duel for the NFC East title, and McCoy has had another uber-strong season catching passes (51 and counting) although he came up a little light on TDs (10), certainly compared what to what is possible (McCoy had 20 TDs in 2011). Then there’s the two busts in this poll, and two of perhaps the biggest busts of 2013. Remember when new Buffalo HC Rich Marrone was going to run C.J. Spiller until he would puke? It was something like that anyway as a Rotoworld blurb back in August, helping to push Spiller all the way to the 1.06 spot in ADP this year. Oof. Spiller doesn’t even have 1,000 yards yet (he should after this week) and he has just 2 TDs all year. Spiller actually has less fantasy points than Jacquizz Rodgers!! How crazy is that? Selected one spot after Spiller on average this year was Ray Rice. What a dismal season Rice has had. Rice has an almost unbelievable 3.1 YPC average this year. The only thing that has saved Rice is volume including 51 receptions on the season with one game left to go.
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